Fifth Greater Sin: Murder
The fifth Greater Sin is the murder of that person whose execution has not been ordered by Allah (S.w.T.) and the Holy Prophet (S). Traditions which confirm that murder is a Greater Sin have already been mentioned at the beginning. Moreover the verses of the Holy Qur’an mention clearly the Divine punishment for the murderers.
“And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his punishment is Hell; he shall abide in it, and Allah will send His wrath on him and curse him and prepare for him a painful chastisement.” (Surah an-Nisā’ 4:93)
Five types of punishments have been ordained for those who kill the believers. First, Hell; Second, Eternal abode in Hell; Third, involvement in the Divine wrath; Fourth, being the accursed by Allah (S.w.T.); Fifth, the Great Chastisement.
One of the beliefs of the Shia Ithna Ashari school of thought is that eternal punishment is only for the Kuffar (Unbelievers). In other words, if a person dies in belief, he will not remain under punishment forever, even if he has killed a believer (or someone else whose killing has been prohibited according to the Divine command), or even though he has committed other greater sins. Hence the verse mentioned above has been explained in various ways. One possible explanation is that: one becomes eligible for eternal punishment only if he murders the believer because of his Imān (belief). If such is the case, then, the killer is indeed liable for everlasting chastisement, for he considered the murder of a Mu’min as Halāl, whereas it is Harām. To consider a murder of a believer Harām is an article of faith. Consequently one who does not have this belief is a Kafir.
The Holy Prophet (S) announced on the occasion of the Farewell Pilgrimage (Hajjatul Wida’):
“O People! It is not permitted to kill the Muslims. Similarly to appropriate their property is not allowed. So do not be unjust upon yourselves and do not revert to disbelief after my death.”1
Another explanation of the afore-mentioned hadith is that “abide in Hell” denotes being under punishment for a very long period. It does not mean that the sinner will be involved in eternal chastisement.
“Whoever slays a soul, unless it be for a manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men.” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:32)
All the believers are sons of Adam (a.s.) and brothers to one another. One who kills another person perpetrates a great evil and instigates a feeling of malice, revenge and hatred among people.
The Almighty Allah says:
“....and do not kill ourselves; surely Allah is Merciful to you. And whoever does this aggressively and unjustly, We will soon cast him into Fire; and this is easy for Allah.” (Surah an-Nisā’ 4:29-30)
Allah (S.w.T.) prohibits the believers from suicide even in times of turmoil.
“.....and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men.” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:32)
If one saves the life of a “protected soul” whose killing has been prohibited by religion, be it forgiving, or not avenging, or protecting him, it is as if he has given life to the whole humanity. By saving one person he has; in a sense; saved humanity.
Murder is the worst sin in the eyes of Allah (S.w.T.) and severe punishment has been prescribed for a killer. The opposite of this, that is, saving the life of a person is accordingly regarded as the greatest form of worship.
The following tradition is indicative of the fact that murder is a Greater Sin:
Regarding the killing of a believer, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says:
At the time of his death the killer is told. ‘Die as you wish, die as a Jew or a Christian or as a Magian.’2
“A believer is free in the vast expanse of his belief till he colours his hands with the blood of a Mu’min.”
Imam (a.s.) further says:
“One who kills a believer intentionally is deprived of the ‘Tawfīq’ of repenting (for his sins).”3
The third tradition, also from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says,
“The Holy Prophet (S) was told that a Muslim has been killed and his corpse is lying on the street. When the Holy Prophet (S) and his companions reached the site of the murder, he enquired as to who the killer was.”
The people said, “We do not know.” The Prophet was surprised,
“A person has been killed among the Muslims, and no one knows of his killer?”
“By the Almighty who appointed me with Prophethood, If all the creatures of the heavens and the earth participate in the murder of a Muslim and be pleased upon that, then Allah would surely involve them in punishment and send them all to Hell.”
The lesson derived from this hadith is that there is no difference between the killer and those who support or co-operate with him.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) has said,
“On the day of Qiyāma a person would be presented before Allah. He will be having a streak of blood (like one gets a cut while shaving). He will say,
‘By Allah, I have not killed anyone. Not have I co-operated with anyone’s murder.’ Allah will say, ‘Yes, but one day you spoke about a believer and your words caused him to be killed. Hence you are responsible for his murder.’”
Hazrat Imam Riďa (a.s.) said,
“If someone is killed in the east and one who lives in the west is pleased upon this, then he is a partner in this murder.”4
It is Harām to abort an unborn child. Like in the case of a murder, diyah (prescribed fine) has to be paid here too. There is no difference between a foetus and a full-grown man. Even if the killers are its own parents. If a woman takes medicine that causes abortion, she would be liable for the punishment of a murderer.
The penalty (diyah) for killing a ‘protected soul’ (Nafs al-Muhtaram) is one thousand misqal of gold.
If the killers are the parents themselves they do not inherit any part of diyah but the other relatives who are eligible for the inheritance are qualified for it.
It is evident from the foregoing discussion that human life is considered sacred by the Islamic Shari’a. Nothing has been given so much importance like the one reserved for the ‘protected soul’ (Nafs al-Muhtaram). So much so that the beginning point of the human life, that is, the fertilised ovum is also not to be wasted. Once conception has taken place, no abortion is allowed. The ‘diyah’ (penalty) for abortion is as follows:
If the fertilised ovum is aborted the ‘diyah’ is sixty misqal.
If bones have formed it is eighty misqal.
If an incomplete child is aborted whose features have become distinct but the soul not entered the body, the penalty is one hundred misqal.
If soul had entered it and it was a male child, diyah is one thousand misqal, and if female, it is five hundred misqal.
If a pregnant woman dies, it is necessary to remove the unborn child by operation. Any carelessness in this regard is ‘Harām’.
If due to carelessness the child dies, diyah is Wajib upon the one who was responsible for the lapse.
By way of repentance, a person who has committed a willful murder should surrender himself to the heir of the murdered person. The successors of the murdered person have a choice of either avenging the death or accepting the ‘diyah’. That is, they can forgive him or kill him in retribution.
If the murderer is forgiven, Three things become obligatory on him:
1) Freeing a slave
2) Feeding sixty poor people
3) Keeping sixty fasts
If freeing a slave is not allowed by the law, the other two penalties should be fulfilled.
Even in the case of an accidental murder the heirs of the victim are to be paid the ‘diyah’. But they should forgive the killer.
Apart from this the Three penalties should be imposed, that is, freeing a slave, feeding sixty people and fasting for sixty days.
Similarly cutting off a part of someone’s body is a Greater Sin. Those who intend to study this subject in detail are requested to refer to the books of Jurisprudence.