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Restorative Justice in Islam: Should Qisas Be Considered a Form of Restorative Justice? (PDF)


  • Restorative Justice in Islam: Should Qisas Be Considered a Form of Restorative Justice? (PDF)

    Restorative Justice in Islam: Should Qisas Be Considered a Form of Restorative Justice?

    Susan C. Hascall*

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    The development of criminal punishments in the West is a subject of interest for scholars in various fields.1 One of the foundational ideas has been that the movement away from corporal punishment to other forms of punishment, such as imprisonment, has been an improvement. But, such ideas have not gone unquestioned. In Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault asserts that the movement away from the punishment of the body and towards the imprisonment of the body through the widespread institution of the prison has resulted in an even more heinous form of punishment: the punishment of the soul.2 In addition, Foucault contends that the focus on rehabilitation in prisons encourages criminality.3 Although he does not directly advocate restorative justice ideas, his criticism of the prison system has given rise to new ways of thinking in penology – at least at the academic level.4 For Foucault, the constant monitoring of the prisoners’ every movement by prison officials abolishes their very humanity. Foucault’s ideas are compatible with both restorative justice ideals and the ideals of Islamic criminal jurisprudence in general, and in particular, the law of qisas (a category of crime that includes intentional homicide and wounding).5 Coming from different traditions, both restorative justice and Islamic criminal jurisprudence emphasize the dignity of the individual and support opportunities for rehabilitation and healing for all parties affected by the crime

    In common and civil law traditions, involvement of the community and victims in sentencing has been minimal for hundreds of years, but the restorative justice movement is questioning this well-established practice. The restorative justice movement criticizes the lack of direct involvement by the community and the victims in sentencing and the modes of punishment utilized by criminal justice systems. More direct involvement by the stakeholders is thought to advance one of the goals of this movement, which is to humanize both the victims and the perpetrators of the crime.

    In seeking models of reform for the criminal justice system, the restorative justice movement looks beyond contemporary state level societies in the West. Western scholars, colonial administrators, and others have long denounced customary legal practice, characterizing them as primitive and inhumane. However, those in the restorative justice movement are now drawing inspiration from customary practices that involve the community, families, perpetrators and victims in sentencing decisions. They are also devising new types of consequences for criminal activities that are designed to not only deter crime but also to restore the harmony of society. The movement has not, however, looked to Islamic criminal law for inspiration or for models of restorative justice practices. This oversight is unfortunate. Modern states that employ the victim-centered law of qisas have much more in common with modern Western states than do indigenous groups living within modern state level societies or their predecessors, who are only known by historical accounts

    The focus of this article is two-fold: (1) it addresses the question of the extent to which the law of qisas can be considered a form of restorative justice, even though it allows for corporal punishment, and (2) it explores what the law of qisas, both as described by the notable scholars of the classical and contemporary periods, can offer the continuing discourse on reforming the Western penal systems in accordance with ideals of restorative justice.6 The penal codes of Northern Nigeria will be examined as an illustration of an attempt by a modern state to codify and implement the law of qisas. I hope that this article will lead to further research on the restorative justice aspects of the law of qisas and the practice of forgiveness in states that include qisas in their criminal codes

    Islamic criminal law divides crimes into categories that are distinct from those employed in most common law and civil law countries. The qisas crimes are particularly interesting for restorative justice studies because the victims retain a central role in the prosecution and sentencing of defendants. In most versions of classical Islamic jurisprudence, the prosecution of the qisas crimes must be instigated by the victim. The victims of qisas crimes are given a choice as to the punishment that will be imposed. They may choose to forgive the defendant and demand no punishment at all, or they may demand a payment, known as “diyya,” as compensation for the crime. In this sense, the law of qisas has something in common with the small-scale societies that advocates of restorative justice study to find inspiration for their practices. Furthermore, the law of qisas fulfills some of the objectives of the restorative justice movement by allowing victims to participate in sentencing and encouraging forgiveness and reconciliation. There is, however, one glaring difference between the law of qisas and restorative justice; the victims of the crimes may also demand retaliation in kind: an eye for an eye, a life for a life. Nevertheless, qisas’ emphasis on forgiveness and inclusion of the victims and the community in the prosecution and sentencing of perpetrators are significant characteristics which warrant an examination of the law of qisas as a form of restorative justice.

    In Part I of this article, I describe the restorative justice movement. In Part II, I discuss the importance of the Islamic ideals of justice and their relation to Islamic law in general and Islamic criminal law in particular. The ideals of justice in Islam are fundamental to the aspect of forgiveness in the law of qisas, which forms the basis of the analogy between qisas and the values of the restorative justice movement. In Part III, I delve into the details of qisas in classical Islamic law.7 In Part IV, I discuss the law of qisas as it has been interpreted and implemented by contemporary societies. I use the codes of the states of Northern Nigeria to illustrate the attempts made by contemporary societies to incorporate the classical theory of qisas into modern penal codes. Although these codes are influenced by Western legal concepts that include a focus on codification, they reflect serious and ambitious attempts to infuse the codified law with the values of qisas as set forth in the Qur’an. In Part V, I compare the attributes of the modern restorative justice movement with the law of qisas. I conclude that the values and goals of both qisas and restorative justice are compatible, and that the law of qisas should be considered a form of restorative justice. In Part VI, I discuss whether the concepts of qisas can contribute to the rich and evolving discourse on restorative justice. In the conclusion, I argue that the law of qisas should be considered as another source of inspiration and information for the restorative justice movement. Qisas is both an example of a fully developed body of law and jurisprudence that is compatible with the values and goals of the restorative justice movement and an example of an alternative viewpoint regarding the competing forces in human nature – the thirst for revenge and the benefits of forgiveness.

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