Freedom to Express Opinion in Islam
With collapse of the Soviet Union and international Communism, Islam became the only remaining ideological system and obstacle to worldwide domination by materialistic secular systems. For nearly two decades the media assault by the West upon Islam has increased in scope, intensity, malignancy, and persistence. It continues to assert that the West alone is the sponsor of freedom and the advocate of human rights and equality for the sexes.
Their strategy is to defame Islam, accusing it of being the cause of 'backwardness' among the people and asserting, therefore, that Islam should be abandoned. They further assert that the only way to 'progress' lies in embracing the standards and culture of the West and to accept its leadership in all worldly matters. In addition, they accuse Islam of restricting freedom or free expression of opinion.
It is also noteworthy that Muslim combatants, no matter what their cause may be, are almost exclusively labeled in pejorative terms, such as 'terrorists,' 'extremists,' 'Islamists,' 'fundamentalists,' 'rebels,' 'anti-government factions,' and the like. In addition, the facts of the circumstance for which they may be struggling are rarely ever provided in the non-Muslim media.
On the other hand, in a negative matter, e.g. a crime, where the identity of the person is mentioned, the reporter finds it necessary to include his religious affiliation if he is a Muslim! These tactics are quite familiar to those who have witnessed the reporting of oppression by the oppressors in any time period, so nothing has changed in this regard.
Simultaneously we see unprecedented efforts to promote Western-style democracy and its approach as not just the best way to problem solving but as the only way. The proponents of these positions further imply, if they don't say outright, that those who fail to agree to such views are out of step, less developed, unenlightened, or not deserving of full respect among the community of nations.
So the issues of governance are thrust 'front and center' of world opinion. The notion that the adaptation of Western-style democracy as a religion and ideology, and that the democratization of institutions gives them primacy over other forms of governance seems especially aimed at Islamic institutions and Muslim communities.
Response to the West's Assault on Islam:
It is important today for people everywhere to have a clear and accurate understanding of Islam (the religion of the past, present and future), and to give Islam a 'fair hearing.' Islam is the only system that offers a total way of life to meet man's spiritual and moral requirements, and to offer a blueprint for man's life on earth until the Day of Judgment. Islam is so appealing and natural to human nature, its moral system so characterized by justice, that it is irresistible to the one who seeks correct worship of his Creator and a way of life at the same time.
A monumental fact that will forever distinguish Islam from other systems is that in Islam that which is legal can never be immoral and that which is immoral can never be legal. Under any other legal system that which is legal may be immoral and that which is immoral may be legal. The institutions of governance in Islam would never permit such a violation of its mandate as the religion to guide all of humanity until the end of the world (the Day of Judgment).
In his book "Freedom to Express Opinion in Islam", Sheikh Abdussalam Al Basuni tried to address the media assault by the West upon Islam and to refute its numerous false assertions. He showed that although the Islamic system, which is based upon Qur'an and sunnah, is without fault, what we see practiced in 'Muslim countries' can hardly form the basis to judge the religion of Islam. Some of the salient points he makes are summarized as follows:
- Accurate information is provided about the concept of 'freedom of opinion' and the discrepancies between its being proclaimed and its actual practice in Islam, Muslim countries, in the West and elsewhere. Contrary to the accusations that Islam restricts 'freedom' and the 'free expression of opinion,' Islam promotes, encourages and obliges its adherents to exercise their freedom, and protects their right to do so. Freedom of opinion is a tenet within the Islamic system. In other words, Islam has systemic guarantees to the freedom of opinion as illustrated within the following briefly stated points.
- There is reward for the Muslim who gives advice to others and speaks the truth to support justice, and reward for the Muslim who does not conceal evidence or withhold witness for the sake of Allah.
- There is a prohibition of frightening, jailing, torturing, or using any kind of punishment against Muslims because they express their opinions lawfully.
- The Muslim community is responsible for supporting and protecting any Muslim who expresses his opinion as long as it is pertinent to enjoining what is right.
- Muslims are to hold a good opinion of others, without suspicion or doubt about their actions and intentions.
- Islam guarantees easy access to the ruler and to express an opinion before him.
