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Capital Punishment

A convicted criminal is led in shackles down a dark hallway. Grudgingly, his hands and feet are strapped down with a thrust. A final statement is uttered and then, with the push of a button, 2000 volts of electricity are shot through him, rendering him another victim of the system. Elsewhere, a violent murderer is held down by painfully tight straps which are cutting into his flesh as a potpourri of lethal chemicals are injected into his veins. The outcome? A macabre government-sanctioned murder. These and other such forms of cruel and unusual punishments are seen in the bastion of human rights – “the West” – for the most incorrigible and incurable of its citizens. Are such forms of “capital punishment” moral, justified and legal?

It is not our intention to speak on such aspects at this moment, nor does our discussion concern the Qur’anic injunctions on the penalty for crimes. Rather, we wish to look at another, perhaps more severe form of “capital punishment”, which is recognized in Islam.

Today, we see secular-based humanitarian groups and religious organizations stretching their hands forth to help the less fortunate in a multitude of ways: feeding the homeless in soup kitchens (which many North American Muslim communities are now beginning to participate in), volunteers getting together to build homes for the less fortunate, and assistance given to the victims of natural disasters. All of these altruistic acts require enormous amounts of manpower; however, they also require the all-important financial contributions.

The Prophet Muhammad, his noble family (peace be upon them), and their select devout companions are the greatest manifestation of the altruistic teachings which have been mentioned in various chapters of the Qur’an and seen most vividly in Suratul Dahr (76). This entire chapter was revealed in honor of five individuals (Imam Ali, Lady Fatima az-Zahra, Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain and their house assistant, Fiddah) who, for three straight days, gave all they had in His way to the orphan, beggar and non-Muslim prisoner. Through such examples, they have taught us how to give to others – regardless of age, social status or even religion!

When it comes to financial assistance, however, it may startle some people to read that Allah does not only require us to help those who have “nothing”, but one verse of the Qur’an, as we understand from its commentary, actually rewards us for helping those who work hard and are just “making ends meet” but may not be able to enjoy the “luxuries of life” which others enjoy – and the Creator considers this as an acceptable form of worship!

In Suratul Ma’aarij, there is a discussion regarding this concept, and in verses 24 and 25, Allah notes: “Those for whom in their wealth is an allotted portion, for the beggar and the deprived.” One commentary of this verse states that the “deprived” (or mahroom, as the Qur’an refers to it) is: “A person who struggles, strives and toils at work, however still leads a difficult life (in covering his expenses).”

The Qur’an has placed emphasis on helping others financially (through Khums, Zakat, Sadaqah, and other forms of assistance), but still we see people living hand-to-mouth with little left at the end of the month, while others are so wealthy that they don’t know what to do with their wealth and aimlessly indulge in self-perceived pleasures which actually give them nothing but misery – and it is from this that we understand the Islamic belief in “capital” punishment.

In chapter 9, verse 55 of the Qur’an, we read: “Do not let their wealth nor their children distract you. Indeed Allah only wishes to punish them with these (two), so that their souls may depart while they are faithless (in the denial of the bounties and blessings of the Almighty).” From such awakenings, we understand the emphasis which the Qur’an places on the need to contribute financially to the well-being of others and understand that such acts do not only “help” the one on the receiving end, but that the donor also gains spiritual benefits – such as the prayers of forgiveness and success from the Prophet and the Ahlul Bayt! Thus, the Islamic approach to “capital” punishment is the spiritual pressures and pains which are caused by having “excess” wealth and not spending it in the way of God upon others.

We do not want to fall into the condition of trying to understand religion through the latest discoveries; however, it was refreshing to read a recent research paper in Science Magazine entitled “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness.” The authors of this study began their article by stating:

“A large body of cross-sectional survey research has demonstrated that income has a reliable, but surprisingly weak, effect on happiness within nations, particularly once basic needs are met. An emerging challenge, then, is to identify whether and how disposable income might be used to increase happiness. Ironically, the potential for money to increase happiness may be subverted by the kinds of choices that thinking about money promotes; the mere thought of having money makes people less likely to help acquaintances, to donate to charity, or to choose to spend time with others, precisely the kinds of behaviors that are strongly associated with happiness. At the same time, although thinking about money may drive people away from pro-social behavior, money can also provide a powerful vehicle for accomplishing such pro-social goals. We suggest that using money in this fashion – investing income in others rather than oneself – may have measurable benefits for one’s own happiness.”

The conclusion the researchers reached is even more thought-provoking:

“Although much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, we suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Specifically, we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.”

Thus, in Islam, the real form of “capital punishment” is the torture and immense pain we feel when we are making “too much” money and not giving it back, in the way of God, to the less fortunate of society, the dissemination of the teachings of Islam as given to us by the Prophet and his noble Ahlul Bayt and other such projects.

One of the ways to escape the “death sentence” is that when we receive a large bonus from work, or come across a windfall and are faced with the dilemma of either purchasing that new iPhone, 60″ plasma-screen TV, luxury car or any of the thousands of other gadgets on the market, or taking that $400, $4,000 or $40,000 and contributing it towards the dissemination of the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, we remember the age-old saying: “The more you give, the more you receive” – the more material wealth you give (with the correct and noble intention), the more spiritual (and material) wealth and happiness you will receive (from Him)!
In addition to working full-time for Canada’s largest manufacturer of smartphones, Shaikh Saleem Bhimji has also written and translated numerous works on Islam and Shi’ism. These can be read and purchased at http://www.al-haqq.com and http://www.iph.ca

About Shaikh Saleem Bhimji

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