If Anyone Slays a Person (Qur'an 5:32)
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The Qur'anic verse 5:32 claims that Allah "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" (a concept lifted from the Jewish Talmud). The verse is one of the evidences often cited by duaah in the wake of Islamic terrorist attacks and massacres as proof that the Qur'an forbids such senseless slaughter. While there is consensus in Islamic law against the killing of non-combatant women and children and such acts are frequently condemned by traditional scholars, sometimes apologetic claims misquote this particular verse or 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 Pregill 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."
Many websites and public figures 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.
However, this verse, as above quoted, cannot be found in any printed copy of the Qur'an, translation or otherwise.
What is actually being presented by apologists and duaah here is a somewhat distorted paraphrasing of the following verse:
Although this verse often cited to the effect that Islam as a religion categorically forbids killing (particularly in the name of the religon), in addition to the entirety of the verse itself it is instructive to look at the verse in context:
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 execution and torture of certain people, including those who spread mischief/corruption, a concept about which the Islamic tradition has much to say.
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 . 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" . 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 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/corruption ('fasād', which appears both in verse 32 and verse 33 and was an Arabic word defined in dictionaries as corruption, unrighteousness, disorder, disturbance ). What is often presented as being a purely peaceful message, at the same time includes a warning:
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.
Muslim scholars generally consider Mujahid ibn Jabr to be a narrator of the highest reliability.
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.
The Meaning of mischief/corruption (fasād فساد)
The Qur'an describes the punishments for those who "wage war against Allah and his messenger" and strive for "mischief" or "corruption" (fasād فساد) in the Land as execution, crucifixion, the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land:
In his academic article on the topic, Michael Pregill argues that fasād 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.
Traditionally, other groups are identified as the target 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:
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:
In al-Suyuti's Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the following commentary is found in relation to this incident and Qur'an verse 5:33:
Besides this specific incident, the classical tafsirs interpret mischief/corruption (the Arabic word fasād 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 fasād according to Islam is explained in the context of Quran 2:11:
In relation to verse 5:33 Ibn Kathir says:
In the Tafsir attributed to Ibn Abbas (true date and author unknown):
In Tafsir al-Jalalayn, al-Suyuti gives the following commentary 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:
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/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:
According to Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, perhaps the world's most quoted independent Islamic jurist:
So what is first offered as the height of moral teachings found in the Qur'an, was generally understood by traditional scholars as compatible with an array of violent and intolerant practices.
Modernist Islamic scholars on the other hand argue that verses such as Quran 5:64 in the same surah link corruption (fasād) in the land with warfare, Quran 7:85-86 links it with ambushes, while Quran 8:73 and Quran 89:11-12 links it with oppression.
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.
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.
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.
- Parallels Between the Qur'an and Late Antique Judeo-Christian Literature
- Misrepresentations of Islamic Scripture
- 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)
- Jacob Bender, "Jewish-Muslim Dialogue and the Value of Peace", The American Muslim, July 19, 2007
- Arsalan Iftikhar, "Murder has no religion", CNN, November 9, 2009 (refutation to Arsalan Iftikhar's piece: Murder Has A Religion)
- "TRANSCRIPT: Remarks of President Obama in Cairo", Fox News, June 4, 2009
- Tafsir Al-Jalalayn 5:27
- "Because of that which Cain did We decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever slays a soul..." - Tafsir Al-Jalalayn 5:32
- 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. 
- فَسَادٍ fasādin - Lane's Lexicon Book I page 2396
- "....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.
- "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.
- Fatawa: Killing a Muslim for a Non-Muslim - Islamic Science University of Malaysia, November 6, 2003