Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin and The Death Penalty, Pt. 2

“We ordained therein for them (‘People of the Book’ – i.e., the Torah and Gospel): ‘life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal.’ But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if anyone fails to judge by [the light of] what Allah has revealed, they are [no better than] wrongdoers. ” – S. 5:45 of the Noble Qur’an

Muhammad al-Asi, the brother who many Muslims consider to be the last elected Imam (some would argue the only elected Imam) in the history of the Islamic Center of Washington, DC, recently wrote an excellent commentary entitled, “Centrality and benefits of qisas in Islam system of justice.” It was published in the April 16-30, 2001 edition of Crescent International. I strongly recommend that all Muslims, and any non-Muslims who are interested in learning something about Islam’s view of capital punishment read it.

Imam Asi’s article is the first in depth commentary on the issue that I’ve read in any widely disseminated publication, and it’s a very good read. When I wrote the essay entitled, “Why a Supporter of Capital Punishment Opposes the Death Penalty” – which appeared on pages 100-104 of my book entitled, Criminal Justice In America (publ. 1993) – I had nothing to draw upon beyond my own reasoning, after carefully and deeply pondering the applicable ayat (verses from the Quran) and hadith (sayings/traditions) of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).

In his commentary, which examines the issue of capital punishment in America and the West, and the social and political forces for and against, vis-a-vis al-Islam’s position on this hotly contested issue, al-Asi states the following:

“When Jews and Christians (and I would add humanistic atheists and agnostics) pretend to love man more than God does by suspending capital punishment; when Jews and Christians advance a humanistic argument to lock up a serial killer for the rest of his earthly life, instead of sending him to his Maker with the trust that he will be received by a Merciful Creator; when Jews and Christians neglect obvious and frank words of the Bible and instead “reason” against God’s unequivocal and definitive words, then it becomes all the more our responsibility and duty to stand for Allah’s covenant and to do His will.”

Al-Asi follows this up with a question, “Is the murder rate higher in areas of the world that are Islamic by tradition or in areas that claim to be Judeo-Christian?” He then proceeds to cite the Quranic ayat from the Surah known as al-Baqarah, 2:178, wherein Allah says: “O you who are secure in your covenant [with Allah]! Just retribution is decreed for you in cases of killing…” Regarding this ayah, Al-Asi notes:

“This ayah does not impose a mandatory death sentence for a convicted murderer. It outlines the just penalty for a killer (the death sentence), but goes on to state that blood-money (diyat) may be acceptable in lieu of execution. This is a transitional ayah designed to break the cycle of revenge and blood feuds which is the norm of instinctive and impulsive societies. In effect, it says that disproportionate and indiscriminate killings are not acceptable responses to a murder. Justice is required in the implementation of qisas. No one is permitted to kill many because a few were killed. No one may kill promiscuously and arbitrarily. The murderer has to be identified and no one belonging to his family, race or nationality should be targeted in retaliation.”

I couldn’t agree more. An example of what can happen to a society when this Allah ordained criterion is absent can be seen in the part of the world that is ironically referred to as the “land of the prophets” – Occupied Palestine (aka “Israel and the Occupied territories”). In this tortured land there has been more than a half century cycle of blood feuds between Jewish Zionists and the People of the land (Palestinians). An endless cycle perpetrated by the likes of Israel’s current Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon – a war criminal, in a long line of Israeli war criminals.

Israel is often cited as one of the nations in the international community without a death penalty. That is, of course, unless you’re Palestinian. And it’s this deadly dichotomy that is responsible for the perpetual blood feud; a blood feud that has resulted in gross human rights violations on both sides – but most significantly, systematically, and disproportionately committed by the Zionists (the ones who instigated the blood feud in the first place).

Further elaborating on the aforementioned Quran ayah (2:178), Imam al-Asi notes, “The responsibility of carrying out the death penalty becomes one that is divinely assigned to “al ladhina amanu” (those who are secure in their covenant attachment to Allah by faith and reason.)” And as it pertains to Muslim lands, “…not with nominal Muslims and not with traditionalist or cultural Muslims.” This ayah appropriately ends with tattaqun (guard against Allah’s power).

After alluding to how Muslims “have become their own contradiction,” by failing to endeavor to fully comprehend and apply what we have been given by Allah, he takes aim at how some Muslim societies do apply this ultimate sanction:

“And if they do apply the death penalty as they currently (but selectively) do in ‘Saudi Arabia,’ it is done in an Israeli style: legalistically and mechanically. They chop off the hand of a petty thief, but they bless the hand of the royal thief. They lop off the head of a nickel-and-dime criminal, but they kiss the heads of princes and kings.”

Imam Muhammad al-Asi thoughtful analysis is precisely the reason why I oppose the implementation of capital punishment in America, while embracing the legitimacy of the death penalty. In the final part of this three part report/commentary we will explain how all of this relates to Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, and why the demonstration at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta next week (May 17th) is so important.