The Arabic word qisas means equal retaliation/revenge. Before we discuss about this term in the light of Islam let us first delve into history so that we may understand the Islamic law on qisas better.
During the period of Jahilliyah lawlessness prevailed in the Arab society. The powerful tribes used to oppress the weaker ones and they used to take revenge mercilessly. If a man from a powerful tribe got killed by someone from a weak tribe, his tribesmen used to avenge his death by killing numerous innocent people from the weak tribe. Sometimes they used to go to the extent of destroying the entire tribe. In case a woman from a powerful tribe got killed by a person from a weak tribe, they used to avenge her death by killing a man from the weak tribe and if a slave was killed they used to avenge his death by killing a free man from the enemy’s tribe. In other words, there was a state of anarchy during that period which was ultimately put to an end by the advent of Islam.
Islam replaced the unfair and unequal ways of taking revenge with the law of qisas (law on equality in punishment). Allah (swt) commanded in the Holy Quran that it is only the murderer himself who will get killed by the victim’s heirs, according to the law on qisas. For example, if the criminal is a free man, then that particular free man will be killed in qisas or if the criminal is a slave then that particular slave will be killed in qisas. So these examples make it clear that the law on qisas is based on equality. The high social position of a criminal cannot possibly shield him from getting killed by the heirs of the victim.
In my next post I shall discuss about the Quranic verses on which the law of qisas is based and the Divine wisdom behind this law.