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 What is Shariah? Whenever any mention is made of the Shariah, usually two facts emerge, viz. (i ) the cutting off of hands, and (ii) stoning to death for adultery. This is generally accompanied by ridicule and contempt. Yet the same people, when any member of their family is mur­dered, raped or kidnapped, would cry out: “Bring back the death penalty! Let’s have some law and order!”


Shariah  is derived from the Arabic word Shaar-i’ (       ) “a way; to oil the smooth and orderly movement of the social and economic activities of society.” Through the Shariah we derive our rights and obligations, justice and protection within the state.


Crime: A crime is an act or conduct whereby a person  ( i) breaks the law, and (ii) infringes upon the rights of oth­ers. In the religious parlance it is called “a sin”.


Punishment: Before one can even think of punishment for any crime, it is incumbent upon the state to see that conditions and opportunities exist for the proper educa­tion and training for its citizens to be gainfully and productively occupied.


In order to prevent and curb crime, the authorities have to implement punishment. Punishment may be in dif­ferent forms: (i ) fine; (ii) imprisonment; (iii) corporal (bodily). Islam does not subscribe to the prison system as a form of punishment for crime because:


·        it incurs great cost - a portion of the state funds is directed to the upkeep and maintenance of the prison system - thus robbing other important projects, like education, free health care and training people to apply themselves in proper, productive, and mean­ingful occupation, thereby actually preventing crime;


·        the taxpayer has to foot the bill - thus increasing the burden on an already struggling economy and spiraling cost of living;


·        people may land up in prisons and meet great “tu­tors”. On being released, they become more hard­ened and daring. A person guilty of a petty civil of­fence may be placed together with hardened career criminals, murderers and rapists and may be influ­enced by them in their evil, anti-social ways;


·        from the point of view of health, we know that the prisons may be infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STD), like gonorrhea, syphilis,                     HIV/AIDS, and so on. A prisoner is liable to contract these dis­eases, and on being released, pass these on to the members of his family. And, don’t we often hear of prisoners raping one another?


·        it is a social responsibility of every person to func­tion either as a father, mother, and so on. When an individual is incarcerated, the family is robbed of a breadwinner, a caring father or husband, a wife or mother. When a father (or mother) is taken away, the rest of the family goes astray in his/her absence. Irre­spective of how rotten or evil a person may be, his family life is important and acts as a great “therapy”. Why should such a person not rather be gainfully em­ployed (under correctional supervision) for the benefit of his family?


The above are just some of the shortcomings of the prison system.


The Islamic form of punishment: For most of the crimes, Islam recommends corporal (bodily) punishment. However, it is carried out only as a last resort - after a thorough effort at reforming the person has totally failed. (Quran, 5:39)


Punishment must be meted out in public: The Quran tells us that a party of the people should witness the meting out of the punishment (24:2). Special stadiums and arenas should be built and the public should be actually invited to view the punitive act being carried out. It could even be televised these days - as the Americans televise the death penalty by lethal injection. Why? The Quran states that viewing such scenes wherein various punishments are carried out, could serve as a deterrent and a lesson for the public. (5:38)


A sure and definite advantage is that justice is not only done, but it is also “seen to be done”. There should be no mercy or favoritism shown when inflicting the punish­ment. The criminal would be so humiliated that he would never think of committing the crime - any crime - again.


Type of punishment: From time to time the state, in consul­tation with the judiciary, would decide what punishment should be prescribed for different types of crimes. For ex­ample: for theft, from a few (one or two) lashes for petty theft to the severing off of the hand for HARDENED, HABITUAL criminals who are beyond reform.


In South Africa, the Correctional Services are facing immense problems. The prisons are overcrowded; diseases are rife, petty criminals are imprisoned with hardened crimi­nals, and so on.


At least, let us begin by flogging publicly for certain selected crimes. The prisons will not be over-full, and the criminals will be back at home to look after their responsi­bilities thus, also, getting a chance to rehabilitate and be­come decent, law-abiding and useful members of society!


Courtesy: AL-BALAAGH,      VOL.27,    NO. 3,  AUG/SEPT.   2002


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