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Sunday, 22 Rabi'ul Awal 1426
Justice demands that individuals and groups in a society be given their due rights. And God’s final revelation to mankind, the Holy Qur’an, makes the establishment of justice an unconditional, absolute, and universally binding imperative. For the pursuit of justice to be seriously undertaken at both the individual and collective levels, it is a sine qua non that we be able to distinguish truth from falsehood and facts from opinions, biases and allegations. What guidelines has the Ever-Bountiful Creator given to help us in this essential task? These definitely need to be carefully examined and followed.

In an age when we read, all too often, of the innocence of persons being established by forensic evidence or by unforced confessions of others, after they had already been executed or after they had spent years in wrongful imprisonment, does it not behove us to pay heed to the Divine Guidance in the matter of evidence?

In a time when lying is being glamourised on television and in movies, so much so, that what is being projected as wrong is being found out after lying and not lying itself  - - in an age when bribery, fraud and corruption have increased tremendously, as evidenced by Enron, or credit card fraud, or counterfeiting, or insider trading, etc., -- do we not need to conscientiously follow the Guidance from the All-Wise, All-Knowing, One True God on the matter of evidence?

The Holy Qur’an, the literal, Divinely guarded, unchanged Word of God, free from all inconsistencies and contradictions, clearly stipulates the requirement of ‘TWO WITNESSES’ in certain financial transactions (Qur’an, 2:282), in connection with an infringement of the rules of Hajj  (annual pilgrimage to Makkah) (5:95), in oral bequests (5:106), and in matters of divorce (65:2).

Furthermore these witnesses need to be “possessors of ‘Adl” i.e., reliable, truthful and trustworthy: “If any of you does so intentionally the compensation  . . . as adjudged by two persons who are ‘the possessors of ‘Adl from among you.” (5:95) “And take for witness two persons from among you who are ‘possessors of ‘Adl.” (65:2)

For a witness to be adjudged a “possessor of ‘Adl” he/she needs to be a truthful, morally upright person who does not openly flout the major laws of God. Thus a convicted thief or a self-confessed murderer does not qualify as a competent witness.

The final in the chain of Prophets sent by the One True God to mankind – and Prophets were sent to each and every people in this world at some time in history (13:7) – the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him and on them all), the one sent to expound and exemplify the completed way of life revealed by the One True God, applied this requirement of ‘TWO TRUTHFUL, RELIABLE AND TRUSTWORTHY WITNESSES’ to various civil and criminal matters.

As a society we would be well advised to pay careful attention to God’s Guidance in the administration of justice by our judicial system when trying to determine civil and criminal rights and liabilities.

In Islam, the judge is empowered to listen to depositions by persons who do not qualify as competent witnesses and to make judgments based upon such depositions, in the absence of credible evidence. However he can NEVER give the maximum prescribed punishment (like execution for murder or cutting off of the hand of the thief, etc.) in the absence of the required number of competent witnesses.

In relation to the other two offences – Zina (sexual relations outside of marriage) and accusing another of Zina – the Holy Qur’an lays down the requirement of ‘FOUR’ truthful, reliable and trustworthy witnesses (24:4). Zina is an offence that damages and then destroys the family and debilitates and destroys the society. Thus to establish the offence, a larger number of competent witnesses is required. How unfortunate it is that the prevailing culture no longer deems Zina (adultery and fornication) an offence!  

(The writer, a distinguished scholar of Islam and former Shaikh al-Islam of ASJA, is the head of the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah Islamic Institute in Trinidad.)