Comment: Sharia and the death penalty

This article first appeared on Dhivehisitee. Republished with permission.

On July 1, a Maldivian lawyer was brutally murdered, his body stuffed into a dustbin.

On June 4,  militant Islamists tried to murder Hilath Rasheed, the country’s only openly gay rights activist and a rare voice advocating secularism in the Maldives.

On 30 May,  a 65-year-old man was killed on the island of Manafaru by robbers after his pension fund.

On the same day, in Male’ a 16-year-old school boy was stabbed multiple times and left to bleed to death in a public park.

On April 1, a 33-year-old man was stabbed to death in broad daylight by two men on a motorbike.  On February 19, a twenty-one-year-old life was taken in a case of ‘mistaken identity’.

Amidst the increasing violence and decreasing value of life, calls for restoration of the death penalty are growing. It is normal for a society experiencing unprecedented levels of crime to demand the death penalty as a solution. In the Maldives, however, the whole debate is framed within the precincts of religion, touted as a return to ‘Islamic justice.’

This is not to say other ways of looking at it are completely absent from the discourse. There’s Hawwa Lubna’s examination of the death penalty within a rule of law framework in Minivan News, and Mohamed Visham’s somewhat confused and confusing analysis of its pros and cons in Haveeru, for example. Such discussions are, however, pushed to the fringes as the theme of ‘Islamic justice’ takes precedence.

My question is, how Islamic is this call for ‘Marah Maru’ [death for death]? Is revenge what underpins provisions for the death penalty in Sharia?

The Qur’an mandates that everyone has a right to life, unless a court of law demands killing: “Nor take life — which Allah has made sacred — except for just cause.”1

What is not being said in the Maldivian debates on the death penalty is that although the Qur’an provides for situations in which the death penalty can be imposed, all such situations are carefully laid out with stringent evidentiary requirements that discourage carrying out a death sentence.

And, in all situations where capital punishment can be imposed, it offers alternative punishments that allow the death penalty to be avoided. 2

Among the three types of crimes for which the death penalty can be imposed in Sharia–hududqisas, and the ta’zir– murder belongs to the Qisas category. Qisas are offences proscribed by the Qur’an or Sunnah, but are subject of personal claims, rather than offences against Islam. Qisas deals with murder or bodily injury. The Qur’an allows retaliation against the individual who commits a Qisas crime, but also clearly demonstrates a strong preference for forgiveness.3

We have often heard in the current Maldivian debate the call for an ‘eye for an eye’, a ‘life for life’, citing the Qur’an; what we do not hear is the rest of the verse.

We ordained therein for them:

“Life for life, eye for eye,

Nose for nose, ear for ear,

Tooth for tooth, and wounds

Equal for equal.”

But if Anyone remits the retaliation

By way of charity, it is

An act of atonement for himself.

And if any fail to judge

By (the light of) what Allah

Hath revealed, they are

(No better than) wrongdoers. 4

The law of equality

Is prescribed to you

In cases of murder:

The free for the free,

The Slave for the Slave,

The woman for the woman.

But if any remission

Is made by the brother

Of the slain, then grant

Any reasonable demand,

And compensate him

With handsome gratitude 5

The right for the family of a murder victim to demand harm is balanced by the opportunity for family members to accept payment, or diya, for their loss instead of demanding that the perpetrator be punished. This is reflected in the fact that, generally, the Qur’an expresses a preference for diya over qisas 6 It says, for instance, that the Muslim who chooses diya will be rewarded in heaven:

It is part of the Mercy

Of Allah that thou dost deal

Gently with them.

Wert thou severe

Or harsh-hearted,

They would have broken away

From about thee: so pass over

(Their faults), and ask

For (Allah’s) forgiveness

For them; and consult

Them in affairs (of moment).

Then, when thou hast

Taken a decision

Put thy trust in Allah.

For Allah loves those

Who put their trust (in Him) 7

The question is, when Sharia so emphasises forgiveness over punishment, why is the emphasis of the Maldivian death penalty debate on punishment over forgiveness? In the murder of lawyer Ahmed Najeeb, for instance, the breathtakingly rapid investigation and court case revealed that two members of Najeeb’s eight inheritors chose diya over death, preferring not to take a life for a life.

When, according to the Qur’an and Sunna, diya is the more honourable choice, why was the choice of these two relatives Najeeb not highlighted in the national discourse as motivated by ‘Islamic values’ and, therefore, praiseworthy?

