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Books and Documents ( 27 Aug 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Exemplary Punishments for Major Crimes: Essential Message of Islam: Chapter 37 To 41

By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed

28 August 2015

(Published Exclusively On New Age Islam with Permission of the Authors and Publishers)

37.    Drawing Up Of Wills

The Qur’an asks the believers leaving behind any property, to make a will in the presence of two of their just persons (2:180). If they are travelling and fear death, they are asked to take witnesses from outsiders (2:180, 5:106). If the witnesses are of questionable integrity, the Qur’an asks for their swearing in after prayer that they would not be taking bribe even from a near relative to hide or alter the will (5:106). If the witnesses are later found to be implicated in any crime, the Qur’an calls for their replacement with two other persons from among the close relatives, or those having lawful rights, after proper swearing in (5:107/108). The Qur’an further states that those who alter a will shall earn the sin for such alteration, but it allows the executor of a will to alter it to reconcile disputing parties, if he suspects error or injustice by the testator.* (2:181/182). *[Lit., 'the deceased who made the will']

“It is prescribed for you that when death approaches any of you, and he leaves behind (some) property, he should make a will in a just and fair manner for his parents and near of kin. (This is) binding for the heedful (Muttaqin) (2:180). If anyone changes it after having heard it, the sin shall be on those who change (it). (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Aware (181). However, anyone who fears bias or injustice by the testator and patches things up among the concerned parties,* there shall be no sin on him. (Remember,) God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (2:182). *[Lit., ‘them’]

“You who believe, when death approaches any of you, let there be witnesses* among you when making a will: two just (persons) from among you, or two others from the outsiders, if you are travelling on earth and a fatal calamity befalls you. Detain the two after prayer, if you are in doubt (about their integrity), and let them swear by God (saying): ‘We shall not take any payment for (tampering) it, even from a relative, nor will we hide the testimony of God, for then indeed we shall be among the sinners’ (5:106). But if it so happens that both of them are found (guilty) of crime, let two others from among the most rightful stand in their place. Let both of them swear by God (saying): ‘Our testimony is truer than their testimony, and we have never exceeded limits, for then indeed we shall be among the unjust’ (107). It is then likelier that they give true** evidence, for they might fear that other oaths may be taken after their oaths. Heed God and listen. (Remember,) God does not guide the immoral folk” (5:108). *[Lit., ‘testimony’.], ** [Lit., ‘at its face value’]

Most scholars including Muhammad Asad have interpreted the term ‘among you' (underlined in 5:106) as Muslims. Thus, the ‘outsiders’ would be non-Muslims, but believers in God, as they are required to swear by Him to uphold their testimony. Abul Kalam Azad is, however, explicit in interpreting the ‘outsiders’ as non-Muslims.1


1.       Abul Kalam Azad, Tarjuman al-Qur’an, 1931; reprint New Delhi 1989, Vol.2, p. 679.

[1 Reference]


38.    Law of Inheritance

The Qur'an sets out clear rules and guidelines for the division of inheritance under varying family scenarios. These rules are spelled out in a juristic tone, interweaved across a long passage and two verses (4:7-12, 4:33, 4:176) that may tax the lay reader and confuse the sceptic. Therefore, for simplicity, we have put together the various elements of its rules topically, with verse references, before listing the rendition of the verses. Some scholars may argue that this topic relates to the juristic discipline and should be left for the jurists to deal with. However, the Qur’an does not contain any hint whatsoever to segment its precepts across different domains, and therefore, we present it as part of this comprehensive exposition of the Qur’an’s clearly stated dictates.   

38.1.       Broader Logic and Rationale of Qur’anic Inheritance Laws  

The Qur’anic inheritance laws are based on the following rationale:

        The inheritance of a woman in her various capacities, such as, a daughter, a wife, and a mother, is clearly spelled out leaving no ambiguity in any case in order to fully protect her inheritance rights, and to safeguard against any patriarchal manipulations (Alas! It goes on to this day.)

        A man’s higher share vis-à-vis a woman, as a son, a husband or a brother takes account of his financial responsibility for his household (4:34/Ch. 33.6).

        Equal share of mother and father from a deceased offspring underlines equal old age need for each of them.

        The share for a man (a son, a brother and a father) is left unspecified in certain cases but can be obtained by deducting the specified portions from the total inheritance based on 38.3 below.

38.2.       General Principles of Inheritance

The Qur’anic inheritance laws are governed by the following principles:

        Surviving parents, spouse, and children are accorded the status of direct heir (4:7, 4:11, 4:12).

        If there is no direct heir (parents, spouse or children), surviving brothers and sisters will share the inheritance (4:176).

        If there is neither direct heir, nor full brother or sister, surviving half brothers and half sisters if any will have a share in the inheritance (4:12).

        Orphans and needy relatives (offspring of deceased first relatives) present at the division are to be provided for out of the inheritance in a just manner (4:8-10).

        All rightful agreements such as dues, taxes, and legacies are to be settled before the division of inheritance (4:11, 4:12, and 4:33).

38.3.       Division of Inheritance among Survivors

When parents, spouse, sons and, or daughters are surviving:

        The father and mother, each gets a sixth of the inheritance (4:11).

        The wife gets one eight of what her husband leaves, while the husband gets a fourth of what his wife leaves (4:12).

        Each son will get twice as much as each daughter, but if there is only one daughter and no son, she gets half of the inheritance (4:11).

        If there are two or more daughters and no son, their combined share is two-thirds of the inheritance (4:11).

        If there are sons, one or more, and no daughter: by logic of 38.2 top bullet, they equally divide the inheritance left after giving the parents’ shares.

Division of Inheritance when parents and spouse are surviving but no children:

        The wife gets a fourth of what her husband leaves, while the husband gets half of what his wife leaves (4:12).

        If the deceased left brothers and sisters, each of the parents gets a sixth of the inheritance, and the brothers and sisters get the balance - the male having twice the share of the female (4:11).

         If there is no brother or sister, the mother gets a third of the inheritance (4:11).

Division of Inheritance when neither parents, nor children, nor any spouse is surviving:

        If a deceased man left only one sister, she inherits half of what he left, but if there are two sisters or more, they together inherit two-thirds of what he left (4:176).

        If a deceased woman left one brother, he inherits the whole of what she left (4:176).

        If a deceased man or woman leaves both brother and sister - the male has twice the share of the female (4:176).

        If a deceased man or woman leaves a brother or a sister from the mother’s side (different father), each will get a sixth of the inheritance – and if there are more than two of them, the combined share will be one-third of what is left (4:12).

38.4.       Rendition of the Referred To Verses:

“Men get a share in what their parents and next of kin leave, and women get a share in what their parents and next of kin leave, be it a little or a lot - a legal share (4:7). If other relatives, orphans, and the needy (not having direct claim but worthy of consideration) are present at the (time of) division (of the inheritance,) provide for them out of it, and speak to them reasonably (8). Let those (who ignore orphaned children) fear, as they will (indeed) fear, if they were to leave behind helpless children. Therefore, they should heed God and speak out honestly (in favour of such orphans) (9). (Remember,) those who unjustly consume the property of orphans devour fire into their bellies; and, and soon they will endure a blaze (10). God directs you concerning (the inheritance) of your children: the male has (the share) of two females. If they are daughters [Lit., ‘women’.], more than two (and no son) - their share is two-thirds of what (their parents) leave behind. If there is only one, her (share) is half. The parents will each get a sixth of what the (deceased) leaves behind,  provided (the deceased) left children; if (there are) no children and the parents are the (only) heir, the mother has a third; but if the deceased left siblings, the mother has a sixth, after (payment of) legacies and debts. You do not know whether your parents or (your) children are closer to you in (deserving the) benefit. Hence, this ordinance from God! Indeed God is All-Knowing and Wise (11). You (will get) half of what your wives leave, provided they leave no child; but if they leave a child, then you get a fourth of what they leave, after (payment of) legacies and debts. Theirs is a fourth of what you leave, provided you leave no child. But if you leave a child, they get an eighth of what you leave, after (payment of) legacies and debts. If a man, or a woman, leaving inheritance, has no direct heir (Kalala) (father, mother, offspring, or full brother or sister), but has a brother or a sister* - each of them (gets) a sixth; but if more than two, their (combined) share is a third, after (payment of) legacies and debts, without causing loss (to anyone). This is an instruction from God. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Gracious” (4:12). *[Most commentators hold that, a brother or a sister referred to above, are those from only one’s mother’s side - that is, half brother or sister.]

“For everyone, We have appointed heirs to (what is) left by parents and near of kin. But (first) you must give their shares to those (with whom) you have made a pledge. Indeed God is witness to everything” (4:33).

