Sinners and Criminals

By Noman Wazir.

Every crime is a sin but every sin is not a crime. The dictum oftentimes resounds in the legal recourses and discourse. Plenty of examples can be given in support of it.  For instance, murder, theft, rape etc are both crime and sin, while not attending the church; synagogue or Masjid regularly is a sin but not crime. It gave rise to two systems of rules viz. ethical and legal systems.

The dictum has some shortcomings as well. If a group revolt -whether on justifiable or unjustifiable grounds- against the existing authority which maintains the law and order situation, as such they want to bring their own set of rules, then they are committing a crime or sin? I’m using the justifiable adjective in the perspective of the revolting group and unjustifiable in the sense of the existing authority. Well, it is a debatable question because every legal and ethical system, which has now been recognized, has come through force. Roman law went where the Romans put their step. The same is true for Arabs, British and all the aggressors and imperialists. No matter what justification they give whether the law was divinely ordained or intellectual endeavors of some individuals, the element of forceful imposition cannot be discarded. It is also a fact that ethical system is mainly developed within a community; however the influence of outer environment-legal system- is also overwhelming.

It will not be wrong to deduce that the legal system is largely system of don’ts while the ethical system is of do’s. The moral codes differ from society to society where the legal system has a principal of universality as such murder comes under the list of don’t all over the world. The legal systems might differ in prescription of punishment. Some prescribe death for murder and others consider it inhuman to punish a murderer to death.

Pakistan has inherited its legal system from British and the ethical system is totally or partially influenced from the Arabs. Therefore, the mix up of these two is making a deadly combo. Most of the times the boundary between the morality and law confound to such an extent that it becomes difficult to differentiate between the sinners and the criminals.

In Article 62 of the constitution of Pakistan, a person who wants to contest election must not be a grave sinner. Now the question is who will define a grave sin, moreover, how could he be convicted of a sin, if it is not directed against the society? Sin involves action or inaction which is either restricted to the person himself or directed against the society. A sin which is directed against the society becomes a crime; on the contrary if it is related to one’s own self then it is not a crime. For example, if a person is not offering his prayer and doesn’t go for umrah or hajj, then he is committing sins but not crimes.

Similarly, in article 63 a member of the Majlis-e-shura (Parliament) can be disqualified, if he is convicted of ‘moral turpitude’. In our society some women are wearing shuttlecock Burkas, some Abhayas, while others observe no burqa at all, just wearing dopatta on their heads. So, how the moral turpitude of a person can be gauged if we have differing moral codes from place to place within a society.

Moreover, if a person repents his grave sins and moral depravities, then he will not be a sinner anymore. Then how could he be held accountable for his misdemeanors in the domain of ethics, if he becomes repentant.

On the same confused notion of sin and crime the amended Ihteram-e-Ramzan ordinance has been unanimously passed by the senate standing committee on religious affairs. It has been introduced in the early 80’s by the Zia’s regime. From that period until now people have enforced its provisions through thorough vigilantism. Many non-Muslims and even Muslims have felt the brunt of it as mob justice is common phenomena in the land of the pure.

I don’t think of state as a moral force that correct the moralities of its subjects rather its job is to secure the life, liberty and property. The sense of security among the people is the most important responsibility which must be properly taken care of by the state. Therefore this is the sole purpose for which laws are made and being enforced, because most of the crimes and sins are committed owing to the insecurities of humans. In Pakistan, however, laws are made to further perpetuate the insecurities. The ihteram-e-Ramazan ordinance is a clear example of it. One cannot eat or drink during the hours of fasting, despite of his illness or fostering different beliefs or even a traveler.

No one can speak his mind in any matter or do anything on his own volition, because everything has become sins and crimes. One can observe that a man and woman sitting in a park is harassed by the police and even booked under the law. A person criticizing certain policies of the government has to go through the worst ordeal, which do not need further elaboration as everyone is fully aware of it.

Henceforth when government wants to fulfill its obligations to its subjects then the laws are for the maintenance of order and security. On the contrary if the government is unable or unwilling to give its people the protection of life, liberty and property then it confuses the function of government. It passes laws which give the impression that the government is doing its divinely ordained job. The recent statement of the Interior Minister Choudhry Nisar Ali Khan, in which he apprised us that how secularism has become a national security threat. Listening to his enthusiastic speech one may wonder that people are being killed and maimed on daily basis in bomb blasts and target killing for which he has to answer and he suddenly felt that secularism is a responsible for all the mess. It gives the impression that our honorable minister wants to apprehend the sinners (seculars) instead of the criminals (extremists).

To cut the matter short, we have to distinguish between the sins and crimes. The state cannot espouse certain religious beliefs because the inclusiveness of the state will ultimately be compromised. Therefore, state should focus on to give the basic facilities for the sustenance of life viz. primary (food, shelter, and jobs), secondary (free education and health) and tertiary needs (electricity, etc). And leave alone the moral character, if people are given all the basic facilities, the majority of them will not indulge in the ills which ail our society.

The writer is a socio-political analyst from Fata. He can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this article are of the contributor and do not reflect the policy of Weekly Pakistan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *