By: Dr. Abbass Khajeh Piri
Contrary to other legal systems, in the Islamic legal system, when you talk about right to life it does not only refer to the physical life.
Although compared to other creatures, great significance is attached to mankind’s physical or material life and its rank is higher than that of animals and plants, man’s spiritual life deserves more significance. It enjoys a much higher rank. The Holy Quran refers to it as ‘Hayate Tayyebeh’: Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.(Quran, 16 :97)
A good life is what makes human discrete from other creatures. It is a sign of man’s merit compared to the other creatures, because access to the spiritual life is only possible by mankind. Other creatures do not benefit from it. The importance of man’s material life and the reason for equalizing it to the life of all mankind is that God determines right to life for each individual so that while enjoying this divine gift and benefiting from talents bestowed upon him, man can continue the evolution and development toward spiritual perfection aimed at achieving the spiritual life.
Thus, killing a man and depriving him of his life means violation of ‘reality of mankind’ which is a divine gift and is considered the grounds for transcendental perfection of mankind. In the eyes of Islamic school of thought a man not only enjoys the right to material life, he also has the right to live in a cleansed society free of corruptions and free of uncontrolled moral behavior, no intrigue, so that he can improve himself spiritually. Obviously safeguarding his spiritual life is as important as protection of his material life which has been stressed by Islam.1
1. Declaration of Human Rights in Islamic Law, Article 17.
Depriving One of Life is Prohibited
Violation on others’ life and depriving an individual of his right to live, in the eyes of Islam is the biggest sin. The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) said: “Seeing the destruction of the world is easier for God than seeing a believer being murdered.”1
Islam promises a killer to stay in hell perpetually: 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)
Furthermore, in the Islamic law, the punishment for killing someone without a legal permit in this world is execution. The Holy Quran says: And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden, except by right. And whoever is killed unjustly – We have given his heir authority, but let him not exceed limits in [the matter of] taking life. Indeed, he has been supported [by the law]. (Quran, 17:33)
One of the outstanding characteristics of the Islamic law was a serious fight against the inhuman act and tradition of burying their infant daughters alive. Before the advent of Islam, the girls used to be buried alive. But at the advent of Islam it was immediately banned. As Islam being strictly against it, protested and firmly fought against this savage vicious crime.
The Holy Quran says: ‘Those who buried these girls alive will be interrogated on the Resurrection Day. They will be asked: Which sin had they committed to deserve death?”2
Another vital point is that the Islamic law attaches great significance not only to the adults’ lives but also to children’s right to life.
This verse of the Holy Quran is indicative of the significance of this reality: … And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin. (Quran, 17:31)
Another issue is that if there are some accomplices who conspire and commit a murder together, this does not alleviate or lessen the burden of the crime or the sin of the killers. The Prophet of Islam (S) said: “Cooperation in killing no matter to what extent will cause disappointment and distance from God’s mercy on the Resurrection Day.”3
Once, during the Prophet’s time, a man was killed in the city of Medina by a group of people. No certain individual was identified as the killer. So as soon as the Prophet (S) heard the news, he rushed to the mosque to speak and announced: “If all the residents of Heaven and Earth participate in killing a human, they will all suffer punishment.”4
Also forbidding murder and depriving a person of life, is not exclusively allocated to Muslims, but anyone living under the umbrella of an Islamic government enjoys this right, but as long as they do not intend to overthrow the Islamic state to fight against it. Thus, their blood, property and lives will benefit from this sanctity and thus, will benefit from the Islamic state’s protection. Thus, the Prophet (S) said: “God will forbid (going to) the Heaven for he who kills a sinner.”5
The Islamic ruling against murder is so strict that even if someone gives shelter to a murderer, he will face strict and severe blame. The Prophet (S) said: “He who gives shelter to a killer or someone who causes or paves the way for a murder, he will be condemned by God.”6
This point is also remarkably important in regards to depriving others of their lives: in the Islamic law reluctance or compulsion does not justify the act of murder. Therefore if someone is threatened to be killed should he refuses to commit a murder, his crime is not justifiable. The threatened person has no right to kill another person, just to rescue himself from death, as the value of all men is the same and has sanctity. But the opposite is better, as the Prophet (S) was quoted as saying: “If you are in a situation where you can prevent a believer, who says his prayer, from being killed by you (otherwise you would lose your life), you must prefer to be killed than commit this crime.”7
As repeatedly seen in the history of the holy wars at the advent of Islam, some self-sacrificing men during the war sacrificed their own lives by giving their very last date to their comrades in the warfront who were starving to death to rescue them. Thus they were honored to be martyrs.
1. Declaration of Human Rights in Islamic Law, Page 24.
2. Quran, 81: 8, 9.
3. Human Rights in Islamic Law, P.44.
4. Islam and the Human Rights, P.490 and Human Rights in Islamic Law, P. 44.
5. Islam and the Human Rights, P.491.
6. Wasa’il al- Shi’ah, vol. 19, p.15.
7. Kanz al-Ummal, Vol.15, P.22.
The Law of Retaliation, Guaranteeing Man’s Survival
The importance of survival and continuation of mankind’s life in the Islamic law is so much that in order to safeguard it the law of retaliation has been legislated as a guarantee for mankind to survive.
The philosophy of legislation of the law of retaliation and Dieh (blood money) in Islamic law is to safeguard man before unlawful violation and intrusion of individuals upon life and wellbeing of others to prevent bloodshed in a society.
And there is for you in legal retribution [saving of] life, O you [people] of understanding, that you may become righteous. (Quran, 2:179)
This law prior to advent of Islam has also been ruled in the Torah (the Holy book of Judaism). Then it was expressed by Islamic law in a more complete form.
And we ordained therein for them: “Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal.” But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it shall be for him expiation. (Quran, 5:45)
But in the eyes of Islam, retaliation never means vengeance or equal retaliation to shed blood against bloodshed, but deciding a proportionate punishment so that (other) people will be considerate about the sanctity of each other’s lives and to avoid murder. If you pay attention to the cases of retaliation and its philosophy (for existence) then any skepticism, doubt or suspicion about this advanced Islamic decree will be erased from your mind.
Execution of a retaliation decree In Islam is dependent on a few things:
• If the killer was in a sound mental health condition
• If it was deliberate
• The victim’s immediate family won’t agree to replace the actual punishment with money or pardon of the killer.
Otherwise retaliation decree for the killer who due to insanity or mental disorder or if deprivation of life is not deliberate due to an error or any condition in which the killer can be subject to pardon or substitution with financial payment as a reimbursement, then a retaliation decree will not be executed.
And never is it for a believer to kill a believer except by mistake. And whoever kills a believer by mistake – then the freeing of a believing slave and a compensation payment presented to the deceased’s family [is required] unless they give [up their right as] charity. (Quran 4:92)
When a retaliation decree is executed, individuals will be less likely to commit murder and sanctity of mankind will be safeguarded.
Abortion is Forbidden
Protection of man’s life is not limited only to postnatal life in Islam, but it also includes the life of an embryo. In the eyes of Islam life during the prenatal life (embryos) and even before an embryo is formed is subject to protection. Depriving an embryo of life through abortion is a crime and a sin. And he who commits this crime is entitled to punishment. The existence of mankind starts since joining of two primary cells. Therefore, according to The Holy Quran destruction of it at any stage means depriving mankind of life Islam does not allow abortion for the purpose of birth control (except in some exceptional or emergency cases). For the life of an embryo in every stage of evolution/perfection, since the time a sperm is placed inside a woman’s uterus and since the beginning of growth and ultimately developing into an embryo is fully under the protection umbrella of Islam and abortion or destruction of embryo is considered a murder and is unlawful.
In Islam even an embryo which is the result of adultery is protected and abortion is unlawful. In other words you cannot deprive such embryo of life either; just because the sexual intercourse was unlawful it does not justify your terminating the life of the embryo.
Islam does not ban birth control. There is no decree prohibiting a couple to decide to prevent pregnancy. However, once a woman gets pregnant the parents have no right to destroy the embryo which means depriving it of life. Many theology scholars argue that once an embryo is formed an independent entity with life is emerged, that apart from a mother independently has the right to have life. And except in emergency cases determined by the Islamic law nobody even the parents have the right to deprive and embryo of life.
Even those Islamic scholars who have considered the embryo a part of a mother’s body still argue that nobody has the right to cut any part of her body and therefore a mother is not allowed to have abortion operated on her. Apparently if the crime of abortion is committed by a third party (other than the parents), even it is not done deliberately, still her/his action is a sin, which entitles her/him to punishment both in this world and the Resurrection Day.
Depriving Oneself of Life is Forbidden (Sanctity of One’s Life)
A remarkable point in the subject of “right to life” is Islamic law is banning suicide. The Holy Quran explicitly prohibits individuals from depriving themselves of life.
do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful. (Quran, 4:29)
In the eyes of Islam a person’s body, soul, and life belongs to God. He is the one who gives life and whenever he decides he can take it back. Since the goal of creation and giving life to mankind is his achieving perfection and felicity, therefore and in reality suicide means a retreat from achieving perfection and also a decline and downfall into the valley of failure and loss of mankind.
