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Interpretation of Sura Cow - Verses 178-179

178. " O' you who have Faith! Retaliation (Qisas) is prescribed for you in the matter of the (unlawfully) murdered: the freeman for the freeman,the slave for the slave,the female for the female. But for him who is forgiven somewhat by his (aggrieved religious) brother, then prosecution (for blood-wit) should be made according to a fair manner (ma'ruf) and let the payment be made to him with kindliness. This is an alleviation from your Lord, and a mercy; so whoever transgresses the limits after this, he shall have a painful punishment." 179. " And in (the law of) retaliation there is (saving of) life for you, O' people of understanding, so that you may guard yourselves (against evil)."

Occasion of Revelation

The custom in the Age of Ignorance among some Arabs was so that when an individual was murdered from their tribe, they would decide to kill as many members from the murderer's tribe as they could. That thought was so harsh that they were ready to destroy even the entire people of the murderer's tribe for only a single murder. Then, the above verse was sent down and announced the just law of retaliation, (Qisas) .

This Islamic decree was, indeed, a medial status between the two different injunctions which were current at that time. Before the revelation of this ordinance of Islam, some people considered retaliation necessary, with no changes, so that nothing else was permissible to substitute it, while some other groups believed that only the rule of blood-wit should be followed. So, Islam decreed the law of retaliation in the case of the discontent of the heirs of the murdered, and blood-wit when both parties agree upon it.


Saving of Life in Retaliation

From this verse on, in the current Sura, a series of decrees and ordinances of Islam are stated and completed. At first, it begins with the protection of the value of blood which is an extraordinary important problem in social connections. Through this verse, Islam makes all the concerning old customs invalid. The Qur'an, addressing the believers, says: " O' you who have Faith! Retaliation (Qisas) is prescribed for you in the matter of the (unlawfully) murdered: ..."

The Holy Qur'an, in the case of some indispensible commands, sometimes makes use of the phrase: " It is prescribed for you " to state the matter. The above verse, for example, is an instance of this application where the coming verses, which speak about ' making bequest ' and ' fasting ', are other ones. In any case, this particular phrase makes the importance and emphasis of the theme clear, because those matters are always written that, from any point of view, have reached to the state of positiveness, and are earnest.

As it was pointed out in the occasion of revelation, these verses, with the application of the term retaliation and in order to moderate the intemperances which the Age of Ignorance fulfilled about murder, show that the heirs of the murdered are rightful to accomplish, against the murderer, exactly the same that that person has committed upon the murdered.

But the Qur'an does not suffice only to this amount. In this very verse, it exposes the problem of equality to discussion with a particular explicitness where it continues saying:

"...the freeman for the freeman, the slave for the slave, the female for the female. ..." Allah willing, we will explain that this idea is not an evidence, as some have considered, for the superiority of the male-blood to the female-blood, and that a male murderer, under certain conditions, can be punished by the law of retaliated for the murder of a woman. Then, to make it clear that the subject of retaliation is merely a right for the heirs of the murdered and it is not a convincing ordinance for them when they can simply forgive the murderer, if they wish, and take a blood-wit, or even, they can take no blood-wit at all, it immediately adds:

"... But for him who is forgiven somewhat by his (aggrieved religious) brother, then prosecution (for blood-wit) should be made according to a fair manner (ma'ruf) and let the payment be made to him with kindliness. ..." Thus, on one hand, the avengers of blood are advised not to be immoderate in taking a blood-price if they dispense with retaliation, and take the blood-wit with a fair price and according to what Islam has appointed and also by installments so that the party be able to pay it.

And, on the other hand, through the sentence: "...let the payment be made to him with kindness ", it recommends the murderer to pay the blood-price in a right style and without any negligence so that his debt be entirely paid on time. Therefore, the Qur'an has defined the duty of each party and how they should treat to each other. At the end of the verse, for emphasis and to attract the attentions to the fact that transgressing the limits of Allah, from the side of whoever it may be, deserves a severe punishment, it says:

"... This is an alleviation from your Lord, and a mercy; so whoever transgresses the limits after this, he shall have a painful punishment." This equitable command for ' retaliation ' and ' forgiveness ', which makes up a quite, logical manly assemblage, condemns, on one hand, the wrong method of the Ignorance Age which considered no equality in retaliation and, similar to the tyrants of this very age of space, sometimes killed hundreds of people in excuse of the murder of one person.

And, on the other hand, it does not shut the door of pardon to people. In the meantime, it does not lower the respect of blood, and does not allow murderers to become bold and presumptuous. And also, thirdly, it announces that neither of the two parties are permitted to transgress the limits after accepting the principle of pardon and blood-wit. This command was issued in spite of the old custom of the Ignorant tribes where the heirs of the murdered might kill the murderer even after forgiving him and taking the blood-wit.

The next verse, in a short but very expressive sentence, answers a great deal of questions in regards to the problem of retaliation. It says " And in (the law of) retaliation there is (saving of) life for you, O' people of understanding, so that you may guard yourselves (against evil) ." This verse, which in the Qur'anic text consists of ten particles, is expressed in utmost eloquence and clarity. It is so interesting that its first phrase has become as an Islamic motto used by common Muslim people. It clearly shows that Islamic law of retaliation is not for revenging at all, but it is a door-way to life for men to let them continue living.

