Law of Retaliation 1

Studying Islamic clemency and mercy in the Quranic verses and narrations by the Infallible Imams (as) and practice of religious leaders, we approve that the sacred religion of Islam which is concordant with human nature, is the religion of clemency and mercy, and not violence. It is necessary to discuss about the issues served as pretexts by Islam adversaries and so called indications of violence in Islam.

Is the Law of Retaliation an Indication of Religious Violence?

Why Islam enacted the law of retaliation?

Isn’t retaliation a sort of violence?

Isn’t killing a human, even of a sinful person, considered as violence?

In reply to these questions, it is necessary to consider some points for solving and removal of any suspicious question.

First point - After expressing law of retaliation, Qur’an says:

 فَمَنْ عُفِيَ لَهُ مِنْ أَخِيهِ شَيْءٌ فَاتِّبَاعٌ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَأَدَاءٌ إِلَيْهِ بِإِحْسَانٍ

"If any remission is made to any one by his (aggrieved) brother, then prosecution (for the blood wit) should be made according to usage, and payment should be made to him in a good manner; this is alleviation from your Lord and a mercy."(1)

That is to say, retaliation is neither obligatory, nor recommended. However, for preventing the crimes by felons and repetition of similar cases, the slain families are authorised to apply for it, while it is neither obligatory, nor recommended (pay attention).

Second point:

وَلَكُمْ فِي الْقِصَاصِ حَيَاةٌ يَا أُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

“And there is life for you in (the law of) retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may guard yourselves.”(2)

In the verse 179, the same surah, life and survival has been mentioned as the philosophy of retaliation (in retaliation, there is life for you, men possessed of minds), not enmity, revenge and hatred.

If the mischievous murderer who disregards people’s soul, wealth and honor is granted a respite, and is made liable to the Islamic mercy, he may misuse the mercy and clemency rendered to him and commits more crimes. Isn’t this a treachery to the society? Encounter with gangs in the society, for whom there remains no other way than retaliation, is not an implication of violence. Rather, it is the clear indication of mercy to let the others live peacefully.(3)

It is surprising that those claiming for clemency and benevolence and chanting for human rights object everywhere when such criminals are retaliated against, but when their felon friends commit the most terrible crimes in Palestine, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chechen, south of Lebanon, Iraq and other territories, none of them object, as if all of them are deaf, blind and asleep.

When one’s finger undergoes necrosis, the passionate and skilled physician does his best to cure and heal it. However, if he does not succeed, and there remains no way save cutting it to preserve other fingers and prevent its spread to other parts of body, is such physician violent? Does clemency and benevolence necessitate this necrotic member to remain and gradually make the other parts necrotic, and even result in death for the whole body? Does any logic and intellect accept this attitude?

Consequently, retaliation is a sort of treatment and is necessary and essential for prevention from spread of corruption to other members of society and preservation of security and safety. On this account, the law of retaliation not only is not considered as an example of violence, but also considers the expedience and the benefit of society, it is a branch of divine clemency and benevolence (pay attention).

We do not think any sane, even a non-Muslim, would agree to let the murderers and mischievous individuals threatening the society’s security, who do not relent, and are not bound to any religious and human principles, live freely in the society and commit any crime. Rather, all the sane in the world would accept retaliation as the last treatment for these necrotic members of society.

Are Islamic punishments compatible with the religious clemency and benevolence?

One of the pretexts propounded by the captious is “Islamic punishments and penal laws. They say:

• How are Islamic punishments and penal laws compatible with clemency and benevolence?

• Is giving one hundred lashes to one who has committed a sin, not considered as violence?

• Is stoning a man or woman who has lost his or her chastity as a result of domination of sensual desire compatible with Islamic benevolence?

• Is cutting the hands and feet of thieves in accordance with religious clemency?

• Are severe and harsh punishments not considered as a sort of violence?

Reply: There are subtle points in the “penal laws and punishments” which help us in replying to these questions. Studying them, it is clarified that penal laws and punishments too are another branch of Islamic clemency and benevolence, although they may seem violent at first for some.

First: Studying Philosophy of Penal Laws and Punishments

There are narrations about the philosophy of execution of penal laws and punishments clarifying our insight into these Islamic punishments. Consider the following two samples:

1) Prophet Muhammad (S) says:

اقامة حد خیر من مطر اربعین صباحاً

"Execution of any penal law or punishment is better than forty days of rainfall."(4)

As you see, in this prophetic narration, penal laws and punishments are resembled to rain, and execution of any law (even the least form) is called better than forty days of rainfall. The narration implies that as rain is a mercy of God, and God sends it down for the people of earth, divine penal laws too are a sort of divine blessing. In fact, execution of Islamic punishments washes away the filth from society like rain, and purifies it from the pollutions.

For instance, if one disturbs public security in the society, and violates people’s soul, wealth and honor such that a part of society is threatened, he will be an outlaw and punishment of an outlaw will guarantee security in the society. It washes away terror, fear and insecurity from the society. Those who produce and distribute narcotics in an Islamic society, and destroy the youths through this great crime, and corrupt the country for achieving their own personal interests and profits, shall be punished for corrupting on the earth.

Can we call the Islamic penal laws as resembled to rain here? We believe that such individuals and groups are liable to Islamic punishments. If they are not punished, God will not leave them, and they will be involved in the consequences and adversities caused by their corruptive activities.

2) Seventh Imam, Hazrat Musa Ibn Ja’far (as) commenting on the verse (يُحْيِي الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا) says:

قَالَ لَيْسَ يُحْيِيهَا بِالْقَطْرِ وَ لَكِنْ‏ يَبْعَثُ‏ اللَّهُ‏ رِجَالًا فَيُحْيُونَ الْعَدْلَ فَتُحْيَا الْأَرْضُ لِإِحْيَاءِ الْعَدْلِ وَ لَإِقَامَةُ الْحَدِّ لِلَّهِ أَنْفَعُ فِي الْأَرْضِ مِنَ الْقَطْرِ أَرْبَعِينَ صَبَاحاً.

"It does not simply imply that He revives the dry lands with bountiful rain. Rather, it implies that He appoints (great, sincere and ambitious) men for reviving justice in the world, and revives land as a result of revival of justice. Undoubtedly, execution of penal laws and punishments on the earth is more beneficial than forty days of rainfall."(5)

As you can see, there is no trace of revenge, violence and such in the traditions explaining the philosophy of penal laws. Rather, they are concerned with affection, clemency and spread of justice in the society.

Continue in the next article: ( Law of Retaliation 2 )



1. The Glorious Quran 2:178

2. The Glorious Quran 2:179

3. In addition to above two points, God addresses “the men possessed of minds” with this rule. That is to say, retaliation is not a case of emotion and revenge. Rather, it is a law legislated based on intellect and sapience. Those possessing safe minds will approve that this law is the source of social life and security for the society. The phrase, لعلکم تتقون, at the end of this verse is another proof for our claim, because it mentions that retaliation is aimed at protection and securing society against taints, hatreds and evils. Therefore, every clause of verse for retaliation contains remarkable points and conveys the messages of peace, life and affection. It clearly testifies that retaliation is not an implication of violence. It is noteworthy that retaliation has been repeated four times throughout the Holy Qur’an, while it is seventy nine for رحمت (mercy), one hundred sixty for رحمان (beneficent) and one hundred ninety eight for رحیم (merciful). This indicates that retaliation is an exceptional case, and the basis is Islamic mercy, affection and benevolence.

4. Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, Vol. 18, p. 308

5. Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, vol. 18, p. 308, narration 3