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April 29, 2008

Sharia Justice

While I was in Tehran a friend sent me some horrifying pictures of a boy of 8 having his arm crushed by a car as a punishment for stealing bread. After considering this very carefully - and waiting until almost the end of my stay - I broached this with my host. He made no attempt to deny it happens, but the look of pain and distaste on his face as he acknowledged it said a great deal. I should add that he is a practicing and devout Muslim, but, as he explained, the application and interpretation of the Sharia Law is left entirely to the courts and the judges are appointed locally. Many are, apparently, not terribly well versed in the actual content of the Quran or the Sharia.

Sharia Law falls into two parts - Civil and Criminal - and the interpretation and determination of any sentence depends upon the court's evaluatioin of the degree of "injury" caused by the offence against the plaintiff in a civil case or the degree of "offence" caused against the tenets of the faith in a criminal case. As he explained, some judges do make some very - to western eyes - barbaric decisions, but this child could have suffered the total amputation of his hand. By the lights of the community in which this happened, the sentence was a light one. Even so, I was left with the distinct impression that my host - and by extrapolation - many of his fellow countrymen, are distinctly uneasy about many of these sentences.

As originally conceived the Sharia is a legalistic interpretation of the precepts laid down in the Quran for the ordering of society. It is the work of 18th Century (12th Century in the Islamic calendar) Ottoman Turkish Jurists. It makes provision for sentences to be commuted by the "injured party" in the case of theft or murder and a range of other "offences". Very few of the "sentences" it contains are found in the Quran, these being the body of "common" law that has built up around the Code since its inception.

I would not personally choose to live under such a law, but I can look back at some of the "legal" practices of my own country and supposedly founded on "Christian" principles which match the equivalent period of our development - and find space to shudder at some of the things done in the name of our faith. That said, I still feel slightly sickened by the thought of a small boy being held down so that a car can be driven over his blanket wrapped arm.

Is this application of a "religious" legal system a true reflection of the faith it springs from? I don't think so, any more than I think the burning of "witches" and "heretics" in the name of Christ is or ever was a true reflection of Christianity. I suspect this is something that will need a lot of prayer and a whole lot more careful discussion to support those within Islam who genuinely want to see an end to such barbarism in the name of the faith.

Posted by The Gray Monk at April 29, 2008 07:36 AM

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The "8 year old boy whose arm is crushed for stealing bread in Iran" myth is a famous urban legend and nasty piece of anti-Iranian propaganda.
I suggest you check things before you believe them so readily:


This was a FAKE. It was really a street stunt. Some bloggers decided to falsely call it a case of "Islamic punishment" and people get so upset (and racist) about it that they don't bother checking the facts.

Again - THIS IS A FAKE. The fact that you so readily believed it says a lot.

(Incidentally, a child under 15 in Islamic law cannot have criminal intent and so can't be punished.)

Posted by: hass at August 22, 2008 08:58 PM

I also believe this to be a fake otherwise it would have been in every media you can think of across the globe.

Posted by: Abdulwahab at January 1, 2009 07:45 PM

It transpires that it was, in this instance, a fake. However, I did have two instances of boys just over 15 pointed out to me by my hosts who have been hung for offences which, in the West would not have been considered crimes. My host was at some pains to advise me that some of those who administer these laws are not always well versed in them and he was also quick to point out that some of the things said to have occured in Iran actually happened across the border in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Justice and the application of the law is often a matter of interpretation in any country and culture, it becomes very difficult when the 'interpreters' have a fundamentalist approach to its application.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at January 1, 2009 10:41 PM

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