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 anyone slew a person - unless it be in retaliation for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew all mankind: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all humanity.


Its Context

This verse is written in past tense (Ordained, not Ordain) and clearly does not apply to Muslims but to "the Children of Israel" i.e. the Jews who, according to Islam, received an earlier set of scriptures. In fact, it is mistakingly referencing a rabbinical commentary found in the Talmud as if it were the words of Allah.

Also when the clause which allows killing is reinserted and the passage is read in context with the following two verses directed at Muslims (notice the reference to Allah's messenger and the switch to present tense), what first appeared on the surface to be a peaceful message, is in actual fact a warning to non-believers:

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

According to the highly respected Qur'anic exegesis of Ibn Kathir- early Qur'anic commentator and Tabi'un, Sayid ibn Jubayr (who lived at the time of Prophet Muhammad, and was a companion of Aisha), had said:

[فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعاً]

.....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." In addition, Ibn Jurayj said that Al-A`raj said that Mujahid commented on the Ayah,

Also reported by 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:

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.

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. Muslim scholars consider ibn Jabr to have the highest reliability.[6]

The Worth of a Non-Believer

So far, it has been ascertained that verse 5:32 is not condemning the killing of a non-Muslim, and that a Muslim must not murder another Muslim, but what of the non-believers? What is the worth of their lives? 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.[7][8]

The Meaning of "Mischief"

The Qur'an is vague in what actions deserve punishments such as execution, crucifixion, the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land.

Putting aside the fact that no Muslim is allowed to be killed for the killing of a non-Muslim, "Murder" is quite straight forward, but what does it mean to "spread mischief"?

In the Tafsir ibn Kathir, Qatada, one of Muhammad's companions, explained the definition of "Mischief" according to Islam:

(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.
Meaning of Mischief
Tafsir Ibn Kathir

In the Tafsir ibn Abbas:

(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.
Surah al-Ma'idah, ayah 32
Tafsir al-Jalalayn

This understanding of what constitutes 'mischief' in Islam is confirmed by looking to other verses found within the Qur'an. Verse 7:103, for example:

Then after them We sent Moses with Our signs to Pharaoh and his chiefs, but they wrongfully rejected them: So see what was the end of those who made mischief.

Clearly "mischief" which is also equated to "waging war against Allah and His Messenger" in the very next verse, can and does apply to someone who simply refuses to accept Islam.[9]

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 was first offered as the height of moral teachings found in the Qur'an, turns out to be an intolerant call to violence.


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.[10]

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 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)[11] anyone who is familiar with the Qur'an already knows this.

See Also

  • 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.

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. "....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.
  7. "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. 
  8. Fatawa: Killing a Muslim for a Non-Muslim - Islamic Science University of Malaysia, November 6, 2003
  9. Some apologists may try to claim that Pharaoh and his chiefs were "bad men" who deserved their "end". But anything else they may or may not have done is irrelevant to this discussion. The verse cites only one reason for punishing them, and that sole reason is for "wrongly rejecting" Allah's messengers.
  10. 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).
  11. 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