- The Muslim has the right to sue the state if there is any kind of oppression. There is independence and separation of the judiciary from all authorities, even that of the Caliph.
- It is not acceptable in Islam to impose an opinion in the case where more than one opinion is possible.
Concepts of Democratic Rule in the West and in Islam:
What distinguishes Islamic democracy from Western democracy is that the latter is based on the concept of popular sovereignty, while the former rests on the principle of Qur'an and Sunnah. In Western democracy, the people are sovereign, while in Islam sovereignty is vested in God and the people are His caliphs or representatives. In Western democracies the people make their own laws; in Islamic democracy people have to follow and obey the laws (Sharia) given by God through His Prophet. So, in one form of democracy the government undertakes to fulfill the will of the people; in the other the government and the people are obligated to fulfill the will of God as recorded in the Holy Qur'an and respected Sunnah.
Limitations of Democracy, Examples:
Whether we focus attention upon governance on larger or smaller, local or global affairs we see the fallacy of secular claims for equating democratic rule with the public's best interest or for the benefit of humanity as a whole. Yet people in the West persist in the habit of attributing every beneficial development in the world to themselves. So they assume the role of criterion-setter, standard-bearer, crusader, judge and global monitor of noble values and rights!
We must understand that the usefulness of 'freedom to express opinion' is limited and that democracy itself is an imperfect form of governance. Here we have selected for discussion five areas where the 'popular will' or the right of voters has led to potentially disastrous national social consequences. Because the United States of America is the world's leading democracy and chief advocate for 'democratic' principles, it was decided to examine these issues in the context of democratic processes there.
- capital punishment,
- euthanasia, and
- sanctions as an economic weapon against another nation are particularly relevant at this time.
A common thread shared by these issues is that each has been specifically addressed in Islam. Gambling, homosexuality, euthanasia (suicide or taking of a life without just cause), and sanctions as a weapon (collective punishment) are specifically prohibited, while capital punishment has been prescribed for specific offenses, e.g. adultery, killing without right, etc.
In these matters, Muslims maintain that the rulings of Islamic law (Sharia) derived from the Qur'an and respected Sunnah bear sufficient evidence and wisdom for them to practice in their daily lives. The position of the believing Muslim is 'what Allah and His Messenger have legislated, I have no opinion in the matter; I hear and I obey'. The Muslim is pleased with what Allah has Legislated for the whole of humanity. He knows he can trust the Divine Wisdom of the Creator in these matters because he sees the benefits of his compliance and the consequences of disobedience in practical life.
On the other hand in secular democracies with man-made constitutions, where the will of the people has primacy, the formulation and enforcement of laws may vary according to numbers of votes, results of opinion polls, attitudes and desires of elected officials, and any number of other interests. These societies, that reject religion (moral law) and religious practice as the basis of their legal foundation, must then rely upon human (man-made) values, interests, and opinion for their existence. Rulers and the ruled in such democracies vie with one another to reach some kind of consensus (social contract) supposedly for the common good of most people (presumably the electorate), or the country as a whole.
What we witness from the discussions of our selected topics is that when public policy is established based upon the supposed 'desires of the people,' the people and the country are faced with profound moral dilemmas they can not resolve no matter how hard they try.
In other words, when human beings decide to venture into matters in ways contrary to what the Creator has legislated, they are unable to extricate themselves from the adverse consequences of their decision, and find that the benefits they thought they would derive from such transgression have eluded them.
1- The Issue of Gambling:
Gambling is the betting or staking of something of value, with the consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident or have an unexpected result by reason of the bettor's miscalculation. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Historically, gambling has been frowned upon and generally prohibited. In fact, gambling in America until recent times was considered immoral, sinful behavior and condemned by most religious groups and Church authorities even though certain forms of gambling (e.g. private poker games, regulated horse racing, etc.) were acceptable in some social circles. The state of Nevada, of course, has been an exception.
