// December 28th, 2009 // Blog

Akmal Shaikh is a British man who was found guilty of smuggling heroin into China, and was subsequently awarded the death sentence. His family has challenged the verdict, claiming that he suffers from bipolar disorder, and that he had been taken advantage of by criminals based in Poland, who gave him the suitcase containing the drugs. Yet, in spite of their pleas, Mr Shaikh is now facing the very real possibility of execution in less than 10 hours.

Virtually every news story serves to remind us of the sad reality: there is little justice in this world. So why does this particular one move me sufficiently to speak out?

Because I do not understand how a judicial system can be so devoid of justice. That is the very definition of absurdity. What grants a system the right to exact justice, when it lacks clear rules about personal responsibility? That is, the attributes that make someone accountable for a criminal deed.

Firstly, the individual has to be aware of their own actions. They should be capable of distinguishing right from wrong – at least to the obvious degree, e.g., is murder right, or wrong? Is it right for a rich person to steal? And so on. There should be no compulsion on the individual towards committing the crime, or deceit that would make them unaware that they were doing so to begin with. These are just a few universal rules that underpin the laws that govern most lands.

So what went wrong in the case of Mr Shaikh? I really do not know. Is his family lying about his mental illness? If so, it wouldn't be difficult to arrange for a doctor to visit the accused, to verify or reject their claim. Then, why has this not been allowed? Do the Chinese authorities refuse to acknowledge the existence of psychiatric disorders, and their effect on the ability for patients to make informed choices?

Word usage is very significant. If Mr Shaikh is truly ill, then what is needed here is not 'mercy' or a 'pardon', but common sense, and a retraction. If Mr Shaikh is mentally incompetent, then the terms 'execution' and 'death sentence' are but a guise for the ugly truth: that what is scheduled to take place at 02:30 GMT is nothing less than murder; the purposeful taking of an innocent life. And perhaps the greatest horror: most premeditated acts of evil take place in secret – yet this one has been announced publicly, for all to see.

Millions will learn of his death within moments of it being declared. I will be one of them. It is as if I am being made witness to murder. And as selfish as it may seem, I do not wish to be.

We all die. We all die. Death is inescapable. But murder is a choice. I pray that the Chinese authorities will make the right one.

15 Responses to “Witness”

  1. Yusuf Smith says:

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    The Chinese communists know nothing of justice nor mercy. All they care about is efficiency. They do not need to care what we think as we will continue to buy their electronics and other exports anyway.

  2. Kayshan says:

    Unfortunately it seems Mr Shaikh will indeed be executed, knowing the Chinese regime they may even bill the family for the price of the bullet. Which is something they have done in the past.

  3. Manas Shaikh says:

    Is there anything we can do?

  4. Manas Shaikh says:

    Inna lillahi wa inna ilayahi wa raji’un.

  5. anon says:

    Interesting. You can’t please mitigating circumstances in a situation like this. Even a severe case of bi-polar syndrome can’t excuse a crime of this sort. By Islamic judicial standards I’m sure the man is self-conscious enough to be judged for his actions. He has no previous history of mental illness; the man has raised a family, and would be considered completely culpable even according to the British legal system. The difference is, here we don’t execute our criminals.

    The world hasn’t lost anything by the death of Akmal Shaikh.

    One more drug pedlar out of circulation.

  6. anon says:

    That’s *plead*

  7. anon says:

    It’s very rare that a criminal doesn’t protest his innocence, or that his family doesn’t defend him. These things would happen even if his guilt were to be established incontrovertibly.

    These silly details shouldn’t distract us from the man’s crime; spreading fasad is a captial offence.

    And it ain’t punished with lethal injection, neither.

  8. iMuslim says:

    @anon: I am no defender of drug dealers. It is clear that they trade in nothing more than polythene bags filled with powdered Hell-fire. Nothing in my post excuses sane, rational people from being given the harshest punishment for such a crime – even the death penalty.

    Your comments on the other hand, are not relevant to the case of Akmal Shaikh.

    Even a severe case of bi-polar syndrome can’t excuse a crime of this sort.

    The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “The Pen is lifted from three (i.e., their deeds are not recorded): a child until he reaches puberty; an insane man until he comes to his senses; one who is asleep until he wakes up.” [Recorded in Abu Dawud #4403, and Ibn Majah #2041]

    Independent eye witness accounts strongly suggest that Akmal Shaikh was suffering from delusional behaviour well before travelling to China. Further, it would not have taken much effort on the part of the Chinese authorities to confirm his mental condition whilst he was in their custody.

