Hudud: Islam’s medieval punishments confusion

Hudud punishments are punishments stipulated by Allah for transgressing particular laws in Sharia (Allah’s law). Hudud punishments are controversial because their severity is usually disproportionate to the crime, for example: a hand cut off for theft, [Quran 5:38] flogging for fornication, [Quran 24:2] crucifixion for highway robbery, [Quran 5:33] and stoning to death for adultery. Also, the crime can be victimless, for example: death for apostasy, blasphemy, and homosexuality. These punishments are embraced by Fundamentalist Muslims, considered not relevant today by Modernist Muslims, and desperately avoided by Orthodox Muslims who use a hadith that requires them to find any reason to not use them. Unfortunately for Orthodox Islam’s credibility, this hadith is not found in any of the “authentic” hadith collections.

crowd of people gathering near jama masjid delhi
Photo by Chattrapal (Shitij) Singh on

Sharia contains extreme punishments, sometimes for things that are not even crimes in western law. Muslims believe these punishments are for crimes against Allah and call them hudud punishments.

Hudud … is an Arabic word meaning “borders, boundaries, limits”. In the religion of Islam it refers to punishments that under Islamic law (shariah) are mandated and fixed by God. These punishments were rarely applied in pre-modern Islam, and their use in some modern states has been a source of controversy.

Traditional {Orthodox} Islamic jurisprudence divides crimes into offenses against God and those against man. The former are seen to violate God’s hudud or “boundaries”, and they are associated with punishments specified in the Quran and in some cases inferred from hadith. The offenses incurring hudud punishments are zina (unlawful sexual intercourse such as fornication), unfounded accusations of zina, drinking alcohol, highway robbery, and some forms of theft. Jurists have differed as to whether apostasy from Islam and rebellion against a lawful Islamic ruler are hudud crimes.

Hudud punishments range from public lashing to publicly stoning to death, amputation of hands and crucifixion. Hudud crimes cannot be pardoned by the victim or by the state, and the punishments must be carried out in public. These punishments were rarely implemented in practice, however, because the evidentiary standards were often impossibly high. For example, meeting hudud requirements for zina and theft was virtually impossible without a confession, which could be invalidated by a retraction. Based on a hadith, jurists stipulated that hudud punishments should be averted by the slightest doubts or ambiguities (shubuhat, sing. shubha). [1] [2]

[ (2019/03/02)]

Here is the hadith:

Ward off the hudud through shuhubaat (ambiguities / doubts)[Musnad Abu Hanifa]

This hadith does not appear in the most authentic collections of hadith, and shows how desperate Orthodox Muslims are to avoid using these barbaric punishments, and perhaps how embarrassed they are by them.

Orthodox, Fundamentalist and Modernist Muslims apply hudud punishments differently. Generally Orthodox Muslims try to avoid using hudud’s extreme punishments, whereas Fundamentalists are keen to implement Sharia including the hudud punishments.

Modernists are horrified by these barbaric punishments and claim they may have been suitable in medieval times when Muhammad was applying them, but Sharia was meant to evolve with time and the hudud’s extreme punishments should never be used today.

Modernists point out some real confusion: Allah specifically says in the Quran that the death penalty is only reserved for murderers and highway robbers:

That is why We decreed for the children of Israel that whosoever kills a human being, except (as punishment) for murder or for spreading corruption in the land {highway robbery}, it shall be like killing all humanity; and whosoever saves a life, saves the entire human race. Our apostles brought clear proofs to them; but even after that most of them committed excesses in the land. [Quran 5:32]

However, Orthodox and Fundamentalist Muslims want to apply the Hudud laws (with varying levels of proof) and kill adulterers, apostates, blasphemers, and homosexuals. If these Muslims are killing people against the will of Allah then perhaps they are apostates? [Read more]

Next article >>

Takfir: Accusation of apostasy in Islam [Read more]

See also

Quran 6:108 – The verse that saved Islam [Read more]

Why the West is confused about Sharia [Read more]

Islam [Read more]


  1.  Wael, B. Hallaq (2009). Shariah: Theory, Practice and Transformations. Cambridge University Press. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-521-86147-2
  2.  A.C. Brown, Jonathan (2014). “5. Muslim Martin Luthers and the Paradox of Tradition”. Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy. Oneworld Publications. pp. 180–181. ISBN 978-1780744209.

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