Over the last 25 years, however, many states have liberalized their policies toward gambling. In the 1970's gambling was legalized in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and state lotteries became popular. Since 1988, 19 states legalized casinos and 10 legalized video poker or slot machines at racetracks and bars. All told, it is estimated that Americans wagered more than 550 billion dollars on legal gambling in 1997 - a 3,200 % increase since 1976. ("Is There a Cure for America's Gambling Addiction?" by Bernard P. Horn. USA TODAY (May 1997), Section: Life in America)
In 1975, the Federal government allowed state lotteries to advertise on television and radio for the first time, resulting in a flood of commercials promoting gambling. What was once considered unacceptable behavior now became not only tolerated, but also encouraged. When gambling became legal (as with other vices), it also became marketable.
As attitudes changed, so did the games. Government offered more opportunities to bet with faster action and bigger prizes. In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans, without state regulation could offer legal gambling on Indian reservations. In 1988 Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) that included a process for tribes to acquire new land for gambling far from their reservations. These actions led cash-starved states and municipalities, eager to raise revenue, but reluctant to raise taxes to seize a prospect of something for nothing. Since Indian gambling was coming anyway, states reasoned they might as well legalize commercial casinos, which, unlike Indian casinos, they would be able to tax. For years, lawmakers forgot why gambling was considered a 'vice'.
By 1994, a considerable body of evidence showed that the expansion of legalized gambling destroys individuals, wrecks families, increases crime, and ultimately costs society far more than the government makes. In addition, a 50-state study showed that lotteries don't increase education spending. Instead, states use lottery dollars in place of state revenues that had gone to schools.
In summary, gambling in the USA was once kept at 'acceptable' levels by public censure, when it was viewed as immoral, a public evil, vice and not to be publicly engaged in by 'good' people. If a person chose to gamble, it was a private matter that he engaged in knowing that there were adverse social consequences, and moral consequences according to all major religions.
From this example we can see that to transform immoral, private behavior into legalized, acceptable behavior as a matter of public policy (by the electorate, government representatives, etc.), the religious community is necessarily pitted in the arena of public opinion against those forces that seek only profit. Opinion polls are conducted. Media campaigns are launched to convince the people that there are benefits to legalizing 'vices,' and politicians are persuaded that it is in their interest to avoid unpopular increases in taxes by these less intrusive means.
As a result, through democratic processes the moral fabric of the nation is further eroded and society becomes enmeshed in widespread social problems from which it cannot extricate itself.
2- Homosexuality and Lesbianism:
Homosexual behavior is a phenomenon with a long history, to which there have been various cultural and moral responses, primarily to limit its rise and discourage it from spreading. But today in the West homosexuality and lesbianism are being called "alternative lifestyles," "personal preference," "a natural variation," etc., terms which suggest that these historically deviant behaviors are now acceptable to public view.
We have recently witnessed a concerted and intense campaign in the media and in leading cultural institutions to advance the "gay" and lesbian cause. In America these activities are part of a new movement that variously presents itself as an appeal for compassion, as an extension of the civil rights movement for minorities, and as a cultural revolution. This gay and lesbian movement aggressively proposes radical changes in social behavior, religion, morality, and law. ("The Homosexual Movement: A Response by the Ramsey Colloquium," 1994, First Things (41), March 1994, pp. 15-21)
This movement has raised a sharp moral challenge to the hypocrisy and immorality of Western culture in general. In the light of widespread changes in sexual behavior and attitudes, many homosexuals protest that the sexual license afforded to heterosexuals should not be denied to them.
Permissive abortion, widespread adultery, easy divorce, radical feminism, and the gay and lesbian movement appeared at about the same time. They have in common a declared desire for liberation from constraint associated with an allegedly oppressive culture and religious tradition. They also share the proposition that the body is little more than an instrument for the fulfillment of desire, and that this fulfillment is the essence of being human. Those segments within the religious community of the West and all those who are committed to resist this concerted effort to destroy heterosexual marriage, as the basis for family living must be equally concerned for undiminished integrity, in teaching and practice, regarding religion-based sexual ethics.
Sin occurs from freely and knowingly acting in a way contrary to God's purpose. What is in accord with human nature is behavior appropriate to what men and women are intended to be as God created and calls them to be through His Prophets and Holy Books.
Therefore, homosexuality and extramarital heterosexual behavior (fornication and adultery) must be condemned as sinful. These acts are not only destructive of individual character, contribute to numerous health problems, suicide and depression, but also undermine the normative character of marriage and family life. Most importantly, these acts and their effects lead people and communities to face a great responsibility on The Last Day.
- Capital Punishment
We have included this section on capital punishment (the death penalty) to illustrate again how in Islam freedom to express opinion, even when limited by specific rules, can have the greatest benefit for society. The word 'capital' in 'capital punishment' refers to the person's head. In the past, people were often executed by severing their head from their body. Beheading with the sword for capital crimes is still practiced in some countries, e.g. the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Today there are seven main methods of execution used worldwide: hanging, electric chair, firing squad, gas chamber, lethal injection, guillotine, and stoning.
In our discussion of capital punishment in Islam, we will see that the legal process allows for the opinion of the family of the victim to be considered even up to the time of the court-ordered execution of the murderer. We have limited our focus to capital punishment rather than punishment in general, and presented legal issues as concisely and briefly as possible. Our aim is to provide an Islamic perspective in contrast to that of the West on another matter that has broad social consequences. Much of our discussion is derived from Dr. Muhammad S. El-Awa's work, "Punishment in Islamic Law" (American Trust Publications, Indianapolis, USA, 1998).
To understand the system of punishment in Islam it is necessary to understand the theory upon which it is based. In Islamic law the theory of punishment is based on the belief in the divine revelation contained in the Qur'an and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad. In fact, the Qur'an and Sunnah contain very little, if any theory. Instead, they contain basic rules and commands, usually expressed in a very broad manner and frequently capable of varying interpretations.
For our purposes we will cite references pertaining mainly to capital punishment, a hadd punishment (a punishment that has been prescribed in the revealed text of the Qur'an or the Sunnah, the application of which is the right of God). Allah (in Qur'an) Says, which means, ".We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind." (5:32)
In a Hadith (saying of the Prophet) narrated Anas bin Malik, the Prophet said: "The great sins are (1) to join others as partners in worship with Allah, (2) to murder a human being, (3) to be undutiful to one's parents and (4) to make a false statement," or said, "to give a false witness." (Bukhari)
Undoubtedly the greatest crime known to mankind is murder. It has been punishable under all systems of law up to the present. The punishment prescribed in Islamic law for murder and the infliction of injury is called 'qisas' or 'qawad,' retaliation, that is inflicting on a culprit an injury exactly equal to the injury he inflicted on his victim. Justice is measured "in accordance with the moral standard of just and exact reparation for loss suffered." Moreover, the maxim "a life for a life" stems from the religious principle that all men are equal in the sight of God.
The punishment for homicide and the infliction of injury in Islamic law could be either qisas (retaliation) or the payment of diya (blood money). Qisas itself is divided into two categories: qisas for homicide and qisas for wounds or injuries. Diya is the term commonly used to designate blood money owed for killing. In the Qur'an both kinds of homicide, deliberate and accidental homicide are mentioned. For deliberate homicide the punishment prescribed in the Qur'an is killing the perpetrator or the payment of blood money if the relative(s) of the victim do not demand qisas.
The Qur'an enjoins: "O you who believe! Al-Qisas is prescribed for you in case of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But if the killer is forgiven by the brother (or the relatives) of the killed against blood money, then adhering to it with fairness and payment of the blood money to the heir should be made in fairness. This is an alleviation and a mercy from your Lord. So after this whoever transgresses the limits, he shall have a painful torment. And there is (a saving of) life for you in Al-Qisas (the law of Equality in punishment), O men of understanding, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (pious, righteous persons)." (2:178-179)
And in another verse the law concerning accidental homicide is prescribed: "Never should a believer kill a believer unless by mistake. And whoever kills a believer by mistake should free a believing slave and pay compensation to the family of the deceased unless they remit it freely." (4:92)
Taking these two verses together, the scholars ruled that no qisas is owed for accidental homicide but only the blood money and penance, or penance only. For deliberate homicide, the punishment of qisas means the taking of the culprit's life because of the life he has taken. This is, in modern terms, the death penalty for murder. The scholars have agreed on this, but have different opinions on the method by which it should be carried out.
