"...If anyone kills a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all mankind. And if anyone saves a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all" (Quran 5:32).
Grief stricken faces, tear filled eyes and heart wrenching sorrow filled the air on the afternoon of June 7 at the scene of a heinous crime just months ago, as family, friends and well-wishers gathered to observe the ten minutes of silence in memory of a victim to a remorseless stabbing murder on the fateful night of February 18.
The gathered in matching t-shirts, carrying banners and placards portrayed the same resounding message, “Justice for Bobby.”
Close to a month since the unprecedented display of a united stand by a family of a victim, news of another cold blooded murder gripped the nation on Sunday night.
Famed lawyer Ahmed Najeeb’s murder was the seventh in as many months of this year, as authorities and political figures alike issued statements condemning the act of violence amid ever upsurge in calls to impose the death penalty.
The debate on death penalty or capital punishment has raged on for seemingly generations, as contrasting opinions arise over whether the death penalty serves as a justified and valid form of punishment. Whenever the word "death penalty" comes up, advocates from both sides zealously dish out their versions of justified arguments.
One side says deterrence, the other side sees a potential execution of an innocent man; one says justice, retribution, and punishment; the other side says execution is murder.
Proponents of the death penalty stress that the punishment for crime must be harsh enough to deter potential criminals. Under this mindset, the death penalty makes perfect sense. Here is a punishment that truly makes a criminal pay for his crime, stops the criminal from committing it again, and deters other criminals from committing the same crime.
On the opposite side of the fence opponents of capital punishment say, capital punishment is barbaric and cruel and has no place in a civilized society. It denies an individual of due process by imposing irreversible punishment on them and depriving them from ever benefiting from new technology that may provide later evidence of their innocence.
Murder in any form, by any person, shows a lack of respect for human life. Some proclaim that for victims of murder, sparing the life of their killer is the truest form of justice that can be given to them. Opponents of the death penalty feel to kill as a way to "even out" the crime would only justify the act itself. This position is not taken out of sympathy to the convicted murderer but out of respect for his victim in demonstrating that all human life should be of value.
A decade ago murder was almost unheard of in the Maldives. But news reports of a cold blooded murder has alarmingly become a norm where most people have evolved a mechanism to dismiss such a tragic incident from our day to day thoughts rather than let it haunt our recent memory.
Various reasons have been attributed to the upsurge in remorseless killings where congested society, uncurbed rein of gangs, drugs and incompetent authorities are at the forefront as the public and government alike are quick to scour for excuses or point fingers.
Amidst the blame game and the misguided intentions to put one over and gain the upper hand in the constant battle for political supremacy, we all most often arrive at a parallel consensus. Something must be done to curtail the rein of persistent trepidation in this small once peaceful island nation.
According to many, the answer, the quick-fire remedy however much controversial, is implementing the dreaded death penalty.
While the Maldives theoretically has a death penalty under Islamic Shariah, in practice this has been enforced as a 25 year prison sentence. However, the last person to actually be judicially executed was Hakim Didi in 1953, who was executed by firing squad after being found guilty of conspiracy to murder using black magic.
In the last ten years or so (2001-2010) Criminal Court has delivered the death sentence for fourteen people. However, every single one of them had their sentence reverted to life in prison which according to the current Home Minister “meant 25 years in prison.”
Contrary to the Minister’s claims a prominent Judge of the Maldives stressed “what the law legislates cannot be up for interpretation at the discretion of a few. The law must be implemented to the letter.”
During a press conference the Home Minister had spoken in support of enforcing the death penalty in the Maldives and assured that the Home Ministry would not hesitate to impose the death penalty if the relevant authorities came to a consensus over its implementation.
“We need to debate on if implementing the death penalty is the most appropriate punishment and declare penalties to ensure a safe and secure environment for the people. Given the increase in murders we need to offer protection for the society,” Home Minister added.
“It is not something new. It is practiced in Islamic Shariah and common law.”
The Attorney General has also backed the statement by adding that the “death penalty must be implemented within the contours of Islamic Shariah.”
It is somewhat surprising that the Home Minister has called on the “relevant authorities” to come to consensus over enforcing the death penalty when the Prosecutor General’s office have pressed for the death penalty, while the Criminal Court have been delivering death sentences based on “beyond reasonable doubt,” and now seemingly the Home Ministry and the Attorney General’s office are also on board.
The set precedence and statements beg the question why the death penalty has not been enforced in the Maldives. Which so called “relevant authority” is left to object or stand in the way of the implementation of capital punishment?
The answer according to the Judge is a “method of carrying out the death penalty or the execution.”
We Muslims believe that capital punishment is a most severe sentence but one that may be commanded by a court for crimes of suitable severity. While there may be more profound punishment at the hands of God, there is also room for an earthly punishment.
Methods of execution in Islamic countries vary and can include beheading, firing squad, hanging and stoning. In some countries public executions are carried out to heighten the element of deterrence.
“The Parliament has to decide which method of execution to adopt and how to go about doing it. The Islamic Shariah, neither the constitution nor the penal code of the Maldives stymie the death penalty.” Judge added.
One can also argue that the backlash of rights group from making such a declaration would be intense, as the Maldives party to various human rights conventions and accords could come under increased scrutiny especially at a time when most countries around the world are absolving capital punishment.
Although there are different concepts of what constitutes just punishment, It is the opinion of proponents of the death penalty that anytime the well-being of the criminal prevail that of the victim, justice has not been served.
Life is sacred, according to Islam and most other world faiths. But how can one hold life sacred, yet still support capital punishment? The Quran answers, "...Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does He command you, so that you may learn wisdom" (6:151).
The primary point is that one may take life only "by way of justice and law." In Islam, therefore, the death penalty can be applied by a court as punishment for the most serious of crimes. Ultimately, one's eternal punishment is in God's hands, but there is a place for punishment in this life as well. The spirit of the Islamic penal code is to save lives, promote justice, and prevent corruption and tyranny.
The Quran legislates the death penalty for murder, although forgiveness and compassion are strongly encouraged. The murder victim's family is given a choice to either insist on the death penalty, or to pardon the perpetrator and accept monetary compensation for their loss (2:178).
A life sentence instead of the death penalty is unjust according to some as in time, the convicted murderer will adjust to the incarceration and find within its constraints, time to feel joy, times to laugh, contact family and friends, but as the victim, no more such opportunities are an option.
Those that are pro death penalty feel it is society’s obligation to intervene and be the voice of the victim and establish what a just punishment is for the victim not the perpetrator.
While death penalty may be a cruel and inhumane punishment, life-time sentence may be worse. According to a US death row inmate, "a life sentence is a whole lot worse" than death penalty; "it's torture."
The focal point of alleviating the lives of inmates has completely extinguished the true purpose of death penalty. While some transgressions, such as robbery and drug abuse, give the prisoner a second chance, other crimes, such as murder and treason, are irreversible. If one cannot learn to respect other valuable lives then he or she must pay for the price appropriate to the offense.
Think of the phrase itself, "life sentence." Does the victim get a "life sentence"? So to serve justice, which form of punishment for a person who ended a life would be just for the scale of justice to remain in balance?
To gauge justice, proponents, opponents and every single one of us should ask ourselves....
“If I was murdered today, what would a just punishment be for the person who prematurely ended my life?”