Welcome to the thoughts, rants and passions of a young Muslim woman seeking soulful enlightenment in cyberspace.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Call for a Moratorium on the Penal System

Tariq Ramadan has called for a moratorium on the application of hudood (penal system) in the shari’ah (Islamic law). Ramadan argues that he is not calling for a rejection of the shari’ah. He claims he is not even rejecting hudood. Rather, he is calling for the rightful implementation of the shari’ah, which many scholars would agree is scarcely to be found in “Muslim countries”.

Ramadan has been very careful in wording his speech. He argues that the hudood penalties (penalties including corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty) have a basis in classical Islamic law; thus one cannot deny that they are a part of Islam. Yet one must take into account the contextual framework within which the penalties are applicable. This emphasis on the formalistic application of certain parts the shari’ah without fully appreciating its spirit, its comprehensiveness, and its goals leads to unjust applications of Islamic law that simply betray the message of Islam.

Ramadan thus calls for intra-religious dialogue among Muslim scholars to work out what the shari’ah means. In the meantime, one cannot turn a blind eye to the individuals within Muslim countries who are being punished unjustly. Thus his call to suspend the current application of hudood is meant to protect vulnerable individuals while debate takes place.

I wonder what will be the repercussions of this call. Will the scholars take him seriously? Will we see papers produced and discussion stimulated? Or will he be denounced and swept aside? Whether or not Muslim scholars have a forum for debate is contestable, but even so, it is not clear that debate will solve anything. There have been many disagreements throughout history. Ramadan may claim that the majority of the scholars believe that the conditions under which the penalties should be implemented are almost impossible to replicate. Yet there are scholars who believe otherwise; one cannot expect consensus on a matter as contentious as this one. Moreover, even if there is consensus, it may not be in the direction Ramadan is hoping for.

I respect Ramadan for speaking up. I think it is commendable that he is working to reconcile what he sees as weaknesses within Muslim societies from an Islamic frame of reference. I do feel, however, that what is missing from his paper is his explicit opinion on the matter. Ramadan could have called for a more reasonable interpretation of the shari’ah. Instead, he calls for a moratorium. I am left wondering what would constitute this ideal state where hudood may be implemented. Does Ramadan believe hudood penalties are unnecessary? Already those who adopt a more literalist interpretation of the shari'ah are criticising his stance. They argue that the laws are correct irrespective of whether or not they are applied correctly and therefore one has no right to issue a moratorium. Other scholars, though agreeing that few countries apply hudood in the correct manner, make the weak claim that Muslims are under attack and must band together and avoid airing internal differences. Clearly this public call for a moratorium is a controversial one, but I am glad Tariq Ramadan is courageous enough to broach a subject many others would avoid.


  • At 4/03/2005 09:47:00 a.m., Blogger cncz said…

    This reminds me of when I was at the mosque one day and we were talking about awrah, and the book had something about the awrah of slaves, and a girl started laughing, and the teacher said, 'It's part of classical Islam, you don't laugh at deen.'
    Tariq Ramadan has a point...people are all about enforcing shariah but they don't realize it's not their job to enforce it.

  • At 4/03/2005 11:35:00 a.m., Anonymous Yusuf Smith said…

    As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

    Not only that, people have to know how to uphold the hudood. The killing (in particular) of an innocent person is a very grave matter in Islam, and many outsiders' ugly impressions of Islam come from badly-enforced hudood. This isn't to say that the hudood no longer apply in our day and age - they do - but they have to be done properly, by people who know how.

  • At 4/03/2005 12:03:00 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "This isn't to say that the hudood no longer apply in our day and age - they do - but they have to be done properly, by people who know how."

    Who are these people who know how?


  • At 4/03/2005 01:38:00 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…


    i am so glad u are back saf!

  • At 4/05/2005 12:19:00 p.m., Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said…


    A few questions from an ignorant non-Muslim:

    1) Is Ramadan considered a "liberal", a "moderate" or an accepted Islamic scholar by the Scholars in the countries that currently practice the hudood?
    2)Is there a difference here between Sunni and Shiite people?
    3) Is there an organization or forum that brings together the leading Islamic scholars and authorities?


