Al-Karadib, Chapter 11, Part I


Introduction: On Karadib

Pascal Menoret

My first roommate in Riyadh was a French teacher who once tutored an ex-political prisoner. The man was a retired lawyer who had belonged to a Marxist-Leninist network in the sixties, and had been part of a coup attempt against King Faisal. He had been tipped off right before his arrest and had escaped to Paris, where he studied law before coming back to Riyadh much later. Others had less luck.Arrested on intelligence provided by U.S. agents to the Saudi secret police, many of them were tortured or summarily executed. Some were even flown above the Empty Quarter and thrown alive out of helicopters.


Janadriyah Festival, Winter 2003. A stand up comedian performs
under the surveillance of a National Guard. © Pascal Menoret.

These stories haunted me and led me to Turki al-Hamad’s trilogy, Specters in Deserted Alleys, set in the late sixties and early seventies. In the first volume, Adama, Hisham al-‘Abir, a high school student from Dammam, in the country’s oil province, joins the Saudi branch of the Baath socialist party.[1] In the second volume, Shumaisi, Hisham, now a college student in Riyadh, discovers alcohol, has an affair with a married woman, and is arrested for his past political activities.[2] The trilogy’s last volume, Karadib,[3] is the story of his confinement in a political prison. Brought to “a huge building shrouded in darkness” in the desert outside Jeddah, Hisham is questioned about his leftist leanings, and repeatedly tortured.

Karadib is the trilogy’s only volume that hasn’t been translated into English. With its suspense and grit, it is also the most riveting. Chapter 11, whose translation The Common publishes here, is one of the climaxes of the book. Hisham sees his cell companions summoned in the middle of the night for interrogation sessions that leave them half-conscious for days. Evening after evening, as political discussions wear out and his comrades fall asleep, he is left alone with his fear of being that night’s victim. Out of despair, he exclaims one day, “God and the Devil are different sides of the same coin.” This sentence got Turki al-Hamad into trouble. After the book was published, incensed Islamists pronounced four fatwas against him, making Karadib his most famous text, and prompting comparisons with Salman Rushdie.

The book is important for yet another reason: it was one of the first Saudi fictions to shed light on state violence. With between 12,000 and 30,000 political prisoners, depending on the estimate, Saudi Arabia is as repressive an environment as Egypt or Syria. Saudi elites claim they protect the world’s first oil producer from “terrorism,” a conveniently hazy label. In the 1950s, unionists asking for better wages and protesting racial segregation were treated as national security threats. In the 1960s and 1970s, socialists and nationalists were jailed, tortured, and executed. The Islamists’ turn came in the 1990s and 2000s. Violence is not only used against political opponents. In police stations, religious police centers, and even schools, brutality, or the threat thereof, is common. By opening the door of the torture chamber, Karadib looks into one of the foundations of the Saudi status quo.

But repression often backfires. Families of political prisoners are prone to organize, protest, and get national and international attention. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina marched against repression during the bleakest days of the military dictatorship. Saudi mothers, sisters, and relatives of political prisoners spoke out after a fire killed 67 inmates at the al-Ha’ir political jail on September 15, 2003. On October 14, 2003 and again on December 15, 2004, they marched to demand the liberation of all political prisoners. Mass arrests and live bullets didn’t deter them. During the 2011 Arab uprisings, mothers of political prisoners were with the Shiites among the rare Saudis to take to the streets.

Turki al-Hamad is no stranger to state repression. On December 24, 2012, he was arrested by order of Interior minister Muhammad bin Nayef after a series of tweets that were judged offensive. He was released in June 2013. A year after his arrest, The Common publishes the climactic chapter of Karadib. The text was translated from Arabic into English by the NYU Abu Dhabi Translation Workshop, created in September 2012 to foster the reading and translation of modern Arabic literature on campus. Chapter 11 was translated by Philip Kennedy, associate professor of Middle East Studies at NYU, and Hasan Nabulsi, an undergraduate junior at NYU Abu Dhabi. It was collectively edited by the workshop’s members. This publication in two installments will hopefully bring attention to the fate of thousands of political prisoners detained across Saudi Arabia. We hope it also publicizes the booming Saudi novel and encourages translators and publishers to look into a fascinating literary scene.



