Last updated on: 8/1/2008 9:16:00 AM PST
Does Islam Support the Death Penalty?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The Qur’an, in a 1983 translation by M.H. Shakir and hosted online by the University of Michigan (accessed July 25, 2008), contains the following two references to a death penalty:
"[5.32]...whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men; and certainly Our apostles came to them with clear arguments, but even after that many of them certainly act extravagantly in the land.
[6.151]...do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden except for the requirements of justice; this He has enjoined you with that you may understand."
- Section 5.1 - 5.120: "The Dinner Table" (33KB)
Section 6.1 - 6.165: "The Cattle" (37.6KB)
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) wrote in its fact sheet "Islam and Capital Punishment" dated June 23, 2005, that:
"Muslim countries vary in the extent to which they practise capital punishment, though all retain it at present.
Islamic countries that practise a very strict Sharia law are associated with the use of capital punishment as retribution for the largest variety of crimes.
At the other end of the spectrum are countries such as Albania and Bosnia, which still retain the death penalty as part of their penal system, but are abolitionist in practice."
June 23, 2005 - British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, PhD, President of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, wrote in his Nov. 6, 2001 article “Timothy McVeigh and the Death Penalty” published on www.islamonline.net, that:
"The views of American Muslims on the death penalty vary somewhat, but the range is narrow compared to the enormous disagreements among Christians. All Muslims accept the permissibility of the death penalty because it is addressed in the Qur'an. However, our views range from those who would apply it for a moderately short list of crimes (short compared to the enormous list of capital crimes in the old testament) to those who would apply it to a somewhat shorter list still, and finally, to those who would call for a moratorium on the death penalty in America altogether.”
Nov. 6, 2001 - Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, PhD
Understanding Islam, a website dedicated to educating the public about Islam, stated the following in its article, “Regarding the Death Penalty,” published on www.understanding-islam.com (accessed July 29, 2008):
"According to the Islamic injunctions, death penalty can be administered in two cases only. Firstly, if a person is physically harmed or injured by another, Islam directs the state to provide justice to the individual (or his relatives) by letting him/them harm or injure the guilty to the same extent, as he himself was guilty of harming his victim, in the first place. This concept of punishing the guilty is known as 'Qisaas', which means 'to follow suit' or to deal with the criminal in a manner similar to the act originally committed. In other words, the criminal is to be killed or injured in the same way as he himself killed or injured his victim...
Secondly, the death penalty may be administered if the criminal is guilty of 'Hiraabah' or 'Fasaad fil Ardh'. 'Hiraabah' and/or 'Fasaad fil Ardh' include crimes committed against the community, rather than an individual or crimes that are of the nature of religious persecution or crimes committed with the objective of spreading a wave of terror through the community or crimes committed against the state."
[Editor's Note: The above quote states that only "two cases" exist for which the Qur'an allows the death penalty. The first case is for murder. The second case applies to "crimes committed against the community" which, depending on who is interpreting the Qur’an, may include: treason, apostasy (when one leaves the faith and turns against it), terrorism, piracy, rape, adultery, and homosexual activity.]
July 29, 2008 - Understanding Islam
Shahid Athar, MD, President of the Islamic Medical Association of North America, wrote in his article “Capital Punishment - A Faith Issue in an Islamic Perspective,” published on www.islam-usa.com (accessed July 25, 2008):
"There are three crimes [see Editor's Note above] for which the death penalty is justified: (a) In lieu of an unjust and proven murder, life for life; (b) adultery (zina) committed by a married person, either confessed by him or her four times, or if the act is witnessed by four people; and apostasy from Islam after willingly accepting it, declaring an open revolt against Islam, threatening the solidarity of the Muslim community…
The emphasis in Islam is not on punishment itself but the reform of the criminal as well as a reminder to those who are witnesses to the punishment. We believe that after receiving the due punishment in this world, the murderer in the life hereafter will not be questioned about it, and will receive his due share of rewards for the good he might have done in this life."
