Islam beyond hudud

Question hudud, and everything is up for grabs. Why pray five times a day? Why obey the rules for inheritance? If the explicit may be ignored, the less explicit may have even less significance.

By Aloysious Mowe, The Nut Graph

WHEN I read the opinions and exchanges with regard to hudud in Malaysia, my head begins to hurt. Women write about their fear of being forced to wear the tudung if hudud were to be implemented. Others use the example of gambling as support for the introduction of hudud. Opponents have cited the persecution of religious minorities in Iran, or the prospect of murderers facing Islamic penalties as opposed to civil ones.

Talk of tudung and gambling is a distraction, as neither comes under hudud law. Hudud seems to have become a shibboleth for those who are opposed to living under conservative Islamic rule. People start fantasising about what hudud might mean — the enforcing of tudung for women, for example — without really understanding the nature of hudud, and its implications for Muslims and their conception of Islam.

Young Muslims wearing tudung in Istanbul (
© Chris Schuepp / Flickr)

Islamic penal law must be unique in its classifying of offences according to the punishments they engender rather than the nature of the offence. Tazir crimes, for example, are those for which the penalty is left to the discretion of the judge. Offences where the perpetrator is made to suffer retaliatory actions at the hands of the victim's family, or where the perpetrator is made to pay some kind of blood money, are called jinayat offences.

Hudud offences stand at the top of the hierarchy of Islamic penal law. There are only five offences that are classified as hudud, and they are in this category because they are regarded as offences directly against God. The specific punishments for these crimes have been expressed in the Quran and the Sunna by God.

Take the crime of theft, for example. Surah al-Maida:38 says, "As to the thief, male or female, cut off his or her hands, a punishment by way of example from God for their crime."

The five hudud offences are theft (sariqa), unlawful sexual intercourse (zina), false accusation of unlawful sexual intercourse (kadhf), the drinking of intoxicating beverages (shurb), and highway robbery (qatal-tariq). Some jurists, including the religious scholars in PAS, include apostasy as one of the hudud offences, but there is no consensus in Islam about this.

Everyone seems to know about the penalty for theft, as the amputation of hands seems to be an image that immediately springs to mind when one thinks about Islamic law. Similarly the stoning of adulterers, though in fact this capital punishment may only be imposed on those who have already had lawful sexual intercourse before committing adultery. Those who lose their virginity outside marriage may only receive 100 lashes.