Pascal Menoret is a Harvard Academy Scholar and an assistant professor of Middle East Studies at NYU Abu Dhabi. His latest book, Joyriding in Riyadh: Oil, Urbanism, and Road Revolt, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.

The NYUAD Translation Workshop is composed of Ameed Abualteen, Jennifer Acker, Khulood Al Atiyat, Fadhl Al Eryani, Ayesha Al Hashemi, Shakhbut Al Kaabi, Muhamed Al-Khalil, Nezar Andary, Omima El Araby, Christopher Fanikos, Lucas Hansen, Paulo Horta, Nasser Isleem, Otto Kakhidze, Philip Kennedy, Sachi Leith, Pascal Menoret, Marc Michael, Judith Miller, Suhaib Muhaidat, Hasan Nabulsi, Sana Odeh, Maurice Pomerantz, James Purce, Justin Stearns, and Bailey Theado.


Turki el Hamad, Al Karadib

© Dar al saqi, Beirut, Lebanon, 1998

This chapter was published with permission from Dar al saqi


[1]Turki al-Hamad, Al-Adama (Beirut: Dar al-Saqi, 1995 – London: Saqi Books, 2003).

[2]Turki al-Hamad, Al-Shumaisi (Beirut: Dar al-Saqi, 1996 – London: Saqi Books, 2004).

[3]Turki al-Hamad, Al-Karadib (Beirut: Dar al-Saqi, 1998).


Gathering of peopleJanadriyah Festival, Winter 2003. A crowd attends a concert in a Hedjazi house replica. © Pascal Menoret.

AL-KARADIB, Chapter 11, Part I

Turki al-Hamad

The needles of the clock in the outer hall announced that it was ten o’clock on the dot; calm and silence enveloped the “House of the Dead.” ‘Arif and Hisham were playing chess, while ‘Ali tossed and turned on his bed, trying to sleep; meanwhile, propped up on their elbows, Yahya and ‘Abdelghani were talking in whispers. But it wasn’t long before the guard Sa‘idan looked in on them all, ordering them to sleep, for the clock had struck the time for lights-out. As he did every night, ‘Arif answered:

–       But it is still early, and we don’t need to get up early.

And, as usual, Sa‘idan replied:

–       Shut your mouths! Everyone sleeps at ten o’clock—those are the Colonel’s orders.

So ‘Arif gathered up the chess pieces and put them in a small cardboard box; he stuck the chessboard under his mattress, mumbling softly in a voice that Hisham could hear:

–       OK, OK—the Colonel, the will of God, historical determinism: no one holds them back!

Hisham then asked the guard for permission to go to the bathroom and brush his teeth before going to sleep, but Sa‘idan refused.

–       You should have done that before bedtime. What are you worried about anyway? That your necklace of pearls is going to rot?

He left for the other cells, laughing audibly. How they hated Sa‘idan! They hated him as much as they liked his colleague Mar‘i. For even though Sa‘idan sometimes ignored their games of checkers and chess, and their conversations among themselves, they could never trust his reactions. During the Colonel’s surprise visits to the prisoners, Sa‘idan would often tell him the location of the chess set, and who had been talking to whom; and on this “who talked to whom” the Colonel would base his interrogations and conjectures. Hisham had neither met nor seen the Colonel—and he was not longing to do so anyway—but ‘Arif’s stories had instilled terror in every particle of his body. Sa‘idan was a model in miniature of the Colonel, or at least that is what he tried to be, even though he would never attain the Colonel’s rank in anything. Sa‘idan relished causing them discomfort, whereas Mar‘i would feel especially happy whenever he could make things easier for them. In all truth, man is better than an angel and more wicked than the Devil, and he must choose between the two. An angel is not an angel through choice, nor is a devil a devil of his own accord, but man is either, according to his will.

