If Anyone Slays a Person (Qur'an 5:32)

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The Qur'anic verse 5:32 claims that Allah decreed for the "sons of Israel" that whoever kills a single person, it is as though he killed all of mankind (a concept lifted from the Jewish Talmud). The verse is often cited by duaah in the wake of Islamic terrorist attacks and massacres as proof that the Qur'an forbids such senseless slaughter. Yet these apologetic claims leave out the context of the entire passage and also its implications in Islamic law for dissidents in an Islamic State who do not want to abide by the strictures of Shari'ah (Islamic Law).

Michael Pregril notes the common ecumenical usage of verse 32 in popular discourse, then observes "But reading the convergence of Mishnah and Qur'an as a specimen of pre-modern ecumenism is clearly anachronistic if we conflate it with or project it onto the historical milieu that the Qur'an was revealed to address. Rather, given the overarching thrust of the surah, we must conclude that the rabbinic precursor has been deliberately appropriated and its major themes strategically reconstrued to propel a more strident, if not openly militant, message."[1]


Many websites[2][3][4] and public figures[5][6] have claimed that the following verse appears in the Qur'an, and that it denounces killing and equates the slaying of one human life to that of genocide against the entirety of mankind.

“If anyone slays a person, it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”

However, this verse, as above quoted, cannot be found in any printed copy of the Qur'an, translation or otherwise.

Qur'an 5:32

What is actually being presented by apologists and duaah here is a somewhat distorted paraphrasing of the following verse:

On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.

Although this verse often cited to the effect that Islam as a religion categorically forbids killing (particularly in the name of the relgion), in addition to the entirety of the verse itself it is instructive to look at the verse in context:

And recite to them the story of Adam's two sons, in truth, when they both offered a sacrifice [to Allah], and it was accepted from one of them but was not accepted from the other. Said [the latter], "I will surely kill you." Said [the former], "Indeed, Allah only accepts from the righteous [who fear Him]. If you should raise your hand against me to kill me - I shall not raise my hand against you to kill you. Indeed, I fear Allah, Lord of the worlds. Indeed I want you to obtain [thereby] my sin and your sin so you will be among the companions of the Fire. And that is the recompense of wrongdoers." And his soul permitted to him the murder of his brother, so he killed him and became among the losers. Then Allah sent a crow searching in the ground to show him how to hide the disgrace of his brother. He said, "O woe to me! Have I failed to be like this crow and hide the body of my brother?" And he became of the regretful. Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors. Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment, Except for those who return [repenting] before you apprehend them. And know that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

The full passage shows how the quoted portion related to the Qabeel and Habeel (Cain and Abel) cycle in Islam (including details taken from the Talmud, see Parallelism: Sanhedrin 37A). It is also apparent that the passage as a whole calls for the murder and torture of certain people, including those who "spread mischief" or "spread corruption", a concept about which the Islamic tradition has much to say.


Its Context

The preceding verses 5:27-31 talk about the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Abel offered animal sacrifice to Allah and Abel offered crops. Allah liked the animal sacrifice, but he rejected the crops, so Cain got angry and killed Abel [7]. Then comes the verse 5:32, beginning with "for that reason" or "on that account" (مِنْ أَجْلِ ذَٰلِكَ, min ajli dhaalika), meaning "for the reason Cain killed Abel" [8]. Then the verse describes a decree given to "the Children of Israel" i.e. the Jews who, according to Islam, received an earlier set of scriptures. Incidentally, the Qur'an here is mistakenly referencing a human rabbinical commentary found in the Talmud[9] as if it had been a decree in the words of Allah.

The next two verses explain how the principle should be applied by Muslims, particularly regarding the caveat about those who cause mischief ('fasadin', which appears both in verse 32 and verse 33 and was an Arabic word defined in dictionaries as corruption, unrighteousness, disorder, disturbance [10]). What is often presented as being a purely peaceful message, at the same time includes a warning:

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter; Except for those who repent before they fall into your power: in that case, know that Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

Scope of the principle

The principle in verse 5:32 seems to refer to the killing and saving of not just believers, but any person ('nafsan' نفسا, which means a soul) who is not excluded by the exceptions. Nevertheless, the highly respected Qur'anic exegesis of Ibn Kathir contains evidence that it wasn't universally interpreted in that way, with some hadith narrations that restrict the principle to the killing of a believer, while other narrations use a more general formulation like the Qur'anic verse.

