Punishment: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth

Q529 :"Indeed, We did reveal the Torah, containing guidance and light. By it did the prophets, who had surrendered themselves to Allah, judge among the Jews, and so did the divines and the rabbis; they gave judgment in accordance with what had been entrusted to their care of Allah's scriptures and to which they themselves were witnesses. No, have no fear of men but fear Me; and do not barter away My revelations for a paltry price. Those who do not judge in accordance with what Allah has revealed are indeed disbelievers. In it (i.e. the Torah) We decreed for them a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and a (similar) retribution for wounds. But for [those who do not act] in accordance with what Allah has revealed are indeed wrongdoers." (The Repast, "Al-Maidah": 5;44-45). Commentary by Sayyid Qutb.

A529 : Every religion revealed by Allah comprises three essential aspects: a faith which settles deep into the mind, a set of worship rituals and a law to regulate human life. The implementation of Allah's law will always be met by opposition from people in authority, those who pursue their own interest or their vain desires and the deluded masses who may find the implementation of Allah's law a heavy burden. Allah addresses His servants to whose care He entrusts the implementation of His law not to fear any human beings or their resistance, they should fear Allah alone. Allah also knows that some of those who are charged with the safekeeping and implementation of Allah's law may find worldly temptations too strong to resist. As they realize that people with power or money and those who seek all types of pleasure oppose Allah's legislation, they may flatter them in order to gain something of the riches and pleasures of this world. Professional clerics in all generations have yielded to such temptation as did some Jewish rabbis. Allah addresses all those saying to them: "Do not barter away My revelations for a paltry price." This is the price they get in return for their silence or for their distortion of Allah's revelations or for issuing doubtful rulings. Indeed, every price offered is paltry, even if it includes all that is in this world. How could it be described otherwise, when it is no more than a position, a salary, a title and a petty interest for which faith is bartered away and hell purchased? Nothing is more wicked than treachery by a person who is in a position of trust and nothing is more vile than the distortion of facts by a witness. Those who are given the title, "religious men" do commit such treachery and distortion. They remain idle when they are called upon to work for the implementation of Allah's revelation and they lift words out of context in order to please those in power at the expense of Allah's revelation. In a most decisive, definitive and general statement, Allah tell us: "Those who do not judge in accordance with what Allah has revealed are indeed disbelievers." The generality of this statement makes it absolutely unrestricted to time or place. The ruling is definitive and applicable to everyone who does not judge according to Allah's revelation, regardless of where and in what period he lives. The reason is the one we have already explained. A person whose judgment is at variance with Allah's revelation denies the Godhood of Allah. A basic quality of Godhood is the authority to legislate. Whoever observes something other than Allah's revelation in his judgment does not only reject a particular aspect of Allah's Godhood but also claims for himself certain qualities of Godhood. If that is not disbelief, I wonder what is. For what use is a verbal claim of being a believer or submitting to Allah, when action denies such a claim? Any argument about this definitive, decisive and general ruling is not more than an attempt to avoid facing the reality. To try to give this ruling a different interpretation is simply an attempt to lift words out of their context. Such arguments change nothing of Allah's clear and definitive judgment. Having explained this basic rule in all divine faiths, the surah gives some examples of the law contained in the Torah which Allah had revealed so that on its basis, prophets, divines and rabbis judge among the Jews: "In it We decreed for them a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and a (similar) retribution for wounds." These provisions outlined in the Torah have been retained in Islamic law as an integral part of it, since it is meant to be the law of all mankind, till the end of time. It is true that these provisions may not be implemented except in the land of Islam, but this is only for practical reasons. Islamic authority cannot implement these provisions beyond the borders of the land of Islam. Whenever and wherever Muslim rulers can implement these laws, they are required to do so. Since Islamic law is a code for all mankind in all generations, one provision has been added to them under Islam. This is the one to which reference is made in the following Qur'anic statement: "But for him who forgoes it out of charity it will atone for some of his sins." This was not included in the law of the Torah. Retaliation was inevitable. No one could waive it or forgo it. Hence no atonement of sins could be achieved through such a charitable gesture. A word on the concept of retaliation in punishment for injuries that may not go amiss. The basic principle which is established through this concept is that of equality of human beings and equality before the law. No law other than that of Allah acknowledges such an equality so as to make the punishment equal to the crime and to remove all considerations of class, position, lineage and race. It is a principle, which is amplified by its comprehensive application: "A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, and ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and a (similar) retribution for wounds." No distinction between rulers and ruled, or between one class and another. All are equal before Allah's law, since they all descend from one single soul created by Allah. This great principle established by Allah's law is the true and complete declaration of the birth of man when all human beings are considered equal, subject to the same law which rules on the basis of absolute equality. It is the first declaration of its kind. Human laws have lagged behind for tens of centuries before they began to aspire to rise to its level, but even then, their aspirations remained both partial and theoretical. As for practical application, they continued to lag behind. The Jews, in whose scriptures, the Torah, this great principle was established, deviated from it in their relations with other people. They used to say: "We are subject to no restrictions in relations with the Gentiles." They also deviated from it in their own internal relations, as we have already explained when two Jewish tribes in Madinah, Quraithah and An-Nadheer established a system of blood money which gave the victorious twice as much as it gave the defeated. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) brought them back to the implementation of Allah's law based on equality. He put them all on the same level. Apart from its being a declaration of the birth of man, retaliation on the basis of equality is a most effective deterrent which makes anyone who contemplates killing another or causing him bodily harm think twice before putting his thoughts into action. He knows that regardless of his position, family connections, class or race, he will be executed for killing and he will suffer the same bodily harm as he causes. If he cuts off the hand or the leg of another person, he will have his own hand or leg cut off; and if he destroys an eye, an ear, a nose or a tooth, a similar organ of his will be destroyed. But he may not hesitate that long when he realizes that all that could happen to him is a period of imprisonment, long as it may be. His own physical agony or handicap is so different from putting up with a period of punishment. Moreover, retaliation on the basis of equality is the sort of punishment which appeals to human nature. It quenches the desire for revenge which may be fueled by blind fury and it pacifies hearts and heals wounds. Some people may accept blood money while others insist on retaliation. Under Islam, divine legislation takes full account of human nature, as it has been done in the Torah. Having ensured the satisfactory punishment of retaliation, Islam appeals to the benevolent element in human nature to encourage charitable forbearance: "But for him who forgoes it out of charity, it will atone for some of his sins." It is up to the next of kin of a person who has been killed or to the injured person himself in all cases of wounds and injuries to be charitable and to forgo retaliation. It is up to either person, out of his own free choice, to forgo his right to retaliation and to accept blood money in place of it, or to forgo both. If he does, Allah will forgive him some or all of his sins. It should be added, however, that even if such a person forgoes retaliation for blood money, the Muslim ruler may enforce a lesser punishment, as he deems fit, on the killer.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )