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From the BBC:

Islam on the whole accepts capital punishment.

…Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does He command you, so that you may learn wisdom

Qur’an 6:151

But even though the death penalty is allowed, forgiveness is preferable. Forgiveness, together with peace, is a predominant Qur’anic theme.

Muslims believe that capital punishment is a most severe sentence but one that may be commanded by a court for crimes of suitable severity. While there may be more profound punishment at the hands of God, there is also room for an earthly punishment.

Methods of execution in Islamic countries vary and can include beheading, firing squad, hanging and stoning. In some countries public executions are carried out to heighten the element of deterrence.

Each case is regarded individually and with extreme care and the court is fully able to impose more lenient sentences as and when they see fit.

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.

In Islamic law, the death penalty is appropriate for two groups of crime:

  • Intentional murder: In these cases the victim’s family is given the option as to whether or not to insist on a punishment of this severity
  • Fasad fil-ardh (‘spreading mischief in the land’): Islam differs from Christianity in that it permits the death penalty for anyone who threatens to undermine authority or destabilise the state

What constitutes the crime of ‘spreading mischief in the land’ is open to interpretation, but the following crimes are usually included:

  • Treason / apostasy (when one leaves the faith and turns against it)
  • Terrorism
  • Piracy of any kind
  • Rape
  • Adultery
  • Homosexual activity

Whilst Islam remains firmly retentionist, there is a small but growing abolitionist Islamic view. Their argument is as follows:

  • The Ulamas (those who are learned in Islamic Law, constitution and theology) do not always agree on the interpretation or authenticity of the sacred texts. Neither do they agree on the social context in which these texts should be applied.
  • Sharia law is often used by repressive powers that attack women and the poor.
  • There are incidences of these states summarily executing those who are accused whilst denying them access to a lawyer. These acts are totally contradictory to the concept of Islamic justice.

Many Muslims, who often don’t have access to the texts, are swayed by Western opposition into retentionist views. They are also affected by the dramatic and very public nature of the punishments. These promote knee jerk irrational reactions.

In Geneva, on 28th April 2005, there was a call for a moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and death penalty. This was, however, rejected by the Legal Research Commission of the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the world’s leading Islamic learning centre.

(Via the Death Penalty Information Center)

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