What are the situations in which it is permissible to kill a person?

The Details of the Question
When is it permissible and impermissible to kill a person? Is it permissible to shoot a thief that burgles your house?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

There are several verses in the Quran stating that it is haram to kill a person. The following is stated in one of those verses: 

"Nor take life which Allah has made sacred― except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully We have given his heir authority (to demand Qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life: for he is helped (by the Law)." (al-Isra, 17/33)

The crime of Cain (Qabil), Hz. Adam's son, killing Abel (Habil) shows that killing is a crime meaning the violation of the whole mankind. As a matter of fact, Allah Almighty states the following:

"On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person―unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land― it would be as if he slew the whole people." (al-Maida, 5/32)

The penalty of retaliation for the murdered is definite by the following verse: 

"O ye who believe! The law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder; the free for the free the slave for the slave the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, This is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty. In the law of Equality there is (saving of) life to you O ye men of understanding! that ye may restrain yourselves.." (al-Baqara, 2/178-179)

The decree of retaliation existed in the other heavenly religions too:

"We ordained therein for them: "Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal." But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) wrong-doers." (al-Maida, 5/45)

The Quran mentions another penalty for a person who kills another deliberately: 

"If a man kills a Believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (for ever): and the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.." (Nisâ, 4/93)

It is stated in a hadith that a person can be killed in three cases and upon the decree of a judge. Hz. Prophet (pbuh) states the following:

"The blood of a Muslim cannot be shed except in three cases: A married person who commits adultery, in retaliation for murder, and the one who reverts from Islam and leaves the Muslims." (Bukhari, Diyat, 6; Muslim, Qasama 25; Abu Dawud, Hudud, I; Tirmidhi, Hudud, 15)

The hadith was reported by Ibn Mas'ud.

The following is stated in another narration:

"The blood of a Muslim can be shed in three cases: A person who becomes an unbeliever after having belief; a person who commits adultery after getting married; a person who kills another unjustly."

It is stated in various hadiths that it is haram to kill a person and to commit suicide: 

"Killing a believer is a bigger incident than the end of the world in the eye of Allah."

"Your blood and property are haram to one another as this day, month and place are haram." (Bukhari Ilm, 37; Hajj, 132; Hudud, 9; Muslim, Hajj, 147; Tirmidhi, Fitan, 6)

"Avoid seven destructive things. One of them is killing a person, which Allah rendered haram, unjustly."(Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and Nasai)

The penalty for killing a person deliberately was determined by a hadith. Hz. Prophet  (pbuh) said,

"Retaliation is applied in deliberate murder. However, it is changed if the parent/guardian of the murderer forgives the murderer."

That is, a person who killed another is executed unless the relatives of the murdered person forgive him.

A person who kills another deliberately becomes a sinner. His case is up to Allah. If Allah wishes, He punishes him; if He wishes, He forgives him. According to the majority of the Islamic scholars, the repentance of a killer is acceptable. They show the following verses as evidence for their decree: 

"Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with him; but He forgiveth anything, else to whom He pleaseth." (an-Nisa, 4/48-116)

"for Allah forgives all sins." (az-Zumar, 39/53)

Ibn Abbas holds the opposite view regarding the forgiveness of the killer. For, it is definite by verse 93 of the chapter of an-Nisa that a killer who kills a person deliberately will go to Hell.

On the other hand, the hadith stating that the repentance of a person who killed one hundred people is accepted is very famous and well known. (Bukhari, Anbiya, 54; Muslim, Tawba, 46-47). It is suggested that the verse stating that a killer who kills a person deliberately will go to Hell is valid if he dies before repenting or that it depends on Allah Almighty's wish

Due to the affairs and harms depending on the deed of killing, this deed is divided into parts like wajib/fard (obligatory), permissible/mubah, mandub (recommended), haram (forbidden) and makruh (abominable).

Fard: It is fard to kill the enemy if the enemy warrior does not accept the offers and continues to fight. 

Haram: It is haram to kill innocent people whose blood is not permissible to shed.

Makruh: It is makruh for a believer to kill an unbeliever who is his enemy when he swears at Allah and His Messenger.

Mubah: It is mubah to kill a person who is to be executed due to retaliation; it is mubah for the president to kill a prisoner of war. For, he is free to kill prisoners of war depending on the situation. It is also mubah to kill an attacker in order to defend oneself. It is also permissible to kill a person who tries to grab one's possessions.  

As for a person who attacks people, if the attacker is an animal or an unbeliever, it wajib to kill the attacker. If the attacker is a Muslim, there are two views whether it is wajib to kill or not.  

As for the killing that is mandub, itis mandub to kill an attacker when it is not wajib to kill him.

The imams of four madhhabs list the cases when it is mubah (permissible) to kill a person as follows:

If a person sees a stranger (man) enter his house, sees a stranger (man) committing adultery with his wife or one of his close relatives, it is permissible for him to kill that person. Retaliation is not necessary for the killer. If adultery has taken place as a result of the consent of both parties, the husband can kill both of them according to Hanafis and Hanbalis. If the man has forced the woman, it is regarded permissible to kill the man. However, if the husband finds out later that they committed adultery, he cannot kill them. The state authorities will punish them. In that case, the man can divorce his wife.


Hamdi Döndüren (Prof. Dr.)

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