 “They consult you (O Muhammad). Say, God pronounces (thus) about indirect inheritance (Kalala): ‘If a man dies leaving a sister but no child, hers is half of what he leaves, but he would inherit (wholly) from her, if a woman died leaving no child. If there are two sisters - they shall have two-thirds of what he leaves. If there are brothers and sisters - the male has (the share of) two females.’ God clarifies (this) to you, lest you err (Remember,) God is Cognizant of everything” (4:176).        

38.5.       Why a daughter’s inheritance is half that of her brother

This seeming gender bias can be clarified by taking a holistic view of the Qur’anic laws protecting the financial interest of women. Thus the Qur’an allows women:

        To have independent income (4:32/Ch. 33.5), without any binding to share with their husbands.

        To receive a dower at the time of marriage (4:4/Ch. 33.4).

        To have their living expenses covered by their husbands (4:34/Ch. 33.6).

        To receive gifts, even a fortune, from their husbands, in addition to the dower (2:229, 4:20/Ch. 34.2).

        To receive inheritance from their deceased children who left offspring, equally as their husbands (4:11).

Therefore, if the Qur’an were to accord equal inheritance to a brother and a sister, womenfolk would possess greater wealth than men, and the Qur’anic injunctions on the financial responsibility of man will be contradicted.         

38.6.       The Principle of Representation

The verses 4:8 clearly encapsulates a principle of representation, that is, if a person A survives his offspring B, who left an offspring C, and at the time of A’s death, the orphan C is present (4:8), then C should not be left out of the inheritance (4:9), and those who deprive them “devour fire into their bellies” (4:10). To put this in technical terms, the Qur’an allows the representation of an orphaned person C, born of the deceased B, in the inheritance left by B’s father/mother A, who had survived B. This is another matter that the classical Islamic law does not recognize this principle, but we leave that to the jurists to resolve.


39.    Abolition of Blood Vendetta

The diverse tribes in pre-Islamic Arabia were autonomous communities; each headed by a chief and governed by its traditions. In the absence of any central state or court of appeal, inter-tribal rivalry and grievances were settled by tribal mores that permitted a like-for-like retribution. Thus, it was normative for any tribe to avenge even an accidental killing of any of its members by another tribe, with the killing of a member of the latter. At the same time, scarcity of resources and harsh realities of desert life were conducive to sparking violence even on trivial issues like someone’s camel grazing a neighbour’s field or drinking water at someone else’s pool, and this could readily lead to manslaughter and set off a chain of retaliatory killings. As a result, most of the Arab tribes were locked in blood vendetta, which often lasted for generations. The Qur’an had to correct this, once and for all.

The Qur'an starts off with a general forbiddance of killing of any human being, irrespective of tribe or faith, except when there was no alternative course of action and the killing was fully justified and thus lawful (6:151, 25:68/Ch. 19.1; 17:33).

“Do not kill any person as God has forbidden this, except when lawful. As for anyone unjustly killed, We have given (some) authority to his guardian, but let him not overdo in killing (in retaliation), for surely he will be supported (by the society or state)*” (17:33). *[Support may also come from God; so, the underlined rendering may also read: ‘helped (by God)’.]

As the revelation progressed, the Qur’an had to forestall perpetuation of blood vendetta among the converts. Since eradication of slavery was also among the Qur’an’s key agendas, it enjoined the freeing of a believing slave, and paying compensations as redemption for any accidental killing of a believer and prohibited the killing of any believer (4:92/93).

“A believer (Mu’min) must not kill a believer except by mistake. Anyone who kills a believer by mistake must free a believing slave, and pay compensation to his family, unless they (forego it) as charity. (However,) if he (the deceased) belonged to a people hostile to you, and yet was a believer, (the redemption is) to free a believing slave; but if he belonged to a people with whom you have (peace) treaty, the blood money must (also) be paid to the family (in addition to) freeing a believing slave. Anyone who does not find this (within his means) must keep the fast for two consecutive months - by way of repentance to God. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Wise (4:92). Anyone who kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is hell - to remain in it: God will be wrathful with him and curse him and prepare for him an awful torment” (4:93).

39.1.       Law of Compensation for the Loss of Life

In its final legislative phase, the Qur’an prescribes a law of compensation for the killed that covers practically all possible cases of loss of life, from murder to the accidental, and offers a way out of blood vendetta.

“You who believe, compensation for (anyone) killed has been prescribed for you: the free for the free; the slave (‘abd) for the slave; the female for the female. But if any from the family* (of the deceased) pardon him (who caused the death), then he should follow this up with something appropriate (as compensation), and execute (the same) in a good gesture. This is a Concession and Mercy from your Lord. Anyone who exceeds the limits after this shall have painful torment (2:178). There is (security of) life in this (law of) compensation – O you prudent, that you may heed” (2:179). *[Lit., ‘brethren’, i.e. brother or sister]

This passage embraces four distinct stipulations:

        It begins with an illustrative statement (underlined), which refers to the prevalent custom of equitable retaliation for the loss of life.

