SANAA - The application of hudud (penalties) by Al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemeni provinces under their control is sparking a storm of condemnations from Muslim scholars.
Al-Qaeda has no legal, constitutional or Shari`ah law authority whatsoever to implement death sentences or other hudud punishments, Hamoud al-Hattar, a former Yemeni minister of endowments and guidance, told OnIslam.net.
Militants of Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia group have applied hudud on residents committing crimes in southern Yemen.
In the southern city of Jaar, militants gathered up residents in the main square a few months ago to witness the flogging of five youths for consuming narcotics.
The group said the men were caned 80 times for their disobedience and infraction to God's law.
Last November, militants cut off the hands of a young boy and a man for stealing electric cables, leading to the death of the youngest after a subsequent loss of blood due to the severing of his limb.
Recently, the militants have executed three men on claims of spying.
The killings, which were carried out almost immediately after the sentence was passed, sent shockwaves through the religious community with scholars the act as contrary to Islam.
People are complaining about this terrorist and regressive group which claims to be acting in the name of religion, but it is the one violating religious principles by committing murders and causing thousands of people to be displaced as they flee their homes, Ahmed al-Rawhih, Deputy Governor of Abyan province, told OnIslam.net.
The flogging incident is another example of crimes committed by al-Qaeda, such as cutting off hands and executions carried out in a ridiculous manner, where the perpetrators are using religion as a propaganda tool for their own purposes.
They believe they are carrying out the laws of Shari`ah, but they are ignoring the fact that no one gave them this right.
Ansar al-Sharia captured Jaar in Abyan Province in March last year after the outbreak of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh and have turned it into their main base in southern Yemen.
The group has escalated its activities since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office last month.
Daily clashes break out around the areas controlled by the militants in the south, and at times with armed supporters of a southern separatist movement.
What al-Qaeda is perpetrating, especially by carrying out hudud punishments, are crimes which have been denounced, Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Mohamed al-Qaidi told OnIslam.net.
These are illegal groups; therefore what is built on falsehood is, in its turn, false. Al-Qaeda has no legitimacy or legal justification to carry out hudud punishments such as cutting off hands, floggings or beheadings."
Muslim scholars have warned that Al-Qaeda practices violate Islamic teachings and tarnish the image of the faith.
Allah urges us to treat our fellowmen with kindness and mercy, Sheikh Abdullah Abdel-Malek Amrani, a local imam, told OnIslam.net.
One should first try to correct one's mistake with patience and peaceful means and only when a man fails to understand the error of his ways, we are then allowed to use physical punishment, but under strict criteria.
The Yemeni imam stressed that Islamic teachings reject violence.
Forgiveness is always the better option, he said.
God does not call for violence; He encourages men to walk His path; a path which is guided by love and faith.
Those men proclaim to be serving God when they are only serving themselves and their own ambitions. Ruling through terror has nothing to do with Islam.
Many Yemeni religious leaders have also denounced Al-Qaeda practices, accusing the militant group of being outside Islam boundaries.
Mohammed al-Akwaa, a scholar and Mufti of the Dhamar governorate and a member of the Yemeni Scholars Committee, said the authority to apply hudud lies with the Yemeni president through the judiciary.
He stressed that Shari`ah clearly states that the ruler of the country alone had the authority to carry out hudud punishments.
Doctor al-Jamli from the Center for Research and Studies compared the practices of Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen to the actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda's acts in Jaar are similar to what the Taliban did in Afghanistan, as they embraced the outer shell of Islam without going deep into its essence, in an attempt to create the illusion of implementing Shari`ah law, he told OnIslam.net.
They tarnished Islam and distorted its image worldwide."
He said the militants' application of hudud reflects their misunderstanding of the Islamic principles in legal matters as only the head of the state can decide upon such punishments.
Furthermore, corporal punishments in Islam are subject to very strict sets of rules, always favoring mercy and compassion over violence.
Implementing hudud punishments is the state's responsibility, and if every group that takes control of a region decides to implement the hudud, this will cause chaos, he said.
These laws require a fair judicial system that guarantees the accused the right to defend himself. This is not the case in Jaar.
Sheikh Hassan Al-Sheikh, deputy minister for the Ministry of Endowment and Guidance, agrees.
One of the established facts in Islam is that implementation of hudud punishment or absolving individuals who are wrongly accused can only take place with the approval of the top religious authority whose jurisdiction is mandated by the people, he told OnIslam.net.
"The head of state or top religious authority is not entitled to carry out a death sentence or other had punishment unless it is pursuant to a court ruling, which is only valid if it is based on evidence or a confession by the perpetrator of the crime.It is not permissible for a group, sect, party, or tribe to issue legal judgments, otherwise chaos would prevail.