Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Time for Mercy, Time for Muslims to Abolish the Death Penalty

Today is the day of inhumanity. It appears that over 1 million people have been killed in armed conflict since the year 2000 including Iraq, Syria, Darfur, The Congo, Afghanistan, and more. There are over 50 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, the highest since the records began, and with no end in sight.

Islam holds the answer, a path to peace, say 2 billion Muslims, one quarter of the world's population. Yet increasingly I hear from Muslims who are filled with vengeance and hatred following their own pain, which further fuels the killing - the latest round taking place in Yemen as Saudi coalition jets drop bombs on their Muslim neighbours. The Prophet pbuh taught us to return evil with kindness, to practise forgiveness, to show mercy, and yet increasingly Muslims are turning to revenge as their hearts are consumed with hatred for the other side, whoever that other side may be.

Human life is devalued, as more and more we see mutilated bodies in our daily stream of social media. Each new day I see even more dead kids; in the beginning these images used to have me reaching for a bucket as I felt physically nauseous in horror, but now I'm starting to get used to them. Such images mostly result in further hatred and yet even more killing. "These people are not human" is a common cry I hear as we look on in bewilderment, yet the truth is we are all human, and though we may refuse to believe this many of us would be driven to killing either directly or indirectly if we were fed the same diet of bloodshed and hate propaganda that the killers consumed. It is anger and hatred which overpowers us, which enables a human being to kill another human being "without mercy". After being fed a daily diet of killing, eventually some people snap and an extreme reaction may then follow, and increasing numbers join the holy fight and become killers themselves.

I could talk about the hypocrisy of the West, about drone strike targeted killings or the 3000+ on America's death row, or the thousands of people executed in secret in China each year, many of whom are no doubt innocent. But I choose to look to our Muslim community for answers to the problems of this seemingly heartless world, since it is we who were revealed The Recitation and guided towards a path of mercy. But the Muslim dictators of this world are not doing anything to promote peace, even though we were given the key to peace. Our Muslim oppressors promote the message that greater punishment is required to kick the masses into order, to stop the 'fitna', but in doing so they actually feed the hatred further and pour fuel on the fires that are burning. Their disciplinary intolerant brand of Islam is seeing an increase in executions, limb amputations, whippings, stonings, beheadings and in Saudi Arabia crucifixions even - yes that's right, crucifixion - I can hardly bring myself to say the word so far distorted is it from the merciful message of Islam that I love. What was set out in the Quran as an example of Pharaoh's barbarism, of those who transgress  and make corruption in the land was somehow taken out of context and twisted to become God's law, and in so doing the so called leaders of our Islamic nation have become the ones sowing the corruption - it's like the whole message of mercy has been turned on its head.

Speak out against the death penalty and I always hear the response "It's in the Quran - it's Islamic law - how can you change God's law?". Slavery was also mentioned in the Quran - but that didn't mean that Islam encouraged slavery. On the contrary, the freeing of slaves was encouraged in the Quran throughout the life of The Prophet as indeed forgiveness and mercy was too.

One of the most frequently quoted surahs in the the Quran to justify the death penalty is 2:178-179
Translation from Sahih International:
"O you who have believed, prescribed for you is legal retribution for those murdered - the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But whoever overlooks from his brother anything, then there should be a suitable follow-up and payment to him with good conduct. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. But whoever transgresses after that will have a painful punishment. And there is for you in legal retribution [saving of] life, O you [people] of understanding, that you may become righteous." HQ 2:178-179

However, after considerable research I concluded that the phrase 'legal retribution' was an incorrect translation, that should have been translated as 'narrations', as this verse was referring to the previous narrated laws given to the Jewish people. I discuss my findings on this matter in depth here.

After careful research into these verses I feel concluded that this is a more accurate translation:
"O you who have been faithful, prescribed (written) over you were the narrations regarding killing: the free man for the free man, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. Then whoever was forgiven by his brother for anything, then [there is] a following with fairness, and [there is] a returning to him with goodness. This is a lightening [of load] for you from your Lord and [it is] mercy. Then whoever transgresses after that, then for him is a painful torment. And for you in these narrations is life, oh men of understanding, so that you may become righteous."

These verses were explaining that mankind was previously given the 'life for a life' teaching to the Jews, but then God brought mankind the teaching of forgiveness to lighten his load and to return his fallen state back to goodness. This ties in perfectly with the Gospel (Good News) also brought to us by the prophet Isa  regarding the 'eye for an eye' teaching where he instead encouraged people to 'turn the other cheek' and practise forgiveness. In addition this message of mercy also fits perfectly with the message transmitted in Surah 5:28 where Abel, "the better of Adam's two sons" says "If you should raise your hand against me to kill me, I shall not raise my hand against you to kill you" and is also confirmed in the following Hadith:

The word for 'retribution' in the Quran is 'intiqam' and its is revealed in these verses that God is 'The Owner of Retribution', not man. Repeatedly we are reminded in the Quran of the judgement of God, that His justice will come, and it is because of this that we can relieve ourselves of our own hatred and anger, because we know that true justice is in His hands.

The executions we see taking place today are nothing to do with the promotion of justice, rather they are implemented to promote fear, to stop anyone rising up against the corrupt and greedy 'leaders' of this world that consume the world's riches for their own pleasure rather than sharing resources with all the people as Islam guided us to do so. The Prophet pbuh lived like a poor man and gave everything away that he could - how far removed are the leaders of today. Today's executions are also used by corrupt governments to win popularity with their increasingly unhappy public who are fed a diet of hate politics and calls for revenge. 'Support us, we are the rulers of order and stability and we will give you the revenge you crave to heal your troubled souls' is the subliminal message they transmit - yet the hunger for revenge is an appetite that will never be satisfied, but rather result in more troubled souls calling for even greater killing.

But what about mercy? Where is mercy in Islam? Regarding Muhammad the Quran says:

"And not have we sent you except as a mercy to mankind." HQ 21:107

The Prophet demonstrated forgiveness of murderers throughout his life. There was a case of a lady who tried to poison our Prophet, but when Muhammad realised what she had tried to do so he asked her why she had done that, and she explained, and he listened. Muhammad's followers then asked if they should  kill her for plotting to take his life but he said no and instead he forgave her. (There is one hadith that contradicts this account but numerous others confirm this story in its entirety, with its message of forgiveness).

This wasn't the only time someone could have been punished for attempted murder of the Prophet, there were actually a number of attempts on his life, but never did the Prophet punish those people. In fact, Muhammad was so nice to those people who attempted his murder that sooner or later they usually became his followers too.

Not only did the Prophet show mercy to those who tried to murder him, he also encouraged others to show the same mercy too. This was one case of murder that was brought before the Prophet:

Here Muhammad did not order the man to show mercy, but he urged him to. Similarly the Quran urges us to choose the right path, it provides guidance - it does not as some may think lay out a list of black and white laws, dos and don'ts, but rather it teaches principles, encourages us to reflect and offers guidance to the higher road. Here Muhammad urges the man to the right path, that of mercy, not once, not twice or three times, but four times!

At the time of writing this blog post, I have the controversial case of Shafqat Hussain on my mind, who was due to be executed on the 9th June. I just paused from writing this blog and took a short break on Twitter, only to read the wonderful news that his execution has been halted, again, for the fourth time. Is this coincidence? I came to learn that when you have faith, nothing is a coincidence. I pray from the depth of my heart that Pakistan listens to this call to mercy - not just in the case of Shafqat, but to all those 8,000 people now awaiting execution of death row, an estimated 800 of whom are thought to have been sentenced to death when still children. This is an opportunity for Pakistan to lead the way along the path of mercy, to halt these executions, and then maybe, just maybe, the rest of the Ummah may follow, insha'Allah.

For sure the greatest act of mercy that our Prophet showed was towards the end of his life at what could be argued was the pinnacle point of his mission, during the peaceful conquest of Mecca. As 10,000 Muslims were about to march into Mecca, many of the Muslims must have felt the urge to revenge all the pain they had previously suffered at the hands of the Quraish, and one of them cried out "this is the day of slaughter; when the inviolable shall be violated: the day of God’s abasement of the Quraish". But Muhammad corrected him stating no, "this is the day of mercy, the day on which God has exalted the Quraish" and gave strict orders to avoid  bloodshed.  They marched into Mecca peacefully where he he looked straight in the face of the killers of his most beloved friends, and he forgave them all, without exception. Subhan'Allah, what a victory indeed.

