by Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Review of Religions, February 1993
The following address was delivered on 28th September, 1979, at the Zurich Mosque, Switzerland, by Muhammad Zafrulla Khan who was an eminent statesmen who served as Foreign Minister of Pakistan, President of the General Assembly’s seventeenth session of the United Nations and Judge and President of the International Court of Justice at the Hague, Holland.
I am deeply grateful to the conveners of this Conference for the great honour they have done me in calling me to address the Conference on the Islamic Concept of the State.
In Islam, the basic concept is that sovereignty over the universe belongs to God, but that mankind, God’s vicegerents, are vested with authority in certain spheres, as a trust, for which they are answerable and accountable to God. The Holy Prophet has said: Everyone of you is a steward, and everyone of you is accountable for that which is committed to his care.
As God’s sovereignty extends over the universe, the ultimate ideal of a state in Islam is a universal federation, or confederation of autonomous states, associated together for upholding freedom of conscience, for the maintenance of peace, and for cooperation in promoting human welfare throughout the world. In pursuit of this ideal, the Islamic State, established by the Holy Prophet, spread rapidly westward through Egypt and North Africa to Spain, and eastward through Iraq, Iran, and Central Asia to the confines of China. It instituted a single citizenship entailing overall allegiance to a single head of state, the Khalifa, who was guardian of the Pax Islamica and was responsible for the welfare of all sections of the vast populations united and inspired by common ideals. With the decline of moral and spiritual values, the ideal was neglected. The central authority weakened progressively until allegiance to the Khalifa was reduced to a mere formality and local rulers became independent.
A study of the Holy Quran reveals that it contemplates two types of states, having the same ideals and objectives, but differing with regard to the scope of the authority of the state and the manner of its establishment. The ideal again is a state in which the head of state exercises authority in both secular and spiritual spheres. The Holy Quran says:
Allah has promised to those among you who believe and act righteously, that He will surely make them Successors in the earth, as He made Successors from among those who were before them; and that He will surely establish for them their religion, which He has chosen for them; and that He will surely grant them security and peace in place of their fear. They will worship Me, and will not associate anything with Me. Then whoso disobeys thereafter, they will be the rebellious ones. (24:56)
The office of Khalifa is elective. He may be elected directly or, as happened in the case of Umar, the Second Khalifa of the Holy Prophet, he may be nominated by his predecessor, the nomination being subject to approval by the people after the death of the nominating Khalifa.
The Khalifa holds office for life. He is not permitted to abdicate, and cannot be called upon to do so. He must devote his whole time, all his faculties, and his full capacity to the service of the people. He is bound by the ordinances of Divine law and by the principles on which they are based. He must carry them out both in the letter and in the spirit, and see that they are put into effect within the state in the most beneficent manner possible.
The Khalifa must decide questions of policy and all major questions of administration after consultation with the chosen representatives of the people, both for the purpose of informing himself, in arriving at a decision, with regard to the matter in hand, and also in order to train the representatives in the conduct of public affairs (3:160). Indeed, the administration of public affairs through appropriate consultation of competent persons is mentioned as a characteristic of Muslims (42:39). On the part of the people, cooperation with, and obedience to, those set in authority and entrusted with the conduct of public affairs is a duty which is as obligatory as the duty of obedience owed to God and to His Messenger (4:60).
The institution of Khilafat thus partakes of both a secular and religious character. The Khalifa is the chosen representative of the people, and he has promise of Divine support so long as the institution maintains the character with which the Quran invests it, and does not merely bear the title, as has unfortunately so often happened in the history of the Muslim peoples.
The other type of state is that in which also the head of state is a representative of the people, with duties and responsibilities corresponding to that of the Khalifa; but with regard to his tenure of office, the scope of his authority, and the limitations upon it, he is bound by the provisions of the Constitution in conformity with which he is elected to office and which he must uphold. In his case, also, the emphasis is upon his role as a representative of the people. The Holy Quran says:
Allah commands you to entrusts authority into the hands of those who are best fitted to discharge it. (4:59)
It is thus clear that sovereignty in this context is vested in the people. They are commanded to entrust it to those who are best fitted to discharge the responsibilities attached to it. The exercise of the franchise for the purpose of electing representatives for the discharge of the various responsibilities of the state is thus elevated to a sacred trust. The verse continues: And when you are called upon to judge between, or exercise authority over the people, you must do so equitably and with justice. These two obligations, the one laid upon the people to choose their representative wisely, and the other laid upon those who are chosen to exercise their authority equitably and with justice, are the very essence of good administration. The verse concludes: Surely, excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. This implies that the Muslims might, from time to time, be tempted to depart from these two fundamental principles, and to try other experiments, but they are warned that what Allah has admonished them with is alone the most excellent and the most beneficent method by which these responsibilities might be discharged. Allah would watch the discharge of these responsibilities, and those upon whom they are laid would be accountable to Him.
