Forgiving Terrorism: The Prophet and the Men of `Uraynah

05 December, 2016
Q Why did Muhammad enact such a harsh punishment on the men of Uraynah "He [Prophet Muhammad] sent some men in their pursuit, and before the sun rose high, they were brought, and he had their hands and feet cut off. Then he ordered for nails that were heated and passed over their eyes, and they were left in the Harra. They asked for water, and nobody provided them with water till they died." Were the men allowed to repent first? (as in Surat Al-Ma'idah, verse 33) . Is blinding people and depriving them of water promoted as a punishment in the Qur'an? Is there a verse in the Qur'an that advocates forgiveness over punishment? Thank you. Your website is such a valuable place for helping people of other religions understand Islam.


Salam (Peace) Bastien,
Thank you for trusting About Islam with your excellent question.

What you have asked about is directly related to how important combating terrorism is in Islam.

Before I begin my answer, I want to point out that it is true that in Islam, God Almighty has encouraged us to show forgiveness to those who transgressed against us.

There is even a verse in the Quran that explains this by showing that, while it is allowed to take revenge, it is much better and highly recommended by Allah to show forgiveness.

{The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): But if one forgives and makes reconciliation, the reward is due from Allah: for (Allah) loves not those who do wrong. But indeed if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong (done) to them, against such there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress people and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice: For such there will be a penalty grievous. But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs.} (Ash-Shura 42:40-43)

Defining Terrorism

But this kind of forgiveness does not apply in cases of terrorism. First, let’s define what terrorism is. I hope you will agree with me that terrorism is the type of violence that is perpetrated against weak people; those who are unarmed and cannot defend themselves, and those who are civilian, and non-combatants. And this is exactly what Allah Almighty says in the Quran:

{And what reason have you that you should not fight in the way of Allah and of the weak among the men and the women and the children, (of) those who say: Our Lord, cause us to go forth from this town whose people are oppressors, and give us from You a guardian and give us from You a helper.} (An-Nisa 4:75)

Allah Almighty is telling us that exacting revenge for and defending the weak is an obligation on us. This means that it is an obligation on Muslims to combat terrorism.

The Case of the People of `Uraynah

As for the people of `Uraynah, they embraced Islam and were living among the Muslims of Medina. But the climate of Medina did not suit them. They ask the Prophet for some milk. So, the Prophet advised them to go to a certain herd of camels for milk. They did so, and after they became fat and healthy from the camel’s milk they left Islam, killed the shepherds, and drove the camels away.

By committing these crimes, they committed terrorism. There is a verse in the Quran that ascribes a punishment for this:

{The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this: They should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.} (Al-Ma’idah 5:33)

When the Prophet (PBUH) came to know about their crimes, he-in accordance with the above verse-decreed the punishment was the death penalty after removing their hands and feet from opposite sides. This was for their crimes of terrorism, theft, and murder.

As for the question, was there a chance for them to repent before the Muslims overpowered them, I ask you, should terrorism be forgiven in this way?

Forgiving Terrorism?

Allowing the space for forgiveness in this case and cases like it is actually unacceptable in Islam because it suggests that these men and any others who wish to perpetrate such heinous crimes can get away with literal murder and mayhem simply by repenting “in time.”

Forgiving a case of terrorism would be like publishing an ad in the newspaper telling terrorists that they can get away with murder and mayhem if they just say that they repent. Do you think that would benefit society? Do you think that would discourage other terrorists from carrying out future attacks?

What about the rights of victims and their families? Wouldn’t forgiveness in these cases add insult to injury?

The verse does not mention anything about mutilating their eyes. But what happened historically and what is proven in the biography of the Prophet (PBUH) was that the criminals blinded the shepherds before they killed them. And so, blinding the perpetrators’ was done in retaliation.

There is a verse in the Quran that says:

{And there is life for you in (the law of) retaliation, O people of understanding, that you may guard yourselves.} (Al-Baqarah 2:179)

This means that when the law enforcement establishment justice, and exacts revenge for the weak, this actually saves lives because it ends the bloody cycle of violence between different tribes or different families. 

I hope this answers your question. Please stay in touch.


Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Prophet Muhammad: The Practical Image of Islam

Was the Prophet Unjust to the Jews?

How Did Prophet Muhammad Behave?

The Prophet’s Forgiveness of His Enemies

Did the Prophet Really Attack the Tribe of Judham?

Did Muhammad Spread Islam by the Sword?