And kill not the soul which Allah has forbidden save for a just cause. And whoever is killed wrongfully, We have surely given his heir authority to demand retaliation, but let him not exceed the prescribed bounds in slaying; for therein he is helped by law. (17:34)
The allegation against 17:34 is that it only provides an exemption against killing for believing Muslims but not for disbelievers fanning the ideology of those who commit extremist acts of violence in this day and age.
Far removed from the allegation that this verse calls for killing of everyone with the exception of Muslims, this verse is addressing the concept of laws applied to murder during civil discourse in society, not a state of war. The previous verses 17:32-33 are speaking of the phenomenon of infanticide as a result of social ills, such as adultery and abortion: Kill not your children for fear of poverty. It is We Who provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin. And come not near unto adultery; surely, it is a foul thing and an evil way. This civil law and discourse aspect of this verse is :also supported by the narrative in the next verse 17:35: And come not near the property of the orphan, except in the best way, until he attains his maturity, and fulfill the covenant; for the covenant shall be questioned about.
The allegation says that the part which states “…save for just cause…” means that Muslims could slay disbelievers. However, this is not what the next part of the verse implies, which explains this “just cause”, by stating in 17:34 “…And whoso is killed wrongfully, We have surely given his heir authority to demand retaliation…”. This is speaking of retaliation in murder, which is not the case in war. Thus, this verse is speaking only about murder, not a wartime situation or a perpetual war against infidels as the allegation implies. In the war between the Muslims and disbelievers, there is military law, while in times of peace, or in civil society, there is civil law. This verse falls under civil law. In war, the heir does not retaliate for the killing of a family member. Therefore, the allegation raised against this verse does not even apply to it. “Murder” is not applied to the killing of individuals during war-time on the battlefield.
Furthermore, senselessly killing innocent people is not allowed according to this verse, since that violates the injunction “…but let him not exceed the prescribed bounds in slaying”. How does this verse allow the killing of disbelievers in peace time who have done no wrong? The only way in which an heir can even demand retaliation is for there to be a wrongful killing. If a person did not commit the crime of murder, then this verse does not allow the killing of that innocent person. Therefore the statement “save for just cause” means that in an Islamic society, there is a concept of capital punishment and that is to be administered solely by legal means, and not in the hands of any individual.
The word Wali (heir) is applied to any person who is entitled to inherit another man’s property after the latter’s death. But one may nominate a person other than his legal heir as his Wali. If a person is murdered, his Wali (heir) has the right to demand satisfaction. But after the murderer is convicted by a properly constituted court, the heir of the murdered person has the right either to have the murderer legally executed or accept the blood-money in lieu of the death of the murdered person. If, however, it is considered against the interests of public peace or morality to allow blood money to the heir or if the demand of the heir be found to be not bonafide, the court may refuse to accept the option of the heir and order the murderer’s execution. The final decision always rests in the hands of the court, not people or the individual.
In fact, the heir has the right to express his want from the loss that he has faced, but the State itself decides whether or not such want is a deterrent for further crime or will it permit more evil in society. This right of the State in regard to the punishment of the guilty person covers all matters to which the injunction of Qisas (retaliation) applies. The Caliph Ali(ra) is reported to have punished a guilty person whom the aggrieved party had pardoned in the plea that the dictates of public peace demanded his punishment. Ali was convinced that the fear of being harmed by the offender had made the aggrieved person pardon him. See also 2:179.
Whereas in the earlier part of the verse the rights of the party offended against have been safeguarded, the words, let him not exceed the prescribed bounds in slaying, safeguards the interests of the offender. They mean to say that the aggrieved party should not exceed legitimate bounds by adopting vigilante form of retaliation or a cruel method of killing. In fact, these words imply a recommendation in favor of the murderer. They also show that although “life for life” is the general rule, the heirs of the murdered person may not always act upon this rule. The murderer is to suffer the extreme penalty of the law only when the dictates of equity, retaliation, public peace and morality absolutely demand it. His life should be spared if this act of grace is calculated to lead to his moral reformation. In the words, for therein he is helped by law, the aggrieved person is reminded of his responsibilities. He is told that he, too, is responsible for the maintenance of peace. As God has safeguarded his rights, he should have regard for the rights of others – he should not always insist upon his “pound of flesh.”
(Five Volume commentary on verse 17:34 by Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Fourth Caliph of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community)
These verses are known by the early Muslims to have been a refutation to the crime of infanticide and murder due to tribal feudalism. Thus, when it is known to have disallowed these barbaric customs, how does it give rise to senseless murder once again after it is clear that it forbade it?
Below are several verses of the Holy Quran that support and consolidate the teachings of a civil and moral discourse in society particularly with regards to murder, infanticide and adultery.
Say, ‘Come, I will rehearse to you what your Lord has forbidden: that you associate not anything as partner with Him and that you do good to parents, and that you kill not your children for fear of poverty — it is We Who provide for you and for them — and that you approach not foul deeds, whether open or secret; and that you kill not the life which Allah has made sacred, save by right. That is what He has enjoined upon you, that you may understand. (6:152)
And those who call not on any other God along with Allah, nor kill a person that Allah has forbidden except for just cause, nor commit adultery (or fornication), and he who does that shall meet with the punishment of sin. (25:69)
O ye who believe! equitable retaliation in the matter of the slain is prescribed for you: the free man for the free man, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But if one is granted any remission by one’s brother, then pursuing the matter for the realization of the blood money shall be done with fairness and the murderer shall pay him the blood money in a handsome manner. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. And whoso transgresses thereafter, for him there shall be a grievous punishment. (2:179)