I have a question regarding the strict punishment in Islam especially when it comes to adultery, robbery etc. What is the reason behind such strict punishments?
Before commenting on the nature of punishments prescribed by the Shari`ah, it seems necessary to understand that the punishments prescribed by the Shari`ah are, in fact, the ultimate or the final punishments prescribed for the respective crimes. That is, these punishments are actually meant to be administered in cases, where the perpetrator does not deserve any mercy and should, therefore, be subjected to the severest of punishments, allowable for that crime1. This really implies that if, for instance, a person has stolen bread in times of extreme hunger or has committed a crime under extremely enticing circumstances, then it would only serve justice that the perpetrator is dealt with in a softer manner and not subjected to the prescribed punishments.
The second point that needs to be kept in mind while undertaking a study of the penal law of Islam is that the basic stress of this law is not on correction of the perpetrator, but on strongly discouraging crimes in the society. The objective of the courts of law, according to the Islamic philosophy of punishments, should primarily be to deliver justice to the wronged, not of correcting the criminal, except only where there is clear evidence to suggest that the perpetrator committed the crime under extremely enticing circumstances. If courts of law were to start awarding sentences with the purpose of correcting the perpetrators rather than justice, then wherever possible, the wronged will try to find their respective “Don Corleones” to get their own sweet justice. Correction of individuals should be undertaken by the institutions, which are organized for the specific purpose of correction: Educational institutions, various kinds of Rehabilitation Centers, related government organizations, Communication Media and an army of other institutions should play their allotted roles in correcting the society and the individuals, but the Courts of Law and the Penal Law of the society should be framed in such a way that the incorrigible elements in the society are silenced and forced to live within their legal frameworks, even if it requires developing fear of the law in their hearts.
The third point that needs to be kept in mind is that the Penal Law of Islam has been framed with the three faceted objective of 1) providing justice to the wronged; 2) protecting the law abiding citizens and punishing the law-breakers and 3) strongly discouraging any future occurrences of the crime.
Keeping these clarifications in perspective, let us now take an overview of the punishments prescribed for various kinds of diehard criminals. The punishments for such criminals prescribed by the Shari`ah fall into four basic categories:
Where the individual’s reputation and respect in the society is targeted;
Where the individual is made an example for others, to discourage them from committing similar crimes;
Where the individual is put to death as a requirement of justice;
In the first category falls the punishment of flogging (for fornication and slander); in the second category falls the punishment of amputation of the right hand (for theft) and in the third category falls the punishment of retaliation – Qisaas – (for murder and other physical harm).
I hope this helps.
September 30, 2001
- This opinion is substantiated by the use of attributive nouns for the perpetrators in the verses, which prescribe punishments, especially in the case of theft and fornication. [↩]