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September 11 2012 09:30 | Muslim Madresa (Gazi Husrev-begova medresa)

Contribution of Siti Musdah Mulia

Siti Musdah Mulia

Representative of the “Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace”

Islam as a religion seriously pays attention to the values of five. The Qur'an even expressly orders believing men and women to highly appreciate the values of live. But the big question is how to understand Islam? Islam was passed down in the seventh century through the Prophet Muhammad at a time of ignorance (Jahiliyah era) where people embraced paganism, patriarchy, and feudalistic values. It was not surprising, therefore, that the moral messages of Islam were targeted more at eradicating all form of paganism, patriarchy, and feudalistic.

Moslems must believe that the prophetic task to uphold justice and peace, spread love and compassion and also to eliminate all form of discrimination does not end with the passing away of the Prophet, but it must continue. So, every Moslems should come up with concrete solutions to many contemporary problems faced by modern human beings in these fast changing times, such as human rights issues including the issue of death penalty.

Tawhid is a source of inspiration for the values of live
I do believe that the essence of Islam is revealed in the humanistic values it embodies. The most complete expression of those values is the recognition by Islam of the fundamental equality of all human beings. The only thing that differentiates one individual from another is the degree and quality of human's devotion and obedience to God (taqwa). And the only one capable of judging the taqwa or the quality of human's devotion is God Himself, not human being. The core and foundation of Islam is the concept of tawhid. Tawhid is actually a conviction that there is only one God to worship and venerate, and that is Allah. That is why only God shall be worshipped, praised and revered as well as be the One on whom we shall put all our hopes and needs. This conviction has given rise to the principle of equality of human beings. So, a king cannot be a "god" to his people, a rich man cannot be a "god" to a poor and so on. It is simply because they are not gods. Thus, unconditional obedience towards a king, a leader, an employer and so on that exceeds that which is accorded to Allah is a denial of the principle of taw hid.

Islam Respects Universal Human Rights

Although the term Human Rights was unknown at the time Islam was introduced to the Arab people in the 7th century AD, Islam was already teaching the principles of respecting human beings and humanity. Among God's creations, human beings are the most perfect (Q.S. al-Isra', 17:70) and therefore other beings should respect them as a sign of devotion to the Divine Creator. Humans are beings with dignity and must be respected without prejudice to race, etlmic, religion, color, language, gender or other primordial constraints. A true tauhid view will direct a person towards a true relationship with God as well as with human beings or hablun minallah and hablun minannas. One form of respecting for human beings is by safeguarding their subsistence, their lives should not be taken (QS. 27:33; 5:32), also they should not, for any reason, suffer physical and psychological pain (QS. 5:45). All human beings must have protection from acts of discrimination, exploitation, and violence without exception. The hadith of the Prophet as narrated by Bukhari elaborates explicitly: "For your life, your property, and your dignity are sacred, as sacred as this day (haji wadalthe last haj pilgrimage by the Prophet) in this month, and this land of yours until you shall meet with your God in the end of days (HR. Bukhari)." But going further than merely rhetoric, the Prophet had already implemented the principles of equality and respect for human beings among the very heterogenic people of Madinah as was set out in the Madinah Charter. The charter basically underlined 5 main basis for life as a people and as a nation, namely the principle of brotherhood, all Muslims from different backgrounds are brothers; the principle of helping and protecting one another, the people of Madinah with their various race, religions, and languages must help each other, especially in facing their enemies, the principle of protecting the ill-treated, the principle of counseling one another, and the principle of religious freedom. Those principles are clearly based on the teachings of Islam, such as QS. Al-Baqarah, 2:256 (the1:e shall be no coercion in practicing religious teaching); al-Kafirun, 1-6 (recognition of religious pluralism); Yunus, 99 (prohibition of forcing others to embrace Islam); Ali Jmran, 64 (urging people of the book to find a concession and reaching a converging point (kalimatun sawa ');and al-Mumtahanah, 8-9 (counsel to do good, to be just, and helping non-Muslims who do are not hostile to them and who do not expel them).

Unfortunately, the teachings of Islam that uphold values of humanity, pluralism, and inclusive have not been widely disseminated among the people, so it is not surprising that the face of many Muslim community in various regions appear more menacing and hostile. And this condition is very different from the portrait generally shown by Muslims of the earlier generation, particularly during the life of the Prophet and Khulafa Rasyidin, who were very tolerant, full of amity and based on the principle of brotherhood. In order to assure that the teachings of Islam accommodate the wellbeing of human rights values, Iman al-Ghazali (died 1111 AD) tried to fmmulate the basic objective of Islamic teachings or what is known as maqashid al-syari 'ah. He stated that the core objective of Islam is to protect five basic rights of human being: first, to preserve the rights to life (hifz al-nafs). For how can a human being do good deeds without being alive? Secondly is to preserve the rights to express opinion freely (hifz al-aql). Third, to preserve the rights to religious freedom (hifz ad-din). Fourth, to ensure the rights to reproductive health. Fifth, to ensure property rights. Those five basic rights are what later became known as al-kulliyah alkhamsah. It means that all Islamic teachings are implemented to protect those five basic rights of human beings.

Therefore, when we find any Islamic teachings that are in contradiction to the preservation of those basic rights, those teachings must be revised and reinterpreted in order to respond to the demands of achieving wellbeing for human beings. On the basis of the formulation of those five basic rights, it is evident how Islamic teachings revealed during the seventh century are very compatible with basic human rights values, incl uding the values of live as is set out now in the Universal Declaration of human rights.

