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In the name of Allaah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful

There is a verse in the Noble Qur’an that expounds the law of Qisas (retaliation, lex talionis) in Islam, about which there is a lot of misinformation among our brothers and sisters. So I wanted to post some material to clarify this issue. I have also been receiving requests from people asking me to post Shi’ite (Rafidi) views as well, so while I think their beliefs are deviant and misguided, I will post their views as well on this issue towards the end of this post.

To start off, this is the noble Qur’anic verse of which I speak:

يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْقِصَاصُ فِى ٱلْقَتْلَى ۖ ٱلْحُرُّ بِٱلْحُرِّ وَٱلْعَبْدُ بِٱلْعَبْدِ وَٱلْأُنثَىٰ بِٱلْأُنثَىٰ ۚ فَمَنْ عُفِىَ لَهُۥ مِنْ أَخِيهِ شَىْءٌ فَٱتِّبَاعٌۢ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَأَدَآءٌ إِلَيْهِ بِإِحْسَٰنٍ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ تَخْفِيفٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ ۗ فَمَنِ ٱعْتَدَىٰ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَلَهُۥ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

[Y. Ali translation] O ye who believe! the law of equality (Qisas) is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty.
[Qur’an: Surah 2, Verse 178]

So our Muslim brothers and sisters appear to think that this verse is saying that Islam penalizes the killing of an innocent person by the death penalty for the killer — regardless of the status of the killer. But this is far from the truth, for Allaah has honored Islaam over kufr (disbelief) and free men over slaves, so how can you expect the law of Qisas (retaliation) to be the same as well?

The following are some Saheeh (authentic) narrations about this from our Blessed Prophet (S):

حَدَّثَنَا صَدَقَةُ بْنُ الْفَضْلِ، أَخْبَرَنَا ابْنُ عُيَيْنَةَ، حَدَّثَنَا مُطَرِّفٌ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ الشَّعْبِيَّ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا جُحَيْفَةَ، قَالَ سَأَلْتُ عَلِيًّا ـ رضى الله عنه ـ هَلْ عِنْدَكُمْ شَىْءٌ مَا لَيْسَ فِي الْقُرْآنِ وَقَالَ مَرَّةً مَا لَيْسَ عِنْدَ النَّاسِ فَقَالَ وَالَّذِي فَلَقَ الْحَبَّ وَبَرَأَ النَّسَمَةَ مَا عِنْدَنَا إِلاَّ مَا فِي الْقُرْآنِ، إِلاَّ فَهْمًا يُعْطَى رَجُلٌ فِي كِتَابِهِ، وَمَا فِي الصَّحِيفَةِ‏.‏ قُلْتُ وَمَا فِي الصَّحِيفَةِ قَالَ الْعَقْلُ، وَفِكَاكُ الأَسِيرِ، وَأَنْ لاَ يُقْتَلَ مُسْلِمٌ بِكَافِرٍ‏.‏‏

Narrated Ash-Shu`bi:
I heard Abu Juhaifa saying, “I asked `Ali ‘Have you got any Divine literature apart from the Qur’an?’ (Once he said…apart from what the people have?) `Ali replied, ‘By Him Who made the grain split (germinate) and created the soul, we have nothing except what is in the Qur’an and the ability (gift) of understanding Allah’s Book which He may endow a man with and we have what is written in this paper.’ I asked, ‘What is written in this paper?’ He replied, ‘Al-`Aql (the regulation of Diya), about the ransom of captives, and the Judgment that a Muslim should not be killed in Qisas (equality in punishment) for killing a disbeliever.
http://sunnah.com/bukhari/87/42

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الأَعْلَى الصَّنْعَانِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا مُعْتَمِرُ بْنُ سُلَيْمَانَ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، عَنْ حَنَشٍ، عَنْ عِكْرِمَةَ، عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ لاَ يُقْتَلُ مُؤْمِنٌ بِكَافِرٍ وَلاَ ذُو عَهْدٍ فِي عَهْدِهِ ‏”

It was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas that the Prophet () said:
A believer should not be killed in retaliation for the murder of a disbeliever, and a person who has a treaty should not be killed during the time of the treaty.” (Sahih)
http://sunnah.com/urn/1269770


The scholars and Imams of our religion have also confirmed the same. Imam Ibn Rushd (Averroes) has summarized the rulings of the Imams of our religion in his Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa Nihayat al-Muqtasid as follows:

