A few months ago, a protest took place in the Maldives in defense of the Islamic Huddud (punishment) after a UN delegate spoke out against whipping for adultery from the Maldivian Parliament.
A few years ago, I had heard it argued that it was not Islamic to literally apply the Huddud in this day and age. I wanted to know for sure who was correct about this issue from an Islamic point of view, the fundamentalists or the liberal Islamic scholars.
Seeking answers, I dug out and read a few of my old volumes of Sahih Muslim, as rendered into English by Abdul Hamid Siddiqi. The experience I had wading through those pages rekindled that warm flame within me of the Islamic spirit of Mercy, the Mercy of Allah for all humanity.
This Mercy is understood by all Islamic scholars to be the supreme attribute of Allah. I came to believe that it is perfectly justifiable within a Sunni Islamic context to have the opinion that it is against this Merciful Essence of Islam to literally apply the Huddud in our day and age.
The Huddud (punishment) of flogging for Zina (adultery) is prescribed by the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Also in the Quran, however, in Surah four 15 – 16, it is stated that those who commit crimes such as Zina are to be extended forgiveness and Mercy if the perpetrators repent. As we well know, the view of many fundamentalist Sunni scholars is that these verses prescribing Forgiveness for Zina were abrogated and replaced by the verse prescribing whipping for zina. Many modern Islamic scholars have argued that this is an example of a misunderstanding and misuse of the idea of abrogation.
Let’s look closer at this concept of Naskh, abrogation.
It is one of the fundamental points of Sunni Islam that the Qur’an is the unwritten, eternal Kalam. As an attribute of Allah (Kalam or Speech) it has always existed. Is it possible then, that a ruling of vengeance which has always existed, (as part of the Uncreated Qur’an) could suddenly come into being in the lifetime of our Beloved Prophet (SAW) to replace a ruling of Mercy and Forgiveness which has also always existed.
That is not reasonable. So another perspective is that the Huddud are not so much laws to be applied to all circumstances but are in fact uncreated representations of eternal principles. The highest principle, and the overriding principle in all decision making, is the principle of Mercy, so richly expressed as compassion and forgiveness in the Qur’an and in the Sunnah so very many times.
It is said, in many Sahih Ahadith, for example, that one would be admitted to Jannah (paradise) for having a grain of faith as small as a mustard seed, no matter what his sins were. The practical application of this Mercy comes through the Islamic principle of Maslahah, doing what is best for the community.
In depth study of the Qur’an and Sunnah makes it apparent that the reason the Huddud exist are to make us aware of the immeasurable gravity of the sanctity of life and family, and of the importance of the protection of private property for furthering the development of all the Ummah. The preference for forgiveness is further demonstrated by the near impossibility of applying the Huddud due to the almost impossible to provide demands for proof required by Shariah law (four witnesses to prove fornication for example).
The Prophet’s own preference of the application of forgiveness and Mercy, even when perpetrators confess their sins and demand to be punished, is beautifully demonstrated by a Hadith which recounts an occasion that a female perpetrator of Zina demanded she be punished. The Prophet ignored her, preferring that she accept Allah’s Mercy. She evidently understood the lesson of the sanctity of family which the prescribed punishment for Zinah was meant to teach, and for the Prophet (SAW) that was enough.
As the story goes, this woman persisted in demanding punishment to the point the Prophet could not refuse, and even when she was punished, the Prophet forbade a spirit of vengeance or hate toward her. Sorrowfully, the Prophet demanded reverence, silence; he said he sensed Jannah (heaven) around her as she died. Again, I must emphasise, He did not want to punish her. Such application of punishment was not compatible with the Merciful Intent of the Wahi (the Revelation.)
Unlike some of our present day Muslims, the Prophet was not into protests demanding vengeance and punishment for Zinah, he hated to apply the Huddud and certainly would never have pushed to do so. For he who was sent as a Mercy to the Worlds, it would have been beneath his dignity to make a loud noise about wanting to hurt anybody.
Given our modern understanding and technology, it is possible to promote the gravity of the sanctity of the family and of marriage (the reason for the Revelation of the Huddud) through means such as counseling and education. So it would be most un-Islamic, seems the Islamic preference is Mercy, to literally apply the Huddud for Zinah in our day and age. Of course, those texts will always be there, as they always have, to remind us of the sanctity of family.
There are many great Islamic scholars from the Maldives who agree with the general thrust of this point of view who could actually argue this point a billion times better than I could. Yet since it would be politically damaging for them to share their much needed genius with us right now, I certainly hope that my humble opinion could at least generate some debate about this issue. Eventually I hope to hear from our brave, noble geniuses.
One final thought on this matter.
The Prophet said, and he was not the first Prophet to say it, that he who refuses to show Mercy to others will not receive Mercy from Allah. I wonder what Allah may think of those who’s Zinah and alcohol use had been concealed by Allah’s Mercy, who then demand that that same mercy be denied to others.
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