Iranian Grand Ayatollahs Weigh in on Public Executions
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
As you well know, carrying out “public executions” in the current situation has strengthened the enemies of Islamic unity and caused our Sunni brothers to be cynical and suspicious of Shiites; they have also painted a picture unbecoming of Islamic Rule, the true and authentic beliefs of the school of Ahl-al-Beit of Purity and Immunity from Sin (a nomenclature used to describe the Prophet’s family and descendants, forming the 12-Imams Shiite religion), and of the Shiite school of thought, in the minds of believers and non-Moslems, alike. Undoubtedly, “public executions” have a debilitating effect on the religion of Islam and its tenets, especially in Western and European societies, not being acceptable or logically justifiable [in their minds] and in the minds of [our] opponents [and the naysayers]. Given the [negative] view that has persisted toward Islam and Shi’ism in the four corners of the world after the victory of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, and given that Islamic Iran is considered the mother of the Islamic world, and the Iranian people and government’s deeds are a model for and explanatory of Islam, there is an adverse effect attached to [such executions]; opponents consider Islamic Iran to have the highest number of executions in the world and wrongly attribute that to Islam itself, and conduct countless negative propaganda [on that basis] against [our] Islamic Rule and the Shiite school. In addition, in view of the statistics, not only have public executions not brought about greater respect for Islamic tenets in Iranian society, but on the contrary, they have caused widespread propagation of corruption and various sins in society, including slander and the undermining of the integrity of the criminal’s family, encouraging violence and causing it to lose its [inherent] ugliness and heinousness. Furthermore, children have repeatedly watched these scenes [of execution] which, in and of itself, can lead to the criminal becoming a role model and thereby “promoting sin.” In the absence of Imam [Khomeini] (Allah’s Mercy Be Upon Him) who was extremely sensitive about unity among Moslems and about doing away with negativity and illusory pretexts and excuses [for disunity], and given the extremely negative effects of “public executions” enumerated above, we kindly ask that [you], that Most Great Expert of the world of Islam, provide Islam’s Holy Shari’a’s ruling regarding the following questions:
a) Is watching an execution permitted for children and other individuals not of age? Is the Islamic government obligated to prohibit [such watching]?
b) Given the above, should images of execution be broadcast on official media?
c) Given the above, should “public executions”, in general, be permitted in the current situation?
d) Do you think substituting a death sentence (except in particular cases such as Qesas) with other measures, including memorizing the Holy Koran, or a 20-year sentence is legally, [from a Shari’a perspective] possible or permitted?
A number of Iranian students residing in Europe
Opinions and Answers:
Grand Ayatollah Bayat Zanjani
“Greetings. Thank you for your special attention to and scrutiny of the subject. I must explain that there is no evidence of the desirability of public executions in Islamic legal sources. Even in cases of Qesas, the Lawmaker, as evidenced by the words of the Koran, prefers pardon to Qesas and encourages [forgiveness]. As for the other cases, public executions are not legally [from a Shari’a perspective] permitted if they are offensive to religion, cause negative effects on the education [and upbringing of children], and undermine [the legitimacy of] religious government and the principles of Shari’a. There is no legal or religious bar to substituting executions not provided for specifically [in the Koran] with other sentences.”
Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini Mussavi Zanjani
“In the event that carrying out a sentence weakens people’s belief in Islam itself, because society is not mentally ready for it, then safeguarding Islam is most important and the sentence should not be implemented. Further, Shari’a itself rules that caution should be exercised in three matters: property, life, and abandonment [of property or people]. The punishments meted out by certain Hodud (Islamic sentences for certain serious crimes) are severe and in ascertaining whether they are warranted, [one must act on the side of caution, because] there are doubts as to what Shari’a actually requires [in those cases]. “Todrae al-Hodud Bel-Shobahat (literally meaning ‘Penalties are deleted by doubts’ that is, ‘In order to implement Hodud punishments, there must be certainty.’) On that basis, therefore, implementation of certain Hodud which society deems [too] severe and puts in doubt Islam’s kindness and munificence, can be put in abeyance until such time as the cultural conditions and [understanding of] social justice are ripe for it. And Allah knows best.”
Grand Ayatollah Guerami
“Where [the crime] calls for a death sentence, it is not necessary that it be [carried out] in public. In cases where the Koran has required that for certain sins, a tribe bear witness to the execution, three individuals can be considered a tribe [for that purpose], even two, and it has been said even one! In cases of stoning, the population is invited but that [sentence] is not necessarily a death sentence, because it is possible the person does not die with the pebbles, and survives, in which case he/she has been saved. In our Tozih-ol-Massael treatise, we posited a case where implementation of certain Hodud punishments is forbidden in circumstances that can cause weakening of religious belief or deviation in those with already weak belief. Refer to it.
Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Mohammad Dastgheib
a) Families must prevent children from watching.
b) There is no need to broadcast.
c) This sentence is for very specific cases and is [by no means] a generality.
d) It is not possible in Hodud [punishments] but in Ta’zir [punishments], a well-qualified religious expert judge can exercise his own judgment.
Grand Ayatollah Shobeiri Zanjani
a), b), and c): Implementation of Hodud in public is not a requirement of the [Islamic] religion and, in carrying out Hadd punishment for adultery, there is even [considerable] disagreement. There is no argument, of course, that it is inherently preferable.
- Assuming the presence of [spectators] causes mischief, prohibiting the participation of people is permitted, as determined by the Shari’s judge. The same is valid for broadcasting the images.
d) Modifying Hadd punishment for [the crime of] murder to something else is not permitted, unless there is an expediency of the highest order contrary thereto.
Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi
“Public execution is permitted in cases where it has a positive effect [on society] such as where the crime that has been committed has created fear and anxiety and everyone is demanding the punishment. But in cases where it has a negative effect, not only is public execution not necessary, it is actually not permitted. In cases where there is a necessity for a public execution, it is best to prevent children and people for whom it is harmful from watching it. Additionally, what you said about Sunnis becoming cynical and suspicious, they have capital punishment in their [religious] laws as well.”
Grand Ayatollah Mohaqeq Kaboli
a) If it causes mischief, children must not be present.
b) If it causes mischief, it must not be broadcast.
c) Public execution is permitted so that people can be punished and learn a lesson. In certain traditions [of the Prophet and the Imams], it has been prescribed to call on people to attend so that they learn a lesson.
d) The Shari’a judge may do whatever he considers expeditious, to modify [the punishment].
May you be prosperous in God’s protection.”
Grand Ayatollah Alavi Gorgani
a) If the Shari’a judge considers that children and persons not of age watching can cause negative effects, he can prohibit them from watching.
b) If it is determined that broadcasting such images causes negative effects, he can decree to prohibit such broadcast.
c) Since these are state matters where the Shari’a judge (well-qualified religious expert) must determine the necessity thereof, if he determines that public execution is highly detrimental, he can prohibit it.
d) It can be modified if the Shari’a judge (well-qualified religious expert) so determines.
Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Sadq Rohani
a) Young children not of age are frightened by watching executions and it is not religiously mandated.
b) The answer to this question can be determined from the answer to the previous question.
c) If there are no spectators of Hadd punishments and of public executions … the domino effect you’re thinking of will not occur.