Whosoever kills a human being – Rupert Murdoch’s Quran rant on Twitter
Rupert Murdoch has recently upset many people by having a rant about the Quran on Twitter. He discusses a verse in the Quran commonly cited by Muslim apologists such as Mehdi Hassan, Ajmal Masroor, and even President Obama to show how peaceful the Quran is. This verse is never given in its entirety and that is why I think it’s a good thing Murdoch has brought attention to it. The narrative will go something like this
The Quran says “whosoever kills a human being..it shall be as though he killed all mankind”, it also says “and whosoever saves a life, saves the entire human race”.
I’m really wasn’t sure how someone who believes the Quran is the word of the all-knowing creator of the universe can actually quote mine their own religious book. It’s bad enough when people quote mine at all but to quote mine the beginning and end of a sentence simply in order to miss out the bit in the middle seems quite shocking.
Here is the entirety of Quran verse 5:32
On that account: 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. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.
As Murdoch says the next verse seems to go on to define”corruption in the land” as people who “wage war against Allah and his messenger”. It seems to be saying that the exception to killing people is to kill them in self defense which is entirely reasonable in my opinion.
What do the classical scholars say about this?
Maududi shows how the text is in the Jewish Talmud but not in the Bible. He says that this scenario is only applicable within an Islamic state and that it is a verse explaining the sanctity of human life. Al Jalalyn say that corruption in the land includes unbelief (apostasy I presume) and fornication. Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs says that corruption in the land even includes idolatry.
As for the next verse 5:33 we have the following scholarly commentaries.
Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi tells a story of how Muhammad chased down two murders and had their hands and feet cut off, gouged their eyes, and then left them to die. This verse allegedly came to Muhammad after the fact to tell him what he had done was wrong and to prescribe the correct punishment.
Maududi Seems to go on to confirm that it is an attack against an established peaceful Islamic state that is being discussed, but then goes on to say that it is not only armies who fight against Allah and his messenger but also murderers and criminals, and that “any attempt, big or small, to undermine or overthrow such an established system, is in reality a war against Allah and His Messenger“. Which is perhaps why open apostasy is seen as such a serious matter in some Islamic states today, because discussing reasons for leaving the religion might cause doubts in the minds of believers and steer the state towards becoming non-Islamic?
Al Jalalayn specify which of the punishments apply to which crimes “death is for those that have only killed; crucifixion is for those that have killed and stolen property; the cutting off [of limbs on opposite sides] is for those that have stolen property but have not killed; while banishment is for those that pose a threat”
Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs seems to corroborate the above tafsir (which isn’t surprising as Al Talalayn based their commentary on that of Ibn Abbas) but also says “the punishment of someone who terrorises people as a highway robber but does not kill or take anyone’s property is that he be imprisoned.”
It would seem that the middle of verse 5:32 is omitted in order to have to avoid a lengthy explanation of the circumstances under which someone may be given the death penalty and how some states in the USA also prescribe the death penalty etc.
My advice is this. When quoting a verse from the Quran do not snip out text in the middle because it makes you look dishonest. If you don’t have enough time to go into a full debate on the issue then use a verse other than 5:32. I am sure there must be other suitable candidates?