Chapter five verse 32 of the Holy Quran contains a beautiful moral passage, one which is clear in its message, and powerful with its delivery. But sadly, though not too surprisingly, critics of Islam love to make the claim that this verse is irrelevant to Muslims living today, and that the main moral is valid to only one specific nation.

In today’s article we will refute the already mentioned claim by appealing to commentators of the Holy Quran.

But before we get to the refutation I believe it best that we read the verse which has so much discussion surrounded around it and see what it says:

[005:032]  We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – 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.

This verse should be irrefutable proof that not only does Islam condemn the killing of the innocent, but it makes a clear statement that killing one innocent person is like killing all of humanity.

Refuting the critics

Sadly, many people do not focus on the moral of the story, but rather on the words preceding the moral which states:

‘’ We ordained for the children of Israel that…’’

Many Christian apologists and other critics of Islam claim that those few words prove that this verse is specified only to a certain group of people, those being the children of Israel, and thus Muslims cannot claim that this verse is applicable to today, for the verse clearly speaks to the contrary.

Thankfully we as Muslims can appeal to our most enlightened minds and see what they think. We can see whether they believe that this verse is applicable to today, or whether it had a specific context.

In Allamah Muhammad Hussain Tabatabai timeless master piece, Tafsir al Mizan, he speaks on whether the verse was reserved for a particular nation or for all of humanity:

‘’The principle that killing one man is tantamount to killing all men and keeping one person alive is like keeping all men alive, is applicable to all killings taking place in human species; it is not reserved to any particular killing; and innumerable murders had taken place before the era of Israelites and even in Israelites before the one mentioned in this verse.

Then why was this principle enunciated from this particular murder? And why was it confined to a particular nation?

The reply to original question is as follows: The words: whoever slays a soul… it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men, do not enact a legislative order; they enunciate a deep principle. Therefore, the prescription to the Children of Israel denotes that this principle was explained to them, although its benefit was comprehensive and covered Israelites and non-Israelites both. It is not unlike the admonitions and wisdom the Qur’an explains to the ummah of Muhammad (s.a.w.) although their benefits are not confined to it.’’

Tafseer Al-Mizan (Tafseer on 5:32)

Important Note

Now I want to make something clear, I only relayed the main chunk of the tafseer, the commentator goes into much more detail and uses many hadith(s) from the Ahlul Bayt to prove his claims, and thus I hope the readers will take some time to read the rest of the tafseer, for I have only relayed the main chunk.

Conclusion

As we can clearly see, the deep moral principle of this verse is applicable to all nations, past and present, and indeed in the religion of Islam the murder of one innocent person is like the murder of all of humanity.

Important Note

In the introduction to the article I said that we would look at the words of commentator(S). I, as you can see, have only used one. And the reason being is that many of the tafseers which are widely available do not even validate the claims of the critics. They discuss the moral, and apply it to the many subsequent killings which took place after the children of Israel’s generation, showing that the verse is applicable to all nations, not only to the children of Israel.

As-Sallamu-Alaykom

2 Responses to “The killing of one is like the killing of all”

  1. SMDG Says:

    Thank you for providing a place for someone like me, American Christian, to have an insight into the Quran from a Muslim perspective. This is harder to achieve than you might think.
    I have a question – or more a request for clarification:
    Some have, when quoting, added the word innocent which I don’t see in your passage as recorded in the above article but you do refer to it in clarification.
    Does the passage specifically mention “innocent” and what does the Quran describe as innocent?
    Some say this passage is being misused because the Quran specifically talks about killing non-believers etc.
    I appreciate any documented clarification you can offer. I am trying to dig through all the rhetoric to get to the truth.
    Kindly,
    SMDG

  2. bfoali Says:

    Thank you for your comment and question, and please forgive me for the late reply, for I just got back from a vacation.

    The question you pose is a very interesting one, for in the religion of Islam not only is there a spiritual aspect but there is also a political one.

    Your first question is about whether the verse itself mentions the word innocent. Most, if not all, translations do not add the word innocent. The reason why I say most is because I have looked at 11 translations only, I am sure there are much more. But from those 11 translations I was unable to locate the word innocent. In reading the Arabic I was also unable to locate the mentioning of the word innocent.

    Now the question might arise: why did I myself use the word innocent? Well for a simple reason. This article was showing that Islam does not allow for the killing of anyone unless he is guilty of a crime (i.e. for spreading mischief, and/or killing another person). On the contrary, a person who is not guilty of a crime in laymen terms is an innocent person. And this is why I used the word. The usage of the word innocent was to only show that a person innocent of the crime of killing or causing mischief cannot be held accountable and be killed; for all life was created by God almighty and thus each life is precious.

    Now unto your second question: Who is an innocent person in Islam?

    Well since you are a Christian allow me to be more specific in answering your question and only refer to the people of the book. An innocent person in an Islamic state who happens to not be a Muslim is a person who pays the Jizya tax (a tax people of the book must pay which goes to the army of the Muslims. Muslims themselves must pay Zakat, a tax which goes to the poor, and Khums which goes to the community). This tax is referred to in chapter 9:29 of the Quran. You may have some questions once you read chapter 9:29 of the Holy Quran so if you do feel free to ask about it.

    Once this tax is paid that is it. The payers of this tax (Christians and Jews etc) are under the protection of the Islamic state. The way for them to now become guilty of a crime is to commit one. But any crime a Christian or Jew could make a Muslim could also make, save not paying Jizyah.

    I leave with a saying from Imam Ali (as):

    “Let the dearest of your treasuries be the treasury of righteous action… Infuse your heart with mercy, love and kindness for your subjects. Be not in the face of them a voracious animal, counting them as easy prey, for they are of two kinds: either they are your brothers in religion or your equals in creation.

    Nahj AlBalagha by Imam Ali

    I hope this answers suffices. I am only a human and therefore I am susceptible to error, whether minor or major, so if any of my Muslim brothers and sisters sees any please for the sake of knowledge correct me.

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