We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam - Society, Politics, and Economy - Why are Islamic punishments for crimes so harsh? - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
:
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

Society, Politics, and Economy >
Why are Islamic punishments for crimes so harsh?

Much has been written in recent years about the hudud punishments. Media reports from Afghanistan under the Taliban, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and Nigeria have covered sensational stories of stoning of adulteresses and amputations of the hands and feet of thieves. Human rights activists have denounced these punishments as cruel and contrary to (Western) standards of human rights and international law. Hudud punishments have not been implemented in most modern Muslim states. However, with the rise of political Islam in the late twentieth century they were reintroduced in Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

There are two broad types of punishments for crimes in Islam: hudud and tazir. Hudud refers to the “limits” or “prohibitions” of God that are explicitly defined in the Quran as punishments for specific crimes. Tazir are punishments that are at the discretion of a judge (qadi). These cover a wide range of penalties like fines or imprisonment.

The hudud punishments are limited to specific acts: sexual activity outside of marriage, whether fornication or adultery; false accusations of unchastity; theft; and the consumption of alcohol. The Quran indicates the crime as well as the punishment.

Crimes punishable by hudud are considered attacks against the established social order, threatening the cohesion and morality of the Muslim community. Adultery and fornication violate the order of marriage and the legal means for the procreation of children; theft violates the protection of property that is the right of every member of the community; the consumption of alcohol can lead to acts of aggression or immorality; and false accusations of unchastity—a crime already shown to carry a harsh penalty—are acts of dishonesty that damage the reputations of innocent people. It is because these acts constitute crimes against God and a threat to the moral fabric of the Muslim community that harsh punishments like flogging, stoning, and amputation have been prescribed. Strict regulations regarding evidence in cases involving hudud crimes have been established under Islamic law, and in such cases false accusations are seriously punished.

In some of the countries in which the hudud have been implemented, the excuse given is that the country had fallen into such a state of disorder and unlawfulness that very stern measures were needed to restore some semblance of social order and security. This was the case in Afghanistan under the Taliban, where after twenty years of civil war the social order had fallen into complete disarray. Other countries have used arguments similar to those used by supporters of capital punishment in the West, claiming that knowledge of harsh punishments for certain types of crimes will serve as a deterrent to the committing of those crimes. In the contemporary era, one of the most controversial aspects of stoning adulterers is that women tend to be singled out for punishment, while men are rarely punished, despite the Quranic injunction that both parties are to be punished. In countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria, a woman's pregnancy can be used as evidence against her. In cases where women report having been raped, their testimony can be, and in some cases has been, used to convict them of fornication or adultery.

Muslim reformers and critics have argued that implementation of the hudud can only occur in a society that enjoys a high degree of economic and social justice and not in societies where poverty, high unemployment, and lack of education may drive people to commit crimes of theft. Others argue that hudud punishments were appropriate within the historical and social contexts in which they originated but are inappropriate today and that the underlying religious principles and values need to find new expression in modernizing societies.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice