By Dr. Ahmad Shafaat
In Surah 5, verse 32 we read:
On that account We ordained for the Children of Isra`il 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 humanity: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the whole humanity. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear (guidance), yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. (5:32)
This verse has recently been quoted by political leaders such as war-mongering American President and his colonial-minded follower, the British Prime Minister, in order to encourage Muslims to abandon all resistance to the aggression and slaughter they and their ally Israel inflict on Muslims day after day. The verse is also often quoted by “moderate” Muslims when they want to show that Islam does not teach terrorism, as if the point needs to be proved and as if any of the enemies of Islam and Muslims are listening to them. Indeed, some of the Christian Evangelical missionaries completely ignore what the moderate Muslims say and have their own way of reading the verse. According to them this verse proves that Muhammad (may God honor and bless him evermore) made up the Qur`an using Jewish sources and that the next verse (5:33) shows that Muslims can kill anyone who does not accept Islam!
In reality the verse, like all other passages of the Qur`an, is a miracle in knowledge and goodness. It gives human life a value not given to it before or after Islam and it provides a powerful evidence that the Qur`an continues, corrects, completes and perfects earlier religions. Let us study the verse phrase by phrase to see how this is so.
“On that account” This refers back to the story in the previous verses (5:27-31) of the two sons of Adam (may peace be upon him), one of whom, Qabil (called Cain in English), murdered the other, Habil (called Abel). This was probably the first human death and murder in history, since Qabil did not know what to do with the dead body of his brother and had to learn it from a crow (5:31).
“We ordained for the Children of Isra`il” After this first murder in history God prohibited the killing of a human being, which shows that God generally gives laws after they have become necessary. The prohibition must have been done soon after the murder but the Qur`an takes us many ages forward in time to the time of the Children of Isra`il. This is because the verse is revealed in the context of Islamic message directed towards the people of the book. Many verses that precede and many verses that follow 5:32 concern the Jews and Christians. Indeed most of the Surah is about them and even its name al-Ma`idah (The Table) is derived from a story about Christians and the Prophet ‘Isa (5:112-119). The words “We ordained for the Children of Isra`il” may also reflect the fact that the particular form of the prohibition of murder mentioned in the verse found its first expression, albeit an imperfect one (see below), in the Israelite tradition.
“if any one slew a person … it would be as if he slew the whole humanity: and if any one saved a person, it would be as if he saved the whole humanity”.
This is part of what was ordained for the Children of Isra`il. It is natural to ask where in the Isra`ili writings the principle equating the killing/saving of one person with the killing/saving the whole humanity is found. The principle is not found in the Bible but we do find it in the Talmud, a collection of Rabbinical legal and exegetical opinions considered by Jews almost as sacred as the Bible itself. The tradition is found in two versions, one is somewhat universal and the other is ethnocentric.
The universalist version, which is rather late, reads:
… For thus we find in the case of Cain, who killed his brother, that it is written: 'The bloods of your brother cry unto Me' (Genesis 4:10). It is not said here blood in the singular, but bloods in the plural, that is, his own blood and the blood of his seed. Therefore was Adam created alone, to teach us that whoever destroys a single life, the Scriptures considers it as if he destroyed a whole race (or world). And whoever saves a single life, the Scriptures considers it as if he saved a whole race (or world). (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.5)
Here we find a principle similar to the one given in the Qur`an, although the Qur`an takes it to new heights. As in the Qur`an, so also in the above Talmudic passage the principle is connected with the story of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain.
The second version, which is ethnocentric is earlier. It is found in the Babylonian Talmud:
Therefore was man created singly, to teach that whoever destroys a single life from Israel is considered by Scripture as if he had destroyed an entire world and that whoever preserves a single life from Israel is considered by Scripture as if he had preserved an entire world1.
Here the words “from Israel” give to the passage the ethnocentric meaning that a single Israeli life is so valuable that destroying/saving it is tantamount to destroying/saving an entire world.
Which of the two versions is original?
In modern times many Jews favour the first universalist version. Thus in the famous movie, Schindler’s List by the director Spielberg, it is the first universalist version that is quoted, although its application is made to Jewish lives, since Schindler is turned into a hero for saving some Jews from the Nazis. It is not conceivable that a popular American movie will view in the same manner someone who tried to save Palestinians from the Zionists. The same Spielberg has now made a movie Munich about the Israeli revenge against those Palestinians they suspected of killing the Israeli athletes in 1972. The movie honours and legitimizes Israeli state-ordered murders of the Palestinians on mere suspicion, not only of those who were suspected of taking part in the Munich attacks but also of all the Palestinians that the Zionist regime kills on a daily basis. It is also doubtful whether the Spielbergs of the movie industry will make a movie about the Muslims who protected the Jews from the Nazis, except if and when Muslims become wealthy and powerful.
But which of the two versions is original? In favor of the second version there is the fact that it is attested earlier. In favor of the first version there is the argument that it fits better the reasoning behind the passage. This reasoning seems to be as follows: human beings were not created all at the same time but as offspring from individual men. If an individual man lived the whole tribe or race that descends from him came into existence and if that individual man died then a tribe or race that could have descended from him is also killed. This teaches us that the killing of one man is like killing a whole tribe and saving one man is like saving a whole tribe.
The above argument in favour of the universalist version can be countered by saying that numerous very explicit statements in the Talmud state that non-Israelites are not really among the children of Adam. Restricting the above reasoning to the Israelites as the only children of Adam gives the ethnocentric formulation we find in the Babylonian Talmud. Thus there may be no real difference between the two versions. The second simply makes explicit what is implicit in the first.
There is also the possibility that the universal version entered Judaism under the influence of Islam, since that version is not attested with certainty before Islam.
In any case, the Qur`an not only corrects the ethnocentric version but also improves the “universalist” version. In the latter, killing/saving a single person is like killing/saving a whole tribe or race that descends or could have descended from him. In the Qur`an the killing/saving a single person is like killing/saving of the whole humankind and not just the tribe or race descending from him. In this way the Qur`an takes the value of an individual human life to a new height. Some Christian missionaries and other prejudicial Jews and Christians fail to recognize this. They use the similarity between the Talmudic and Qur`anic passages to assert rather that the Prophet Muhammad took ideas from Jewish, Christian and other earlier sources and passed them on as divine revelation. For a more detailed discussion of this type of error, see my article, “The Prophet Muhammad and Earlier Religions, Especially Judaism and Christianity”.
In its Qur`anic, truly universal form, the principle of equality of killing/saving one man with killing/saving of all humanity has the following meaning: You are either the sort of person who can murder no human being or you are the sort of person who can kill anyone who stands in your way. You either value all human life or you do not value human life at all.
It is interesting that the principle being discussed here is found in one rabbi’s comments on the Bible and yet it finds a place in the Qur`an, while there are many mainstream Jewish traditions, widely encountered in the Bible and the Talmud, that are not referred to in the Qur`an. The reason is that the Qur`an generally retains from earlier traditions what can be given continued and universal relevance. Also, the fact that a tradition is found in one rabbi’s view in the Talmud does not mean that the tradition was rare. The Talmud represents oral traditions and it is possible that a tradition was widely circulated orally but found written expression only rarely.
That the principle is said to be ordained by God does not necessarily mean that God revealed it through one of his prophets. God may ordain something by revealing it though a prophetic revelation or approving it after it has been established by some normal human processes, which also take place by God’s will. This is supported by 3:93 and 6:146. In the first of these two verses it is said that all foods (generally eaten by human beings other than those mentioned in 6:145) were permissible for the Israelites except those that they prohibited for themselves before the Torah was sent down. In the second verse it is said that God forbade to the Jews a number of foods in order to punish them for their rebelliousness. This probably means that many of the foods prohibited in Judaism were not initially forbidden by a prophetic revelation but were prohibited by the Jews themselves, but later God confirmed the prohibition as a punishment for their rebelliousness. The point can be further elucidated by the example of the call to prayers (adhan) in Islamic tradition: adhan was first started by Muslims and then accepted by Qur`anic revelation.
“unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land”. These conditions under which execution of a person is justified are not part of the Talmudic passage where equality of killing/saving one person and of killing/saving a race is mentioned. The Qur`an tends to give us as balanced statements as is possible without making the statement unusually long and clumsy.
In the Qur`an there is no mandatory death penalty even for these two crimes (5:33, 45, 2:178). In any case they are far more restrictive than in the Jewish tradition, which not only allows but requires death penalty for many more cases. In this way, the Qur`an makes another improvement over the earlier traditions.
Here is a long list of deeds punishable by death in the Bible, as against the two in the Qur`an:
Other pre-Islamic traditions are also full of mandatory death penalties. By totally doing away with mandatory death penalty for all crimes the Qur`an further raises the value of human life in comparison to other religions.
Another striking feature of the Qur`anic verse is that it does not make explicit the link between the story of Abel and Cain and the principle stated in the verse. This is probably because that link is not important. What is important is the principle to which the link led.
“Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear (guidance), yet, even after that, many of them continue to commit excesses in the land.”
This refers to the numerous prophets sent to the children of Isra`il, from Musa to ‘Isa followed by Muhammad (peace be upon them all) who affirmed righteous conduct, including regard for human life. But despite all these messengers from God, many of the Jews, whenever they have the power, continue to show violence to others especially to non-Jews, as has been demonstrated often in Palestine and Lebanon and other neighboring countries.
IN SUMMARY, the Qur`an continues, corrects, completes and perfects earlier religious traditions. This is illustrated by the verse discussed in the article. The verse continues earlier tradition by building on a principle found in the Talmud. It corrects earlier tradition by rejecting the ethnocentric version of the principle which talks only of saving/killing an Isra`ili life. It completes the earlier tradition by mentioning the important exceptions under which the life of a human being can be taken. Finally, it perfects the earlier tradition by improving even the universalist version in the Talmud. In the Talmud the killing/saving of a man is like killing/saving of all his descendents. In the Qur`an the killing/saving a man is like killing of the whole humanity, regardless of whether they descend from him or not, thus greatly increasing the value of a human life. Moreover, the Qur`an reduces the crimes punishable by death to only two very basic crimes2 and even in these cases the death penalty is not mandatory.
1 The passage is quoted in www.geocities.com/noorullahwebsite with original Hebrew and English translation as follows:
(Rabbi H. Goldwurm (ed.), Talmud Bavli: The Schottenstein Edition, 1993, Tractate Sanhedrin, Volume 1, Mesorah Publications, Ltd.: Brooklyn, New York, p. 37a3).
2 The death penalties for adultery and apostasy prescribed in some traditions can be seen to be later un-Qur`anic fabrications. (See PUNISHMENT FOR ADULTERY IN ISLAM, THE PUNISHMENT OF APOSTASY IN ISLAM).
Hello Ghulam Mohiyuddin.
I am getting worried about you today because you seem to be very Jesus or Buddha like.
I hope your "tea was not spiked" but you seem rather wise today.......
I am sure that a clash of thinking will break out once more and I think it is unfair to blame pre-Islamic Arabia - but I don't want to spoil the compliment!
Not that you seek a compliment and not that my words mean much...............but take a rest while this Jesus or Buddha like moment lasts (it is meant to be a compliment).
Mr Inayet says, "So, Judaism reformed itself and got rid of stoning punishment for numerous crimes. What did they do, took it upon themselves to ignore the Bible?"
They did what we too must do, i.e. get rid of pre-Islamic Arabic and Judaic barbaric customs and make our practices humane and civilized, remembering that the Quran describes God as being most merciful, compassionate and forgiving.
Mubaschir Inayet , you are clearly confused because Islam without Judaism is nothing - and Abraham, Moses, Noah, and so forth, were all Jews.
