Contextualising Islamic Criminal Law: An Analysis of Al-Azhar Scholars' Contributions
Contextualising Islamic Criminal Law: An Analysis of Al-Azhar Scholars' Contributions
Salah al-Ansari
Abstract: The Islamic law of capital punishment, known as Hudud has received intense media scrutiny in recent years due to its application by several State and non-State actors. The punishments sanctioned by Hudud include stoning or lashing for adultery or fornication, cutting of the hand and/or legs for theft, and crucifixion for highway robbery. In April 2020, the General Commission for the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that flogging will be terminated as a form of punishment.1 This is not the only departure from the classical understanding of Hudud as there are other attempts to rethink Hudud in various Muslim-majority countries. In particular, the scholars of al-Azhar in Egypt from the early nineteenth century to the present day have contemplated the reimagination of Hudud, and whose discourse on the subject requires wider dissemination for further analysis. This article examines whether the reforms proposed by the scholars of al-Azhar deviate from the classical understanding of Hudud. Specifically, it will assess whether their reformist proposals were a response to a greater consideration for human rights in the modern age, and if so, to what extent? The analysis in this article begins with a brief account of the theory of crimes, as found in the original texts of the Qur’an and Hadith, and its understanding by the classical jurists. It then moves on to examine the works of six contemporary scholars, namely, Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zahra, Sheikh Ali Goma’, Sheikh Shawky Allam, Sheikh Sa’ad al-Din al-Hilali, and Sheikh ‘Abd al-Mut’al al-Si’idi. The following analysis of their works concludes that contemporary al-Azhar scholars have responded positively to the greater concern for human rights, and their contributions represent a departure from the classical understanding of Hudud that prevailed before the nineteenth century.

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