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An animated video produced by Muslim Central Project explains the rationale of the Islamic Sharia Law. Here is the transcription of the video:
Let’s say you hear the word Sharia [Islamic Law]. What comes to your mind? You’d probably imagine a dark scary place with women in chains, bearded men carrying knives and malnourished hands being cut off for stealing food. In reality the Sharia [Islamic Law] is none of that. So what is the Sharia [Islamic Law]? What does it mean and why does it chop people’s hands off?
Let’s get right into it. Sharia in Arabic literally means a flowing spring or a watering hole. Technically Sharia is a body of law that governs not only religious rituals but also aspects of everyday life in Islam. It’s the idea of God’s law which aims to protect the faith, intellect wealth, health and lineage of an individual and the society at large, and just like any other broad legal concept the Sharia [Islamic Law] is a unified whole that contains within it tremendous diversity. Sharia [Islamic Law] can primarily be divided into:
- Belief, Aqeedah, like belief in God and His prophets.
- Practical rulings, Fiqh, such as laws pertaining to food and drink.
- Character and morals, Akhlaq, like kind treatment to one’s spouse and parents.
Much of the Sharia [Islamic Law] deals with day to day rulings with sometimes the odd question like can I eat a crocodile, or can I bathe in tea?
Now let’s get to the hand chopping part shall we? In Islam punishments are known as Huddud, literally meaning prevention, restraint or prohibition and they fall under Fiqh [practical rulings] comprising only less than ten percent of it. The Huddud [fixed punishments] for a person who steals has to have one of their hands amputated.
Hearing this you might imagine hands being chopped off for all kinds of petty theft, but the reality couldn’t be more different, simply because whenever a crime occurs Sharia [Islamic] Law requires due court process to take place and the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, there are more than sixty conditions that need to be fulfilled for the amputation verdict to be actually carried out. Some of these conditions are as follows:
- The item was stolen from a secure place.
- Having a value of more than 10 Dirhams of make and weight.
- The thief is an adult of sound mind not insane and committed the crime out of his own free will.
- He was neither under duress nor was he drunk or motivated by hunger.
- The crime was witnessed by two witnesses of upright nature who do not disagree or retract their testimony.
- A month has not passed since the crime occurred.
- The thief, he or she, is neither are uterine relative nor the spouse of the person they stole from and so on until all the 60+ conditions are fulfilled.
The judges are also expected by law to take into consideration the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, to ward off capital punishment via ambiguities as a divine command. Any theft that does not meet all these conditions would receive a Ta’azir, a discretionary punishment. This is why most Huddud [fixed] punishments are actually very difficult to implement and simply stealing a piece of bread would not call for an amputation.
So why does the Sharia [Islamic Law] prescribes such punishments when it’s so difficult to prove them? The answer lies in understanding the nature of Huddud [fixed punishments] which is to deter a person from committing a crime as Huddud punishments are daunting and intimidating, it helps potential criminals, people in general, to stay away from it, which is why historically the lands in which Huddud [fixed punishments] was implemented in totality saw very little crime.
The Quran says: These are the limits set by God so near them not. Theory of utilitarianism by Jeremy Bentham gives logic to the matter at hand. He proposed the equation expected punishment or deterrent power equals to severity of punishment times probability of getting caught. E equals S times P. In simple words if there is little chance of being caught, then the law has to be harsh enough to discourage a person from even thinking of committing a crime due to the severity of punishment, and therefore frightening punishments are seen as a way to deter potential criminals. Subjecting thousands of petty criminals to Huddud [fixed punishments] is not the intention. Scaring them into not breaking the law is.
Tough requirements for carrying out Huddud [fixed punishments], the divine obligation to avoid punishment via ambiguities, presumption of innocence and a fair and balanced court system, are the essential pillars on which the Sharia [Islamic Law] is built upon.
Given the alarming rate at which crimes are snowballing in the modern world, the Huddud [fixed] punishments under the Sharia [Islamic Law] provide an alternative proven solution to the conventional system which is expensive, time consuming and ineffective at keeping a check on crime.
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