As a complete system of teaching for life, Islam addresses every aspect of life to guide mankind to the best possible solution in every respect. Islam addresses issues of concern for this life and beyond.

Although the teachings of Islam are devised to prepare mankind for the eternal life of the hereafter, it does not neglect man's need for guidance during the brief cycle of life in this world. Islam presents detailed teachings or general guidance for man that is in harmony with his nature, at various stages of his life, and for every situation that he comes across.

On the issue of prison and a prisoner's right therefore, Islam has its own philosophy with regard to the question of imprisonment and the prison system. In general, Islam considers imprisonment as a case of last resort, and in many circumstances imprisonment is not used as a punishment. However, there are a number of offences for which imprisonment has been prescribed.

Any chastisement prescribed by Islamic teachings may only be implemented if all the criteria and preconditions prescribed by those teachings are also met. If any of the criteria is not met, then the prescribed punishment may not be executed. In that condition a judge would consider a lesser punishment to reprimand the offender, as seen fit.

For example, the prescribed punishment for theft could ultimately be amputation of parts of the fingers. However, the author, the most eminent authority on Islam in recent times, cites more than forty conditions, all of which must be met simultaneously, if this punishment were to be carried out; a requirement that is practically almost impossible to meet today.

One of these criteria is that a true Islamic system of government has been implemented in all aspects of life and society, politics and economics, etc. Failing that, Islamic teachings indicate, the prescribed punishment may never be carried out, and a lesser deterrent, if at all, may be considered. Today therefore, when none of the Muslim countries around the world has implemented a true Islamic system of government, this punishment, or any other punishment prescribed by Islam, may not be executed for such reasons as the above-mentioned.

On the issue of imprisonment and related matters, in the first chapter of this book the author addresses the fundamental nature of freedom, and henceforth highlights the harmful effects of imprisonment on the individual concerned, and consequently on the community as a whole.

The rights of prisoners according to Islamic teachings The author then goes on to discuss in some details the disadvantages of imprisonments and its harmful effects, and therefore the need to reduce the number of prisoners to a minimum, and eventually to eliminate prisons altogether.

In this chapter the author also outlines some of the offences that would lead to imprisonment under an Islamic system, and cites cases to demonstrate the attitude and role the Islamic ruler should have towards offence; that is to try to identify issues, or circumstances that would allow him to waive the punishments in any particular case.

In the second chapter, the author addresses the issue of torture in general, and the mental and physical ill treatment that a prisoner is subjected to while in detention under the pretext of interrogation and extracting confession from a detainee or a suspect.

Not only such a confession is totally invalid in an Islamic court of law, but the author decrees that even a wilful confession to be invalid if that confession is made while in detention.

In the third chapter, the author discusses in some detail, the issue of the Islamic penal code, its categories, and in particular the pre-conditions and the criteria that must be met, before any Islamic punishment may be executed in accordance with the Shari'ah.

In the fourth chapter of the book, the author addresses the issue of the rights of a prisoner, and his freedom to engage in various activities ranging from commercial activities to intellectual projects. In the final chapter of this work, a number of Fatwa or Islamic rulings are included concerning imprisonment, detention, torture, and the validity of a confession of a suspect.

This work would be of particular interest to those who are associated or involved with prisoners and prisons in general. Human rights activists would also find this work of particular interest.

Z. Olyabek
September 2002