Retaliation, on one hand, guards the safety of the life of the society, because if the ordinance of retaliation were not in any form at all, the hard-hearted persons would feel security and, consequently, the lives of people would be in danger. The evidence for this is the countries wherein the law of retaliation has been nullified and the number of murders and crime has incredibly increased.

On the other hand, the law of retaliation causes the life of a homicidal person be saved since it prevents him considerably from the thought of murder and brings him under control. For the sake of the necessity of equality and order, the law of retaliation is a hinder against the frequent slaughters and puts an end to the customs of some Ignorant tribes in which a single murder has been the pretext of several murders and the latter, in turn, has been the cause of further slaughters, too. By this way, the law of retaliation has also stopped some of those homicides and caused a few societies continue to live peacefully.

Regarding the fact that it is only in the absence of pardon that the ordinance of retaliation can be executed, the existence of the Islamic law of retaliation, in general, is also another phase opened to life and living. The concluding phrase which says: "... so that you may guard yourselves (against evil) " completes this wise ordinance of Islam. This meaning is also considered as a warning which halts or retards any oppression and transgression.

Retaliation & Pardon, a Complete Assemblage

Islam, in all respects, follows the problems inclusively and with their proper practical aspects. It has stated the right perfect idea about the proposition of unlawfully murdered, far from any injustice or excessive progressiveness. This Islamic law is similar neither to the perverted Jewish law, which emphasizes only on mere retaliation, nor to the present Christianity, which advises its followers to pave only the way of either pardon or compensation; because the latter causes to embolden the homicides and the former can become a factor of harsh vengeance and brutality.

Suppose that the murdered and the murderer be two brothers, or they have some background of friendship or social connections. In this case, bonding to retaliation, may produce a new additional grievance for the family of the murdered, especially when the concerning people are full of human love and affection, then, forcing them to execute the act of retaliation, itself, can be considered another grief and torture upon them. On the other hand, limiting the law to pardon and compensation alone, also makes the corruptive people bolder.

This is why Islam has decreed the law of retaliation as the main ordinance and, to moderate it, has added the ordinance of pardon beside it and along with it.

In other words, the heirs of the murdered are rightful to choose one of the following varieties:

1- The execution of retaliation

2- To pardon without taking any blood-wit.

3- To pardon with taking the blood-wit. (In this case, of course, the consent of the murderer is also necessarily considered.)


It is possible that some groups object that the command in the verses of retaliation is that a ' man ' should not be killed for the murder of a ' woman ', then, what is the difference between the life of a man and that of a woman? Why should a male not be killed under the punishment of the law of retaliation for the slaughter of an innocent female, ? a gender (i.e. the feminine gender) that forms half of the population over the earth ? The answer to this question is that: the verse does not mean a ' male ' should not be retaliated against by capital punishment for a ' female '. But according to what is detailed in the books of Islamic jurisprudence, the heirs of the murdered woman can punish the male-murderer by the law of retaliation (i.e. capital punishment) on condition that they pay half of the blood-price.

In other words, the purpose of the lack of retaliation (Qisas) of a ' man ' for the slaughter of a ' woman ' is a retaliation without any condition; but his killing is permissible, of course, when half of the blood-price is paid.

No explanation is necessary here that the payment of the aforementioned sum for the execution of the punishment under the law of retaliation does not mean that a woman, from the point of philanthropy, is lower than a man, or a female is less dear than a male. This is, indeed, absolutely a wrong and illogical imagination. The apparent form of the term ' blood-price ' may have been the origin of the appearance of this imagination. The act of the payment of the half sum of blood-price is only for the compensation of the loss that the man's family members suffer from his capital punishment by the law of retaliation.

The expansion of the explanation is that: males are usually the effective financial factor of their families. It is often men, in families, who earn a living and pay money for the expenditures, in general, and run the economical affairs therein. Therefore, the difference between a man and a woman, from the point of economy and finance in their own family, is quite clear to everybody. If this difference be not observed, the remaining family members and the innocent children of the murdered man have surely to suffer an amount of unreasonable financial damage. Hence, Islam, with the rule of the payment of half of the blood-wit for the punishment of a ' man ' by the law of retaliation, has considered the rights of all members, and prevented the unforgivable injury and stroke that a family may be given. Islam never lets the rights of some individuals, such as the children of the person who has been punished by the law of retaliation, be trod under the pretext of the term ' equality '.

It is possible, of course, that some women earn a living in their own family better than men there. But we know that a law or an ordinance does not turn around the pivot of an individual, and we must compare the totality of men with the totality of women.

Another point that attracts the attention, and is understood from the phrase " by his brother ", is that Islam strengthens the relation of brotherhood between its followers so firm that even after the illegitimate shedding of blood it is still valid. So, to encourage the heirs of the murderer to forgiveness and moderation, and also to put their affection in motion, Islam introduces them as the brothers of the murderer. And, this meaning is both surprising and interesting. The mentioned situation, of course, is about those murderers who have taken action in this great heinous sin under the force of emotion, wrath, and the like of them, and the murderers have also become regretful and repented of their wrong action. But, the murderers who are proud of their crime and, with no regret or repentance, boast about it, are neither worthy of the appellation of ' bretheren ' nor are they eligible for pardon.

Adapted from the book: "The Light of The Quran - Interpretation of Sura Al-Baqarah (The Cow)" by: "Sayyid Kamal Faghih Imani and A Group of Muslim Scholars"

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