Every Surah (bar one) begins with the words Bismillah Alrahman Alraheem - in the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful - a constant reminder of the overriding quality of our Lord, that we would be nothing without His mercy. In the Hadith Muhammad is stated to have said "When Allah completed the creation, He wrote in His Book which is with Him on His Throne, 'My Mercy overpowers My Anger.'"

We all need mercy, and we all expect mercy,but so many are willing to withhold it. And yet many times in the Hadith we are reminded that "Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to mankind."

Muslims nations that refuse to show mercy should take heed, since it is also stated:

"The merciful are shown mercy by Ar-Rahman. Be merciful on the earth, and you will be shown mercy from Who is above the heavens. The womb is named after Ar-Rahman, so whoever connects it, Allah connects him, and whoever severs it, Allah severs him."

Isn't it time for us to start practising mercy? And until we practise mercy, how can we ever expect mercy from Our Lord and a healing of our broken Ummah?

Muslims worldwide are eager to follow the Prophet in daily mannerisms, habits and dress, many men growing a beard as our Prophet did, but less eager are people to adopt the same practises when it comes to forgiveness. When I talk of the mercy shown by our Prophet I often hear the response 'that was the Prophet and he was a perfect man - you can't expect me to do the same'. Instead of encouragement towards mercy I hear Muslims making up their own version of the Quran. Here is just one crazy tweet I received from a Muslim today on this topic: "Forgive the one who don't harm and attack you But not the one kill your children Like the shia doing to sunni kids in Syria". Sadly I get many comments like this, from many different Muslims, and no they are not all trolls, some of these comments come from real people who really think like this. Let me say to these people: these concepts of unforgiveness are not Islamic, they are not in the Quran, and they cannot be twisted into the message of mercy without which our beloved Prophet would not have been sent.

I could argue that the evidence has clearly shown the death penalty does not work as a deterrent, that to give any one person today a fair trial is extremely difficult and expensive, that in executing any criminal you inflict even greater punishment on that person's family who have done no wrong, and that thousands of people are and have been wrongly convicted and executed over the years. But still even with these arguments that the death penalty simply does not make sense, to argue any of this in a predominantly Muslim society you come up against the brick wall argument that 'This is Islam - do not criticise it'.

But let me pause a moment to consider those innocent people on death row. In 2014, at least 2,466 people were sentenced to death worldwide - up 28% on 2013.I wonder how many of these people truly had a fair trial? I wonder how many of these sentences were handed out to silence a political opponent or to win public favour? In Islam everyone knows that to kill even one single innocent soul is like killing the whole of mankind. And even when a fair trial is given, who can truly know the heart of anyone? Let us remember when Muhammad said to Usammah who had killed a man in battle who professed to be a Muslim 'Did you split his heart open to know whether he was saying the truth or lying?'. For sure only truth can fully be determined by God, and we can never know for certain what was is in a man's heart. We are prone to error despite our best intentions. Executing a person in error cannot be undone. At least when you lock someone up for life then truth has the possibility to emerge later, as has been demonstrated in many cases recently where dna has proven the innocent of many people who were convicted of murder many years before. In the USA alone there have been 329 people exonerated post conviction due to DNA evidence that was not previously available, 20 of whom who had spent time on death row.

Here I put forward the case that the death penalty is not Islamic, any more than slavery is. Islam did not outlaw the death penalty as it did not outlaw slavery either, but it guides us to a better path, and that better path is that of mercy. And is it not time that we truly embraced that message, that we took the high road, that we moved back to the path of mercy as demonstrated by our beloved Prophet pbuh some 1380 years ago? And then insha'Allah, maybe Allah swt might bring his blessings back to us.

I call on all Muslim leaders worldwide to reflect on our desperate condition, and to pray about this matter, and to have the courage to demonstrate the mercy of which mankind is desperately in need. We can start with this one act of mercy, to abolish the death penalty - please show mercy and then mercy may be shown to us, and we might start to mend our broken land. Let's change this time of inhumanity. Now is the time for mercy.

الله اعلم
Allah knows best 


  1. Jamila,

    A very well written article! I agree you and believe we should eliminate the death penalty worldwide. Studies have shown that the death penalty does not deter crime. We need to find a better way.
    We have advanced our technology but not our humanity.
    It's time we realize that killing one another solves nothing and that empathy, love, mutual respect and compassion solves everything.

    Jon Foote

  2. Brilliant Jamila. We have forgotten that Rasulullah Sallallaho Alaihi Wasallam is a Mercy to (all) the worlds