When you hear the term “blood money” in the U.S., you think of a reward paid when the hero in a cowboy movie brings the sullen bad guys into town and turns them over to the sheriff.
But here in the Middle East and other Muslim countries, blood money is the law.
I live in the United Arab Emirates. This is part of the legal code: “A person who causes death to another person is liable to pay AED 200,000 in blood money or Diyya to the heirs of the deceased as according to Islamic law.” That’s $54,516.
There was a time when blood money was a pragmatic way to solve problems.
In tribal cultures, the most efficient way to dispose of a murder case is for the chief of the offending tribe to sit down with the chief of the aggrieved tribe and agree on compensation to avoid more bloodshed.
The problem is that the practice became codified in Islamic law. And many Muslim countries blend secular law with Islamic law.
That often leads to injustice.
I’m sure blood money worked well here before 1950. But oil money has changed all that. Where there once was a small population of Bedouin tribes, you now have a wealthy and diverse country of 8 million people.
Most of them are not Arabs. Many are not Muslims. The society is no longer tribal.
So, here’s what happens when a suddenly complex nation clings to its traditions. The examples are from UAE newspaper stories during the last two years.
-- A Pakistani bus driver who killed 10 people in an accident could spend all his life in jail for failing to pay Dh2 million diyya (blood money) although he ended his prison term. Hamayoun Al Rahman, 30, was sentenced to three years in jail in 2005 and is still locked up as he must pay diyya before he is released.
In this case, not only could the poor guy not afford the blood money, he could not even find the relatives to ask them to waive the payment.
-- A man who severely attacked two other men, killing one and injuring the other, was sent to jail for three years by the Federal Supreme Court after blood relatives gave up their right to vengeance.
So, this guy gets three years for murder because the law allows the families of the victims to give up their right to vengeance.
-- Cops in the United Arab Emirates pooled their resources together to help a Filipino inmate who completed his prison term in a United Arab Emirates jail in 2009 but could not get out because of unpaid blood money.
This guy was in jail because his wife died in an auto accident while he was driving, and her family insisted on blood money.
-- The relatives of a man beaten to death in a bootlegging brawl are divided over whether to demand blood money or the death sentence for the 17 men alleged to have bludgeoned him with bricks and canes.
In this case, the victim’s father wanted vengeance, while the other relatives wanted blood money.
-- Judges, scholars and religious clerics are meeting today to discuss whether women's families should be entitled to the same blood money as men's in the event of accidental death caused by a third party.
Women’s families usually get only half.
A former managing editor of The Palm Beach Post, Tom O'Hara is a senior editor with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi and a Middle East columnist for Florida Voices.
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