Islam and capital punishment
Islam on the whole accepts capital punishment.
...Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does He command you, so that you may learn wisdomQur'an 6:151
But even though the death penalty is allowed, forgiveness is preferable. Forgiveness, together with peace, is a predominantQur'anic theme.
Muslims believe that capital punishment is a most severe sentence but one that may be commanded by a court for crimes of suitable severity. While there may be more profound punishment at the hands of God, there is also room for an earthly punishment.
Methods of execution in Islamic countries vary and can include beheading, firing squad, hanging and stoning. In some countries public executions are carried out to heighten the element of deterrence.
Each case is regarded individually and with extreme care and the court is fully able to impose more lenient sentences as and when they see fit.
Islamic countries that practise a very strict Sharia law are associated with the use of capital punishment as retribution for the largest variety of crimes.
At the other end of the spectrum are countries such as Albania and Bosnia, which still retain the death penalty as part of their penal system, but are abolitionist in practice.
In Islamic law, the death penalty is appropriate for two groups of crime:
- Intentional murder: In these cases the victim's family is given the option as to whether or not to insist on a punishment of this severity
- Fasad fil-ardh ('spreading mischief in the land'): Islam permits the death penalty for anyone who threatens to undermine authority or destabilise the state
What constitutes the crime of 'spreading mischief in the land' is open to interpretation, but the following crimes are usually included:
- Treason/apostasy (when one leaves the faith and turns against it)
- Piracy of any kind
- Homosexual activity
Whilst Islam remains firmly retentionist, there is a small but growing abolitionist Islamic view. Their argument is as follows:
- The Ulamas (those who are learned in Islamic Law, constitution and theology) do not always agree on the interpretation or authenticity of the sacred texts. Neither do they agree on the social context in which these texts should be applied.
- Sharia law is often used by repressive powers that attack women and the poor.
- There are incidences of these states summarily executing those who are accused whilst denying them access to a lawyer. These acts are totally contradictory to the concept of Islamic justice.
In Geneva, on 28th April 2005, there was a call for a moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and death penalty. This was, however, rejected by the Legal Research Commission of the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the world's leading Islamic learning centre.