175. Turning one's face towards the east or the west is mentioned here only by way of illustration. The actual purpose of the verse is to emphasize that the observance of certain outward religious rites, the performance of certain formal religious acts out of conformism, and the manifestation of certain familiar forms of piety do not constitute that essential righteousness which alone carries weight with God and earns His recognition and approval.
176. Retribution, that is, blood revenge, is based on the principle that what a person has done to others ought to be done to him. This does not mean that the murderer should be put to death in exactly the same manner as he killed but that the murderer should be subjected to the same act, i.e. killing, as that to which he subjected his victim.
177. In pre-Islamic Arabia people tried to take blood revenge upon the murderer's
family and tribe, and the retaliation corresponded to the value placed on the
blood of the victim. Their desire for revenge was not quenched merely by putting
the murderer to death. They preferred to put to death tens and even hundreds
of people to avenge the one life they had lost. If a respected member of their
tribe was killed by an ordinary member of another, it was not deemed enough
to put to death the actual murderer. They preferred to kill a man of the murderer's
tribe equal in standing to the victim, and even several members of the murderer's
tribe. However, if the victim was a man of humble standing from another tribe,
and the murderer from their tribe happened to be a man of high standing, they
were unwilling to permit the execution of the murderer.
This attitude is not confined to the Ignorance of that bygone age. Even today those nations that are supposedly the most civilized will often proclaim, officially and quite brazenly, that if one of their citizens is killed they will execute scores of the killer's compatriots. In addition we often hear that to avenge the murder of one person a large number of hostages belonging to a subject nation have been shot dead. One of the 'civilized' nations of the present century subjected the whole Egyptian nation to blood revenge because one of their officials, Sir Lee Stack, was killed by an Egyptian. The courts of justice of these so-called civilized nations have been known to refrain from passing the death sentence on convicted homicides when they happened to be members of the ruling nation while their victims belonged to the subject nation. It is iniquities such as these that God seeks to end by means of the directive contained in this verse. What God says here is that the killer ought to be put to death irrespective of his status and that of the victim.
178. The very use of the word 'brother' in this context suggests that as
a general rule one ought to incline towards leniency. Despite the bitterness
felt towards someone who has shed the blood of, say, one's father, the murderer
is still one's brother by virtue of being a member of the human family. Hence
if one who has been wronged can overcome the vengeful spirit aroused by his
erring brother's deed, this attitude of forgiveness will be worthy of his humanity.
This verse also makes it clear that according to the Islamic penal law the question of homicide can be settled by the mutual consent of the two parties. It is the prerogative of the heirs of the victim to forgive the murderer, and if it is exercised not even a judge has the power to insist on carrying out the death sentence. In such a case, however, as the following verse mentions, the murderer will be made to pay blood money.
179. The term ma'ruf occurs quite frequently in the Qur'an. It refers to conduct which is reckoned fair and equitable by the generality of disinterested people. The generally accepted usages and customs of life are called 'urf and ma'ruf in Islamic terminology, and they are considered valid in all those matters not specifically regulated by the Shar'iah.
180. Excess might consist of trying to avenge the blood of the murdered man even after his heirs have settled the matter and received blood money or of efforts on the part of the murderer to delay the payment of blood money thus repaying the heirs of the victim with ingratitude for their kindness and goodwill.
181. This refutes another notion of Ignorance, a notion ingrained in the
minds of many people, both past and present. On the one hand there are some
people who, entrenched in Ignorance, tend to exceed the limits of moderation
in revenge. At the other end of the spectrum stand those who are opposed in
principle to the concept of executing a murderer. They have conducted such intense,
world-wide propaganda against the death penalty that it has become abhorrent
to many people. In fact the impact of this propaganda has been so great that
in many countries the death penalty has been abolished altogether.
The Qur'an, however, addresses itself on this question to wise and intelligent people and cautions them against such immoderate leniency by proclaiming that the survival of human society rests on the application of the death penalty for homicide. A society which holds inviolable the lives of those who disregard the sanctity of human life is in fact rearing snakes and serpents. To save the life of one murderer is to risk the lives of many innocent human beings.
182. This injunction relates to a period of time when no rules had been laid
down for the distribution of inheritance. Thus everyone was required to make
testamentary disposal of their property so as to ensure that no disputes arose
in the family and no legitimate claimant to inheritance was deprived of his
due share. Later when God revealed a set of laws regarding the distribution
of inheritance see (Qur'an 4: 11 ff.), the Prophet elucidated further the laws
relating to testamentary disposition and inheritance by expounding two rules.
First, that no person can make any will regarding his estate in favour of any of his legal heirs. Their portions were laid down in the Qur'an and neither increase nor decrease in this was permissible, nor could any heir be disinherited, nor anything willed in favour of any heir over and above his legal portion. (See the Tradition: 'There may be no will in favour of the heir.' See Abu Da'ud, 'Al-Wasaya', 6; Tirmidhi, 'Al-Wasaya', 5; Nasa'i, 'Al-Wasaya', 5; Ibn Majah, 'Al-Wasaya', 5 - Ed.)
Second, that testamentary disposition might be made to the extent of one third of the estate, but no more. (See Bukhari, 'Al-Wasaya', 2 and 3; Muslim, 'Al-Wasiyah', 5-10; Abu Da'ud, 'Al-Wasaya', 2 - Ed.)
The purpose underlying these explanatory directives of the Prophet seems to be that at least two-thirds of the estate should be left aside to be distributed among the legal heirs according to the Qur'anic rules, and that a will could be made in respect of the whole or part of the remaining one-third. This could be made in favour of either relatives, whether close or distant, who are not legal heirs, or others not related by the blood-tie but who are deserving of assistance. Likewise, a will could be made in favour of charitable causes which are found worthy of support.
In later times people began to regard this directive regarding testamentary disposal as a recommendation only. The result was that this rule fell largely into disuse. It is significant, however, that the Qur'an mentions it as 'an obligation on the God-fearing'. Were Muslims to make this injunction an operative institution no trace would remain of the problems which agitate their minds respecting the Islamic law of inheritance , for example grandchildren whose parents had predeceased their paternal or maternal grandparents and who, under Islamic law, were not entitled to inherit from their grandparents. (The author suggests that re-activating the Qur'anic directive on testamentary disposal is the answer to this and similar problems - Ed.)