وأما الشرط الذي يجب به القصاص في المقتول، فهو أن يكون مكافئا لدم القاتل. والذي به تختلف النفوس هو الإسلام والكفر والحرية والعبودية والذكورية والأنوثية والواحد والكثير. واتفقوا على أن المقتول إذا كان مكافئا للقاتل في هذه الأربعة أنه يجب القصاص. واختلفوا في هذه الأربعة إذا لم تجتمع. أما الحر إذا قتل العبد عمدا، فإن العلماء اختلفوا فيه، فقال مالك والشافعي والليث وأحمد وأبو ثور: لا يقتل الحر بالعبد؛ وقال أبو حنيفة وأصحابه: يقتل الحر بالعبد إلا عبد نفسه؛

وأما قتل المؤمن بالكافر الذمي ، فاختلف العلماء في ذلك على ثلاثة أقوال :

1 – فقال قوم : لا يقتل مؤمن بكافر ، وممن قال به الشافعي والثوري وأحمد وداود وجماعة .

2 – وقال قوم : يقتل به ، وممن قال بذلك أبو حنيفة وأصحابه وابن أبي ليلى .

3 – وقال مالك والليث : لا يقتل به إلا أن يقتله غيلة ( وقتل الغيلة أن يضجعه فيذبحه وبخاصة على ماله ) .


http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?bk_no=97&ID=455&idfrom=735&idto=740&bookid=97&startno=2

Translation: As for the condition due to which qisas becomes obligatory on the killer it is that the killed person should at least be of the same status as that of the killer. And that which differentiates persons are Islam and kufr (disbelief), being a free person or a slave, being a male or female, or being one or more (that is, if the killer is a single person or a group of people). And the scholars are in agreement that if the killed person is equal to the killer in all of these four categories, then qisas becomes obligatory. And they disagreed about (the ruling) in these four categories if they were not the same.
If a free man killed a slave, then the scholars differed about it.
Imam Malik, Imam Shafi’i, Imam Layth, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, and Imam Abu Thawr said: A free man is not killed (for killing a slave).
And Imam Abu Haneefa and his followers said: A free man is killed for killing a slave except if the slave belongs to him (the free man).

As for killing a believer (Muslim) for (killing) a kafir (disbeliever) who is under the protection of Islam (dhimmi), the scholars differed about this into three opinions.
1 – A group (of scholars) said: A believer is not to be killed for killing a disbeliever. And among these are Imams Shafi’i, Thawri, Ahmad (bin Hanbal), Dawood, and another group.
2 – And a group (of scholars) said: He (the Muslim) is killed for it. And among those who said this are Imam Abu Haneefa and his followers, and Ibn Abi Layla
3 – And Imams Malik and Layth said: The believer is not killed for it except if he kills through treachery or deceit (gheelah). And the killing of gheelah is when (the killer) assaults the victim while he is unaware and slaughters him, especially if it is for his money. [end of translation]
(By the way, this text has been translated in its entirety into English. It can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Distinguished-Jurists-Primer-Volume/dp/1859641393/ . The part I’m referring to above is on pages 482 and 483.)

This ruling can also be seen in the tafseer of Imam Qurtubi, Jami` Ahkam al-Qur’an, where he summarizes the rulings of the scholars on the Qur’anic verse quoted above (Surah 2, Verse 178):

والجمهور من العلماء لا يقتلون الحر بالعبد ، للتنويع والتقسيم في الآية . وقال أبو ثور : لما اتفق جميعهم على أنه لا قصاص بين العبيد والأحرار فيما دون النفوس كانت النفوس أحرى بذلك

والجمهور أيضا على أنه لا يقتل مسلم بكافر ; لقوله صلى الله عليه وسلم : لا يقتل مسلم بكافر أخرجه البخاري عن علي بن أبي طالب ، ولا يصح لهم ما رووه من حديث ربيعة أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قتل يوم خيبر مسلما بكافر ; لأنه منقطع ، ومن حديث ابن البيلماني وهو ضعيف عن [ ص: 232 ] ابن عمر عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم مرفوعا . قال الدارقطني : ” لم يسنده غير إبراهيم بن أبي يحيى وهو متروك الحديث ” .


http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?flag=1&bk_no=48&ID=778

[Translation] And the majority of our scholars are of the opinion that a free man is not killed for (killing) a slave because of the classification and divisions (of persons) in the verse. And as Abu Thawr said: The majority (of scholars) are in agreement on that there is no qisas between slaves and freemen because of the lowliness of their persons (the slaves) while the free men are more worthy than this.

