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Elevating Law Above Religion

Despite the advancing nature of many aspects of modern society, there are occasionally instances of brutality or insensibility that belong in a past and less informed age. In the far more liberal and knowledgeable state of existence that we enjoy, the mere concepts of corporal punishment or public executions are simply abhorrent, and have no rightful place within the environment of a forward thinking civilization. Despite this, these activities still occur, and raise serious questions as to whether governments should do more to instruct and regulate religious practice.

The global community was saddened by recent incidents in Bangladesh, where a 14 year old girl lost her life after a public and particularly brutal flogging. After an allegation of adultery and seeking a physical relationship with a married man, the village elders in her small, rural parish passed a ruling and a fatwa was passed by the local mosque. For this suggested and unproven act of immorality, she was sentenced to 101 lashes of a whip, collapsing after 70 and losing her life in hospital 1 week later.

A Judgement Without a Hearing

Bangladesh is considered to be a fairly temperate and democratic country, adopting contemporary values and a liberal method of rule towards it’s citizens. This, alongside the fact that the Supreme Court outlawed Fatwas and any relevance of religious jurisdiction over a decade ago, should suggest that instances such as this were consigned to an ugly and unbecoming fragment of history. However, it has been suggested that there have been more than 500 instances of such punishments for similar crimes within that time, but have remained covert as those afflicted have been loathe to upset their village elders or local religious leaders.

Even by itself, this instance is particularly brutal. Firstly, the allegations of a physical affair were seemingly based upon an incident where the victim was raped by her supposed lover, making the subsequent hardship she endured even more appalling. Secondary to this, the local religious enforcers followed a strict and uncorroborated segment of religious law to sanction a punishment for an act of immorality rather than an actual crime, while making no effort to give the girl in question a fair or considered hearing. This act is entirely opposed to the official law that exists within the country, and therefore entirely unsupported by either legislation or its enforcement.

To further the sense of injustice and treachery, the initial autopsy after the young girl’s death deemed that no injuries had been sustained and that the fatality was the result of a suicide. Because of this gross act of misconduct, the young girls body was exhumed and re-examined, revealing the details of extensive internal bleeding and severe superficial markings. As the doctors associated with the original autopsy face prosecution in the high court for their actions, the Bangladesh government are now facing questions to how they are equipped to deal with religious rulings or punishments.

Law as the Most Suitable Social Moderator

There are several significant reasons why law and not religious legislation govern society, and one of the most relevant is that law is constructed to be as concise and instructive as it possibly can be. In contrast, religion and its teachings are far less specific, and therefore open to a wider interpretation and understanding from those who study it. In addition to this, the core principles of religious faiths were cultivated thousands of years ago, and most have not significantly changed with improved knowledge or technological application. Law on the other hand is designed to be malleable, and adapted to an ever changing set of social circumstances.

These factors make religion, regardless of its particular manifestation, an unsuitable regulator of social conduct. While it may have values that can determine a followers actions as immoral or opposed to it’s purpose, it is not equipped to judge an act of criminality or punish it accordingly. This is why religious rulings have been deemed illegal in Bangladesh and other democratic nations, in the letter of the law at least, as they simply have no relevance in a contemporary society and often propose the most barbaric of consequences for an undetermined or mildly immoral action.

Despite this, statistics suggest that fatwas and the administration of religious justice is still prominent, and also that governments are required to do more to eradicate them from beneath the surface of their social fabric. In the case of Bangladesh in particular, there is the suggestion that a support exists for a patriarchal system of justice amongst the older generation of citizens, who still administer religious rulings and punishments against the letter of the law that governs the wider society. It is therefore the governments role to enforce the illegality of such practices, rather than simply pass specific legislation and inform citizens and local religious organizations.

Enforcing Law Above and Beyond Religion

Of course, there is a clear distinction passing a law and ensuring that citizens adhere to it, especially where a piece of legal legislation is directly opposed to the core values or beliefs that individuals hold. Therefore, a clear practice and systems need to be in place to deal with any perpetrators who contravene this legislation and attempt to exact a physical punishment in the name of religion rather than law. However, in the midst of such tragic and avoidable circumstances, the government of Bangladesh now have the chance the create a legal precedent for such instances, by punishing those involved and delivering a clear vindication of law being above and beyond religious rulings. This can have an impact globally, and would perhaps mean that the young girl in question did not lose her life entirely in vain.

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Navaid I. Syed is the owner and CEO of / ExcitingAds! Inc. He is a medical doctor and was born in Mirpurkhas, Sind, Pakistan, on July 31, 1964. He graduated from Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences, Jamshoro, Sind, Pakistan, in 1990. He is Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, Philadelphia, PA, USA, certified.

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