Are you tired of hearing me say that I hate the modern practice of the death penalty because it’s now used to reap nothing than injustice, the exact opposite of what it was supposed to serve? Well, I’m not done. There’s just one more rant I want to post before I close this chapter for good.
“But it’s changing the Sharia law!”
I can’t tell you how much I hate hearing those words. People, the word Sharia does not mean penal code. Yes, aspects of justice and the penal code do fall in with the concept of Sharia but you cannot confound Islamic law, the moral code Muslims are called to live by, and the laws of your country enforced by the government. If you look at Wikipedia written in Simple English (apparently people are too stupid to understand regular English) you’ll see that “Sharia” isn’t a penal code set in stone. Very few aspects of it are set in stone in the Quran. I prefer to call the penal code part of it a principle of law instead since Islamic values such as equality and justice are set in stone, but social issues change from culture to culture, nation to nation, year to year and thinking that 7th century customs could solve modern issues is just insane. On the other hand, God’s timeless principles present throughout revelation can, but only if we can find a way to apply them properly under specific circumstances.
Let there be no question that Islam allows (that is allows, not mandates) the death penalty for certain crimes, it’s an ancient prescription that has been around since the beginning of time, but where people go wrong is that they justify its modern practice by saying “well, it’s in the books.” Yeah it’s in the books, just the Word of God is more than just ink on a page isn’t it? People also think that the justice system today is the same as it was in the 7th century but that could not be more erroneous. So what was the death penalty for back then exactly? Primarily a deterrent, and used really only as a last resort to keep the community safe and free from crime. Today the statistics prove that it’s not a deterrent (the exact opposite actually) and we have very safe and advanced, albeit far from perfect, criminal justice and rehabilitation programs. In a nutshell, the death penalty was prescribed to uphold justice, but in modern society it does nothing but reap injustice.
Take a look at the death penalty in Islam page on ProCon.org. I don’t believe that apostasy is punishable by death in Islam but that’s another story, but you’ll see that the death penalty was reserved for very serious offenses and not taken lightly at all. I must add that Sheikh Ahmad Ash-Sharabasi’s comments were laughable though. How is the modern death penalty self-defense? That’s completely beside the point. Sure, the ancient death penalty served to destroy the threat but do you think that the American terrorists in Supermax are still a threat? Self-defense isn’t even an issue. It’s misguided and erroneous. On the other hand, let’s take a look at what we do with the death penalty in modern society. Firstly, take what Rabia Terri Harris had to say:
An Islamic opposition to the death penalty must begin by acknowledging that the Qur’an may clearly be read as giving special exemption (from the general prohibition on killing) to the taking of a murderer’s life…
Those who favor the death penalty therefore cannot be considered as beyond the pale: we must accept the faithfulness and validity of their opinion…
[T]he responsibility of a Muslim is justice. Will the killing of a murderer produce justice…
[W]e can measure whether it does or not by examining the state of public trust. In the US, the following facts have been established…Nearly 90% of persons executed for murder were convicted of killing whites, although people of color make up over half of all homicide victims nationally…[and] 90% of the people US government prosecutors currently seek to execute are black or Latino…
There is no justice here. No needs are met, no fear is alleviated. This idea does not work. The hallmark of truth is that it works…
It is a far more serious error of Islamic ethics to demand a human death in circumstances when there are doubts about guilt or innocence, where the bereaved are not consulted about their wishes, and when the penalty is selectively applied based on the pernicious fantasy that some lives have more value than others.
Islamic law, and Islamic taqwa, demand that we dissent from such a travesty of justice.
Nobody’s telling you that the death penalty is not part of Islam, and nobody’s asking you to remove those verses from the book. What I am asking is that we stop allowing injustice in the name of “Sharia.” You run your mouth saying that Sharia upholds justice but congratulations, your beloved Sharia law has turned into an oxymoron because the exact opposite is all it’s accomplishing! Tariq Ramadan also echoes this sentiment:
[W]e launch today a call for an immediate international moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty in all Muslim majority countries. Considering that the opinions of most scholars, regarding the comprehension of the texts and the application of hudud, are neither explicit nor unanimous (indeed there is not even a clear majority), and bearing in mind that political systems and the state of the majority Muslim societies do not guarantee a just and equal treatment of individuals before the law, it is our moral obligation and religious responsibility to demand for the immediate suspension of the application of the hudud which is inaccurately accepted as an application of ‘Islamic sharia’.
Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl also wrote that you’d basically have to be God himself to properly carry out a sentence of the death penalty. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan had this to say about the position of contemporary Judaism about capital punishment, which I believes echoes the sentiments of contemporary Islam in the face of the issues surrounding the modern death penalty:
In practice, however, these punishments were almost never invoked, and existed mainly as a deterrent and to indicate the seriousness of the sins for which they were prescribed. The rules of evidence and other safeguards that the Torah provides to protect the accused made it all but impossible to actually invoke these penalties… the system of judicial punishments could become brutal and barbaric unless administered in an atmosphere of the highest morality and piety. When these standards declined among the Jewish people, the Sanhedrin… voluntarily abolished this system of penalties.
We are closer to Andromeda than we are to a fair and equitable justice system. I don’t believe that reform will do it because peoples’ standards only keep declining, serving their own interests and disregarding the rest. How many times have I heard of dirty cops, corrupt law enforcement officials, cover ups, set ups, and downright gross injustice. So do we stop the oppressor from committing oppression? By removing the means of oppression, a.k.a. the death penalty.
When you sentence someone to life in prison it’s a very harsh sentence of reconciling with yourself looking at a concrete wall for every single day of your life but such a sentence can easily be overturned, after all the person is still alive and can still speak for themselves. On the other hand an execution is permanent and you can’t take it back. As I’ve written about in my previous published articles about this issue An Argument Against Capital Punishment (Part 1 of 2) and An Argument Against Capital Punishment (Part 2 of 2) among others, there is a scary amount of innocent people awaiting execution. And then we execute them in inhumane ways. Even if you wholeheartedly still believe in capital punishment after everything, you must also agree that there is no executing people in inhumane manners. That is not Islamic.
Lastly, I want you to contemplate a couple of things before everybody loses their minds over this…
Is the modern practice of capital punishment faithful to the text? Not even close! Consider this next time you go on blabbing about that “it’s scripture” or that you care about human rights. The two must go together.