For 5:32 he cites the early Qur'anic commentator and Tabi'un, Sayid ibn Jubayr (who lived at the time of Prophet Muhammad, and was a companion of Aisha):

.....Sa`id bin Jubayr said, "He who allows himself to shed the blood of a Muslim, is like he who allows shedding the blood of all people. He who forbids shedding the blood of one Muslim, is like he who forbids shedding the blood of all people."

He also cites another Tabi'un and commentator of the Qur'an, Mujahid ibn Jabr (a student of Ibn Abbas; a paternal cousin of Muhammad) while commenting on verse 5:32:

In addition, Ibn Jurayj said that Al-A`raj said that Mujahid commented on the Ayah, He who kills a believing soul intentionally, Allah makes the Fire of Hell his abode, He will become angry with him, and curse him, and has prepared a tremendous punishment for him, equal to if he had killed all people, his punishment will still be the same.

Muslim scholars generally consider Mujahid ibn Jabr to be a narrator of the highest reliability.[11]

On the other hand, Ibn Abbas is also cited by Ibn Kathir for this verse, giving the more general opinion, that it refers to the killing of a "soul that Allah has forbidden killing". Being a companion of Muhammad, Ibn Abbas was present around the time these verses were revealed. Together with Ibn Jabr, he went through the Qur'an thirty times and memorized the meanings.

Uthman is also recorded in Ibn Kathir's tafsir to have paraphrased the verse as applying to all people. This refers to the siege of Uthman's house by a Muslim delegation who had intercepted a letter from him calling for their execution. He convinces an ally not to fight the besiegers by citing verse 5:32.

Al-A`mash and others said that Abu Salih said that Abu Hurayrah said, "I entered on `Uthman when he was under siege in his house and said, `I came to give you my support. Now, it is good to fight (defending you) O Leader of the Faithful!' He said, `O Abu Hurayrah! Does it please you that you kill all people, including me' I said, `No.' He said, `If you kill one man, it is as if you killed all people. Therefore, go back with my permission for you to leave. May you receive your reward and be saved from burden.' So I went back and did not fight.

The Meaning of "Mischief" (fasaad فساد)

The Qur'an describes the punishments for those who "wage war against Allah and his messenger" and strive for "mischief" or "corruption" (fasaad فساد) in the Land as execution, crucifixion, the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land:

Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption (fasaad فساد) is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment, Except for those who return [repenting] before you apprehend them. And know that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

Pregrill argues that fasaad here and in verse 32 is being invoked against the Jews and that in Medinan passages, the scope of the word expands beyond the unfaithful peoples of the past to now being strongly associated with the Jews as a proximate threat to Muhammad and the community.[1]

On the other hand, definitions of these groups can be found in hadiths, tafsirs, and even other Qur'an verses.

The polytheists were among those described by the clauses "those who wage war against Allah and his messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land". A hadith graded hasan by al-Albani in Sunan Abu Dawud states:

Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: The verse "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite side or exile from the land...most merciful" was revealed about polytheists. If any of them repents before they are arrested, it does not prevent from inflicting on him the prescribed punishment which he deserves.

The classical tafsirs for verses 5:32-33 provide wide definitions and examples of what is meant by "war against Allah and his messenger" and "mischief", as well as pointing to a specific incident of murder narrated in sahih hadiths.

Retribution for murder is one of the caveats in verse 5:32 for which the peaceful principle does not apply. Some of the punishments prescribed in verse 5:33 are ordered by Muhammad after the following murder incident narrated in sahih hadiths and cited in earlier tafsirs in reference to these verses:

Narrated Abu Qilaba: Anas said, "Some people of `Ukl or `Uraina tribe came to Medina and its climate did not suit them. So the Prophet (ﷺ) ordered them to go to the herd of (Milch) camels and to drink their milk and urine (as a medicine). So they went as directed and after they became healthy, they killed the shepherd of the Prophet and drove away all the camels. The news reached the Prophet (ﷺ) early in the morning and he sent (men) in their pursuit and they were captured and brought at noon. He then ordered to cut their hands and feet (and it was done), and their eyes were branded with heated pieces of iron, They were put in 'Al-Harra' and when they asked for water, no water was given to them." Abu Qilaba said, "Those people committed theft and murder, became infidels after embracing Islam and fought against Allah and His Apostle."