        This is followed by an optional forgiveness-cum-retribution clause (shown in bold), which, on one hand asks the victim’s family to be forgiving, and, on the other, commands the offender to offer the victim’s family a generous compensation, in a good gesture.

        The good gesture is described a Concession and Mercy from God, and not a favour by the offender.

        The offenders are warned of severe punishment if they failed to comply with it.

Finally, the rationale of this divine writ is borne out: a means to provide security of life. The essence of the passage, therefore, lies in its optional forgiveness-cum-retribution clause: the victim’s family may or may not forgive depending upon the circumstance of the killing.

The Qur’anic law is based on the principle of universal justice. It protects the rights of the victim's family, and covers the different circumstances leading to the loss of life. Thus, if it is a case of accidental killing, the victim’s family must exercise forgiveness in lieu of an appropriate compensation. But, for a premeditated murder, the victim’s family may insist on capital punishment for the murderer, while the juries may decide on an appropriate punishment depending upon the gravity of the offence.

The Qur’anic Law resulted in an end to the blood feud that was widely practiced in pre-Islamic Arabia. Its principles have been absorbed in the modern code of justice, yet, in its pure form as analyzed above, it is universally applicable to all cases of loss of life caused by the human agency – from homicide to accidental killing, and offers the best deal to the victims’ people – particularly if they are poor.

40.    Exemplary Punishments for Major Crimes

Crime changes form with time and progress of civilization, and so do the methods for probing its genesis, for identifying and tracking the criminal, for establishing the criminal charges, and the nature of punishment. Accordingly, the Qur’an does not discuss the subject in any details. It, however, pronounces some exemplary and illustrative punishments for the major prevalent crimes, and sets out universal principles to guide the jurists in deciding on the mode and extent of punishment. 

The social setting of the revelation was far from secure. There was no civil administration, no police force, no court of law, no trial for crime, no jail, and no institution for punishing the criminal. So the criminals had almost unlimited power. They could bully, beat up and rob any unprotected soul, commit major crimes, spread terror in the community and roam about in broad daylight, or disappear in the desert wilderness - depending upon their clan clout. The Qur'an had to stop this outrage. There were past examples of rulers inflicting severe punishment on those who defied them and of communities suffering awesome punishments because of their errant ways. The Qur’an reminds its audience of these punishments (5:33), and commands amputating of hand for stealing (5:39) as an exemplary punishment. It, however, leaves a forgiveness clause (5:39), thereby allowing flexibility in the mode of punishment.

“(It is but) a just recompense (Jaza’) for those who wage war against God and His Prophet, and storm about the earth causing corruption (Fasad) that they are slain, or crucified, or have their hands and feet amputated from opposite sides, or expelled from the land. This has been their disgrace in this world, and a severe punishment (awaits) them in the hereafter (5:33), except (for) those who repent before you overpower them. (If so,) know that God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (5:34).

Most commentators take the stipulations of this passage as the Qur’anic injunction on punishment for major crimes, and accordingly render it in a legislative tone. Examples:

“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger… is execution, or crucifixion,…” (Abdullah Yusuf Ali).

“The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger… will be that they will be killed or crucified, …” (Marmaduke Pickthall).

However, as Muhammad Asad explains, the punishments are mentioned in the passive verbal forms: ‘are slain’, ‘are crucified’, ‘are amputated’ and ‘are expelled’, and as such the traditional rendering is grammatically incorrect.1 Moreover, the Qur’an puts the underlined threatening expressions in the mouth of Pharaoh,2 whom it describes as the epitome of evil. So, it will detract from God’s Mercy and Greatness, to legislate the same punishment to offenders for all time to come. Furthermore, the inclusion of the Prophet in the verse lends it an existential dimension that does not necessarily support its future legislative role.

“(As for) the thief, male and female, amputate the hands of both of them as a recompense for what they have earned - as an exemplary punishment from God. (Remember,) God is Almighty, Wise (5:38). But (as for) anyone who repents after his wrongdoing, and reforms - God will turn towards him. Indeed God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (5:39).

