“In an ideal Islamic state, if all the Shariah conditions are met, would you approve of stoning a woman [or man as the punishment applies to both] to death for adultery?”
Judging by recent BBC productions it would appear as if this seemingly straight forward question has been adopted by certain elements as their preferred method for demarcating the “extremists” from the “moderates” in the Muslim community. Reply in the affirmative and you are immediately consigned to the camp of “advocate of 7th century barbarism”, reply in the negative and the corollary – which you will inevitably be pressed on – is that you are happy to discard explicit Islamic texts. It represents a kind of modern day Morton’s fork for those of us who firmly believe in the moral rectitude of the hudud punishments.
The question is, of course, captious and not borne of any desire for dialogue or engagement with the viewpoint of the interlocutor. Regardless, my response of first instance would be to ask for clarification on what precisely are those Shariah conditions that are being referred to? For those that don’t know they include the testimony in open court of 4 adult reliable witnesses of good character who can swear to seeing the actual act of copulation – meaning they can swear to personally having seen the union of the two sexual organs. Now given that two individuals engaging in a spot of extra-marital misbehaviour generally tend not to perform it live for the viewing of four or more witnesses this seemingly incidental condition suddenly takes on a rather more pivotal role in the question; in fact the condition has, in fact, rendered the attendant punishment otiose.
There is further point to be made on the matter of the alleged barbarism of the punishment and the “extremism” of those that advocate it. It is accepted that distinct societies and cultures have disparate laws and punishments. What is regarded as a crime in one is not necessarily so in another. The punishment for a given crime may be relatively trifling in one jurisdiction and rather more grave in another. Take for example the punishment for premeditated murder in two different Western nations – the US and the Netherlands. In some states in the US one can find themselves strapped to a chair and electrocuted to death (which can take up to 15 mins and is probably rather painful) or as an alternative strapped to a table and given a lethal cocktail of drugs (the process can be botched, witness the recent case of the inmate who had to be administered 30+ injections). In the Netherlands the typical punishment for murdering someone is around 8-9 years in prison. Would the Dutch be justified in interrogating every American they came across as to their beliefs on judicial execution – especially the electric chair and lethal injection – and designating those who responded in the affirmative as “extremists who favour barbaric, outdated punishments”?
The same people who would designate Muslims as extremists for their belief in a form of capital punishment – the enactment of which is all but precluded by its attendant conditions – will never think to similarly label those who call for electrocutions, hangings, gassing or lethal injections as “barbaric extremists”. The sad truth is that the question of hudud punishments is merely another avenue for those who espouse a visceral hatred of the Islamic faith and its adherents to vent their bile.
Lastly, one might question what if two people decide they want to commit adultery openly? Suppose they demand the right to strut the streets publicising their adulterous liaisons to all and sundry? This is, in truth, precisely what the law is aimed at preventing – not to punish individuals who have fallen into error and who keep their shortcomings private. Although beyond the scope of this short piece the effects of adultery and fornication are numerous and devastating on the social fabric of a nation. The misery being caused in large parts of England today by swarms of feral youths, more often than not from one-parent families, bears testimony to this. As Muslims we make no apology for seeking to prevent such a state of affairs becoming the norm and for this reason the Islamic law punishes the open commission of such sinful behaviour and by implication forbids the promotion of it also. What it doesn’t seek to do is to investigate or regulate that which individuals keep private within the confines of the four walls.
May Allah (swt) ‘s peace and blessings be upon sayyidina Muhammad.