The Prophet (S) was quoted as saying: “Whoever commits suicide by means of some instrument, he will be tormented on the Resurrection Day by the same tool.”1 Also according to another narration he has been quoted as saying: “If someone suffocates himself he has put himself in the hell fire and he who hits himself by a spear is in fire.”2
You should know that sin of killing oneself is Islam is absolute, the same way that killing others is a sin, committing suicide is also a sin and unlawful. Depriving yourself of life is one of the major sins. The Holy Quran has promised severe punishment for the individual who terminates his own life: And whoever does that in aggression and injustice – then we will drive him into a Fire. And that, for Allah, is [always] easy. (Quran, 4:30)
There are different motives for suicide including: Weak religious beliefs, weak spirituality and religious ethics, excessive tendency or eagerness toward material things including all worldly demands, Insanity (mental disorder), and intolerable physical illness.
None of the aforementioned factors or reasons is justifiable in the eyes of Islam for committing such a great sin. But any goodness or evil (vicious) a man faces during his lifespan stems from a good or an evil deed which is the reward or punishment of that deed. Or it could be a test by God. If Man faces such difficulties he must be patient and must tolerate them, and should choose reform and gratitude. The Holy Quran invites the believers to tolerate with assiduity, patience and endurance.
O you, who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient. (Quran, 2:153)
Thus, the divine religions, particularly Islam, severely oppose Euthanasia and consider it a way of suicide. Apparently, Euthanasia for a person suffering from an incurable illness is ignoring human dignity and mankind’s supreme life value. Both non-voluntary (non-voluntary Euthanasia) and emergency death (desperate Euthanasia) are considered unlawful according to Islam law.
Thus not only the killed patient will suffer his punishment but also the person who according to his own demand (his diagnosis) actually commits such kind of killing will be punished as a murderer. Thus, it does not matter if the killed patient had announced his willingness or agreement before death.
As a patient’s agreement does not help in any way in lessening the crime, there is no difference whether or not he has agreed. So one’s act of Euthanasia is subject of unlawfulness of a murder.
The Prophet (S) was quoted as narrating the following story: “Once there was a man whose hand was wounded. The pain was so severe and intolerable that he cut his hand and then died of blood loss. Then God said he preceded me in taking his life. That is why I announce that he is deprived of heaven.”
1. Sonane Darmi, Vol.2, P.192.
2. Kanz al- Ummal, Vol. 5, P. 35.
Permitted Cases to Deprive Oneself of Life in Islam
Although, in the eyes of Islam, the right to life is considered a divine gift and the most important inherent right of mankind and thus safeguarding it is a divine duty for both the people and the state. Using any tools that can totally or partially destroy the source of mankind, is banned and unlawful.1
But we must not misunderstand that the right to life in Islam is absolutely without any exceptions. This right enjoys sanctity as long as the life of another man is not endangered. Or perhaps there is a more important necessity aimed at perfection of mankind which, as an exception, might call for termination of somebody’s life.
The followings are brief cases of such exceptions:
A- Retaliation decree: As explained before, in the eyes of the enlightening religion of Islam retaliation is not merely depriving the killer of his life, but the philosophy of its legality is countering unlawful violation of mankind’s right to life, so it is a guarantee to the survival of mankind. Additionally, retaliation in fact is a just and fair punishment and a conventional practice. The execution of retaliation would relief the public’s Conscience which was wounded and not at ease because of a murder.
B- Abortion if urgency calls: As explained in details previously Islam does not only protects right to postnatal life but also prenatal life (since the earliest stage of formation of embryo in a mother’s uterus.)
In the eyes of Islam life during the prenatal life (embryo’s) and even before an embryo is formed is subject to protection. Depriving an embryo of life through abortion is a crime and a sin. And he who commits this crime is entitled to punishment. And deprivation of life will not be lawful unless due to a proper justification.
But sometimes it is possible that the continuation of pregnancy would be endangering a mother’s life or health or might cause extraordinary difficulties for the mother. Should urgency rise and in the above cases abortion is allowed as an emergency as considered the priority, and so the life of an embryo can be terminated. Also if an embryo is found dead in the uterus of a mother, abortion would be allowed.
C- Fighting against God and the Prophet and the corruption on the Earth: In Islam a man who practically tries to stand against God and oppose an Islamic system is considered a belligerent and corruption on the Earth. A punishment has been defined and determined for him. To what extent should he be punished depends on intensity, type and extent of the measures taken by him: If he has committed a murder he deserves death penalty and execution. The Holy Quran says in this issue: Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment. (Quran, 5:33)
Apparently committing such deeds which (threatens and) infringes upon the security of the general public and creates fear in people, in proportion to the extent to which he has acted, would be followed by the punishment of the convict.
1. Declaration of Human Rights in Islamic Law, Article 2, B.
By: Dr. Abbass Khajeh Piri