Volume 2: Surah Baqarah, Verses 178-179
0 You who believe! retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain; the free for the free, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female; but if any remission is made to any one by his (aggrieved) brother, then (the demand for the blood wit) should be made according to usage, and payment should be made to him in a good manner; this is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy; so whoever exceeds the limit after this, he shall have a painful chastisement (178). And there is life for you in the retaliation, 0 men of understanding, that you may guard yourselves (against evil) (179).
QUR'AN: 0 you who believe! Retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain; the free for the free...:
The verse is addressed to the believers. It means that the law promulgated herein applies to the Muslims only. As regards the non‑Muslims ‑ whether under protection of an Islamic State or not ‑ the verse is silent about them. Some people think that this verse has abrogated the verse 5:45 (life is for life); because it does not allow killing of a free person for a slave, or of a man for a woman. But actually there is no room for this supposition. The position of this verse vis-à-vis the verse 5:45 is like that of an explanation vis-à-vis its text.
al‑ Qisas (= retaliation) is the masdar of qassa yuqassu (he followed, he follows); an Arab says: qassa atharahu (= he followed someone's tracks). Another derivative is al‑qassas (= story‑teller) ‑ it is as though he follows the tracks of the past generations. Retaliation is called al‑qisas because it follows the footsteps of the offender, giving him a punishment similar to that which he had inflicted upon his victim.
QUR'AN: but if any remission is made to any one by his (aggrieved) brother: Its literal translation is: then whoever is remitted any thing by his brother. "Whoever" refers to the murderer; the heir/s of the murdered person may waive his/their right of retaliation. Therefore, "any thing" refers to that right; it is used here as a common noun, in order that the rule may cover all possibilities, whether there was a full remission or partial. Let us say, for example, that there are many heirs and only some of them waive their right; then there shall be no retaliation; instead the blood money will be imposed. The heir of the murdered person who has the right of retaliation) has extraordinarily been described here as the "brother" of the murderer; this expression has been used to awaken the feeling of love and kindness in the heart of the aggrieved party, and gives a hint to him that remission and forgiveness is highly preferable in the eyes of Allah.
QUR'AN: then (the demand for the blood wit) should be made according to the usage, and payment should be made to him in a good manner:
Its literal translation is: then following according to usage, and payment to him in a good manner. Both phrase are subjects with their predicates implied. Thus literally it would mean: then it is obligatory on the aggrieved "brother" to follow that remission with demand for the blood‑money according to usage; and it is obligatory on the murderer to pay it to the aggrieved brother, that is, heir of the slain, in a good manner without any annoying delay.
QUR'AN: this is alleviation from your Lord and a mercy:
The permission to commute the retaliation into blood‑money is alleviation from your Lord, and therefore, once effected, it cannot be changed. The heir of the slain person cannot revert to retaliation after granting remission. If he transgresses the limit and retaliates after remission, then he shall have a painful chastisement.
QUR'AN: And there is life for you in the retaliation, 0 men of understanding, that you guard yourselves (against evil):
This verse points to the philosophy of this legislation. It aims at removing a possible misunderstanding that ‑ because Allah has allowed remission and blood‑money, and also because remission expands the circle of mercy and affection ‑ remission is more in conformity with public weal and social good. The verse shows that, although remission is alleviation based on mercy, common good and society's peace depend on the retaliation. The only guarantee of life is the law of retaliation, and not remission, blood‑money, or any other thing. Man has to accept this fact, if he has understanding. "that you may guard yourselves" that is, from murder. It gives the basic of the law of retaliation.
The scholars have said that the verse, "and there is life for you in the retaliation," is one of the most eloquent in its clarity, and the most refined in rhetoric, in addition to its having many other fine literary points, like brevity ‑ it has so few words and such a small number of total letters ‑ fluency of style and clarity of composition. It combines the force of argument with beauty of meaning, the fineness of proof with clarity of result.
Before this verse was revealed, the Arabs were fond of some adages and maxims (on the subject of murder and retaliation), of whose rhetoric and fluency they were very proud. For example: 'To kill some is to keep alive all', and 'To increase killing is to decrease killing'. And the most remarkable in their eyes was the sentence: 'Killing stamps out killing.' But when this verse was revealed all were forgotten. Some of its distinguishing points are as follows: The verse has fewer letters, and is easy to pronounce. "the retaliation" with definite article is a proper noun, while "life " is common noun ‑ it shows that the resulting good is greater and more widespread than the retaliation. It explains the result in clear words and describes the real philosophy of the law, that is, the life. It unambiguously shows by what means the desired result can be obtained: Obviously, it is the retaliation that leads to life, and not the killing. (After all, many killings are done unjustly, and they do not lead to life, they are negation of life.) The word, "retaliation," covers also other punishments besides killing, that is, the reprisal in the matter of injury, etc. ‑ and such retributions too lead to the society's life. The word conveys another extra meaning, as it shows that the retribution has resulted from unjust killing. (Compare it with their maxim, "Killing stamps out killing", which does not give any idea that "killing" refers to any punishment.) Then there is an exhortation in this sentence, as it points to a life reserved for the people, whom they are oblivious of; it behooves them to take hold of it as it really belongs to them; it is as if someone tells you: There is a property belonging to you with so‑and‑so, or in such and such a place. Lastly, the opening word of the verse, that is, "for you" makes it clear to the men of understanding that the law‑giver only desires to protect their interest, and no benefit is ever to accrue to him.
These are a few of the fine points found in this verse. The scholars have mentioned some more points, which may be seen in the books of rhetoric. The fact is, the more deeply you look at this verse, the more dazzled you shall be by its brilliance and radiance; and the word of Allah is the highest.
as‑Sadiq (a.s.) said about the word of Allah, the free for the free: "A free man shall not be killed for the slave' but he shall be beaten a severe beating and be fined the blood‑money of the slave. And if a man kills a woman, and the heirs of the slain (woman) want to kill him, they shall pay half of his blood‑money to the man's heirs." (al‑Ayyashi)
al‑Halabi narrates from as‑Sadiq (a.s.). He says: "I asked him about the word of Allah the Mighty, the Great: but he who forgoes it, it shall be an expiation for him (5:45); he (the Imam) said: 'His sins shall be expiated, as much as he forgives.' And I asked him about the word of Allah, the Mighty, the Great: but if any remission is made to anyone by his (aggrieved) brother, then (the demand for the blood wit) should be made according to usage, and payment should be made to him in a good manner. He said: 'He who has got the right (i.e. the aggrieved party) should not put his brother (i.e. the murderer) in difficulty, when he has made settlement with him concerning the blood‑money; and he who has got the duty (of paying the blood‑money) should not delay in its payment when he has ability to do so; and he should pay it to him in a good manner.' And I asked him about the word of Allah, the Mighty, the Great: so whoever exceeds the limit, he shall have a painful chastisement. He said: 'It refers to a man who accepts blood‑money or forgives, or makes compromise, then exceeds the limit (and kills the murderer); so he shall be killed as Allah, the Mighty, the Great, has said.'" (al‑Kafi)
The author says: There are many traditions of the same meanings.