Several religious texts do prescribe punishments that are to be meted out for different crimes. However, as many of them have been subject to manipulation by the hands of man, much can be seen in them that is incongruous. The Qur'an, however, stands apart in this regard. For the reason that all laws within it are of a divine nature, it is out and out humane; is all encompassing and is relevant for all time.
Consider the punishment for adultery which has been prescribed by different religious texts :
'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife - with the wife of his neighbour - both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.' (Leviticus 20:10)
'If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.' (Deuteronomy 22:22)
Here the Bible has accorded the punishment of death in the Old Testament only in the case of sexual relation with a married woman. As for sexual relations with a virgin, the Bible does not prescribe any punishment. The only 'punishment' as such which can be meted out if such an affair is discovered, is that she must be married off forthwith. 'If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered hethe girl for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.' (Deuteronomy 22:28,29)
What is the reason for prescribing the death penalty for having sexual relation with a married women? The Bible does not even consider the issue of whether the man is married or not. The Bible teaches that the woman is the property of the father until the time that she is married off and is the property of the husband following her marriage to him. It is for this reason that it allows for man even to sell his wife (See Exodus 21:7). The person who commits adultery with a man's wife has only illegally used the woman which isanother man's property. The crime of such a person-whether he be married or not - is one and the same. As man is not seen as the property of woman, the Bible does not deem it a crime that he commits adultery. This fact is further corroborated by the Encyclopedia Judaeca itself. (Encyclopedia Judaeca, Vol. 2, Column 313).
In short, therefore, the Bible sees in the evil of adultery the violation of another's property. It is true, however, that such violation is accorded the death penalty itself. The social problems, the break up of the family or the moral degeneration created by adultery : none of these come within the purview of the Bible.
Observe the punishment prescribed by the Apasthamba Dharma Sutra : 'The Sudra who kills a Brahman must be burnt to death slowly by immersing him thrice in fire. However, if a Sudra is killed by any, it would be sufficient to award one year imprisonment and a fine of twelve cows as penalty.' (As quoted by Krishnananda Swamy in 'The Caste-Wars in India', P.94)
All the laws in the ManuSmrithi are, in their formulation, based on the caste system. This deplorable tendency is evident throughout the laws which sanctify the position of the Brahman while, at the same time, debase that of the Sudra. Wide dispartiy exists in the punishment prescribed for a Brahman who commits a crime and the punishment for a Sudra who commits the a similar one. Briefly then, these laws were not framed for the whole of humanity; they are meant for a society wherein caste system prevails.
shall pay the girls father fifty shekels of silver He must marry No such problems can be seen in the penal laws of the Qur'an. There is nothing in it that is of a despicable nature. Indeed, the ruler and the ruled are both subject to the same punishment for the same crime: undoubtedly, a truly humane outlook.
In similar fashion, the Qur'an views the breaking of the permitted norms of sexual behaviour as an affront to the solidarity of the family set - up and of the society itself. Here, both the man and the woman stand on equal footing. The degree of punishment inflicted here depends on the question as to who had committed the crime and on the gravity of the problems that it can create in society. It can also be seen that as the problems arising from the adultery committed by married and unmarried people are different for each group, the punishment prescribed for them are also different. Here again, it is the humane aspect of the code of penal laws in the Qur'an that becomes clearly evident.