Why is Sharia law so violent, like stoning, cutting of hands, and lashing?


Why is Sharia law so violent, like stoning, cutting of hands, and lashing? This is why many people stay away from Islam, I thought Islam was a religion of forgiveness, why is it that our Sharia law has so many physically harmful ways of punishment? Isn’t imprisonment enough?


The wisdom behind Islamic criminal laws is more of prevention and protection of community’s security rather than executing a punishment. Thus, although Islamic retributions sound violent, in practice Islam has set forth rigorous requirements to prove a crime. For example, theoretically the punishment of adultery ( زنا المحصنة  is illegal sex committed by a person – male or female- who is permanently married) is stoning, however, to prove the crime either four just male eye witnesses must be present together before the judge to testify that they witnessed the actual fornication and their testimony is exactly the same – if only three just male eye witnesses appear before the court and offer their testimony they will be held liable to punishment-, another way to prove a crime is if the suspect appears before the court on four different occasions and willingly confesses the crime. Even if one of the parties involved confesses the crime the law will be executed only on him/her.

Punishment for theft is another example. Theoretically its punishment is amputation of the right four fingers – administered under anesthetics. However, the law will not be executed unless about 15 conditions are met. For example, the law will not be executed during a famine if the stolen item is a necessity of life, or if the thief repents before the case is brought before a judge, the case will be dismissed, etc.

Studying the practice of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s) leaves us with no doubt that the criminal laws have been only executed as the very last resort when all other preventing factors fail. The Imams of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s) would let go of a case once the signs of regret would appear or when there would be any doubt about the certainty of an accusation. It is narrated from the holy Prophet (P): “Dismiss a punishment when there is a doubt.” (al-Faqih, vol. 4, p.74).

The following story is a prime example of the Islamic approach towards the execution of a crime.

Imam Sadiq (a.s) narrated: “A man appeared before Imam Ali (a.s) while he was with his companions, confessing: O Amirul-Mo’meneen I have slept with aboy (i.e homosexuality), please purify me. The Imam said to him: Go back home, I’m afraid you have lost your sanity. The next day the same man appeared before the Imam with the same confession, and Imam gave him the same reply. It was until when he appeared before the Imam for the fourth time that the Imam replied: How would you like to be punished? The man said: in the most severe way. The Imam said: that is to burn by fire. He said: I choose that. He then offered two Rak’at prayers and in his Qonoot said: “O Allah! I’ve committed a capital sin and I am concerned about its consequences. O Allah! I came to the successor and the cousin of your Prophet to purify me, and I’ve chosen the most severe punishment. O Allah! I beg you to access this as my retribution and do not burn me in the Hell-Fire in the hereafter. He then finished his prayer and stepped into the punishing pitch while he was crying. Observing the scene ImamAli (a.s) and his companions were all in tears. Then the Imam said to the man: Come out! Indeed you made the angels of heaven and earth cry for you. Lo! Allah has forgiven you, but never do such things again.” (al-Kaafi 7:202).

Answered by: Sheikh Mansour Leghaei