Understanding the Hudud – An Analogy of a School

I am often asked why does Islam have some really harsh criminal punishments that are rarely applied. The conditions for applying some of these punishments, like the penalty for adultery, are so strict that it is almost impossible for the punishment to apply in most cases. The question then is what is the point of such laws.

I will use the example of a school and its policies to explain the wisdom behind this concept.

Imagine if there is a school that has a major problem with plagiarism. To curb plagiarism, the school board makes a new school rule: if someone is caught plagiarizing, they will be expelled.

A few weeks later, four students are caught cheating in a test. These students are sent to the principal who decides to suspend two of them for two weeks, and to give the other two detention for two months, due to the differences in their methods of cheating.

Despite the rule being that such students will be expelled, nobody has an issue with the cheaters receiving a lesser punishment. This is because:
1) The principal cares about the students’ education and does not want to ruin that based on a first-time offence
2) The cheaters’ methods did not reach the level of severity to enforce the harshest punishment
3) The cheaters are grateful to receive a lesser punishment, accept their punishment gracefully, and learn their lesson
4) The effect of the policy works, and plagiarism decreases drastically as students do not want to take a chance of getting expelled
5) The rule remains in the books to be applied in worst-case-scenarios, and the principal is willing to apply it if ever needed. Even if the principal never expels anyone based on this policy, it remains part of the law and remains effective.

This is exactly how the Hudud work. Replace principal with Qadhis (judges) and you see how the Qadhi handles cases and hands out lesser punishments (ta’zir) instead of the hudud in most cases.

Allah knows best.

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Posted by Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help and Izzah Academy, author of over a dozen books, and the operations manager of Yaqeen Institute.