Since the establishment of the third Saudi state in 1932, the Shiite Muslim population has been reverting to the judicial rulings of clerics who rule in accordance with the Twelver Shiite doctrine in Al-Ahsa and Qatif in the eastern part of the Kingdom.
The work of the Jaafari judiciary was formerly established before the Saudi state in the areas where its followers existed since the days of the Ottomans. After the entry of Al-Ahsa and Qatif under the leadership of King Abdul-Aziz, Shiite clerics continued to work in resolving disputes between people, issues related to waqfs ('mortmain' properties) and land registration, as well as marriage and personal status issues.
Justice in Qatif
Sheikh Ali Abu Abdul Karim al-Khaneizi was a judge in Qatif since 1905 and remained in office until his death in 1943.
The new official authorities in Al-Qatif had endorsed Khaneizi as a judge.
Researcher Abdul-Ali Al-Saif indicates that: “In the sixties and the beginning of the seventies of the fourteenth century AH, we found the signature of al-Khaneizi, on behalf of the Qatif court, on various subjects, with financial stamps and registered in court records or in the notary. This indicates that the sharia judiciary was accepted within the state, where it was recorded on its records and publications, and with citizens regardless of their sectarian orientation."
After the death of Sheikh Ali Abu Abdul Karim, Sheikh Ali Abu al-Hasan al-Khaneizi assumed the post of judiciary until 1944.
He was followed by Sheikh Muhammad Ali Al-Khaneizi and Sheikh Ali Al-Jishi.
The judiciary in this era is distinguished of being “a public legal system for Sunnis and Shiites alike. The financial bonds were issued on behalf of the government and registered in the court records and in the notary. There was no rejection of these bonds in all court rulings, except for limitations and convictions by the Qatif judge appointed by the State, who was a part of the hierarchy of the judges and enjoyed their privileges.”
In his research 'Century of the history of the judiciary in Qatif' , Professor Abdul Ali Al Saif noted that “the Shiite judiciary had no official headquarters or council; the judgeS ruled in their homes or in any place where the opponents need to be heard. The judge would take the documents that need stamping or registration to the court or the notary. "
The most important work of the judges at this stage was “preserving the property of the people of Qatif, to issue ordered executions for all those who provide valid proof to acquire assets. At this stage, governmental agencies did not intervene as they did at a later stage,” according to Al-Saif.
Shaikh Muhammad Saleh al-Mubarak was appointed to the judiciary after the death of Ayatollah al-Jishi. Sheikh Abdul Hamid al-Khati became a judge until his death in 2001, followed by his brother Sheikh Abdullah al-Khaneizi.
This period has been marked by efforts to develop the work of the “Endowments and Inheritance Court”, amending the regulations and protecting them from the interference of “hardliners." Khati - and some of the judges before him - along with a number of Shiite leaders in Qatif, sent letters to Saudi kings, princes and ministers concerned, to communicate with them, and visit them in their councils, to solve any problem that hinders the work of the judiciary or cause harm to people.
End of leadership
With the death of Sheikh al-Khati, the connection between the judiciary and the “leadership of the Shiite community” in Qatif has ended.
In the past, it was customary that the judge is the head of the religious hierarchy in the community. However, despite the fact that his brother Sheikh Abdullah had friendly relations with officials and was popular in the community, along with his charisma, other religious figures from outside the judiciary competed with him for the position.
Sheikh al-Khaneizi left the judiciary in 2005 as he passed the legal age. Soon after, a new era characterized by instability began.
Many names took over the position such as Sheikh Ghaleb Al-Hammad, Sheikh Suleiman Abu al-Makarem, Sheikh Mohammed al-Obaidan, Sheikh Saeed al-Madlouh, and Sheikh Mohammed al-Jirani. The judiciary has also been transformed from a “court” into a “department”, to become the “Department of Endowments and Inheritance."
The establishment of an audit body
The administrative changes that took place in the Shiite judiciary along with the new regulations approved by Saudi Justice Minister Dr. Abdullah al-Sheikh in 2006, included the establishment of the Audit Authority, which is a “body of differentiation” to the rulings, considered to be a reference in the judgments issued by the departments of endowments and inheritance in Qatif and Ahsa.
The panel currently includes judges: Sheikh Abdul Rassoul al-Bayabi (President), Sheikh Ali al-Mohsen and Sheikh Ghaleb al-Hammad. Shortly after the abduction of Judge Mohammed al-Jirani by a terrorist group, Sheikh Hammad became the current director of the Department of Endowments and Inheritance.
The tasks entrusted to the judges relate to ruling in waqf cases, inheritance, marriage, divorce and personal status according to the jurisprudential rulings of Shiite Muslims.
The judiciary in Al-Ahsa
In the study of al-Jaafari judiciary in Al-Ahsa , researcher Mohammad Ali al-Haraz pointed out that with the inclusion of al-Ahsa under the rule of King Abdul Aziz al-Saud, “the Shiite judiciary entered under the official cloak and the judge was appointed by the state after being chosen and approved by the people.”
The most prominent judges were Hussein al-Ali, and then his son, Mohammed al-Ali.
According to al Haraz, this period was followed by a new phase in which the judiciary became more organized. It began with the appointment of Sheikh Baqir Abu Khamseen, who remained in his post for about a quarter of a century, during which he developed the work of the Jaafariyah court.
He called for the establishment of an official headquarter, the appointment of assistants to the judge and the establishment of branches in Al-Mubarraz and remote Shiite villages. The official headquarter is in the city of Hofuf.
After Abu Khamseen, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Hajri took over the post, and was succeeded by several judges, among them Sheikh Mohamed Al-Luim, who was dismissed from office. Later, the “court” was transformed into a “department” currently headed by Ali Taher Salman, who is a professor in the Hawza in Al-Ahsa. After studying Islamic jurisprudence and doctrine for about a quarter of a century in Najaf and Qom, he returned to Saudi Arabia. He took office in January 2017 by a decree issued by Minister of Justice Dr. Walid Al-Samaani.
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