Question: I am a medical student. I have a question: Every sin or bad deed has a punishment prescribed in Islam. For instance, if a married person committed zina (illegitimate sexual intercourse) his punishment is sangsar (stoning), right? My question is, is this punishment suitable for today’s life? I mean how can we give punishment for zina without an Islamic government in power? Is there any tawbah (repentance) permissible for a person guilty of zina? I hope you understand my question. Please reply as soon as possible.
Answer: Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
The Quran most certainly does prescribe corporal punishments for certain serious social crimes. The Shari`ah punishment for a married person for zina is sangsar (Urdu word for stoning).
Punishment in Islam has a social purpose in that it should dissuade others from committing the same crime. The nature of the punishment depends on the seriousness of the crime in question. Many people nowadays, especially Westerners, may be opposed to the Islamic punishment for zina, not necessarily because they are opposed to the idea of punishing anyone who violates the social norms of sex or family life, but because they see it as disproportionate or too harsh a punishment for the crime.
The basic problem here is the different standards by which the severity of the crime is measured. Islam views zina as a very serious crime, because it undermines the very foundation of the family system upon which the whole superstructure of the society stands. Extra-marital sex is the main cause of the breakdown of the family. The collapse of the family tells upon the nurture and care of the young. The physical and moral health of the coming generation depends on the kind of care they get from their parents and parents can look after their children properly only within the framework of the family.
Thus we can see that illicit sexual relationships undermine the family and bring about the breakdown of the system. Family breakdown imperils the physical and mental health of the future generation; which in turn leads to a vicious circle of decadence, dissipation, and dissolution. Therefore, it is imperative that all measures must be taken to protect the family. That is why Islam lays great stress on drastic steps to protect the family by imposing severe punishments on all activities that tend to subvert the foundation of the institution of the family.
For this reason, Islam’s provisions of the Shari`ah are not intended “to plunge the society into darkness,” but to protect it by all means. A number of Western writers say that ‘unless Islam is prepared to relax its legal provisions of the Shari`ah, there can and will be no accommodation, only a continuation of Western rejection of Islam.’
The Western point of view of man-woman relationships is in keeping with its view of a permissive society, a society that accepts extramarital and illicit relationships as normal. The predatory capitalism prevalent in the West has unleashed a driving passion among the people for more money, more comforts, and more pleasure, particularly carnal pleasure. Hence, the phenomenal growth in the West of the porn businesses, partying, carnivals, and sex tourism. The most important casualty of this situation is the family. The result is a profusion of single parents, gay and lesbian couples, latch-key children, and what not. In spite of it all, they call the Islamic Shari`ah provisions “harsh” or even “primitive.” I hope you see the difference in the world views.
Now these are the essential conditions for the implementation of the Shari`ah punishment for zina:
First, only a proper Islamic government, legitimately running its affairs on the principles of Shari`ah, has the right to implement the Shari`ah punishments. There is no overstating the fact that Islamic punishments are only a part of a vastly larger integrated whole. They cannot be implemented in isolation. The need to implement the Shari`ah should arise from the taqwa (piety) of a people or their sincere and profound desire to avoid what displeases Allah and accept what pleases Him.
Second, the Islamic government should establish justice as its core value in all its affairs so that the social and cultural environment of the country should be congenial for a moral life for all its people. The government should see that there is no enticement drawing people to do immoral things. In other words, there must be an atmosphere that makes doing good easy and doing bad difficult.
It is only after a minimum of the above two conditions have been fulfilled that a government is entitled to implement the Shari`ah punishments in a country.
Any case that comes before the court for judgment must be investigated thoroughly and proper evidence must be brought before the court to satisfy all the conditions of Shari`ah. Only then does a Shari`ah court gain the authority to judge a case according to its provisions.
You have also asked the question, “Is there any tawbah (repentance) permissible for a person guilty of zina?”
No doubt, a person guilty of zina, or any other crime or sin has the right to repent and seek Allah’s forgiveness. Of course, it is Allah’s privilege to forgive that person or not. But for obvious reasons, an open expression of repentance need not be taken by the court as an expiation for a crime or an excuse to annul the due punishment.
And Allah knows best.