Also, Judaism is more than 2000 years older than Islam. Muslims slaughter each other in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and so forth - Sunni fanatics are blowing up Muslim mosques or attacking Shia or Sufi holy places - but you have to blame the Jews despite nearly every single prophet in Islam being Jewish.
Also, if Mohammed follows the teachings of Abraham and Moses then clearly you are on shaky ground.
Christianity was a reformation because much of the Old Testament was based on the struggle of the Jewish people and the connection of God with the Jews.
Mohammed says no compulsion to kill the apostate - Mohammed says only One God and then states the Pagan gods in Satanic Verses - Mohammed says he is the first Muslim and then says Moses is the first Muslim and then that Abraham was the first Muslim - and he visited a mosque that did not exist during his night journey in Jerusalem....and so forth.
At least Judaism reformed itself in the right direction - hey, Mohammed could not even make up his mind in a short period of human history.
So, Judaism reformed it self and got rid of stoning punishment for numerous crimes. What did they do, took it upon themselves to ignore the Bible? Did they base their reform on a New Revelation from God or simply chickened out to appease the world? To bad, though. Those verses still exist in the Bible and remind them of The Law which the nominal Jews choose to ignore. Why not remove those verses from the Bible and proclaim their independence from it?
Good thing the Ultra orthodox Jews don't get into power in Israhell. Their conduct can be checked out on youtube brutalizing the Palestinians as settlers!! They actually believe the rest of the world of non Jews has been created to serve them - in other words, they are like mules for them to ride upon and to use them.
What a job to do!
Parroting all the time
Standing as six and sleeping as nine!
Mubaschir Inayet it is not stated in the Christian New Testament and Judaism reformed itself and remember the time difference when it was written.
Name me one mainly Christian nation which supports killing apostates in the modern world? Name me one Christian nation which supports cross amputation?
Now, now; do you want me to mention Muslim nations which support such brutal ways in the modern world? Judaism reformed itself and all other faiths have reformed but Islam is stuck in the "pre-dark ages."
Supporting the death penalty for freely changing your religion - what does this tell you about Islam? Did Jesus support killing anyone or did He have an army to kill and enslave? Of course not!
(Offensive, repetitious, hate speech deleted – ed.)
Manzoorul Haque what you state is ridiculous - of course Abraham and Moses and the Apostles were not Muslims. From an Islamic point of view how could Mohammed state he was the first Muslim and then claim others were? Both cannot be true.....Islam is funny but tragic and dangerous.
(Offensive, repetitious, hate speech deleted – Ed.)
And it allows Mohammed to pray to Jerusalem and then Mecca and no compulsion to kill the apostate..............and then he says he was the first Muslim and then says others were............I know why Muslims are confused, who wouldn't be? Not to mention the Satanic verses........hmmm, how he rejected the one God so quickly.....oh well, at least he preserved the Pagan black stone and Moon God on your Islamic mosques.....
This man Lee Jay Walker is getting confused because he has failed to grasp the entire schemata of Islam as propounded in the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by the revelations of Allah. Of course his doubts can be cleared without ‘inventing’ any argument but by merely referring to my own submissions on this very website, when Lee Jay was not even born. What is intriguing however is, his determination to continue to labour on finding fault with Islam. I am impressed with his enmity of Islam. That makes me to believe that he is not a man but an institution. No single man can have such tenacity for hatred.
Let me now take him back to the old pages of New Age. As already stated by me earlier, Islam has to be understood in two senses. One in the generic sense, that there has been Islam since time immemorial. In that sense all prophets were Muslims. But the Prophets also established their respective Islamic Orders. The Islam of today was the Islamic Order established by Prophet Muhammad and has to be understood in its second sense.
So Lee Jay may nurture any doubts, but we Muslims know that all Prophets were Muslims, and each one of them was the First Muslim for the Islamic Order established by him or sought to be established by him. Of course the Islam or the Islamic Order that you see today, and the interchangeability of these words, is simple to understand. There is no other Islamic Order existing today than the one established by Prophet Muhammad, so Islam and Islamic Order are interchangeably used by the Muslims. Now this may sound painful to Lee Jay but he knows very well that present day Christianity and Judaism are not considered Islamic Orders by us Muslims as per schemata of Quranic revelations, though initially they had been.
