Islamic Laws

Punishment and Reward in Islam

By: Ayatullah al-Uzma Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlullah
How does Islam view punishment as a means of discipline, and reward or allowance as a means of encouragement? How do we correct the mistakes of our sons and daughters?
Nurturing aims at creating mental and moral confidence, spiritual concepts, or conduct which must be deeply rooted in the nature of the person, thereby attracting ideas, feelings, and perceptions which are in line with the Islamic Weltanschauung.
We cannot impose on anyone aspects of nurturing that are outside of the personal mentality and feelings. Therefore, as a created, living, and active being, with needs and views on life, joys and sorrows, likes and fears, man must deal with every issue in life with this in mind. He will find himself naturally drawn towards dealing with his spiritual or material needs in a receptive manner, until he is no longer conscious of any attraction due to influences, but finds himself in a position where he does nothing else but follow that which he likes.
We find him like this in his likes and dislikes, and thus spontaneously rejecting that which he hates or fears, without being asked to do so. This means that the issue of desire and fear, love and hate are among those things which dictate the judgment of a person. When we study the human reality, we see that people differ in their definitions of this love or hate, like or fear. But they will not differ in the principle in that love spurs on, and that fear repels-so to speak. And likewise hate.
We find, therefore, that every civilization with respect to the real issues stands on these two elements, desire and fear. On these two foundations, approaches are structured for defining the desires or fears from which a person wants to distance himself. This is what makes the matter of reward and punishment a human issue which dominates every aspect of his existence.
As for punishment and reward in respect to the child or youth, these must be decided in light of the elements that are harmonious with their different mentalities, stages of development, factors that surround them, and the influences-such as the strong and weak points that are part of the personality. If not, it is probable that reward may change into a negative element, for it does not associate itself with the elements in the inner workings of the child’s personality which vouchsafe a particular reward. Or if we punish something, it may yield a positive result. This is a matter requiring wisdom into what methods are to be used for reward and punishment.
On this principle, we hold that the method which an educator uses, with respect to harsh words, beating, or similar behavior, must be very closely monitored, on the premise that the issue may cause trouble if one administers corporal punishment whenever words provide a means to discipline. This precludes any example of kindness and compassion in the personality. The youth then loses confidence in himself or is unable to communicate with the people who are around him as a result of their behavior.
The Shariah Position
The Messenger of God prohibited discipline at a moment of anger. When a person is angry, he cannot judge well which situations calls for discipline and instruction for the child. Likewise, too, we find that Islam forbids negative actions by the nurturer which are not absolutely necessary for imposing discipline. We are not permitted to use harsh words-words of abuse, vilification, and ridicule against the child. All of these have negative effects on his mentality and conduct.
This is because the child is a human being to be respected. It is our duty to respect his feelings, sensibilities, and esteem as it can affect his self-esteem. We are not permitted to humble him by any methods mentioned above, except where such practices must be resorted to for his own good.
By the same token, we are not permitted to beat him where the situation dictates instead that we use sharp words, or that we deny him some wants. If we see that beating is the only means, then we must do so lightly, without inflicting red marks on his body. If redness results in this situation, there is compensation (diya) involved as stipulated by the Shariah. This must be paid to the child, because God (Exalted) does not wish the child to be the object of personal stress, ill-temper, or outlet for hatred which the parents or the teacher may have. Punishment and reward could be mental, psychological, or material in any of the various forms.
Nurturing: Threat and Encouragement
Education has the following two elements. We inspire the child or youth to move forward through encouragement, and push him back through threats. Reward and punishment then become the main issue. It is extremely difficult to encourage anyone to do anything by himself solely by examining if the results are positive or negative for him. Indeed, some philosophers state that when a person likes something and works towards it on his own, he operates from self-interest relative to what he loves in this thing. Moreover, he acts on the love by responding to the inner conditions which make him yearn for the things he likes.
When we affirm that there are those who worship God out of love or fear, and that there are those who worship without love or fear, certainly a deeper look at this idea helps us realize that worship on the first form stems from the elements of profound love in the self. This is because, if the person’s love of God has all the elements of love which make him be receptive to this love, then he is responding to a deep love within himself. He does so also on account of the bliss he attains through the elements of this love which take shape around him.
Love or desire, then, is not something separate from the self. In fact, it may be that the desire for blessing lives in the senses of the person; we must ensure education on the basis of this understanding. That is, we must link the mental makeup of the child or youth with the principle and values, conduct, and the idea which he leans towards at the beginning, with respect to the results which stand out in his mind. Moreover, he must believe in them or love them enough to feel a new joy or new desire.
The Quran Supports the Two Methods
This is an issue which the Quran elucidated in dealing with heaven and hell, and with good and evil as the elements which propel a person to accept or reject something. This is the natural way to which a human being is inclined-even in matters of kufr (non-belief) and iman (faith) which are related to the negative or positive ways that a person chooses. Negatively or positively, in that a person relies on faith to endure the errors of non-belief, thereby opening up more to faith.
The gist of what we wish to state here is that the issues of reward and punishment are fundamental. But we have to improve our methods of dealing with them so that we do not make the issue a purely material one. Rather, we must give these methods an air which suggests the humanness of the person, the same way it works in inculcating personal desire.
Yes to Corporal Punishment ….. No to Corporal Punishment
The Western school system assumes that in education corporal punishment, on the whole, is a negative thing. Our views on this are as follows.
We must conduct an empirical study in this area to reveal that words may not work with some people. One may employ every possible method to correct a person in a manner that is not severe and injurious, and which does not lead to redness of the body. Corporal punishment may be a better way than using words, and saves more time.
When we study the severe means of education, we find no difference between this and denying the person some wants, the same way you deny a child his favorite dish or toy, in order to draw his attention to his studies on the principle that you will give him this gift or that gift if he tends to his studies or corrects his conduct. Alternatively, you ground him or speak severely to him. We may find that this is received in a manner that disrupts the psychology of the child. It may be that denying him some things he likes is more severe than other methods.
We are unable to affirm anything categorical about beating as a method. We are no different from the Western school on the important point that if beating leads to negative results on the child’s psychology, making him taciturn, or causing him fall down, or sidetracked from the normal human course of education, then it is not permissible.
However, the question here is: Is corporal punishment absolutely negative? And are quieter methods absolutely positive? The life experience of adults and young people indicates that we must use severe methods to prevent wrongdoing, to strengthen discipline, and to create the atmosphere conducive to general public order.
Islam does not speak of beating, insult, and ridicule, but rather of the essentials of upbringing. Everything, which, if we do not utilize will contravene our goal, is essential to upbringing and is permissible

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