In al-Suyuti's Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the following commentary is found in relation to this incident and Qur'an verse 5:33:

The following was revealed when the ‘Arniyyūn came to Medina suffering from some illness and the Prophet s gave them permission to go and drink from the camels’ urine and milk. Once they felt well they slew the Prophet’s shepherd and stole the herd of camels Truly the only requital of those who fight against God and His Messenger by fighting against Muslims and hasten about the earth to do corruption there by waylaying is that they shall be slaughtered or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on opposite sides that is their right hands and left feet or be banished from the land the aw ‘or’ is used to indicate the separate application of each of the cases listed; thus death is for those that have only killed; crucifixion is for those that have killed and stolen property; the cutting off of limbs on opposite sides is for those that have stolen property but have not killed; while banishment is for those that pose a threat — this was stated by Ibn ‘Abbās and is the opinion of al-Shāfi‘ī; the more sound of his al-Shāfi‘ī’s two opinions is that crucifixion should be for three days after the death of the killer or it is also said shortly before he is killed; with banishment are included similar punishments such as imprisonment and the like. That mentioned requital is a degradation a humiliation for them in this world; and in the Hereafter theirs will be a great chastisement namely the chastisement of the Fire.

Besides this specific incident, the classical tafsirs interpret "mischief" (the Arabic word fasadin in verses 5:32 and 33) and even "waging war on Allah and his Messenger" in an alarmingly wide manner. In Ibn Kathir's tafsir, the definition of "Mischief" according to Islam is explained in the context of Quran 2:11:

("Do not make mischief on the earth"), that is disbelief and acts of disobedience. Abu Ja`far said that Ar-Rabi` bin Anas said that Abu Al-`Aliyah said that Allah's statement, (And when it is said to them: "Do not make mischief on the earth,"), means, "Do not commit acts of disobedience on the earth. Their mischief is disobeying Allah, because whoever disobeys Allah on the earth, or commands that Allah be disobeyed, he has committed mischief on the earth. Peace on both the earth and in the heavens is ensured (and earned) through obedience (to Allah)." Ar-Rabi` bin Anas and Qatadah said similarly.

In relation to verse 5:33 Ibn Kathir says:

(The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on the opposite sides, or be exiled from the land.) `Wage war' mentioned here means, oppose and contradict, and it includes disbelief, blocking roads and spreading fear in the fairways. Mischief in the land refers to various types of evil.

In the Tafsir attributed to Ibn Abbas (date and true author unknown):

(For that) because Cain wrongfully killed Abel (cause We decreed for the Children of Israel) in the Torah (that whosoever killeth a human being for other than man slaughter) i.e. premeditatedly (or corruption in the earth) or because of idolatry, (it shall be as if be had killed all mankind)

In the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, by al-Suyuti, the following commentary is found in relation to Qur'an verse 5:32. It covers much broader categories of people than the commentary regarding the specific punishments in 5:33 quoted from it above:

Because of that, which Cain did, We decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever slays a soul for other than a soul, slain, or for, other than, corruption, committed, in the land, in the way of unbelief, fornication or waylaying and the like, it shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether; and whoever saves the life of one, by refraining from slaying, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind — Ibn ‘Abbās said [that the above is meant] in the sense of violating and protecting its [a soul’s] sanctity [respectively]. Our messengers have already come to them, that is, to the Children of Israel, with clear proofs, miracles, but after that many of them still commit excesses in the land, overstepping the bounds through disbelief, killing and the like.

These broader definitions found in some major classical tafsirs seem intended to accommodate the Islamic death penalties for married adulterers and apostates found in hadiths. At the same time, a broader understanding of what constitutes 'mischief' or 'corruption' in Islam is found even within the Qur'an, whether or not this was the intention in verses 5:32 and 33. See verse 3:63, for example, where those who merely dispute Islam are mischief makers:

The Truth (comes) from Allah alone; so be not of those who doubt. If any one disputes in this matter with thee, now after (full) knowledge Hath come to thee, say: "Come! let us gather together,- our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves: Then let us earnestly pray, and invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie!" This is the true account: There is no god except Allah; and Allah-He is indeed the Exalted in Power, the Wise. But if they turn back, Allah hath full knowledge of those who do mischief.

According to Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, perhaps the world's most quoted independent Islamic jurist:

Surah al-Ma'idah (5:33) says: "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle is that they should be murdered or crucified." According to Abi Kulaba's narration this verse means the apostates. And many hadiths, not only one or two, but many, narrated by a number of Muhammad's companions state that any apostate should be killed.