So the contradictions that Lee Jay seems to have discovered do not really entitle him to run nude like Archimedes.
Shahid - the article is false, simple! Also, like you, it is for people who are shallow and who do not question anything.
Mohammed claims to be the first Muslim but then says Abraham and other prophets were Muslim - well it does not work both ways, does it?
The Koran; read it, and it fall aparts on its own falsehood.
ALSO, THIS ARTICLE IS ANTI-JUDAISM and note that Judaism reformed itself and modern Israel does not stone women to death and does not kill apostates - we do know that this happens within the House of Islam
In the Quran, we clearly have Moses claiming “to be the first of believers” which is a contradiction because others like Abraham proceeded him as an “alleged believer” in Allah. Since the Quran claims to be “clear proof” (Clear means without any ambiguity) what we find is Moses contradicting both Muhammad and Allah saying “he is the first of believers”. Something as clear as this doesn’t need explanation. What’s even worse is the Quran claims that others before Muhammad were Muslims:
Ibrahim was NOT A JEW, NOR A CHRISTIAN but he was (an) upright (man), A MUSLIM (haneefan musliman), and he was not one of the polytheists. - Shakir
Abraham was not a Jew, nor yet a Christian, but he was a `HANIF’ (haneefan musliman) resigned, and not of the idolaters. - Palmer S. 3:67
In Surah 3, Abraham is called a “Muslim” and “hanif” by Allah but this contradicts the fact that Muhammad was the first of all the believers to submit to Allah. The contradictions don’t stop here for Jesus disciples were also considered Muslims by the Quran:
And when I inspired the disciples, (saying): Believe in Me and in My messenger, they said: We believe. Bear witness that we have surrendered (unto Thee) "WE ARE MUSLIMS". - Pickthal S. 5:111
"And behold! I inspired the disciples to have faith in Me and Mine Apostle: they said, 'We have faith, and do thou bear witness that WE BOW TO ALLAH AS MUSLIMS'". - Yusif Ali S. 5:111
Now if Jesus’ disciples were Muslims then Muhammad can’t be the first to submit to the will of Allah since the disciples would have already accomplished this task 600 years before his birth. Were these Muslims not submitting to the will of God? This is what we would have to conclude if we accept the Quranic verses where Muhammad claimed to be “the first Muslim” or “the first to submit” to Allah. The contradictions don’t stop here for there are even more people “submitting” before Muhammad came upon the scene:
Those to whom We sent the Book before this, - they do believe in this (revelation): And when it is recited to them, they say: "We believe therein, for it is the Truth from our Lord: indeed WE HAVE BEEN MUSLIMS (muslimeena) (bowing to Allah's Will) from before this. - Yusif Ali S. 28:52-53
Those to whom WE gave the Book before the Qur'an - they believe in it. And when it is recited unto them, they say, `We believe in it. Verily, it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed, even before it we had submitted (muslimeena) to its teaching.'- Sher Ali
They unto whom we have given the scriptures [which were revealed] before it, believe in the same; and when it is read unto them, say, we believe therein; it is certainly the truth from our Lord: VERILY WE ARE MOSLEMS (muslimeena) before this. - Sale S. 28:52-53
In this passage, the “people of the book” or “Jews and Christians” were considered Muslims following the way of Allah. As you can see, “submitting” and “Muslim” are synonymous terms as well as their cognate “Islam”. If the “people of the book” were Muslims then Muhammad couldn’t be the first “Muslim” as the Quran claims. What is even worse is that the Quran further contradicts itself by saying that Abraham was neither a Jew nor Christian but a Muslim:
Abraham was not a Jew, nor yet a Christian, but he was a `Hanif (haneefan musliman) resigned, and not of the idolaters. - Palmer S. 3:67
This passage clearly demonstrates the difference between being a Muslim and the latter, Jews and Christians by prescribing Abraham as a “hanif”, or in Islamic terms, one who adheres to a strict form of monotheism which believes in God being only one person in a sense. Now if Jews, Christians including Jesus disciples are “Muslims” according to the Quran, then how can the Quran differentiate them from “Muslim” in the case of Abraham? Logically we would already know that Abraham wouldn’t be a follower of Judaism or come into the knowledge of knowing Jesus personally yet but why call him a Muslim to differentiate him from Jews and Christians (which implies that they aren’t the same) and then contradict this by saying that the “people of the book” were Muslims?
The contradictions get even worse and the Quran even shows the religion of the Jews and Christians were different compared to the religion of Abraham which is supposed to be Islam.
If Mohammed was the first Muslim which he claims in the Koran then how could Abraham and Moses be Muslims?
MAJOR CONTRADICTIONS FOR ALL TO SEE.
Say, shall I take any other protector than God, the creator of heaven and earth, who feedeth [all] and is not fed [by any]? Say, verily I am commanded to be THE FIRST WHO PROFESSETH ISLAM, [and it was said unto me], thou shalt by no means be [one] of the idolaters. - Sale S. 6:14
No associate has He; and this am I commanded, and I am the first of those who submit. - Shakir S. 6:163
He hath no companion. This have I been commanded: I am THE FIRST MOSLEM (almuslimeena).- Sale S. 6.163
And I am commanded that I shall be THE FIRST of those who submit (almuslimeena). - Shakir S. 39:12
And I am commanded to be THE FIRST of those who are muslims (almuslimeena) (surrender unto Him).- Pickthal S. 39:12
"And I am commanded to be THE FIRST of those WHO BOW TO ALLAH IN ISLAM (almuslimeena)." -Yusif Ali S. 39:12
And I am commanded to be THE FIRST MOSLEM (almuslimeena). - Sale S. 39:12
These Quranic verses explicitly show that Muhammad was the first to submit to the will of “Allah” hence, he is the first Muslim as the Quran attested to above.
In other passages the form of the Arabic root “S.L.M” is rendered as either “aslama or almuslimeena. Aslama’s verbal noun is Islam. What we have above are Quranic verses claiming that Muhammad was the “first to submit to Allah” or “the first Muslim”.
However the Quranic passages above clearly contradict this passage: In the Quran, we clearly have Moses claiming “to be the first of believers” which is a contradiction because others like Abraham proceeded him as an “alleged believer” in Allah. Since the Quran claims to be “clear proof” (Clear means without any ambiguity) what we find is Moses contradicting both Muhammad and Allah saying “he is the first of believers”. Something as clear as this doesn’t need explanation. What’s even worse is the Quran claims that others before Muhammad were Muslims:
Now if Jesus’ disciples were Muslims then Muhammad can’t be the first to submit to the will of Allah since the disciples would have already accomplished this task 600 years before his birth. Were these Muslims not submitting to the will of God? This is what we would have to conclude if we accept the Quranic verses where Muhammad claimed to be “the first Muslim” or “the first to submit” to Allah.
This article is clearly anti-Jewish and how ironic that you have one mainly nation which follows Judaism and clearly this nation does not allow stoning to death, cross amputation, killing apostates, and so forth because this belongs to some Islamic nations.
Judaism reformed itself and if Sultan Shahin claims that he supports reforms in Islam then he would do well to focus on reforms in Judaism.
Where are the human rights of non-Muslims or minority Muslim groups in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen, and so on? The same Israel is a million times more democratic than Saudi Arabia and the Judaic scriptures are based on prophets and historical events and how the Jews faced many difficulties. Judaism is much older than either Christianity or Islam. Judaism does not need either Christianity or Islam.
Islam clearly needs Judaism and Christianity clearly needs Judaism - Abraham, Moses, Noah, and so forth, were followers of God and they and others are the backbone of Judaism. Christians would never claim that Abraham or Moses were Christian but in Islam they try to Muslimize them - but clearly they were followers of Judaism