The concept of “Crime and Punishment” [C& P] in Islam is very often criticized by the West as something “harsh” and “barbaric”. Leaving aside temporarily the point that how apparently it looks “harsh”, it has no relevance or resemblance, even in the slightest form, with the “shameful and immoral punishment” that has been “given” to innocent Iraqis in the prison of Abu Gharaib by the Anglo-American allied forces. In fact, this concept is wedded to its basic philosophy that Islam stands for justice, peace, security of life, honor and property for every citizen within its bounds. Equally, it guarantees the continuation of this situation in order to maintain the requisite balanced growth, promoting the purity of living condition in all respect without fear of theft, arson, adultery and encroachment in any form to his or her personal life,  honor and property. This ideal situation, Islam could not maintain without curbing the very root of crime and creating fear in the hearts of “would-be” criminals. Islam has attained this inspiring condition through providing and enforcing the exemplary system of punishment for the crimes that disturb the ideal situation of the Islamic society, especially against theft and adultery.   


Unfortunately, the West has been particularly very critical of Islamic punishment against theft and adultery. The critics term it as “barbaric” and are desirous to change it with their own system of “non-capital” punishment. Their insistence continues in spite of the fact that crime rates in these societies are rampant, criminals are getting addicted to jail that are bursting with inmates and the so-called “free” citizen  sleep with two or three locks at the door and the criminals are “free” to roam on the streets. Perhaps the West has lost the sense of “gain and loss” altogether. They have no sense as how to protect the life, honor and property of their citizens in spite of the fact it is guaranteed in their constitution and proclaimed from UN and other world platforms that they stand for these values and struggle for these fundamental human rights whereas, in fact, they do not know how to get it through.     


Let us put the Islamic concept of C & P in brief in a perspective that is very concise and precise, removing all the shadows of doubts and apprehensions that "ignorant" western press and intelligentsia are spreading day in and day out.


The entire concept of "crime and punishment" in Islam must be judged in terms of "cause and effect." All the crimes whether adultery, theft or any cognizable offense must be studied in relation to the circumstances under which it was committed. It is not a jungle law that it must be applied to all and sundry without justification. If the cause that had lead to the commitment of the crime is permissible under Shariah, does not violate any human right or is committed under force of deprivation or duress, the Muslim judge will evaluate the situation and may set him or her free if the intention was different than to commit the crime intentionally.


The paramount spirit of Islamic law is that one who is provided with all the facilities in life, if he commits theft, he must be punished for setting example and warning to others not to commit or repeat. A person for whom all the sources to get a legal wife are available and the Islamic State provides him or her all facilities to go through wedlock process, in this situation, if he or she commits adultery, he/she “deserves” to be punished to serve as deterrent for others. The punishment in either case is not "harsh" at all but it is administered to make others to feel not to commit and meet the same fate of disgrace and carry a stigma in the society. This is the only process to keep the society free of crimes. The West should not feel shy of accepting the Islamic concept of C & P and make their societies free of crimes.


Islam wants to purify the society from crimes and makes it impossible for anyone even to think of committing crimes. Islam through its own social welfare system provides all the basic necessities of life to all its poor, needy, incapacitated, unemployed, underemployed citizens [including marriage facilities]. Under such ideal situation, there is the least possibility that someone will commit crimes like theft and adultery. However, if one does it, he/she is spoiling the society and its purity. Therefore, he/she must be given exemplary punishment to keep the society clean for others. Islam does not give punishment for the sake of punishment as we see today in Western societies though they call their jails as "correctional facilities" [CF] but it creates only criminals and die-hard criminals after once visiting these jails 


The people who criticize the Justice system of Islam have perhaps no idea about either crime or its causes of persistency. They are completely ignorant of the fact as how to keep the society free of crimes and criminals. In this respect, one must go through the monumental work [three volumes] of Sayyed Qutub Shaheed on the issue of "Criminal Justice in Islam" and the marvelous book on "Crime and Punishment" by Yusuf Al-Quardawi. These books need to be translated in English from Arabic.


Islam purifies the Islamic society and its members in two ways: (1) Inculcating in every individual the sense of accountability before their Creator and Sustainer and the concept of Amanah [trust] that make him or her a dependable trustworthy character, a boon for the society and a guarantee towards the protection of everyone’s right and property. (2) On the other hand, if by chance some one commits some crime or cognizable offence, he/she must be accorded exemplary punishment so the very root of crime is uprooted and the society feels free. The advocates of free society should study the system of criminal justice in Islam, if they are really interested to make this world an abode of peace and harmony for generations to come.




Shamim A Siddiqi

July 11, 2004