Iran has been gripped recently with the story of a woman who was disfigured and blinded with acid by an obsessed man who wanted her to marry him. What has surprised many people around the world is that she has demanded that they obtain justice for her in an unusual way, invoking the Islamic belief of "an eye for an eye". After a trial, the court sentenced the man to be blinded with drops of acid into his eyes and his recent appeal has been rejected.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Many people I've spoken with about this have been very uncomfortable about this in a number of ways, understandably. The first is that the state is the one which will be carrying out this extremely harsh sentence, the second is that this whole affair seems so utterly brutal and surreal. Still, I would argue that this isn't actually the case. Firstly Iran is an Islamic republic, which means that it's legislation is derived primarily from the Qur'an. The goal of the Islamic republic is to have a country which is run as closely as possible according to the laws as they believe were laid down by Allah (God) and so it is a country where Muslims have the opportunity to live according to their faith fully and entirely according to Islamic law, which is synonymous with justice. Based on this understanding, there is no law which is finer for a Muslim to adhere to than that which is laid down in the Qur'an, for it would preserve their rights and take into account their grievances to the full. Universal human rights, accepted by secular countries to varying extent throughout the world, is similar in form but not in content and it, according to a Muslim, leads to more injustice since it is clumsy and childish. Therefore, they believe it is Islamic law which would guarantee that the victim is fully compensated and that the criminal would receive the punishment due to them. Notions of reforming criminals are not alien to Islamic law, but they are within the framework of the limits set by Islamic jurisprudence and legislation. This brings us to a key point to remember about Islamic law. The transgressing of boundaries to do with a Muslims obligations towards Allah have, throughout the history of Islam and since the days of the Prophet Muhammad himself, been mostly forgiven and dealt with leniently, for God is forgiving. It is where the transgressions have infringed on other Muslims that the punishment has been harshest and the enforcement the most stringent. What good is justice if the victim is told their recompense is in the after life? This did not mean that there were not ways around it, for blood libel is accepted in cases of murder or accidental killing or for serious punishments.
When it comes to prescriptions for transgressions and harms that a person suffers from the hands of another, the Qur'an is clear about to what extent justice can be pursued and extracted, outlining the limits and options available. The media have latched onto the catchy "An eye for an eye" hadith, but there is much in the Qur'an which also confirms this view and in fact makes the enforcing of it a duty upon Muslims to enact in accordance with the limits set. For example:
al Shura 42:40
وَجَزَاءُ سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِثْلُهَا فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لا يُحِبُّ الظَّالِمِينَ
"and the punishment for a harm is a harm like it and who forgives and reconciles, his reward will be with Allah, He does not like the unjust."
The meaning of this is clear, though it is important to point out that when the Qur'an says, "He does not like the unjust", that does not mean that should a person choose to inflict a harm similar to the harm they suffered then they are unjust, but whosoever exceeds that would then be unjust.
al Nisa 4:92
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ أَنْ يَقْتُلَ مُؤْمِنًا إِلا خَطَأً وَمَنْ قَتَلَ مُؤْمِنًا خَطَأً فَتَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍ مُؤْمِنَةٍ وَدِيَةٌ مُسَلَّمَةٌ إِلَى أَهْلِهِ إِلا أَنْ يَصَّدَّقُوا فَإِنْ كَانَ مِنْ قَوْمٍ عَدُوٍّ لَكُمْ وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَتَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍ مُؤْمِنَةٍ وَإِنْ كَانَ مِنْ قَوْمٍ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُمْ مِيثَاقٌ فَدِيَةٌ مُسَلَّمَةٌ إِلَى أَهْلِهِ وَتَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍ مُؤْمِنَةٍ فَمَنْ لَمْ يَجِدْ فَصِيَامُ شَهْرَيْنِ مُتَتَابِعَيْنِ تَوْبَةً مِنَ اللَّهِ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا
"Never should a Believer kill a Believer; but (if it so happens) by mistake, (compensation is due); if one (so) kills a Believer, it is ordained that he should free a believing slave, and pay compensation to the deceased's family, unless they remit it freely. If the deceased belonged to a people at war with you, and he was a Believer, the freeing of a believing slave (is enough). If he belonged to a people with whom ye have a treaty of mutual alliance, compensation should be paid to his family, and a believing slave be freed. For those who find this beyond their means, (is prescribed) a fast for two months running: by way of repentance to Allah; for Allah hath all Knowledge and all Wisdom."
al Baqarah: 178,179
"In the Law of Equality there is (saving of) Life to you, O ye men of understanding; that ye may restrain yourselves."
Islamic law clearly states the limits of applying retribution and extracting justice. For those who transgress, there are consequences. In the case of the man who has done such a horrible act on this woman, he has left her permanently scarred and with a burden that will last with her for the rest of her life. The injustice is already done and the focus now is on how best to address this imbalance whereby she has clearly, within the limits of the law of the land, as specified by the Qur'an, demanded that he suffer the same fate as she did. The court has obliged, since it does not contravene Islamic law, is within her right to request, and is therefore not unjust. Since it falls within the criteria of a just sentence, that is, it is fully deserved, then it is not unusual, since justice is not unusual for it is needed to maintain balance. Nor is it cruel, since cruelty is only when a person suffers undeservedly and this person, as mentioned above, deserves the sentence by virtue of the fact that he has done her grave harm out of malice and spitefulness and must be held to account. As a perpetrator of a crime in an Islamic state, subject to Islamic laws, justice has been exacted. If only Iran's Islamic authorities were this diligent in the application of the rest of Shariah law.