However, we may conclude that retaliation for deliberate homicide is the punishment prescribed in the Qur'an, i.e. death, and that it should be carried out in the manner that causes the least possible pain. For all other types of homicide (quasi-deliberate, accidental, direct, etc.) the penalty is the exaction of blood money.
In Islamic law the victim or his nearest relatives have three rights. First is the right to demand the execution of qisas, against the murderer. It is the right of the nearest relative of the murdered person to demand retaliation or qisas, and without this demand qisas cannot be inflicted. Second is the right to pardon the murderer in return for his paying the fixed amount of blood money. The diya is, above all, compensation, fixed to satisfy the victim's relatives. Third is the right of the relatives to pardon the murderer freely, i.e., even without taking the blood money. The latter right may be exercised even after the court has ordered qisas to be executed against the culprit. Indeed, the Qur'an (2:178) and the Sunnah recommend the remission of retaliation.
In summary, then, from this discussion we see first, that capital punishment in Islam is fixed (firmly established), that is, punishment for murder is part of the religion commanded by God in Qur'an and Sunnah, and must be carried out. Second, freedom to express opinion by the family of the victim is not only permitted, it is a right and an obligation to do so; third, this right of expression is extended to the point of execution of the offender.
Although we have not discussed costs of trial, confinement and execution of the culprit under the Islamic system, we can surmise that such expenses are minimal when compared with those incurred for capital punishment in Western countries. (More on this later.)
We will now turn our attention to capital punishment in the West. Presently, more than half of the countries in the international community has abolished the death penalty completely, de facto, or for ordinary crimes. However, over 90 countries retain the death penalty, including China, Iran, and the United States, all of which ranked among the highest for international executions in 1998. (Amnesty International, 1999)
Broadly speaking, in Western penal systems the theories of punishment are based on, and justified by, considerations of social utility. In America such considerations are greatly influenced by opinion polls in addition to politics. The death penalty has never been illegal in America; it is permitted by the US Constitution and it is the law in most states. Still the death penalty remains the subject of considerable public debate in America and policies regarding it are shaped by opinion polls, politics, and, perhaps, international influence.
Americans field a variety of arguments surrounding the death penalty. Some theorists justify capital punishment on the basis of three criteria: deterrence, retribution, and incapacitation. Few people would deny that the death penalty deters murder. Still executions are carried out at midnight in remote areas in remote prisons, and the number of people allowed to view them is sharply restricted. Showing executions is not permitted on television, so it is hard for something to be a deterrent if no one can see it. The benefit cited for incapacitation is that murderers, once executed, cannot harm anyone again.
Opponents of capital punishment also say that alternatives to the death penalty should be considered since figures show that the cost of seeking the death penalty in most cases far exceed the cost of such alternatives, e.g. life imprisonment. It was recently reported that the US government spent an additional 1.3 million dollars defending convicted bomber Timothy Mc Veigh after his sentencing in addition to the 13.8 million dollars that had already been spent on his defense for the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. According to records released previously, the US Justice Department spent 82.5 million dollars to investigate and prosecute the case.
A sample of estimates regarding the cost of the death penalty across America revealed the following findings:
- California: elimination of the death penalty would result in a net savings to the state of at least several tens of millions of dollars annually. (The Catalyst, 2/22/00)
- Florida: enforcing the death penalty cost Florida 51 million dollars a year above and beyond what it costs to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole. (Palm Beach post, 1/4/00)
- New York: costs associated with pursuing the death penalty could reach 238 million dollars by the time of the first execution. (N.Y. Daily News, 10/19/99)
- Nebraska: savings from executing an inmate are outweighed by the financial legal costs. (Neb. Press & Dakotan, 1/27/98)
- Federal cases: defense costs of federal death penalty cases were about 4 times higher than in cases where death was not sought. Moreover, the prosecution cost in death cases were 67% higher than the defense costs, without including the investigative costs provided by law enforcement agencies. (a report from the Judicial Conference of the US)
In addition, opponents of the death penalty question whether some governments should kill. Those who take this position often call upon Biblical prohibitions such as the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:7, although this is believed to be a forgery). They also raise issues about the effect upon society with the state permitting premeditated murder, the poor, males, and racial minorities being over-represented among those executed, and the chance for error in executing an innocent person.
Support for the death penalty has fluctuated throughout the past century. According to Gallup surveys, in 1936 61% of Americans favored the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. Support reached an all-time low of 42% in 1966. Throughout the 70's and 80's, the percentage of Americans in favor of the death penalty increased steadily, reaching an 80% approval rating in 1994. Since 1994, support for the death penalty has again declined. Today, 66% of Americans support the death penalty in theory. However, public support for the death penalty drops to around 50% when voters are offered the alternative of life without parole. ("History of the Death Penalty, Part II," DOIC Report, pp. 4-5)
At the international level, in April l999, the United National Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) passed the "Resolution Supporting Worldwide Moratorium On Executions." The resolution calls on countries that have not abolished the death penalty to restrict its use, including not imposing it on juvenile offenders and limiting the number of offenses for which it can be imposed. Ten countries, including the United States, China, Pakistan, Rwanda and the Sudan voted against the resolution. (New York Times, 4/29/99)
In closing this discussion of capital punishment it has again been shown that the role of freedom of expression in Islam is contained within the legal framework of Islamic law. Capital punishment is an element of Islamic law established by Allah's command and must be carried out upon the offender. Likewise, freedom of expression is institutionalized as a right and obligation upon the relatives of the victim. As such, the murderer's fate, for practical purposes, rests with the victim's family. As a legal disposition of murder cases, capital punishment has endured since Sharia was established until the present time and is not subject to change through public opinion, political pressures and the like. The very stability and certainty of the death penalty seems to have safeguarded Islamic society from needless conflicts and subsequent costs in money and in human terms associated with contesting its legitimacy.
We also see that capital punishment still exists in America, one of the last nations in the West to retain it, in spite of internal and external pressures to do otherwise. In America the social utility of the death sentence is given considerable attention, particularly as to the economic cost of implementation. Perhaps, the intense focus upon costs has to do with Americans being taxed at every level of government to pay for services rendered and, therefore they are rightfully concerned when more of their money is going to build prisons than colleges.
Added to these high correctional expenditures is the fact that capital crimes are so much more costly than other offenses to prosecute and bring to finality by execution of the culprit. On the other hand, it is somewhat ironic that the freedom to express opinion is directed mainly toward abolishing a legal penalty that is intended to protect society from the most violent of its members!
4- Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide:
Attempting to kill oneself is a grave sin in Islam, punishable by Allah casting the perpetrator into Hell-Fire. Allah does not burden a person beyond his capacity (2:286). Since suicide is immoral and condemned in the Qur'an and Sunnah, Muslims accept its prohibition and see no reason to question its legality or consider it as an option.
However, in America (and many other secular societies) an active political question is whether individuals should be allowed to choose suicide, or whether they should be forced to follow the theological beliefs of the dominant religion. A similar point is raised regarding choice in abortion and prayer in public schools, a matter still unresolved and hotly debated.
For the purpose of discussion, we will try to briefly define terms, identify some important points raised by sides for and against euthanasia, some techniques employed to determine public policy, and the results of those efforts.
The word Euthanasia means the intentional termination of life by another at the explicit request of the person who dies. The term normally implies that the act must be initiated by the person who wishes to commit suicide, but other distinctions need to be made:
a - Passive Euthanasia - hastening the death of a person by altering some form of support and letting nature take its course, e.g. giving a patient large doses of morphine to control pain, but which may also suppress respiration and cause death earlier than it would otherwise have happened. Such doses of painkillers have a dual effect of relieving pain and hastening death. Administering such medication is regarded as ethical in most political jurisdictions and by most medical societies.
b - Active Euthanasia - causing the death of a person through a direct action, in response to a request from a person.
c - Physician Assisted Suicide - a physician supplies information and/or the means of committing suicide (e.g. a prescription for a lethal dose of sleeping pills, or other substance) to a person, so that he can easily terminate his own life.
d - Involuntary Euthanasia - describes the killing of a person who has not explicitly requested aid in dying. This procedure is often done to patients who are in a 'vegetative state' and will probably never recover consciousness. ("Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide: All Sides of the Issues")
According to Western traditions there are two basic positions regarding suicide and euthanasia. Traditional Christian beliefs concerning all forms of suicide were well documented by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 CE). He condemned all suicide because it violates one's natural desire to live, harms other people, and held that life is the gift of God and should only be taken by Him. Pro-choice advocates find support from Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592 CE), who was the first major dissenter among European writers. He wrote 5 essays touching on the subject of suicide and argued that suicide should be a matter of personal choice, a rational option under some conditions. These are essentially the two basic positions today.
