Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
And there is life for you in Fair retribution, people of understanding, so that you may guard yourselves against what is wrong. (Chapter 2: Verse 179)
Take note of the accurate Quranic expression and of the fairness of our Lord. In the previous verse God says: “You who believe, fair retribution is prescribed against you,” while in this verse He says: “And there is life for you in Fair retribution.” These two verses highlight a precise legislation that reflects duties and rights. There is no duty without right, nor is there any right without duty. As a believer, you should first know your duties, and then ask for your rights. When you take these two sides into account, you will discover that in the light of God’s teachings, everyone enjoys a fair and just life.
The legislator is God; He is the Lord of all mankind, so there is no one believer who is more worthy of God than the other. By definition, religion should prevent injustice, restore rights, and preserve wealth and dignity. On the other hand, it is the habit of man to fight for his full rights while trying to avoid doing his duties. A true believer is the one who fulfils his duties completely, and only then looks after his or her rights. This concept is to be applied even in the case of murder where it is incumbent upon the killer to come forward to absolve him or herself from this terrible crime and sin. It is also the duty of the killer’s family not to hide him or her from people or help this person escape responsibility and justice. When these matters are properly implemented in a society, murder would virtually disappear. Hence, legal retribution benefits the whole society and gives all its members a just and peaceful life. Anyone who intends to kill will refrain from it once it becomes clear that justice will be served and the entire community –even his or her own family- would see that no criminal would go unpunished.
Let’s talk about those who stand against fair retribution and the application of the death penalty because they claim it is inhumane or excessive. We ask: what is it that makes you defend a person whose life might be taken justly over the person who was murdered wrongfully? Keep in mind that the true purpose of the penalty prescribed by God is to prevent and stop the heinous act of murder from occurring in the first place. We implement fair retribution to protect the entire community from a killer who has no respect for the lives of others and from whomever maybe thinking about committing murder. God says: ‘And there is life for you in Fair retribution, people of understanding.’ Allah warns us against false generosity and misapplied kindness. We should not get angry over the punishment of a killer, rather we should strive to give the innocent victim and his or her family justice and closure; and in that there is protection for all mankind.
In the cases of justice, Allah addresses the mind and the people who have an understanding of the core of matters. Allah is not addressing emotions or those who focus on the superficial and sensational. You should know that laws and punishments are legislated not with enforcement in mind; rather they are set with prevention in mind. In other words, the wisdom of legalizing punishment is to prevent the crime from occurring in the first place. The ultimate goal is for both the crime and the punishment to disappear. Likewise, the true and just purpose of building a formidable army equipped with the best weapons is to instil fear in the enemy and prevent war from occurring in the first place. We saw this on display historically where the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction kept the world in balance and out of war during the United States – Soviet Union cold war arms build-up. With safety and security prevailing, the balance of life is restored and people strive to better themselves through scientific advancement and invention, not war and revenge.
Let’s look at another example from the Quran where punishment was legislated for adultery. In the verse below God emphasizes that the punishment of adultery should be carried out in front of a group of people so it serves as a lesson and a reminder for anyone who maybe fantasizing about such a sin. God says:
A woman and a man who commit fornication: flog both of them with one hundred lashes and do not let pity for them hold you back from carrying out God’s law, if you truly believe in God and the Last Day; and let a group of believers witness their punishment. (24:02)
In order to apply God’s teaching properly, it is of utmost importance to do a thorough investigation and collect all the evidence in each case. The burden of proof is set very high in order to minimize any chance of false accusation. For example, in the case of adultery, and in order to convict a person, Allah required four witnesses who saw the physical act to come forward. God says:
If any of your women commit a lewd act, four of you must be witnesses against them. If they bear witness, detain them in their homes until death releases them or Allah ordains another procedure for their case. (4:15)
And in another chapter:
Why did they not produce four witnesses? Now that they have not produced witnesses, it is indeed they who are the liars in God’s sight. (24:13)
Sadly, these days we see poor investigations and convictions based on rumours and false testimony. This is un-Islamic, and only serves to create resentment and fear in society. Faith calls for us to seek the pleasure and approval of God, not that of the people and authorities.