Most Americans have probably never heard of “Diya,” but the word is used primarily in Islamic law and translates to something like “blood money” or “ransom.” That might sound somewhat dire or unforgiving, but the truth is that the Western civilization has a better known counterpart that serves the same purpose (which is to financially compensate those injured by another party through gross negligence).
That’s what happens when someone in the United States makes a personal injury claim, but requests punitive damages. The case is built because one party has injured another party either physically or mentally and wants fair compensation. But punitive damages are only awarded when the judge determines that the negligence was so very gross that further punishment is the fairest and most just path forward. In this way, punitive damages and Diya are somewhat similar.
But they are also different.
Diya, for instance, is derived from religion. The Qur’an states: “It is not for a believer to kill a believer unless by mistake. He who hath killed a believer by mistake must set free a believing slave, and pay the diya to the family of the slain unless they remit it as a charity.” Diya is also described in the Hadith.
Unlike Western law, Islamic believers think of homicide or manslaughter as “civil” in nature. It’s not for the government of a state or country to implement punishment. It’s for the two parties involved in the civil dispute to sort it out for themselves using the natural order, i.e. Islamic law based on religious texts. Therefore, prosecution of such a crime falls to the injured party.
You might already understand the most obvious of differences between punitive law and Diya: one is controversial, the other is not. Diya is often associated with sharia law, but they are not technically the same. Sharia law still takes place in the court, whereas “Diya” is more like an out-of-court settlement between the two parties. Generally, “damages” associated with the “Diya” aren’t up for interpretation and have a fixed value dependent on a number of factors (a value which changes if one party is not Muslim).
Diya is still practiced in countries like Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Under this system, the family of a victim might request Diya (a settlement payment) instead of a state-sanctioned execution as punishment. In Saudi Arabia, however, the Diya can be collected after someone is murdered, but the judgment is made in sharia court.
Many human rights activists also take note that when Diya is calculated, discrimination becomes obvious. The price for a murdered man, for example, is much higher than the price for a murdered woman. Others have opposed the system based on the obvious flaw: it allows murderers to walk free after paying what amounts to little more than a fine.