Blood Money in Islam

Islamic law provides for Diyyah, or victim's compensation

Blood Money
In Islamic law a payment of Diyyah, often called blood money, is a form of victim compensation. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

In Islamic law, victims of crime are recognized as having rights.  The victim has a say in how the criminal is to be punished.  In general, Islamic law calls for murderers to face the death penalty. However, the victim's heirs may choose to excuse the murderer from the death penalty in exchange for monetary damages. The murderer will still be sentenced by a judge, possibly to a lengthy prison term, but the death penalty will be taken off the table.

This principle is known as Diyyah, which is unfortunately known in English as "blood money." It is more appropriately referred to as "victim's compensation."  While most commonly associated with death penalty cases, Diyyah payments can also be made for lesser crimes, and for acts of negligence (ex. falling asleep at the wheel of a car and causing an accident). The concept is similar to the practice in many Western courts, where the state prosecutor files a criminal case against the defendant, but the victim or family members may also sue in civil court for damages. However, in Islamic law, if the victim or victim's representatives accept monetary payment, it is considered an act of forgiveness which in turn lessens the criminal penalty.

Quranic Basis

In the Quran, Diyyah is encouraged as a matter of forgiveness and to release people from the desire for vengeance. The Quran says:

"Oh you who believe! The law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder... but if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude. This is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty. In the Law of Equality there is (saving of) life to you, oh men of understanding; that you may restrain yourselves" (2:178-179).

"Never should a believer kill a believer, but if it so happens by mistake, compensation is due.  If one so kills a believer, it is ordained that he should free a believing slave, and pay compensation to the deceased's family, unless they remit it freely....If he (the deceased) belonged to a people with whom you have treaty of mutual alliance, compensation should be paid to his family, and a believing slave be freed. For those who find this beyond their means, is prescribed a fast for two months running, by way of repentance to Allah, for Allah has all knowledge and all wisdom" (4:92).

Amount of Payment

There is no set price in Islam for the amount of Diyyah payment. It is often left to negotiation, but in some Muslim countries, there are minimum amounts set by law. If the accused cannot afford the payment, the extended family or state will often step in to help. In some Muslim countries, there are charitable funds set aside strictly for this purpose.

There is also no dictate with regard to the amount for men vs. women, Muslim vs. non-Muslim, and so on. The minimum amounts set by law in some countries do distinguish based on gender, allowing double the amount for a male victim over a female victim. This is generally understood to be related to the amount of potential future earnings lost from that family member. In some Bedouin cultures, however, the amount for a female victim could be up to six times greater than that of a male victim.

Controversial Cases

In cases of domestic violence, the victims or heirs may very well be related to the perpetrator. There is, therefore, a conflict of interest when deciding on the punishment and use of Diyyah. One extreme example is a case in which a man kills his child. The child's remaining family members -- mother, grandparents, and extended family members -- all have a relationship in some way to the murderer himself.

Therefore, they may be more willing to forego the death penalty in order to spare the family more pain. Many cases of a person "getting away with" a light sentence for the murder of a family member are, in fact, cases where the sentence has been reduced in a Diyyah settlement.

In some communities, there is strong social pressure for a victim or victim's family to accept Diyyah and forgive the accused, in order to avoid further pain for all involved. It is in the spirit of Islam to forgive, but it is also recognized that victims have a voice in determining punishments.