Insulting the friends of the founder of Islam earned an Australian national 500 lashes and a year in jail in Saudi Arabia last month.

Mansor Almaribe, a resident of southern Victoria state, was arrested by religious police on November 14 in Medina while participating in the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca known as the hajj. His eldest son Jamal told The Melbourne Age newspaper that Almaribe was reading and praying in a group at the time.

Family members told Australian media that Saudi officials accused the 45-year-old of insulting companions of Islam's Prophet Muhammed; blasphemy is considered a serious offense in Saudi Arabia, which is governed under Shari'a (Islamic) law.

No information is available about exactly how or when he insulted them, or even which companions of Muhammed he allegedly had insulted. 

He was convicted Tuesday and sentenced to two years in prison and 500 lashes. The court later reduced the sentence to "only" one year in jail, in the presence of an Australian consular official who attended the proceedings.

The maximum number of lashes ever allowed to be used as a sentence under Jewish law during the time of the Holy Temples was 39, and that was to be delivered under the supervision of a medical doctor, in sets of three, so as to ensure the convicted person did not die as a result. 

A sentence of 500 lashes is considered equivalent to a death sentence.

Another son of Almaribe, Mohammed -- named for the very prophet on whose behalf he is set to be tortured -- has expressed fears for his father's safety. "Five hundred lashes on his back, and he has back problems," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "I wouldn't think he'd survive 50." Almaribe, a father of five, suffers from diabetes and heart disease.

Australian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Neil Hawkins has appealed to Riyadh for leniency, according to Canberra's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. "The Australian government is universally opposed to corporal punishment," the department in a statement.

Approximately 300,000 Muslims now live in Australia, and there are over 100 mosques, according to an Australian government website.  The Arab community in Australia, numbering more than 210,000, is "diverse and includes many high-profile and successful members," the site notes.