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Islam the Misunderstood Religion Islam and the Concept of Punishment

Jan 24, 2014, 10:02 AM

Some people often say, “can we apply today the same barbarous punishments which were applies long ago in the desert? Is it permissible to cut a thief’s hand of five shillings? Could such things take place in the twentieth century, which regards the criminal as the victim of society and maintains that he is entitled to medical treatment rather than punishment?” how is it that the twentieth century permits the slaughter of forty thousand innocent people in North Africa but forbids the rightful punishment of one single criminal!!

Woe to people from deceptive words that often hide the truth!! It is so much for the twentieth century civilization and its evils. Let us discuss the concept of crime and punishment in Islam.

Crime is often regarded as an individual aggression against the community relationship. Individualistic countries-such as the capitalist western state-go too far in sanctifying the individual, they regard him as the centre of all social life. Such countries straiten the state’s right to restrict the freedom of the individual. This attitude is reflected in their conception of crime and punishment. They sympathize with criminals and treat them kindly because they are victims of corrupted circumstances, psychological complexes and nervous disorders which they could not overcome. Therefore such states are inclined to reduce penalties until-especially in moral offence-they are no longer regarded as punishment.

At this stage psycho-analysis comes in to justify or explain away the crime. It will be noted that Freud was the champion of the historical change which regarded a criminal as the victim of the sexual; complexes resulting from the repression of the sexual instincts by society, religion, morality and tradition. Later all schools of psycho-analysts followed Freud’s example but many of them did not agree with him that sexual energy was the center of life. All such school regard a criminal as a passive creature who is the victim of general and personal circumstances amidst which he was brought up. They believe in what is called “psychological determinism” that is to say, a man has no freedom of will or action with respect to the psychological energy which acts according to a predetermined manner.

On the other hand, communist countries maintain that the community is a sacred entity against which the individual must not rebel. Therefore, such states inflict great penalties including death and torture on individuals who rebel against the state.

Communism refers offences to economic rather than psychological considerations-as Freud and other psychologists did. Communism holds that a society which suffers from economic disorder cannot foster virtues. Therefore criminals should not be punished. But can the communists explain why crimes are committed, why prisons and courts are still in use in Russia where the economy is governed by the theory of absolute equality?

There is no doubt that both individualistic and communist conceptions are partly true. It is true that circumstances surrounding an individual have a great effect on his constitution and that the subconscious complex may sometimes lead to crime. But man is no a completely passive being in confronting such circumstances. The psycho-analysts commit this mistake: they concentrate on the dynamic energy in man but they ignore the controlling energy which is quite inherent in the human system. The energy which enables a child to control his secretive glands and avoid wetting his bed after a certain age is the same energy which can control his emotions and actions so that he may not continuously give in to his unruly passions and sudden whims.

On the other hand, economic conditions do have some effect on the feelings and actions of individuals. It is true that hunger, by disintegrating the spirit and breeding hatred, may lead to crime or moral corruption. But to say that only the economic factor influences human conduct is a half truth. It is belied by the facts of life in the Soviet Union which claims to have wiped out hunger and poverty.

The main question is this; before deciding whether or not a criminal should be punished, we must determine the extent of his responsibility of the offence he committed. It is to be noted that Islam takes this into account when it considers the question of crime and punishment.

Islam never prescribes punishments haphazardly nor does it executed these without due consideration. In this respect Islam has a unique theory which combines the best of both worlds; the communist as well as the individualistic theories. Islam holds the balance of justice in the right manner and insists on examining all conditions and circumstances connected with the offence. On studying a crime Islam takes into account two considerations at the same time; the viewpoint of the criminal and that of the community against which aggression took place. In the light of such considerations Islam prescribes the fair punishment which is in accordance with the dictates of sound logic and wise reasoning and which must not be affected by delinquent theories and national or individual whims.

Islam imposes preventive punishments which may appear cruel or coarse of viewed superficially or without proper consideration. But Islam does not execute such punishments unless it ascertains that the crime was not justifiable or that the criminal was not acting under any obligation.

Islam prescribes that both adulterer and adulteress should be stoned but it does not inflict such punishment unless they are married persons and upon conclusive evidence by four eye witnesses’ i.e when two married persons flagrantly commit such a heinous crime.

It is to be mentioned that Islam took similar precautions with respect to all the punishments it had prescribed. This is evident from a rule laid down by the third Caliph, Omar bin Al-Khattab who is considered as one of the most prominent legislators of Islam. Omar was known for his strict rigidity in enforcing the rules of Al-Sharia (law); therefore it cannot be said that he was lenient in the interpretation of the law. It should be remember that Omar did not carry out the punishment prescribed for theft (cutting the hand) during the year of famine when there was some doubt that people might be impelled to theft be the following episode:

“It was reported to Omar that some boys in the service of Habib Ibn Abi Balta’a had stolen the she- camel of a man from the tribe of Muznah. When Omar questioned the boys they admitted the theft so he ordered their hands to be cut. But on second thoughts he said, “By God I would cut their hands if I did not know that you employ these boys and starve them so that they would be permitted to eat that which is prohibited unto them”. Then he addressed their employer saying: “By God, since I have not cut their hands I am going to penalize you with a fine that shall pain you” and he ordered him to pay double the price of the she-camel”.

This episode illustrates a very clear and express principle; punishment will not be inflicted where there are circumstances which impelled the wrong-doer to commit the crime. This principle is supports by the saying of the Prophet: “Avoid the execution of punishment by doubt”.

If we student the policy adopted by Islam in prescribing punishment we shall realize that Islam in the first place to purify society from circumstances that may lead to crime. After taking such precaution Islam prescribes a preventive and just punishment which may be inflicted upon persons who have no reasonable justification for their crimes. Where the community is unable to preclude circumstances which may lead to crime or where there is some doubt regarding the crime, the punishment will not be inflicted and the ruler will set the criminal free or he may inflict on him a light punishment (beating or imprisonment) in proportion to his extent of responsibility for the crime.

Islam strives by various means to preclude circumstances that may lead to crime. It strives to ensure a fair distribution of wealth. It even managed to wipe out all poverty in the regime of Omar bin Abdul Aziz. The Islamic state is responsible for the support of every citizen, regardless of his religion, race, language, color or social status. The state is also responsible for ensuring decent work for all citizens. Where work is not available or if an individual is incapable of working, aid will be given to him from the public treasury. To be continued.