In reality, the basic question posed by euthanasia/assisted suicide is whether to give assistance in dying to a person with the following conditions:
- He is terminally ill, and
- Feels his life is not worth living because of intractable pain, and/or loss of dignity, and/or loss of capability and
- Repeatedly and actively asks for help in committing suicide and
- Is of sound mind and not suffering from depression.
Suicide is a legal act that is theoretically available to everyone. But the terminally ill person or the patient confined to the hospital may not be able to exercise this option and may need assistance. To frame the debate for euthanasia succinctly, the pro-choice advocates believe that people should be empowered to have control over their bodies and should not be forced to follow theological beliefs of the dominant society.
The opponents of euthanasia find support mainly from three groups: conservative religious groups who believe that life comes from God and only God should end it, from medical associations whose members are dedicated to saving and extending life, and from groups concerned with disabilities who fear that euthanasia is a first step to get rid of them.
Some liberal church denominations have issued statements supportive of allowing individual decision making with precautions to avoid abuse. The various factions have appealed to public opinion for support of their respective positions and individuals have applied to various courts seeking a legal right to euthanasia.
In states where the electorate had contested euthanasia, a costly vigorous struggle resulted between conservative religious groups and medical caregivers on one side and supporters of 'death with dignity' on the other. Notable are Maine, Michigan and Oregon where millions of dollars were spent before the issue was finally decided.
Individuals who have sought the right to assisted suicide through state courts have not been successful, e.g. in Colorado (2000) and Florida (1997). The U. S. Supreme Court (1997), ruling on cases from New York and Washington where state laws criminalizing physician assisted suicide for terminally ill patients had been declared unconstitutional by U. S. Curcuit Courts of Appeals, found that the average American has no constitutional right to a physician assisted suicide. On the other hand the court implied that there is no constitutional bar to prevent a state from passing a law permitting physician-assisted suicide. Oregon managed to pass just such a law. (Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide)
Numerous opinion polls have been taken. However, the results vary according to the precise question asked. Some results show support for choice regarding euthanasia at: 57% in favor, 35% opposed in the US (CNN/USA Today poll of 1997-JUN); an earlier Gallup Poll taken in 1966-MAY showed 75% support.
Ballot measures have been voted upon in three states of the United States. They showed support at:
- 46% in Washington (1991)
- 46% California (1992)
- 51% Oregon (1994); 60% in (1997)
The law permitting euthanasia in Oregon went into effect in October 1997 after clearing all court appeals by opponents. Immediately after the law was affirmed, the administrator of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wrote a policy statement warning that the government would impose severe sanctions on any doctor who wrote a prescription for lethal doses of medicine for a patient.
By mid-1988, Attorney General Janet Reno reversed this earlier ruling stating that the drug laws were intended to block illegal trafficking in drugs and did not cover situations like the Oregon suicide law. (Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide)
Most recently (Nov. 2001) Attorney General John Ashcroft said that doctors who use federally controlled drug to help patients die, as permitted under Oregon's law, face suspension or revocation of their licenses to prescribe the drugs. An Oregon judge has temporarily blocked implementation of Ashcroft's decision.
In summary, physician assisted suicide seems to be:
- Permitted in Oregon under very tightly controlled conditions,
- Not specifically mentioned in the laws of North Carolina, Utah and Wyoming,
- A crime in all other states.
From this brief discussion, it would appear that the forces against euthanasia in America have prevailed except in Oregon. What we see from this limited victory however is that when public policy is being decided by the 'democratic' process on matters already legislated by the Creator, deep wounds are opened in society without lasting satisfaction or benefit to any segment of its citizens.