The head of a Muslim state is immune against judicial action in respect of the discharge of his public duties, but in respect of obligations undertaken by him in his private capacity as a citizen, he enjoys no privilege, and is subject to the same judicial process that is applicable to all other citizens.
The duties of the Islamic State are no different from those of any other enlightened state or ruler, but they must be conceived and discharged in the spirit which Islam seeks to infuse into all institutions. This is concisely expressed in the admonition of the Holy Prophet. Everyone of you is a steward, and is responsible and accountable for that which is committed to his care. The sovereign is responsible and accountable for his people, every man is responsible and answerable for the members of his family, every woman is responsible and answerable for her home and children, and every servant is responsible and answerable for the property of his master that is in his charge.
Islam regards the state as a shepherd put in charge of a flock, and as a shepherd is bound to protect and look after the flock and provide for all its needs – keeping the sheep from straying, guarding them from the prowling wolf, feeding and housing them, protecting them against pestilence and disease – so it is the duty of the Islamic State to safeguard the people against dissension, disorder, disturbance, and oppression; to secure them from attacks from outside, and to make provision for all their intellectual and material needs. A principal duty of the Islamic State is to safeguard the security of the state, and to maintain its defence arrangements in proper condition (3:201).
Islam pioneered the first effective concept of the welfare state. The dignity of labour was emphasised. The Holy Prophet, on one occasion, held the calloused hands of a labourer between his own soft palms, and massaging them gently, observed: These hands are very dear to God. Islam laid down that it was the duty of the Muslim State to ensure the provision of the average necessities of life for all its citizens. This is regarded as the minimum requirement of a beneficent social organisation (20:119-120).
On one occasion, Umar, during his tenure of the office of Khalifa, discovered by chance that outside Medina a woman and her three children had been left without proper provisions for two days, because she lacked the means therefor. He returned immediately to Medina where he collected flour, butter, meat, and dates in a large bag and summoned a servant for assistance in lifting the bag onto his back. The servant protested and offered to carry the bundle himself. Umar declined his offer, observing: No doubt you can carry this bundle for me just now, but who will carry my burden on the Day of Judgment? He then carried the provisions to the woman, who blessed him for his kindness, and exclaimed: You are far more fit to be Khalifa than Umar. He knows not how the people fare. Well, mother, perhaps Umar is not so bad, said the Khalifa, gently, smiling.
The duty of the Islamic State to make provision for the intellectual development of the people was early emphasised by the Holy Prophet. He was himself so anxious concerning it that after the Battle of Badr he announced that any Meccan prisoner of war who was literate could earn his freedom by instructing ten Muslim children in the elements of reading and writing. This duty was so well discharged by his immediate Successors that within a brief period the camel drivers of the desert, despised by Iran and Byzantium, became the teachers of the world and the torch-bearers of enlightenment.
Provision was made for the administration of justice at a very high level as soon as the Prophet was entrusted with the duties of Chief Executive in Medina. Umar was appointed one of the judges, and the Prophet himself often performed that function. The Quran lays down as a condition of belief in Islam that a Muslim must accept the obligation of judicial determination of disputes, find no demur in his heart against the final judgment that may be handed down, and carry it out fully (4:66). In addition to the safeguards inherent in the orderly process of the administration of justice, a very emphatic admonition was pronounced by the Prophet. He said that a party which obtained a judgment in its favour should not consider itself as having a valid right to the subject matter of the judgment if in fact it was not entitled to such right. The mere fact of a judgment in its favour would not shield it against the consequences of the wrong that it would be guilty of in appropriating that to which in fact it was not entitled. He added that if such a party wrongly appropriated anything under the colour of the judgment, it only took home a quantity of fire.