Why is ‘truly Islamic’ justice only portrayed as ‘an eye for eye, a life for a life’?

Not only is the reluctance to punish found in the Qur’an, it is also the case in the Sunnah. A’isha, the wife of the Prophet said, for instance, to:

avoid condemning the Muslim to Hudud whenever you can, and when you can find a way out for the Muslim then release him for it. If the Imam errs it is better that he errs in favour of innocence…than in favour of guilt.8

There is another narrative from the Prophet’s life that demonstrates he actively encouraged his followers to ward off punishment by looking for uncertainties that would create reasonable doubt, making the punishment impossible.

Maa’iz b. Malik was a person who presented himself to the Prophet, confessing Zina and requesting purification with the hadd. His story is scattered through the books of Hadith in numerous narrations. The Prophet repeatedly told him to go back and seek Allah’s forgiveness. After he kept returning, the Prophet made a number of attempts to make sure there was no doubt. He sent his Companions to Maa’iz’s people to inquire if he was known to be insane. He was informed there was no evidence of insanity nor was was he known to have any defect in his mind. He then asked them whether he was intoxicated, and the Companions smelled his mouth and informed him that they could not detect any signs of alcohol on his breath. Only then did the Prophet implement the hadd of stoning. In additional narrations of this same story, the prophet asked Maa’iz some specific questions to avert possible doubt:

“Perhaps you only kissed her or flirted with her or gazed at her.” Maiz replied, “No”. He then asked, “Did you have physical intercourse with her?” He replied, “Yes,” and only then was he ordered to be stoned.9

Quite clearly, Islamic justice is based on the ethos of forgiveness rather than punishment.

This understanding of the Sharia is being left out of the Maldivian debate – as it was left out of much of Western discourse on Sharia in the last decade – by those calling for an end to the moratorium on the death penalty. It is a suspension that has lasted from 1953 till now, and one that more closely reflects the Quranic understanding of Sharia.

Given that all parties pushing the death penalty are framing it as re-introduction of an ‘Islamic justice’ system, it is wrong that they are all ignoring the emphasis that the system places on finding alternatives to taking a life for a life.

It raises the question of whether the real motives behind the call for the death penalty are political rather than a desire for justice itself, Islamic or otherwise.

Leading the call are the usual suspects – prominent legal players such as Attorney General Azima Shukoor, Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz and Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – who have all expressed their desire for restoration of the ‘Islamic justice’ of the death penalty. And the Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz has – incredibly – described the beleaguered Maldivian justice system as capable of meting out capital punishment justly.

For politicians, imposing the death penalty at a time of unprecedented violence such as now provides the opportunity for appearing tough on crime – always a vote-attracter among a population battling with rising crime rates, especially when a crucial election is nigh. Their assumption is that if the State were only brave enough to take upon itself the power to kill, everyone else would cease to do so.

Furthermore, it provides a rare and valuable opportunity to flex political muscle at a time when the government is weak and its legitimacy is in question.

For the Islamists, it is the means with which to enforce a particularly harsh interpretation of Sharia on the Maldivian people in the name of Islam.

Given the situation, it is shocking that no member of the community of ‘Islamic scholars’ in the Maldives have come forward to emphasise understandings of Sharia and Islamic jurisprudence that highlight forgiveness and mercy as virtues much more deserving of Allah’s approval than revenge – even where justified by law.

Does the lack of an alternative view mean that in the last decade or so Islamists have established such a hegemony over Maldivian religious thought that it prevents any other views from being offered to the public?

Does it mean there are no ‘Islamic scholars’ in the country with an understanding of Islam that is not Islamist?

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


40 thoughts on “Comment: Sharia and the death penalty”

  1. wow minivan is going all islamic now?

    Go back to reading extracts from the idiots guide to the British house of commons,

    All of you foreign "journalists", go make your buck elsewhere
    its fine for our fellow country men and women to have differences in opinion, but when you all butt in, its when "you know what" hits the fan

  2. I am happy to see see more depth in Azra Naseem's writings, at least with an Islamic angle.

    God bless you sister.

  3. Also this is THE way to wage jihad against Salafists and Wahabist radical extreme elements in Maldives.

    You can beat them up with real Islam. Go for it sister.

  4. Azra knows so little about Islam Yet she is pretending to know much. Such people are truly dangerous.
    Azra studied in Ireland funded by Maumoon Government. She is related to Madam Nasreena Gayoom.

