Islam and the Quran

Justifiable Homicide

Question: What is the ruling on justifiable homicide as in committing homicide for self defense?

In Quran, unless there is a lawful reason, it is strictly forbidden to commit homicide. God commands in the following verse:

“And do not kill any soul which God has made inviolable, except by right. And whoever is killed unjustly – We have given his/her protector the authority, but let him not exceed limits in taking life. Indeed, he has been helped.  (Al-Isra/The Night Journey 17:33).

Check out the related verses: Al-e-Imran/ Family of Imran, 3:21, 112, 181; An-Nisa/ The Women, 4:155 ; Al-An’am/ The Cattle, 6:151.

When we approach this matter in Quran’s content integrity, regarding homicide as lawful is possible only in the following conditions:

1- Being killed as punishment of one’s own crime of homicide.
2- As self-defense in case of facing death.

In Quran, self-defense is approached via two examples in compliance to general principles. Those examples are:

1- “Kill them wherever you encounter them and drive them out from where they drove you out since persecution is worse than killing. Do not fight against them near the Sacred Mosque unless they attack you there. Kill them if they attack you there. This is the punishment of those concealers.” (Al-Baqarah/The Cow 2:191)

2- “The sacred month is for the sacred month, and inviolability is reciprocal. Whoever commits aggression against you, retaliate against him in the same measure as he has committed against you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who protect themselves (from errors).” (Al-Baqarah/The Cow 2:194)

It is mentioned in the verses above that, violation of the rule to not fight near the Grand Mosque (Masjid al- Haram) and in forbidden months, will give rise to self-defense as a right. In both cases, a person has inviolability unless he/she is attacking another person’s right to live.  Although it is against the law in regular conditions, in case of an attack, one’s right for self-defense and retaliation will emerge. In order to use this right, self-defense must be proportional with the unlawful act and death threat must be continuing effectively. The verses following 2:191 :

“…But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.” (Al-Baqarah/ The Cow 2:193) draws the lines of self-defense.

Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h)’ s following statement is also related to the right of self-defense which was indicated in the previous verses:

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr that the Prophet said: “Whoever is killed over his wealth, then he is martyr.” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 1419)

To explain the topic via an example: If a person is pointing a gun to you and you make your move faster and kill him/her, this is considered as lawful self-defense. However if someone threatens to kill you with a sharp object such as knife, and flees after you shot a gun once, second gun-shot would transgress the limits of self-defense because, death threat disappears even if it is out of your control. In this case, killing that person by the excuse of self-defense is not permissible.


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