Concept of Punishment in Islam

Apr 11 - Concept of punishment

By Asim Ismail

Punishment is a word with negative connotations. However, when seen from an Islamic perspective, it brings about a paradigm shift in the word itself. Amazing, isn’t it? This is why we say Islam is the solution to every problem! Now, let us see what guidance Muslim educationists and scholars offer us regarding punishment.

It is strongly believed and recommended that the reason for punishment remains one of the following four:

Protection

If a child misbehaves at home, the entire family will be disturbed. In order to avoid this, parents can punish the child by excluding him/her from some activity.

Prevention

This is to stop the child from doing something wrong. Example: give the child an esteemed position and then take it from him/her as a punishment. This will make him/her realize that a mistake has been committed.

Recompense (Badla)

A judge can use this form of punishment. However, for small children, parents should find out the reasons which led the child to a wrong action.

Correction (Islah)

Islah should be done gently. Example: If a child’s writing is not good, don’t tell him so bluntly. Instead, say: “I hope your writing will become better from today.”

If you look at the aforementioned four reasons, each one of them has a long-term positive effect on the child’s life.

As we know, the best example for all mankind is Prophet Muhammad (saw). Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) you have a good example to follow for him who hopes in (the meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much.” (Al-Ahzab 33:21)

Let us see how the Prophet (saw) dealt with someone who had committed a mistake. If a person had lied, he would not say: “Kazabta” (“You lied”). Instead, he used to say: “Akhtata” (“You made a mistake”). Subhan’Allah! How beautifully were we taught to deal with others! How are we dealing with each other in this day and age? Just think about how far we have drifted from the Sunnah.

Going back to the topic, there should not be a uniform punishment for all, as it may not work effectively for all the children. Punish according to the nature of the child. Let us see what Muslim educationists and scholars have to say on this subject.

  • Al-Qabisi, in the fourth century AH, was of the opinion that only Allah (swt) is flawless. Humans can make mistakes; therefore, punishment can be given. For children, however, Qabisi explains that excuse is Wajib because of four reasons: age, child’s play, small mind and lack of sense of differentiation
  • Ibn Khuldoom, in the eighth century AH, advocated that severity with children is not allowed. By being strict, we do not get to the root of the problem. Instead, it pushes the child in his cocoon. He shuts himself up and withholds his feelings. This forces him to become two-faced: he will be different inside and outside. Just to come up to your standards, he will pretend to be what he is not. This will generate hypocrisy in him.
  • According to Ibn Taymiyyah there are two kinds of punishments:

1)      Duration of punishment till the work is completed;

2)      In case it is a mistake, punish once only.

It is very rightly said: “Children need trained parents, as much as they need loving parents.”

Lastly, we all make mistakes, and if Allah (swt) starts punishing us for every single mistake we commit, there will be no one left on this earth. If we want ourselves to be forgiven, we should start forgiving others. The Prophet (sa) said: “Have mercy on those who are on the earth, and the One Who is in heaven will show mercy to you.” (Abu Dawood)

This article has been compiled from a workshop titled “Concept of Punishment in Islam” conducted by Mr. Asim Ismail (asim_ismail@yahoo.com) at “Reflections” school.