And the majority are also in agreement that a Muslim cannot be killed for killing a kafir (disbeliever) because of the saying of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him: “A Muslim is not to be killed for (killing) a disbeliever”, as reported by Bukhari from Ali bin Abi Talib. And it is not correct what they (that is, those who disagree with this ruling) report in the narration of Rabi’ah from the Prophet that he killed a Muslim for killing a kafir in (the battle of) Khaybar, because that narration is cut off (munqata`). And for the narration from Ibn Baylmani, it is a weak, marfu` narration from Ibn Umar from the Prophet. Imam Darqutni said, “There is no chain for this narration except from Ibrahim bin Abi Yahya, and he is rejected (matrook) in hadith”. [end of translation]

So it is clear that the majority of our scholars are in agreement that a Muslim should not be killed for killing a non-Muslim, even if he is a dhimmi (a protected non-Muslim living in the Muslim state). And nor should a free man be killed for killing a slave. The only exception in the four Imams is Imam Abu Haneefa, but even he agrees that the master of a slave cannot be killed for killing his own slaves.

The following are the rulings of the Imams of our religion on this issue which confirm this. Imam Malik narrates in his Muwatta:

وَحَدَّثَنِي يَحْيَى، عَنْ مَالِكٍ، أَنَّهُ بَلَغَهُ أَنَّ عُمَرَ بْنَ عَبْدِ الْعَزِيزِ، قَضَى أَنَّ دِيَةَ الْيَهُودِيِّ، أَوِ النَّصْرَانِيِّ – إِذَا قُتِلَ أَحَدُهُمَا – مِثْلُ نِصْفِ دِيَةِ الْحُرِّ الْمُسْلِمِ ‏.‏ قَالَ مَالِكٌ الأَمْرُ عِنْدَنَا أَنْ لاَ يُقْتَلَ مُسْلِمٌ بِكَافِرٍ إِلاَّ أَنْ يَقْتُلَهُ مُسْلِمٌ قَتْلَ غِيْلَةٍ فَيُقْتَلُ بِهِ ‏.‏

Yahya related to me from Malik that he heard that Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz gave a decision that when a jew or christian was killed, his blood-money was half the blood-money of a free muslim.
Malik said, “What is done in our community, is that a Muslim is not killed for a kafir unless the muslim kills him by deceit. Then he is killed for it.
http://sunnah.com/urn/416421

And we also read in the Risalah of Imam Ibn Abi Zayd (known as “little Malik”):

ولا يقتل حر بعبد ويقتل به العبد ولا يقتل مسلم بكافر ويقتل به الكافر ولا قصاص بين حر وعبد في جرح ولا بين مسلم وكافر


http://shamela.ws/browse.php/book-7441/page-607#page-607

And a free man is not killed for killing a slave but a slave is killed for killing him (a free man). And a Muslim is not killed for killing a disbeliever, but a disbeliever is killed for killing a Muslim. And there is no retaliation for injuries caused by a free man to a slave, nor between a Muslim who injures a disbeliever.

Imam Shafi’i states the following in his Kitab al-Umm:

ولا يقتل مؤمن عبد ولا حر ولا امرأة بكافر في حال أبدا

http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?bk_no=31&ID=1319&idfrom=3146&idto=3158&bookid=31&startno=0

And a believer, whether he is a slave or a free man or a woman, is never killed for killing a disbeliever under any condition.

And he (Imam Shafi’i) said:

وكذلك لا يقتل الرجل الحر بالعبد بحال ، ولو قتل حر ذمي عبدا مؤمنا لم يقتل به .

http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?idfrom=3105&idto=3105&bk_no=31&ID=1305

Also a free man is not killed for killing a slave under any situation. And if a free dhimmi kills a slave who is a believer, even then he is not killed for it.

And in the classic manual of Islamic law, Umdat as-Salik wa ‘Uddat an-Nasik, we read:

يجب القصاص على من قتل إنسانا عمدا محضا عدوانا لكن لا يجب على صبي ومجنون مطلقا ولا على مسلم بقتل كافر ولا على حر بقتل عبد ولا على ذمي بقتل مرتد ولا على الأب والأم وآبائهما وأمهاتهما بقتل الولد وولد الولد.

Qisas is obligatory on whoever kills a person purely intentionally and aggressively (that is, not in self-defense). But qisas is not applicable on children or the insane under any circumstances, nor is it applicable on a Muslim for killing a kafir, nor on a free man for killing a slave, nor on a dhimmi for killing an apostate, nor on a father or a mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their child, or their child’s children.

And also in that same text (Umdat as-Salik), we read:

ولا تجب الدية بقتل الحربي والمرتد ومن وجب رجمه بالبينة أو تحتم قتله في المحاربة ولا على السيد بقتل عبده.

