Clergy Corner

Crime and Punishment in Islam

Ayatollah Nasir Makarem ShiraziIs it compatible with Islamic benevolence to stone a person who has lost his/her chastity as a result of domination of sensual desire? Is cutting the hands and feet of thieves in accordance with religious clemency? Are severe and harsh punishments not considered to be a sort of violence?

Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi

One of the many objections levied against Islam is in reference to the system of crime and punishment in the Shari’ah. How are Islamic punishments and penal laws compatible with clemency and benevolence? Is it not considered violence to give one hundred lashes to one who has committed a sin? Is it compatible with Islamic benevolence to stone a person who has lost his/her chastity as a result of domination of sensual desire? Is cutting the hands and feet of thieves in accordance with religious clemency? Are severe and harsh punishments not considered to be a sort of violence?


There are subtle points in the “penal laws and punishments” which help us in replying to these questions. Studying these points, it is clear that penal laws and punishments too are another branch of Islamic clemency and benevolence, although they may at first seem violent to some.


Philosophy of Punishments

There are narrations about the philosophy of the execution of penal laws and punishments, clarifying our insight into these Islamic rulings. Consider the following two samples:

The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) says, “Execution of any penal law or punishment is better than forty days of rainfall.” (Wasail al-Shia)


As is apparent in this prophetic narration, penal laws and punishments are compared to the rain, and execution of any law (no matter how minor it seems) is better than forty days of rainfall. The narration implies that just as rain is a mercy of God, and He sends it down for the people of earth, divine penal laws too are a sort of divine blessing. In fact, execution of Islamic punishments washes away the society like rain, and purifies it from pollution.


If one were to disturb the public security in society, and violate people’s soul, wealth and honor so that a part of society is threatened, he would be an outlaw – and outlawing the guilty will bring about more security in society. It washes away terror, fear and insecurity from the society like rain. Those who produce and distribute narcotics in an Islamic society – thus destroying the youth through this great crime and corrupting the country for achieving their own personal interests and profits – shall be punished for corruption on the earth.


We believe that such individuals and groups are liable to Islamic punishments. If they are not punished, God will not leave them and they will be involved in the consequences and adversities caused by their corrupt activities.


Commenting on verse 17 of Chapter 57 in the Qur’an (“Know that Allah gives life to the earth after its death”), Imam Musa al-Kadhim (peace be upon him) says, “It does not simply imply that He revives the dry lands with bountiful rain. Rather, it implies that He appoints (great, sincere and ambitious) men for reviving justice in the world, and revives land as a result of revival of justice. Undoubtedly, execution of penal laws and punishments on the earth is more beneficial than forty days of rainfall.” (Ibid.)


As you can see, there is no trace of revenge, violence and any type of negativity in the traditions explaining the philosophy of penal laws. Rather, they are concerned with affection, clemency and the spread of justice in society.


Proving the Applicability of Punishments


Studying the ways of proving the applicability of penal laws displays other examples of Islamic clemency and benevolence.


The applicability of many penal laws is strengthened with four witnesses or four times of confession. That is to say, for application of penal law for adultery, four just men shall testify that they have seen a man or woman while committing adultery.


Is that even possible? We have not found even one case in the narrations and historical books where adultery is proved with the testimony of witnesses for the applicability of penal law. This way is practically impossible, and therefore this is a sort of Islamic clemency for such sinners.


There are numerous conditions in the case of the other way when the sinner confesses. For instance, he/she shall confess four times and each confession shall be in a different place – and even if one confesses four times in one place, it is counted as one time! (Ibid.) Moreover, if the sinner repents with the Islamic judge before the conviction, it is difficult to execute penal law for him or her. (Ibid.)


These points are mentioned in numerous narrations, one of which is referred to hereunder to see the Islamic benevolence and clemency of the real successor of Prophet (s.a.), extended to the sinner who had referred to him willingly for judgment:


An adulteress came to Imam Ali (peace be upon him) and asked him to purify her with execution of penal law for adultery, because the worldly chastisement is easier than the permanent and continuous punishment in the other world! The Imam told her to leave and to return after delivery has purified her. The lady went and later came back after childbirth, repeating her request. The Imam asked several questions from her (hoping to dissuade her and make her hesitate in what she says). He then told her to breastfeed her child, and then after infancy to come to be purified. The lady returned after two years and again repeated her request. Again the Imam asked several questions and the lady replied. Finally, the Imam told her to take care of her child so that the child could protect himself against the daily dangers. After that, she should return to be purified. The lady came back weeping. (Ibid.)


