22. Is Qisas (The Law Of Retaliation) Against The Norms Of Intellect And Human Sentiments?

There are a group of people who, without reflection, have sought to criticize some of the penal issues of Islam - especially the issue of 'qisas' (law of retaliation) with respect to which they have raised great commotion, saying:

The crime perpetrated by a killer is nothing more than taking the life of a person, but you, by means of qisas, are repeating the same act!

Qisas is just plain vengefulness and brutality. This repugnant attribute needs to be uprooted from amidst the people by means of correct education; however, the supporters of qisas breathe fresh life into this abhorrent attribute every day!

Murder is not a crime that takes place at the hands of sound individuals; surely the murderer suffers from some psychological disorder and ought to be treated, and qisas cannot be a remedy for such sick individuals.

Issues that are related to social order need to develop in step with the society; hence, laws that used to be implemented fourteen hundred years ago should not be implemented in today's society!

Is it not better that instead of qisas the killers are placed in prisons, compelled to work and utilized for the benefit of the society. In this way, not only would the society remain protected from their evils but simultaneously, they could be utilized to the maximum extent possible.

These are summarized versions of the objections that are propounded in connection with the issue of qisas.

A close study of the verses of qisas in the Qur’an would make manifest the answers to these objections.

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.” (2:179).

This is because, at times, elimination of dangerous individuals is the best option for the development of a society and since qisas safeguards life, it is perhaps for this reason that it has been placed as an instinct within man.

Be it the medical system, agriculture industry or animal husbandry, etc… each and every thing is based upon this rational principle - elimination of a dangerous and troublesome entity. We observe that for the purpose of protecting the body, the diseased part of the body is amputated; or for ensuring the growth of a plant, harmful and inconveniencing branches are sawed away. Those, who regard the killing of the murderer as being a loss of another individual, only visualize it from an individual perspective; however if they were to take the welfare of the entire society into consideration and were to know what role the implementation of qisas plays in safeguarding and educating all the other individuals, they would surely review their words.

Eliminating such blood-shedding individuals from the society is akin to severing a harmful limb or a branch, which, as per the ruling of reason, must necessarily be severed. And indeed, it must be realized that until today, no one has ever objected to the amputation of a diseased limb or detrimental branch. This was in connection with the first objection.

With respect to the second objection, it must be realized that fundamentally, the legislation of qisas is in no way related to the issue of vengefulness. This is because vengeance means smothering the flames of anger arising due to a personal issue. On the other hand, qisas has been decreed for preventing a repetition of oppression within the society and with the objective of seeking seek justice for the other innocent individuals of it.

As for the third objection that the killer must necessarily be suffering from a psychological disorder and that it is not possible for such a crime to be perpetrated on the part of normal individuals, it must be said that this speech is true in certain instances and Islam too, in such instances, has not imposed the ruling of qisas for an insane killer or the like.

However, the sickness of the killer cannot be provided as an excuse since the evils that this would unleash and the audacity that it would impart to offenders is evident for one and all. And if this argument is true in the case of killers, it should also be true for all the criminals, offenders and those who violate the rights of others. This is because a person possessing a complete soundness of intellect shall never encroach upon the rights of others. Accordingly, all penal laws should be annulled and all offenders should be dispatched to hospitals housing psychologically-diseased patients instead of prisons.

The fourth objection stated that the development of society does not accept the law of qisas, for qisas could only play a role in the ancient societies. Accordingly today, qisas being regarded as a ruling contrary to conscience must be deleted. The answer lies in this one sentence:

The above claim, taking into account the widespread nature of offences in today's world and the statistics of casualties of the battle-fields and other locations, is one which is worthless and merely a flight of the imagination. And upon the assumption that such a world does come into existence, Islam has never presented qisas to be the one and only way but has also placed the ruling of pardon alongside it.

Undoubtedly, in that assumed environment, the people might themselves prefer granting pardon to the killer - however, in today's world, wherein offences in various forms are surely more numerous and barbaric than those in the past, deletion of this law would not achieve anything except an increase in the offences.

With respect to the fifth objection it must be comprehended that the aim of qisas, as explicitly expressed by the Qur’an, is to safeguard the general life of the society and prevent the repetition of crime. Certainly, prisons do not possess a noticeable influence (especially today's prisons, which are better than the houses of many of the offenders). It is due to this that in countries where capital punishment had been annulled, in a short time, the crime and murder figures had skyrocketed.

This is particularly so if the sentence of imprisonment, as is usual, can be graced with pardon, for in such a case criminals would perpetuate criminal violations with a greater peace of mind and tranquillity of thought.1

  • 1. Tafsir-e-Namuna, vol. 1, pg. 607.