  • At 4/05/2005 03:57:00 p.m., Anonymous Yusuf Smith said…

    :1) Is Ramadan considered a "liberal", a "moderate" or an accepted Islamic scholar by the Scholars in the countries that currently practice the hudood?:

    Tariq Ramadan isn't a scholar at all in the classical Islamic sense of the word, and doesn't claim to be one. He's an academic and his PHD is from a university in Switzerland. From what I gather, his views would be rather controversial. But the validity of a scholar's views isn't dependent on whether or not he lives in a country where the hudood are enforced. It depends on his ijazas, or authorisations from similarly authorised scholars.

    :Is there a difference here between Sunni and Shiite people?:

    Not as far as I know. Not all Shi'ites agree on the Khomeinian model, but for a long time Iran was ruled by Shahs who upheld their version of the Shari'a. This continued until a military officer made himself shah in the early 20th century.

    :Is there an organization or forum that brings together the leading Islamic scholars and authorities?:

    I don't think there's any single incorporated body. There are definite networks of scholars who share scholarly lineages - for example, there are definite circles of Azharite shaikhs, Deobandi shaikhs and Ba 'Alawi shaikhs, and if you go to one annual conference in the UK, for example, all the shaikhs will be Deobandis and most of them will trace their lineage to one Indian hadith shaikh named Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi. If you go to Dar al-Mustafa in Yemen, all or nearly all the teachers will be from the Ba 'Alawi grouping, who share a physical as well as scholarly lineage.

    But there isn't, and never has been, a single organisation. I hope this helps.

  • At 4/05/2005 06:31:00 p.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…


    I guess the thing to remember is that the process of becoming a Muslim scholar is not formalized in any way. So one might be recognized as a scholar by their peers, by studying for many years under another scholar, by being given the authority to teach by another recognized scholar, etc.

    There is no single organization or forum that would bring together all of the scholars, which is the problem with Ramadan's call. There may be such organizations in specific organizations in the Middle East. There is the Fiqh Council here in North America, but they don't have much clout except with the people who recognize them as an authority. So it's a very loose process, not formalized in any way.

  • At 4/08/2005 02:48:00 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "This isn't to say that the hudood no longer apply in our day and age - they do - but they have to be done properly, by people who know how."

    Anyonymous asked a question and no one answered!

  • At 4/08/2005 03:39:00 a.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…


    Sabrun Jameel. :-) Anyway, I don't think Yusuf is under any obligation to respond to an anonymous poster. And until I've finished the paper I'm working on, I won't be spending much time here.

    Take care,


  • At 4/14/2005 01:39:00 p.m., Blogger dawud al-gharib said…


    I have a grave concern about the hudud as currently applied, shared with people such as Tariq Ramadan and also with the sister who runs BAOBAB in Nigeria, the *muslim* critic of the northern State of Kano's haphazard punishment system... somehow, beating up on the poor and weak is not just wrong, it smells of evil...

    the hadith used to justify the cutting off of limbs actually begins by saying: (paraphrased)

    'the people of Quraysh brought forward a woman of Quraysh who had stolen, and deputed a sahaba to represent her, saying 'She is from a respected and wealthy family amongst us, please treat her lightly'

    When the Sahaba mentioned this to the Prophet (Peace be upon him), his face turned red with anger and he said: 'People before you (Ummah or nations) were destroyed because of this, they gave punishments to the poor and weak and allowed the wealthy and powerful to escape judgement. [here's where they usually quote from] By Allah, if Fatimah-bint-Muhammad (May Allah be pleased with her) was to steal, I would have her hand cut off.'

    This is as true in the 'secure lands' (here in Saudi) as it is elsewhere, you can't call it justice when it's only applied to poor people or weak (darker-skinned, or immigrants from other countries) and allow wealthy Saudis or rich gulf arabs to get away scott-free...


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