By: Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi
It can be said that in all stages of Islamic call, be it in wisdom, preaching or debate, there is no room for violence and repulsion at all, and although the substance of the message may include hellfire and tribulations therein, the way of imparting the message must be pleasant and in such a manner that the addressee would will to listen and be persuaded to think. Once you talk in such a manner that he wills to listen to you, then he will think about it and say to himself, “If this hellfire or its chastisement is true, I will be subjected to eternal damnation. So, it is better for me to research and find out for myself what the truth of the matter is.”
This is especially true given the fact that on the issue of profit and loss, the amount of probability alone is not the determinant; rather, it is the outcome of probable harm in the contingent that will determine the final result. That is, in certain cases although the probability of profit or gain seen is possibly so little and the contingent is strong, it stimulates us to move.
For example, if a five-year old child says to you, “In the stair where you are, there is a live wire. Be careful, lest you bumped on it.” Here, in terms of probability, its veracity is very weak because how does a five-year old child know about a live wire? Maybe it is just a telephone wire, rope, or something else. How does he know that it is live? Maybe it is just a cutoff wire placed on the middle of the stair. In sum, what this five-year old child is saying is not highly probable in our view. Yet, on the other hand, it is a question of life and death. It is live wire and one cannot take it as a joke. Therefore, although its veracity is probably weak, it is contingently strong. So, upon going up the stair, you are totally careful as to where the wire is located and you pass by cautiously.
In our discussion, it is also contingently very strong. It is beyond the question of life and death. What is at stake is eternal damnation in hellfire as such. If I mention the same hell and fire in a mild language and in a sympathetic and sincere manner, there is a strong probability that the addressee will listen to me and be affected by it.
How Islam Deals with Personal and Private Behaviors
Now, if we go beyond the work of Islamic propagation and talk about the society, government, and behavior of individuals and its impact upon the society, the issue is somewhat different. Here, sometimes it is a clandestine act and its benefit and harm are clearly known and it has no significant impact upon the society. An example is the night supererogatory prayer. At the middle of the night, a person wants to rise up from his bed and without anyone knowing it, he performs the supererogatory prayer.
Or, God forbid, a person finds a bottle of wine and drinks it right there at home. In such cases, to employ attraction is so good. That is, for instance, the rules and effects of night supererogatory prayer are to be mentioned to him so as to motivate him to perform it regularly, or the harms brought by drinking alcoholic beverages are to be explained sympathetically, mildly and friendly to the second person so as to convince him to shun it. Yet, in such cases which are merely personal and totally private, Islam has not given permission to use compulsion, naked force and violent measures.
Even if you incidentally become aware of such an offence, you have no right to tell him, “Yes, I saw and came to know that you committed such an evil act,” let alone informing others of it. This is a secret of a Muslim and it must remain secret, and no one has the right to divulge it. If while alone, a person, God forbid, committed a sin and you saw it, you would say, “I saw you doing something evil,” chances will make him think thus, “Since my sin is now made public and people have become aware of it, it no longer makes any difference if I do the same in private or in public.”
In any case, divulging such a sin and evil deed is not permissible from the viewpoint of Islam, let alone dealing with the offender violently and physically, and punishing him. Yes, if through a certain way you can do something indirectly, while he is not aware that you have witnessed him doing such an abominable act, and admonish him so as for him to abandon it, there is no problem.
The Islamic Approach of Dealing with Social Behaviors
There are also acts whose benefit and harm go beyond the doer and permeate to the society. Of course, this effect is sometimes direct, for instance, when one is harassed and oppressed or his right is trampled upon. At other times, it is indirect. Regarding the manifestations of the indirect impact of an action of individuals upon the society and people around them, there may be disputes and differences (of opinion). Yet, there is no doubt that in certain cases, an action has apparently no effect on other members of the society but through a scrutiny it becomes clear that it is not so.
An example of it is a wicked act done in public and in front of others because doing so is an indirect promotion of the act and gradually its wickedness will become normal in the eyes of people. If father and mother tell a lie in front of their child, it will be indirectly inculcated to him that there is no problem in telling a lie. It is because of this indirect impact upon the society that Islam forbids “feigning debauchery” and in relation to some acts, it does not permit them to be performed publicly and in front of others. That is, if a person does something secretly without anyone knowing about it, he has only committed a sin but legally speaking, he has not done any crime or offence, and the Islamic government will not prosecute him. However, if he wants to do the same in public, it will be regarded as a crime and he will be penalized for it.