And payment of blood-money is not obligatory for killing a haribi (someone who belongs to a nation which the Islamic state is at war with), or (killing) an apostate, or someone sentenced to death by stoning, or those whom it is necessary to kill in military action, nor on the master for killing his slave.

And in al-Insaaf, the renowned manual of Hanbali law, we read:

وَلَا يُقْتَلُ مُسْلِمٌ بِكَافِرٍ وَلَوْ ارْتَدَّ وَلَا حُرٌّ بِعَبْدٍ هذا الْمَذْهَبُ بِلَا رَيْبٍ وَعَلَيْهِ الْأصحاب

And a Muslim is not killed for killing a kafir, even if he has apostatized from Islam. Nor is a free man killed for killing a slave. And this is the correct religious belief without doubt, and this is also what the colleagues believe.

As noted above, the followers of Imam Abu Hanifa believe that Muslims can be killed in qisas for killing disbelievers, and also that free men can be killed for killing slaves of others. But free men cannot be killed for killing their own slaves of any kind. We read in al-Hidaya, the classic manual of Hanafi law:

ولا يقتل الرجل بعبده ولا مدبره ولا مكاتبه ولا بعبد ولده؛

http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?flag=1&bk_no=9&ID=3687

And a man is not killed for killing his own slave, nor for killing his mudabbar (a slave who the master has agreed to set free upon his death), nor for killing his mukatab (a slave who has made an agreement with his master to be set free for a certain payment), nor for killing his son’s slave.

Shi’ite Law

As for Shi’ite law, it is very similar. Allamah Hilli (Hasan ibn Yusuf ibn `Ali ibn Mutahhar Hilli) wrote a famous text criticizing the beliefs of the Ahlus Sunnah called Nahj al-Haq wa Kashf as-Sidq. In it we read the following:

ذهبت الإمامية إلى أنه لا يقتل المسلم بالذمي .
و قال أبو حنيفة يقتل .
و قد خالف قوله تعالى وَ لَنْ يَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ لِلْكافِرِينَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ سَبِيلًا * لا يَسْتَوِي أَصْحابُ النَّارِ وَ أَصْحابُ الْجَنَّةِ
و قال (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) لا يقتل مؤمن بكافر و لا ذو عهدة في عهدة

ذهبت الإمامية إلى أن الحر لا يقتل بالعبد .
و قال أبو حنيفة يقتل بعبد غيره .
و قد خالف قوله تعالى الْحُرُّ بِالْحُرِّ وَ الْعَبْدُ بِالْعَبْدِ
و قوله (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) لا يقتل حر بعبد
و قوله (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) من السنة أن لا يقتل الحر بعبد
ذهبت الإمامية إلى أن الأب لا يقتل بالولد .

http://www.al-shia.org/html/ara/books/lib-aqaed/nahj-haq/n25.htm

Translation: And the Imamiyyah (Twelver Shi’ites) believe that a Muslim is not killed for killing a dhimmi.
(But) Abu Haneefa said he is to be killed. And this is in opposition to the words of Allaah, the Most High, “And never will Allah grant to the unbelievers a way (to triumph) over the believers.” [Qur’an, surah 4, verse 141]. And “Not equal are the Companions of the Fire and the Companions of the Garden: it is the Companions of the Garden, that will achieve Felicity.” [Qur’an, surah 59, verse 20].
And the Prophet, may the Blessings and Peace of Allaah be upon him, said: “Do not kill a Muslim for (killing) a kafir, nor a person who has a treaty during the time of the treaty”.

The Imamiyyah believe that the free man is not killed for killing a slave.
(But) Abu Haneefa said that the free man is to be killed for a slave that he doesn’t own.
But this is in opposition to the saying of Allaah, the Most High, “Free man for the free man, and the slave for the slave.” [Qur’an: Surah 2, Verse 178]
And the saying of the Prophet, may the Blessings and Peace of Allaah be upon him, “From my Sunnah is that the free man is not killed for killing a slave”.
The Imamiyyah believe that the father is not killed for killing his child. [end of translation]

Allamah Hilli also provides the statements of Shaykh Mufeed and Shaykh Tusi (two of the most important Shi’ite scholars) on this issue in his Mukhtalaf ash-Shi’ah:

