Why Islam enacted the law of retaliation?
Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Hajj ash-Shaykh Nasir Makarim Shirazi
Studying Islamic clemency and mercy in the Qur’anic 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.
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: "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." (2:178)
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 – In verse 179: “And there is life for you in (the law of) retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may guard yourselves.” (2:179)
In 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. 1
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: "Execution of any penal law or punishment is better than forty days of rainfall." 2
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 honour 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 íõÍúíöí ÇáúÃóÑúÖó ÈóÚúÏó ãóæúÊöåóÇ ۚ (57:17) says: "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." 3
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.
Second: Ways for proving applicability of penal laws
Studying the ways of proving applicability of penal laws displays other appearances of Islamic clemency and benevolence.
Applicability of many penal laws is proven with four witnesses or a confession at four different times. That is to say, for application of penal law for adultery, four just men shall testify that they have seen a man or woman committing adultery.
Is it possible! We have not found even one case in the narrations and historical books where adultery is proven with testimony of witnesses for applicability of penal law. Therefore, this way is practically impossible, and this is a sort of Islamic clemency including such sinners.
There are numerous conditions for the other way that is confession of the sinner. For instance, he or she shall confess four times, and each confession shall be in a different place, and even if one confesses four times in one place, it is deemed as one time. 4 Moreover, if the sinner repents with the Islamic judge before his or her conviction, and regrets for what he or she has done, it is difficult to execute penal law for him or her. 5
These points are mentioned in numerous narrations one of which is referred to here to see the Islamic benevolence and clemency of the real successor of Prophet Muhammad (S), extended to the sinner who had referred to him willingly for judgment: An adulteress came to Hazrat ‘Ali (as) and asked him to purify her with execution of penal law for adultery, because the worldly chastisement is easier than the permanent and continuous punishment in the other world. Imam said: Go and return after delivery of your child to be purified.
The lady went and came back after childbirth and repeated her request. Imam asked several questions from her (hoping to dissuade her and make her hesitate in what she says). He said: Go and breast feed your child and after infancy, come to purify you. The lady returned after two years and again repeated her request. Again Imam asked several questions and the lady replied. Finally, Imam said: Go and nurture your child so that he could protect himself against the daily dangers. Then, come to be purified. The lady came back weeping. 6
As you see, it is not easy to prove guilt liable to penal law, and it is not possible to prove it as far as the sinner does not want execution of the penal law. This is an indication of Islamic benevolence.
If Islam was the religion of violence, would it be so fastidious for conviction of a sin?
Third: Rules for execution of penal laws
Even if applicability of a penal law is proven, and the Islamic judge decides to execute it, there are rules and instructions for how to do it which are indications of Islamic clemency and benevolence. Hereunder, we refer to some of these rules:
1) Lash penalty shall not be executed at the beginning and end of day in winter because the lash would hurt too much. Rather, it shall be executed in the middle of day when it is warmer.
2) Contrarily, it shall not be done in the middle of day in summer, when it is too warm. Rather, it shall be done at the end of day.7
3) The sinner shall not lie when lashing takes place. Rather, he or she shall be sitting or standing, because the lash strokes are slower in this condition, and the sinner feels less pain.8
4) If the sinner is sick, execution of penal law shall be postponed till his or her recovery.9
5) If she is pregnant, it shall be deferred till delivery.10
There are some other rules11 all indicating Islamic clemency even for a sinner, the details of which could be found in the Fiqh books.
Considering above three points, (philosophy of penal laws, ways for proving applicability of penal laws and punishments and rules for execution of penal laws and punishments) as well as reflection on the subtle points, makes any fair and impartial man to confess that Islamic clemency and benevolence exists even in the seemingly violent penal laws and punishments. On this account, execution of Islamic punishments is accompanied with so many blessings for the society that its blessings exceed the blessings of forty successive days of rainfall.
Holy War (Jihad) and Islamic clemency
Why has Islam which we introduce as the religion of mercy enacted Holy War and authorises Muslims to attack others and kill them?
Isn’t war an application of violence? If yes, why has it been recommended?
For replying to this question, it is necessary to find Qur’an’s attitude towards war to clarify if Islamic Jihad is a sort of violence or is it compatible with the Islamic clemency? For this purpose, we study some Qur’anic verses hereunder:
First and second: Military readiness for prevention from war "(O Muslims
, make ready for them whatever force and strings of horses you can." (8:60)
"To terrify by them the enemy of God and your enemy" (8:60)
In fact, Islam intends to eradicate war through high readiness of Muslims, and prevents any conflict and blood-shedding. Islam says
: Be so strong and powerful that the enemy may even not think of warfare and attack.
Is such religion the religion of violence?
