Allah revealed the Quran as a source of guidance for all of humanity. Hence, He covers various topics of importance in the Holy Book. Among those topics are sins that Muslims must avoid. The biggest sin that a person can commit is that of shirk. This means to associate partners with Allah. Allah is the One and Only God, and He created us to worship Him alone. By committing shirk, we are going against the purpose of life. After shirk, the most heinous crime is that of murder. Allah discusses the sanctity of life on various occasions in the Quran and makes it clear that murder of any kind is a huge sin.
In the past few decades, Muslims have gained a very negative reputation around the world. In the West, a horde of so-called Muslim groups have gained notoriety. Many people consider these groups to be the face of Islam, whereas this couldn’t be further from reality. Due to media perceptions and propaganda, many people around the world think that Islam sanctions murder and killing. They have the misconception that Islam sanctions the murder of non-Muslims. Some even go so far as to think that this is a religious duty – a preposterous idea indeed.
The reality is that Islam is a practical religion that caters to all walks of life. Islam values human life tremendously, and committing murder is a severe violation of the law according to the Islamic Shari’ah. Allah discusses murder and killing in the Quran. Furthermore, we can find lots of information regarding the measures taken by the Shari’ah to punish those who engage in murder and killing. Homicide is a crime, and it requires laws and regulations that authorities must follow and enforce. Any person who commits such a crime must face the law.
The Types of Murders
Modern law classifies homicide into several degrees. For example, in the USA, the most serious type is first degree or felony murder. Second-degree murder is the second-most serious one. Then, the law defines a few types of manslaughter. There are even certain murders that can be classified as justified. But the law varies from state to state in the USA, with a few differences in the law.
In a similar way, Islam divides murders into different types. However, these are defined by Allah and His Prophet (PBUH) rather than by a man-made system. As a result, this system is far superior to any other one in existence.
But whoever kills a believer intentionally – his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment.(Quran 4:93)
The first type of murder is the one that is intentional and willful. As Allah states in the verse above, there is a great punishment for this crime.
The next type of murder is the one that is semi-intentional. The classification for this is quite broad, but to state it in a simple way, it can refer to when a person intends on harming someone but kills them, perhaps without having the intention of doing so.
Last but not least, there is the inadvertent murder. This is usually in the form of an accident of some kind. So, a person had no intention to commit a murder but ended up killing someone due to a specific set of circumstances.
Difference Between the Types of Murders
The lines between intentional and semi-intentional murder can be blurred. Therefore, many scholars in the past have heavily debated this topic. There have been disagreements on the outcome as well.
Intentional murder is quite clear-cut, but the problem arises when it comes to differentiating between one that borders between intentional and semi-intentional. The reason for that is that only the guilty party is truly aware of his intention and whether he intended on committing the murder. For other people, it is not so easy. They must make decisions based on the available evidence.
Jurists can, therefore, take into account external factors. If a person attacked another with an object, they can check the size of the object or see how lethal it is. If someone is shooting someone point-blank with a loaded shotgun, they can’t claim it was semi-intentional! Additionally, the affected body part is also important. A person may shoot the other in the heart or the foot. The former is likely to kill, while the latter isn’t.
If one digs a little deeper, there can be some contentions about accidental or inadvertent murder as well. It can either be something like a complete accident, where the person committing the homicide had no control over the event. In that case, he isn’t culpable. However, there are some other cases as well. We can take the example of a person responsible for looking after someone. However, he fails to do his job properly; as a result, the person dies. In such cases, a person is guilty of negligence.
The Sanctity of Life in the Quran
We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.(Quran 5:32)
Allah has discussed the importance of life in various surahs of the Quran. The above verse in Surah al-Ma’idah is one of the most emphatic statements to uphold the sanctity of life in any scripture. Allah unequivocally states that one life, if taken, is equivalent to all human life. Hence, one doesn’t need to imagine anything to understand the sanctity of life according to Allah. Reading this alone tells us that if we engage in a crime as heinous as murder, Allah will hold us to account for our sin.
Do not take a ˹human˺ life—made sacred by Allah—except with ˹legal˺ right.(Quran 6:151)
Killing and murder is one of the first things Allah will hold us to account for on the Day of Judgment. Taking someone’s life for no reason is a major sin. Actions from the Sunnah also point toward the importance of life.
O you who have believed, do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.(Quran 4:29)
We can also see the importance of life when we look at the way Islam treats suicide. Various verses in the Quran show us that suicide is completely impermissible. The Prophet (PBUH) even stated that Allah would punish a person in the Afterlife if he commits suicide. He noted the mode of punishment would be the same way the person killed himself.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s Actions
The Prophet (PBUH)’s actions also showed the importance of life. Upon conquering Makkah after being persecuted for years by the disbelievers, he didn’t look to take revenge on everyone. Instead, he forgave most of them. Only some of the most heinous criminals received punishment. Forgiving the people of Makkah was the humane way of dealing with the situation. Hence, it won him many admirers. Furthermore, many people of Makkah converted to Islam.
Whoever afterward commits an injustice towards a protected person by breaking or rejecting the covenant, I shall be his foe on the Day of Judgment from among all the Believers and the Muslims.
Muhammad (PBUH) also made a peace treaty with the non-Muslims in Madinah. This was called the Charter of Madinah. In this charter, there was a provision that guaranteed a sanctity of life for everyone. The Prophet (PBUH) even stated that if someone harmed a disbeliever who had a treaty with the Muslims, he would be his opponent on the Last Day. Hence, there is no doubt that murder or even harming anyone for no reason is absolutely impermissible.
How Muslims View Murder
The Islamic texts clearly and unequivocally state that murder is a great crime. Hence, all Muslims must view it as an abhorrent sin. Sadly, many Muslims are guilty of not knowing their own religion. Some of them don’t study it at all and are Muslim in name only. Others follow ideologies that are contrary to Islam and its teachings. As a result, many Muslims may not even be aware that Islam strictly prohibits murder and legislates a strong punishment for it.
If anyone reads the Islamic texts that discuss murder, it should have a considerable effect on them. Just as knowledgeable Muslims hate the sin of shirk, adultery, etc., they should also despise murder. Therefore, it is an obligation upon a Muslim state to take all this into account. There are laws against murder, which we will get into later. The authorities must implement these to ensure that no one gets away with such an act.
Punishments for Murder
Just as there are different categories of murders, there are various punishments as well. Intentional murder obviously has the highest degree of punishment.
Qisas (Capital Punishment)
O you who have believed, prescribed for you is legal retribution for those murdered – the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But whoever overlooks from his brother [i.e., the killer] anything, then there should be a suitable follow-up and payment to him [i.e., the deceased’s heir or legal representative] with good conduct. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. But whoever transgresses after that will have a painful punishment.(Quran 2:178)
The main type of punishment for intentional murder or homicide is Qisas. This is capital punishment. The application is that of a life for a life, as mentioned in the verse above. If the heirs of the murdered victim prefer this, then it is mandatory to carry out. However, we must note here that, as always, the punishment has to be carried out by the authorities or the state. Vigilante killings to avenge other killings are not permissible in a civilized land with laws.
The Qisas method leaves the door open for legal retribution. Hence, if the family members wish to exact vengeance, that is their right. However, it has to be within the frame of the law. It should also be noted here that Qisas can only be applied for deliberate and intentional murder. If the authorities find that it was semi-intentional or an accident, Qisas is not a permissible option. Instead, the aggrieved party, i.e., the victim’s family, should get blood money or diyah.
Diyah (Blood Money)
It is also important to point out here that the family of the victim can forgive the killer. This is their prerogative. Allah grants them that right in the verse we quoted earlier. However, in return, the guilty person must pay the diyah to the people he has wronged. The Sunnah defines the diyah as being a fixed amount: “One hundred camels.” However, the amount has changed over time. It’s up to the authorities now to determine the amount that the guilty party should be required to pay if he is forgiven.
Diyah is a means to console the victim’s family for the loss they have suffered. When someone kills another person, he doesn’t only affect that person. Rather, he inflicts immense pain upon a whole family, extended relatives, and friends. If the family opts to forgive the person committing the crime, it’s only fair that they get some compensation. This is why the amount is fixed in Islam. It should be a certain amount that compensates the victim’s relatives, and it can’t be left to the whims of others to decide.
While the accused person must pay diyah if he is forgiven for deliberate murder, other types of homicides have a separate ruling. In the time of the Prophet (PBUH), tribes and their allies would combine together and pay the blood money. Since they had alliances with each other and this was an established system then, this was easy to do. However, it may be more challenging in the modern-day context. This concept rarely exists in such a form. Therefore, the final outcome may be more fluid and differ.
Terrorism and “Jihad”
In the context of the 21st century, there are a lot of misconceptions about Islam. Many non-Muslims are under the impression that Jihad allows mass killing or murder. However, the reality is that the modern phenomena of extremism or ‘terrorism’ is not a part of Islam. Instead, people have distorted the teachings of Islam for their own benefit. Due to this and a negative perception of Muslims in the media, people start developing preconceived notions about Islam.
The practice of bombings, suicide attacks, etc., to murder people, have no basis in Islam. As described earlier in this article, Islam places much emphasis on the sanctity of life. Hence, Islam forbids killing innocent people for things they have nothing to do with. Not only does Islam forbid it, but there are harsh punishments for things like these. If a Muslim engages in mass murder, he must be ready for the consequences. If he doesn’t face them in this life, he will in the next. Allah is the Just.
Jihad is something that closely relates to fiqh and Islamic ideology. However, it has become a political tool nowadays. People have distorted it wrongfully for their own benefit. Islamic jurists have never allowed what people nowadays refer to as ‘terrorism.’ Furthermore, people sometimes point to verses in the Quran that seem to justify such acts. For example, the killing of disbelievers. However, all Muslims are aware that such verses relate to specific incidents during the time of the Prophet (PBUH). They aren’t general guidelines or instructions at all.
This is just a brief overview of the huge crime we know as murder. As the verses mentioned in this article show, killing people and taking a life is not permissible in Islam. Muslims must value all life that exists on this planet and uphold its sanctity, not destroy it. As Allah says in the Quran, if a person kills an innocent person, it’s as if he has killed all of mankind. Similarly, if someone saves another’s life, it’s as if he has saved all of humanity.
Additionally, we must remember that Islam has specific legislation that aims to counter murder. The application of Qisas can act as a deterrent for the general community. If the family members of the deceased prefer, then there is nothing wrong with applying it. Additionally, a person will have to provide a justification for their actions in the Hereafter.
All this shows that murder is a great sin in Islam. The greatest sin, according to Allah, is shirk, which relates to a person disbelieving in Allah or ascribing partners to Him. However, the greatest sin a person can commit against another is to murder them. For this reason, Islam has strict rules in this regard. For a Muslim state to be functional, it must ensure that its authorities catch such crimes and have the availability of laws to deal with it as needed.