The Dutch Atheist

Quran 5:33 – whoever kills a man it is as though he killed mankind entirely

13 November 2016.Wesley.0 Likes.1 Comment

The misconception about Quran 5:32-33

Many Muslims are convinced that their religion exceeds its predecessors in all the right ways, but most firmly are they convinced of the peaceful nature of the message that Muhammad came to bring. You will often hear Muslims proudly claim that theirs is a religion of peace. In defense of this point they will call on Quran 5:32, often without actually knowing it. They will state that the Quran says “whoever kills a soul it is as though he had killed mankind entirely”. Even Mohammad VI, the current king of Morocco, who’s official title includes that of commander of the faithful, the sort of supreme leader of Muslims, has used this verse to condemn the actions of IS/ISIL [1]. In the famous Oxford debate between Richard Dawkins and Mehdi Hasan an audience member does the exact same thing [2].

However, and I find it rather ironic that the atheist must say this, the verse is completely taken out of its context. In fact, you will never hear them quote the complete verse. But the irony with this verse is that literally the next verse, 5:33, overrules it, informing us that 5:32 does not apply for Muslims and they ought to kill unbelievers. This is obviously never mentioned in defense of the ‘religion of peace’ statement.

Note: for those who claim that the Quran can only be understood in its native language, please consider that I will call on mufassir interpretations. If this is not good enough for you, please consider watching this Arabic video. Also note that I use the Yusuf Ali translation, rather than the common Sahih International. The latter has been modernized, while the former is truer to the original text.

Leading into 5:31-33

Surah (chapters) 2 through 5 of the Quran are considered to be the core teachings of Islam. They teach the Muslims how to behave in a wide variety of situations and how to live in accordance to their faith. Surah 5 goes on about this but the more specific topic of this chapter is about the difference of the believers and the unbelievers. In the opening of the chapter Allah orders the Muslims to be just and not to digress. From aya (verse) 12 it focuses on ‘the children of Israel’ (Jews and Christians) of which it says that were they to accept the new teachings of Muhammad and live their life as a Muslim then they too will be rewarded in heaven. The Quran tells us that the Jews and Christians have received only a part of the message but not the whole message yet, which is of course in the Quran. Actually the Bible is the foundation of the Quran and we see that quite well in the next part.

When it comes to right interpretation of Surah 5:32 and 33 I think it is very important that one starts reading from Surah 5:27. 5:27-31 is about two sons of Adam: Cain and Abel. It specifies why Abel’s offer to god was accepted and that of Cain wasn’t. After Allah accepts only Abel’s offer Cain tells Abel he will kill him to which Abel replies:

Allah doth accept of the sacrifice of those who are righteous. If thou dost stretch thy hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against thee to slay thee: for I do fear Allah, the cherisher of the worlds. Indeed I want you to obtain [thereby] my sin and your sin so you will be among the companions of the Fire. And that is the recompense of wrongdoers.
Quran 5:27-29

What we see here I would consider quite nobel, the stoic philosophers could even learn from this. Abel seems to wholeheartedly accept his death and even under direct treat of being killed does not think it is acceptable to kill in self defense. Cain indeed then kills him and is cursed with the sin and guilt of his wrongdoings. One can argue whether or not you should defend yourself and whether killing the attacker is a just solution, but one cannot argue this would make for a great moral teaching. Sadly, the Quran only uses this story to build up to 5:32 and 5:33 as to show that this was a command to the Jews and that the Muslims should behave rather differently.

Quran 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.
Quran 5:32

This verse quite clearly starts with stating that it was a message for the Children of Israel. To them it was said that he who kills it is as though he had killed mankind entirely. But there are two exceptions made already: ‘unless for a soul’ meaning to retaliate or ‘for spreading mischief in the land’. A skeptics eye will immediately fall to the ‘mischief’ part, which is often translated as ‘corruption done in the land’, and wonder what it exactly stands for. However, it isn’t relevant as this was “ordained for the children of Israel” and ‘mankind’, as I will show only refers to believers. For the Muslims the next verse explains it all.

Quran 5:33

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;
Quran 5:33

This verse is rather gruesome to begin with but one can easily see how Muslims interpret this, as they so often do, as an aya that only applies when in war because it says ‘for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger’. So we must ask ourselves what is the definition of this war? Is it when they besiege you? Or is it when they oppose you verbally? Further in the verse we read that ‘strive with might and main for mischief through the land’. Again one must ask himself what is the definition of this mischief, often translated as corruption. Before I start explaining the way we can verify these verses it is important to also add the next verse in order to give full disclosure.

Except for those who repent before they fall into your power: in that case, know that Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
Quran 5:34


Although one of the first verses of the Quran, in fact it’s the ninth verse, states that ‘this is the book without doubt’ [3], there many different schools and interpretators to find out what a verse exactly means. These interpretations are called Tafsir (exegese) and are written by special scholars named musaffir. These scholars are trained extensively in a wide variety of subjects such as the Arabic language, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and much more in order to rightly interpret the Quran. When they do this they work via an order of significance:

  1. The most valuable source to learn about the Quran is the Quran itself. Muslims believe it knows no contradictions and is the infallible word of god. So if one verse can be interpreted via another verse that would count as a good basis.
  2. Ahadith. These are accounts of the life of Muhammad which often contain sayings of the prophet or explanations of certain ayat. It is believed that Muhammad often received new ayat through the archangel Gabriel and that he was the perfect human being. The ahadeeth are collected by various scholars but amongst many scholars there is doubt about the authenticity from hadith to hadith. When it comes to the collections of ibn Bukhari and Imam Muslim these are all verified, so those would be highly credible sources, but always second to the Quran.
  3. Stories of companions of Muhammad, for example of his brother Abu Bakr or one of his wives such as Aiysha.
  4. After that come stories of the next generation.

Using this as a guideline let’s see if we can learn what aya 33 is really about.


Ibn Kathir, one of the most highly respected mussaffir, expert on Islamic jurisprudence as well as a historian [5] has plenty to say about these verses.

Firstly he writes that ‘mankind’, mentioned in 5:32, only refers to Muslims. He notes that Sa`id bin Jubayr said about this verse: “He who allows himself to shed the blood of a Muslim, is like he who allows shedding the blood of all people. He who forbids shedding the blood of one Muslim, is like he who forbids shedding the blood of all people.” [6] We can verify the correctness of this interpretation by looking at Quran 4:93 which says: “If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (For ever): And the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.” [7] In support of this claim we also have a hadith of Muhammad, as collected by Bukhari (all of which are verified, authentic hadiths): “A man will continue to be sound in his religion so long as he does not shed blood which it is forbidden to shed.

This then begs the question: what about non-believers? Ibn Kathir writes the following. “‘Wage war’ mentioned here means, oppose and contradict, and it includes disbelief, blocking roads and spreading fear in the fairways. Mischief in the land refers to various types of evil.” [8]

Can we find elsewhere in the Quran that it is allowed to kill people for merely not believing? Quran 2:193 reads: “And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” [9] In defense of this verse apologists will argue that this verse is revealed to the prophet in a time of war and is therefor only to be used in a time of war. If we read the tafsir of Qurtubi we can read he fully disagrees. He in facts dares to state that “it is clear”:

This is a command to fight every idolater in every place according to those who say that it abrogates the previous ayats. According to those who say that it does not abrogate other ayats, it means: fight those about whom Allah says, “if they fight you”. The former is the more likely meaning. It is an unqualified command to fight without any precondition of hostilities being initiated by the unbelievers. The evidence for that is in the words of Allah, “and the din (religion) belongs to Allah alone.” The Prophet said, “I was commanded to fight people until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah.’ The ayat and ahadith both indicate that the reason for fighting is disbelief because Allah says, “until there is no more fitna,” meaning disbelief in this case. So the goal is to abolish disbelief and that is clear. [10]
Musaffir Qurtubi – Classical Commentary of the Holy Quran as translated by Aisha Bewley Vol:1

This interpretation can be backed, as Qurtubi already mentions, by a hadith collected by Bukhari (and many others):

“Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: Allah’s Messenger said: “I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah.” [11]


The evidence stands firm, Quran 5:32 is often completely stripped from its context and doesn’t remotely show that Islam is a religion of peace. In fact, the verse following it shows us the complete opposite.

But what I have mentioned here is only a tip of the iceberg in defence of this article. For example there is a long hadith by Imam Muslim (like Bukhari all authenticated) that orders to fight and kill unbelievers and polytheists [12]. We even find Islamic sites that are true to their religion agreeing with the points I make [13]. But to fully grasp the non-human position attributed to nonbelievers in Islam it only takes for one to read the Quran. There are plenty of verses that show that Muslims are not to be passive agressive towards nonbelievers but to slay them at every possibility. For example view Quran 8:39, 2:216, 9:29 (no conversion in religion they say?) 3:83 (again a clear sign on compulsion).

For a Muslim to deny this he would deny scripture, the words of his prophet and tafsir interpretations. The first two of which, by the way, put him on the same spot as us nonbelievers. He opposes the words of Allah and his Messenger, and well, we’ve just read what that means.

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