40.1.       Flexibility in the Application of Qur’anic Punishments

It will be fallacious to interpret the foregoing two punitive passages (5:33/34, 5:38/39) in isolation. The Qur’an’s declarations on the criteria of divine judgment3 are clearly suggestive of the principle of proportionality of crime and punishment, while both the passages incorporate forgiveness clauses (5:34, 5:39) and conclude with God’s attribute of Mercy and Forgiveness. It will therefore be essential for the jurists to consider the severity of a crime, its impact on the victim, prevalent social system, and mitigating circumstances if any, before arriving at their final verdict. It must have been this Qur’anic spirit that led Caliph Umar to introduce jailing for lower offences, and reserving the Qur’anic exemplary punishment (5:38) for grave offences (5:33).4 Notes

 1.       Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 5, Notes 43-46.

2.       Three Qur’anic verses quote Pharaoh threatening his sorcerers with the expression: “I shall amputate your hands and your feet from opposite sides, and then I shall crucify you” (7:124, 20:71, and 26:49).

3.       6:160, 28:84/ Ch. 21.3; 42:40/Ch. 12.2; 40:40, 53:31. [Same as Note 2/Ch. 21]

4.       Shibli Noumani, al-Faruq, Delhi 1898, Karachi reprint 1991, p. 198.

[4 references]


41.    Allurements of Worldly Life

41.1.       Man’s Innate Passion for Wealth, Women, Glory And Power

The Qur’an recognizes that man is ever ungrateful to His Lord (100:6/7) and is allured by the worldly life (2:212). He is intense in his desire for riches (100:8),1 in his passion for women, for hoarded up treasures, and glory, and power (3:14), and for multiplication of wealth and children (18:46, 57:20), and is oblivious to his final accountability to God (100:9-11).

“Worldly life allures those who deny (God), and they ridicule those who believe; but the heedful (Attaqu) will be preferred over them on the Day of Resurrection. (Remember,) God provides for anyone He wishes beyond any measure” (2:212)

“Alluring to people is the love for pleasures from women, for children, for hoarded up treasures of gold and silver, and well-bred horses and cattle and lands. Those are the conveniences of worldly life, but the best of goals lies with God” (3:14).

“Wealth and children are the allurements of worldly life, but good deeds endure, and are better before your Lord as a reward, and the best to hope for” (18:46)

“Indeed man is ungrateful to His Lord (100:6), and he bears witness to that (7), and he has intense desire for riches (Khayr)* (8). Does he not know that when what is in the graves is overturned (9) and what is in the hearts is scrutinised (10), their Lord will be (fully) Informed of them that Day” (100:11)? *[The word connotes all good things – Note 24/Preface]

The Qur’an, however, does not connect material prosperity with faith, and asserts that God helps all people, whether they seek earthly gains, or reward in the hereafter (17:19/20).  

“Whoever desires the fleeting (present life), We hasten for them whatever We please of it, to whomever We desire. Then We consign him to hell: he shall endure it, despised and condemned (17:18); and whoever desires the hereafter, and strives for it as he ought to strive, and he is a believer – it is they whose striving shall be appreciated (19). All do We help - these as well as those – from the gift of your Lord, and surely the gift of your Lord is not restricted” (17:20).

At an early stage of the revelation, when the Prophet and his followers lived in hardship, the Qur’an counsels them to remain steady and not to aspire for the luxuries of life:

“Keep your patience (O Muhammad,) with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His favour*, and let not your eyes wander beyond them seeking the allurements of worldly life; and do not obey him whose heart We have made neglectful of Our remembrance, and who follows his own whim, as his case is beyond all bounds” (18:28). *[Lit., ‘Countenance’]

The Qur’an further declares that worldly life is nothing but play and amusement (6:32, 57:20),2 and a deception (7:51, 57:20),3 and in the same breath, affirms that those who are heedful (2:212 above, 6:32),4 and do good deeds (18:46 above) shall be preferred and rewarded by God.

“And what is worldly life but play and amusement, while the home of the hereafter is better for those who are heedful (Yattaqun): will you not then use your reason”(6:32)?

*(Relief will not be given from the blaze to) those who have taken their religion (din) for amusement and play - worldly life deceived them. So on that day We will forget them, as they forgot the meeting of this Day of theirs, and as they refuted Our messages” (7:51). *[Bracketed leading words draw on the preceding verse, 7:50.]

