Why are Islamic Punishments so Severe?
Islamic Punishments
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

I am a strong believer and always try to submit to the directives of Islam. However one question keeps bothering me over and over again. Being a lawyer by profession, I keep wondering on the nature of Islamic punishments. They seem to be very harsh and cruel if you allow me to say that. Can you explain?


Without refuting the fact that Islamic punishments are indeed very severe and harsh, two things may perhaps help you in understanding the nature and logic of this severity:

The first thing that needs to be kept in mind is that if one reflects on the style and linguistic constructions in which these punishments are mentioned in the Qur’ān, it comes to light that these punishments are extreme forms of reproof. They are to be given only and only if the extent of the crime and the state of the person who has committed the crime deserve no leniency. In other words, the fact that whether a person has committed a particular crime or not is not the only factor to be ascertained by the court; equally important is the information concerning the factors which led to the crime and the state of the person who committed the crime. If this information induces a judge to decide that the crime has not been committed in its ultimate form, he has all the authority to punish the criminal with lesser punishments like fining him or having him beaten up. Precisely, on such grounds, in a particular case, the Caliph ‘Umar (rta) refused to amputate the hand of a person who was forced to steal because of hunger simply because he thought the circumstances were such that the person deserved leniency. It is known that there was a severe drought during his rule and it was in this drought that the incident had taken place. In other words, one can easily conclude that in this particular aspect the Islamic penal code is no different from most other penal codes.

The second important thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that the purpose of most Islamic punishments is not merely to punish the criminal, but to make his punishment an act of deterrence for any further instance of the crime. Everyone would agree that peace and security of a society occupy fundamental importance if it is to develop and prosper. Societies which are crime ridden and in which people feel insecure obviously soon disintegrate and eventually have no role in the development of culture and civilization. As such, it is the primary responsibility of a government to make sure that the life, wealth and honour of its citizens are protected to the utmost. Besides educating and instructing people so that they have morally sound personalities, it is necessary to severely punish people who in spite of being provided with the opportunities of life exceed limits by playing with the life, wealth and honour of others. In order to cleanse a society from crime as much as possible, Islam wants to make an example of people who create nuisance in the society and disrupt its peace and tranquillity. Consequently, the punishments it prescribes are instrumental in bringing peace and security to a society as far as possible.

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