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The Prohibition of Killing Innocent People in Islam: A Misconception

The Prohibition of Killing Innocent People in Islam: A Misconception

Date Published: 
Friday, 29 March, 2019
Summary: 

Many Muslim scholars and other apologists who argue that the murder of innocent people committed by jihadists in the name of Islam was never ordained by the Prophet present this Quranic verse: “If anyone slays [kills] a person, it would be as if he slew the whole people, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” What is misleading about this is that this verse, as presented, does not exist anywhere in the Quran. It is, instead, a distorted version of verse 32 of the fifth sura, which states: “For that cause, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land; it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one; it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs.” On a side note, whoever wrote this segment in the Quran got the words directly from Judaism, specifically the Mishna Sanhedrin (c.190–230 AD).

The ordinance is in reference, as per the preceding verses, to the killing of Abel by his brother Cain. Verse 32, which begins “for that cause” (reason), meaning “for the reason Cain killed Abel,” is followed by the decree given to “the Children of Israel” (i.e., the Jews) who, according to Muslims, received an earlier set of scriptures. Effectively speaking, this is applied to Muslims who as the new chosen people should not kill other Muslims. The verse likewise sanctions killing as an act of vengeance against those who kill or cause disharmony in the umma. Based on the two verses that follow (33–34), what appears on the surface to be a peaceful message is in reality a warning:

Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment; Except for those who repent before you apprehend them. And know that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.—Sura 5, 33–34