Blood money: Ancient custom as business practice carries moral pitfalls



Alaa Alghamdi

Published — Friday 7 September 2012

Last update 7 September 2012 7:29 am

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THE ORIGINAL intent behind the practice of diya, ‘blood money’ offered to a murder victim’s family in lieu of the execution of his killer, was to facilitate and encourage the practice of forgiveness. The family of a victim was entitled to insist on revenge — on the basis of ‘an eye for an eye’ theory, in the form of the execution of the killer as just retribution for the crime committed and the loss the family had suffered. But they could choose to take the high road. They could choose to spare a life. Traditionally, the diya was the token incentive that eased the way to that favorable conclusion.
So nowadays, when we hear of diya as a business venture, with exorbitant amounts of money changing hands through brokers (all of whom take their own share of the profit), it seems very evident that something has gone badly awry.
Perhaps it is nothing more than might be expected when ancient custom meets the modern market. But at any rate, the resulting commercial practice, in essence a commoditization of both life and forgiveness does little justice to the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) on forgiveness. Legislation must now step in and redirect the errant attention of the accuser and the accused from the financial costs or profits of an abhorrent act, and to the real and heartfelt process of reconciliation. What was once put in place to speed forgiveness now appears, most emphatically, to distract and even detract from it.
Why is it that the precious idea of forgiveness so often seems tied to its own great detriment, to finance? In medieval Europe, the Christian concept of divine forgiveness was reduced to an economic practice that could not be further from spirituality, namely, the sale of indulgences. By paying a certain sum of money to an itinerant priest, sinners could have their faults erased. Naturally enough, the practice was one that rapidly degenerated into the worst kind of corruption. It is fair to conjecture that nobody’s soul was better off for it.
Diya as a lucrative business threatens to lead us down the same path. Originally a token of good faith, the payment has grown in size and significance such that eclipses any other part of the process. What stronger evidence could there be of the potential of commercialism to corrupt social and spiritual practice?
And, quite apart from matters of the soul, the emphasis on the commercial transaction of diya seems to amount to rather poor social management! Naturally, there are cases in which the forgiveness of a murderer is the right action — for example, where the killing happened in self-defense. Forgiveness as a sentiment can and perhaps should be offered in all cases. But does it serve the wellbeing of society to allow a murderer to be freed because his family can afford to pay the price? Or, for that matter, does it serve justice for someone whose guilt is dubious, to die because his family cannot afford to pay?
There is simply no way that putting the financial aspects of the practice will not be detrimental to the individual soul and the collective wellbeing. Therefore, to preserve the tradition of diya in its true spirit, legislation must strictly limit the amount of money that can be requested or paid.

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