We read in the next verse
: "And if they incline to peace, do thou incline to it; and put thy trust in God; He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing." (8:61)
Thereby, Islam does not support conflict, violence, war and blood-shedding. When the enemy repents and is ready for peace and reconciliation, it instructs to leave war and accept cease-fire.
In brief, Islam’s attitude towards war is a preventive one, but if it is not effective and war occurred, it benefits any appropriate opportunity for ceasing war.
Therefore, Islam has not authorised its soldiers to start any war, and all Islamic wars have been initiated by the enemy.
Is this attitude towards Jihad mixed with violence, or clemency and benevolence?
Third: Scope of Holy War (Jihad) and its Rules
"Whosoever commits aggression against you, you commit aggression against him like as he has committed against you; and fear God, and know that God is with the god-fearing." (2:194)
According to the above verse; firstly: You are authorised to commit aggression only against those who have committed aggression against you. Secondly: Your aggression shall be like them and you shall not transgress. Thirdly: Do not forget god-fearing even in the battle and blood-shedding field, and know that God is with the god-fearing.
In fact, law of Jihad in Islam is accepted and observed by all the sane in the world. Does any wise man authorise man to submit to an enemy attack and let them dominate his soul, wealth and honour? Never! Rather, all sane recommend the same preventive logic of Qur’an.
Fourth: Is ignoring Jihad equal to destruction of houses of worship
God recites one of the philosophies of Jihad in Qur’an: "Had God not driven back the people, some by the means of others, there had been destroyed cloisters and churches, oratories and mosques, wherein God’s Name is much mentioned. Assuredly God will help him who helps Him – surely God is All-strong, All-mighty." (22:40)
If the faithful and brave individuals do not take any action and just be an onlooker of the destructive activities of tyrants, unbelievers and the cruel, there will remain no trace of temples and centers for divine worship. The temples are the station of wakefulness and arch of prayer is the field of battle and war. Mosque is a barrier to the tyrants. Basically, any invitation to theology is against the tyrants who would like people to worship them as God. Therefore, if they can, they would destroy all of these centers.
It is interesting that according to this verse, not only Islamic Jihad guarantees Islamic temples, but also the temples of all divine religions are protected thanks to it.
Question: What you stated about defensive Jihad in Islam is proper and acceptable for us. We too confess that defensive Jihad is not considered as violence. Rather, it is in agreement with Islamic benevolence and clemency. Is the initial Jihad which is performed initially and without any attack by the other party, in accordance with Islamic clemency? And not considered as a sort of violence?
Answer: It could be replied in two ways. Pay attention.
First answer: Is there any initial Jihad in Islam?
Some Islamic researchers, scholars and historians believe that there is not any initial Jihad in Islam, and all the wars that occurred at Prophet’s (S) time at the beginning of Islam have been defensive, that is, first the enemy has attacked, then Prophet (S) and Muslims defended themselves.
For instance, in the “Confederates Battle”, which was one of the most extensive battles by Islam enemies against Prophet (S) and Muslims, the idolaters started the war. They departed towards Medina from different parts of Hejaz headed by Mecca idolaters, and surrounded the city. Muslims had to defend their soul, wealth, honour and beliefs. Does any sane agree to keep silent before the armed enemies (intending to kill Islam Prophet (S) and Muslims, and capture their women and children and destroy Medina)? Is confronting with them considered as violence?
In the Battle of Hunain, Prophet (S) was informed that “Havazan tribe” and some other idolaters are going to assault Medina, the main base of Muslims. Prophet (S) prepared Muslims for defending themselves and their religion, and thereby the battle of Hunain occurred.
Among the wars at the beginning of Islam, it may seem that “The Battle of Khaybar” has been an initial Jihad, but while studying history it is clarified that it has been a defensive one. Prophet (S) was going to give a telling response to the plots, sabotages and mischief of those who were implicated directly or indirectly in most events. Moreover, Khaybar was the center of corruption and sedition, and Muslims aimed to destroy this center. Therefore, the Battle of Khaybar too was not an initial Jihad.
The same applies to the Badr battle. In the second year of Hjirah, two events took place in the Battle of Badr, one of which was known as minor Badr and the other as major Badr, both initiated by Islam’s enemies.
The Prophet (S) was informed that a group Heads of Meccan idolaters have come around Medina, and have plundered Muslims’ camels, sheep and other properties, and are escaping to Mecca. Prophet (S) ordered the Muslim soldiers to chase them. The soldiers chased them to Badr, but despaired of finding the enemy.
The event finished without any conflict and it was known as minor Badr. The major Badr battle which occurred later in the same year, was a response to the sharp aggression by the Mecca heads, and was a defensive war.
“Conquest of Mecca” was one of the important campaigns by the Prophet (S). However, first, it aimed at destruction of center of Islam enemies and idolaters, because all Muslim problems, adversities and wars were planned there. Secondly, no war happened during “Conquest of Mecca”. When the idolaters observed the Muslims' mighty and crowded army, they surrendered themselves without any war and blood-shed.
In brief, according to this group of Islamic researchers, scholars and historians, all wars that occurred at the beginning of Islam were defensive, and none was considered as an initial Jihad. Qur’anic verses too confirm this: "Will you not fight a people who broke their oaths and purposed to expel the Messenger, beginning the first time against you?" (9:13)
The phrase “beginning the first time against you” indicates that the wars at the beginning of Islam were defensive, and not initial.
In another verse God excludes a group of idolaters after declaring war with them and says: "Excepting those of the idolaters with whom you made covenant, then they failed you ought not lent support to any man against you. With them fulfill your covenant till their term; surely God loves the god-fearing." (9:4)
The words applied in this verse indicate that Muslims will not involve in war with idolaters as far as Islam enemies do not break their promises, and are not supporting those who are directly fighting with Muslims, and no danger is felt from their side. In one word, Muslims will not initiate war.
In addition to the above two verses, verse 61, of ‘The Spoils’ surah proves the same. The verse recommends Muslims that if they are called for peace; they shall receive their call and reply positively. The verse implies that Islam does not attack and assault the tribes, nations and countries not initiating war against it.
In brief, as per some Islamic researchers, scholars and historians, wars by Islam Prophet (S) at the beginning of Islam have been all defensive, and none has been on its initiative. Some Qur’anic verses too approve of the same.
Second answer: In some special cases, initial Jihad is in concordance with logic and intellect
Three types of initial Jihad are induced from the Holy Qur’an which are in concordance with intellect and practice of all sane in the world, and are not in contradiction with Islamic benevolence and clemency:
1) Jihad for extinguishing sedition
Qur’an refers to this type of Jihad: "Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is God’s." (2:193)
According to the verse, wherever there is mischief, and there is no other way except war for its elimination, we are authorised to initiate Jihad for elimination of mischief and sedition. As it was stated, such initial Jihad is acceptable by all the sane and other religions and doctrines in the world. Practice of the sane confirms it too, two samples of which are referred to hereunder:
a) Several years ago, when the Muslim countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina were assaulted wildly by the oppressor Serbs, they destroyed the houses, mosques, farms, hospitals and other institutes of this Islamic country, and even worse, they initiated a widespread genocide. A union was formed by the European countries to find a solution for this sedition. Finally, they concluded that there remains no way save military aggression and fighting with Serbs. Thus, they attacked them and extinguished the sedition.
Here, we do not care the motives of the said union (if they aimed at spiritual affairs and supporting Muslims or prevention from the problems which will involve them in the future.). However, they authorised and accomplished the initial Jihad and military attack for extinguishing the sedition by Serbs, and the sane in world approved them.
b) Another live example is the war which occurred recently in Afghanistan. We saw that after ruling this country, Taliban started widespread cultivation of poppy to taint the neighboring countries, Middle east and rather, all the world. Moreover, they committed unprecedented crimes in Afghanistan, and changed into a dangerous cause of disturbance for people in Afghanistan and other countries.
For termination of this tumult and elimination of disturbance, UN formed a force to attack to Afghanistan and save the oppressed people of this country and the entire world from Taliban. Undoubtedly, this was approved and accepted by all the sane in the world. Afghan people objected the U.S. in this event because they knew that U.S. did not enter Afghanistan for elimination of disturbance, and rather, it was seeking for its own interests.
So, Jihad and war for extinguishing disturbance which is induced from Holy Qur’an is accepted by all the sane in world, and is not to be considered as violence.
2) Jihad with tyrants and rebels
When two Islamic tribes, groups or countries are involved in conflict, according to the Holy Qur’an, the other Muslims are obliged to solve and settle their dispute. If one of them does not accept to reconcile and does not stop oppression and aggression, and continues its assault despite the readiness of other party for reconciliation, it is called a rebel from Islamic point of view. Here, Islam authorizes Muslims to fight with the rebel group and initiate Jihad (Holy War) against it.
Islam does not let us to keep silent and be an observer while a group is oppressing another one. On this basis, we believe that all Islamic territories shall contribute to the oppressed Palestinians (in any possible way), and eliminate the evil of the usurper and oppressor Israel which commits a new oppression and crime every day. Otherwise, they shall bear a heavy responsibility with God.
Although, this is an initial Jihad, but it is compatible with any sane logic and intellect, and not considered as violence. Rather, it is the requisite of Islamic benevolence and clemency for the oppressed group.
3) Jihad for elimination of hindrances to freedom for propagation of Islam
God has issued instructions and programs for prosperity, freedom, perfection, felicity and tranquility of man, and has obliged His prophets to declare these instructions to the people. If an individual or a group finds these orders a hindrance to their cheap interests, and impede prophets’ invitation, prophets and their followers are authorised to eliminate them first peacefully, and if not possible, resorting force in order to restore freedom for propagation.
