Options to punish criminals

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 08 Jul 2003

By Dr ZAINAL AZAM ABD RAHMAN, Director, Centre for Shariah, Law and Political Science, Institute of Islamic Understanding, Malaysia. 

WE live in the so-called modern world where our lifestyle is so sophisticated. 

We use modern technologies and nicely-invented gadgets and tools, yet our behaviour is still very much primitive; murders, kidnappings and armed robberies are quite normal these days that some of us no longer feel safe walking along the street and alley.  

Vulnerable groups like women and children are the most affected sections of our society. 

The brutal kidnapping and murder of Canny Ong was not the first in a series of violent crimes committed lately, some of which were carried out in broad daylight. 

Reports in our media are vivid enough about the level of atrocities committed by criminals living well within our society.  

Certainly a question must be asked about the way we tackle crime and criminals and about our criminal justice system. 

Some apologists may say that crime is the disease of modern civilisation such that we need to adjust ourselves to it. 

However, the truth is that man is imbued with passions and instincts which, if not effectively controlled, will cause him to wander like a wild beast looking for prey. 

Certainly there must be a well-prescribed way to combat crime. In this context, religion can play an effective role. 

Take murder for instance.  

Before the advent of Islam, the Torah or Old Testament spoke of the punishment for wilful murder, which was the mandatory death sentence. 

The basis for this approach is that when a man takes the life of another, he is understood to gain control of his blood, which if not released by the execution of the murderer, will cry to Yahweh for delivery from its master. 

The giving of compensation in cases of wilful murder is strongly condemned in Leviticus and Numbers since Biblical law generally considers murder a public offence.  

However, the New Testament’s approach to this issue is different; pardon is the key element where a murderer needs to be given a chance to correct himself and ask for God’s forgiveness. 

When Islam came, it brought a new dimension to the whole question of murder and its effects where the victim’s family members play a leading role. 

According to Islamic law, the heirs of a person who is wilfully murdered or killed are given three choices:  

  • THEY can ask for a death sentence to be carried out against the convicted murderer;  

  • THEY can pardon him in return for an agreed amount of compensation money; or 

  • THEY can pardon him for free. 

    Therefore, it is a matter of choice for the heirs; those who would like to adhere strictly to the golden rule of Life for life, could effectively ask for the first alternative. 

    Those who prefer to compensate themselves for the loss of their beloved one would opt for the second choice. 

    However, if mercy and forgiveness is the priority, then the last alternative is definitely the best route. 

    This provision as laid down in Islam is a clear indication that murder is a very serious incident for the affected family members who cannot be left without proper redress being given to them, and such redress is provided in Islam and its laws. 

    The Quran in Surah 2, Verse 178-179 says: “ O ye who believe! The law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for free, the slave for slave, the woman for woman. 

    “But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then make any reasonable demand and compensate him with handsome gratitude. This is a concession and mercy from your Lord. 

    “After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty. And in the law of equality there is (saving of) Life to you, O ye men of understanding, that you may restrain yourselves.” 

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