قال المفيد: السيد إذا قتل عبده عمدا كان عليه كفارة صنيعه عتق رقبة مؤمنة، وإن أضاف إليه صيام شهرين متتابعين واطعام ستين مسكينا، فهو أفضل وأحوط له في كفارة ذنبه (2). وهذا يشعر باكتفاء العتق. والشيخ – رحمه الله – قال في النهاية: ومن قتل عبده متعمدا كان عليه كفارة قتل العمد (3). وعليه المشهور، وهو الاقوى، لدلالة الروايات عليه. روى أبو بصير في الصحيح، عن الصادق – عليه السلام – قال: من قتل عبده متعمدا فعليه أن يعتق رقبة وأن يطعم ستين مسكينا ويصوم شهرين (4). وفي الصحيح عن زرارة، عن الصادق – عليه السلام – في الرجل يقتل عبده متعمدا أي شئ عليه من الكفارة؟ قال: عتق رقبة وصيام شهرين وصدقة على ستين مسكينا

http://www.yasoob.com/books/htm1/m001/00/no0077.html

[Translation] Shaykh Mufeed said: If the master kills his slave deliberately, the kaffarah (compensation) that is due him is the act of freeing a believing slave [non-believer slaves should not be freed]. But if he adds to it fasting for two consecutive months and feeds sixty poor persons, this is better and protects him in the compensation for his sin. And this can be done to satisfy the requirement of freeing a slave (if the person doesn’t have any more slaves).
And the Shaykh (Tusi) – May Allah have mercy on him – said in his book al-Nihaya: “Whoever kills his slave deliberately, on him is the compensation of killing deliberately. And these are well known. And this is the strongest position, and the proofs for it are the narrations about it. Abu Baseer narrates in an authentic narration from (Ja’far) al-Sadiq – peace be upon him – who said: Whoever kills his slave deliberately, on him is the freeing of a slave, or feeding sixty poor persons, or fasting two months.” And in the authentic narration from Zurarah from (Ja’far) al-Sadiq – peace be upon him – who was asked about a man who killed his slave deliberately, is there any kaffarah (compensation) upon him? He (al-Sadiq) replied: (The kaffarah is) freeing of a slave and fasting for two months and giving charity to sixty poor persons.” [end of translation]

However, if a slave kills his own master, then the slave must be killed. As Shaykh Tusi states in his Nihayah:

وإذا قتل عبد مولاه، قتل به على كل حال.

http://www.yasoob.com/books/htm1/m001/00/no0025.html

Translation: And if a slave kills his own master, he must be killed under any circumstance.

Shaykh Tusi says the following in his Nihayah about killing a dhimmi:

وإذا قتل المسلم ذميا عمدا، وجب عليه ديته، ولا يجب عليه القود. إلا أن يكون معتادا لقتل أهل الذمة. فإن كان كذلك، وطلب أولياء المقتول القود، كان على الإمام أن يقيده به

فإن لم يردوه، أو لم يكن معتادا، فلا يجوز قتله به على حال.

http://www.yasoob.com/books/htm1/m001/00/no0025.html

Translation: And if a Muslim kills a dhimmi, payment of blood-money is obligatory on him, but the death penalty is not applicable to him. Except if this person habitually kills the dhimmis. And if this is the case, and the representatives of the killed person request the death penalty, then it is upon the Imam (leader) to decide whether the killer deserves the death penalty.

But if the representatives of the killed person don’t request the death penalty, or the killer does not habitually kill dhimmis, then he cannot be killed under any circumstances.[End of translation]

The renowned Shi’ite scholar Ibn Idrees however states in his Sara’ir that a Muslim cannot be killed for killing a non-Muslim under any condition whatsoever. He states that the narration relied upon by Shaykh Tusi about killing a Muslim if he habitually kills dhimmis should not be relied upon:

وإذا قتل المسلم ذميا عمدا وجب عليه ديته، ولا يجب عليه القود بحال. وقد روي أنه إن كان معتادا لقتل أهل الذمة. فإن كان كذلك، وطلب أولياء المقتول القود، كان على الإمام أن يقيده به

ولا ينبغي أن يلتفت إلى هذه الرواية، ولا يعرج عليها، لأنها مخالفة للقرآن والاجماع

http://www.yasoob.com/books/htm1/m001/00/no0051.html

And if a Muslim kills a dhimmi deliberately, payment of blood money becomes obligatory on him, and the death penalty is not applicable upon him under any circumstances. And it is narrated that if the Muslim habitually kills the dhimmis, and if this is the case and the representatives of the killer demand so, then it is upon the Imam to decide whether or not to impose the death penalty upon him.

But it is undesirable to give importance to this narration, and it should not be depended upon, because it opposes the Qur’an and the unanimous consensus of the scholars (regarding this issue).

So hopefully this issue is clarified now. We should always remember that Allaah, the Most High, did not make Muslims equal to non-Muslims, nor slaves equal to free men, as His divine laws make perfectly clear. Indeed Allaah is the Most Merciful of the merciful.

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