Join us on Facebook

Capital Punishment in Islam

In Islam, punishments are not enacted by individuals, vigilante groups or aggrieved family members. They can only be carried out by a legitimate legal authority, such as the elected government of an Islamic State. For some crimes, murder for example, Islam does recognise capital punishment for those found guilty beyond doubt. The death penalty is not viewed solely as a punishment, but also serves as a deterrent for the whole society. However, it is not a sole means, but arguably the hardest measure in a series of measures in society that work to prevent crime.

Capital punishment is often criticised in Western secular societies who highly prioritise the rights of the individual over that of society. However, many in those same societies bemoan the fact that victims do not see adequate justice done and that the criminal justice system fails to deter crime and protect society.

Islamic society considers both the individual’s rights as well as those of the wider community. An Islamic society does not encourage the level of individualism that is encouraged in Western societies, because responsibility to others is a paramount Islamic idea. A person is encouraged to value his neighbour as well as himself. As a result, rampant selfishness, lack of concern for others and the ‘look after number one’ attitude should be reduced to a minimum.

The growing levels of violent crime among the youth in the UK impacts on the families of the victims emotionally, mentally and sometimes financially. Moreover, simple excursions like going to a quiet park, walking the streets after dark or frequenting town centres are now considered too risky for many ordinary folk. In any society, justice must be upheld, and be seen to be upheld, or else people lose confidence in the system. This would, in turn, lead to more individualism and so, to a vicious cycle of ‘looking after number one’. Sadly, this destructive individualism is now a prominent part of popular culture. However, the deterrent aspect of capital punishment is rarely realised there, yet, this does not mean that it will also not work in an Islamic society, which has completely different values.

Islamic law insists upon a very high burden of proof before a designated court prior to any punishment being carried out. In capital offences the level of proof has to be ‘beyond doubt' in contrast to UK courts which require evidence to indicate guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. So, a jury could have doubt, but be persuaded to convict a person anyway. An Islamic judge would not be allowed to convict in such circumstances. The Prophet Muhammad said: "Avert the hudud (corporal and capital punishments ordained by Allah) as much as you can. So if there is a way out for him, let him off. For verily, it is better for the Imam to err in pardoning than to err in punishment."

Islam views certain crimes very seriously - those which have a very serious effect upon the foundations of society. If the citizen’s lives, property, honour or values are not protected, then they lose trust in the society itself. The punishments must not be implemented in isolation of the rest of the Islamic Shariah laws, which prevent the causes of crime. For example, if a married man betrays his wife through an adulterous relationship, then the punishment is death, as long as the evidence is irrefutable (four witnesses of the act itself). However, Islamic society separates the men and women in normal life, such that temptation is reduced. It is forbidden for unmarried men and women to be alone together. Both should dress modestly, such that desire is not aroused in the other. Desire is not promoted through using provocative images in advertisements, lewd music or drama. Healthy marriages are promoted, promiscuity is shunned and abstinence is encouraged if necessary. Islamic values are different to Western values, so the punishments should be seen in their context.

Islamic law is unique in that it is holistic in solving human problems, dealing with values and the causes of crime. In this way, Islam truly protects individuals, families and communities from crime and vice. It deals with preventing problems as well as applying deterrent punishments justly; rather than having to resort to fire-fighting, finding scapegoats and inadequately treating the criminal symptoms of a broken society.