It is high time that Shari’ah-relevant penalities like beheadings, flogging and chopping off hands are amended to cope with today’s world. Such laws conjure up Medieval times and tarnish the image of Islam in the outside world. Islam itself is a religion for every time and place, adaptive and flexible
In 1478 AD, the Spanish Inquisition was founded. Its main mission was to combat heresy and punish violators or deviators from the church teachings. It later expanded to prosecute sorcery, and was also used as a political tool for the prosecution of non-Christians such as Jews and Muslims.
Historians refer to the 13th-15th centuries as Medieval or The Era of Darkness in Europe. The Church seized control of all aspects of public, political and social life. Heinous crimes against humanity, like persecution and torture, were committed in the name of God.
Grand Inquisitions persisted until the mid 19th century. In 2000 AD, Pope John Paul II made a public apology for the Inquisition and asked forgiveness of God for those who were killed by the Church.
Today we are in the year 1435 AH, thus the 15th century of Islam, by looking back in time we can easily find similarities between Islam and Christianity in two different epochs.
In countries that formed constitutions based on Islamic Laws or Shari’ah such as Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, you will find that the clerics have more power when compared to the rest of the Islamic world.
The problem is not in making Shari’ah the system of a country, the problem is when the prejudice of clerics prevents them from confessing that these laws must adapt to the 21st century and can’t be used literally as if we are still living in the Medieval times.
By that they are ignoring the essence of Islam (A religion for every time and place). How can a system be valid in all times and all circumstances unless it’s flexible and adjustable with a space of annulment when contradicting the public interest, even if it has a clear text of Qur’an?
What was acceptable 1,500 years ago is seen as brutal and dehumanizing today. One of that is Hudood in Islam. Hudood is the word often used in Islam for the bounds of acceptable behavior and the punishments for serious crimes.
There are three punishments in Islam for violating Hudood (Arabic for the literal meaning of red lines or restrictions): Beheading with sword for intentional killing or robbery with homicide, amputation of hands or feet for theft and robbery without homicide, flogging with a varying number of strokes for drinking alcohol, zina’ or extramarital sexual intercourse (this refers to all offenders married and unmarried alike), false accusations of zina and spreading rumours of zina.
To give an example supporting this argument, in the time of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Caliph in Islam, he suspended amputation of hands for theft at the year of the great famine. His argument was (life preservation is more important that money preservation). Umar was giving a practical lesson that Hudood are not mandatory if such divine laws would cause undue hardship.
In a country like Saudi Arabia, it is rare for a week to pass without reading or hearing about a new punishment for violating Hudood. Recently three major stories were covered in the news, horrifying pictures and videos were circulating on social media:
* 5 Yemenis were beheaded and their bodies hung in public. The crime: being in a gang of bandits.
* A Yemeni thief had his hands cut off in Jazan. What is not mentioned in the story of this unlucky man the type of things had taken to thievery, in a land where billions of Riyals are reportedly being stolen every day by ‘his royal highness and his excellency.’
* A woman in her 40s was given 80 lashes in the public yard of the University of Rafha and was then imprisoned for a month. The crime: insulting an administrative female employee who had married her husband without her knowledge.
Every time witnesses spread the pictures and videos from these terrible punishments far and wide on social media networks, the Saudi authorities do not appear to recognise that these horrifying images distort their image and even the image of Islam itself around the world. They instead insist that tweets asking questions about the Prophet, such as those by Hamza Kashgari are offensive to Islam.
In this era, the era of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the era of space exploration, modern science and technology, the era of civil states with institutions of legislative, judicial and security, countries that want to apply rigid and outdated Shari’ah laws fail to cope with the Zeitgeist of our century.
They insist on implementing the provisions that were revealed from an era where there were no bodies for the constabulary such as the Police or Regular Army.
There were no prisons, houses of correction or rehabilitation services. Now more than ever, there is a need to take a serious stand and open a door that has been closed for fifteen centuries to allow for the establishment of a legislative authority to review and amend Shari’ah laws and penalties to enable it to cope with the dominant school of thought and culture of today’s world.
The amended penalties should not be handled as rigidly as acts of Ebadat or religious devotion, which cannot be changed, increased or decreased. The penalties should be amended so that they can maintain security and stability in today’s varied circumstances.
It is 2014 and we cannot continue whipping people and chopping off their hands or heads, while expecting the world to join or respect our religion.
Published on IslamistGate.com Friday January 10th, 2012