Capital punishment in Islam – Part 2

| by Dr S.L.M Rifai

(October 28, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Before applying Islamic laws of punishment Muslim nations need to provide with spiritual training for people and build up an Islamic society that accepts and practices Islamic teaching in their life. Islam aims at social reformation not merely through rules of laws and punishment rather it aims real changes through spiritual training and character buildings in Muslim societies. What exactly happened in the time of the prophet was that He produced a generation of community with noble characters. None of his companions dared to violate divine instruction in their life and even a few of them did but they rush to the prophet pleading to implement divine punishment on them and to free themselves from the punishment of the Day of Judgment. Before, chopping the hands of thieves, Muslim countries must provide basic facilities and food provisions for people; They should provide employment opportunities for people and they should support poor and vulnerable people so that people could meet basic needs in their life. Without fulfilling these basic responsibilities, how could they chop the hands of thieves? It may that sometimes; poor and vulnerable people are compelled to steal for their life survival. These countries should establish Islamic social justice systems through means of Zakat, sadaqath, waqf and charities before chopping the hands of thieve and stoning people to death for so called armed robberies.
The entire Muslim communities all over the world believe that divine punishments are just and equal to all. No Muslim will question the validity and applicability of divine laws and no Muslim will speak against revealed laws of Almighty Allah.
It was reported in the time of Imam Hasan al-Basari that while he was delivering a sermon a man was brought into the mosque for stealing some goods items by authorities. Instantly Imam declared that the secret thieves (government officials) have caught an open thief, because, rulers in his time mishandled & robed public money in secret but punished poor for stealing in public. Likewise, Today, Muslims rulers and officials do steal millions of public money but there is no one to question them. The late President Hosni Mubarak alone had $ 70 billion in his bank when he was removed from his post and Kaddafi had more than $124 billion wealth when he was removed. The entire Saudi royal families may have many times more money than these amounts in their banks. Do the Quran and prophetic traditions sanction them to accumulate such amount of public money any ways? Is it not a robbery of public money at all? Are the public in Saudi happy about this? Ironically, these authorities chop the hands of poor people who steal for needs and want in desperation and behead the poor people from poor countries with allegation of armed robberies? As if divine punishments and admonishments are for poor public and not for them. What a miscarriage of justice? What a twist of fact? What a double stand in application of law? Is it what Islamic punishment is all about to selectively punish weak and poor in the name of Islamic law?
It was a customary tradition in pre- Islamic period that if one of noble men was killed in a tribe by someone from another tribe, the retribution and revenge will be taken by killing an equal person in social status, nobility and tribe. Sometime, if they do not find someone equal to the murdered person, many people may be killed in retribution. Islam demolished such corrupt customs and traditions of pre-Islamic period and equated between people in retribution without any discrimination between low and high cast saying “Do they then seek the judgment of the days of ignorance? And who is better in judgment than Allah for a people who have firm faith” 5: 50. The blood of salve is equal to the blood of noble or king in Islam, the blood of a boss is equal to the blood of a servant in Islam. No matter whatever social status is. if a person kills a person intentionally on purpose an Islamic punishment for that murder is to employ death sentence on that intentional killer whatever his social status is. This law of equality in punishment is very clearly prescribed in the Holy Quran for the purpose of retribution.
It was reported that the second Caliph Umar ibn Kathab suspended the punishment of chopping the hands of thieve during the famine in his time. The rationale for such suspension was that poor people were forced by necessity to steal for their survival. The famine during his time necessitated him to suspend divine instruction to punish thieves. Today, the majorities of Muslim population are economically deprived all over the world and suffer from poverty and deprivation with extended families. Muslim countries do not have efficient social welfare systems to feed poor and vulnerable people despite of the fact that some of these Muslim countries are rich. It is widely believed that opium farmers in Afghanistan cultivate 90% opium poppy that produces heroin and other types of drugs. Nearly 2.9 million 10 % of Afghanistan population is directly and indirectly evolve in this business of opium cultivation and drug trafficking industries. It is true that Islamic laws prescribe severe punishment for drug dealings yet, is it appropriate to chop the hands of people who cultivate opium poppy and to behead all drug dealers in that country? If we consider Islamic punishment literally, of course, we are religiously obliged to chop the hands of these farmers and behead millions of people who are directly involved in drug business? Is it viable in Afghanistan today? Taliban with their strict application of Islamic law did try to impose ban on opium cultivation yet, they could not succeed in eradicating it? Because, they failed to provide solid alternative farming and employment opportunities for the people who are involved in opium production and drug dealings: one UN official observes that Taliban crackdown on drug trafficking was a limited success and he notes that “in drug control terms it was an unprecedented success, but in humanitarian terms a major disaster”. This does not mean that I support opium cultivation rather it should be completely eradicated from the Afghanistan Muslim society for once and all in the greater interest of humanity, yet, it should be done with the gradual process with short term and long term strategies. The Alternative ways of earning should be introduced for those people who are involved in that industry. Moreover, before, inflicting severe punishment on these people, they need moral, religious, financial and political guidance and support to get rid of this corrupt culture of opium cultivation.
