Ever so often, Islamic apologists appear in the mainstream media claiming that Islam is a religion of peace. To support their assertion, Islamic apologists often quote a famous line from the Quran’s verse 5:32. Since most apologists always demand context, I will put this “peaceful” verse in full context.
This famous line is actually only a small part of the verse, and is not even a complete sentence. Here is the line, as it is usually quoted, clipped and cropped, by apologists:
“…whosoever killeth a human being… it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind…”
Well, so far, so good, right? It appears to be a universal proclamation that all human life is highly valuable, and that murdering one person would be a terrible crime – like murdering all of humankind. But as we will see, appearances and apologists can be deceiving! To get a better understanding of the origins of this verse and its intended meaning in the Quran, let’s go through the complete verses 5:32-37, starting with 5:32:
5:32: “For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah’s sovereignty), but afterwards lo! Many of them become prodigals of the earth.”
When the omitted parts of the verse are included, the meaning of the verse changes, and permits the killing of non-Muslims under many circumstances. (We don’t need to deal with the exception for manslaughter here, for this discussion).
Killing someone for “corruption in the earth/land” is permitted in the very next line (see 5:33)! “Corruption in the land” refers to the words and/or actions that come into significant conflict with Islam. This is not a trivial matter. Interpreted by Muslims, the verse deals with matters of life and death!
The Quran says that the presence of disbelievers causes confusion and corruption in the land, and therefore Muslims must join together to oppose them (8:73).
5:33 “The only reward for those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom…”
So you see, the “peaceful” 5:32 verse is followed by the fine print in 5:33.
Those who wage war against Allah/Muhammad and/or cause corruption in the earth will be killed, or crucified, or significantly dismembered (to the point of being permanently disabled), or banished (or imprisoned). (The severity of the penalty would depend on the judged severity of the transgression against Islam). In addition, they will be punished in hell (5:33). Allah punishes those who “make mischief in the earth,” subjecting them to a “painful doom” (2:10; 2:11-14).
Corruption in the land, or corruption/mischief on earth, is a huge category of offenses, violent or non-violent, that significantly go against Islam. Google “corruption on earth” + “death penalty” to get an idea of the range of offenses considered to fit that category today in some strict Islamic countries. These crimes vary widely, including, for a few examples, criticizing or calling for changes in Islamic traditions; practicing “sorcery”; engaging in “charlatanism”; sex between a non-Muslim man and a Muslim woman; highway robbery; destruction of buildings; and terrorism against Muslims.
War against God, mentioned in 5:33, is also the same kind of huge, flexible category that could include a wide variety of offenses significantly against Islamic doctrine or Islamic society. If this is acceptable killing according to Islam, why should anyone take 5:32 seriously as a peaceful verse? How can this be a verse of peace when it permits Muslims to kill anyone simply for doing or saying something judged to be against Islam?
5:34: “Save those who repent before ye overpower them. For know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”
Those who surrender to Islam will not be killed nor face the other penalties. They must repent before they are overpowered. Keep in mind that Muhammad was, and encouraged his followers to be, ever wary of hypocrites – those who are merely pretending to repent or submit themselves to Allah. Note that whether or not the person must face the penalties listed in 5:33, including death, depends on whether or not the person surrenders to Islam.
These passages may also be taken as having a wider application than dealing with individual transgressions. However, in battles or raids, the Quran states that captives should not be taken until a slaughter has first been made (8:67). In that case, obviously, many disbelievers would be killed before even being given the chance to repent. That doesn’t sound like a very “merciful” policy! But one must also keep in mind the general Islamic policy of acting hard against the disbelievers but being merciful to other believers (48:29).
5:35: “O ye who believe! Be mindful of your duty to Allah, and seek the way of the approach unto Him, and strive in His way in order that ye may succeed.”
5:36: “As for those who disbelieve, lo! If all that is in the earth were theirs, and as much again therewith, to ransom them from the doom on the Day of the Resurrection, it would not be accepted from them. Theirs will be a painful doom.”
5:37: “They will wish to come forth from the Fire, but they will not come forth from it. Theirs will be a lasting doom.”
A disbeliever is anyone who doesn’t believe in the one Allah (with no partners or rivals), Muhammad’s validity as a prophet, the eventuality of the Last Day, or who significantly transgresses Islam. The disbelievers are non-Muslims, including non-religious people generally, anyone who strongly questions, criticizes, or mocks Islam, and generally people of all other religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.). They are doomed to hellfire, and there is nothing that can be done about it – except, of course, to convert to Islam exclusively, before it’s too late. Verse 3:85 says that Islam (the “Surrender”) is the only acceptable religion. Those who deny Muhammad’s revelations are evil (7:177). Over 250 separate verses in the Quran condemn non-Muslims to hell-fire/eternal torture and doom.
