Torture and Islamic Law

23 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2007 Last revised: 29 May 2008

See all articles by Sadiq Reza

Sadiq Reza

Boston University School of Law; New York Law School


This article considers the relationship between Islamic law and the absence or practice of investigative torture in the countries of today's Muslim world. Torture is forbidden in the constitutions, statutes, and treaties of most Muslim-majority countries, but a number of these countries are regularly named among those in which torture is practiced with apparent impunity. Among these countries are several that profess a commitment to Islamic law as a source of national law, including some that identify Islamic law as the principal source of law and some that go so far as to declare themselves "Islamic states." The status of investigative torture in Islamic law has long been unsettled: most early classical jurists forbade it, but some later classical jurists permitted it in at least certain circumstances. The permission some jurists gave the practice in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) was matched and augmented by a broader license jurists gave executive actors in the realm of governance or administration (siyasa), a realm seen as necessarily less constrained by jurisprudential limitations. Historical evidence indicates that investigative torture was indeed practiced by executive actors at various periods and places of the pre-modern Muslim world. Nevertheless, statistical analysis indicates little or no correlation between the absence or practice of torture in today's Muslim-majority countries and the degree of commitment these countries profess to Islamic law. Instead, this article concludes, the absence or practice of torture in a given Muslim-majority country today (and the willingness of Muslim-majority countries to join international covenants that ban torture) correlates with the same factor with which it correlates in a given non-Muslim-majority country: the presence or absence of democratic government.

Keywords: torture, Islamic law, Islamic, Islam, Muslim

Suggested Citation

Reza, Sadiq, Torture and Islamic Law. Chicago Journal of International Law, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 21-41, 2007, NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07/08-11, Available at SSRN:

Sadiq Reza (Contact Author)

Boston University School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

New York Law School

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New York, NY 10013
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