  5. Great article.... And one that should be translated and widely 'distrubuted' on social media such as facebook, which is a hotbed for the 'mara maru' debate, by people who are so unware of the context within which the death penalty comes from.

  6. @ismail on Sat, 7th Jul 2012 4:05 PM

    How more stupid and useless can you be, I wonder.

  7. Its dangerous for people who has so little knowledge about islam talk about verses of quran by its literal meaning...very dangeorus!!!

  8. @ ismail, you failed to highlight a flow in her analysis of the issue but rather you would attack her personally?!

  9. It is unfortunate that Dr. Azra Naseem has sold her integrity to Minivannews and wishes to set Western human rights norms as the parameters within which we can set national policy on criminal punishment and deterrence.

    Wether we do or do not proceed with carrying out the death penalty it is vital that we pass the updated criminal procedures bill and evidence bill.

    In the meanwhile who we execute, how many and for what reason, as a sovereign state, is our own prerogative - not that of western interest groups nor the disloyal citizens/journalists who work on behalf of such interests to the detriment of our country and religion.

    It truly saddens me to see the depths to which you have sunk, Azra.

  10. @tsk tsk

    You suffers from an extreme form of chronic negativity - sort out with you wife.

  11. I am surprised by people like ismail and tsk tsk. How little respect they have for another person. Dr Azra you have once again made my day by keeping us informed with such professional thoughts. Islam is definitely a religion based on good , humble practices and forgiveness is in its core.

  12. I was born as a Maldivian citizen but I don't think I am anymore as I found Buddism better than Islam ? What a Law and freedom ?

  13. LOL on Sat, 7th Jul 2012 7:36 PM

    "I was born as a Maldivian citizen but I don’t think I am anymore as I found Buddism better than Islam ? What a Law and freedom ?"

    Why not combine the two and become a Buddisamist? You'll have even more fun, I bet. Just don't tell the Holy Dalai Lama that I told you this.

  14. The Dalai Lama should be garrotted on the spot as should any Maldivian citizen who seeks to emasculate the shariah with womanly objections.

    The death penalty is prescribed for married adultery, apostasy, murder and similar vile offences.

    It will either deter such acts or render our remaining population more virtuous.

    The opportunity cannot be wasted. Implement the death penalty.

  15. @Ahmed bin Addu bin Suvadheeb

    I have my right to believe whatever I want. What are you gonna do, Kill me ? I just started worshipping Sun just now ! What are you gonna do ? Can you all hypocrites wait till the judgement day and let the God punish me ? retards you all are. and Religions are Bullshit !

  16. There is so much violence and criminality in Maldivian society because you are sunni muslims and your faith only preaches hate and intolerance. Some examples:
    Hindu kaafirs.....must be garrotted on the spot
    Jewish infidels.....must be flogged and burnt alive
    Buddhists.....must be dropped from airplanes
    Catholics and protestants.....must be fed to wild animals
    Jehovah's witnesses, mormons and baptists.....must be hung, drawn and quartered
    Shias, ahmaddiyas and sufis (wrong kind of muslims).....must be chopped up into little bits
    Pork eaters.....must be fed to the crocs
    Wine drinkers.....must be poisoned with cyanide
    Gays, lesbians, cross-dressers and independant women.....must be beaten to a pulp and electrocuted
    Prostitutes, rentboys and ladyboys.....must be thrown off tall buildings
    Anybody who is not a 'believer'.....must have the crap beaten out and forced to see the wisdom of islam
    Seriously guys, does your faith teach to to love anybody on this planet.....ANYBODY AT ALL?
    Pakistan today.....your sunni a result of teaching violence and hatred to its young people for a whole generation.....and full of civil strife, daily bombings with the 'right' muslims killing the 'wrong' muslims.
    No wonder young muslims are low achievers and hooked on drugs.

  17. @Indira NewDelhi
    I applaud your comment. What happened to the once upon a time peaceful Maldivian race, free from hate, people who welcome people from all religions? Where have you gone to? Have you forgotten that your very existence relies on those people you call unbelievers? Why are you Muslim first, Maldivian second? Why have you regressed to a sad little race believing bullshit from a crowd of silly bearded men promising you wine and virgins in the afterlife. Have you become so narrow minded to trust some uneducated morons, who themselves have been brainwashed into some ancient ideology?

