If Anyone Slew a Person (Qur'an 5:32)
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 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.
What is actually presented by apologists is a distorted, out-of-context and misleading paraphrasing of the following verse:
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 . 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 mistakingly referencing a very 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 ('fasadin', 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', 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 consider Mujahid ibn Jabr to be a narrator of the highest reliability.
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 memorised 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" (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.
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:
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 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 tafsirs for 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 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:
In relation to verse 5:33 Ibn Kathir says:
In the Tafsir attributed to ibn Abbas (date and true author unknown):
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:
These broader definitions found in the 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' 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, 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 widely understood as compatible with violent intolerance elsewhere within Islam.
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.
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 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.
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) anyone who is familiar with the Qur'an already knows this.
- Parallelism: Sanhedrin 37a - verse 5:32 is a Rabbinic commentary misattributed to Allah
- Mischief - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Mischief
- Misinterpreted Verses - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Misinterpreted Verses
- A version of this page is also available in the following languages: Spanish. For additional languages, see the sidebar on the left.
- The Most Peaceful Verse - Faith Freedom International (archived), http://www.faithfreedom.org/the-most-peaceful-verse/
- Can Infidels be Innocents? - Daniel Pipes (archived), http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2005/08/can-infidels-be-innocents
- Fort Hood in light of the Quran: An Open Letter To CNN - Answering Islam (archived), http://www.answering-islam.org/authors/nakdimon/fort_hood_cnn.html
- 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)
- "Islamophobia", Wisdom Today, June 8, 2009
- Andrew G. Bostom, "Keith Ellison's Taqiyya", American Thinker, March 13, 2011
- "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 fasadin - 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
- 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).
- 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