Judges must carry out their duties with strict impartiality and justice. No party should attempt to corrupt the course of justice through bribery (2:189) or by presenting false evidence (25:73). A more emphatic and comprehensive injunction is:
O ye who believe, be strict in observing justice, and bear witness for the sake of Allah, even though it be against your own selves, or against parents and kindred. Whether they be rich or poor, Allah is more regardful of them than you can be. Guard yourselves against being led astray by low desires, so that you may be able to act equitably. If you control the truth, or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of that which you do. (4:136)
Hostility towards a people should not incite a Muslim, or the Muslim community, or the Muslim State, to act unjustly or inequitably towards them:
O ye who believe be steadfast in the cause of Allah, and bear witness in equity, and let not a people’s hostility towards you incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that it is closest to righteousness. Fear Allah, Surely, Allah is well aware of that which you do. (5:9)
Within this broad framework, a Muslim State is free to make such regulations and adopt such measures as it may deem suitable and appropriate to its requirements and to the needs of the people. The Holy Quran discourages the tendency to seek regulation of everything by Divine command, pointing out that such regulation would be restrictive and prove burdensome (5:102).
As already mentioned, the subjects of a Muslim State are under obligation to render full obedience to the authorities of the state; as is said:
O ye who believe, obey Allah and obey His Messenger and those who are in authority among you. (4:60)
The rights, duties and obligations of such non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic State who have submitted to the authority of the state by virtue of a treaty or covenant are regulated by the terms of the treaty or covenant, as the case may be. In other cases, so far as rights and duties in spheres other than religion are concerned, there should be no discrimination whatsoever. In the sphere of religion, in all cases, there is complete liberty and freedom of conscience and belief. This is emphatically affirmed by the Holy Quran, which says:
There shall be no compulsion in matters of faith. Guidance has been clearly distinguished from error. (2:257)
The truth is from your Lord, so let him who will, believe; and let him who will, disbelieve. (18:30)
There have come to you clear proofs from your Lord, whoever will, therefore, see and recognise the truth, it will be for the good of his own soul and whoever will remain blind to it shall only harm himself. (6:105)
The Prophet suffered keen anguish when his people appeared impervious to all reason and argument, to the various signs set before them, as to every method of explanation and illustration employed in the Holy Quran. So extreme was his anguish that God repeatedly comforted him:
Let not thy soul waste away in sighing after them. Surely, Allah knows what they do. (35:9)
It is explained that complete freedom in the matter of conscience and belief is essential for the fulfillment of the Divine purpose. It would be easy for God to compel belief asmuch as He has power even over the consciences of people, but He leaves them free to decide for themselves, as is said:
If thy Lord had enforced His will, surely all who are on earth would have believed together. Wilt thou, then, force people to become believers? (10:100)
Clear directions have been given with regard to the manner in which the message of Islam is to be conveyed to mankind. Say:
This is my way: I call unto Allah on the basis of understanding, I and those who follow me. (12:109)
It was the duty of the Prophet and of each one of his Companions, as indeed it is the duty of every Muslim all the time, to invite people to the acceptance of truth, both by precept and by example; but the precept and the example must be such as to preclude the remotest suspicion of any pressure or coercion, as is said:
Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation, and reason with them in the way that is best. Surely thy Lord knows best who has strayed from His way; and He knows best those who are rightly guided. (16:126)
In an Islamic State, all fundamental rights, including the profession, practice and propagation of their respective faiths, are guaranteed for Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
The very name of faith, Islam, derives from a root which means peace and submission, that is to say, the attainment of peace through submission to the will of God, by conformity to Divine law and guidance. In the Islamic concept, Divine law includes all laws governing and regulating the universe.
Among the attributes of God, the Quran mentions that He is the Source of Peace and the Bestower of Security (59:24). The establishment of peace and the maintenance of security must, therefore, be the constant objectives of man. Peace and order are deemed essential for material, moral and spiritual progress.
Every pursuit and activity which has a tendency to disturb the peace is severely condemned. The Quran says:
They seek to create disorder, and Allah loves not those who create disorder. (5:65)
Seek not to create disorder in the earth. Verily, God loves not those who seek to create disorder. (28:78)
There are those who talk glibly and plausibly on all subjects and call to God to witness as to the sincerity of their motives and intentions, yet they constantly promote dissension by their persistence in magnifying differences and disputes, and when they happen to wield authority they run about in the land seeking to create disorder, which destroys harvests and entails severe sufferings and hardships upon people. Allah loves not such conduct. (2:205-206)
When the Prophet announced his mission to the people of Mecca, who had known him as an honest, upright, and faithful comrade, the announcement was received with incredulity. His persistence in the assertion of his claim and in calling men to the worship of One God, and to a moral and spiritual revolution in their lives, at first drew only ridicule. When here and there his call began to evoke a favourable response, the ridicule turned into harassment. During the ten long years the Prophet and his small but slowly increasing band of Companions were subjected to cruel and merciless persecution. They bore it all with patience and dignity under the most difficult conditions. Neither abuse nor persecution could provoke them into conduct unbecoming orderly, law-abiding citizens. Except for a vehement repudiation of idol-worship and persistence in proclaiming and upholding the unity of God, neither the Prophet himself nor any member of the small Muslim community in Mecca ever attempted to defy the authority of the Assembly of Elders, or the rules and conventions regulating the conduct and behaviour of the citizens of Mecca. When the persecution became unendable, the Prophet, rather than risk a state of civil of disorder in the town, counselled that such Muslims as could afford it should leave Mecca and seek asylum in the neighbouring state of Abyssinia, across the Red Sea. Later, other Muslims, including the Prophet himself, migrated to Medina. The Meccan period of the Prophet’s ministry is an outstanding example of the upholding of law and order by a hard-pressed and sorely persecuted group, whose membership was constantly growing and whose strength was progressively increasing.
