In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islamic Criminal Law

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Hudud Offenses
  • Hadd Al-Zina (Unlawful Sexual Relations)
  • Hadd Al-Qadhf (False Accusation of Unchastity)
  • Hadd Al-Sariqah (Theft)
  • Hadd Al-Hiraba (Brigandage/Highway Robbery/Terrorism)
  • Hadd Al-Shurb (Consumption of Intoxicants)
  • Hadd Al-Riddah (Apostasy)
  • Hadd Al-Bughah (Rebellion)
  • Taʿzir: Discretionary Punishments
  • Qisas and Diya: Remedies for Homicide and Intentional Bodily Injury
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Evidentiary Requirements
  • International Criminal Law and Justice
  • Criminal Law and Human Rights Issues
  • English Translations of Primary Texts

Islamic Studies Islamic Criminal Law
Christie S. Warren
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0035


Although criminal law in other legal systems tends to be organized according to the nature of crimes, criminal offenses under classical Islamic law are categorized according to the nature and sources of punishments. Islamic criminal offenses are divided into three categories: (1) offenses and punishments fixed in the Qurʾan or Sunna (hudud); (2) offenses against the person, including intentional injury and homicide, which are considered matters to be settled between the offender and victim, and for which remedies include retaliation (qisas) and financial compensation (diya); and (3) Offenses not fixed in the Qurʾan or Sunna, for which punishments are discretionary (taʿzir). Islamic criminal law is not applied uniformly in all locations—interpretations of Sharia and hudud punishments in countries such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, for example, can be very different. In Pakistan, hudud offenses have been incorporated into state legislation. In recent years, Islamic criminal law has been the subject of commentary and critique by scholars and activists within the international human rights community.

General Overviews

When first approaching the field of Islamic criminal law, it is useful to begin by reading a general overview, since the basic framework, purposes, and sources of Islamic law often differ from those in other legal systems. Some texts introducing the criminal law framework (Bassiouni 1982; Haleem, et al. 2003; Miethe and Lu 2005; Rosen 2000) tend to focus on theoretical aspects and underpinnings of the Islamic criminal justice system. Others (el-Awa 1982, Lippman 1989, ʿOudah 1999, Peters 2005) cast the framework in practical formats that will be recognizable to lawyers and provide detailed descriptions of the elements of each crime, evidentiary requirements, and punishments. Tellenbach 2014 contains less detail than some other sources but provides a useful framework for comparing Islamic criminal law with criminal law in other legal systems.

  • Bassiouni, M. Cherif, ed. The Islamic Criminal Justice System. London: Oceana Publications, 1982.

    One of the first comprehensive collections of essays written in English on the Islamic criminal justice system. Topics include criminal responsibility, procedure, evidence, and punishment.

  • Cammack, Mark. “Islamic Law and Crime in Contemporary Courts.” Berkeley Journal of Middle Eastern & Islamic Law 4.1 (2011): 1–15.

    A short rudimentary overview of Islamic criminal law.

  • El-Awa, Mohamed Selim. Punishment in Islamic Law: A Comparative Study. Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1982.

    A straightforward, concise, and readable introduction to Islamic criminal law, and an excellent starting point for readers interested in gaining an overview of the various offenses, evidentiary requirements, and punishments.

  • Haleem, Muhammad Abdel, Adel Omar Sherif, and Kate Daniels, eds. Criminal Justice in Islam: Judicial Procedure in the Shariʿa. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2003.

    An excellent collection of essays on the essential features of Islamic criminal law, written by well-respected scholars in the field. Topics include the theory of criminal justice in Islam, individual offenses, evidentiary requirements, and judicial procedure.

  • Lawan, Mamman, Ibrahim N. Sada, and Shaheen Sardar Ali. An Introduction to Islamic Criminal Justice: A Teaching and Learning Manual. Edited by Shaleen Mansoor. London: UK Centre for Legal Education, 2011.

    This is a teaching manual for undergraduate and postgraduate students interested in gaining a general overview of Islamic law and Islamic criminal justice. It includes suggested readings, interactive exercises, and several case studies on topics such as sources of law, evidence, and punishments.

  • Lippman, Matthew. “Islamic Criminal Law and Procedure: Religious Fundamentalism versus Modern Law.” Boston College International and Comparative Law Review 12 (1989): 29.

    This article, although somewhat dated with respect to human rights issues, nevertheless provides a solid overview of Islamic criminal law and procedure, and of applicable rules of evidence and procedure.

  • Miethe, Terance D., and Hong Lu. “Punishment under Islamic Law.” In Punishment: A Comparative Historical Perspective. 155–193. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    This book compares economic and physical forms of punishment in several regions of the world. Chapter 6 focuses on punishment issues within the Islamic legal system and briefly analyzes crime statistics from Saudi Arabia.

  • ʿOudah, Abdul Qader. Criminal Law of Islam. New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 1999.

    A comprehensive, detailed, four-volume analysis of Islamic criminal law in a format that will be recognizable to lawyers and law students. The work also provides a comparison between classical Islamic and modern Egyptian criminal law.

  • Peters, Rudolph. Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law: Theory and Practice from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    A concise presentation of classical and modern criminal law; includes elements of each hadd offense, punishments, and evidentiary requirements.

  • Rosen, Lawrence. The Justice of Islam: Comparative Perspectives on Islamic Law and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198298854.001.0001

    This book is somewhat theoretical and may not be useful for those searching for easily obtainable information about Islamic criminal law and procedure, but it does provide an in-depth analysis of Islamic legal theories relating to topics such as equity, logic, justice, and criminal responsibility.

  • Tellenbach, Silvia. “Islamic Criminal Law.” In The Oxford Handbook of Criminal Law. Edited by Markus D. Dubber and Tatjana Hornle, 248–268. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    This comprehensive treatise on criminal law includes a chapter on Islamic criminal law, contextualizing it as a representative legal system alongside medieval canon law, indigenous legal traditions, Jewish law, Soviet law, and military justice systems. The chapter is not long or detailed but provides a thumbnail sketch of general issues.

  • Zakariyah, Luqman. “Custom and Society in Islamic Law: A Critical Appraisal of the Maxim ‘al-Adah Muhakkamah’ (Custom is Authoritative) and Its Sisters in Islamic Legal Procedures.” Arab Law Quarterly 26 (2012): 75–97.

    DOI: 10.1163/157302512X612159

    The role of custom in Islamic legal theory is discussed, and the question whether interpretations may be changed over time when customs change is addressed.

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