On the authority of ibn Masood (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “It is not legal [to spill] the blood of a Muslim except in one of three cases:the fornicator who has previously experienced legal sexual intercourse, a life for a life and one who forsakes his religion and separates from the community.”Recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim.

Significance of This Hadith

This hadith specifies one of the most important aspects of how we should deal with fellow Muslims, where Allah has decreed through His Messenger that taking a Muslim’s life cannot be done by anyone and everyone according to their own whims and desires. Before Islam had arrived, killing people for tribal or family issues was considered acceptable and normal. In fact, the killing of girl babies by the tribes in Arabia at that time was nothing to be ashamed of. Islam came to liberate mankind from such abhorrent behaviour, in turn; making them accountable for everything they do and say. Islam came to set parameters that differentiate the right from wrong, and help Muslims understand when and under what circumstances a person can be given a death penalty.

“It is not legal [to spill] the blood of a Muslim except in one of three cases”

Here, our Prophet specifies how a life of a Muslim is sacred and cannot be violated, unless it falls under one of the three cases mentioned in the hadith. In Islam, these stringent rules have been put in place because the welfare of the community takes precedence over the wants and desires of a particular individual who does not respect the welfare of the community and is ready to commit heinous sins or crimes.

Islam has made it very clear that taking a human life is the responsibility of the highest authority, i.e. the judge. This rule has been put to place to ensure that individuals do not take this hadith for granted and start playing with Allah’s rules and regulations without being responsible or accountable. Therefore, taking a Muslim’s life cannot be done due to vendetta or personal grudges and misunderstandings by other individuals.

“…the fornicator who has previously experienced legal sexual intercourse…”

Fornication of illegal sexual intercourse and adultery are considered highly detestable sins that require a very strong punishment. Allah has strongly commanded Muslims to not even go near adultery, let alone commit it (Quran, al-lsraa 32). These rules are laid in place because adultery shakes and destroys the very foundation of a family. Unstable families lead to ineffective societies, in turn, destroying the peace and stability that a community needs to be built upon. Therefore, the punishment for adultery, when it is proven, is stoning until death.This is something agreed upon by the Muslim scholars. It was something enacted during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and afterwards.

“…a life for a life…”

If an adult, who is rational and mentally sound, intentionally murders another person, male or female, without due right of law, then that murderer is to be put to death.This is clear from the verses 178-179 of surah AL- Baqarah in the Glorious Quran.

“O you who have believed, prescribed for you is legal retribution for those murdered – the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But whoever overlooks from his brother anything, then there should be a suitable follow-up and payment to him with good conduct. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. But whoever transgresses after that will have a painful punishment. And there is for you in legal retribution [saving of] life, O you [people] of understanding, that you may become righteous.”

However, there are some exceptions to this ruling.

The first exception is alluded to in the verse itself. The relatives of the deceased have the right to forego the death penalty and accept a blood-money payment instead from the killer.

A second exception is where a father kills his son. According to the majority of the scholars, the father is not to be killed for such an act.

A third exception is where a free man kills a slave. This is the opinion of the majority of the scholars.

A fourth exception is where a Muslim kills a non-Muslim. If the non-Muslim was in a state of war or living in a land that is in a state of war against the Muslims, then all scholars agree that the Muslim is not to be killed for that act.

“…one who forsakes his religion and separates from the community”

This is in reference to an apostate. The phrase does not mean one who does both acts. The first characteristic is simply emphasized by the second characteristic. The first characteristic automatically implies the second characteristic. If a person commits any of the acts of apostasy, even if he claims to believe in the testimony of faith, he will be killed due to his apostasy- if he persists in his disbelief and refuses to repent. However, if a person apostates from Islam and then repents, he is not to be killed because in that state, he has neither forsaking his religion nor separated from the community.

Other Cases that Call for the Death Penalty

  • The case of male homosexuality
  • The one who marries a related woman who is within the prohibited degrees of marriage (recorded by Abu Dawood, al Tirmidhi)
  • The case of the magician (Sunan al-Tirmidhi)
  • The case of animal bestiality (Abu Dawood)
  • The one who drinks alcohol and is already punished three times (Sunan al-Tirmidhi)
  • The case of self-defence or defending one’s wealth
  • Many hadeeth state that it is excusable to kill another Muslim in the case of self defence


  • While the western media and other forces might paint a concept of Islam being a violent religion, these rules are in fact put in place to protect the society and community at large from greater harm, thereby, helping restore and maintain peace, civility, law and order in that particular area.
  • By placing such rules, Islam makes sure that evil acts are minimized, thereby, preventing people from committing such acts in the first place.
  • We as Muslims are expected to respect and honour the blood of fellow Muslims. The life of a Muslim is inviolable and protected by law.
  • The committing of adultery, murder and apostasy are such heinous crimes that Islamic Law, which otherwise safeguards life, has deemed that those who commit such crimes no longer deserve to live.
  • One of the purposes of the death penalty is to protect the sanctity and lives of all Muslims.

Related Video: Hadith# 14 – The Sanctity of a Muslim’s Blood


Related posts: