Are the punishments in an Islamic society dependent on having a just society? In other words, if a person is stealing because they have nothing to eat, is the punishment the same? Or say the case with prostitutes who are in this immoral line of work simply because they need to make money to survive? How should these issues be addressed? It seems as though the Prophet himself would have deplored the social stratification that exists in this society.
I do agree with you to a great extent. I believe that punishments or the penal law of a society is primarily targeted towards safeguarding a society from crime and degeneration. Thus, if a particular crime is a result only of exploitation of a person, then it is only logical to correct the exploitation first and only after that is done, to punish the crime. In my opinion, punishments should be administered only when obvious stimulants to criminal behavior are removed and brought under control. If there is widespread hunger, I do not think it would be justified to punish a person for stealing bread. Likewise, in all other cases.
I would like to clarify here that this issue pertains not to the Shari’ah but to the implementation of the directives of the Shari’ah. There are examples that can be found in history, under all set of laws, where an apparent criminal was not punished because of the provocative circumstances under which the crime was committed. This principle is based on sound reasoning and there is no reason why the courts of law in an Islamic state should not follow it.
But this does not imply that the punishments in an Islamic state should be reviewed or altered. It simply means that if a crime is committed under circumstances that are extra-ordinary in nature, the person involved in such a crime may be excused or a lower punishment may be administered to him.