They slipped onto their mattresses and covered themselves with blankets halfway up their chests; the weather could not be trusted this time of year, despite the fact that Jeddah never experiences bitter cold in any season. Jeddah’s weather was, like the city itself, quite stunning, except during the two or three months of heat and humidity, which cannot be compared with the stifling humidity of Dammam. A few minutes later, the place was filled by Yahya’s snoring, then ‘Abdelghani’s broken snore, and lastly ‘Ali’s breathing. But Hisham stayed awake. He was incapable of sleeping until after midnight, when he could be sure that he would not be invited to the evening’s “party.” He began whispering to ‘Arif, although he knew that ‘Arif couldn’t hear him; meanwhile Sa‘idan was humming a song by a rising star called Muhammad ‘Abduh. The needles of the clock embraced, announcing twelve o’clock. Hisham’s heart jumped from his chest, and his breathing quickened while he listened intently. This was the moment, the time when ghosts came out of their lairs, jinns dispersed, and the dark angels Munkir and Nakir awoke from their temporary slumber. The Colonel and his adjutant Jiljil… As much as Hisham had loved midnight in the past, he now loathed it. For even many years after leaving the House of the Dead, his body would tremble violently whenever he heard the clock strike midnight. As time passed and he heard no voices, gradually he began to feel relieved. He whispered, trying to dispel both the hour’s gloom and the sound of Sa‘idan’s footsteps:

–       ‘Arif, ‘Arif, are you asleep?

Annoyed, snorting, ‘Arif replied in a voice between wakefulness and sleep.

–       No. What is it?

–       Who do you think they are going to summon tonight? Or maybe they won’t summon anyone. A kind of holiday.

It seemed to Hisham that ‘Arif was smiling when he said:

–       And do devils take holidays? If we were in Ramadan, I would say that they were chained up to give us respite. In any case, I don’t know.

Then, laughing with a sound like a creaking door:

–       Perhaps it will be you.

Terror struck Hisham, and he broke into a sweat. He felt his stomach coming out of his throat and said in a trembling voice:

–       God forbid, man! Please, ‘Arif, I am not in a state to handle any of your jokes.

–       Don’t worry, my friend, I was only messing around. Anyway, that’s where we’ll all end up[1]—I mean with the Colonel and his disciple Jiljil.

Terror struck Hisham again, this time in full force. He stopped speaking and tried to sleep. Perhaps sleep would take over and disperse his terror; morning might then come without him being destined to meet the Colonel that night. Perhaps, by some miracle, he would never meet the Colonel. Although he knew that was impossible, he still tried to convince himself that a miracle might happen, that matters do not always follow a logical course. Miracles… we seek and await them when reason is incapable of serving us, or when we are unable to accommodate it. His mind would not stop thinking, despite the terror that had settled in every cell of his body. His thoughts were frantic; he trembled like a man with a fever, and his heart pounded violently, like African drums on a still, dark night settling on the dense branches of a jungle. ‘Arif’s snoring got louder, joining the orchestra of ‘Abdelghani, Yahya, and ‘Ali as the clock in the hall announced that it was one in the morning. The forces of fear gradually withdrew from Hisham; he covered his head with the blanket, and sleep began to caress his eyelids. Outside, a cricket sang in a way that sounded to him at that moment sweeter than all of Umm Kulthum’s songs in happier times gone by.

As he lay in a state between sleep and wakefulness, he heard the noise of the outer door opening; its screeching sound pierced his ears and tore the peaceful quiet of the place, as did the gruff voice of the Colonel’s messenger, Hamdan al-Thmeini, which filled the air as he called out:

–       Hisham al-‘Abir! Prisoner Hisham Ibrahim al-‘Abir!

Hisham felt that he was urinating involuntarily from every opening in his body, and that a long, sharp blade was cutting him in two from top to bottom; the blade came and went, tearing apart all that stood in its way, turning his body into the trembling tail of a peacock when it is fully displayed. He could neither move nor reply. It was as if he was afflicted with paralysis and muteness at the same time: his tongue could not move, his saliva dried up completely, and he didn’t know whether his legs belonged to him or whether they were a mere extension of some other thing he couldn’t identify. The voice rang out again:

–       Hisham Ibrahim Muhammad al-‘Abir! Where is that piece of shit?

