Does One Assume a Convict Is Innocent If the Crime Was Not Witnessed?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: A member of my family is in prison. People are saying to us that he is innocent because we didn’t witness these crimes with our own eyes. Is that correct? 

Answer: Assalamu Alaykum

This is an odd standard to uphold innocence since the majority of people never actually witness the crimes committed by those whom a state finds guilty and incarcerates. Rather, the citizenry place their trust in an operational, authoritative, and effective judicial system when it comes to affirming the guilt or innocence of an individual as it relates to a crime.

This is clear in the Islamic tradition as well where the guilt of an individual is judged by the availability of evidence, such as witnesses. When the standards for evidence are met through a sound process, it is fair to conclude that an individual is guilty even if one had not witnessed the crime itself.

Yes, it is certainly true that in some cases withholding judgment is warranted or questioning the conclusion of a judicial inquiry. There have been and continue to be cases of wrongful incarceration. However, this cannot merely be based on not witnessing the act but revolve around issues concerning evidence, process, the law itself and so forth.

The Rights of People Who Have a Criminal History

As for our approach to individuals who have had a criminal history, then there are two points to note:

1. It is natural to be cautious and vigilant around certain people with a criminal history especially if they had committed grave crimes and seem to have not undergone a rehabilitation process, and

2. These individuals still have specific rights affirmed for them by our religion on account of being human beings and Muslims.

Among the foremost of these rights is the continued preservation of their general honor. Simply because they committed a criminal act does not give one free license to gossip, backbite, or slander such individuals.

Another right these individuals possess is the right to rejoin the community (unless there are exceptional reasons to not allow this) and be supported in getting their lives back on track. This returns to the general guidance in our religion to command the good and help our fellow believers and members of our community.

If such individuals happen to be a family member, the familial rights our religion has laid down will also have to be considered, which include the maintenance of some degree of family ties. However, if there are sound reasons to distance oneself and one’s family from such individuals due to reasonably feared harm, negative consequences, and the like then that would be permitted.

The upshot of the brief points mentioned above is that we should take a course of action that is smart and utilizes common sense but also one that is religiously grounded in the god-given rights these people possess and the higher traits of compassion, kindliness, good will, and “loving for your brother what you love for yourself.”

[Ustadh] Salman Younas

Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Salman Younas graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in Political Science and Religious Studies. After studying the Islamic sciences online and with local scholars in New York, Ustadh Salman moved to Amman where he spent five years studying Islamic law, legal methodology, belief, hadith methodology, logic, Arabic, and tafsir. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford and continues his traditional studies with scholars in the United Kingdom.

How Can I Repent From Crimes Committed During My Youth?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: As salam alaykum,

When I was younger, I committed some crimes for which I am indescribably ashamed. I don’t remember how much cash and merchandise I have stolen nor even where I can return it.

How do I repent without being able to return or make up for most of those crimes? Is there still forgiveness if the rights of others are not corrected?

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I pray that this message finds you well, insha’Allah.

Yes, Allah Most High forgives His servants who have wronged themselves, and He grants them closeness to Him, if He wishes, out of His limitless Generosity, and not in accordance with the number or quality of their works.

Allah Most High says, “Say: My servants who have wronged yourselves, never despair of God’s mercy. God forgives all sins: He is truly the Most Forgiving, the Most Merciful.” [39.53]

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) promised that, “The one who repents from sin is like one who never sinned.” [Ibn Majah]

As for the stolen money or goods, these need to be returned to their rightful owners, actually or effectively, in a manner which does not cause you greater harm:

(1) Actually, by returning the item or the money due, even anonymously–with a note, for instance– or by way of a “gift,” to the owner or management, or

(2) Effectively, by giving it away in charity on behalf of the owner when they cannot be located, if they no longer run the business, or if you cannot remember whom you stole from.

With this, you should make a reasonable judgement of the wealth stolen, erring on the side of caution, and then strive to return it, gradually and sustainably, until you are reasonably sure that you have lifted what is due from you.

Please also see: Returning Stolen Property and: Will Allah Forgive Me After Stealing Something That Can’t Be Returned? and: A Reader on Tawba (Repentance) and: How Do I Repent From the Theft I Committed Many Years Ago When I Was a Teenager?

And Allah alone knows best.


Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani