Blood Money

Najah Nadi Ahmad

Definitions and Usage

“Blood-money” (diya, pl. diyāt) in criminal judgments (aqḍiya) is a specific sum of money (originally one hundred camels) paid to the inheritors of the murdered as “a substitute for the life” (fī badal al-nafs) (al-Maydānī, al-Lubāb 3:153; al-Sarakhsī, al-Mabsūṭ 26:59; Jurjānī, Kitāb al-Taʿrīfāt, sub dāl) or to the one wrongly injured (xxx). Blood-money for bodily injury falls under the legal term urūsh al-jināyāt (“compensation for injuries”) or al-ḥukūmāt (“judgments”) and is left to the discretion of a judge to assess according to the loss caused, whereas blood-money for life falls under the ḥudūd laws (see Boundaries of Allah) and hence is a specific amount that cannot be changed ( Ibn Qudāma, Kāfī, 5:149-150; Bājūrī, Ḥāshiya, 2:216). The feminine noun diya is derived from the root w-d-y, where the final tāʾ marbūṭaʾ “is an addendum to compensate the loss of the initial wāw” (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ). The Form-IV verb awdā bears the meaning of “ahlaka—to destroy”, consequently diya is so called because the slain was destroyed (li-halāk ṣāḥibihā); then diya came to denote the amount given in camels or in dīnārs (al-Samīn al-Ḥalabī, ʿUmda, bāb al-wāw, faṣl al-wāw wal-dāl), as “the right of the slain” (ḥaqq al-qatīl) (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub w-d-y). The verbal noun mawʾūda is used in Q 81:8 for a female infant buried alive (see Burial) (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, sub w-d-y). The word diya occurs twice in Q 4:92; in Q 2:178, blood-money is referred to with the word adāʾ (“payment”) (Muqātil, Tafsīr) with the options given to the family of the slain to accept conciliation (ṣulḥ) and blood-money in place of their right of retribution (qiṣāṣ) (see Forgiveness and Forbearance; Justice; Retribution).

The Qurʾān lays down blood-money prescriptions for unintentional killing (manslaughter) in Q 4:92 and for intentional killing (murder) in Q 2:178 (see below for both verses). The former is called “mother of legal rulings” by Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273), who elucidates twenty issues arising from the verse (Tafsīr). The verse annuls all pre-Islamic practices and legalities, both pagan and those of the People of the Book, for the Jews imposed death penalty (al-qatl), the Christians preferred pardon (al-ʿafw), and the polytheist Arabs sometimes applied death penalty, in other cases, they used diya (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:178). 

Blood-money for Unintentional Killing (“Manslaughter”): Q 4:92

It is not for a believer to slay a believer, unless it be in error. Whosoever has slain a believer in error, let him set free a believing slave and pay compensation to the victim’s family, unless they remit it in charity. If he belonged to a people at war with you, but was a believer, then a believing slave is to be set free. And if he belonged to a people with whom you have a covenant, let him pay compensation to the victim’s family, and let him set free a believing slave. Whosoever finds not [the means], let him fast two consecutive months as a penance from Allah; Allah is Knowing, Wise.

The verse accentuates the gravity of a believer’s killing of another believer by rhetorically placing it in the realm of the inconceivable. The Tunisian exegete al-Ṭāhir b. ʿĀshūr (1296-1393/1879-1973) observes that it is as though the Qurʾān declares that “the essence of faith, which is common between the killer and the deceased, is inconsistent with the act of killing, for the two are opposites and cannot be combined. By doing so, the verse intends to convey that when a believer kills a believer, he is stripped of faith (suliba ʿanhu al-īmān) and is no longer a believer” (Tafsīr, sub Q 4:92). “It is an explicit prohibition to kill a believer” (Samʿānī, Tafsīr). The sense of gravity is reinforced in other verses (e.g., Q 4:93; 6:151; and 25:68) as well as Hadith texts, such as the hadith stating that the killer endures in hell forever (Muslim….) and the hadith, “By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, killing a believer is more grievous to Allah than the extinction of the whole world” (Nasāʾī, Sunan, Taḥrīm al-dam, taʿẓīm al-dam).

The exegetes elucidate various aspects of the Qurʾānic rulings in Q 4:92. For instance, Ibn ʿĀshūr says the wisdom behind emancipating a slave in case of manslaughter lies in the fact that the killer has caused a living soul to die (even if mistakenly), and so in recompense is obliged to set free (or, figuratively, to restore to life) another life (Tafsīr). The believing slave (fa-taḥrīru raqabatin muʾmina) is defined as the one who prays and declares Absolute Unicity (tawḥīd) of Allah (Muqātil, Tafsīr), which implies the existence of belief and knowledge of religion (Ṭabarī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Tafsīrs), and firm creedal faith (Jaṣṣāṣ, Aḥkām); this is imposed upon the killer for he destroyed (atlafa) an inviolable soul (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt); thus, he has to free another believing soul for the worship of his Lord (Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām). The second obligation that exists between the killer and the inheritors of the murdered is blood-money given to the closest relatives as a compensation (ʿiwaḍan) to them for the loss (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr).

The Sacred Law otherwise establishes that Muslims are pardoned for mistaken actions (Ibn Mājah, Sunan, Ṭalāq, ṭalāq al-mukrah wal-nāsī), yet the Qurʾān here prescribes a two-month fast as penance and as a substitute for emancipating a slave for those unable to do the latter. The prescription of the two-month fast is a purifying expiation intended to remove any censure and culpability for the killer’s imprudence (ʿadam al-muʾākhadha fī tark al-taḥaffuẓ) (al-Kiyā al-Harrāsī, Aḥkām). The verse names the remission of blood-money a charity (ṣadaqa) in order to encourage believers to forgive. Ibn ʿAbbās explained forgiveness in the verse means acceptance of blood-money” (Bukhārī, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān, bāb yā ayyuhā al-ladhīna āmanū kutiba ʿalaykum al-qiṣāṣ…).

The mistake (khaṭaʾ) mentioned in the verse is explained by jurists to mean either a mistaken object (e.g., if one intends to target a battlefield opponent (ḥarbī) but misses one’s mark and kills a fellow Muslim), or a mistaken action (whether one intended another action, as when intending to fell a tree or game but fells a man, or no action at all, as when mistakenly dropping a heavy object that kills someone) (cf. Ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd, 6:528; Maqdisī, Furūʿ, 5:622;  Ramlī, Nihāya, 7:315-316; Bājūrī, Ḥāshiya, 2:206).


The occasion of revelation of the verse relates to ʿAyyāsh b. Abī Rabīʿa (maternal half-brother of Abū Jahl ʿAmr b. Hishām, the Makkan idolatrous arch-enemy of Muslims), who migrated to Madina after his conversion to Islam and before the Hijra of the Prophet. Abū Jahl and his brother al-Ḥārith b. Hishām followed ʿAyyāsh and deceitfully claimed their mother had sworn an oath not to enter a dwelling until she saw him. They asked him to accompany them to Makka, let his mother see him, and then return to Madina if he so desired, and they gave him an oath that they would neither harm him nor prevent him from returning. ʿAyyāsh accompanied them back to Makka, where they arrested him and took an oath not to release him until he repudiated his faith. Al-Ḥārith b. Hishām tortured ʿAyyāsh, in the throes of which the latter swore: “By Allah, I swear, I will certainly kill you when I meet you alone.” ʿAyyāsh was then kept in Makka until its conquest by the Muslims. He later came upon al-Ḥārith and killed him, not knowing that al-Ḥārith had by then accepted Islam. When ʿAyyāsh was told of his conversion, he ran to the Prophet and confessed what he had done, whereupon the verse of blood-money was revealed (Tafsīrs of Muqātil and Ṭabarī; Wāḥidī, Asbāb; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr).

Blood-money for Intentional Killing (Murder): Q 2:178

O you who believe, retribution (qiṣāṣ) is prescribed on you for the slain; the freeman for the freeman, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But whoever receives any pardon from his brother (i.e., family of the slain), then grant what is demanded in fairness and compensate him in kindness. That is an alleviation and mercy from your Lord, but whoever transgresses after that, he shall receive a painful torment.

Q 2:178

In a hadith narrated by Abū Shurayḥ al-Khuzāʿī al-Kaʿbī, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said, “Whoever has a slain (qatīl) [relative], his family faces two choices: to kill [the killer] (i.e., exact the retribution, qiṣāṣ), or to accept blood-money” (Aḥmad, vol.:page §27804; Abū Dāwūd, Diyāt, walī al-ʿamd yaʾkhudh al-diya; Tirmidhī, Diyāt, mā jāʾa fī ḥukm walī al-qatīl fīl-qiṣāṣ wal-ʿafw).

All four Sunnī Schools of Law define “intentional killing” in a similar way, although wording differs: Ḥanafī jurists define “intentional killing” as deliberately smiting someone with a blade, including intent to cause loss of life (Sarakhsī, Mabsūṭ, 26:59). Shafiʿī jurists define it as the killer intentionally smiting someone with what typically causes death (Ghazzī, Fatḥ, 2:206, Jināyāt). Ḥanbalī jurists defined it as intentionally smiting an inviolate (maʿṣūm) human being with what typically causes death (Maqdisī, Furūʿ, 5:622), and Mālikīs defined it as one intentionally smiting another until he expires (ḥattā tafīḍ rūḥuh) or causing him mortal injury (Bājī, Muntaqā, 7:118).

Such intentional killing leads to retribution, that is, the right to demand the retaliatory death penalty (qiṣāṣ), a right reserved for the family of the deceased. If they demand it, a judge orders it performed on their behalf. If the family of the deceased decides to forgive the murderer (rather than demanding qiṣāṣ), then blood-money is due (Sarakhsī, Mabsūṭ, 26:62). The family of the deceased may substitute forgiveness and blood-money (or any other compensation) for their right of retribution, even against the killer’s will. That is, if the killer himself remorsefully seeks the death penalty as expiation for his sin, the judge can overrule it based on the decision of the family of the deceased and compel the killer to pay compensation instead. Blood-money serves to prevent the killer’s own death, and the preservation of his life does not require his consent (Shawkānī, Fatḥ, sub Q 2:178).

Even though murder is one of the enormities, by scholarly consensus, the repentance of a murderer is valid, given that the repentance even of a polytheist is valid and as Allah is Most Merciful, but some say that such repentance requires that the murderer must turn himself over to the inheritors of the deceased so that they may decide whether to demand the death penalty, blood-money, or to forgive him (cf. Bājūrī, Ḥāshiya, 2:205). The murderer is barred from any eventuality of inheritance from the deceased. This ruling is based on the hadith, “A killer does not inherit” (Ibn Mājah, Diyāt, al-qātil lā yarith).


Reflecting on his brother in Q 2:178, the 14th/20th-century Egyptian exegete Muḥammad Mutawallī al-Shaʿrāwī (1329-1419/1911-1998) comments that it serves to encourage the family of the deceased to forgive: just as the slain is their brother in lineage, so too the killer is their brother in faith. Further, the Qurʾān employs the word shayʾ (rendered “any” in whoever receives any pardon), indicating that the death penalty is dropped if even a single inheritor of the deceased gives up his or her right of retribution. The other inheritors are then forced to accept the compensation (diya) or to forgive the killer (al-Shaʿrāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:178). This opinion is based on the majority position of Ḥanafī, Shafiʿī, and Ḥanbalī jurists, and is one of two positions of the Mālikī School (Sarakhsī, Mabsūṭ, 26:158; Ramlī, Nihāya 7:309-310; Bājī, Muntaqā, 7:125). It affirms the underlying wisdom of the passage: And if you forgive, it is nearer to reverent fear of Allah (Q 2:237).


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See also

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