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Harsh penalties – or compassion, rehabilitation and restoration?

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The body of laws in any nation should reveal a real human civilisation that is advanced, progressive and in line with human aspirations, says Dominic Damian.

What are the ideals and components that give faith its backbone to attract and inspire us to acts in excess of our human limitations?

Is it a faith:

  • with an invitation to love as a cornerstone?
  • with compassion, mercy and forgiveness as its pillars?
  • that accords equality and respect to those considered non-believers?
  • that dignifies human life with a culture of sharing with one’s neighbours and the community?
  • that prompts its followers to sacrifice their lives for a meaningful cause or for the protection of all life?

Despite the various manifestations of the divine, we have atheists who live principled, altruistic and dignified lives and contribute to the advancement of society. Should it be deemed an incompatibility if individuals who have no professed faith commit their lives towards the common good and are able to live with others in deep harmony and peace – sometimes even better than those who profess a religious faith? Can we deem our lives to be superior because we have faith? It is sheer arrogance if we claim superiority by virtue of faith or anything we invent to advance our claims.

A mother who brings her young son over for violin lessons told me, “No matter how foolish, irrational or illogical [certain] laws may be, will always use their intellect and find means to apply such laws; if unsuccessful – they will use sheer brute force to apply [these laws].”

Now I am respectfully articulating opinions that they may lend dignity to all without exception. Hopefully, critical yet fruitful thinking will materialise from such opinions, though they may seem provocative. Hopefully, non-Muslims are not denied the freedom to express views about laws that may directly impact their lives.

Though I have expressed disagreement towards any form of capital punishment, I would like to believe that the those who support penalties such as the removal of a limb or caning must be acting in good faith on the premise that they are undertaking a divine mission. As such, I would not view such challenges as an abomination.

Some major concerns should be negotiated in a rational and spiritual manner. A multifaceted approach is essential to consider, with compassion and wisdom, the current needs of society, their respective spiritual prescriptions and their relevance to this day and age

It is my understanding that religious laws with severe penalties would be promoted based on the concept of creating an ideal society with specific components that minimise the opportunity for transgressions against what is regarded as divine law.

Would such an ideal society be one where:

  • wealth distribution is egalitarian
  • education is accessible to all
  • employment opportunities are open to all
  • racial, religious and gender discrimination is non-existent
  • affordable or subsidised medical treatment is available to all
  • minority religions can be practised without restrictions
  • no one is disadvantaged or marginalised
  • everyone is equal before the law
  • affordable housing is available to all
  • corruption and poverty have been wiped out
  • those in power practise accountability and transparency
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I am not talking about a basic perimeter of acceptance in securing the above. There must be an effort that provides not the ordinary but a perfect and exceptional structure of life, where no one is in want. This prevents the thought of committing any offence, and the only motive or defence one can offer is insanity or a medical condition without cure.

Can the proponents of harsh penalties guarantee such an ideal quality of life that would minimise the likelihood of wrongdoing?

The body of laws in any nation should reveal a real human civilisation that is advanced, progressive and in line with human aspirations. This body of laws would naturally gravitate towards majority acceptance, with sensitive exceptions and considerations for minoritues.

A law is not an antiquated instrument, and life is larger than laws. If consistent reform is to take place in line with socio-economic and technical realities, laws would have to be reformed, amended or discarded according to the needs of the times.

Personally, I find it it hard to accept any law that:

  • requires blind obedience and fear of God
  • proclaims itself superior to other laws
  • cannot substantiate its strengths or advantages
  • has no consideration or sensitivity to human weakness
  • will divide people
  • has no rehabilitative, restorative or resuscitative effect

If harsh laws that allow corporal punishment or the removal of limbs are accepted and implemented, some direct concerns would arise:

  • Will we immediately by law apply punishment for all who cannot substantiate their wealth or who have wealth beyond their earning capacity on the assumption that it is ill-gotten wealth?
  • Will we prosecute all those who have promoted and implemented unjust policies?
  • Will we spare the impoverished or marginalised who have committed crimes due to their difficult circumstances? Will we instead hold those in positions of power responsible for failing to bring about fairer wealth distribution resulting in many being impoverished and incarcerated for petty thefts?
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Harsh laws may have been compatible for situations that existed at a certain period in history. They may not be suitable to handle new situations and new types of crimes that are emerging:

  • We have in our midst many with mental health issues arising from the stress of modern times. who may go on to steal, take another person’s life or commit other misdemeanours? How would harsh laws be applied on those who have mental health problems?
  • Who among us has the innocence, purity, and stature to be in an exalted position to lord over the rest with such laws?
  • Do we have blanket assurance that we would be protected from repressive and unjust treatment?

Does corporal punishment reflect the majesty of the divine? Does God love those who wield the cane more than the hand that feeds the hungry, heals a life or comforts the grieving?

Our quest for unattainable perfection may be a folly which may utterly defeat and destroy us. Few, perhaps none of us, can measure up to the conduct expected of us by God – so how are we qualified to inflict harsh punishment on others? Are harsh laws to be preferred over the majestic touch of forgiveness, rehabilitation and restoration?

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