The methods favored for tazir punishment have changed over the centuries.
The least severe form could consist of a mere lecture from the judge. The mainstay method, mentioned in the hadiths on the subject, was beating with a lash (arb bi-sawt). Imprisonment was used from the time of the earliest jurists for short-term functions such as compelling debtors to pay or for detention pending trial (Ali reportedly had a prison built in Basra), but the Muwatta of Malik (d. 79/796) also includes the ruling that someone guilty of abetting in manslaughter should be imprisoned for a year.
Al-Khassaf's (d. 26/874) manual for judges mentions the 'judge's prison,' used for detaining indebted parties while their assets are located and the more severe 'thieves' prison.'
Standard law works in the Maliki and Shafi'i schools set imprisonment as the punishment for mugging or highway robbery in which no life was lost.
Abu Yusuf's (d. 82/798) complaint that prisons were overfilled with convicts who should have been punished for hudud crimes shows that imprisonment was in use as a tazir punishment in the early Abbasid period. In fact, in the Abbasid and Seljuq periods imprisonment seems to have been especially common as punishment for low class offenders who committed petty crimes such as theft.
Cairo in the thirteenth century had three prisons, one for criminals serving sentences, one for political prisoners and one for those awaiting the death sentence.
The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (d. 707 CE) ordered that habitual thieves and counterfeiters whom normal tazir had not reformed as well as someone who castrated another man's son be imprisoned for long periods of time.
Imprisonment was also recommended by the sixteenth-century Ottoman Shaykh al-Islam Ebdussu'ud Efendi (d. 982/574) as a punishment for prostitution.
Fining was allowed by consensus only in the Maliki school; in other schools of law it was disagreed upon or disliked.
A twelfth-century hisbah manual from Damascus mentions exile as a punishment for prostitutes and effeminate men (mukhannath) and Ottoman criminal law used exile to punish some offenses such as unintentionally setting a home on fire. Mughal criminal courts in some regions used banishment as a punishment for habitual thieves.
Public shaming (tashhir), often involving parading the guilty party on a donkey through the streets, was known as early as the eighth century and was particularly associated as the punishment for bearing false testimony (shahadat al-zur). But it was not obviously subsumed under tazir until the eleventh century.
By the late Mamluk period other recognized means of tazir included slapping, rubbing the ears, fines and caning, the latter two finding particular favor in the Ottoman dynastic criminal law as well. For the Maliki school, execution was an allowable tazir punishment.
Although mutilation, such as carrying out the Qur'anic punishment of amputating the opposite foot and hand for ruthless banditry, has generally been considered to be siyasah punishment. But criminal codes such as those of the Ottomans and the Mughals also assigned some forms of mutilation as tazir, such as Aurangzeb setting the amputation of both hands as the punishment for exhuming a body.
It is with the Ottoman dynastic criminal law that we find Islamic civilization's most regimented system of tazir. The most prominent corporal punishment was caning (of the back or bottom of the feet) along with an accompanying fine, with the amount of the fine increasing with the number of blows specified and the caning carried out immediately, in the court. Unlawful sexual intercourse, which was almost never punished at the hudud level, due to the impossibly high evidentiary bar, was punished by fines and lashings, the severity of which depended on the person's marital status and wealth. As J. Baldwin has shown, a man who procured a prostitute was sentenced to lashing or caning, with a fine of one akce per stroke and then paraded through the streets (teshhir).
Other Ottoman qanun texts stated that a procurer should have his forehead branded. Some offenses were punished only with fines, such as a man caught skipping Friday prayer, according to a fatwa by Ebussu'ud. Imprisonment also played a role in tazir punishment in the Ottoman state, although sentences were often short and intended to teach the offender the error of his ways. In the sixteenth century, prisoners were increasingly sentenced to serve as an oarsman in a galley even for minor offenses such as drunkenness, with the overall average sentence for a range of crimes being eight years. Later, prisoners served their sentences in military installations. In the qanun of Suleiman the Magnificent (d. 566 CE), someone who stole a chicken was to be paraded with the chicken hanging from his neck.
Today, punishments categorized under the tazir heading play important roles in several countries with Shari'a-informed judiciaries. In Saudi Arabia, the hanbali school's approach of tazir punishment continues to be applied, with prison and lashing as the main punishments. In Iran, despite several reforms to Islamicize criminal law under the Islamic Republic in 982-3 and 996, the country's Islamic Criminal Code still carries most of the tazir punishments over from Iran's French-inspired 925 penal code. The primary means of punishment are lashing and prison, with a maximum of seventy-four lashes for non-sexual offenses and ninety-nine for sexual ones.
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