The Pan Malaysian Islamic Party clerics
recently declared liberal Muslims as a threat to Islam as they reject the Hudud
(punishments under Islamic law). They vowed to wipe them out. Such rhetoric is
not unique to Malaysia.
Identity politics allows Muslim scholars
and their followers in the West to uphold draconian punishments under an ideal
Islamic state. Dr. Mohammad Fadel notes that rejecting Hudud as "cruel and
unusual punishments ... would have no purchase among believing Muslims."
Catering to their religious constituents,
popular Muslim academics engage in apologetics to make the classical Islamic
position on homosexuality, apostasy, slavery and hudud palatable to modern sensibilities.
They downplay the application of the Hudud
by arguing that such punishments are impossible to apply and that the primary
purpose is to remind people of the enormity of their sins. They apologetically
claim that such punishments are rarely inflicted and are often politically
However, a single death in the name of such
laws is way too many. Fortunately, there are many Muslim scholars who resist
the Hudud without apologetics. Here are 10 such voices.
1) Abdolkarim Soroush
Iranian Islamic thinker Soroush asserts
that nothing unreasonable can be God's will, that human rights do not
contradict Islam that it is not necessary to follow Islamic law to the letter
and therefore "a whole series of punishments recognized by Islamic law
need no longer be applied."
In an interview, he expressed:
"Some parts of religion are
historically and culturally determined and no longer relevant today. That is
the case, for instance, with the corporal punishments prescribed in the Koran.
If the Prophet had lived in another cultural environment, those punishments
would probably not have been part of his message."
2) Abdullahi An-Naim
Sudanese Islamic scholar An-Naim is a
strong proponent of the idea that we need a secular state to be a Muslim by
conviction. Commenting in the Malaysian context, he has stated that any
obligation to support the Hudud rests on personal speculation. He argues that
since the Islamic criminal code is not mentioned in the Qur'an, Muslims have no
obligation to support the Hudud.
3) Khaled Abou El-Fadl
Islamic jurist and scholar El-Fadl states
that the "ethical precepts" of Islam do not lie in "specific
punishments." He emphasizes that the values the punishments seek to
safeguard are deemed eternal but not the punishments themselves. Commenting on
the past jurists, he writes:
"... they erroneously rendered some of
the punitive measures mentioned in the Qur'an and Prophetic traditions
sacrosanct and eternal. ... But there is no plausible reason to believe that
4) Asghar Ali Engineer
The late Dawoodi Bohra Islamic thinker
argued that the Hudud laws are a product of human interpretation and reasoning
and should not be treated as immutable. He wrote of acknowledging the new
social context that justifies a revision of Hudud laws based on human dignity
and human rights.
5) Farhad Shafti
U.K. based Dr. Shafti argues that the penal
law of Islam was "never intended to be permanent and universally
applicable." He writes that the laws suited the norms of time and location
1400 years ago but also emphasizes that, "we have to adapt and evolve it
as appropriate for the time and the location."
6) Hashim Kamali
Malaysia based Dr. Kamali, a leading
Islamic scholar, has proposed that the Hadith text that calls for suspending
the Hudud under doubtful situations is not restricted to the evidential
procedures in courts. He argues that circumstances of modern society as a whole
allow for Shubha (doubtful situation) and render the application of the Hudud
as obsolete. In doing so, the Hudud, usually defended as God's right, would be
automatically reduced to Ta'zir (discretionary punishment) and subject to
revisions based on the contemporary context of Muslim societies.
7) Shabir Ally
Muslim academic and public speaker, Dr.
Ally goes against the classical grain and asserts that, "there are other
ways" of calling people "to what is good." Commenting on cutting
off hands in a YouTube video, he says:
"... many people would think ...
That's the law of God written in the Quran. It must apply for all time. But
it's not so simple. ... it would seem that in modern times, when there is so
much concern with preserving the human body... it would be out of place to
apply such a ruling."
8) Mohammad Fadel
Professor of Islamic law, Dr. Fadel adopts
a nuanced approach. He argues that the since the purpose of Hudud was
atonement, they could not be applied to non-Muslims or Muslims who do not
accept such punishments based on the argument that the "salvific
benefits" would not be achieved.
He asserts that prominent Muslim jurists
rejected the punishment for drinking alcohol for Muslims who believed that this
penalty was limited to drinking grape wine.
9) Allama Iqbal
Like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, 20th century
Islamic thinker, Iqbal upheld that the hudud were not essential components of
Islam. He wrote:
"... (e.g. rules relating to penalties
for crimes) are in a sense specific to that people; and since their observance
is not an end in itself they cannot be strictly enforced in the case of future
10) Nasr Abu Zayd
The late Dr. Abu Zayd argued that the body
of Sharia literature is not divine but a product of human thought. He asserted
that calls for a theocratic state would merely lead to a "devilish
dictatorial regime at the expense of the spiritual and ethical dimension of
Islam." On Hudud, he wrote:
"In our modern times of human rights
and respect for the integrity of the human body, the amputation of body parts
or execution cannot be considered divinely sanctioned religious
In essence, Muslims should not clamour for
the Hudud just to fuel identity politics. Likewise, Muslim spokesmen should
stop feeding the political passions of their religious constituents.
Islam needs people of vision, not