In the domain of international relations, religion and inter-religious relations occupy an important position. Unfortunately, comparatively little attention is paid today to this aspect of human relations. It is assumed that religion is a private matter for each individual and, therefore, should have no direct connection with the political, social, or economic aspects of life which affect the relations not only of individuals, but also of groups, communities, and nations with each other. This assumption is not justified. Religion is a vital factor in the field of human relations and there is good ground for hope that it might progressively become more effective in promoting unity and accord, rather than continue to be a source of friction and conflict. It is important, therefore, to ascertain what attitude Islam adopts towards other faiths and their followers.
The Quran teaches that God has sent His revelation to all peoples from time to time and that no section of mankind has been left without Divine guidance (35:25,26). Several of the Prophets of the Old Testament are mentioned by name in the Holy Quran, and so also is Jesus, who with other Prophets is honoured and revered by the Muslims (2:187). Indeed, the Quran requires belief in the truth and righteousness of all the Prophets and in the revelations that were vouchsafed to them by God. The Torah and the revelation that came to Jesus are repeatedly mentioned as sources of guidance and light. (5:45,47)
Thus Islam seeks to bring about reconciliation between the followers of different faiths and to establish a basis of respect and honour among them. It holds out to them the hand of cooperation and friendship on a basis of righteousness, as the Holy Quran says:
Surely, those who have believed, and the Jews, and the Sabaens, and the Christians, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and acts righteously, on them shall come no fear nor shall they grieve. (5:70)
They are all invited to unite on the basic ecumenical principle which all of them profess to believe in:
Say: O people of the Book, let us agree on a word that is common between you and us, in that we worship none but Allah and that we associate no partner with Him, and that some of us take not others for lords beside God. (3:65)
Islam draws attention to factors which tend to disturb or destroy peace and order, and deprecates them. Some of these may be briefly considered.
Domination of one group by another in the domestic sphere, or of one people by another in the international sphere, is a potent cause of disturbance of peace, and is strongly condemned. God does not approve of the division of His creatures into groups for the purpose of domination of some by others, and whenever such attempt is made, God’s purpose works for the uplift of those who are dominated or oppressed. In this connection, the Holy Quran cites the instance of Pharaoh and his treatment of the people of Israel as an example. It says:
Pharaoh behaved arrogantly in the land and divided the people thereof into sections; he sought to weaken one section, slaying their male children, and sparing their female children. Certainly he was of the workers of corruption. We desired to show favour unto those who had been reduced into the position of subordinates in the land, and to make them leaders, and to make them inheritors of Our favours, and to establish them in the land. (28:5-7)
Pharaoh’s end and that of his nobles and courtiers became a terrible lesson for all succeeding generations (10:91-93).
Economic exploitation of one people or country by another inevitably leads to domination by the exploiters and develops into a threat to peace. The Quran prohibits such exploitation and points out that an economy based on the exploitation of other peoples and their resources cannot be beneficial in its consequences, nor can it endure. Only such economic development is beneficial and enduring as is based on the exploitation of a people’s own resources and on equitable sharing with others of the bounties which God has provided for each people; as is said:
Do not raise thine eyes covetously after that which We have bestowed on some groups, to enjoy for a period, of the ornaments of this life, that We may try them thereby; the provision bestowed upon thee by thy Lord is better and more enduring. (20:132)
Even when a strong and powerful state avoids domination or exploitation of weaker states or peoples, its behaviour and attitude towards them, if they savour of arrogance or contempt, will cause irritation and resentment which could result in the disturbance of good relations and imperil the maintenance of peace. The Quran admonishes against such behaviour, pointing out that the strength or weakness of a people is no indication or measure of its superiority or inferiority. It emphasises that, in the process of the rise and fall of nations, a people that is weak today may become strong tomorrow, and memories of conduct that occasioned resentment or engendered ill-will would rankle and would lead to disturbance of good relations (41:12).
