Tariq Ramadan Calls for a Moratorium on Corporal Punishment
Posted Apr 8, 2005

Tariq Ramadan has issued a strong statement calling for a moratorium on hudud punishments in this article “Stop, in the Name of Humanity!”

It has provoked a lot of discussion and we will attempt to update this to keep you informed of the status of the discussion.

We encourage all Muslims to back Prof. Ramadan in this call.

last updated 4-29-2005

Stop, in the Name of Humanity!

Tariq Ramadan

Muslim societies and Muslims around the world are confronted with a fundamental issue: the application of the penalties linked to the Islamic penal code—widely referred to as sharia or, in stricter terms, as hudud. I refer, of course to the practices of corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty applied in several countries in the name of Islamic law.

Several currents in the Islamic world exist today about this issue and the disagreements are numerous, deep and recurring. Among them, a small minority demand the immediate and strict application of hudud, assessing this as an essential prerequisite to truly defining a majority Muslim society as being Islamic. Others, acknowledging the notion of hudud as located in the scriptural sources of Islam (the Koran and the Sunna), consider that the application of hudud is regulated by the state and must be just and ideal—its priority should be the promotion of social justice, fighting against poverty and illiteracy. Finally, there are others, also a minority, who reject the texts relating to hudud and consider that these references do not have a place in contemporary Muslim societies.

One can see the opinions on this subject are so divided and entrenched that it becomes difficult to understand explicitly what the respective arguments are. But, at a time when this is being written—when positions remain vague, debate is virtually non-existent and there is lack of consensus among Muslims—women and men are undergoing corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty.

For Muslims, Islam is a message of equality and justice. By remaining true to the message, it becomes impossible to keep silent towards an unfair application of our scriptural sources. The debate must liberate itself and refuse to be satisfied by general, timid and convoluted responses. These silences and intellectual contortions are not worthy of the transparent and just message of Islam.

The majority of Muslim scholars (known as the ulama) are of the opinion that these penalties are, on the whole, Islamic but that the conditions required for their application are practically impossible to recreate (notably in regards to stoning). They are, therefore, almost never applicable.

One would have hoped that this conclusion would have served as a guarantee to protect women and men from repressive and unfair treatment; one would have wished that the stipulated conditions would be seen as an imperative to promote equality before the law and justice between humans by their respective governments and the legislators that speak in the name of Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Behind the current Islamic discourse lurks a somber reality where women and men are punished, hit, stoned and executed in the name of hudud. This is occurring in the absence of the slightest emotion shown by the Muslim conscience throughout the world.









It is as if one does not know, as if a minor treason were being done to the Islamic teachings. The height of these injustices is that these penalties apply mainly to women and the poor—doubly victimized—never to the rich, the governing or to the oppressors. Hundreds of prisoners have no dignified legal means to defend themselves. Death sentences are carried out on women, men and minors (political prisoners, drug traffickers, delinquents, etc.) without the accused having the least contact with a lawyer. By accepting the gray zones in our relationship to the scriptural sources, we resign ourselves to the treason being done to the message of Islam, which promotes justice.

The international community has an equally major and obvious responsibility to be involved in the question of these practices in the Muslim world. Denouncements of those states that practise these punishments are selective and calculated to protect strategic and economic interests. A poor country in Africa or in Asia, trying to apply the hudud, will face international campaigns of mobilization, as we have seen recently. The same does not apply to rich countries, the petro-monarchies and those considered allies of the West. Toward the latter, denouncements are made reluctantly, or not at all, despite ongoing protests and awareness of these penalties being applied to the poorest or weakest segments of society. The intensity of the denouncements is inversely proportional to the interests at stake. This only adds to the existing injustices.

There is today a quadruple crisis of closed and repressive political systems, religious authorities promoting contradictory requirements and uneducated populations swept up with more a feeling of religious fervour and passion than true reflection. These facts cannot legitimize our silence. We are accomplices and guilty when women and men are punished, stoned or executed in the name of a formalist application of the scriptural sources.

It leaves the responsibility to the Muslims of the entire world. It is for them to rise up to the challenge of remaining just to the message of Islam in the contemporary era; it is for them to denounce the failures and the treasons that are being carried out by certain authorities or Muslim individuals.

Taking into account all these considerations, we are launching today a call for an immediate international moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty in all majority Muslim countries.

A proposal for a moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty, generates opposition from all sides. Voices can be heard in the West asserting: “This is not enough!” On the other hand, the Muslim World exclaims: “This is a treason of our scriptures!”

Between these two attitudes, the call for a moratorium is a direct and necessary intercession addressed to the Muslim world from within its own references. We are convinced that reflection and the evolution in thinking are possible only from an internal societal dynamic.

