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

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This article analyzes the Qur'anic verse 5:32 and the definition of "Mischief" in Islam.


Many websites[1][2][3] and public figures[4][5] 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 cannot be found in any printed copy of the Qur'an, regardless of whether or not it is in the original Arabic or in one of its many English translations. The reason for this is simple: the verse in question does not exist.

Qur'an 5:32

What is actually presented by apologists is a distorted, out-of-context and misleading 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.


Its Context

The preceding verses 5:27-31 talk about the Jewish 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 [6]. 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" [7]. 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 mistakingly referencing a very human rabbinical commentary found in the Talmud[8] 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 also appears in the next verse and was an Arabic word defined in dictionaries as corruption, unrighteousness, disorder, disturbance [9]). What first appeared on the surface to be a peaceful message, is in actual fact 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.

Its Application to Muslims

The principle in verse 5:32 seems to refer to the killing and saving of not just Muslims, but any person ('nafsan', which means a soul) who is not covered by the exceptions. On the other hand, the highly respected Qur'anic exegesis of Ibn Kathir contains narrations that cloud the issue somewhat, with some 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 consider Mujahid ibn Jabr to be a narrator of the highest reliability.[10]

Ibn Abbas is also cited by ibn Kathir for this verse, saying more generally, 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 memorised the meanings.

Uthman is also reported to have paraphrased the verse in a general way by ibn Kathir. 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" (fasadin)

The Qur'an describes the punishments for those who "wage war against Allah and his messenger" and strive for "mischief" in the Land as execution, crucifixion, the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land. Definitions of these groups can be found in hadiths, tafsirs, and even other Qur'an verses, in which mischief includes such things as disputing Islam.

It is fairly obvious that the polytheists were one such group meant by the phrase "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 confirms this:

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 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 for which the principle in verse 5:32 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 tafsirs for 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."

Besides this specific incident, the tafsirs interpret "mischief" 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:

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.

This understanding of what constitutes 'mischief' in Islam is confirmed by looking to other verses found within the Qur'an. 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.

Clearly "mischief" can and does apply to someone who disputes Islam.

According to Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, 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, was widely understood as part of an intolerant call to violence. Verse 5:32

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."

Furthermore, Muhammad also gave the verdict (fatwa) that a Muslim can not be killed for killing a non-Muslim.

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 vast majority of Muslim scholars hold this view, while a minority believe that a Muslim can be killed if he kills a non-Muslim Dhimmi who is under the "protection" of the Islamic community.[11][12]


In this instance, as in many others, it is the apologists, not the skeptics, who are misinterpreting verses and quoting them out of context. A simple reading of the verse and those that surround it makes this clear.[13]

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.

If verse 5:32 means what some apologists claim it to mean, why are they so reluctant to quote the verse accurately and in context rather than presenting a misleading paraphrasing of what they wished the verse had said? Furthermore, why are moderates unable to silence fellow Muslims on an intellectual level by using that very verse?

They are unable to because their claim is false, and (as proven by the actions of many)[14] anyone who is familiar with the Qur'an already knows this.

See Also


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External Links



  1. Jacob Bender, "Jewish-Muslim Dialogue and the Value of Peace", The American Muslim, July 19, 2007
  2. Arsalan Iftikhar, "Murder has no religion", CNN, November 9, 2009 (refutation to Arsalan Iftikhar's piece: Murder Has A Religion)
  3. "Islamophobia", Wisdom Today, June 8, 2009
  4. Andrew G. Bostom, "Keith Ellison's Taqiyya", American Thinker, March 13, 2011
  5. "TRANSCRIPT: Remarks of President Obama in Cairo", Fox News, June 4, 2009
  6. Tafsir Al-Jalalayn 5:27
  7. "Because of that which Cain did We decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever slays a soul..." - Tafsir Al-Jalalayn 5:32
  8. 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]
  9. فَسَادٍ fasadin - Lane's Lexicon Book I page 2396
  10. "....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.
  11. "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. 
  12. Fatawa: Killing a Muslim for a Non-Muslim - Islamic Science University of Malaysia, November 6, 2003
  13. See this related Tumblr post by the Artistic Atheist for an informative discussion concerning the context of verse 5:32 and verse 3:151 (the "cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers" verse).
  14. For example, on the 20th of July, following the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London, Islamic cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed publicly stated "I condemn the killing of innocent people." only to be secretly recorded by an undercover reporter for the Sunday Times explaining two days later "Yes I condemn killing any innocent people, but not any kuffar."

    One of his followers, Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary, also explained in a BBC interview "when we [Muslims] say 'innocent people' we mean 'Muslims'. As far as non-Muslims are concerned, they have not accepted Islam. As far as we are concerned, that is a crime against God." Ref: Daniel Pipes - Can Infidels be Innocents? - Danielpipes.org, August 7, 2005