Another source of international conflict is the divergence between proclaimed intentions and policies and actual practice and conduct, which is bound to cause irritation and distrust. Doubts concerning motives and designs are bound to be raised in respect of a state whose conduct is inconsistent with its undertakings and its proclaimed policies and aims. Such conduct could bring about a situation serious enough to endanger international relations. The Quran insists on complete conformity of conduct to declarations and professions of intent. It says:
O ye who believe, why do you say that which you do not; most displeasing is it in the sight of Allah that you should say that which you do not. (61:3-4)
On the other hand, it warns against indulgence in undue suspicion of other people’s motives and against seeking to discover pretexts for differences and disarrangements, as this might result in much harm; as is said:
O ye who believe, avoid suspicion, for suspicion in some cases might do great harm. (49:13)
Experience has shown that a too-ready credence of rumours, and their wide publicity, may cause grave repercussions in the sphere of international relations. These rumours may have their origin in deliberate mischief, or may be the products of a too active imagination, but the harm done might be serious. The Quran warns Muslims to be extremely careful in this respect. They are told to apply a rigorous test to everything that may emanate from a source not completely dependable and trustworthy, for carelessness in this respect may not only give rise to tension but entail grave consequences. It says:
O ye who believe, if news comes to you from an untrustworthy source, examine it carefully, lest you do harm to a people in ignorance and then be sorry for what you did. (47:9)
The tendency to broadcast all manner of news, even such as might have the effect of disturbing people’s minds and agitating public opinion, is deprecated. There is the warning:
When there comes to them a matter bearing upon security or causing fear, they publish it widely; whereas if they were to refer it to the Prophet and to those in authority among them, those of them whose business it is to investigate such matters would ascertain the truth of it. Were it not for the grace of God upon you, and His mercy, you would certainly have gone astray, but for a few. (4:48)
The verse does not disapprove merely the publishing of an irresponsible rumour or a piece of false news. Rather, it emphasises that news which affects public security, or is likely to disturb the public mind, or agitate public opinion, should be referred to the proper authorities for them to determine whether immediate publication is or is not desirable in the public interest.
The Quran is very insistent upon the due observance and performance of treaty obligations (5:2, 17:35). As everything that a Muslim does or undertakes is done and undertaken in the name of Allah, these obligations have, as it were, a sacred character. That is why it is said:
Fulfil the covenant of Allah when you make a covenant; and break not your pledges after making them firm, while you have made Allah your surety. Certainly, Allah knows that which you do. (16:92)
One element that often leads to differences and disputes concerning the meaning and the carrying into effect of treaty obligations is the type of language that may be employed in expressing the obligations undertaken by the parties. Ambiguity of language which, instead of settling differences and promoting accord, gives rise to dispute and controversy with regard to its meaning and construction, should be avoided. Such language in the end leads the parties to suspect each other’s sincerity and integrity of purpose. The Quran, therefore, insists that plain words and straightforward language must always be employed for giving expression to agreements that may be arrived at. It is stated that if this course is followed, God will bless the conduct of the parties with beneficence and will eliminate the consequences of their defaults:
O ye who believe, fear Allah and use the straightforward word. He will bless your works for you and cover up your defaults. Whoso obeys Allah and His Messenger, shall surely attain a mighty success. (33:71-72)
The emphasis is upon use of language which should not be open to conflicting interpretations and thus give rise to differences and disputes.
The objectives of Islam in the international sphere is an association of strong and stable states devoted to the maintenance of peace, freedom of conscience, and promotion of human welfare. The object of all treaties, therefore, should be to further these purposes, and a treaty should not be entered into with the intent of weakening or of taking advantage of the weakness of the other party. Subversive methods and exploitation of other peoples carried on under cover of treaties and covenants are, therefore, strongly condemned:
Be not like unto her who, after having made it strong, breaks her yarn into pieces. You make your covenants a means of deceit between you, for fear lest one people become more powerful than another …… Make not your covenants a means of attaining ulterior purposes; else your foot will slip after it has been firmly established, and you will encounter evil consequences. (16:93,95)
Treaties should bind people together in beneficent cooperation and should make them stronger. If made a means of deceit, they would divide and disrupt peoples, and all effort and labour spent on them would be wasted, resulting only in loss.