    If Allah does not punish mentally ill people for their crimes, neither should we.

    The world hasn’t lost anything by the death of Akmal Shaikh.

    The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: “Seek among your weak ones, for you are given provision and help only because of the weak amongst you.” [Abu Dawud]

    Akmal Shaikh was a vulnerable man who needed help. One less of such an individual means we are one step closer to destruction. I fear the lack of mercy and compassion in your comments are evidence to that effect.


    A sign of the the day of judgement: That there will be many people who are hard hearted and mean.

    Injustice is prevelant and we should prepare ourselves for worse to come as the final age gallops forward, the world pacing towards the end of the timeline.

    It’s quite clear that more could have been done to reach a sounder conclusion with regards his mental state. Although, we move ever closer to injustice and further from justice, we must not get disheartened as justice will prevail as has been promised, all we can do is speak out.

    Nice post and well done for speaking out for something which will be quickly forgotten:

    “When any one of you sees anything that is disapproved (of by Allah), let him change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then let him change it with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then let him change it with his heart, though that is the weakest (kind of) faith.” [Muslim]

  10. Anon says:

    Mental health is a continuum. You can be mentally ill and still be responsible for your actions. What absolves a man of all responsibility for his (in Islam) is insanity- the point at which he lacks the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong. Akmal Shaikh was not insane. He might have been bi-polar, a regular sufferer from bouts of depression- whatever. But he is *still* responsible for his actions. His family’s cock-and-bull story doesn’t do his case any good. If he was insane, why did they leave him to trot the globe on his own? If he was incapable of looking after himself, shouldn’t he have been safe at home, or in an institution? The provision this country makes for the insane is alhamdulillah, far better than most. The suggestion is that he was anything but insane.

    And secondly, I’m pretty disappointed with your argument. A grad student should be able to understand the distinction between insanity and mental illness, i.e. that there is some sort of spectrum involved. Scientists often fail to appreciate the many shades of grey entailed by moral dilemmas like these. Unfortunately.

    And before you jump on every socialist bandwagon that takes your fancy- you should bear in mind that any discussion of ‘inalienable rights’ or ‘justice’ is ideologically charged. You should make some effort to understand the terms of the discussion before you make a fool of yourself.

  11. Anon says:

    Something your article has amply demonstrated.

    There’s no reason to assume that the Chinese penal system, though fraught with inadequacies, lacks any concept of personal responsibility. The Chinese authorities pointed out that Mr Shaikh had no previous record of mental illness. Really, if the best his family was able to come up with is that he was duped and bi-polar- the man was by no means anything other than culpable. That they couldn’t come up with anything better speaks volumes.

    I feel sorry for Imperial. It’s a fine institution and a great shame that it can turn out such specious arguments- albeit indirectly- as yours. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more compelling argument against formalised education than you.

  12. Anon says:

    My arguments don’t evidence a lack of compassion. My compassion is for the victims of crime- for the thousands of lives Akmal Shaikh might potentially have ruined had he succeeded. The shari’ah makes a distinction between those who indulge in sin and those who propagate it. Addicts and their families are the victims, not people who traffic in iniquity and vice. Not to mention victims of the further cycle of violence and petty crime perpetuated by those like Mr Shaikh.

  13. Anon says:

    As the blood brother of someone who’s been diagnosed as being very severely bi-polar, I can tell you that while they might be moody, irritable and prone to bouts of acute depression, they are well aware of their actions and the consequences of their actions. Shaikh has no case whatever. He’s not much more mad than you are (‘Mad Muslimah’), with that veneer of cliched quirkiness you call a complex personality. You wouldn’t know complexity if it sodomised you with a Coke bottle.

  14. ISLAMASAURUS says:

    Anon, you make some good points. And while I agree with some of what you have said, especially with regards the victims of the drugs. Drug smugglers don’t deserve to be in society.

    However, surely China could have delayed it’s decision a little and allowed for further investigation in order to come to a sounder conclusion.



  15. anon says:

    @Islamasaurus: Akmal Shaikh was arrested in 2007. He was executed in late 2009. He had never been diagnosed with a mental illness before his trial.

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