The concept of punishments in Islam is based solely on one fundamental purpose, reformation. Therefore, while the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet (sa) teach retribution and absolute justice, they also urge the act of forgiveness and mercy if it leads to reform. Hence, Allah states in the Holy Quran:

 

وَجَزٰٓؤُا سَیِّئَۃٍ سَیِّئَۃٌ مِّثۡلُھَا ۚ فَمَنۡ عَفَا وَاَصۡلَحَ فَاَجۡرُہٗ عَلَی اللّٰہِ ؕ اِنَّہٗ لَا یُحِبُّ الظّٰلِمِیۡنَ[1]

And the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof; but whoso forgives, and his act brings about reformation, his reward is with Allah. Surely, He loves not the wrongdoers.

 

For a more detailed analysis on the law of retribution, the following verse will be the centre point of our discussion. Allah states:

یٰۤاَیُّھَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا کُتِبَ عَلَیۡکُمُ الۡقِصَاصُ فِی الۡقَتۡلٰی ؕ اَلۡحُرُّ بِالۡحُرِّ وَ الۡعَبۡدُ بِالۡعَبۡدِ وَ الۡاُنۡثٰی بِالۡاُنۡثٰی ؕ فَمَنۡ عُفِیَ لَہٗ مِنۡ اَخِیۡہِ شَیۡءٌ فَاتِّبَاعٌۢ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ وَ اَدَآءٌ اِلَیۡہِ بِاِحۡسَانٍ ؕ ذٰلِکَ تَخۡفِیۡفٌ مِّنۡ رَّبِّکُمۡ وَ رَحۡمَۃٌ ؕ فَمَنِ اعۡتَدٰی بَعۡدَ ذٰلِکَ فَلَہٗ عَذَابٌ اَلِیۡمٌ[2]

O ye who believe! equitable retaliation in the matter of the slain is prescribed for you: the free man for the free man, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But if one is granted any remission by one’s brother, then pursuing the matter for the realization of the blood money shall be done with fairness and the murderer shall pay him the blood money in a handsome manner. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. And whoso transgresses thereafter, for him there shall be a grievous punishment.

 

This verse of the Holy Quran has established a basic premise concerning civil law, i.e. equality of man and the necessity to award a proportionate punishment to all offenders without distinction.  The Islamic judiciary system is perfectly in line with the human psyche. Not only does Islam bound the governmental body to take just measures, but it also puts the gavel in the hands of the victim. The decision of whether the criminal should be given a punishment equal to the one he or she commit or if they should be forgiven lies with the victim or their next right of kin. For example, if person is killed, his or her family members will ultimately decide the fate of the criminal, and the authorities are bounded by Allah to obey their decision.

 

The Death Penalty

Islam promotes capital punishment for heinous crimes such as murder, treason, and rape etc. It’s a very simple and logical principle, if a person purposely takes a life, he or she loses the right to their own life. Because in that time and moment, he attributes a dominion to himself that only

[1] The Holy Quran 42:41

[2] The Holy Quran 2:179

 

belongs to Allah. Similarly, treason is also a very serious crime which often leads to mass bloodshed and serious dangers to a serene society. And as far as rape is concerned, this crime is so horrendous that its victims are left nearly lifeless. Islam’s aim is to uproot the conditions under which such gruesome crimes are committed, and thus, the Omniscient God laid down the law of retaliation in a form that is indispensable for the preservation and protection of human life, as well as the promotion of harmony and goodwill. In recent years, even though efforts to abolish the death penalty have been rampant, it still exists in majority of the world; this is sufficient proof that this Islamic teaching is in complete harmony with reason, justice and humanity. In fact, even the keenest protagonists of the elimination of capital punishment have not been able to provide a sufficient alternative. They have had to admit that a long term of imprisonment as an alternative is “horrible” and is “not an ideal substitute.”[1] The law of retaliation still remains the most effective deterrent to crime and an essential method to satisfy the demands of justice; and the Islamic Law takes a further step to bring about reconciliation between the offender and the aggrieved party.[2] In the following verse, Allah goes further and explains His wisdom in prescribing the law of retaliation:

 

وَ لَکُمۡ فِی الۡقِصَاصِ حَیٰوۃٌ یّٰۤاُولِی الۡاَلۡبَابِ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تَتَّقُوۡنَ[3]

And there is life for you in the law of retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may enjoy security.

 

How beautifully Allah has described the underlying wisdom to the law of retaliation. Since, قصاص literally means, ‘killing a murderer’ thus, Allah is ultimately expressing, “And there is life for you in death, O men of understanding.” How daunting in saying, but how eternally true! Reality is, no peaceful social life is possible without the awarding of swift capital punishment to those who consider human life to be of so little value and consequence.

 

[1] Capital Punishment in the Twentieth Century by E. Roy Calvert, G. P. Putnam, London, 1930

[2] The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, Volume 1, Islam International Publications LTD

[3] The Holy Quran 2:180