"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sharia law and the death penalty: Penal Reform International

This report is designed for non-experts who want to understand more about Sharia law and Islamic jurisprudence as it relates to the death penalty.

Sharia law is used in some countries as a reason to retain capital punishment. However, there are schools of thought among Islamic scholars stating that Sharia law creates stringent conditions for the use of the death penalty and includes various opportunities to avoid or commute punishment, and that Sharia law explicitly encourages alternatives.

The report begins by explaining the primary and secondary sources and schools of Sharia law. It then looks at the categories of penalties in Sharia law (Qisas crimes, Hudud crimes and Ta’zir crimes) and explains what these comprise in relation to the death penalty.

The book quotes sources of Sharia law related to these offences and analyses what this means for the application of the death penalty, including how Sharia law relates to international standards on the application of the death penalty. It ends by looking at ways in which Islamic jurisprudence has changed over the centuries in various aspects of law and punishment.

Sharia law and the death penalty: Would abolition of the death penalty be unfaithful to the message of Islam?

This publication was written by Michael Mumisa (University of Cambridge), drawing on an original draft by Dr. Mohammad Habbash (Director of the Centre for Islamic Studies in Damascus) and with additional input from Taghreed Jaber and Jacqueline Macalesher of Penal Reform International.

This publication has been produced as part of Penal Reform International’s project ‘Progressive abolition of the death penalty and implementation of humane alternative sanctions’.

The death penalty is one of the core issues that Penal Reform International (PRI) has worked on for over two decades, in all parts of the world. During this time, PRI has witnessed the death penalty’s abolition in a majority of the world’s nations, but it continues to be used in most Muslim countries. One of the main reasons for this is the justification that it is permitted by the Quran, the Islamic holy book. As such, most nations that consider Islam to be the state religion permit the use of the death penalty. Our work has led us to find that this punishment is rooted in these countries’ legal and political systems, with the influence of religious traditions indirectly affecting the use of the death penalty. Although capital punishment is still widely supported in Islamic states and nations, there are growing groups of Muslims who support the abolition of the death penalty. This is for many reasons, including different interpretations of Quranic verses that deal with capital punishment, but also concerns that governments may use religion as a cover for other reasons to retain the death penalty: it can eliminate actual and potential enemies to government and disseminates fear in society while also encouraging a superficial sense of security.

In many Islamic countries which continue to carry out executions, the death penalty has become a taboo subject. Governments frequently use Sharia to justify why they retain and apply capital punishment, and this can seem to close discussion on the subject. However, Sharia law is not as immutable on the death penalty as many scholars or states say. Among the misconceptions about Sharia law is the belief that there is a clear and unambiguous statement of what the punishments are for particular offences. In fact, there are several different sources referring to punishments, and different schools of Sharia law give different weight to them. There is a belief that Islamic judges are required to impose a fixed and predetermined punishment for certain offences without discretion or without permitting mitigating evidence to be admitted into court. This is not true. Additionally, there is also the belief that Sharia law is widely used in national legislation and practice in Islamic countries, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and elsewhere. In fact, most countries in the MENA region maintain a dual system of secular courts and religious courts, in which the religious courts implement various aspects of Sharia law.

Source: Penal Reform International (PRI), July 2015. PRI is a non-profit association, registered in the Netherlands.

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