    @tsk tsk
    It truely saddens me, blah blah blah...
    Why do you bother? Really? I suppose apart from being a political advisor to the president (yeah we know who you are by now) you talk so much drivel, so nicely by the way, that it should always merit a reply. So how exactly does a talented journalist, holding a doctorate (and not the foney Malaysian type that you and your pals are accustomed), who is actually analysing what is actually stated in the Quran, become a threat to the sovereignty of the country. That sounds like a pathetic biased remark, or perhaps you could clarify why you believe so, for once Dr?

  18. You know a nation has failed when they follow rules set by imaginary beings.

    Now, excuse me while I continue to feed my dragon.

  19. stop given crimnals vip treatment in jails crime will automatically stop.he ppl dont hve fear fr doing any kind of crime coz this country do hve any kind of laws or rules neither islamic nor demacratic.u dont need to follow shriya law all the time.make laws will help common man not crimnals.only in this country i hve seen rapist being released withen two weeks after accepting the crime.only in this country police dont hve any kind of powers thy act how ppl want thm to act.

  20. @indra new delhi .
    i accept maldives is full of crime bt y r u blaming muslims fr this.look into country india is tht crime free.women cant walk on roads after 10 pm.delhi is most dangerious city fr women.
    what do u have to say abt honour killings.what do u have to say abt untouchable ppl.still low cast ppl cant pray in uper cast temples.why dont u talk abt killing baby girls befre there birth why dont u talk abt evil dowry system in ur socity.
    befre blming religion u should think twice..its socity prb here education prb.

  21. Wow ! Islamicphobic haters spreading hates. Who will belive you lies ? Due to your hate mongering most of you had gone insane.

  22. All idolatrous statues in the atolls.....must be destroyed and thrown into the sea
    All buddhist statues in the museums.....must be smashed to smithereens
    All preislamic not worth preserving for future generations and must be burnt to ashes
    Anyone bringing a bible or ramayan into the holy atolls.....must be deported at once
    Sorry guys, but don't you think these are shocking example of intolerance and hate for your children and almost comical to us 'infidels', 'kufaars', 'non believers' and 'cow worshippers'?
    As a hindu woman I rejoice in the rich diversity of secular India.....maybe that's why we are the fastest growing economy in the world and a cultural powerhouse.
    As I said before, just a narrow strip of water separates the civilized from the neanderthals.

  23. I guess I can retire from commenting now.

    My thoughts on this matter is entirely different from those of my impersonators.

    There should be debate and room for dissent on any and all issues related to criminal law and its purpose in society.

    However I feel that this whole issue of capital punishment as solution to all our problems has become too much of a hot-button-issue and a highly politicized one at that. This situation has created an environment where an opposing situation cannot be aired even by the legal profession without suffering a blow to their prospective careers in popular politics.

    Azra has the benefit of being resident abroad and only those who have the luxury of bodies of water between them and the large majority calling for enforcement of the death sentence can actually say something about it.

    Anonymity allows us a degree of leeway here as well. So other-tsk tsk and people who care about my opinion should know that for the record, I do not believe that given several glaring weaknesses in our system of policing, prosecutorial policy, legislative framework and penitentiary practices, imposing the death penalty would be a cop-out on the part of our leaders.

    Yet its effects as a deterrent in our society remains to be assessed after its implementation.

    I am no West-hater. Fake tsk tsk why do you assume that? Is it hating the West to ask respect for our right to self-determination? Is it xenophobic to ask for equal treatment within the international community? Is it backwards and barbaric to believe in homegrown wisdom now and then rather than echoing things we hear in books, movies and news reports? Then label me all you want. I stand by my principles.

  24. "Does the lack of an alternative view mean that in the last decade or so Islamists have established such a hegemony over Maldivian religious thought that it prevents any other views from being offered to the public?"

    aye! thats exactly what is happening.

  25. All evil breeds on poverty, eliminate poverty is the answer for all social madness, crime, hate, religious fantasy, whatever you name it, it springs out from poverty. When people are well fed, well educated, well traveled, well experienced with their environment, they don’t bother on the affairs of others, these criterions cannot be achieved without money. There are may be few people who have inherited genes with love, empathy, higher conscience who are exceptional. But in general, the only recipe for social harmony is money. Can we reach Maldives to any economic benchmark? No there is no way Maldives to reach such milestone, because Maldives in not a country, it is water world, inhabited with very rudimental society cultured in a very conservative environment with most backward rigid religious belief. Moderation, flexibility, liberalism is the only way to make money in such a place like Maldives which is impossible in Maldives due to the reasons mentioned above. The difference in Maldives with other South Asian countries are not much big if you talk about social injustice, poverty and religious madness, The Maldivian case is that the country’s 99% people don’t qualify to any civilized standard, when in other countries, you have all type of people, educated, rich, poor, and are capable of converting their country to economically vibrant country.

