Known as diyat in Islamic law, this concept refers to compensation to the families of victims following a serious offense. Currently, diyat appears in Iranian, Pakastani, Saudi Arabian and Emiratis legal systems. The compensation rate to be paid by the offender has historically been based on the gender and religion of the victim, however some countries are moving away from that notion and standardizing the fee.
Notably in the news recently, this concept is being considered by the Malaysian government as a replacement for the death penalty, also known as qisas, in cases of serious harm. When considering this proposition in a restorative framework, diyat alone is insufficient to meet the needs of both parties – victims and offenders – in murder cases, other serious offenses or really any crime.
In a restorative justice framework, it’s important to consider each stakeholder’s need, including the:
Diyat only partially meets victims’ need for healing, meaning that it can only play a part in a restorative response to a harm. A restorative justice response could include diyat to help meet the material needs of the people harmed, but it neglects other non-monetary needs they have, including physical and emotional safety, vindication, regaining control of their lives and being believed and supported.
Offenders are also not fully healed through diyat, as it is difficult to claim responsibility or make amends through a simple transaction. Similarly, while a restorative response may include paying restitution, the offender also needs to take responsibility for the harm and commit to change. An offender could easily pay the required restitution, but avoid the hard work of taking responsibility, communicating that responsibility to the victims and healing the harm.
Perhaps the group most left out from this type of justice is the community, as their voice and interests are often completely excluded. Diyat prioritizes the offenders and victims while minimizing society’s influence. A truly restorative response must include the interests of all parties, including society’s, as the harm from crime often ripples past the immediate family and friends of a victim. Often, many people in a community are hurt by either the loss of the victim or the incarceration of the offender, among other pains.
When serious offenses like murder or rape occur, there are often loud voices in the media demanding the death penalty to satisfy justice. Sometimes, victims or their families genuinely desire the death penalty or long prison sentences for the person who committed harm.
All involved parties should be careful that these punitive desires do not flow from vindictiveness and revenge. Instead, justice should focus on meeting the needs of people harmed to help them recover from the harm. It might also require meeting the community’s need for safety. Ultimately, justice requires we seek to understand and address root causes that contribute toward crime.
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