Monday, 28 December 2009

Islam and Capital Punishment

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day - Tuesday 29th December 2009
Amanullah De Sondy
Assistant Professor of World Religions
Ithaca College, New York

A British man has been executed in China for drug smuggling. Akmal Shaikh was found in possession of 4 kg of heroin in 2007. His family had pleaded for leniency stating that he was mentally ill and was duped by a gang of drug dealers. My thoughts are with Akmal Shaikh’s family as they try to come to terms with their loss and the circumstances surrounding their loss.

This harrowing reality has pushed me to consider my own position on capital punishment. In a recent discussion in New York with friends of all faiths I was told that the execution of criminals must be simply condoned in Islam. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this statement as it made me realise once again the generalised view we have of Islam. Law of any nature is there to uphold peace in civil society and this has been the core of what Islamic law tries to assert too. But in the current political situation Islam’s ideas of forgiveness and liberty can be hijacked by those who uphold clear-cut edicts.

It also makes me think about the effectiveness of capital punishment. Is it not just too simplistic to kill? Is a society’s greatness not in its ability to punish without taking life? Even though in some way death might close a criminal chapter it begs us to consider the difficulty that religions and societies face when promoting law and order through their own understanding of justice and peace. Let's be honest we all differ on what justice and peace is.

And I’ve also been thinking about a person’s voluntary entry into a country different from their home nation. I’ve been working in the US and although I agree that every nation has a right to promote its own criminal justice system – it’s a personal challenge when the law differs significantly from what we are used to or agree with.

We must all consider the implications of our actions, whether as individuals or nation states, when negotiating our own understanding of right and wrong, life and death. But irrespective of our beliefs and judgment surely there must also be room for feeling sympathy for one family and their suffering.

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