There is a strong admonition that obligations undertaken by treaty or covenant should not be evaded or repudiated under the temptation of securing some ulterior advantage (16:96). The performance of obligations undertaken is a moral and spiritual duty which secures permanent benefit, whereas any advantage gained through evasion or default in the performance of an obligation will be only temporary and will in the end do harm. This is reinforced with the reminder:
That which you have shall pass away, but that which is with Allah is lasting. We will certainly give those who are steadfast their reward according to the best of their works. (16:97)
Circumstances may arise, however, under which the conduct of one party to a treaty might make it difficult or impossible for the other party to continue its adherence to the terms of the treaty. If it should be clearly established that the other party to the treaty is determined upon repudiation or breach, a Muslim state may repudiate the treaty, but only after due notice and upon terms which would ensure that no prejudice or disadvantage would be occasioned to the other party by such a repudiation. In other words, so long as an actual breach of the treaty has not taken place, one party to a treaty is not permitted to enter upon military preparations against the other party – even when bad faith is suspected – except after due notice that from a specified date the one party will no longer be bound by the treaty on account of the threatened or clearly intended contravention or breach by the other party. This would permit appropriate action for the removal of any misunderstanding that might have arisen, or for the renewal of the treaty, or for the conclusion of a new one if this should be found advisable and feasible. In any case, such notice would safeguard the other party against surprise and put it in a position to make the necessary adjustments consequent upon the abrogation of the treaty. (8:59)
It is a duty laid upon Muslims to bring about peaceful settlement and adjustment of difficulties and disputes (49:11). If two Muslim states fail to settle their differences become acute enough to constitute a threat to the maintenance of peace between them, it becomes the duty of other Muslim states to exercise their good offices to bring about a settlement on an equitable basis. Should one of the parties to the dispute be unwilling to avail itself of the good offices of the neutral states, or, having done so, be unwilling to accept and carry out the terms of the settlement proposed, the neutral states must all combine to consider and adopt measures to compel the submission of the recalcitrant state. For this purpose, recourse may be had to the use of force if necessary. When proposing a settlement, the intervening states should keep in view only the original dispute or difference between the parties. Matters unconnected with the dispute should not be raised or discussed in the context of the settlement. When both parties are finally ready to accept the settlement, it should be carried into effect without delay. The intervening states should not raise extraneous matters, such as an indemnity or compensation for the trouble occasioned to them, or for the expenses incurred by them in connection with any action found necessary to procure acceptance or enforcement of the settlement; nor should the intervening states seek any advantage for themselves out of the settlement. An award made or a settlement proposed by the intervening states in such a case is described as the command of Allah, and refusal to accept it or to carry it out is described as transgression (49:10).
The Holy Quran lays down the general principles:
The recompense of an injury is a penalty in proportion thereto; but whoso forgives and effects a reform thereby has his reward with Allah. Surely, He loves not the wrongdoers. (42:41)
The Quran specifies very few offences, and for the rest leaves it to a Muslim state to define offences and prescribe penalties therefor. Murder is one of the offences specified, concerning which it is laid down:
O ye who believe, equitable retribution in the matter of the slain is prescribed for you; exact it from the freeman if he is the offender, from the slave if he is the offender, from the woman if she is the offender. If the offender is granted some remission by the heir of the slain person, the agreed penalty should be equitably exacted and should be handsomely discharged. This is an alleviation from you and a mercy. Whoso transgresses thereafter, for him there is a grievous chastisement. There is safeguarding of life for you in the law of retribution, O men of understanding, that you may have security. (2:179-180)
Other offences specifically mentioned in the Holy Quran are adultery (24:3), calumniation of chaste women (24:5), and theft (5:39). The penalty of adultery is a hundred stripes, and of calumniation eighty stripes. Till these penalties were prescribed by the Quran, the Holy Prophet followed the Torah and imposed the penalty of death by stoning in the case of adultery. One hundred stripes were substituted in accordance with the verse just mentioned.
The penalty for theft or robbery is cutting off the hand of the offender. In practice this penalty was imposed only in extreme cases, in which there were no extenuating circumstances. It has been suggested that though the primary meaning of the expression employed by the Quran in this context is cutting off the hand, the secondary meaning, in accord with Arabic idiom, be restricting the activity of the offender, that is to say, imprisonment.
Some of these penalties may sound harsh, but when wisely administered, experience has demonstrated their beneficence.
Our last word is: All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of the worlds.