Most Malaysians know the literal meaning of the word hudud, the plural of the Arabic hadd. It is found on road signs indicating had laju, or speed limit. The word is used with the same meaning in the Quran, referring to Allah's "fixed limits".
Today, we associate hudud with a fixed set of corporal punishments, including stoning for adultery and amputation for theft. Many people - Muslims and non-Muslims - believe these punishments are mandatory under the Islamic penal code.
However, leading Muslim scho-lars have argued that interpreting the hudud as mandatory does not embrace the full directives of the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.
In all instances where the Quran specifies a punishment, the Quran also calls for repentance, mercy and reformation.
The Quran says to cut off the hand of a thief, "but as for him who repents after having thus done wrong, and makes amends, behold, God will accept his repentance" (5:38-39).
The prescribed punishments for terrorism, adultery and slander also clearly establish that if the wrongdoer repents and reforms, the punishments are suspended (5:33-34 and 24:2-6).
The Prophet did implement the hudud on certain occasions, but on others he forgave and called us to forgive.
In one Hadith, a man came to the Prophet, admitted he had committed a hadd offence, and asked the Prophet to inflict the punishment. The time for prayer came, and the man prayed behind the Prophet.
When they finished, the man again said to the Prophet, "I have committed a legally punishable sin! Please inflict the punishment on me according to the Book of God!"
But the Prophet told him they had prayed together, and God had forgiven his sin.
In another Hadith, the Prophet said: "Avoid condemning the Muslims to hudud whenever you can, and when you can find a way out (of hudud) for a Muslim, then do so. If the hakim (judge) errs, it is better that he errs on the side of forgiveness than on the side of punishment."
Prof Mohd Hashim Kamali, CEO of International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS), notes that while the Quran and the Sunnah call for a calibrated and nuanced approach to justice that enforces punishment and provides opportunities for repentance, mercy, and reformation; the pre-modern justice system did not develop and institutionalise the aspects of reformation and repentance in the Quranic dispensation on hudud.
He adds: "This is a consistent feature of the penal philosophy of the Quran that needs to be reflected in modern Islamic juristic doctrine and in the hudud bill of Kelantan."
How do we do this?