The Meaning of Qatal

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This article discusses the Arabic word most often mistranslated in the Qur'an.


In our daily use of English, "fight" rarely connotes "murder" or "death". Only if "fight" is used in reference to fighting in a war does the word ever connote the loss of lives.

Even then, it is the war itself that causes death and not just the fight. "Fighting" can often be a positive action. Every day, people "fight" against cancer, people "fight" to be heard.

In Arabic however, the verb for "fight" is not as benign as the English version. In Arabic, the verb is "Qatal". "Qatal", the Arabic word translated as "fight" in an English language Qur'an, more accurately translates as "kill", "massacre", or "slaughter".



Here is the meaning of the word "Qatal":

Qaf-Ta-Lam = to kill, put to death, be accused, slay/murder/kill/slaughter, attempt to kill, render person like to one killed, to wage war/combat/battle, to master, contend/fight, deadly, knew a thing thoroughly/well, become acquainted with it.

qatala vb. (I) perf. act. 2:72, 2:251, 3:183, 4:92, 4:157, 4:157, 4:157, 5:30, 5:32, 5:32, 5:95, 5:95, 6:140, 8:17, 18:74, 18:74, 20:40, 28:19, 28:33 impf. act. 21, 2:85, 2:87, 2:91, 3:21, 3:21, 3:112, 4:29, 4:92, 4:93, 5:27, 5:28, 5:28, 5:70, 5:95, 6:151, 6:151, 7:150, 8:17, 8:30, 9:111, 12:10, 17:31, 17:33, 25:68, 26:14, 28:9, 28:19, 28:20, 28:33, 33:26, 40:26, 40:28, 60:12 impv. 2:54, 2:191, 2:191, 46, 4:89, 4:91, 9:5, 12:9, 29:24, 40:25 perf. pass. 3:144, 3:154, 3:156, 3:157, 3:158, 3:168, 3:169, 3:195, 17:33, 22:58, 47:4, 51:10, 74:1Italic text9, 74:20, 80:17, 81:9, 85:4 impf. pass. 2:154, 4:74, 9:111 n. vb. 2:191, 2:217, 3:154, 3:181, 4:155, 5:30, 6:137, 17:31, 17:33, 33:16

qatala n.m. (pl. of qatil) - 2:178,

qattala vb. (II) impf. act. 7:127, 7:141 perf. pass. 33:61 impf. pass. 5:33, n. vb. 33:61

qatala vb. (III) perf. act. 2:191, 3:146, 3:195, 4:90, 9:30, 33:20, 48:22, 57:10, 57:10, 60:9, 63:4 impf. act. 2:190, 2:191, 2:191, 2:217, 2:246, 2:246, 2:246, 3:13, 3:111, 4:74, 4:74, 4:75, 4:76, 4:76, 4:90, 4:90, 4:90, 9:13, 9:36, 9:83, 9:111, 48:16, 59:14, 60:8, 61:4, 73:20 impv. 2:190, 2:193, 2:244, 3:167, 4:76, 4:84, 5:24, 8:39, 9:12, 9:14, 9:29, 9:36, 9:123, 49:9 perf. pass. 59:11, 59:12 impf. pass. 22:39 n. vb. 2:216, 2:217, 2:217, 2:246, 2:246, 3:121, 3:167, 4:77, 4:77, 8:16, 85, 33:25, 47:20

iqtatala vb. (VIII) perf. act. 2:253, 2:253, 49:9, impf. act. 28:15

LL, V8, p: 238
Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon


Here is the meaning of the word "Fight":

v. fought, fight·ing, fights


a. To attempt to harm or gain power over an adversary by blows or with weapons.
b. Sports To engage in boxing or wrestling.
2. To engage in a quarrel; argue: They are always fighting about money.
3. To strive vigorously and resolutely: fought against graft; fighting for her rights.

a. To contend with physically or in battle.
b. To wage or carry on (a battle).
c. To contend for, by or as if by combat: "I now resolved that Calais should be fought to the death" (Winston S. Churchill).
a. Sports To box or wrestle against in a ring.
b. To participate in (a boxing match, for example).
3. To set (a boxer, for example) in combat with another. See Synonyms at oppose.
4. To contend with or struggle against: fight cancer; fight temptation.
5. To try to prevent the development or success of.
6. To make (one's way) by struggle or striving: fought my way to the top.


1. A confrontation between opposing groups in which each attempts to harm or gain power over the other, as with bodily force or weapons.
2. A quarrel or conflict.
a. A physical conflict between two or more individuals.
b. Sports A boxing or wrestling match.
4. A struggle to achieve an objective. See Synonyms at conflict.
5. The power or inclination to fight; pugnacity: I just didn't have any fight left in me.
Definition of Fight
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition


Qatal Translated as "Kill"

In the Qur'an, if one looks at verse 4:157, even Yusuf Ali uses the word "kill" as the translation for the word "Qatal". In this verse Allah denies Jesus was crucified or killed, with the words 'WA MAA QATALOOHU WA MAA SALABOOHU' which means "and they killed him not and they crucified him not."

That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:

In verse 18:74 the wiseman, to whom Moses is sent to learn wisdom, kills a boy. Here again, the word "qatal" is translated as "slain".

Then they proceeded: until, when they met a young man, he slew him. Moses said: "Hast thou slain an innocent person who had slain none? Truly a foul (unheard of) thing hast thou done!"

Also verse 2:154 tells us that those who are killed for the cause of Allah etc.

And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: "They are dead." Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not.

Qatal Translated as "Fight"

However, when we come to verses like 8:39, the translation changes all of a sudden to fighting rather than killing.

And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do.

The context of the verse is very clear, i.e. break the strength of the infidels by way of mass killings, so that there is no more opposition. It is telling you to fight until you overcome the opposition, something which is not possible without the mass slaughter of opponents, i.e. without reducing their number.

So a more accurate translation would be something like "keep on killing them till dispute is no more," i.e. till the opposition is wiped out.

The same applies to verse 9:29. While the watered-down English translations use the word "fight", the actual message that is being conveyed to the Arabic-speaking Muslims who read this verse is "Kill those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day".

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

If we read Shakir's translation of verse 63:4, he uses the word "destroy".

And when you see them, their persons will please you, and If they speak, you will listen to their speech; (they are) as if they were big pieces of wood clad with garments; they think every cry to be against them. They are the enemy, therefore beware of them; may Allah destroy them, whence are they turned back?

Clearly, the English translators of the Qur'an are selectively avoiding the use of words such as "kill" or "murder" in certain passages.

Related Languages

In Hebrew, a Semitic language like Arabic, and in Urdu, a language which has borrowed extensively from Arabic, we find similar meanings.

Qatal in Hebrew

Strong's Concordance

qatal: to slay
Original Word: קָטַל
Transliteration: qatal
Phonetic Spelling: (kaw-tal')
Short Definition: slay

Strong's Exhaustive Concordance

kill, slay

A primitive root; properly, to cut off, i.e. (figuratively) put to death -- kill, slay.

Qatal in Urdu

qatal قتل

1. Homicide

2. Massacre

3. Murder


In Arabic, the word "Qatal" = murder. "Maqtool" = the murdered. Maqtal = the place where the killing takes place. Qaatal = the murderer.

The secondary meaning of the word is more of an interpretation rather than a direct translation of the word, e.g. battle. The idea seems to be based upon collective killings.

In any case, the word "Qatal" is only used when Muslims are meant to fight to kill, i.e. killing is the primary objective or the desired or required outcome.

See Also

  • Islamic Terms - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Islamic Terms
  • Mistranslated Verses - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Mistranslated Verses

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