What does Islam say about the death penalty?
According to the Islamic injunctions, death penalty can be administered in two cases only. Firstly, if a person is physically harmed or injured by another, Islam directs the state to provide justice to the individual (or his relatives) by letting him/them harm or injure the guilty to the same extent, as he himself was guilty of harming his victim, in the first place. This concept of punishing the guilty is known as “Qisaas“, which means “to follow suit” or to deal with the criminal in a manner similar to the act originally committed. In other words, the criminal is to be killed or injured in the same way as he himself killed or injured his victim. Obviously, the principle of Qisaas when applied in the case of murder would translate to killing the murderer, in the same manner, as he himself killed his victim.
Secondly, the death penalty may be administered if the criminal is guilty of “Hiraabah” or “Fasaad fil Ardh“. “Hiraabah” and/or “Fasaad fil Ardh” include crimes committed against the community, rather than an individual or crimes that are of the nature of religious persecution or crimes committed with the objective of spreading a wave of terror through the community or crimes committed against the state. In the case of “Hiraabah” and/or “Fasaad fil Ardh” the Qur’an has proposed four different punishments – of varying intensities, thus, giving a certain amount of leverage to the authority administering the punishment to be extremely severe or comparatively soft on the criminal, depending upon the nature of the crime committed and other related variables. Two of these proposed punishments shall most certainly amount to torturous death.
These are the only two crimes for which the Qur’an has allowed to administer the death penalty, and to stress the fact that the death penalty cannot be administered in any other crime except these two, the Qur’an says:
Whoever kills a person – except as a punishment for murder or Fasaad fil Ardh – is as if he has killed the whole of mankind. (Al-Maidah 5:32)
However, it might be interesting to note that in the case of murder, Islam gives the relatives of the murdered the right to forgive the criminal. This really implies that if the relatives of the murdered want to forgive the murderer, the state shall then not administer the death penalty. The Qur’an has, in fact, prompted the relatives of the deceased to forgive the criminal.
23rd September 1999