As you can see, it is not easy to prove guilt liable to penal law, and it is not possible to prove it as far as the sinner does not want execution of the penal law. This is an indication of Islamic benevolence.


If Islam was the religion of violence, would it be so fastidious in seeking the conviction of a sin?


Execution of Punishment


Even if the applicability of a penal law is proved and the Islamic judge decides to execute it, there are rules and instructions for how to do it. These rules are further indications of Islamic clemency and benevolence.

  1. The penalty of lashing shall not be executed at the beginning and end of the day in winter because the lash hurts the sinner too much at those times. Rather, it shall be executed in the middle of day when it is warmer.
  2. Contrarily, it shall not be done in the middle of day in summer, when it is too warm. Rather, it shall be done at the end of day (Ibid).
  3. The sinner shall not lie down when being lashed. Rather, he/she shall be sitting or standing, because the lash strokes are slower in this condition and the sinner feels less pain (Ibid).
  4. If the sinner is sick, execution of the penal law shall be postponed until recovery (Ibid).
  5. If she is pregnant, it shall be deferred until delivery (Ibid).

There are some other rules (32) which all indicate Islamic clemency even for a sinner (the details of which could be found in the books of jurisprudence).

Considering the above three points (the philosophy of penal laws, ways for proving the applicability of penal laws and punishments, and the rules for execution of penal laws and punishments), as well as reflecting upon the subtle points will compel any fair and impartial man to confess that Islamic clemency and benevolence exists even in the seemingly violent penal laws and punishments. On this account, execution of Islamic punishments is accompanied with so many blessings for society that its blessings exceed the blessings of forty successive days of rainfall!



Editor’s Note: This article is an except from the author’s book The Religion of Mercy, available online.

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  • Jabir

    Salamun alaykum, how about stoning to death of an adulterer, is it sanction by Allah in the Qur’an? Why not just render her lashes? Stoning is gradual killing of the subject and it is surely painful, we can imagine the agony she/he has to go through. While it is an irony when we have to slaughter an animal for food, we have to make it sure that the animal should not go through prolong pain by using sharpen bladed device and directly cut the animal’s life support organs. Please shed light/explanation on this kind of punishment in line with Islamic teachings. Thank you

    • RE:

      WS, How is lashing any less “gradual” than stoning?

  • Muslim Jinn
    • Jabir

      Salamun alaykum, jazak’Allahu khair for the link. I’m learning from the exchanges and discussions. By the way, I am a new Muslim, that’s why I am asking so I can also relate the answer to my friends, relatives and to anybody who might ask my opinion regarding this kind of punishment in Islam in the light of Qur’an.

      • sm

        Assalam alaikum,

        If you are curious about the particular Sakineh case, this article would be really helpful:

        Otherwise, in general stoning is something that has been sanctioned in the Hadith and examples of the Prophet [saww] and Ahlul Bayt [as]. This is also consistent with what the Old Testament says about the crime of adultery.

        In terms of WHY, perhaps the slow, painful death for an adulterer goes to show the despicability of this crime..? There is a nice lecture by Sayed Ammar where he talks about this:

  • Muslim Jinn

    The idea of applying deadly forms of punishment for non-deadly crimes is unIslamic. Yes, we have hadeeth about stoning adulterers and killing homosexuals, but they are not mutawatir hadeeth. The idea of stoning contradicts the Qur’an, namely 4:25. That verse says the punishment for adultry of a married slave-woman is half that of a married free-woman. So how exactly can you stone a married slave-woman half to death? You can’t. This proves that the punishment for adultery can’t be stoning. We have more discussion on the topic at:

    • sm

      “The idea of stoning contradicts the Qur’an, namely 4:25. That verse says the punishment for adultry of a married slave-woman is half that of a married free-woman.”

