I write in response to the letter published in Malaysiakini by a ‘concerned parent’ on 24 April 2019.
It is striking that the person who penned the letter stated that ‘Many Muslims in Malaysia nowadays don’t read’. I would have to agree with this statement but probably not in the way the writer thinks.
The reaction of this ‘concerned parent’ illustrates perfectly the tragic result of a centuries-long decimation of sacred knowledge. For over four hundred years, Muslims of the Nusantara were colonised by outside forces which dismantled the structures of Islamic scholarship in this land. I would say the majority of Muslims today do not even have an inkling of the rich and rigorous intellectual tradition of Islamic scholarship that continues until today. When mired in ignorance, it is expected that one would react this way when hearing about the Hadd punishments for fornication and adultery. Explaining this topic is beyond the scope of this letter of reply (those interested in reading further can refer to the excellent article by Dr Jonathan Brown referenced below) but suffice to say that the layperson should be aware of a few facts:
1. Hadd punishments are subject to an almost impossible burden of proof. It serves as a powerful deterrent to an equally powerful base desire within human beings, which is sexual desire. Hadd punishments were very rarely carried out during the time of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). When they were, it was often at the request of the accused who wanted to be absolved from punishment in the afterlife.
2. The central principle in the application of the hudud punishments is maximizing mercy. This was formulated clearly in a hadith attributed to the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that was also echoed by prominent Companions, among them his wife Aisha and the Caliphs Umar and Ali. The best-attested version states, “Ward off the hudud from the Muslims as much as you all can, and if you find a way out for the person, then let them go. For it is better for the authority to err in mercy than to err in punishment.”
3. The establishment of a harsh regime of punishments alongside a nearly unreachable standard of proof does occur together within the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an ordains that those who commit adultery should be lashed 100 times, but just one verse later it states that anyone who accuses someone of adultery without four witnesses to the act is punished with 80 lashes for slander.
4. The destructive effects of fornication and adultery on the family unit, on physical health and mental health are extremely harmful to society as a whole. As such, a strong deterrent is needed to prevent these acts from occurring. Muslims should unequivocally obey the commands of God because that is what it means to ‘submit’ to Him, but there are often obvious benefits to His commandments, prohibitions and prescribed punishments.
As a final note, I would draw attention to another point brought up by the ‘concerned parent’: “It reflects the larger change in our society, where the interpretation of Islam has become more harsh and singular, with those questioning the mainstream interpretation labelled as either liberal or kafir.”
I would like to remind the writer that it is precisely ‘non-mainstream interpretations’ of Islam that lead to the violent sects such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram. It is crucial that we stick to true scholarly interpretation of the normative majority rather than being ‘liberal’ by interpreting without knowledge and expertise, and based on desires lest violent manifestations arise.
I would like to end with a verse from the Noble Qur’an, Surah al-Jathiyah (45:23) which translates:
“Have you considered him who takes his low desires for his god, and Allah has made him err having knowledge and has set a seal upon his ear and his heart and put a covering upon his eye. Who can then guide him after Allah? Will you not then be mindful? “
Dr Qalamu Nusaybah
International Women’s Alliance for Family and Quality Education