Hisham raised the blanket off his wet body and tried to get up, but he could not, because his legs no longer belonged to him. Everyone in the room had been woken up by Corporal Hamdan’s voice, and they all began to rub their eyes, which had filled with grief. Then Sa‘idan the guard looked into the room and said, with a dark smile across his lips:

–       Where is this damned son of ‘Abir? Is he still alive?

Hisham replied in a rasping, barely audible voice:

–       I’m here.

And he couldn’t say more than that. A moment later Hamdan’s pockmarked square face, square white beard, and sharp eyes towered over all. A piece of paper in his hand, he said:

–       Are you Hisham al-‘Abir?

–       Yes, Corporal.

–       Then why don’t you answer? Are you deaf? Come on, come on—the Bey[2] wants you.

Hisham got up heavily and almost fell, for his legs trembled violently. He went off dragging his iron shackles behind him, making no attempt to lift them up and carry them—he didn’t have the strength to do any such thing. Hamdan grabbed him by the arm, and the two of them headed toward the outer door, while all the eyes in the room followed him with evident grief. That cursed blade still made its way through the depths of his body, with a feverish speed and unabated effort.

The two men crossed the main hall; the shackles on the marble of the courtyard provoked a hissing and ringing which tore apart the surrounding silence. The guards of the other blocks leaned on the bars of the doors. Some chewed their fingernails as they watched what was happening as if it meant nothing to them—or at least that’s what Hisham sensed at that moment. Hisham and Hamdan exited the main building and began to walk on a dark pathway lit up by only a few dim lights. It was the first time Hisham had exited the building since he arrived. Feeling the sweetness of the air and its gentleness at that time of the night, he grasped for the first time in his life the beauty of the sky and its stars and the land and its earth. Man’s problem is that he takes everything for granted and learns the value of a thing only once he’s lost it… that is the tragedy. In that moment Hisham wished that he could roll about in the soft sand and fill his lungs with unconfined air, that he could throw himself into the sea naked—but the Colonel would not wait. The sharp blade again did its worst, without rest or respite, and the temporary charm was lost and turned into pain. Hisham felt this was the longest path he had walked in his entire life, despite the fact that the distance between the main building and the Colonel’s office was no more than a few meters. In Hisham’s head circled the image of Christ—or the person who, according to the Qur’an, was made to resemble him[3]—as he walked along the Via Dolorosa carrying his cross on his back, his crown of thorns decorating his head. Hisham smiled with pain.

The features of the Colonel’s quarters began to become apparent: two rooms facing each other, between which was a narrow hallway containing a bathroom and a small kitchen. The two men arrived at the Colonel’s quarters; Hamdan turned to the room on the right, where a soldier in civilian clothes was smoking and drinking tea. The soldier stood up quickly when he saw Hamdan and gave a military salute. He remained standing, waiting for orders. He had the exact same physical build as Hamdan: tall, burly, square-faced, with sharp eyes, a well-kempt beard and a thick, dark moustache with twisted ends. Hamdan handed Hisham over to the soldier and said:

–       The requested prisoner, Private ‘Awadh.

‘Awadh grabbed hold of Hisham’s arm while Hamdan left the premises. Hamdan was just one of the Colonel’s many messengers, while ‘Awadh was one of his demon angels. ‘Awadh sat Hisham down on a rickety wooden chair in front of a grey metal table and sat himself down on a chair by the door, while he calmly finished his tea and cigarette. The door of the other room, the Colonel’s office, was locked; unintelligible voices could be heard—Hisham could make out only his name being repeated in a very loud voice. He realized this was the Colonel’s voice, or that of his assistant Jiljil, instilling terror in those cells of his body that had not already been terrorized. He tried to distract himself with his surroundings, but what he saw around him returned him to his petrified self anew. There was nothing but long bamboo sticks immersed in a bucket of water by the door, and chains of steel shackles, of different sizes and for different purposes, neatly arranged on the walls, as if part of the room’s décor. In the distant left-hand corner was an instrument that looked like an electric transformer from which wires hung, and placed on a small table by its side was a sturdy wooden chair. The sight of all this horrified him; he lowered his head, hid his palms between his thighs, and began to stare at the space between his feet, leaving the fates to deal what they would. What other choice did he have?