July 25, 2008 - Shahid Athar, MD
Sheikh Ahmad Ash-Sharabasi, former Professor of Islamic Creed at Al-Azhar University (Cairo, Egypt), issued a fatwa, published on www.islamonline.net (accessed July 25, 2008) that stated the following:
"Death penalty is not a recent legislation, so it should not be subject to different views on whether to impose, lift or cancel it. It has been ordained a long time ago...
All lawmakers legalize self-defense, and they say it is permissible for one to kill a person who attacks him, if there is no other way. So in resisting the attack, man is compared to the society as it fends off aggression. That is, a murderer deserves death penalty because he has trespassed against the whole society by killing one of its members. So, when the society calls for death penalty for such a criminal, it is really in a state of self-defense."
July 25, 2008 - Sheik Ahmad Ash-Sharabasi
Tariq Ramadan, PhD, Professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University, wrote in his Apr. 5, 2005 article, “An International Call for Moratorium on Corporal Punishment, Stoning and the Death Penalty in the Islamic World,” that:
"[W]e launch today a call for an immediate international moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty in all Muslim majority countries. Considering that the opinions of most scholars, regarding the comprehension of the texts and the application of hudud, are neither explicit nor unanimous (indeed there is not even a clear majority), and bearing in mind that political systems and the state of the majority Muslim societies do not guarantee a just and equal treatment of individuals before the law, it is our moral obligation and religious responsibility to demand for the immediate suspension of the application of the hudud which is inaccurately accepted as an application of 'Islamic sharia'."
Apr. 5, 2005 - Tariq Ramadan, PhD
Rabia Terri Harris, Coordinator of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, wrote in her article “Islam and the Death Penalty,” published on www.amnestyusa.org (accessed July 25, 2008):
"An Islamic opposition to the death penalty must begin by acknowledging that the Qur'an may clearly be read as giving special exemption (from the general prohibition on killing) to the taking of a murderer's life…
Those who favor the death penalty therefore cannot be considered as beyond the pale: we must accept the faithfulness and validity of their opinion...
[T]he responsibility of a Muslim is justice. Will the killing of a murderer produce justice...
[W]e can measure whether it does or not by examining the state of public trust. In the US, the following facts have been established…Nearly 90% of persons executed for murder were convicted of killing whites, although people of color make up over half of all homicide victims nationally…[and] 90% of the people US government prosecutors currently seek to execute are black or Latino…
There is no justice here. No needs are met, no fear is alleviated. This idea does not work. The hallmark of truth is that it works…
It is a far more serious error of Islamic ethics to demand a human death in circumstances when there are doubts about guilt or innocence, where the bereaved are not consulted about their wishes, and when the penalty is selectively applied based on the pernicious fantasy that some lives have more value than others.
Islamic law, and Islamic taqwa, demand that we dissent from such a travesty of justice."
July 25, 2008 - Rabia Terri Harris
Khaled Abou El Fadl, Professor of Islamic Law at the UCLA School of Law, in a Jan. 25, 2002 conference hosted by the Pew Forum, titled "A Call for Reckoning: Religion and the Death Penalty," stated:
"In the Koranic discourse, beyond the story of Cain and Abel, we find that there are various articulations and pronouncements directed at murder and punishment, but not necessarily mandating execution or the death penalty as a recourse...
When it comes to talking about the ultimate punishment, capital punishment, it talks about intentional murder, and it says that in the case of intentional murder there are three options. One option is that the family of the victim would demand compensation... a sum of money in compensation...The second possibility is that the family of the murderer demand exaction, i.e., then the offender would be killed. And third is to forgive... And it’s quite interesting here, the Koran goes on to say, in the same verse in which it endorses the three part structure, it says, and those who forgive are higher in the sight of God.
Because God has decreed this area to be God’s own, the area of life and what happens when a life is taken away, if you, in fact, punish with the ultimate punishment, the death penalty, you must prove the case per the ways that God has decreed that you prove these cases. Otherwise, you cannot implement the death penalty. And what this amounts to was effectively saying that what is required in order to implement the death penalty is a level of certainty, of evidence, that is quite impossible to fulfill."
Jan. 25, 2002 - Khaled Abou El Fadl, PhD