While the ceiling of Islamic punishments is set quite high for violent crimes, it cannot be ignored that the very concept starts with encouraging forgiveness. The Quranic verse stating:
فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللّٰهِ
“but whoso forgives and thereby brings about an improvement, his reward is with Allah” clearly points to the fact that there is divine wisdom behind the penal system devised by Islam. The raison d’etre of Islamic punishments is to develop a society of pious and God-fearing people, to uphold justice, and to deter members of the society from wrongdoing.
A methodological principle of jurisprudence in Islam is to fight causes and not merely symptoms. This principle is complied with by blocking unlawful actions and means about their preconditions and consequences, the so-called sadd al-dharai‘.
For example, the Holy Quran not only states that believers should not commit adultery or fornication, but it states:
وَلَا تَقْرَبُوا الزِّنَا
“And go not nigh unto fornication or adultery”. (Ch.17: V.33)
And it says:
وَلَا تَقۡرَبُوا الۡفَوَاحِشَ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنۡهَا وَمَا بَطَنَ
“And go not nigh unto indecencies, whether open or secret”. (Ch.6: V.152)
Besides many very apparent and obvious implications of this methodology, such as the regulation of public nudity, a demure dress code, gender segregation etc, it also entails the governance of language and freedom of expression.
One of the most important Quranic verses dealing with the regulation of public discourse is unfortunately misunderstood and misinterpreted by many. It states,
لَا يُحِبُّ اللّٰهُ الۡجَهۡرَ بِالسُّوۡٓءِ مِنَ الۡقَوۡلِ اِلَّا مَنۡ ظُلِمَ
“Allah likes not the uttering of unseemly speech in public, except on the part of one who is being wronged” (Ch.4: V.149)
It can thus be deduced that any public utterance of unseemly, evil and indecent speech is prohibited under Islamic law. The prohibition enunciated in this verse includes, for example, all spoken or written obscenities, blaming others or attributing misdeeds to them, speaking about evil deeds one has committed oneself, etc. All unseemly and hurtful speech is thus forbidden, even if it contains truth or has a supposedly good purpose.
The only exception to this rule mentioned in the verse is that someone who has been wronged is given a little more leeway in his pursuit of justice to speak out to the public authorities. The verse is very clear in that the exception for public mention of the unseemly applies only to those who have been directly wronged. It is contrary to the spirit of this verse for third parties who have not been directly wronged, who are not victims, or who do not speak as official representatives of those who claim to be victims, to speak publicly on their own behalf and for their own motives, and to publicly disseminate accusations made by known or anonymous persons.
This means that one should most definitely raise their voice against injustice but that ought only to be done before the right type of forum. History of early Islam has it that the Holy Prophetsa and his rightly guided Khulafa asked for witnesses and any evidence that the claimant could provide, hence facilitating them to acquire justice in the matter at hand – all done before the dedicated forums.
This wisdom of Quranic teachings can be best understood in this age of social media where claimants feels encouraged to post their story online in a media trial fashion. Slander, defamation and libel have never helped in providing justice, as legal forums will always rely on witnesses and evidence.
To conclude, we must clarify that in the case of criminal offences, “forum” would mean legal bodies functioning under the law of the land. (For details, please see “Silence or Sanctity: Islamic teachings on safeguarding honour yet seeking justice, in Al Hakam, 28 January 2022, Issue CCII, p. 3)
(Prepared by the Ahmadiyya Archive and Research Centre)