86 Should Anyone Intentionally Destroy A House By Fire
him also shall ye
burn; should anyone deliberately take another's life, him also shall ye
put to death. 62
The law of Baha'u'llah prescribes the death penalty for murder and arson,
with the alternative of life imprisonment (see note 87).
In His Tablets 'Abdu'l-Baha explains the difference between revenge and
punishment. He affirms that individuals do not have the right to take
revenge, that revenge is despised in the eyes of God, and that the motive
for punishment is not vengeance, but the imposition of a penalty for the
committed offence. In Some Answered Questions, He confirms that it is the
right of society to impose punishments on criminals for the purpose of
protecting its members and defending its existence.
With regard to this provision, Shoghi Effendi in a letter written on his
behalf gives the following explanation:
In the Aqdas Baha'u'llah has given death as the penalty for
murder. However, He has permitted life imprisonment as an
alternative. Both practices would be in accordance with His Laws.
Some of us may not be able to grasp the wisdom of this when it
disagrees with our own limited vision; but we must accept it,
knowing His Wisdom, His Mercy and His Justice are perfect and for
the salvation of the entire world. If a man were falsely condemned
to die, can we not believe Almighty God would compensate him a
thousandfold, in the next world, for this human injustice? You
cannot give up a salutary law just because on rare occasions the
innocent may be punished.
The details of the Baha'i law of punishment for murder and arson, a law
designed for a future state of society, were not specified by Baha'u'llah.
The various details of the law, such as degrees of offence, whether
extenuating circumstances are to be taken into account, and which of the
two prescribed punishments is to be the norm are left to the Universal
House of Justice to decide in light of prevailing conditions when the law
is to be in operation. The manner in which the punishment is to be carried
out is also left to the Universal House of Justice to decide.
In relation to arson, this depends on what house is burned. There is
obviously a tremendous difference in the degree of offence between the
person who burns down an empty warehouse and one who sets fire to a school
full of children.
Next: 87 Should Ye Condemn The Arsonist And The Murderer To Life Imprisonment
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