      This is incorrect. The Qur’an doesn’t use the word “punishment for ADULTERY”. If you read the original Arabic for verse 4:25, it uses the term FAHISHA, which literally means indecency. So at this point, obviously we have to look towards the Hadith for clarification and cannot rely on personal opinion of anyone. Therefore, Ayatollah Mahdi Pooya mentions the following incident in the tafseer of verse 24:2:

      Six persons, accused of adultery, were produced before the then caliph, Umar bin Khattab. At once he sentenced them to flogging, each of them with a hundred stripes. When Ali pointed out to him that his judgement was in contravention of the divine law, Umar requested him to give his own judgement.
      Ali said:
      Execute the first.
      Stone to death the second.
      Punish the third with a hundred stripes.
      Punish the fourth with fifty stripes.
      Warn the fifth and set him free.
      Set the sixth free without any penalty.
      All wondered as to why Ali gave a different verdict for each of the 6 persons tried for the same crime.
      Ali explained:
      The first is a dhimmi, a disbeliever under the protection of the Muslim state, who committed the crime of adultery with a believing woman, and having violated the law of Islam has ceased to be a dhimmi, therefore he must be executed.
      The second is a married man whose punishment is stoning to death.
      The third is to be flogged with a hundred stripes because he is a bachelor.
      The fourth is a slave, so fifty stripes is his punishment .
      The fifth has only been warned because he was caught in the crime inadvertently.
      The sixth is insane, so the law cannot be applied on him.
      Then Umar said:
      “Had there not been Ali, Umar would have perished.”

    • sm: part 2

      So obviously stoning is a punishment endorsed by our Ahlul Bayt [as]. It also becomes evident from the incident of Imam Ali [as] that the “half punishment” is in the case of fornication, not adultery. Of course, there are many conditions that have to be met as elucidated upon by the author of the article, but the punishment in itself is applicable.

      With all due respect, this is a matter of Islamic jurisprudence, so the opinions of ordinary people (such as the ones on a forum) do not really matter. For a scholarly analysis of this issue, please see the following section from Ayatollah Dastghaib Shirazi’s [ra] book Greater Sins:

  • Bwsair

    These punishments for sins are barbaric! They have no place in modern society.

  • it is all relative

    You know what? If someone gave me the choice between lashes and 20 years in prison, I’d choose the lashes, wouldn’t you? American prisons are overflowing and they are dangerous places that breed further criminality. Many prisons in the U.S. you can’t survive without joining a gang, and prisoners are in a constant state of racial/gang tension that could lead to violence at any time. Clearly, the system of just locking everyone up doesn’t work and it ruins not only the prisoner’s life but his/her family’s lives as well.

    • jmk

      Excellent point!

      I would also add that if given the choice between stoning to death vs. hundreds of years in the fire of hell, I’d definitely choose the former. 🙂

  • Curt

    I never heard any of these men use the word secular humanists to describe themselves before. But then I do not listen to their every word.
    So, do you some place in mind that you would like to hold up as a model as an enlightened human society? I myself would choose Venezuela or Cuba or Switzerland or Sweden or Bhutan or Thailand over Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or Egypt or Morocco or Taliban ruled Afghanistan, or Indonesia or Malaysia anytime.
    Of course perhaps these are not fair comparisons because CIA meddling has prevented Muslim societies from evolving naturally. If the CIA had not meddled perhaps this whole region would now have laws and societies like Europe.

  • IslamicInsights: @Curt

    Assalam Alaikum,

    Your comments from this and several other articles have been removed. They were initially allowed because you seemed to have legitimate questions that required answers. However, it has since become clear that you are merely spamming the site and making nonsensical remarks that have nothing to do with Islam. You are welcome to post comments in the future which are relevant to the respective article, but please note that if you continue with your rants, your IP will be blocked.


    The Islamic Insights Team

    • also known as .

      I’m not really surprised you got warned. You’re an obnoxious moron who posted more than 15 times when you could have just done it in one, cogent letter. In your rambling rants, you jumped from topic to topic, constantly going on about how you need to save Muslims, as if we’re too dumb to live our own lives. Big surprise then that you just come back with more insults, that’s really going to win you a lot of followers!

      You fall prey to web masters with your bad attitude and silliness. You dish our criticism, but you cannot take it. You show that you do not know how you are being tested. 🙄

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