Muslim thinker fights death penalty

London, England - A prominent Muslim intellectual in Europe, Tariq Ramadan, has called for a moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty in the Muslim world.

Under what are known as the "hudud" laws, adulterers can be stoned to death and thieves can have their right hands amputated.

Dr Ramadan has now launched a campaign which he hopes will resonate across the Muslim world, as well as in the West.

To Western liberals, it is indefensible that such punishments are still carried out in parts of the Muslim world - such as Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia - and they argue the practices should be outlawed.

But Dr Ramadan counters that - since these punishments have a basis in classical Islamic law - it is the wrong approach.

The real issue, he says, is the context in which the hudud penalties are applicable.

He argues that the political and legal systems in the Muslim world do not allow for just and equal treatment of the individual and that "you can't go on killing poor people and women" who, he says, are the main victims of the current situation.

Sensitive issue

His call for a moratorium is likely to be controversial. While it does not go far enough for Western liberals, it goes too far for many conservative Muslims.

As arguably Europe's best-known Muslim intellectual, Dr Ramadan has sparked controversy with his views, especially in France.

But at the same time he has built up a large following, especially among young Muslim men and women living in the West.

This is partly because he is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna - founder of Egypt's oldest and biggest Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, and partly because of his message that it is possible to be Muslim and Western at the same time.

He also argues that Muslim intellectuals living in the West have the freedom to speak out on sensitive issues and are therefore in a position to influence opinion in the heartlands of the Muslim world.