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.

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