An Eye For An Eye

eye for an eyeSome people believe that Jesus Christ came with love to end the barbarism in the world but that this is not the case with Muhammad. Didn't Jesus say:  "Love your enemies" while Muhammad fought his enemies? One thing that looks contradictory between the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad is the fiery Law¹ that Muhammad taught known as the Islamic Shari'ah Law. In this article we will tackle only one specific point in this Law:  an eye for an eye.

In the Old Testament  (the Torah) we read that whoever kills or injures another, then the penalty is life for life, an eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21)

Some say that Jesus Christ came to end these "barbaric" practices and bring love to the world unlike Muhammad whose book, the Qur'an, reinforces these practices once again and so would be pulling the world backwards rather than forwards. But is this the truth? Isn't the eye for an eye also the words of God in the Old Testament? Can we say that God's Law is "barbaric"? Was God harsh and then He became merciful? Does God change? According to the Bible, God does not change:

I the LORD do not change. (Malachi 3:6)
Now let's examine some of what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven….
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment….
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell….
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (Matthew 5)

The Sermon on the Mount consists of the most important teachings of Jesus Christ. But how can Jesus be saying not one jot will pass from the Law till all is fulfilled and then instead of reinforcing an eye for an eye, he tells people to turn the other cheek to those who slapped them?  Isn't this contradictory? The answer is no, just try to understand it through the Qur'an not through the words of Paul who is considered by some historians and current biblical scholars to be the founder of the present day Christianity. Paul – who never met Jesus Christ and who even tortured and killed many of his followers (Acts 26:9-11) – said:

For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.  Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.  For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. (Romans 7)

He also said in Romans 3:28:

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

According to what Jesus Christ said in his sermon, Paul broke the commandments and “taught men so” earning the position of “the least in the kingdom of heaven”. Now let's examine what the Qur'an (believed by Muslims to be the actual words of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel) says in this matter:

Indeed, We² did reveal the Torah, wherein was guidance and a light, by which the prophets who submitted to God judged the Jews, as did the rabbis and scholars by that with which they were entrusted of the Scripture of God, and they were witnesses thereto. So do not fear people but fear Me, and do not exchange My verses for a small price (i.e. worldly gain). And whoever judges not by that which God has revealed: such are the disbelievers.
And We ordained for them therein 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 for wounds is legal retribution. But whoever gives up his/her right as charity, it shall be expiation for him/her.  And whoever judges not by that which God has revealed: such are the wrongdoers (i.e. the unjust).
And We caused Jesus, the son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, wherein was guidance and a light, confirming that which preceded it of the Torah and as guidance and instruction for the righteous.
Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which God has revealed therein. And whoever judges not by that which God has revealed: such are the defiantly disobedient.
And to you (Muhammad) have We revealed the Book (i.e. the Qur'an) with the truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge  between them by that which God has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had God willed, He would have made you one nation (united in religion), but (He intended) to test you in what He has given you; so race to (all that is) good. To God is your return all together, and He will (then) inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. (Qur'an 5:44-48)  

And in other chapters of the Qur'an we read:

And the retribution for an evil act is one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation – his reward is (due) from God. Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers. (Qur'an 42:40)

And if you punish (an enemy), punish with an equivalent of that with which you were harmed. But if you resort to patience (instead of revenge), it would be better for the patient ones. (Qur'an 16:126)

The message of forgiving others is repeated over and over in the Qur'an:

And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and for a Paradise as wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who are pious: those who spend (in good cause) during ease and hardship, those who control their anger, and are forgiving toward people; God loves the doers of good. (Qur'an 3:133-134)

An eye for an eye, therefore, exists in the Islamic Shari'ah Law alongside with the option to forgive those who transgress against us and we learn through the Qur'an that forgiveness is better for those who forgive in this life and in the Hereafter.

Now just imagine yourself going home one day and opening the door of your house to find your loved ones murdered and mutilated. The police catch the murderer and the death penalty is not applied because it is "barbaric". The murderer spends years in prison eating food that you yourself pay for (through taxes) and you might even end up as a drug addict or an alcoholic. Is this fair? Will this deter others from committing crimes?

In some Islamic countries where the Law is enforced, the scenario would be different. They will bring the murderer to be executed in front of you and if you wish you could stop the execution by forgiving the murderer. You are given the chance to forgive willingly. Which scenario is better for you?

The aim of God's Law is not to kill but to prevent murder (Qur'an 2:179). These harsh punishments are to deter murderers, criminals and rapists and make them think twice before they commit such crimes. Just compare the crime rates in countries where the Law is enforced with those elsewhere.

Now go back to the Sermon on the Mount in your Bible (Matthew 5) and read the words of Jesus Christ in context. What was the message he was trying to convey to the Israelites? 



¹ And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand [went] a fiery law for them. (Deuteronomy 33:2)

² It is to be noted that the reference of God to Himself as "We" in many verses of the Qur'an is necessarily understood in the Arabic language to denote grandeur and power. In the English language this is known as the Royal We, where a plural pronoun is used to refer to a single person holding a high office such as a monarch.