Capital punishments in Islam – Part: 1

by Dr S.L.M RIFAI

Punishment is unpleasant to inflict and not particularly pleasant to discuss. But we clearly need to discuss it –  Prof: B. Blanshard.

(October 23, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is reported in some news papers that eight Bangladesh nationals were executed in public on October 9 in Riyadh by Saudi authorities. Please refer to Mr. Swadesh Roy’s article on this subject (Sri Lanka Guardian 9th Oct 2011.) The Islamic penal system is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Islamic law today. It is also the mostly misused and inappropriately applied penal system in Muslim world. Very often human rights groups and western scholars depict Islamic teaching on capital punishment as barbaric and uncivilized cruelty to human beings. They contend that chopping the hands of thiefs and imposing death penalty for murderers are some of severe punishment methods that Islamic law prescribes and they argue that these punishments are not suitable for modern age. . Yet, they have failed to note that Islamic punishment is the best deterrent method than any man made penal system. The severe punishment methods are not innovative teaching of Islam alone: Jewish and Christian traditions and laws also prescribed same severe punishments for murders and for some other grave crimes; Moreover, in our modern world many countries like USA, China, India, Japan and many more countries apply laws of capital punishments. In USA many states employ capital punishment as sentence. It is USA constitution that permits such severe punishments. More than 70% American people want to apply the death penalty as a sentence. Hundreds of people are sentenced to death each year in USA. Until 1965, United Kingdom executed people for murders and for some other grave offences. Ironically, china is sentencing to death more people than Saudi Arabia yet, only Islamic punishments are heighted by press and media as barbaric. Sometimes, these critiques come to such conclusions without comprehensively understanding Islamic penal system and its implications. They do fail to understand Islamic penal system as a unit of entire corpus of Islamic law and in light of social justice system that Islam envisages to generate in the Muslim communities. Punishment laws are prescribed only in a few verses of Quran (5 or 6 verses) and only in certain numbers of prophetic traditions yet, Quran has addressed about justice, equality, rights of poor, oppressed, and all about social justice systems in hundreds of texts. We should understand the penal system of Islam in a wider context of Islamic legal philosophy and higher objectives of Islamic law.
Islam is complete way of life. Islamic law is a part and parcel of Islamic way of life: Muslim believe that Allah revealed divine laws to protect human interests and welfare in this world and in the next world: It is firm conviction and faith of Muslims that Almighty Allah would not have revealed a set of laws that is harmful to humanity: this includes Islamic criminal laws as well……
Of course, some aspects of Islamic punishments are severe than western penal systems. It is divine wisdom that aggressive and intentional criminal offenders have to pay for their actions. It is argued by Islamic scholars by introduction of Islamic penal system criminal offences could be greatly reduced: we would not see a lot of serial killers in our societies as in the western nation and more importantly it is the best physiological deterrent mechanism that we have and people keep away from committing crime because they have seen what happened to intentional offenders. The difference between the theories of punishments in western penal system and Islamic law is that western penal system is based on human legal rational and social needs of western society. Therefore the penal system in these countries are subjected to changes, whereas, Islamic theories of punishment are based in the teaching or Quran and Sunna: i.e. there are divine prescriptions and no one has right to change original punishments. However, there are many differences in application and legal procedures of death penalty in Muslim countries and western nations. The culprits and convicts have full freedom and access to defend their case through efficient legal procedures in western countries whereas in Muslim countries we do not have such an efficient legal mechanism.
The difference between the penal legal system in Muslim countries and western countries are enormous. In the western countries they have excellent legal procedures: if an alleged murder or any criminal offence has taken place they have excellent methods and mechanisms to prosecute the offenders: the process of prosecution is systematic and well organized. The penal legal systems give the rights for the both parties to produce substantiated evidence for their cases: The defendants are given full access for legal advice, and aids. Both parties are supported by legal experts. The opportunities are given to cross examine the prosecutors and defendants arguments. The jury services are provided in the court rooms in order to ascertain that justice is done. Moreover, all modern scientific and technological tools and equipments are used in court rooms to substantiate evidences without any shadow of doubt. All means of legal expertise are used in court room to ascertain that justice is done in any given legal case: Do we have such extensive and efficient legal mechanisms in our countries? Do we facilitate court rooms with such facilities? At least do we have efficient legal procedures for defendants to defend their cases? I really doubt that these alleged Eight Bangladesh nationals are given at least some of these facilities in Saudi. These are some of the questions that legal experts should ask in this pathetic legal case;
It is true that Islamic penal system in Islamic law is interrelated with our faith and for that reason it should be more efficient than western penal system in application of justice. Because we all are God fearing people and Judges who pass wrong verdicts will have to stand in the court of Almighty Allah in the Day of Judgment? Nothing wrong with capital punishment prescribed in the Quran and Sunna: without shadow of doubt these punishments are prescribed to maintain real justice on earth but the wrong is with who apply these laws. Wrong application of law is made with wrong legal procedures in Muslim countries. The legal procedures and verdicts in courts are manipulated in Muslim countries with many factors. It is not a secret that discriminations, prejudices and bias mentality prevail in Muslim countries. Specially, in Saudi Arabia. People will be discriminated because of color of their skin, race, ethnicity, languages and regionalism. What type of justice we could expect from these people? Thousands of Housemaids have given substantiated evidence that they have been ill-treated, tortured and badly intimidated. It is not a secret How Saudi authorities discriminate between westerners and Non- Western people. We have seen all sort of discrimination for people who come to Saudi from third world countries, discriminations in promotion, salaries and treatment. How people from third world countries could expect justice from these people? Indeed, alleged offenders have rights to defend their cases in Islamic law? Yet, legal authorities do not provide sufficient opportunities and time to defend themselves. This is simply because of outdated legal procedures in these countries. People have been arguing for and against capital punishment for decades in modern times and it is not my objective to engage in those historical and legal debates rather I would like to share my thought on application of capital punishment in some contemporary Muslim countries with reference to these Eight Bangladesh people who are sentenced to death in Saudi in the second week of this month.