So what is first offered as the height of moral teachings found in the Qur'an, is generally understood by traditional scholars as compatible with an array of violent and intolerant practices.

The Worth of a Non-Believer

According to sahih hadith, Muhammad said the life of a non-Muslim is not sacred:

Narrated Anas bin Malik:

Allah's Apostle said, "I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.' And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Qibla and slaughter as we slaughter, then their blood and property will be sacred to us and we will not interfere with them except legally and their reckoning will be with Allah." Narrated Maimun ibn Siyah that he asked Anas bin Malik,

"O Abu Hamza! What makes the life and property of a person sacred?" He replied, "Whoever says, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah', faces our Qibla during the prayers, prays like us and eats our slaughtered animal, then he is a Muslim, and has got the same rights and obligations as other Muslims have."

The prominent scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328 CE) regarded Muhammad's command in the above hadith as applying to those who fought against the Muslims.

Muhammad also gave the verdict (fatwa) that a Muslim can not be killed for killing a non-Muslim, and this stipulation forms one of the core principles of the laws of the Dhimma.

Narrated Abu Juhaifa: I asked 'Ali "Do you have anything Divine literature besides what is in the Qur'an?" Or, as Uyaina once said, "Apart from what the people have?" 'Ali said, "By Him Who made the grain split (germinate) and created the soul, we have nothing except what is in the Quran and the ability (gift) of understanding Allah's Book which He may endow a man, with and what is written in this sheet of paper." I asked, "What is on this paper?" He replied, "The legal regulations of Diya (Blood-money) and the (ransom for) releasing of the captives, and the judgment that no Muslim should be killed in Qisas (equality in punishment) for killing a Kafir (disbeliever)."

The majority of Muslim scholars held this view, while a minority (the Hanafi school of jurisprudence) believed that a Muslim can be killed if he kills a non-Muslim Dhimmi who is under the "protection" of the Islamic community.[12][13]

The lack of Qisas for killing a non-Muslim does not necessarily contradict the principle in Qur'an verse 5:32, and murder of both Muslims and non-Muslims is a punishable crime in predominantly Muslim countries around the world today. At the same time, the death penalty for apostasy still exists on the lawbooks of some of these countries.


In the Islamic world, those who propagate their non-Islamic faiths or publicly criticize Islam are often harassed, imprisoned and even executed by their communities or their governments, under laws against "spreading disorder [mischief] through the land" and apostasy.

See Also

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Pregill, Michael. The Two Sons of Adam: Rabinnic resonances and scriptural virtuosity in surat al-Ma'idah. Journal of the International Quranic Studies Association. 6 (2021): 167-224 (see pp. 205-207)
  2. Jacob Bender, "Jewish-Muslim Dialogue and the Value of Peace", The American Muslim, July 19, 2007
  3. Arsalan Iftikhar, "Murder has no religion", CNN, November 9, 2009 (refutation to Arsalan Iftikhar's piece: Murder Has A Religion)
  4. "Islamophobia", Wisdom Today, June 8, 2009
  5. Andrew G. Bostom, "Keith Ellison's Taqiyya", American Thinker, March 13, 2011
  6. "TRANSCRIPT: Remarks of President Obama in Cairo", Fox News, June 4, 2009
  7. Tafsir Al-Jalalayn 5:27
  8. "Because of that which Cain did We decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever slays a soul..." - Tafsir Al-Jalalayn 5:32
  9. Talmud Sanhedrin 37a- "For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world." - It explains why Man was created only 1 (Adam), while animals were created in masses. [1]
  10. فَسَادٍ fasadin - Lane's Lexicon Book I page 2396
  11. "....Mujahid ibn Jabr, Abu al-Hajjaj al-Makhzumi is one of the major commentators of Qur'an among the Tâbi'în and of the highest rank in reliability among hadith narrators (thiqa)...." - Sh. G. F. Haddad - Mujahid (d. 102) - LivingIslam, April 4, 2000.
  12. "Killing a Muslim in punishment for killing a non-Muslim", Islamweb, Fatwa No.92261, August 1, 2006 (archived), http://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/index.php?page=showfatwa&Option=FatwaId&Id=92261. 
  13. Fatawa: Killing a Muslim for a Non-Muslim - Islamic Science University of Malaysia, November 6, 2003