Hand Chopping, Stoning to Death and the Taliban's Style of Governance
The Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Afghanistan would implement sharia, including a ban on women venturing outside their house without a male relative and prohibition on music and other forms of entertainment.
Mohammad Yusuf, who claims to be responsible for the "central zone" of Afghanistan, told the New York Post that the Taliban regime would punish the violators per the "Islamic rules."
He explained that the officials would cut off the hands of thieves and stone the fornicator, regardless of their gender. How accurate is his statement? Does the Taliban leadership endorse it? One cannot be sure. But the world has unleashed a barrage of attacks on Islam, declaring it a barbaric faith.
If what Yusuf said is the official policy, then Muslim scholars should question it and clearly explain that God does not want maimed and dead people. Instead, he wants people to repent and correct their mistakes. Chopping the hands of thieves does not prevent theft, and stoning to death does not stop fornication. Even though all the strict penalties religions have introduced to deal with theft and fornication, the vices have flourished unabated.
There is only one verse in the Quran that refers to the cutting of hands of thieves: "As to the thief, Male or female, cut off his or her hands: a punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime: and Allah is Almighty. (5:38)
For adultery or fornication, the Quran does not prescribe stoning to death. It says: "The fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment. " [Quran, 24: 2]
Are these punishments eternal and for all times or societies? Are they prescriptive or descriptive? Is the will of God to guide people to reform their communities or chopping hands? Can they be replaced with other deterrents, depending on circumstances and situations? Does the punishment in this world mean that sin is not punishable in life hereafter?
Similarly, is flogging the only deterrent to stop fornication? Can people repent for their deviations without being stoned to death?
How would a state or community keep track of deviants in a complex and impersonal society like ours?
These are the issues that Muslim scholars and legal experts need to consider before introducing such harsh laws.
We must make a distinction between what is permanent and what is time-bound? Modesty is a permanent value, but the means of showing modesty may differ from society to society. The form of punishment that is suited for seventh-century Arabia may not be appropriate for the 21st century.
Is not implementing the suggested punishment or replacing it with another deterrent equal to sin? Cutting hands in a society where artificial limbs are readily available will not reduce theft. Stoning to death a male and female found in the act of illicit relations will expose their families to shame forever. Does this what the one who calls himself the keeper of secrets of people's weaknesses wants in a society created in his name.
Finally, is punishment the top priority of Islam, or is it the elimination of illiteracy, poverty, and oppression, the state's primary responsibility created in the name of Islam?
We expect that Muslim scholars would engage the Taliban in these seminal discussions and clarify that punishments such as chopping hands or stoning to death are not the priorities of a state founded in the name of Islam.