Are the Hudud Open to Fresh Interpretation?

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Mohammad Hashim Kamali

Abstract

The issue I raise below is over the scriptural, as opposed to the juristic, understanding of the hudud, and what I am proposing is a revision of the whole concept from a qur’anic perspective that reflects on the following four points.

Let me say first that hudud (‘limits’, pl. of hadd) in the sense strictly of penal sanctions do not occur in the Qur’an. ‘Hudud’ are mentioned 14 times in the Holy Book, all in the sense, however, of limits of proper behaviour that must be observed in a variety of contexts. Six of the 14 instances of hudud in the Qur’an occur in just one passage (2:229–30) in the context of marital relations and limits that the spouses must observe in the events of estrangement, separation and divorce. The punitive connotation of hudud can admittedly be subsumed under the concept of limits, as penalties are also markers and limits that separate acceptable behavior from crime. But to reserve the hudud entirely for certain types of punishments is a juristic convention that does not originate in the Qur’an.

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