The entire Muslim communities all over the world believe that divine punishments are just and equal to all. No Muslim will question the validity and applicability of divine laws and no Muslim will speak against revealed laws of Almighty Allah. Yet, Muslim people have the rights to question the legal verdicts and decisions of Muslim judges who pass on sentence on people. Because, legal verdict and decisions may be right and it may be wrong as well. Therefore, they too have the rights to appeal against the human decisions and verdicts with substantiated evidences and proofs. It is the divine law that dictates the death penalty for an intentional and deliberate killing on purpose and no doubt that the intentional killer who kills an innocent person for no reason deserves a death penalty. Yet, it is human beings/judges who decide whether a killing is intentional or unintentional, taking into account all circumstantial evidences through some legal procedures. Sometimes final verdicts may be wrong due to wrong legal reasoning/ legal interpretation or wrong land outdated l legal procedures.
It is about this wrong legal procedure and verdict that people in Bangladesh are agitating in case of Eight Bangladesh nationals who were beheaded in Saudi in this month. It is reported that Saudi authorities followed wrong legal procedures in this particular case, first of all, these alleged killers and robbers did not speak Arabic and their native language is Bengali Language and the judges in Saudi do not understand Bengali language. Therefore, these people should have been provided with qualified professional interpreters to defend their cases. Secondly it is reported that they have not been offered legal advice and access for defense lawyers. Therefore, it is more likely that judges could not have come to a right decision in this particular case. Moreover, prejudice and discriminative attitudes may have contributed to the miscarriage of justice in this case and similar cases. There are many historical legal presidents in Islamic history that many times, the legal verdicts of jurists and judges were challenged by competitive Islamic scholars.
It was reported that many legal verdicts given by the jurist consult Bin Abi Layla were challenged by the Imam Abu Haniffa. Imam Abu Haifa argued against the legal verdicts of his time jurist consult with substantiated evidence because, the judge may be wrong in his final verdict and the final verdict of any judge can be questioned with new evidence. But in this legal case, there was no legal procedure to question verdicts of Saudi judges. Saudi legal systems should have accommodated some international lawyers and particularly at least some Bangladesh senior lawyers and judges to study this case and review final verdicts of this case before sentencing these people to death. This will help them avoid mistakes in their final verdicts because of the language barriers they could come to wrong decisions. For instance, in this particular case, Saudi authorities could have invited some legal experts from Bangladesh as facilitators for their formal murder enquires. This could have helped them to clear the language barriers and cultural barriers. Most of people who come to the Middle East do not have adequate knowledge about the Islamic legal system and about middle cultures. People who come from Indian sub-continent sometime do not understand Arab customs, tradition and Arab body language signs and consequently there is a room for misunderstanding when different group of people are mixing up constantly in work places and in their residences. This is an inevitable fact, but Saudi authorities do protect basic rights of their employees and in most case employees are victimized. Only God knows how many thousands are victimized in Saudi.
It is also claimed that these eight Bangladesh nationals were forced to confess in this murder case and armed robberies. The forced confession is one of legal stratagems practiced in Saudi courts and many people complain about this corrupt practice. Because, the language barrier and panic in court room phobia people may confess wrongly in fear of intimidation. That is why it is fair to have native language speaking lawyers in the court room to cross examine both parties. It is commonly claimed that some employers in Saudi do not pay the wage and salaries on time as a result this many servants and employees are forced to engage in illegal activities in desperation. Saudi employers often fail to understand financial background and needs of their employees. Most of these poor people come to Saudi to work in dare needs and because of abject poverty. Some of them pay a lot of money for their agents to for their travel arrangements. Some of them borrow money from bank for interests to come over to Saudi and Middle East countries. When these people are not paid on time they are agitated and worried about their loan and personal problems back home. Unfortunately, some Saudi employers are not employers and bosses are not sympathetic for these people and as a result they are sometime forced to do some anti-social and illegal activities.
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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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