Abu Eesa Niamatullah
The great thing about finding the right place for Tarawīh prayers during Ramaḍān is the opportunity to deeply reflect upon verses of the Qur’ān that you might not hear every day, recited in a slightly more quicker fashion that normal which also adds that little bit more reality to the occasion too. Often, in the normal obligatory prayers, the Imām might recite so slowly – in fact too slowly with more focus being on Tajwīd etc – that one starts to enjoy more the voice and musical sound as opposed to reflect instead about what is actually being said, and indeed finds it more difficult to remember the previous verse so as to give context and feeling to the current verse being recited.
It was quite ironic that my Tarawīh reflection tonight as the verses were being recited (I'm currently at a place which is doing only half a juz’ a day, and so we've only just got to Ṣūrat'l-Mā'idah!) was none other than the verse of the moment:
“We prescribed for them therein: A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear and a tooth for a tooth; and for wounds, an equal retaliation. But, if one forgives it, then that will be expiation for him. Those who do not judge according to what God has revealed are doing grave wrong.” (al-Mā’idah, 45)
This story below of a Saudi judge trying to ensure that just the spinal cord is severed as part of a Qiṣāṣ (I prefer the translation "fair retribution") case has unfortunately caused many Muslims to make ignorant and pathetic statements against their own religion, a fact made all the worse because it is only done in response to the sensitivities being offended of those who don’t accept any verses of the Qur’ān, let alone those verses which might be more gory in nature. Which begs the question: exactly how much more of the Qur’ān will such Muslims throw behind their backs as well?
The verses concerning Qiṣāṣ and the Hudūd (prescribed punishments) do confuse many people so let me just say briefly concerning Qiṣāṣ in particular that firstly, Allāh ‘azza wa jall never wishes at the first instance for people to punish and retaliate against each other as has been made manifestly clear by His statement, “But, if one forgives it, that will be an expiation for him” as well as His statement in Ṣūrat'l-Baqarah, "But if the culprit is pardoned by his aggrieved brother, this shall be adhered to fairly, and the culprit shall pay what is due in a good way. This is an alleviation from your Lord and an act of mercy" meaning that the original criminal has been let off and you as the injured party will have your sins erased for such a noble act.
This is what the original status quo is i.e. to pardon the assailant. And this is no doubt whatsoever what the Judge will have begged the claimant's family to do (I know some Sharī‘ah Court Judges personally, have seen Qadhā’ in action, and this is exactly what happens). And folks, I really do mean beg - with everything possible exhorting to forgiveness and mercy found in the Qur’ān and Sunnah. To witness this happening in a court can actually be quite an emotionally overwhelming experience.
This is of course the Sunnah of the Prophet (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) as narrated by Anas b. Mālik (radhy Allāhu ‘anhu) who said, "Never was a case of retaliation ever raised to the Prophet except that he would order the claimants to pardon (the assailant)." (Abū Dāwūd)
And likewise this was the Sunnah of the Companions afterwards as well – despite the fact that many of the narrations that describe the reward for the one who pardons in such a manner are actually considered to be dha‘īf (weak) – yet the consensus of the Muslim nation is upon the fact that one should try and encourage the claimant to forgive and pardon his assailant at the very least from having to take retribution against him by causing a similar injury. This is generally supported by a number of encouragements from the Qur’ān and Sunnah, for example as Allāh ‘azza wa jall says in Ṣūrat Āle-‘Imrān (v. 134), “Hurry towards your Lord’s forgiveness and a Garden as wide as the heavens and earth prepared for the righteous; those who give, both in prosperity and adversity, who restrain their anger and pardon people. God loves those who do good.”
Similarly the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Wealth is not diminished by giving in charity, the one who pardons is not increased except in honour, and one doesn’t humble himself in front of Allāh except that Allāh will raise him.” (Muslim)
It should be made clear here that there is discussion amongst the Fuqahā’ that if such a blow was delivered by the injured party against the original assailant (such as with a meat cleaver!) and of course it is near-impossible to recreate the exact same spinal injury inflicted by the same kind of blow, then Qiṣāṣ is not an option anymore and blood money is insisted upon instead. In fact it would be fair to say that the majority of the scholars hold that if someone suffers any internal injury in an attack, the judge cannot offer Qiṣāṣ to the claimant’s family because of the uncertainty and risk involved of further and greater injury than that incurred in the first place.
I would contend that it is rather unfortunate not to say this judge in question actually receive more praise for taking his job so seriously. It would have been far easier for him to just say, “This is a seriously complicated internal injury in which there’s no way of having exact fair retribution for so I rule for blood money!”
Said statement would have been the norm from the scholars a thousand years ago but what the judge is investigating is whether our current medical advancements allow for an exact replication of the injury in question, which is in essence the exact letter of the law – a law which is to be found still today in the Old Testament and has been maintained for the Muslims to follow until the Final Day. And what must be remembered is that the judge has gone to all this effort solely in pursuit of justice for the injured party for it is his right to forgo blood money and choose the exact same horrific injury that has ruined his life upon the assailant despite the fact that to pardon would be better.
In summary then: the judge is quite right Islamically to explore the possibility of establishing the desire of the claimant for the letter of the law if the claimant has rejected the spirit of the law. And we likewise should respect that.
And it’s for that final reason that I felt compelled to write this piece: respect. As Muslims we should respect our scholars more than what some detractors and antagonists would like us to do. It is a very serious issue to question people’s intentions without the full facts or to do so from a position of ignorance of Islamic Law.
Yet it is altogether far worse to disrespect and question the authenticity and finality of God’s word in His final Book gifted to mankind to lift them from their darkness into the light of guidance. And all because of what? Because one is being made to feel uncomfortable about the Divine nature of one’s faith due to the dissatisfaction of those who couldn’t care a single jot about faith in the first place. That truly is shameful and a measly price and reason to sell one’s religion for!
Let me in closing gently remind my brothers and sisters of what Allāh jalla wa ‘alā told the Jewish nation in the verse preceding our Qiṣāṣ verse that we’re looking at, which could very well be a wake-up call to us as well:
“So do not fear the people but fear Me, and do not exchange My verses for a small price. And whoever does not judge by what Allāh has revealed - then it is those who are the disbelievers.” (al-Mā’idah, 44)