Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 178

يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْقِصَاصُ فِى ٱلْقَتْلَى ۖ ٱلْحُرُّ بِٱلْحُرِّ وَٱلْعَبْدُ بِٱلْعَبْدِ وَٱلْأُنثَىٰ بِٱلْأُنثَىٰ ۚ فَمَنْ عُفِىَ لَهُۥ مِنْ أَخِيهِ شَىْءٌ فَٱتِّبَاعٌۢ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَأَدَآءٌ إِلَيْهِ بِإِحْسَٰنٍ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ تَخْفِيفٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ ۗ فَمَنِ ٱعْتَدَىٰ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَلَهُۥ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

Translations

 
 Muhsin Khan
 Pickthall
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
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 best conduct. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. But whoever transgresses after that will have a painful punishment.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

The passage begins with an address to the believers, highlighting their main quality of having accepted the faith, which means that they receive their laws from God. They are hereby informed that retribution in cases of killing is permitted to them, in accordance with the provisions laid down in these two verses. They are also called upon to reflect on the purpose and wisdom of this legislation, outlined in the second verse. They are reminded of the need to enhance their sense of God-fearing, which acts as a safety valve against any excess or injustice in punishing those accused of killing.

The statement clearly indicates how retribution ought to be exacted: a free man for a free man, a slave for a slave, a woman for a woman. But “If something [of his guilt] is remitted to a person by his brother, this shall be pursued with fairness, and restitution to his fellow-man shall be made in a goodly manner.” This situation would arise when the victim’s relatives decide to accept financial compensation instead of insisting on the execution of the killer in retaliation. Once this is agreed, the victim’s relatives are also under an obligation to seek a fair and amicable settlement, while the killer’s guardian or representative must, on his part, settle readily and honourably. This serves to clear the air and to remove any ill-feelings or grudges that would have inevitably arisen between the two parties. It would also be conducive to a more friendly and pleasant relationship between the living members of both parties.

This provision has been laid down out of God’s grace, as a special favour and an act of mercy towards believers: “This is an alleviation from your Lord, and an act of His grace.” The concession permitting the settlement of cases of killing by financial compensation paid to the victim’s family was not given to the Jews in the Torah. For Islam, it has been set up as an alternative aiming to spare lives when agreement and amicable settlement can be reached.

He who transgresses thereafter shall face grievous suffering.” It is not merely the punishment in the hereafter that is certain to come; such aggression means that capital punishment becomes due and financial compensation no longer accepted. Reneging on the agreement constitutes a violation of the agreed settlement and could only fuel hatred, animosity and a desire for vengeance from both sides. Therefore, when the victim’s closest relatives have accepted blood money, they can no longer seek retaliation by killing the killer.

We can appreciate the profound wisdom of the Islamic approach and its respect for, and understanding of, human nature and motivation. Islam recognises anger as a very basic human reaction when one’s relative is killed, and Islam satisfies this desire by legislating for just retribution in this way. Rigorous justice cools tempers and helps to remove grudges and deter the killer from offending again.

At the same time, however, Islam holds out the prospect of pardon and opens the way for mutual agreement, defining precisely the principles and rules which govern it. Islam advocates that the alternative of pardon should, therefore, come as a voluntary option accepted by both sides out of a genuine desire for reconciliation, rather than having it forced upon them.

Some commentators consider that this ruling was cancelled and superseded by that given in Verse 45 of Sūrah 5, which provides for retribution on the basis of “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.” In his commentary on the Qur’ān, Ibn Kathīr quotes Sa`īd ibn Jubayr, an early scholar, explaining that the present verse was revealed with reference to fighting that broke out between two Arab clans, shortly before the advent of Islam, leading to widespread bloodshed on both sides. Among those killed were several slaves and women, but the dispute was not settled until much later, after both clans had embraced Islam. Excessive claims were made by both clans, demanding that a free man be killed for a slave and a man for a woman. They could not reach a settlement until this verse was revealed. But this verse has, in turn, been superseded by Verse 45 of Sūrah 5 revealed at a later date. The same version is supported in a report by Abū Mālik.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the two verses are dealing with different aspects of the same issue, retribution for killing. Verse 5: 45, stating equal retribution is applicable in cases of premeditated murder of one specific person, or group of persons, by another, in which case conviction entails capital punishment. The verse we are discussing here, however, covers situations of assault by a group such as when a family, clan or community attacks another, as happened between those two Arab clans. As and when such conflicts come to be settled, just retribution would require that a free man be set against a free man, a slave against a slave, and a woman against a woman. How else in such cases, one may ask, can justice be seen to be done?

If this view is correct, then there is no conflict between the two verses, and the rulings of each remain valid without one superseding or replacing the other.

2. Linguistic Analysis

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Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *


3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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The scholars are unanimous that Surah al-Baqarah is Madani and that it was the first Surah revealed in Madinah. [Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in Fath al-Bari no. 160/8].

Despite it being the first Surah to be revealed in Madinah, it contains Ayaat from a later period also. In fact, according to Ibn Abbas [as mentioned in Ibn Kathir] the last Ayat revealed to the Prophet was Ayat no. 281 from Surah al-Baqarah and this occurred 8 days or so before his death [which corresponds to the year 11 Hijri].

8. Reasons for Revelation

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In order to understand the meaning of this Surah, we should know its historical background:

1. At Makkah, the Quran generally addressed the polytheist Quraysh who were ignorant of Islam, but at Madinah it was also concerned with the Jews who were acquainted with the creed of Monotheism, Prophethood, Revelation, the Hereafter and Angels. They also professed to believe in the law which was revealed by God to their Prophet Moses, and in principle, their way was the same (Islam) that was being taught by Prophet Muhammad. But they had strayed away from it during the centuries of degeneration and had adopted many un-Islamic creeds, rites and customs of which there was no mention and for which there was no sanction in the Torah. Not only this: they had tampered with the Torah by inserting their own explanations and interpretations into its text. They had distorted even that part of the Word of God which had remained intact in their Scriptures and taken out of it the real spirit of true religion and were now clinging to a lifeless frame of rituals. Consequently their beliefs, their morals and their conduct had gone to the lowest depths of degeneration. The pity is that they were not only satisfied with their condition but loved to cling to it. Besides this, they had no intention or inclination to accept any kind of reform. So they became bitter enemies of those who came to teach them the Right Way and did their utmost to defeat every such effort. Though they were originally Muslims, they had swerved from the real Islam and made innovations and alterations in it and had fallen victims to hair splitting and sectarianism. They had forgotten and forsaken God and begun to serve material wealth. So much so that they had even given up their original name “Muslim” and adopted the name “Jew” instead, and made religion the sole monopoly of the children of Israel. This was their religious condition when the Prophet went to Madinah and invited the Jews to the true religion. That is why more than one third of this Surah has been addressed to the children of Israel. A critical review of their history, their moral degeneration and their religious perversions has been made. Side by side with this, the high standard of morality and the fundamental principles of the pure religion have been put forward in order to bring out clearly the nature of the degeneration of the community of a prophet when it goes astray and to draw clear lines of demarcation between real piety and formalism, and the essentials and non-essentials of the true religion.

2. At Makkah, Islam was mainly concerned with the propagation of its fundamental principles and the moral training of its followers. But after the migration of the Prophet to Madinah, where Muslims had come to settle from all over Arabia and where a tiny Islamic State had been set up with the help of the ‘local supporters’ (Ansar), naturally the Quran had to turn its attention to the social, cultural, economic, political and legal problems as well. This accounts for the difference between the themes of the Surahs revealed at Makkah and those at Madinah. Accordingly about half of this Surah deals with those principles and regulations which are essential for the integration and solidarity of a community and for the solution of its problems.

After the migration to Madinah, the struggle between Islam and disbelief (Kufr) had also entered a new phase. Before this the Believers, who propagated Islam among their own clans and tribes, had to face its opponents at their own risk. But the conditions had changed at Madinah, where Muslims from all parts of Arabia had come and settled as one community, and had established an independent city state. Here it became a struggle for the survival of the Community itself, for the whole of non-Muslim Arabia was bent upon and united in crushing it totally. Hence the following instructions, upon which depended not only its success but its very survival, were revealed in this Surah:

a. The Community should work with the utmost zeal to propagate its ideology and win over to its side the greatest possible number of people.

b. It should so expose its opponents as to leave no room for doubt in the mind of any sensible person that they were adhering to an absolutely wrong position.

c. It should infuse in its members (the majority of whom were homeless and indigent and surrounded on all sides by enemies) that courage and fortitude which is so indispensable to their very existence in the adverse circumstances in which they were struggling and to prepare them to face these boldly.

d. It should also keep them ready and prepared to meet any armed menace, which might come from any side to suppress and crush their ideology, and to oppose it tooth and nail without minding the overwhelming numerical strength and the material resources of its enemies.

e. It should also create in them that courage which is needed for the eradication of evil ways and for the establishment of the Islamic Way instead. That is why God has revealed in this Surah such instructions as may help achieve all the above mentioned objects.

At the time of the revelation of Al-Baqarah, all sorts of hypocrites had begun to appear. God has, therefore, briefly pointed out their characteristics here. Afterwards when their evil characteristics and mischievous deeds became manifest, God sent detailed instructions about them. [REF: Mawdudi]

9. Relevant Hadith

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  • Adi, one of the Companions said, “When the verse "Until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread" was revealed, I took a white rope and a black rope, and placed them beneath my pillow; and then I looked at them, but they were not clear to me. So I mentioned it to the Messenger of Allah (). He laughed and said: “Your pillow is so broad and lengthy; that is (i.e. the Ayat refers to) night and day.” [blackness of night and whiteness of day].” [Bukhari]
  • Allah's Messenger said, “The Muslim is not killed for the disbeliever (whom he kills). Sahih Al- Bukhari

10. Wiki Forum

Comments in this section are statements made by general users – these are not necessarily explanations of the Ayah – rather a place to share personal thoughts and stories…

11. Tafsir Zone

 

12. External Links

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