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QUESTION & ANSWER: Interpretation of Sharia – Part 2

[Following is the continuation of the response made by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad to the question on whether there was anything in the Qur’an that suggests that adulterers must be stoned. Having refuted the claim that stoning has been mentioned anywhere in the Holy Qur’an as a punishment for adultery, he further explains some issues relating to the interpretation of the Shari’a]. Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: (……/continuation) The Islamic teaching of chastity is of such a high level that it produces an atmosphere of chastity in the whole society. With its various injunctions, it creates a sense of chastity that pervades the whole society. It engenders a culture and a set of values that is different from that found in western societies or in African society today. There you find that generally a promiscuous attitude is prevalent while in Islamic Societies with all the appropriate application of the Islamic way of life it becomes a very different type of society. In that society there would be a very small likelihood of such matters arising. Moreover, should an 38 Review of Religions – July 2002 Interpretation of Sharia – Part Two During his visit to Nigeria in 1988, H a d h rat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the Fourth Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam was invited by BTV, a Nigerian television company, to take part in a series of televised interviews. During these sessions a number of questions regarding Islam and Ahmadiyyat were put to him by a BTV presenter and presented below is the continuation of answers to questions that were raised. Prepared by Amatul Hadi Ahmad QUESTIONER accusation of adultery be made, Islam enjoins upon the law enforcing agencies to demand four witnesses to this act. Given this injunction, it is not difficult to appreciate how remote the possibility of such punishment would become. It is a threatening posture but in reality its application would be very rare indeed. Before a verdict of guilt can be applied, Islamic law requires four witnesses to present themselves – four people who can bear witness under oath that they saw such an act with their own eyes. Consider the implication of this injunction! The likelihood of finding four witnesses to an act of adultery is quite remote. Moreover, the standard of truth in bearing testimony has been raised to such a high degree in Islam that today it would be virtually impossible to find such witnesses in an ordinary society of human beings. Islam lays down very strict rules for choosing witnesses. According to Islam, if a person is so irresponsible and shameless as to urinate in full public view, his testimony will not be accepted. If a person has been observed to indulge in gossip that virtually amounted to a lie, at any time in his life, his testimony would be rejected. In short, four witnesses of a very high calibre are required who had witnessed such an act themselves. In view of all these injunctions, the likelihood of such a punishment being actually implemented appears very remote. At the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) of Islam all the cases that we know about where people were meted out some punishment, were all cases where the guilty person themselves came to the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) and told him themselves that they had committed this crime and demanded the appropriate punishment. The general standard of piety in the society of that time had been raised to such a high level that conscience played a strongest role. In more than one tradition we find that a man or 39 Interpretation of Sharia Review of Religions – July 2002 a woman approached the Holy Prophet(sa) and said that they had committed the crime of z a n a, that is, adultery or fornication, and that they then demanded punishment. At this the Holy Pr o p h e t( s a ) t u r n e d away his face when the person would approach him from the other side repeating his plea of guilt and yet the Holy Prophet(sa) would ignore it. The pleas would be repeated again, a third time, and again the Holy Pr o p h e t( s a ) w o u l d ignore it. Only when a person repeated his plea of guilt the fourth time, the Holy Prophet(sa) would be left with no alternative but to issue the order for punishment. The fact that it was only after the fourth plea of guilt that punishment followed has a deep significance. It is because four witnesses are required and although the Holy Prophet(sa) was the enforcer of law, he hesitated. He did not like to punish people. He was very kind hearted so he took the position before Allah that although the person is admitting his guilt but he has admitted it once and because I have ignored it in the hope that he may not repeat what he is saying. However, if he does repeat it four times, he is left with no option but to issue the punishment. Is that barbarism? Call it what you may, with all the conditions and requirements that go with this injunction, it is not barbarism. However, the effect it has on purification of the society is immense. The sword of Damocles is hanging but it is seen that it would be very rare that this sword would be permitted to fall. What about the cutting of limbs? Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: Again, the ‘cutting of hands’ is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an but the Arabic term ‘q a t a i y u d’ should not be only interpreted literally although I fully agree that it can also be translated literally as ‘cutting of hands’. QUESTIONER 40 Interpretation of Sharia Review of Religions – July 2002 H o w e v e r, the same Arabic term is used in the Holy Q u r’an, [in the Chapter entitled ‘Joseph’], with regard to the chief’s wife who tried to lure Joseph(as). She persuaded some other ladies of the court to join her in her scheming so that Josephas) was trapped. In reference to these ladies, [describing their state of amazement when they saw the handsome countenance of J o s e p ha s )], the Holy Qur’ a n uses the same term ‘cutting of hands’ which is exactly the same term as used in description of punishment for thieves. However, it is quite evident that the same term has a different meaning here. Despite the fact that the same idiom, the same words were used, it does not here mean that they severed their hands. This term also means ‘prevention’ – the term ‘cutting of hands’ also means ‘to prevent some one from doing something’. Hence, when the term ‘qatai yud’ can be translated in this way as well, that means that the punishment laid down by Islam for theft covers a large area. In many cases the injunction that applies is that measures of prevention should be taken. H o w e v e r, in advanced cases the hand should also be severed. Why is this so? It is so because Islam provides every person in Islamic society with the minimum requirements of livelihood. The state is responsible for this provision hence there is no justification for theft and Allah has also given us hands to earn our livelihood. However, if instead of using our hands to contribute to the economic process, we use the hands to destroy the economic ‘wheel’, then the hand is no longer required. The process of the economic ‘wheel’ is destroyed when some people try to short-circuit it through acts of stealing which is exactly the opposite of the economic process. The hand, therefore, is no longer required. This is the significance of the injunction of the ‘cutting of hands’. In advanced cases, when a hardened criminal has had to be punished in this way, 41 Interpretation of Sharia Review of Religions – July 2002 he would be there for all to see that a creature of God, a human being, was provided with the means of livelihood and he was guaranteed that even if he did not find a job to earn his livelihood, the Islamic state is responsible for his livelihood, yet he chooses not to use his hand for the purpose for which it was created. Hence, such a hand should be severed and he should be a lesson for others to heed the warning. If this is considered barbaric and this punishment is reject- ed by a society in the name of advancement and civilisation, what is the converse? Where theft has become rampant, where all measures of imprisonment have no effect. Where in reality thieves maim and kill people in great numbers and the whole society is working under fear of thugs and thieves. Consider what is happening in Nigeria. The thieves here have become so daring that they attack even mosques and other religious places. I have just received a report that our Centre was attacked. Thieves here attack, leaving children, women and men maimed. Despite the fact that the poor people out of fear offer them all they have, they still beat them and torture them. So this is no cruelty! However, should the hands of such hardened criminals be cut, it appears to be cruelty to the opponents of Islamic teachings. 42 Interpretation of Sharia Review of Religions – July 2002 IN A SOCIETY WHERE STRICT MEASURES OF PREVENTION ARE NOT CARRIED OUT, THE SUFFERING IS NOT LESSENED. IT IS VERY RARE THAT THE HANDS OF A THIEF WOULD BE CUT, BUT MUCH MORE OFTEN THE INNOCENT PEOPLE IN A SOCIETY WOULD BE MAIMED AND PUNISHED EVERY DAY FOR NO CRIME OF THEIR OWN, AT THE HANDS OF THE THIEVES. Remember that if severe punishments were not meted out to the hardened criminals, it would be the innocent people who would suffer. They also have a legitimate and greater demand for pity. In a society where strict measures of prevention are not carried out, the suffering is not lessened. It is very rare that the hands of a thief would be cut, but much more often the innocent people in a society would be maimed and punished every day for no crime of their own, at the hands of the thieves. Consider what is happening in the US! In New York. I have been told, the incident of mugging is so common that there is hardly a family that has escaped mugging. It is not only that the muggers steal things, they leave behind a trail of torture. People are killed or left suffering horrendous injuries and some are even maimed. In short, given the background of Islamic teachings relating to economic concepts, with the background of guarantees that no person should be permitted to go hungry or be left without shelter or clothing, I think this is the right thing to do. You state that it is against the background of a society in which the state provides for its people, in an Islamic state, for example. What happens when there is massive unem- ployment? Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: Do you mean if the state is not responsible [for providing the minimum guarantees]? Yes, where the state is not responsible? Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: In such a case the state has no right to enforce the Islamic Shari’a law in its country. QUESTIONER QUESTIONER 43 Interpretation of Sharia Review of Religions – July 2002 What about the case where you have a system in which the state cannot provide for its people and the people wish to work but there is mass unem- ployment? Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: As far as Islamic injunctions of punishment are concerned, I must point out that the injunctions regarding punish- ment did not come first. The benefits of Islamic laws were enacted first and the punitive injunctions were revealed much later in the stage. In its early stages Islam revealed its teachings of beneficence and the rights of the people in the Islamic state. Once a society was created such that its people were law abiding, pious and righteous – a society in which the standards had already been raised to a very high level – only then were the laws governing punishment revealed and enacted. Hence, I do not agree with the so-called ‘Maulvis’ (clerics) who seek to represent Islam. They do not work for the uplift of the society, for building the moral fabric of society, which is something that every Prophet of God did. This task was carried out to its ultimate limits by the Holy Pr o p h e t Muhammad(sa) of Islam. Despite the fact that he was initially very cruelly treated by the people of Mecca, yet he first created a better type of people from among those he addressed and then, much l a t e r, did he enforce the punitive laws. It was not the case that he first enforced these laws and then tried to create a better society through the instrument of punishment. This is what we most certainly do not find in the life history of the Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam nor, for that matter, in the life of any other Prophet. Why then is it the case that these so called ‘champions of Islam’, the so- called ‘Maulvis’ do not work hard in a similar direction. QUESTIONER 44 Interpretation of Sharia Review of Religions – July 2002 Why do they not first reform the society? They should first work to build the moral fabric of society to a high standard and then, and only then, would they be in a legitimate position to speak about the punitive measures. On the contrary, they seem to think that Islamic Shari’a is there only for the purpose of punishment! The fact is that Islamic Shari’a is so full of beneficence that the Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam is declared to be R a h m a t u l i l Alameen that is, a mercy for the whole of mankind. People like the so-called ‘Maulvis’ seem to forget the aspect of mercy of the Islamic Shari’a as they tend to project only the punitive measures. Only the weapons are disclosed – the system of defense is given prominence – but the system of protection, the system of sustenance and the system of morality and all the beauties of Islam are ignored because its implementation requires much effort and hard work. In short, I do not agree with the piecemeal implementation of Islamic Shari’a prior to the ‘spade work’ that is necessary which is a pre-requisite for the enforcement of these laws. First, work like the Holy Pr o p h e t( s a ) of Islam through persuasion, through patience, through suffering. Raise the standard of society, give them their due rights – provide them with the means of livelihood, provide them with the minimum guarantees. Then, and only then, does a state have the right to speak of punishment – not before. 45 Interpretation of Sharia Review of Religions – July 2002