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Hadith 14: The value of human life

On the authority of Ibn Mas’ud, radiyallahu anhu, who said: The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said:

“The blood of a man who is a Muslim is not lawful (i.e. cannot be lawfully shed), save if he belongs to one of three (classes): a married man who is an adulterer; life for a life (i.e. for murder); one who is a deserter of his religion, abandoning the community.”

[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]


Before the arrival of Islam, human life had no value. A person can easily be killed for many different reasons, e.g. revenge, to show the superiority of a tribe, killing a newborn baby girl because it was considered a shame, etc.
When Islam arrived, it stressed on the value and importance of human life. A life must not be threatened unless it is lawful, i.e. where a serious violation of the shariah had occurred. Islam also made it clear that the taking of a human life is the responsibility of the highest authority, i.e. the judge. This is to prevent this practice from being abused for personal interests.

Islam has established rules and regulations for the community that minimise the need to carry out the execution of a man or woman as allowed by the three cases defined in the hadith. Islam is a peaceful religion and it has established rules where people respect each other and live together peacefully, without lives being threatened. In the case of zina, Islam has rules for the Muslim society that regulate relationships. Hence, it is very difficult for the cases mentioned to occur if these rules and regulations are observed. As for ‘deserting the religion’, the Muslim community is based on knowledge where ilm and da’wah are continuously being disseminated and conveyed. Thus people are aware of their religious obligations and the minds of the society are well-protected from being manipulated. All these measures have been set up by Islam to minimise the occurrences of these exceptional cases where the taking of a human life is allowed.
These truly are exceptional cases because during the time of the Prophet,
sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, (and later during the era of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs) there were only a few cases where such violations or problems occurred.

 This hadith should be seen and understood from a positive viewpoint – it is not legal to kill a Muslim except in one of three cases. Because these three cases are exceptional, it shows that the Muslim blood is valued and treasured and is blessed by Allah subhana wa ta’ala.

In the last sermon of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, during his farewell Hajj (which was a few months before he died), he, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, re-emphasised the principle of this hadith which is the sanctity of a Muslim’s blood. Islam encourages Muslims to avoid any kind of act, e.g. violence, injustice, etc. that will lead to violating this principle. All this shows just how important it is not to shed the blood of a Muslim.


In Islam what is seen as punishment are actually measures put in place to protect the Muslim society and community. Islam takes precautions to ensure that these evil acts (or the violations of these principles) are minimised. In other words, Islam promotes good values and chastity; it encourages marriage, i.e. the legal relationship between man and woman; Islam also discourages acts that might lead to the violations of this principle, e.g. zina.

Islam makes it clear what the duties and obligations of the Muslim are – how we are to treat and respect each other. Islam places importance in a caring society, where the people, whether rich or poor, care for each other. This minimises hatred and hence conflicts and killings.

 Adhering to Islam itself (i.e. to stick to the religion) is another means of minimising the occurrences of the exceptional cases mentioned in the hadith. The evidence is established and da’wah is conveyed and hence the Muslim community is well educated and knowledgeable. They know and understand the religion and their obligations. They are proud to be Muslims and to live in a Muslim community and they can feel the bounty of Allah subhana wa ta’ala. They would never think of forsaking their religion.

 But the problem today is that modern technology, e.g. the media, Internet, entertainment, etc., is being misused to promote the three negative cases mentioned: adultery, violence/murder, and apostasy. These are shown as being normal and acceptable for the sake of entertainment. The world today has made bad, unacceptable behaviour and negative elements appear as good and vice versa.

These are serious challenges to the Muslim community today. We have to deal with these challenges very carefully, without forgetting the underlying principles behind this hadith. We have to determine how we can protect the Muslim community from violating these principles. The leaders and du’at of the communities have to determine how to counter or minimise the negative influences of the media, especially in areas like entertainment (TV, movies, etc). We have to study why the rates for things like divorce, adultery, violence and apostasy amongst Muslims are high. We have to revive the true roles of parents, du’ats, teachers, and leaders of the community to solve these problems. We should especially be concerned about protecting the minds and akhlaq (values) of the youths.

 There have been many researches and studies that show the negative influences of the media, especially television (e.g. like the book written by Prof Jerry Mander: Four Arguments to Eliminate Television, and the book written by Zig Ziglar: Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World). Studies have shown how television have made children become lazy, physically and mentally, how it affects their academic progress, how it can change their attitude, etc. We Muslims can benefit from these studies by learning from them so as not to allow our children to fall into the same pitfalls.

 Another problem is the lack of support within the Muslim communities, in terms of education, health, religious guidance, finance, care, etc. So when certain Muslims are in desperate need for help but no other Muslims are taking the trouble to lend a hand, Christian missionaries would come in and take advantage of the situation. They offer their help, financially, spiritually, etc. There are countries where Muslim families would send their children to Christian schools because it is the Christian schools that have shown greater concern towards the well-being of the Muslim children by providing them with better education and future. This leads to some Muslim families forsaking their religion.

In these sorts of situations, it is the Muslims themselves who are responsible for this apostasy because they do not look out for one another.

 Many Muslims today are victims of mind-manipulation where misconceptions created by, for example, Western Orientalists and Christians have influenced their perception and attitude. This results in the Muslim being less careful about his Islam, living a double-standard life – looking at him from one angle, he looks like a Muslim but looking at him from another angle, he doesn’t seem to have the Muslim identity.

This leads to another problem which is the lack of the Muslim identity among the Muslims. There are Muslims today who are promoting non-Muslim identities or speaking highly of other cultures which in the Islamic view may have negative elements. We should maintain and promote our own identity. We can still benefit from progress of the West, e.g. technology advancement, but we should do so in a positive way, without jeopardising the image and values of Islam.

We need to hold more conferences or dialogues and discuss issues like how we can benefit from the positive aspects of technology/change/progress and how to avoid technology misuse. Muslim experts should present their views or propose ideas on how we can achieve this.

 We need to discuss these issues which are the real challenges faced by the Muslim community today. We should not just talk about Islamic concepts without putting them in context with reality. We should not just talk about these issues theoretically, simply stating what the rulings on Islam are on this or that matter. We need to have an approach that goes deeper and considers the challenges and strategies we need to put in place in order to help the Muslim community to be positive, confident and proud of their Muslim identity. We need to help them so that they do not become trapped by the challenges they face today.

We need to create awareness among the Muslim community so that they are aware of their roles and responsibilities. We need to see how we can revive the original concepts of Islamic values and behaviour in a way that will work today.


This hadith needs to be looked at in the positive light where the emphasis is on the value of the human life and not on the punishments permissible for the three cases mentioned. Islam has put in place a system which leads to minimising the occurrences of the three cases. There are strategies, obligations, etc., which help the Muslims to avoid these acts.

Opponents of Islam look at the hadith in a negative way where they accuse Islam of being murderous and barbaric. But the truth of the matter is Islam values human life, just as it values chastity (iffah or taharah) – a virtue which has lost its value in these contemporary times because of the evil being promoted by the opponents via the media and negative side of technology. These negative influences have also caused some Muslims to interpret this hadith negatively.

One of the biggest problems today is that with there being more and more challenges, the explanation of the hadith should take into account what the problems are that are facing the Muslims today that violate the principles set up by the hadith. We should look into what we can do to promote the principles and virtues mentioned in the hadith (e.g. to uphold chastity, valuing human life, that killing is a crime, etc.) and to minimise their violations.


                                                                                   Dr. Jamal Ahmed Badi