For this to occur, we are advancing three arguments:

1. Muslim scholars are not in agreement on the interpretations given to the texts upon which these practices are based, nor do they agree on the required conditions in which they would be applicable. It is necessary, therefore, to have an open debate to immediately suspend these practices as there is no consensus on the matter.

2. The application of the hudud laws today is used by repressive powers to abuse women, the poor and political opponents within a quasi-legal vacuum and with a total disrespect for human dignity. The Muslim conscience cannot accept these denials of justice.

3. Muslim populations, who often do not have direct access to the texts, let themselves be swept away by a fascination that devotion to Islam means a strict and visible display of punishment, or an opposition to the West, of which they often have a stereotypical image. It is necessary to resist these irrational formalistic drifts that legitimize all forms of oppression.

Some will understand this call for a moratorium as an instigation to disrespect the scriptural sources of Islam. Precisely the opposite is true: All the legal texts demand to be read in light of the purposes that were used to justify them.

In the seventh century, the caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab suspended the punishments for theft during a famine. Despite the Koranic text being very explicit on this, the state of the society meant it would have been an unfair literal application: they would have castigated poor people whose potential theft would have been for the sole purpose of surviving in a state of absolute poverty.

The evolution of thinking cannot occur without such a debate. It would allow the Muslim universe of thought to reconcile itself with the essence of its message of justice, equality and pluralism, rather than being obsessed by formalistic application of severe punishments in the name of poorly lived frustrations and/or feelings of alienation perpetuated by the domination of the West.

We urge all of those who adhere to this call to join us and make their voices heard for the immediate cessation of the application of hudud in the Muslim world so that a real debate establishes itself on the question. We say that in the name of Islam, of its texts and of the message of justice, we can no longer accept that women and men undergo punishment and death while we remain utterly silent, as accomplices, through a process which is ultimately cowardly.

Tariq Ramadan, named last year by Time magazine as one of the 100 most important thinkers of the 21st century, is author of Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. His call for a moratorium is appearing today in 60 countries.

From The Toronto Globe and Mail, March 30, 2005

see also For a Moratorium on the Application of Sharia in the Muslim World, Tariq Ramadan http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/040505I.shtml  and Rethinking Islam at http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/03/31/rethinking_the_use_of_muslim_law/

See the following articles for more on this topic

Al Azhar’s Response http://www.adnki.com/index_2Level.php?cat=Religion&loid=8.0.158789400&par=0

An Impotent Call, Ahmad al-Rawi http://www.islamonline.net/English/In_Depth/ShariahAndHumanity/Articles/2005-04/08.shtml#1

Anwar Ibrahim Is Proof That Tariq Ramadan Has A Point, Irfan Yusuf http://www.altmuslim.com/perm.php?id=1425_0_25_0_C 

Muslim Thinker Fights Death Penalty http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4394863.stm

Muzammil Siddiqi’s Response to Tariq Ramadan http://www.islamonline.net/English/In_Depth/ShariahAndHumanity/Articles/2005-04/06.shtml#1

Ramadan Cals for a Moratorium on Capital Punishment http://www.muslimnews.co.uk/news/news.php?article=8965

Reconsideration Required, Salah Sultan http://www.islamonline.net/English/In_Depth/ShariahAndHumanity/Articles/2005-04/10.shtml#1

Rethinking the Use of Muslim Law, Tariq Ramadan http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/03/31/rethinking_the_use_of_muslim_law/ 

Shining A Light on the ‘White Elephant’ of Hudud Punishments http://www.altmuslim.com/perm.php?id=1424_0_26_0_C 

Stop in the Name of Humanity, Tariq Ramadan http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20050330/CORAMADAN30/TPComment/TopStories 

Storm in a Teacup, Dina Abdel Magid http://www.islamonline.org/English/Views/2005/04/article01.SHTML#*

Tariq Ramadan Appeals for Abolition of Death Penalty http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=2911

Tariq Ramadan Calls for Hudud Freeze http://www.islamonline.org/English/News/2005-03/30/article07.shtml 

Tariq Ramadan appeals to Muslim countries to abolish death penalty and corporal punishment http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=2911 

Tariq Ramadan?s Call: Pros and Cons, Sheikh Muhammad ibn Al-Mukhtar Al-Shinqiti http://www.islamonline.net/English/In_Depth/ShariahAndHumanity/Articles/2005-04/13.shtml#1

Unacceptable Allegation, Taha Jabir al Alawani http://www.islamonline.net/English/In_Depth/ShariahAndHumanity/Articles/2005-04/09.shtml#1

see also The Tariq Ramadan Case