Where is the Compassion and Mercy of God in harsh corporal punishment like Death or Mutilation?

An agnostic humanist asked me where the compassion of Allah was in the death penalty for crimes such as murder, drug dealing, adultery or homosexuality meted out by Islamic countries.

The very simple answer is that God is both Just and Merciful. Reflecting this, is an answer by our Prophet (pbuh):

“Whoever commits something from what is sinful and receives the legal punishment for it, that will be considered as the expiation for that sin, and whoever commits something of such sins and Allah screens him or her, it is up to Allah whether to excuse or punish the person.” [Sahih al-Bukhari 86:6784]

Thus the Compassion is God making the punishment an expiation, and His mercy extends to covering those who sin secretly (from exposure and punishment in this world), and repent without revealing what they did (so He will screen the person from exposure and the punishment of hell).

His Justice is that God apportions between people their just recompense in their records of good and evil towards fellow human beings on the Day of Judgment; and every deed will be accounted:

“In whatever business you may execute, and whatever portion (of the book) you may recite, and whatever deed you may be do, We are witnesses thereof when you are deeply engrossed therein. Nor is hidden from your Lord even an atom’s weight on the earth or in heaven. And neither the least and nor the greatest of these things are but recorded in a clear record.”   [Quran, 10:61]

Another compassion of God is that He is your Guardian. If someone does you wrong, you can extract retribution if you have the power. Perhaps unfair retribution, even. As you Lord, the All Aware and regulator of affairs, God extracts from those who wrong you their exact, just and fair recompense. His punishments by the Law of Equity is the means for you to gain that recompense in this world, rather than the Hereafter. Thus he enables you to share in His Mercy towards the wrong-doer. For if you neither forgive those who trespass against you, nor are able to extract your fair retribution, then the sinner will suffer that just retribution when the books are balanced.

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) once asked his Companions:

“Do you know who is a pauper?” The Companions replied that a pauper is a person who had no money or property.

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) corrected them: “A pauper from among my Ummah is one who will come on the Day of Judgement with a record of Prayers and Fasting  and Zakat (all well and good) but also he had abused somebody, slandered someone, usurped the goods of another person, had killed someone or beaten yet another person. Then all the oppressed persons will receive a part of the aggressor’s good deeds. Should his good deeds fall short, then the aggrieved person’s sins and faults will be transferred from them to him, and he will be thrown into the Fire (of Hell). [Sahih Muslim]

In the Quran, the resurrected will recognise,

“‘This is what the Gracious had promised, and the Messengers did speak the truth.’
 
There will be but a single cry, when lo! They shall all be brought unto Us. So, this day no soul shall be dealt with unjustly in the least, nor shall you be recompensed for but that which you were did.” [Quran, 36:48-54]

Finally, what you owe God, if you fail in that, but it is secret only between you and Him, God is the Forgiver, the Merciful.

“Allah will bring the believer very close and privately and ask him “Do you know this sin? Do you know that sin? The believers reply will be, “Yes Oh Lord,” until he is reminded about all of his sins, and he thinks he will perish. Then Allah will say “I covered up your sins during your life, and I will forgive your sins today. Then he will be given his book of good deeds.”  [Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

He requires only that you take no Lord beside Him as an object of worship.

“Verily Allah will not forgive that partners be set up with Him; and He will forgive other things to whom He will please.”  [Quran, 4:48]

The Prescribed Punishments

Concerning the Hadud, or the prescribed punishments, these are only for the Muslim Authorities, not the individual family leader, or unofficial vigilantes, lynch mobs and outlaws. Therefore, before anything else, I want to make clear that the death penalty which is in the legal statutes of recognized Muslim countries do not equate with or inform my position on the grisly murders perpetrated by IS and other misguided miscreants.

After this, my first thought is “do all these sins/crimes actually merit the death penalty in Islam? Are there not any other courses? What does the Quran and Sunnah say about them?”

It is a subject with many scholarly replies from the Muslim Ulema concerning the prescribed punishments, some more extreme and rigid than others. However, what does independent research give as a reply? This is not the place to discuss the various sins/crimes for which the death penalty is indicated, but what is the basic sources of the rulings on meting out the penalty.

Below, I will set out some more evidence I know on the matter. It is not a definitive answer. For that, you should consult the qualified scholars. Never the less, it is a reasoned position that I, a simple member of the laity, take on this subject.

The Law of Equity and Restitution

The Islamic penalties that include sentencing murderers to death are set out in the Law of Equity and Restitution found in the Quran.

“In the Law of Equity there is a saving of Life to you, o ye men of understanding; that ye may restrain yourselves. O ye who believe! The law of equity 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, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty. [Quran, 2:178-179]

For all things prohibited, there is the law of equity. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear God, and know that God is with those who restrain themselves. [Quran, 2:194]

The key verses, above, contain a caveat, which I want to highlight. These key clauses are:

  • “In the Law of Equity there is a saving of Life to you, o ye men of understanding,”

and,

  • “But fear God, and know that God is with those who restrain themselves,”

as well as

  • “But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord.”

