The Bedouin Justice Today & The Bisha'a Ritual
 
Few things that tie today bedouins with the old shepherd kings who were called Shepherd Justice of the past. There is widely quoted Bedouin saying is "Me against my brother, My brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers". This saying signifies a hierarchy of loyalties based on closeness of kinship that runs from the nuclear family through the lineage, the tribe, and even, in principle at least, to an entire ethnic or linguistic group (which is perceived to have a kinship basis). Disputes are settled, interests are pursued, and justice and order are maintained by means of this organizational framework, according to an ethic of self-help and collective responsibility.
 
Bedouins traditionally had strong honor codes, and traditional systems of justice dispensation in Bedouin society typically revolved around such codes.
 
Systems of justice among the Bedouin are varied among the tribes. A number of these systems date from pre-Islamic times, and hence do not follow religious law.
 
Bedouins, as nomads, do not have the concept of incarceration. Petty crimes, and some major ones, are typically settled by fines, and grievous crimes by corporal or capital punishment. Bedouin tribes are typically held responsible for the action of their members; if the accused fails to pay a fine, the accused's tribe is expected to pay and becomes obligated to the tribe.
 
Trial by ordeal is used by the Bedouin to decide on the gravest of crimes. Authorities to hold such trials and judge them are granted to few, and that too on a hereditary basis.
 
The bisha'a, or ordeal by fire, is a well-known Bedouin practice of lie detection in tribal dispute.
 
Bisha'a or Bisha (the ordeal by fire, trial by fire or fire test) is a ritual practiced today by some Bedouin tribes of the south Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Sinai deserts for the purpose of lie detection. It is the best-known of various forms of trial by ordeal which are practiced by the Bedouin, which are now dying out. It is one of the rituals in the Bedouin justice dispensary system for maintaining Sharaf - the Bedouin honor code.
 
The basic ritual consists of the accused being asked to lick a hot metal rod three times. He is provided with water for rinsing after the ceremony. He is then inspected by the official who presides over the ceremony - the Mubasha and by the designated witnesses of the ritual. If the person undergoing the ritual is found to have a scarred or burnt tongue, it is concluded that he was lying. The Hweitat Bedouin call this ritual "the true light of God".
 
The Bisha'a is usually performed only to resolve the gravest of civil or criminal offenses, and is a voluntary ritual in the sense that consent on the part of the ritual undergoer is required. Typically, Bisha'a is only performed for those cases where there are no witnesses regarding the disputed issue. Societal peer and hierarchy pressures may, however, force consent. In the case of the defendant agreeing to a Bisha'a ceremony, and subsequently declining to perform the ritual or running away, the defendant is considered guilty.
 
The ritual is usually a public affair, with both parties arriving with fanfare. Tea is often served. Women are allowed to participate in the occasion, unlike other judiciary hearings of the Bedouins.
 
The instrument of the ritual - typically a metal long-handled spoon with a cup-shaped bowl, used for coffee called the tassa bil basha is heated up by sticking the ladle down into the flames, the convex side being pressed into the ashes. Gasoline is often poured on the metal to heat it up. Other metal objects like knives, spoons and rods are also used, and use of non-metals like rocks have also been documented. Both parties recount their side of the story during the process of heating, with the Mubesha interrupting for clarification. The Mubesha can also summarize the events. When the Mubesha decides that the ladle is sufficiently heated, both parties swear to God that the issue will end with the ritual, and the defendant undertakes the test to lick the spoon.
 
The Mubesha then counts worry beads (like prayer beads), and after a suitable lapse of time, inspects the tongue of the person undergoing the ritual. He decides whether or not the tongue is burnt (or the degree of the burn in some cases), and relates his decision to the assembly. The defendant then shows his tongue to the witnesses for inspection.
 
The right to perform Bisha'a is granted only to the Mubesha, and this right is passed on from father to son, along paternal lineages. The Mubesha hears the account of the dispute before performing the ceremony, and is also responsible for pressing the metal spoon against the tongue of the person undergoing the Bisha'a. There are only a few practitioners of the Bisha'a in Bedouin society, today the Ben Jazzi of the Hweitat Bedouin of south Jordan are the remaining ones. A single Mubesha might arbitrate over several tribes and large geographical areas, like the Ben Jazzi Hweitat.
 
The Bisha'a has been variously described in ethnographic and cross-cultural studies. The earliest well-documented reports of the Bisha'a ceremony come from the accounts of Austin Kennett, Claude Jarvis, G. W. Murray. and Aref al-Aref.  
 
The apparente explanation of the ordeal is that stress would cause the mouth of liar to dry up, hence increasing the possibility of a burn.