Thursday, December 08, 2005

An eye for an eye!

[Info: The religious facts were initially told to be during a USC rapport group meeting by a Rabbi from the USC hillel center.]

Today I read this article [and many others] about the guy from Kerala who is stuck in Saudi Arabia and is sentenced to have his eye gouged out because he had a fight with a Saudi youth which resulted in the latter's eye getting hurt.

From the article:
Naushad, 33, hailing from Anchal in Kollam district, had been asked by a Shariat court in Saudi Arabia to give one eye to the person whose eye was damaged during a scuffle with him.

Now on to some discussion.

- On the surface, this seems barbaric, but this is the law in that country, isn't it? I mean we can say that death is too barbaric to someone smuggling drugs [as in Thailand], but then that is the law of the land.

- But then, one wonders, where does this law in Saudi Arabia come from? The answer is also simple, since we all have heard the oft-repeated phrase "an eye for an eye"

- And this is where it takes an interesting turn, when we read the details of the phrase.

The oral law of Judaism holds that this verse cannot be interpreted as mandating exact physical retribution. The rabbis of the Talmud ask, "How can any person be certain that the punishment they inflict is definitely no worse than the initial injury?" They answer that this is one indication that the Bible, when stating "an eye for an eye," does not refer to physical retribution. They proceed to cite several more indicators for this thesis.

The Oral Law explains, based upon the biblical verses, that the Bible mandates a sophisticated five-part monetary form of compensation, consisting of payment for "Damages, Pain, Medical Expenses, Incapacitation, and Mental Anguish" - which underlie many modern legal codes. Some rabbinic literature explains, moreover, that the expression, "An eye for an eye, etc." suggests that the perpetrator deserves to lose his own eye, but that biblical law treats him leniently. - (Paraphrased from Union of Orthodox Congregations website [1])

It should be noted that Judaism, while not allowing physical retribution for torts, does contain provisions for corporeal and capital punishment to be carried out for certain crimes under rare circumstances.

- So you see, the Jews interpret it differently, and say that God did not mean to literally remove the eye, but to provide compensation for it.

- But then, why should the Muslims in SA follow it?

- Actually, the verse comes from the Torah, which is held holy by the muslims also.

- So why is the punishment for this guy not a fine "equal in amount to the fee needed for a surgery to correct the injured youth's eye"

I wonder.. I wonder.., a nation which can boast of the highest scholars in the religion.. follows the trivial interpretation of a law written in hebrew and translated in english. [The literal translation from Hebrew means "an eye under an eye", with the word "under" interpreted in different ways]

Note that this is not a post against islam or shariyat laws, but the interpretation of this one particular law.

I would appreciate if people can shed more light on this topic.

here's hoping that things work out for the better for Naushad.


  1. 'Interesting' (in need of a better word, though) premise and a very thought-provoking question (What is barbaric and what's not?)

    Which reminds me of a story about two philosophers walking on a road and on spotting an ant, one of them says - 'I know what the ant is thinking at this moment!' The other questions - 'How on earth can you know what's on an ant's mind?' to which the first one says - 'How on Earth can you know what's on my mind regarding ant's mind!' So, the argument continues...

    - V

  2. excellent clarification of this often mis-quoted concept. i took a philosophy class last year with Dallas Willard, and one of the things we discussed was the idea of retribution, and the problem with "an eye for an eye" is that you can never replicate the damages exactly. for instance, if a rapist molests a young child, you can't turn back time to when he was a kid and set up the scene exactly the same to perform exact retribution. even in this case, the punishment doesn't exactly fit the crime--the injuries to the eyes will both be very different and the effect they will have will be different. retribution is inherently faulty because it can never be done exactly, so you have to come up with some equivalent punishment. i suppose that is where the saudi arabian government comes in to decide that this is equivalent. i dont know. i guess my big problem is with retribution--yes, i agree that maybe people deserve retribution, but i don't think that's the most effective way to handle punishment.

  3. you're welcome8:44 AM

    I won't get into the interpretation of the so called "commandment", but I will say that it is blatently stupid to say that "well if it's the law there, I guess then it's ok".
    Germany under Hitler, Chile under Pinochet, US under Bush etc all had/have laws which can neither be called the creation of a sane or just mind.
    Argue all you want about retribution, or justice or what's fair and what's not, something as stupid as this remains stupid.

  4. You are right. The interesting thing is that a coin has two sides. So you can interpret it in different ways. I dont think the Indian government will be able to do anything, although I wish this man's eyes not gouged out.

  5. Animesh,

    Well researched, well informed, well balanced post!

    (Moses is revered as a lawgiver in many parts of the World.)

    Quranic verses too do not ask for the eye to be gouged out. Here's one citation I found that supports what you are saying. Check translation here.

    The problem with SA (or with any adherent to extreme forms of punishment or behaviour) is with sticking to the conservative, hardline, unilateral(?) line of thinking.
    The brand of Islam prevalent in SA, isn't really Islam. It's a hardline practise called Wahabbism (from the name of the scholar who tended towards a hardline, ultra-convservative stance & then preached it, culminating in a "deal" with the current ruling royal family of SA)
    The problem then, everywhere is with conservative thought!

    Hail the Liberals!