In other words, people in all societies are entitled to hear the call of heralds of truth, and be free to accept their invitation. If some want to deprive them from their legitimate right and do not let them listen to call of heralds of truth, the advocators of these programs are authorised to use any means for provision of this freedom.
Therefore, if Muslims want to propagate their religion and doctrine through logical ways and introduce it to non-Muslims, but a group hinders them and their logical and proper propagations so that they may break pens, cut tongues and choke breaths, Islam authorises its followers to initiate Jihad for elimination of these hindrances and paving the way for the proper and logical propagation of religion of truth (not imposing it with force and power of sword).
When Islam was imported to Iran, it did not enter this territory for imposition of idea on Iranians. Rather, it fought with Iranian host for elimination of unreasonable hindrances for logical propagation of Islam. After overcoming Sassanian host, it never obliged and compelled people to accept and convert to Islam. On this account, some fire temples were flaming years after conquest of Iran by Islam, and some people still had their previous religion and doctrine. However, most of the Iranians who were clever embraced Islam and obeyed its instructions.
The Sassanians were the main hindrance for propagation of Islam in Iran. Eliminating this great hindrance, Islam prepared the situation for acceptance of Islam by Iranians. Certainly, this type of initial Jihad too is not refuted by the sane of world.
In general, initial Jihad for extinguishing sedition, prevention from rebellion of tyrants and rebels and elimination of hindrances to Islamic propagation is not considered as violence. Rather, it is the same Islamic benevolence.
It is inferred from above that Islam is the religion of compassion and clemency, and even some of its rulings which may seem violent apparently, are not practically in contradiction with Islamic clemency. Those who accused this clement religion with violence, are either unfamiliar with Islamic instructions or vindictive enemies who find Islam a hindrance for their illegitimate personal interests and benefits.
Objectives of Jihad in Islam
War is never regarded as a merit in Islam. Rather, it is believed to be a demerit because of causing destruction, and waste of souls, powers and facilities. In some Qur’anic verses, like 65, ‘The Cattle’ surah is called as one of the divine chastisement among earthquake, thunder, and heavenly or earthly calamities. On this account, Islam has instructed to avoid war as far as possible. However, when existence of a nation is endangered or its sacred objectives are subject to fall, war is deemed as a merit, and is entitled with “Jihad in the path of God”.
Therefore, in contrary to what the enemies propagate, Islamic Jihad never implies imposition of belief. Basically, an imposed belief is worthless in Islam. Rather, Jihad is recommended when the enemy imposes war on the Islamic nation or deprives it from its natural freedoms, disregards its rights or a tyrant oppresses unfairly. Then, it is obligatory for Muslims to support the oppressed even if it may result in conflict with the oppressor’s nation. This is also remarkable that Islam has emphasised on peaceful coexistence of followers of other divine religions, and there are detailed discussions in the verses and Islamic narrations and Fiqh on this under the title of “Rulings for the Tributary”.
If Islam advocated imposition of belief and resort to force and sword for achievement to its objectives, rulings for the tributary and peaceful coexistence would have been nonsense.
Sometimes calamities too are merciful!
Do those objecting the rulings of retaliation, and Islamic punishments and Jihad, introducing them as the signs of violence, call heavenly and earthly calamities and divine punishments as violence and introduce God as violent. However, we believe that divine calamities and chastisements embracing the sinners, are a mercy although they may seem apparently violent. Qur’an says: "We have sent no Prophet to any city but that We seized its people with misery and hardship, that haply they might be humble." (7:94)
The man in ease and affluence does not listen to the prophets, but when he is involved in difficulties, he pays heed to them and is ready to accept the truth.
Therefore, divine chastisements for awakening the sinners and resulting in their return and repentance to God, is not violence. Rather they are the same divine clemency and benevolence.
1. 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, áÚá˜ã ÊÊÞæä, 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 ÑÍãÊ (mercy), one hundred sixty for ÑÍãÇä (beneficent) and one hundred ninety eight for ÑÍیã (merciful). This indicates that retaliation is an exceptional case, and the basis is Islamic mercy, affection and benevolence.
2. Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, Vol. 18, p. 308
3. Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, vol. 18, page 308, narration 3
4. You can study these narrations in Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, vol. 18, page 377 onwards.
5. Late Sheikh Hurr al-Ameli has narrated these traditions in Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, vol. 18, page 327.
6. Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, vol. 18, p. 378, first narration
7. Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, vol. 18, p. 315 onwards.
8. Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, vol. 18, p. 369, first narration
9. Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, vol. 18, p. 320 onwards
10. Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, vol. 18, p. 378 onwards
11. For instance, lashing the vulnerable organs is forbidden. This has been mentioned in Wasa’il ush-Shi’a, vol. 18, p. 369 onwards.