  26. Wonderful thankyou. I wanted to do this but you did it 10 times better than I could. Allah chose the best person to do it and I am deeply grateful.

  27. @ Indra New Dehli
    Then why are you crossing from your civilised country to this under developed backward country in hoards insearch of jobs.
    India is not a tolerant or civilised country as you claimed . It is the most intolerant country in the planet. Thery are more than 200 millions poverty stricken Indians. Go and see the life in Mumbai slums and other rural areas. There are countless number of terrorists and Drug Mafia groups killing people in the daylight.

  28. @indra ...y dont u reply my comments..why do u talk abt Babri masjid .hindus in day light brought tht masjid down infront of govt of india in front of police.why dont you talk abt gujarat roits.why dont tell these ppl about 1984 punjab roits.why dont u tell world who are hindua chruahing minorties in india.

  29. @indra ...i just can laugh at ur comment come india is secular ?first search the meaning of secular thn look into country.the biggest joke "fastest growing economy " i think u r sleeping or living in the old age.check the present status of india you will knw abt india economy.

  30. @doctor...can you please advise me where to find your meaning of secular ? Average people by 'secular' understand a society where all the religions are respected and accepted. That is what happens in India like most other modern society. If you prefer to live in pre-historic era with your bashing of all religions other than sunni muslim and want to kill each other by a culture of hate, good luck! You can soon be another pakistan. we will of course feel sad to see that happen

  31. Now even if we were to introduce death penalty, it would not deter people from committing such heinous crimes. As in the recent case, the guys who committed the crime were stoned and I am sure it wouldn't have occurred to them the consequences, even if there was the death penalty, while perpetrating the evil act. Because, they wouldn't have been in a state to think about those things. Hence, the Cat'o nail punishments, putting the guy on stake or whatever, would not have deterred them. Look at this way, will a rational minded person go a killing spree just because there was no death penalty. The answer is a resounding NO!!As such, the death penalty is irrelevant.

  32. @tsk tsk. The only part making sense is the first sentence of your comment!

  33. @noble....if u have accepted al religions n u ppl r respecting all religions .thn can u plz explain me 1984 roits gujarat roits ,babri masjid hindus r treating christans n muslims in south many churchs hve u burnt till date.rss is openly saying india is for hindus only.

  34. Azra, your article is very powerful, and beautiful.

    There are MANY other Ahadith in which a person committs a crime deserving of the death penalty, confess to The Prophet, and, he forgives with NO stoning or whipping in the end.

    One of MANY MANY examples which I copied onto an article I completed a few months was as follows...
    Sahih Muslim Book 37, Number 6661:

    Abu Umama reported: We were sitting in the mosque in the company of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him). A person came there and said: Allah’s Messenger, I have committed an offence which deserves the imposition of hadd upon me, so impose it upon me. Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) kept silent. He repeated it and said: Allah’s Messenger, I have committed an offence which deserves the imposition of hadd upon me, so impose it upon me. He (the Holy Prophet) kept silent, and it was at this time that Iqama was pronounced for prayer (and the prayer was observed). And when Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) had concluded the payer that person followed Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him). Abu Umama said: I too followed Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) after he had concluded the prayer, so that I should know what answer he would give to that person. That person remained attached to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Allah’s Messenger, I have committed an offence which deserves imposition of hadd upon me, so impose it upon me. Abu Umama reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to him: Didn’t you see that as you got out of the house, you performed ablution perfectly well. He said: Allah’s Messenger, of course. I did it. He again said to him: Then you observed prayer along with us. He said: Allah’s Messenger, yes, it is so. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to him: Verily, Allah has exempted you from the imposition of hadd, or he said. From your sin. ”

  35. Ben is the most delusional person I have ever come across on Minivan. But from his past comments, I know he's staying muslim just to satisfy his family.

  36. oh ben ben ben u look like a hen...first understand the islam properly and later copy and paste the Hadith.


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