18 October 2017 CE | 27 Muharram 1439 AH

Hadith Explanation

All for a Rope

Ibn Abbas (radi Allahu anhu) said: “The first event of Al-Qasamah (law of equality in punishment) in the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance was practised by us (Bani Hashim). A man from Bani Hashim was employed by a Quraishi man from another branch of the family. The labourer set out with the Quraishi, driving his camels. There passed by him another man from Bani Hashim. The leather rope of the latter’s bag was broken so he said to the labourer, ‘Will you help me by giving me a rope in order to tie the handle of my bag, lest the camels should run away from me?’ The labourer gave him a rope and the latter tied his bag with it. When the caravan halted, all the camels’ legs were tied with their fetters except one camel’s. The employer asked the labourer, ‘Why has this camel of all the camels not been fettered?’ He said, ‘There is no fetter for it.’ The Quraishi asked, ‘Where is its fetter?’ The labourer told him what had happened so the Quraishi beat the labourer with a stick that caused his death. (Just before he died) a man from Yemen passed by him. The labourer asked him, ‘Will you go for the pilgrimage?’ He replied, ‘I do not think I will perform it, but perhaps I will.’ The labourer said, ‘Will you convey a message from me in your life?’ The other man said, ‘Yes.’ The labourer said, ‘When you go for the pilgrimage, call the family of the Quraish and if they respond to you, call the family of the Bani Hashim and if they respond to you, ask for Abu Talib and tell him that so-and-so has killed me for a fetter.’ After that the labourer died.

“When the employer reached (Makkah), Abu Talib visited him and asked, ‘What has happened to our companion?’ He said, ‘He became ill and I looked after him nicely but he died and I buried him.’ Abu Talib said, ‘The deceased deserved that from you.’ After some time, the man whom the labourer had asked to convey the message reached Makkah during the pilgrimage season. He called out, ‘O family of Quraish!’ They replied, ‘Here we are!’ Then he called out, ‘O Bani Hashim!’ And they replied, ‘Here we are!’ He asked, ‘Who is Abu Talib?’ The people pointing out to him said, ‘He is Abu Talib.’ He said, ‘So-and-so has asked me to convey a message to you that so-and-so has killed him for a fetter (of a camel).’

“Then Abu Talib went to the Quraishi killer and placed before him three alternatives asking him to choose one of them: 1) If you wish, give us one hundred camels because you have murdered our companion. 2) If you wish, fifty of your men should take an oath that you have not committed the murder of our companion. 3) If you do not accept this then we kill you in Qisas. The killer went to his people and they said, ‘We will take an oath.’ Then a woman from Bani Hashim who was married to one of them (the Quraish), and had given birth to a child from him, came to Abu Talib and said, ‘O Abu Talib! I wish that my son, from among the fifty men, be excused from this oath, and he should not take the oath when the oath-taking is carried on.’ Abu Talib excused him. Then another man from them came and said, ‘O Abu Talib! You have asked for fifty persons to take an oath or a hundred camels to be given (to you) and that means each man has to give two camels (or take the oath). So, here are the two camels I wish you to accept from me and excuse me from taking an oath when the oaths are taken.’ Abu Talib accepted them from him. Then forty-eight men came and took the oath (that the Quraish had not killed the labourer).”

Ibn Abbas (radi Allahu anhu) said: “By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, before the end of that year, none of those forty-eight men remained alive.” [Bukhari]

This is the story of a man who took another’s life over a rope. Some people do not hesitate to go to extremes over petty matters. The fire of anger engulfs in its flames such qualities as the fear of Allah, thought of the Hereafter, compassion, etc. However, the fate of those who do not value human life and lie to cover up their crimes is chilling.

The method of Al-Qasamah was practiced in the Days of Jahiliyya (Ignorance). The Islamic Shariah retained it on the same method. Those practices of Jahiliya that were not wrong were retained in Islam. This was one of them.

The punishment for murder is Qisas (retaliation) or, if the heirs agree then blood-money may be paid instead. If the murderer is unknown, the Shariah has also suggested a method to trace the murderer as far as possible. It is the method of Al-Qasamah which is referred to in this narrative. If someone is found murdered and the murderer is not known then fifty of the respected men of the area where the body is found should state on oath that they are not involved in the murder and do not know about the murderer. Fifty people is a large number and normally so many people do not agree to tell lies together. In this case the murderer was known but as there was no evidence against him Al-Qasamah was used.

Those who realized the consequences of taking a false oath did not act as false witnesses knowing that they would suffer punishment in this life as well as the next. Those who took the false oath all died within one year.

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