Now, the worst possible crime is disbelief in or denial of Allah (10:17, 11:18-19, 18:15, 32:22). It is considered an act or state of aggressive defiance against Allah. The Quran is quite explicit that disbelief is a persecution worse than warfare (2:217) or slaughter (2:191) that involves death of Muslims. Murder of a Muslim is a crime that is penalized according to the law of life-for-life retaliation (5:45; i.e., death penalty), but disbelief is a worse crime! Remember the apologist’s quote, that killing one person is like killing all humankind? If we assume that’s true, then disbelief in Islam is a worse crime than killing all humankind! This sounds like a far-fetched interpretation, but it is a simple logical deduction from what the Quran says. The Quran does not say “disbelief is the second-worst crime, and murder is the worst.” Rather, the Quran clearly and repeatedly states that disbelief is the worst crime.
Think about this for a moment. Why do some Muslims in some parts of the world go on a rampage, killing people over rumors that a Quran has been damaged? Why do some Muslims kill people who merely criticize Islam or make fun of the prophet? How is it that so many thousands of Muslims demonstrated so violently, calling for the death of Salman Rushdie over some words of fictional characters in that author’s novel? Why do some Islamic countries still officially implement the death penalty for “blasphemy”? Why do some Muslims kill people if women are dressed in bikinis for a beauty contest? Unfortunately, this far-fetched interpretation that I just mentioned is accepted with deadly seriousness, and in accordance with Islamic law in many jurisdictions, by millions of Muslims today. This far-fetched interpretation has been widely accepted by Muslims for nearly 1400 years. Belief in Islam is more important to some Muslims than is human life. And that’s what the Quran says: Disbelief is worse than killing.
Non-Muslims, according to the Quran, are not considered innocent civilians. They are “guilty” of disbelief (45:31, 83:29) – the worst crime. The Quran says that non-Muslims are against Allah (25:55); on the side of the Satan and are fighting for him (4:76-77); “evil” (16:27, 2:91, 2:99); the “wrong-doers” (2:254, 5:45); the “enemy” and “perverted” (63:4); “wicked” (80:42, 9:125); hypocrites (4:61); “unclean” (9:28). As for whether non-Muslims are civilians, the Quran is not even clear that non-Muslims are fully human. Instead, the disbelievers are the “worst of created beings” (98:6); “miscreants” (2:99, 24:55); “the worst beasts in Allah’s sight” (8:55), “apes” and/or “pigs” (2:65-66, 5:58-60, 7:166), and so on. Verse 60:4 says followers of Allah will hate the disbelievers forever, unless the disbelievers come to believe in Allah only. Think about this thorough demonization of disbelievers, together with the conception of disbelief as the worst possible crime. Now think about how easy it would be for a Quran-believing Muslim to find a non-Muslim guilty of corruption on earth or war against God.
In fact, many verses in the Quran order the killing of various kinds of disbelievers (33:61, 4:76, 4:89-91, 8:12, 9:41, 9:5, 9:29, 61:11, etc.). Believers must honor their duty to Allah and fight the disbelievers in battle, or be punished in hell (2:216, 8:15-16, 9:39). Although the Quran explicitly forbids the murder of Muslims (4:93), the Quran does not contain a similar statement that forbids the killing or murder of non-Muslims.
Intentional killing is a crime (i.e., murder) when one of Muslim humankind is the victim (4:93). More precisely, taking the rest of the Quran into account, 5:32 may only protect strict, Quran-adhering Muslims. Many verses suggest that weak, casual, or mere nominal Muslims may not be protected. This is strongly suggested by Sura 9, which has harsh warnings to those Muslims not willing to kill or be killed in the jihad. Nevertheless, killing a believing Muslim in a terrorist attack could constitute corruption on earth and war against Allah. On that interpretation, because such terrorists (e.g., bin Laden, Zarqawi, et al.) have also killed Muslims (not just inadvertently, but deliberately, e.g., attacks in Saudi Arabia), those terrorists could be penalized in accordance with 5:33. (Fighting between different sects, such as between the Sunni and Shia, has been justified by each side claiming that the other are not true Muslims; hence killing of the others is considered permissible).
Quoted fully, in light of the subsequent verses, and the overarching message of the Quran, verse 5:32 was never intended to forbid the killing of disbelievers. Verses in the Quran must always be understood within the context of the ultimate goal of Islam. Allah sent Muhammad (and his followers) to conquer all other religions (9:33, 48:28, 61:9). To achieve this ultimate goal of vanquishing disbelief, Muslims must convert, subjugate, or kill all non-Muslims until all religion is for Allah (2:193, 8:39; also see 9:5 and 9:29). This must always be kept in mind. This ultimate goal is the context which contains and overrides all contexts in Islam. If killing a non-Muslim is necessary for the advancement or the defense of Islam, then it must be done.
In the Quran, verse 5:32 offers no protection for the lives of non-Muslims. Even if we assume the verse is authentic, corruption on earth is so broad a category that almost anything that disbelievers say or do that is judged to be significantly against Islam could be used as grounds for administering the harsh penalties – including death – described in 5:33. In other words, 5:32 permits what most non-Muslims would consider to be murder. Indeed, the verse grants Muslims licence to kill non-Muslims under a surprisingly broad range of circumstances. Those apologists who present 5:32 to non-Muslims as though it were a good verse are either naïve or are knowingly engaging in deception.
Notes: Feel free to look up all the quotes in this article: http://quran.com