He couldn’t tell how much time passed before the other door gave way to a noticeably thick-set man, wearing a bright white thawb[4] which gave his vast paunch complete freedom of expansion. He was dark, cross-eyed, with a dense moustache but no beard, thick lips, a big flat nose, and a clean-shaven head; he was smoking a cigarette with obvious agitation. Where did they find these people, the mere sight of whom instills horror deep in one’s heart? They must certainly be selected carefully—how else could those moral and physical look-alikes converge in one place? The man approaching flicked away his cigarette violently and called out:

–       ‘Awadh, you shit!

Quickly, confused, ‘Awadh answered. The man said again:

–       Bring in that fucker!

He then walked back to the room. ‘Awadh quickly made for where Hisham was sitting and dragged him forcefully by the shoulder. The two of them headed into the room.

CarDowntown Riyadh, Winter 2003. The official portraits of Kings Saud, Faisal and Khaled. © Pascal Menoret.

The room had two desks. One of them was made of extremely sumptuous wood and directly faced the person entering; the other was made of metal, was less opulent, and lay to the right. To the left there was an ordinary wooden table upon which lay a pile of white papers and ballpoint pens. Sitting at the table to the right was the same person he had just seen; he was biting his lips nervously and chewing his nails as he looked towards Hisham with sharp black-and-white eyes. The main desk facing him was occupied by an extremely elegant, handsome, and well-perfumed man. He wore a bright, cream-colored thawb with golden buttons; his headdress was ironed with such care that its fold protruded sharply from underneath a bright silk ‘igal[5], and his arresting fragrance filled the room. The man had a brown complexion, almost bronze, as if he had been lying in the sun on the beach. He certainly had handsome features: a long, delicate nose; a small mouth with full, tightly pursed lips; wide black eyes with long eyelashes; a broad forehead; and fine eyebrows that seemed trimmed with care. Enthroned above his mouth was an exceptionally well-kempt moustache and, on his cheek, a large black beauty spot. This clearly was Colonel Malik ‘Abdelmuhaymin, the master of the place. The other person was Jiljil ‘Abdelguwi, the Colonel’s assistant. For the first time, Hisham became aware of another person sitting on a chair in front of Jiljil, with his back turned to the door. It was obvious that this person was one of the prisoners; he wore the striped izar[6], white undershirt, and rubber flip-flops. The Colonel looked at Hisham with a wide smile, showing some of his fine white teeth. He then said, pointing to a chair in front of him:

–       Please sit down, my son. We’ve kept you up late tonight. But if you’re reasonable, as you seem to be, then you won’t be forced to stay up like this again; indeed you may not be forced to remain with us for any longer.

Hisham sat down on the chair while ‘Awadh left quietly and closed the door behind him. The Colonel stretched out his hand to grab a box of Kents next to him. He pulled out a cigarette, lit it with a golden lighter, and took a drag, exhaling the smoke into the air and looking at Hisham with pleasure. With a smile and calm eyes, he then said:

–       You’re a university student? What do you study, my son?

With a dry and trembling voice, Hisham answered:

–       Economics—economics and political science, sir.

–       Great. Great. This country needs these disciplines, even though I prefer medicine and engineering. These are professions that guarantee you a future, are they not?

–       You’re right, sir, but I like what I study.

–       Then you have to be good at it. I am talking about those who don’t know what they want. My son, for example, is about your age, but he’s not as intelligent as you, of course, and he doesn’t know what he wants, so I encourage him to study medicine and engineering.