In other words, for the one who has been harmed (or his relatives, if he is dead) it is better to forgive. For the criminal, it is better to compensate the victim. For the sinner, it is better to take the prescribed punishment because accepting it in this world is better than carrying the crime into the next and paying for it there.

One of the lives to be saved [2:178] is that of the sinner, who is cleansed by the punishment and inherits eternal life instead of the fire. In the next paragraph, there is Christian support of this concept. Before I cite it, however, I would like to cite the verses in the Quran that refer to the Law of Equity in the Torah and Gospels.

“It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed to God’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of God’s book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what God hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.

We ordained therein for them: “Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal.

But if any one 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 God hath revealed, they are (No better than) wrong-doers.

And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God.” [Quran, 5:44-46]

Part of the records of the law of equity in the Torah that pertain to these verses are:

‘If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. And, whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. And if anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him,’  [Leviticus 24:17-19]

‘So if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, {fracture for fracture,) bruise for bruise.’ [Exodus 21:23-25]

In the Gospel, the onus for receiving punishment is on the sinner, the criminal:

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.” [Matthew 18:8-9]. See, also Mark 9:43-48.

God’s Compassion is in opening the way into heaven for the sinner by the Law of Equity and Restitution.

Yet Jesus taught that for the one transgressed against it is better to offer the other cheek than to retaliate. He said during the Sermon on the Mount,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”  [Matthew 5:38-39]

Islam also says that,

“But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself.”

That is a second Compassion from God.

Adultery, Homosexuality and Fornication in the Torah and the Gospel

Concerning the stoning of an adultery. Is the death sentence justified? The scripture is strongly against adultery. The Gospel of Matthew reports Jesus as saying,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell. [Matthew 5:27-30]

Oddly enough, the Gospel does not confine adultery to married women or married men, unlike the Torah and Quran. In the Quran, adultery applies to free married men and women. It classifies unlawful copulation by unmarried free people as fornication, as well as unlawful copulation by slaves.

The Torah says,

“If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. And, whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. And if anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him,” [Leviticus 24:17-19]

“So if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

However, if payment is demanded, the owner may redeem his life by the payment of whatever is demanded.” [Exodus 21:23-25 … 30]

“If a man sleeps with his father’s wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” [Leviticus 20:11-13]

However, if any lewd act is undetected, then it goes unpunished. Numbers 5:11-13 says:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act),”

What Islam says about Covering Sin

Even if her fault is detected or suspected, the best course is to hide her deficiencies as long as they are not known. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,

“He, who relieves a hardship of this world for a believer, Allah will relieve (from him) a hardship of the Day of Resurrection. He who makes easy an indebted person, Allah will make it easy for him in the world and the Hereafter. He who covers a Muslim (meaning his or her mistakes and shortcomings), Allah will cover him in the world and the Hereafter.” [Sahih Muslim 48:6853]

And God dislikes to have what he has covered to be revealed. In another tradition, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,

“All the sins of my followers will be forgiven except those of the mujahiriyn (those who commit a sin openly or disclose their sins to the people). An example of a mujaharah is he commits a sin at night and though Allah screens it from the public, then he comes in the morning, and says, ‘O so-and-so, I did such-and-such (evil) deed yesterday,’ though he spent his night screened by his Lord (none knowing about his sin) and in the morning he removes Allah’s screen from himself.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari 78:6069].

He also said,

“O People! It is time for you to refrain from transgressing Allah’s limits. He who commits some of these filthy acts (such as fornication), let him hide under Allah’s cover, for whoever admits what he has committed, we will establish Allah’s Book as regards him (by applying the warranted punishment for this sin).” [Musnad Ahmad]

So if she has hidden her sin under God’s cover, who should attempt to expose her on suspicion, without proof?

Separation by Oaths when Lacking Witnesses

Never the less, in the rest of Numbers 5:14-31, if the husband suspects, he can still put her to the test by accusing her and taking her to the priests to be tested. The women will be required to swear her innocence and drink a poisonous brew designed to make her miscarry. if she drinks it and it doesn’t affect her, she is deemed innocent. But if it affects her, she will be liable to the consequences. Whichever way the verdict goes, the man will not be held to blame for his suspicion.