“Worldly life is play and amusement, but if you truly believe (in God) and are heedful (Tattaqu), He will grant you your rewards, and will not ask you (for) your wealth” (47:36)

“Know you (all) that the worldly life is play and amusement, allurement and boasting among yourselves, and multiplication of wealth and children. It is like rain (whereby) the incredulous is amazed at (the growth of) vegetation, which soon withers away, so that you will see it turning yellow, then it crumbles into dust. (Likewise) there is a severe punishment (for some) in the hereafter; (but) there is forgiveness from God and (His) approval (for others); and what is worldly life is but merchandize of deception” (57:20).

The Qur’anic treatment of the allurements of worldly life must be seen in the context of its overall exhortation to pursuing God’s bounty (62:10/Ch. 45.1), and availing of all good things in life (2:168, 2:172/Ch. 23.4) – whether as food, or otherwise. Thus, God warns Muslims in particular, and humanity in general, to restrain themselves from greed for properties, passion for glory and power, and temptations of sensual pleasure, while availing of all good things in life as permitted by the Qur’an.

41.2.       Greed for Allurements of Life Is the Singular Promoter of Poverty

Greed for the allurements of worldly life has been one of the chief promoters of poverty and distress in human society throughout history:

In the medieval society, until the turn of the 20th century, a minority rich class regulated land, commerce and industry, to avail for itself an enormously higher proportion of the produce of land and industry than the bulk of the population - who lived in abject poverty. The driving force: an endless craving for the allurements of worldly life in the form of wealth, glory and power.

        The just concluded 20th century saw, among others, exponential increase in the supply of food and all that is needed to make life easy and comfortable. But it has ushered human society into an era in which the disparity in consumption of the produce of industry and nature between the rich and the poor has reached, if not surpassed, the scale of the medieval era. The driving force, as in the medieval era, is nothing but an unrestrained greed for wealth and items of luxury, or the allurements of worldly life.

        In today’s context, people across the world are cutting their social expenses, and spending more and more to acquire wealth and luxury goods. As wealth - cash, gold, stocks, flats etc, and the supply of luxury goods are controlled by the very rich – they remain the ultimate beneficiary of this consumer behaviour, while the growing population of the poor across the world bears the brunt through reduced real wages, and shrinking benefits. Hence the application of Qur’anic principles can pave the way for bridging the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Ironically, in today’s context, some third world Muslim countries present the worst cases of income disparity between the rich and the poor. A restrictive notion of Zakat (Ch. 46.3), and a self-centred faith in God’s mercy and forgiveness often blocks the conscience of the rich and the privileged class in these countries against unrestrained greed. They hastily acquire properties and all kinds of assets, and spend lavishly on themselves and their families, compromising with their financial obligations towards their relatives, employees, the needy and the community at large as required by the Qur’an (Verses listed in Ch. 17/18), and thus widen the gap between the rich and the poor and usher their countries on the frontlines of poverty.

41.3.       Recreations, Entertainment and Art forms

In the Qur’anic discourse, God has created man in the finest model (95:4/Ch. 10), and has accorded him special bounties over the rest of creation (17:70/Ch. 10). These include, among others, the diverse avenues of recreations and entertainment, and natural art forms, which in turn are nothing but allurements (Zinat, 57:20/41.1 above) of life and means of ‘play and amusement’ (6:32, 7:51, 47:36/41.1). While the Qur’an cautions humanity not to be deceived by them (57:20), or to make them their religion (7:51), its generic injunction on the lawfulness of all the beautiful things (Zinat) of life (7:32/Ch. 25.4), gives no ground to discard or renounce them. Thus, there are traditions supporting the Prophet’s approval of the prevalent sports and recreational activities, that included, among others, singing, music and artistic dance performance.5

Since the Qur’an leaves an open way (Minhaj) before humanity to evolving its civilization (5:48/Ch. 9.4), all natural art forms, including song, music, poetry, athletics, swimming, sports etc. as in vogue today would stand permissible as long as the performers and the spectators abide by the Qur’anic paradigms on modesty, ethics and morality; and remain committed to their social, financial, and personal responsibilities and religious obligations that are intrinsic to the Qur’anic message. The same will hold for all forms of recreations including indoor and outdoor games, simple outing or picnic, angling etc. However games that stretch the players beyond their bearing capacity,6 (knock-down sword fight/ wrestling for example), and entertainment that conflict with the Qur’anic tenets (prostitution, alcoholism, gambling, and similar abominations) would be unlawful in Islam.


1.  89:20, 102:1/2

2.  29:64.

3.  28:60, 45:35.

4.  3:15.

5. Afzalur Rahman, Role of Women in Society, London 1986, p. 374-381.

6.  6:152/Ch. 19.1; 2:233, 65:7/Ch. 34.5.

 [6 references]

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.