The combination of a comment on a recent post
and material from of a couple of books on Islamic law I have recently been reading provide enough material for a new post.
The comment claimed that, under Muslim law, there was no punishment for a Muslim who killed either a non-Muslim or his own child or grandchild. When I asked the poster what he had read on the subject, he said that he had read Reliance of the Traveler
. A brief Google search found a webbed translation
of the book, a 14th century text by a scholar of the Shafi'i
school, one of the four mutually orthodox schools of Sunni law. A brief search in it found that, while there was no retaliation for a Muslim who killed a non-Muslim, there was indemnity.
A more careful examination made it clear what was going on. There are three categories of punishment for killing someone in Islamic law. Retaliation is the biblical eye for an eye, hence, in the case of homicide, capital punishment. Indemnity is a fine paid traditionally in camels—a hundred camels for killing a male Muslim, a third as much for a Christian or Jew—by the criminal and/or (in the case of an unintentional killing) his kin to the kin of the victim. Expiation is the penance the killer is required to do—freeing a slave or fasting for two months.
Retaliation and indemnity are alternatives. In some cases, such as unintentional homicide, retaliation is not an option, in others the kin can choose either to retaliate or to accept an indemnity. In the case of a Muslim killing a non-Muslim or his own children or grand-childen, there is no retaliation, no capital punishment of the killer, but indemnity and expiation are still owed—whom the indemnity is owed to in the latter case I do not know.
I was curious as to how the commenter happened to have acquired his mistaken view of the law. Further Googling revealed several web pages with versions of the same mistake, based on the same text. I put up comments pointing out that it was only retaliation, not all punishment, that did not exist in those cases. To their credit, the web pages have so far left my comment up.
Going on to other subjects ... .
I knew that one of the theological arguments in medieval Islam was over whether the Quran was create or uncreate, whether it had been composed by God to be delivered to Mohammed or had existed along with God from eternity. What I think I have now learned is why such an apparently abstract question actually mattered, and mattered quite a lot, for Islamic law.
If the Quran was composed for Mohammed, its rules were rules for the Muslim community at a particular time and place. As the circumstances of that community changed, the appropriate rules might change as well. That fits the actual text, which in some places replaces an earlier rule with a later and different one. If, on the other hand, the Quran existed from eternity, then presumably its rules were intended to apply through all time and to all Muslims. For that view too it was possible to find (different) textual support.
After Mohammed's death, Sunni Muslims no longer had a direct line to God through which to confirm changes in the rules—the Shia kept their line open a little longer. But even without divine assistance, human reason could try to deduce from the rules in the Quran and the practice of Mohammed the general principles that those rules and practice instantiated and try to work out the implications of those principles under changing circumstances, as some legal scholars attempted to do. They were opposed by others who held that the Quran was uncreate and its rules applied forever. The controversy was closely linked to the one mentioned in my previous post between the Ash'arites and the Mutazilites, with the latter giving human reason a role in working out law and morality—both, in the Islamic view, part of the same structure.
The abstract theological question of the nature of the Quran still matters, since one answer does and one does not permit the sort of updating of Islamic law that some modern scholars favor, revision, working within the existing intellectual structure, to produce a version better suited to the modern world.
I knew that al-Ma'Mun, for other reasons one of my favorite Caliphs, had persecuted those who held the Quran to be uncreate. Now I think I know why.