The tension Hisham was feeling dissipated slightly, but he was still terrified. The Colonel undoubtedly had something in mind with all these pleasantries and praise. Perhaps Hisham was naïve, as ‘Arif once said, but he was no fool. After lighting up another cigarette, the Colonel turned towards Hisham, a sweet smile still on his lips, and said:

–       I admire you, Hisham. A young man who reads such a great number of books. Reading is a good thing, but the important thing is to know what to read and not to believe in everything we read. Is that not so, Hisham?

–       Yes. Yes, sir.

–       Then why do you read the books of those Baathists and communists?

–       I just like reading, sir—nothing more.

–       And does reading make you a Baathist?

–       I am not a Baathist, sir.

–       And does your love of reading push you in the direction of secret organizations?

–       I am not involved in any organization, sir.

–       And does your love of reading make you stand up against the country that brought you up, and taught you, and opened all the doors for you?

–       That’s not true, sir.

Sweat began pouring profusely from Hisham’s every pore, even though the weather was not warm at all, for they were in the second half of November. His hands felt ice-cold, and he was unable to control their trembling, so he tried to hide them between his legs. He was extremely conflicted. Should he listen to his father’s advice and confess everything that he knew, thus avoiding an ugly outcome, or should he stand his ground, as many had, and face the consequences? But he was scared; indeed he was petrified and had little confidence in himself. Could he bear the stings of those thin bamboo sticks he had seen in the bucket? Or the bite of all the chains that hung from the walls? And what about that carefully positioned electric instrument? It doubtless had the power to cause much more pain than the sting of bamboo and the bite of a chain. He doubted his ability to face all this… He doubted himself. He suddenly remembered the suggestion made to him by his comrade Hasan al-Sabbah one morning, during a meeting of their secret cell. Comrade Hasan had suggested that the comrades have torture training to become used to facing tough times. The suggestion met with a positive response from Comrade Fahd, but the others rejected it. If only they had accepted it, Hisham would know the pain of bamboo and his ability to endure it. He had tasted the cane during his primary-school days, but Mr. al-Faq‘awi had never been seeking a confession. The cane had its share of all the little feet without any regard for the children’s screams or what they could tolerate. But these people wanted something. They wanted a confession, and new names, and Hisham did not know if he was strong enough to stand up to the ordeal. He would listen to his father’s words and confess, but even if he confessed, would they leave him alone? No. They would ask for more and more, for they are like hell on Judgment Day: when asked, “Are you filled?,” it will say, “Are there yet more to come?”[7] Where was the foot of God to close the mouth of this beast?[8] The result would be the same, whether he confessed quickly or didn’t confess at all. Through his dirty spectacles, he looked at the Colonel with his wide eyes, filled with a smothering terror. Despite his attempt to control it, his voice was dry and trembling as he said:

–       The truth is, I don’t know what you are talking about, sir. I don’t know anything about secret organizations, or any organizations at all for that matter. I read everything, but I don’t believe everything I read.

The Colonel smiled, lit another cigarette, and looked to Jiljil without saying a word. Jiljil cursed loudly:

–       Who do you think you’re fooling, you motherfucker? You disgust me, you sick people. May God make your lives even more miserable. I swear to God, if it wasn’t for our government—may God strengthen it—I would have buried you alive in the dumpster outside.

Hisham’s blood boiled in his veins; the earth spun and shook him. Motherfucker. He could have imagined being cursed in any way, or his mother being cursed in any way, except this one. Motherfucker. He swallowed the humiliation bitterly—did he have any other choice? He gave Jiljil a look full of all the abhorrence, contempt, and aversion in this world, then looked back down at his hands, which had sunk between his legs. Jiljil noticed the quick look and grasped its meaning. He stood up from his chair, moved towards Hisham, and screamed:

–       What? You don’t like what I’m saying, you son of a bitch?

