Penal Codes in Islam; What’s the Deal with Hand Cutting, Lashing, & Stoning?

“…These are the limits set by Allah, so do not approach them…” (Quran 2:187)

Sharia Law is Divine Legislation consisting of individual laws that deal with the civil aspects of life, including character, dealing with others, prayer, purification, repentance, marriage, divorce, business dealings, etc. Sharia Law also consists of state-based laws regarding the running of a State. Since Sharia protects and preserves the rights and freedom of individuals and societies, its law must contain rules, regulations, and punishments for those that transgress and infringe on people’s rights and freedoms.

Listed within state-based laws is a small component known as Hudud — criminal law and indicates the penal code of Islam. Hudud can be translated as punishment for encroaching upon the limits and boundaries set by Allah. Since certain aspects of Hudud violate human rights, punishments must be enacted to serve justice for those harmed, as is the case in all countries today. Since these crimes severely impact society, they come complete with severe punishments. It’s essential to enact harsh penalties for severe crimes, to help deter and discourage such crimes for the community’s security.

It’s imperative to note that ordinary Muslims cannot enforce the laws we will discuss; these punishments can be carried out only by a Muslim ruler or judge. A person accused of a crime must be tried in an Islamic court and proven guilty before any punishment is implemented. There is no place for vigilantism in the faith of Islam, acts in which Muslims take the law into their own hands.

Instead of throwing someone in a jail cell in a harsh environment alongside other criminals to allow them to network with each other while costing citizen taxpayers a great deal of money, Islam prevents crimes in a different matter by using the Hudud punishments as a form of deterrence and retribution.

It’s imperative to note that the chief principle in implementing Hudud punishments is maximizing mercy — seeking to reform the criminal and allowing the doors of repentance to be opened. Hudud punishments are challenging to prove and enforce. A rigorous requirement of solid evidence almost renders these punishments a scare tactic.

A Muslim ruler or jurist can consider many ambiguities to avoid applying a hudud punishment. Prophet Muhammad PBUH stated: Avert the legal penalties from the Muslims as much as possible if he has a way out, then leave him to his way, for if the Imam makes a mistake in forgiving it would be better than making mistake in punishment’ As Hudud laws are very difficult to execute, not a single incident of stoning an adulterer occurred in the first 1000 years of the life of Prophet Muhammad PBUH. And only three or four incidents are recorded of lashings in this faith.

“As for male and female thieves, cut off their hands for what they have done — a deterrent from Allah. And Allah is Almighty, All-Wise” (Quran 5:38)

Islam takes the rights of people’s property very seriously, and as a result, the religion enacts laws to protect any act of aggression toward other people’s property. The Islamic concept of theft is to “take that which does not belong to you stealthily from a place where similar things are typically kept.” Without a severe punishment for theft, this evil would spread throughout society. Harsh punishment is needed as a deterrent to scare people away from such an evil act.

The punishment for theft is to cut off the perpetrator’s hands at the wrist joint, where the hand meets the forearm. Cutting the hands of thieves was a practice in Arabia before the inception of Islam, and the Holy Quran ratified the practice. It’s imperative to note that we don’t randomly cut off the hands of all thieves. More than sixty conditions must be met to warrant an amputation verdict. The thief must be given a fair trial and presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Two witnesses of upright character must attest and agree with one another’s testimony. The thief must be released if there are no witnesses to the alleged crime. If the thief admits to stealing and is forgiven by the property owner, his hands are not chopped off. The value of the stolen good must exceed a specific value, worth a quarter of a Dinar or more, so the chopping off of hands doesn’t apply as a punishment for petty theft. The thief must be a sane adult who committed the crime of his own free will, not under duress, drunk, or motivated by hunger. The stolen property would have had to have been stored in a secure place like a drawer, safe, or cupboard. Other conditions need to be met as well.

If the thief can prove he stole out of need, the Muslim government would not only stop the punishment but also be required to help the thief meet his living needs. It is nearly impossible for a thief to be sentenced unless he confesses twice and doesn’t retract his statement, which is why the chopping-off hands have rarely occurred in history. Due to the severity of this harsh punishment, the theft rate was very low in places where this penalty was enforced. The chopping off of the hands is also referenced in the Bible in Deuteronomy 25: 11–12.

“As for female and male fornicators, give each of them one hundred lashes, and do not let pity for them make you lenient in enforcing the law of Allah if you truly believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a number of believers witness their punishment” (Quran 24:2)

The act of intercourse between a man and woman with no legitimate marital relationship is prohibited in Islam. It is considered a grave sin because the act severely affects individuals and society. The preservation of lineage is important, and the commission of intercourse outside marriage can cause a child to be born who will never know their father’s identity. Someone who grows up without a father can lose their God-given inheritance rights and other rights. The intercourse outside of marriage does not ensure that a woman and her newborn will be taken care of financially by the baby’s father. An increase in incidents of intercourse outside of marriage can cause unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

“And do not come near to adultery; surely it has been an obscenity and odious as a way” (Quran 17:32)

The Holy Quran states that the person who engages in fornication is to be lashed 100 times for their crime. Scholars say that this Verse refers to unmarried people. Married people who cheat on their spouses are to be stoned, as stated in Hadith. For these punishments to be implemented, four witnesses of the physical act must come forward who have no doubts as to what they witnessed. For the act to bear four witnesses, it would have to have been committed in public. Many countries have laws regarding this variety of crimes, known as a public display of indecency. This is a serious crime, as children and innocent people can witness it; it can potentially traumatize or corrupt them. Some scholars state that this Verse refers to those who repeatedly perform an act of intercourse outside of marriage, like prostitutes or those who work in the pornography industry. Of course, these industries are very harmful to society.

For any testimony to be accepted, it must be delivered by four sane Muslim adult witnesses with integrity who saw the physical act of the adulterer’s penis as it penetrated the woman’s vagina, leaving no room for doubt. In addition, other conditions must be met for someone to be lashed 100 times.

Those who implement the punishment of 100 lashes have rules to abide by to ensure they are not committing any injustice to the offender. The one performing the lashing should not raise their arm high enough to reveal their armpits, as that would cause more pain. They should not whip anyone on an exceptionally hot or cold day, as that could cause more pain. The lashing is not meant to cause permanent damage or to kill. That is not what Allah intends for the one being punished.

“Those who accuse chaste women of adultery and fail to produce four witnesses, give them eighty lashes each. And do not ever accept any testimony from them — for they are indeed the rebellious” (Quran 24:4)

Making a false accusation against an innocent person regarding adultery or other immoral act is a severe sin due to the harm it can cause the person and society. Anyone who accuses a Muslim of adultery without providing four witnesses to the act will get a punishment of eighty lashes to protect the community from this crime, safeguard people’s honor, and more. And the one who submitted the false accusation would be disqualified as a witness in other cases.

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