Capital Punishment

Written by Kashif Hussain

Should We Bring Back Capital Punishment?

Capital punishment is the lawful infliction of death.

It has been used for a wide variety of crimes around the world. In 1965, the last capital punishment was carried out in the UK. It still continues as punishment in some states of USA, together with China, Japan and many Middle Eastern countries. Support for the death penalty in Britain seems to be slowly declining; our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits capital punishment. The New Labour government in 1998 removed capital punishment for the few remaining offences for which it was still theoretically allowed. I want to start at looking whether abolishing capital punishment was a good idea.


The main objective of capital punishment is to permanently remove the worst criminals from society in order provide a much safe community. It is self-evident that once deceased, criminals cannot commit any further crimes, either within prison or after being released (At least 50% of offenders, re-offend)

Real justice requires people to suffer for their wrongdoing, each criminal should get what their crime deserves and in the case of a murderer what their crime deserves is death.

Secondly, execution, to some, is real punishment. The criminal is made to suffer in proportion to the offence rather than some form of ‘rehabilitative’ treatment.

A third reason put forward is deterrence. As explained in an article on crbdirect.org.uk, if the one who murders or commits a serious crime is executed then it will instill a fear in others. The lengthy life sentence for Murder already acts as a deterrence, If the death penalty was infiltrated then it will surely acts a far more prominent deterrence. Anti-death penalty campaigners have argued that capital punishment is not a deterrent at all, prisons are sufficient. However figures released in 2009 by the Home Office show that since 1997, 65 prisoners who were released after serving a life sentence were convicted of further crime which included two murders and three rapes.

“If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call.”

“John McAdams: Marquette University, Department of Political Science

There are over 130 prisons in the UK and it is estimated that each new prison place costs £119,000 and that the annual average cost for each prisoner exceeds £40,000. If such soaring prices can not rehabilitate criminals then, how can we say prisons are sufficient. It may be time to rearrange how we spend our limited resources.

It may well be that the murder rate would still be the same today if we had retained the continued use of the death penalty. In Britain, unlawful killings have doubled since the abolition. In 1964, 0.68 per 100,000 people committed an unlawful killing where now it has risen to 1 .42 per 100,000 people. Clearly prisons are not working.


There are a number of incontrovertible arguments against the death penalty.

Firstly, the most important one is the virtual certainty that genuinely innocent people will be executed and that there is no possible way of compensating them for this miscarriage of justice. Often the only people who know what really happened are the accused and the deceased.

Some say the death penalty is the bluntest of “blunt instruments,” it removes the individual’s humanity and with it any chance of rehabilitation and their giving something back to society

Furthermore, there is no such thing as a humane method of putting a person to death. Every form of execution causes the prisoner suffering, some methods perhaps cause less than others, but there is no doubt in that being executed is a terrifying ordeal for the criminal. What is also often overlooked is the mental suffering that the criminal suffers in the time leading up to the execution. This also will affect family and friends of the accused, It is often very difficult for people to come to terms with the fact that their loved one could be guilty of a serious crime and no doubt even more difficult to come to terms with their death in this form. Human life is valuable, its only comes once so even the worst criminals should not be penalised to this extent.

The value of the offender’s life cannot be destroyed by the offender’s bad conduct – even if they have killed someone

Capital punishment infact does not act as a deterrent as most murders are caused by provocation. The rational mind takes a step back and emotions carry out the murder. The statistical evidence doesn’t confirm that deterrence works (but it doesn’t show that deterrence doesn’t work either). Whether there is a place in modern society for the principal of “lex talens” (an eye for an eye) to take place is a matter of personal opinion and ethics. It is seen as retribution however one may argue that it is barbaric to ruin society in such a way, rather than following the concept for an eye for an eye, why not rehabilitate the ‘eye’, something we are capable of in the 21st century, or are we?