This is in contrast to the Quranic guidance in the same situation. It says:

“Those who accuse their spouses of committing adultery but have no witness except themselves, should testify four times saying, ‘God is my witness that I am telling the truth.’ They should say on the fifth time, ‘Let God’s curse be upon me if I am a liar.’ The spouse will be acquitted of the punishment if she challenges his testimony by saying four times, ‘God is my witness that he is a liar.’ On the fifth time she should say, ‘Let the curse of God be upon me if what he says is true.’ And if it had not been for God’s grace and mercy upon you (your life would have been in chaos). God accepts repentance and He is All-wise.” [Quran, 24:6-10]

Imam Malik described the consequences of the mutual swearing (Lian):

“The Sunnah with us is that those who curse each other are never to be remarried. If the man takes back his accusation, he is flogged with the prescribed punishment, and the child is given to him, and his wife can never return to him.” [Al Muwatta]

  • He further said that if the man pronounced the Lian against his wife before he had consummated the marriage with her, she only had to return to him half of the dowry he had given her (or, if the dowry was promised but not given, take only half of what was agreed). Finally, he said that a man who did the Lian with his wife, and then stopped and took back his accusation after one or two oaths and had not cursed himself in the fifth one, had to be flogged with the prescribed punishment (100 stripes), but the couple did not have to be separated because Lian was not complete.
  • In addition, he detailed where Lian had to be sworn in cases where there is a paternity suit after revocable divorce (divorce that had been announced only once, or twice) in which the ex-husband consistently refuted responsibility for his ex-wife’s child, whether it is in the womb or already given birth to. If he had earlier accepted paternity, but had divorced her irrevocably (divorced her three times in front of witnesses) without Lian because he had seen her in adultery before their separation, and then changed his mind about accepting paternity, then Lian was not necessary because they were already separated. However, he would still be flogged in order to rid himself of the responsibility of supporting the child.

Unlike in the Torah, the consequences of Lian are grave for the man, so he is often discouraged to take the step. At the same time, it is difficult to accuse a woman of adultery in Islam due to the need of having four first hand witnesses to substantiate the crime. It is only if the woman herself agrees that the accusation is justified that the court can act against her if there are not enough witnesses to make the accusation stick.

Repentance and Expiation – Accepting the Punishment

There is a report about the stoning of a woman for adultery ordered by the prophet. Note carefully what he says to the people stoning her after she dies.

“There came to the Holy Prophet a woman from Ghamid, who said:

“Allah’s Messenger, I have committed adultery, so purify me.”  (first confession)

He turned her away.

On the following day she said: “Allah’s Messenger, Why do you turn me away? By Allah, I have become pregnant.” (second confession)

He said: “Well, if you insist upon it, then go away until you give birth.”

When she was delivered she came with the child in a rag and said: “Here is the child whom I have given birth to.” (third confession)

He said: “Go away and suckle him until you wean him.” When she had weaned him, she came to him with the child who was holding a piece of bread in his hand.

She said: “Allah’s Messenger, here is he as I have weaned him and he eats food.” (fourth confession)

He entrusted the child to one of the Muslims and then pronounced punishment. And she was put in a ditch up to her chest and he commanded the people and they stoned her. Khalid bin Waleed came forward with a stone which he flung at her head and there spurted blood on the face of Khalid and so he abused her. Allah’s Messenger, pbuh, heard his curse that he had hurled upon her.

Thereupon he said: “Khalid, be gentle. By Him in Whose Hand is my life, she has made such repentance that even if a wrongful tax-collector were to repent, he would have been forgiven.”

Then giving the command regarding her (burial), he prayed over her and she was buried.” [Sahih Muslim 17:4206]

Similarly, after having a man called Ma’iz stoned for adultery, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) came to his Companions as they were sitting.

‘He greeted them with salutation and then sat down and said: “Ask forgiveness for Ma’iz b. Malik.” They said: “May Allah forgive Ma’iz b. Malik.” Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said: “He has made such a repentance that if that were to be divided among a people, it would have been enough for all of them.”‘ [Sahih Muslim 17:4206]

The point here is that receiving the penalty, if accepted or demanded by the sinner, is an expiation for the sin. And that is a Life, a mercy from God.

Conclusion

So who am I to opine? The Quran says,

“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” [Quran, 2:216]

And Allah Knows Best

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2 thoughts on “Where is the Compassion and Mercy of God in harsh corporal punishment like Death or Mutilation?

  1. It is great to see you replying to an article of mine on my blog space. It is true that the adage Jesus spoke in the temple has been the driving force of separation of religion and the state, though traditional vestiges remain in the titles of rulers and the principles of constitutions. I would argue that enlightened, gentle and humble adherence to God’s guidance would serve mankind as well, if not better. Unfortunately, the extreme, tough and dogmatic elements of society enact what they conceive as God’s Law harshly and without compassion, resulting in the many miscarriages of justice that occur on the fringes of the international community. It does not negate the laws, however, just as miscarriages of justice by modern jurists should not be a reflection of misapplied reason and philosophy.

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  2. These legal precepts may have been valid and therefore legitimate during the Age of Faith, and strictly for the particular societies that elaborated them. Indeed given circumstances Faith had to be the Law’s unique inspiration.
    More recently the Law has, given the development of knowledge, of the Humanities and the sciences, and indeed as a result of the trials and tribulations of history, progressively found its inspiration in Reason rather than Faith.
    In this process the modern jurist has abandoned the arrogant presumption of knowing God’s Law and, without ignoring the inherent good intentions and sagacity of his elders, has kept for Caesar what is Caesar’s and given back to God what is God’s.
    And for that we should be thankful, indeed.

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