A friend of mine argued with me about sentencing eight Bangladesh migrant workers for the alleged murder of one man. His contention was how one man’s life could be equal to that of eight men’s life. Simply one soul is not equal to eight souls. Moreover, Quran says “Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear tooth for tooth and wounds equal for equal” 5: 45. Maintaining equality and justice is the primary objective of Qisas laws. Yet, in this case more than one person is killed for the killing of one person: How could such judgment is justifiable at all. This argument sounds logically strong yet it has it own flaws in this argument. If one would agree with such argument it could give free license for Murders to collaborate with groups of third parties to kill someone and these murders could escape from the grip of punishment exploiting legal stratagems and loophole in laws. The Islamic legal traditions maintain that if two or more people acted as a team to kill someone all should take responsibility for such killing. In Islamic laws intentional killings get more severe punishment than unintentional killings: In this case, judges may have considered this case as intentional murder by these groups of people. Moreover, armed robbery carries severe punishment in Islamic law and it may that, robbing the warehouse is classified similar to armed robbery.
Moreover, Many Non-Muslim friends very often ask a series of questions about Islamic system of capital punishments. Is it obligatory to stone to death in Islamic law? Is it obligatory to implement death penalties in Public as it is done in many part of Muslim world? As it is done by Saudis and Taliban? Why Muslims do not honor the human dignity of the culprits by sentencing them to death in private? Why cannot Muslim countries use modern ways of applying death penalty by means of electrocution, hanging, lethal injections, gas chambers and firing Squad? Moreover Saudi authorities telecast these scenes of beheading live in TVs and what are the emotional and psychological impacts of these scenes on children who are witnessing these scenes lively? Moreover, Saudi authorities do not give beheaded people’s bodies to their relatives to pay their last respect. What sort of inhuman treatment is this? Does Islamic law sanctioned such rules not to give dead bodies to their relatives: most probably some of victims may have been innocent. These questions are coming up in the minds of Non-Muslim people because they watch lives pictures of executions in Muslims countries in electric media today? Many times Saudi authorities lively telecast executions scenes as they believe that such telecasts deter people from committing grave crimes in the communities?
Generally speaking, Islam is complete way of life. Islamic law is a part and parcel of Islamic way of life: Muslim believe that Allah revealed divine laws to protect human interests and welfare in this world and in the next world: It is firm conviction and faith of Muslims that Almighty Allah would not have revealed a set of laws that is harmful to humanity: this includes Islamic criminal laws as well. Unlike human beings Almighty Allah is beyond time, space factors and he knows the past, present and future of humanity and he knows what is best and what is harmful to humanity: therefore, it is logically and rationally unthinkable that Almighty Allah has revealed some evil and cruel punishments. Moreover, Islamic faith demands from true Muslims to apply divine laws and it is firm convictions of Muslims that divine will should prevail in everyday life of Muslims: Thus, faith in Islamic laws and its application become a part and parcel of complete religious frame works of Muslim community: if someone deliberately and intentionally deny any aspects of Islamic laws such denial could lead him/her to disbelief in Islam itself: Thus, the Islamic law is an integral part of Islamic faith and way of life: Historically speaking application of Islamic laws has been gradually implemented in the formative period of Islamic communities. Gradual applications of Islamic law are one of the unique characteristics of Islamic law. Many examples can be cited for this gradualism in revelation of Islamic laws. Our beloved prophet received the divine revelation step by step throughout 23 years: Throughout these 23 years many aspects of Islamic laws were revealed in gradual processes as integral part of divine will. In every early periods of formative period of Islamic community in Makka the focus of divine revelation had been on building a spiritually and faithfully strong community. The early part of divine revelations more frequently address to human souls and intellects logically and rationally. Our beloved prophet dedicated a greater part of his prophetic life time to provide spiritual guidance and training for his followers. Purification of people’s hearts and minds was one of primary mission of our beloved prophets; He dedicated a large portion of night times for this mission of spiritual training in devotions.
It is a divine wisdom and rational that many aspects of Islamic laws should be revealed in gradual process and it is prophetic responsibility and duty that He produces a generation of people who are spiritually and intellectually ready to accept divine laws without any qualm: No sound historian would deny the spiritual reformations that our prophet had achieved within short period of time in history: He reformed one of most barbaric and ignorant generation of people in Arabic into one of most devoted and disciplined generations: Thus, our prophet produced an ideal community with spiritual, moral and intellectual developments: that ideal community with pristine purity and storing faith in their hearts and firm conviction in their minds they willingly and happily accepted divine verdicts and divine laws: rather than trying to escape from Islamic punishments those early generations of Muslims came forward and repeatedly requested our beloved to implement divine laws on them and our beloved prophet was compelled to turn them back many times: that was the mentality and spiritual heights of the pious companions of our beloved prophets. Thus, before, applying the divine laws our prophet produced that ideal society with Islamic values and Islamic principles. Consider statistics of death penalties carried out by our beloved prophet during his time: according to some sources only four cases of death penalties are carried out and some sources says that it was less than four cases.
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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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