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”


So to conclude we are left with three options: 1) not to have the death penalty and the genuine problems it causes and continue to accept the relatively high levels of murder and other serious crimes that we presently have but to reform and better the current way of punishment. 2) Reintroduce capital punishment for just the “worst” murderers which would at least be some retribution for the terrible crimes they have committed and would permanently incapacitate them. It would also save an amount of money each year which could, perhaps, be spent on the more genuinely needy. This option is unlikely to reduce overall crime levels. 3) Reintroduce the death penalty in a really strict format & see a corresponding drop in serious crime whilst accepting that there will be a lot of human misery caused to the innocent families of criminals.

Amnesty International executions around the world

Ways executions can be performed:

  • Traditional hanging – an extremely quick process that is designed to cause instant and deep unconsciousness, also cheap.
  • Lethal injection – Slow process, but simple however if the vein is not injected means a slow painful death.
  • Electrical chair – Invented to frighten criminals.
  • Stoning – Used in Arab countries, purpose is also for public humility.
  • Bottle neck – Shooting a bullet in to the back of the neck leaves a quick and clean death without much blood.

Islam and capital punishment.

…Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does He command you, so that you may learn wisdom

The spirit and essence of the Islamic Law in its severe penalty is to save lives, stop corruption, disallow mischief, serve justice, build a safer society and apply little or no penalty. Muslims believe that capital punishment is a most severe sentence but one that may be commanded by a court for crimes of suitable severity. While there may be more profound punishment at the hands of God, there is also room for an earthly punishment. Each case is regarded individually and with extreme care and the court is fully able to impose more lenient sentences as and when they see fit. Even though the death penalty is allowed, forgiveness is preferable. Forgiveness, together with peace, is a predominant Qur’anic theme.

In Islamic law, the death penalty is appropriate for two groups of crime:

  • Intentional murder: In these cases the victim’s family is given the option as to whether or not to insist on a punishment of this severity
  • Fasad fil-ardh (‘spreading mischief in the land’): Islam permits the death penalty for anyone who threatens to undermine authority or destabilize the state

What constitutes the crime of ‘spreading mischief in the land’ is open to interpretation, but the following crimes are usually included: Treason/apostasy (when one leaves the faith and turns against it), Terrorism, Piracy of any kind, Rape, Adultery & Fornication.

However, the death penalty is applied for a limited number of cases. Adultery is a hadd crime, the most serious type of crime because its punishment is clearly articulated in the Qur’an and thus there can be no leniency. However, with this type of crime, the burden of proof is incredibly high. Four people must witness the act of penetration and agree on all the details. Moreover, circumstantial evidence is not sufficient and pregnancy is not proof of adultery.

“Wherever possible, do not inflict punishments on Muslims; if there is a way out for someone, let him go. It is better for the ruler (al-imam) to err in forgiveness than for him to err in punishment.”

Prophet Muhammad

While Islam made these severe restrictions for a fornication case to reach the legal system, it has left the door wide open for sinners of such crime to repent and change their bad habits privately & usually was encouraged by the Prophet himself.

The Prophet himself showed the ultra sensitivity of Islam towards justice. A Jewish person by the name of Zayd ibn al-Luthah approached Prophet Muhammad, with his hands grabbing the Prophet by the clothes on his chest and saying: “You the family of Abu Talib are mutle, always delinquent in making payments.” Umar ibn al Khattab standing by pulled out his sword and said: “O Prophet of Allah, order me to cut this man’s head.” The Prophet replied: ”No, Umar do not cut his head. Instead, you should counsel him to be polite when he asks for his rights and ask me to give him his money in the due time.” According to the Prophet, the money he borrowed from Zayd ibn al-Luthah was due the following week. Nevertheless, the Prophet ordered Umar to give Zayd 8 dinars that he had owed him and an extra 8 dinars on top of it. When Umar objected and said: “O Prophet why the extra 8 dinars?” The Prophet replied: “This was a reward for him because you scared him with your threat.” Zayd ibn al-Luthah then said: “O Prophet of God, our Scripture told us that one of the signs of the Expected Prophet is that he will be with ample patience, I was only examining your patience, and I believe you are the Prophet of God.”

It is only people of passion and deep love for others can take the kind of high ground that Prophet Muhammad did in this case. Never the less what all Muslims and leaders should strive to replicate!

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