He then slapped his meaty palm against Hisham’s temple. Hisham fell on the ground, a painful ringing penetrating his ears, his glasses landing at the feet of the other prisoner. But that was not as painful as the shredding he felt inside, hearing all these curses directed at his mother. He wanted to say, “God knows best who is the son of a bitch,” come what may, but he controlled himself at the last moment; terror prevailed over his feeling of humiliation. He picked up his glasses and tried to catch his breath as the voice of the Colonel reached him:

–       Let us not use this style, Jiljil. Hisham is the son of a good family, and he will speak; he is not like the other scum.

Smiling, he looked at Hisham, who was still on the ground, and said:

–       Isn’t that true, my son? You are not used to humiliation. Speak and make things easier for yourself. No one deserves your protection; they are all scum.

The Colonel stood up, helped Hisham into a chair, and sat back, calling:

–       ‘Awadh! Private ‘Awadh!

‘Awadh soon appeared, quickly repeating:

–       Sir, yes, sir.

–       Ask Brother Hisham if he wants something to drink.

Then, to Hisham:

–       Do you want to drink something, son? You must drink something.

Hisham shook his head and placed his palm on his ear, whose painful ringing had begun to increase. The Colonel ordered a cup of strong tea with a lot of sugar, while Jiljil asked for a cup of black coffee and said:

–       Black lives for you and your families. Every day we stay up late for you. It’s depressing.

The other prisoner remained lifeless as a corpse. The Colonel lit another cigarette and smoked it calmly as he looked to Hisham with cold eyes. After a moment of silence, he said:

–       Look, son. We know that you were a member in the Baath Party. The charge is certain. We did not bring you here until we were sure. We have evidence and witnesses. Be wise; spare yourself; don’t force us to hurt you. We are not obsessed with torture. Confess.

Then, after a brief silence:

–       We know that you are the only child of your parents; don’t hurt them more than you already have. They deserve better.

Hisham was surprised. They knew almost everything about him. It didn’t matter to him, but he felt pain when his parents were mentioned. How cunning is this Colonel, he thought: he plays his game with such skill! Despite knowing that this was merely one of the Colonel’s games, the mention of his parents still hurt him. He almost burst into tears and confessed everything he knew. He was not dangerous anyway. He had done nothing that actually threatened the State’s security. He had not carried a weapon. It was merely his fate to be pushed into a course of events he didn’t choose, whatever happened. Better to be in prison—for his parents if nothing else—than to be dead.

–       Look, son.

The Colonel continued:

–       Everybody makes mistakes, but the best of those who sin are those who repent.[9] As God Almighty forgives those who sin—and the one who repents is like one who never sinned[10]—so does the State. What matters is that you confess, for God is the most forgiving, the most merciful. You are an educated young man; the future is ahead of you; no doubt you are reasonable and you know what’s in your best interest. Don’t let these scumbags mislead you. If you want status and prestige, then enter the house from its door,[11] not from its window. The State, praise be to God, has been generous. It has provided all the legitimate avenues of expression for young people like you to achieve your potential. Believe me, my son, a sinner who repents is better than one who never sins at all, in the eyes of the State. Confess. Confess, my son. May our Lord guide you to the right path.



End of Part I of this two-part series. Part II will be published tomorrow, December 24


Turki al-Hamad is a Saudi writer and author of the trilogy Adama, Shumaisi, and Karadib.

[1]Qur’an 19:71–72.

[2]Ottoman military title, still in use in Egypt and some parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

[3]Qur’an 4:157.

[4]Long robe worn by men in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, usually white or beige but sometimes grey, brown, or black.

[5]Black double rope worn on top of men’s headdresses.

[6]Sarong worn by men on the coastal areas of the Arabian Peninsula.

[7]Qur’an 50:30.

[8]al-Bukhari 60:371–373.

[9]al-Tirmidhi 2499.

[10]Ibn Majah 4250.

[11]Qur’an 2:189.


Al-Karadib, Chapter 11, Part I

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Picture of a blue fish

The Fish Market

You’re surprised to see a fish that’s blue. You’ve never seen such a fish before, let alone heard of one. You say to the fishmongers, “So it’s true, travel makes you new. I can’t believe how blue it is!” You’re told it’s called a Bluu Fish. Its color resembles the jeans you’re wearing.