People who radically reject the death penalty claim that it violates the dignity of a human being.
In my opinion these people obviously lack the appreciation of certain principles and values that Islam teaches us, thus they fail to understand the islamic perspective.
I would be thankful if you could elaborate in detail on this issue.
May Peace be with you.
The imposition of death penalty by revealed religions has come under fire these days. In my opinion, this can be partly attributed to a lack of understanding and appreciation of the law, and partly to the misuse and, in many cases, abuse of this injunction, particularly in the Islamic context, by the adherents of these religions. But then it has also become fashionable talk to denounce and disparage every other law in the name of human rights and dignity. The system of law dealing with capital punishments in Islam has a cogent philosophical basis, and is governed by strict regulations. I would try to present my understanding of these, with specific reference to the death penalty.
Man has been bestowed with the blessing to exercise free will in certain spheres of life. Where this blessing is an honor, an inevitable result of it is misuse, which can at times lead to utter devastation and anarchy. Thus, it was imperative that a way be devised to save man from his own evil and destruction. Hence the penal code of Islam. However, it is important to remember that these punishments are not the starting point of Islam, but the end result of the philosophical, intellectual and penal corpus of Islam in its entirety. Muhammad Asad, while pointing out this fallacy of understanding, eloquently wrote:
The great mistake is that most of these leaders start with the hudud, criminal punishment. This is the end result of the shariah (Islamic Law), not the beginning. The beginning is the rights of the people. There is no punishment in Islam which has no corresponding right.
It is clear that first and foremost is the provision of the basic amenities of life to the citizens of a collectivity along with ensuring and safeguarding their basic rights. Proper education and upbringing, a conducive environment, admonition and exhortation and opportunities for the realization of one’s potential are the basic rights of every human being, thus serving, in totality, as a preamble for the formation of a truly healthy and just society. This is the society that Islam envisages before enjoining upon its members the implementation of the hudud (capital punishments). Consequently, we see that Omar (ra) did not implement the punishment of theft during the time of drought in a land under his authority.
Now in this context, if a crime is committed in such a society, the solution is to administer appropriate punishment. Since, in the task of adopting the ways and means of reproof and chastisement, human intellect could falter and stumble, the Almighty Himself revealed His directives about these issues. These directives are aimed at protecting the life, wealth and honor of the individuals that make up a society and want to live in peace and tranquility. These directives are what constitute the Shariah of the Almighty that we have in its most authentic shape in the form of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws). The Quran says:
Then We did set you on a clear Shari`ah as regards religion. So follow it and follow not the whims of those who know not. (45:18)
The crimes for which punishments are prescribed by the Shari`ah include:
Spreading disorder in the land (Waging war against Allah and the Prophet)
Injury and Murder
Falsely accusing someone of Fornication
Some noteworthy points with respect to the death penalty are:
Death penalty could be administered only if the criminal is guilty of murder or spreading disorder in the land. Even then, the prescribed punishment should be given only if the criminal does not deserve any leniency and the crime has taken place in its complete form.
Only a competent legal authority can administer this punishment keeping in view the nature and extent of the crime, the circumstances in which it has been committed and the consequences, which it produces or can produce in a society.
In case of murder, Islam gives the relatives of the murdered the right to forgive the criminal and has even prompted them to do so.
In light of the above, I believe that death penalty, if administered in all fairness, does not entail a violation of human dignity but seeks to restore and safeguard the human dignity of countless people who might otherwise lose it at the hands of some ruthless perpetrators of violence and murder.
Amin Ahsan Islahi very aptly puts this situation in perspective with an analogy:
If a murderer is executed because of his crime, it apparently seems as if a second life has been taken, but a little deliberation shows that this punishment is actually a guarantee of the life of the whole society. If this punishment is not carried out, the mental disorder in which a person commits this crime is actually transmitted to the society. The extent of various diseases differs: diseases which result in such heinous crimes as murder, robbery theft or fornication are like those diseases in which it is necessary to amputate some limb of the body to save the whole body. Amputating a limb may seem a callous act, yet a doctor has to be ‘callous’. If by showing sympathy to this limb he does not force himself to this ‘cruelty’, he shall have to bear with the patient’s death.
A society in its collective capacity is like a body. At times, its limbs get infected to the extent that the only option is to cut them from the body through an operation. If sympathy is shown by considering it to be the limb of a patient, there is all the chance that this would fatally infect the whole body. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur’an, Urdu, 4th ed., vol. 1, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1991), p. 436-7)
You may also like to see a previous answer to a related question titled ‘Regarding the Death Penalty‘.
February 4, 2003