The methods used to express opinion in mass decision-making in 'democracies', i.e. polling, holding elections, etc. are often very expensive, and mobilize religious groups against other well-meaning segments of the society into bitter conflicts that leave lasting polarities between people. In Islam, the acceptance of the decree of the Creator brings closure to such matters and the society is better served by doing so. It is said in the holt Qur'an: "O you who believe! .do not kill yourselves (nor kill one another). And whoever commits that through aggression and injustice, We shall cast him into the Fire, and that is easy for Allah." (4:29-30)
5- Economic Sanctions:
Economic sanctions as a matter of collective punishment is prohibited in Islam for Allah says (interpretation of meaning): "That no burdened person (with sins) shall bear the burden (sins) of another"(53:38) Also, He says (interpretation of meaning): "Every person is a pledge for that which he has earned" (52:21)
Economic sanctions as currently used may be the modern equivalent of the military siege, by which armies throughout history sought to compel capitulation by destroying the people's will to resist. As such, economic sanctions must be considered as an act of war conducted by those who possess the power and will to oppress a perceived weaker political entity. Economic sanctions are "diplomatic tools" of oppression backed by military power to crush violators by overt acts of war if necessary to bring about capitulation.
This diplomatic 'big stick' has been used more times by US President Clinton than any other leader in US history. He issued more than half the 125 sanctions ever imposed by the US. Sanctions may include prohibitions on financial transactions, trade in certain US goods and services, in addition to travel by US citizens to targeted countries. More than 75 countries with over two-thirds of the world's population are subject to US economic sanctions - whether to discourage weapons proliferation, bolstering human rights, deterring terrorism, stifling drug trafficking, discouraging armed aggression, promoting market access, protecting the environment or replacing governments.
Unilateral sanctions almost never work. Secondary sanctions, trying to compel others to join a sanctions effort by threatening sanctions against them, can seriously harm relations with the secondary states. Sanctions have caused humanitarian suffering (Haiti), weakened friendly governments (Bosnia), bolstered dictators (Cuba) and left countries with little choice but to develop nuclear weapons (Pakistan).
Viewed from the US perspective they are expensive, costing US businesses billions of dollars a year and many thousands of workers their jobs. Economic sanctions are imposed whenever political leaders are not prepared to use military force or carry out more appropriate, but more controversial policies. In fact, it is a form of intervention into the legitimate affairs of other countries that can and often do cause great damage to innocent people without accomplishing the purpose for which it was intended.
Taking Iraq alone, as an example, we see that this once oil-rich country and one of the wealthiest nations in the Middle East as the result of economic sanctions has child deaths now numbering in the hundreds of thousands due to malnutrition. There is also an almost total breakdown of health and other basic services, according to UN statistics. Even within the UN this has become of moral issue.
It is noteworthy that although these facts are well known to the American electorate who can, if they wish, voice their opposition, their representatives continue to vigorously support economic sanctions against Cuba, Libya, Iran, and Iraq, for example.
This essay is in response to allegations made in the Western media that Islam restricts freedom or free expression of opinion, and to assertions that the West is the sole sponsor of freedom and advocate for human rights. Islam, far from being a hindrance to free expression of opinion, is profoundly embedded with principles, elements, strategies, commands, and practices, etc., which, if applied guarantee perpetual well-being in society.
On the other hand, readily available information and facts have been presented to show that freedom to express opinion in Western democracy, esp. America, has not led to 'Utopian-like' progress but rather, to its opposite with respect to moral decay, suffering, wasted resources, demoralization, and massive destruction of societal infrastructure, in the case of economic sanctions.
This discussion of these matters has been brief but to the point. The selected examples clearly show that reliance upon opinions expressed by the 'masses' in matters prohibited in Islam by The Creator only leads to unhappiness, widespread immorality, antagonisms between the religious community and those who claim to be well-meaning, and worse - the destruction of whole generations by use of economic sanctions. We can conclude that when a nation's use of freedom to express opinion for its governance exceeds moral bounds, that nation will accelerate its descent toward the abyss of moral depravity!