The Bloodcurdling Message of the Qur’an’s Most Peaceful Verse

When former US President Barack Obama delivered his famous ‘Speech to the Muslim World’ in 2009, he quite predictably trotted out the favorite verse of Western apologists for Islam. A verse seemingly custom designed to prove that Islam is indeed a ‘Religion of Peace’. Here are the President’s exact words: ““… The Holy Qur’an teaches that whoever kills an innocent — it is as if he has killed all mankind” (Cairo Speech to the Muslim World, 4 June 2009)

It is hard to imagine a more uplifting sentiment. Yet, things are not nearly as simple as it would seem on the surface! It should, for starters, be pointed out that the president inserted a word that is not in the text. That word is ‘innocent’. That is simply not part of the original Arabic. The fact that he, or his speech writers, felt the need to ‘improve’ the text should immediately alert us that there may be more to this bit of the Qur’an than meets the eye. And so, it proves, Gere is the entire passage (with the bits the president quoted in bold) in full:

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. 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. (Qur’an 5:32-33) 

It should be clear from the above that these verses are not blanket condemnations of violence in the name of Allah (see especially the statements I underlined above). In fact, the Qur’an here prescribes horrific methods of execution for those who ‘makes mischief’ against Allah. Such people are to be crucified and have their limbs amputated. The Arabic word used for ‘mischief’ here is ‘fitna’ and the classical Muslim commentaries on this verse makes it clear that the rejection of Muhammad as a Prophet qualifies as ‘fitna’. So, far from declaring that all humanity is ‘innocent’, the way in which this word is traditionally interpreted makes it clear that non-Muslims are certainly not innocent and those who strive against the prophet can be put to death in the most barbarous ways possible.

The way in which this verse is used by those who want to cover for Islam in our society is deeply ironic. Critics of Islam, like myself, are often accused of quoting the Qur’an out of context. This despite every effort being taken to handle the Qur’anic text responsibly and in line with classical Muslim interpretive principles. Yet, all that Western apologists can do to get Islam off the hook for violence committed in its name is to, in fact, make use of wildly out of context quotations from the Qur’an. In this case transforming a bloodcurdling exhortation to violence against unbelievers into a warm and fuzzy call for universal peace. The mind boggles.

For much more on what the Qur’an actually teaches on violence in the name of Allah, see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam? – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot’

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