The value of live is the basic human rights
As creatures with dignity, human beings have a number of basic rights that must be protected, such as the right to live, the right to voice an opinion freely, the right to religious freedom. The Universal Declaration of human rights encourages all human beings to promote, protect and to fulfill those basic rights. The eradication of all forms of the death penalty is the evident of the implementing of protecting the basic rights, especially the right to life. That is why the abolition of death penalty is clearly declared in many instruments of Human Rights, among others in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950), and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2002). In the latter mentioned• instrument of Basic Rights, it is stated: Article 2 (1) Everyone has the right to live: (2) No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed. Article 19: (1) Collective expulsions are prohibited; (2) No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a state where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Basic Principles of Punishment in Islam
Islamic teaching is not compatible with the death penalty. Why because there are at least four basic principles of punishment in Islam. First, punishment should be uni\'ersal in nature, in that it can stop people from perpetrating a crime, it can make criminals repent and teach them a lesson, and act as a deterrent to others not to caiTy out criminal acts. In this matter, the scholars of Islamic criminal law agree that punishment is a deterring measure before crime is performed as well a preventive step, for the perpetrator as well as for other people, when the criminal act has been carried out. Secondly, the enforcement of those punishment measures should be in accordance with the need of the people and benefit them. If, for the sake of the people's wellbeing, more severe punishments are needed, then the punishments should be made more stringent; on the other hand, if more lenient punishments benefit the people, then the punishment should be made lighter. If, for the good of the people and in order to maintain stability, a criminal must be executed or jailed, then such a criminal should be executed or imprisoned for life, so long as he does not repent or try to improve himself. That is why such a punishment should always take into consideration the benefit for the people, and in this case, the sense of justice.

Third, all forms of punishment that can assure and attain personal benefit and peace for the people are punishments that have been stipulated and must thus be carried out. Fourth, punishments in Islam are not a form of retaliation, but more as measures of corrective steps towards a criminal offender. The punishments stipulated by Islam in all their various forms are in proportion to the crime perpetrated. In regards to this, ibn Taimiyah (a prominent Islamic scholar) said: "Punishments are stipulated as God's benevolence for all His worshippers, derived from God's grace for his devotees and from His will to do the best for

The need to abolish the Death Penalty
Some experts reveal that the death penalty originates from religious sacred sacrifice rituals, where human beings are sacrificed to appease the gods. Another view says that the origin of the death penalty was rooted in the desire for revenge or vendettas passed down through generations in dynasties. The types of ancient and heinous punishments are no longer relevant for people who are becoming more and more civilized and have learned to respect human rights.

There are at least eight reasons why the death penalty should be abolished.

First, the death penalty is in contradiction with the essence of all religious teachings and faiths that venerate the importance of preserving life as God the Creator's greatest blessing. In• Islam, for example, all the teachings uphold the dignity of human beings as the God's most perfect and best' creatures. Death penalty is an affront to the Greatness and Mightiness of God. Not one person has the right to end another person's life, only God the Creator has that right. He gave life and He should be the only One to take life. Not other human beings or creatures. For whatever reason and motivation, Islamic teachings should be accommodative towards humanitarian values. Religion should be totally pro-humanity.

Second, the death penalty is in contradiction with values of democracy. An intense study into the background and use of the death penalty in the world shows that at present, the death penalty is imposed in less democratic countries. Therefore we need to understand why most democratic nations have abolished the death penalty.

Third, the death penalty is in contradiction with the principles of human rights. The execution of the death penalty always reflect a negation of a human being's right to love, a non-derogable human right in life. The death penalty degrades the dignity of human beings.

Fourth, the death penalty is merely a form of aggression. History has long shown the death penalty has been used as a tool for aggression against critical, pro-democracy groups who have been branded as rebels, all for the sake of maintaining power. The concrete example of this is the death penalty imposed on rebels in Hungary, Taiwan, Somalia and Syria.

Fifth, the death penalty is only a form of political revenge. Look at what happened to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan (executed on April 4, 1979 on a conviction of having murdered his political rival). That was clearly a political excuse. Not a measure to establish justice and prosperity.

Sixth, the death penalty is too often imposed on persons not proven guilty. The execution of the death penalty is often carried out hastily, without sufficient proof.

Seventh, the death penalty is often used as the most effective way to conceal tracks in a legal case or obliterate evidence in an intelligence case.

Eighth the death penalty does not decrease the number of criminal offenders or deter them. An intense study in a number of countries that still impose the death penalty shows that the crime rate in those countries rise significantly every year.

Latest data show promising symptoms. There are more and more countries that have abolished the death penalty. Some do it gradually, while others do it at once. A report in 2000 notes that 74 nations have abolished the death penalty for all forms of crime, 11 countries abolish it for purely criminal acts, 38 nations abolish the death penalty in practice, and the remaining 71 countries still maintain the death penalty.

The Solution: Develop a Law-abiding Society
Then, what should be done? I would like to propose the solution as follows:
1. Improve the quality of education for all people, especially for those marginalized and oppressed people.
2. Improve the welfare of the people by providing access to many job opportunities as possible and create economic policies that are pro-poor;
3. Improve the quality of health for the people by providing health facilities and infrastructure that are help the poor and isolated communities; •
4. Improve the quality of the judicial system through revisions of discriminative laws, recruitment of judiciary officials who are qualified and professional, as well as carry out bureaucratic and administrative judiciary refo rms so that justice and truth is upheld.
5. Enhance a sense ofjustice for the people through dissemination and internalization of values of decency and religious teachings that are accommodative towards humanitarian values. Not religious teachjngs that sow the seeds of hatred for one another.

Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI
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