This study seeks to identify the major trends that have shaped the past history and present development of Shari'a ("Islamic law") approaches to criminal justice and penology. It further attempts to show how the record of Islamic legal throught contrasts to the simplistic Western image of "Islamic law" as characterized by, or even limited to, harsh public punishments for minor offenses or sexual conduct of a sort no longer criminalized in the West.
The history and intellectual development of Muslim thought in the areas of criminal justice and penology are traced from early Islamic times to the present day. The extensive development of Shari'a family, business, and other "civil" law through Islamicate history is contrasted to the general nonapplication of Shari'a criminal law by Muslim rulers who judged it overly lenient and procedurally demanding for their needs, or even their subjects' protection. Only with the advent of the Western challenge which was felt in some parts of the Muslim world as early as the eighteenth century was renewed attention given to the study of Islamic criminology and penology. At the present date, no serious effort to enact Islamic criminal law has yet been made. The future development of a mature, institutional Islamic legal code, and the West's response, will be an important element in shaping the future relations of the Muslim world and the West.
To most people in the West today, the phrase "Islamic justice" carries a negative connotation. In the popular Western mind, the image of "Islamic justice" is one of death, mutilation, or other harsh punishments, meted out by irregular tribunals of religious fanatics or "revolutionary guards." Those so punished, even when not wholly innocent victims of arbitrary police abuse, are imagined to be largely petty criminals, or persons who have committe...