Regarding acts that have social repercussions and are considered as violation of the rights of others, in case this repercussion is indirect all the fair-minded people of the world unanimously say that a collective police power called “government” is necessary to check these violations, and this fact is not only confined to Islam and religions of divine origin. In addition to these cases, if an act has spiritual harm for the society, Islam not only permits but in fact obliges the government to intervene and prevent it, and this point is one of the fundamental differences between Islam and liberal-democratic systems. According to the liberal and populist governments, for instance, if someone with indecent dress appears in the public, this is treated as a personal act and no one has the right to complain against him. But Islam forbids this act because of its destructive spiritual and moral effects, and anyone doing so will be treated as an offender.
Penal laws as the Factor in Fostering Social Order
In principle, there is no difference of opinion that actions which are socially destructive and infringing on the rights of others must be prevented, and it is obvious that in undertaking this task the governments are in need of legal backing. The laws existing in society can be divided into two categories, viz. civil and penal laws. The civil laws deal with the rights and liberties of the members of the society such as the laws pertaining to commerce, marriage, divorce, inheritance, and the like. Meanwhile, penal laws deal with the violation of civil laws. That is, after the rights and liberties of individuals are determined in the civil laws, in the penal laws if a person tramples upon these rights and liberties, he must be penalized.
One of the important tasks of every state and government is this implementation of the penal laws. The main factor in fostering social order and maintaining it is these penal laws. If the states merely focus on the civil laws and determining the civil rights of the members of the society and do not take into account the penalties for the violators of these laws, in most cases we will witness violation and disregard for those laws. We will witness that if there are no fines and traffic aides, very few people will pay attention to the red light, ‘no parking’ sign, and ‘one way’ traffic sign. What restrains the thieves and killers is fear of prison and execution. Had it not been so, they would easily have robbed the assets of people and killed them. Therefore, one of the most significant and fundamental functions of the states is the implementation of penal laws and without which, social order, state and government will be rendered meaningless.
Repulsion as the Natural Essence of the Penal Laws
It is natural that the implementation of penal laws will entail repulsion, because nobody is pleased with imprisonment, fine and lashes and these acts are essentially harsh even if they are done cheerfully and with a smile. If, because of an offence committed, you smilingly say to the offender in utmost respect, “Please remain in this room for 15 years,” or “Please keep your body unclothed in order to receive 100 lashes,” or “Please kneel down so that your head be cut off,” such smile and respect will not change anything and have no effect on the harshness essentially existing in those acts. Who wants to be behind bars for 15 years away from his wife, children, friends, and relatives?
If a traffic officer who is well-mannered, courteously and with utmost humility and respect fines us with only five thousand tumans for not stopping at red light, we will be hurt and even if we do not express it verbally, we actually despise him, let alone if a 500,000 tumans fine, languishing in prison, or physical torture such as lashes is involved. At any rate, nobody can deny the intrinsic harshness and repulsion existing in the penal laws, and as we said, the existence of government without the existence of these laws is also impossible. Therefore, every government will essentially and intrinsically entail a series of violence and repulsion.
Of course, we can say that technically speaking, violence is applied to the cases that bring about physical trouble such as if a person is beaten or his hands being amputated. However, when fine, imprisonment and similar punishments are involved, even if we do not regard them as manifestations of violence, at least they cultivate a sort of repulsion and usually the people implementing such punishments are not satisfied or pleased with themselves. Thus, in essence, government without penal laws is not possible and penal laws are in one way or another associated with violence or repulsion.
Government cannot afford to have no power of repulsion. The existence of such a government is nonsense because one of the main philosophies of government is that if there are those who are not willing to submit to the law, it will compel them to obey the law. Of course, force and violence have different forms; sometimes it takes the form of a fine; at times, imprisonment; at other times, exile and banishment; yet at other times, lashes; and lastly, killing and execution as well.
Assiduousness in Distinguishing between Personal and Social Dimensions of Action
Repulsion is employed in the different cases of social laws, and as long as an evil act has totally personal and private dimension, and has no social dimension whatsoever, the state has the right to exact any punishment and employ repulsion. Of course, it must be noted that if a person, while in isolation and does not want anyone to know about it, committed an offence, which in the legal parlance is regarded as a crime and this offence was proven before a judge in the court, the Islamic punishment will be exacted against him. This is so because this offence was done in private and he did not want anyone else to know it, but since others have come to know of it and the case has been made public, it acquires a social dimension and because of the destructive social impacts it may have, it will be subjected to punishment. Even if a person is be informed of his criminal act, it cannot be a manifestation of “divulging of debauchery”, which in the Islamic law is unlawful and forbidden: Indeed those who want indecency to spread among the faithful there is a painful punishment for them in the world and the Hereafter. (24:19)
By: Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi