Misrepresentations of Islamic Scripture

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Evangelical Islamic discourse makes frequent use of verses and hadiths which when viewed in their full formulation and original context often present a message partially or wholly different than the purpose for which they were employed. While critics of Islam have been known to similarly misrepresent Islamic scripture, such misrepresentation also occur among those advocating Islam, whether in order to appeal to modern sensibilities or to push certain classical interpretations that are not supported by the Quran itself.


(5:32) Killing a soul is like killing all of mankind

From time that, We ordained on (the) Children (of) Israel that he who kills a soul other than (for) a soul or (for) spreading corruption in the earth then (it) is as if he has killed mankind, all, and whoever saves it then (it) is as if he has saved mankind. all. And surely came to them Our Messengers with clear Signs yet, indeed, many of them after that in the earth (are) surely those who commit excesses.

Quran 5:32 is often cited as evidence of Islam's strict prohibition on murder and encouragement of saving lives. While murder is certainly prohibited in Islam (albeit unequally punished if the victim was a non-Muslim and even totally unpunished if the victim was an apostate, blasphemer, adulterer, or murderer themselves) and saving lives is encouraged (with the lives of believers being, again, favored), the above verse is at most only of indirect relevance. Written in past tense, it does not regard Islamic law but instead "the Children of Israel", or the Jews, who are held in Islam to have received an earlier set of scriptures. Read in the context of the following two verses, however, the verse emerges as a warning for non-believers, who are supposedly to be unprotected by this historical prohibition and advocation.

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

According to the highly respected exegesis of Ibn Kathir, early qur'anic commentator and tabi‘i, Sayid ibn Jubayr (who lived at the time of Muhammad, and was a companion of Ayesha), had said:

[فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعاً] ...Sa`id bin Jubayr said, "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." In addition, Ibn Jurayj said that Al-A`raj said that Mujahid commented on the Ayah,

Other narrations on the other hand apply the verse to all persons, not just believers (see main article).

The verse also says it is okay to kill someone who does "mischief". In the Tafsir ibn Kathir, Qatada, one of Muhammad's companions, explained the definition of "Mischief" according to Islam.

(And when it is said to them: "Do not make mischief on the earth,"), means, "Do not commit acts of disobedience on the earth. Their mischief is disobeying Allah, because whoever disobeys Allah on the earth, or commands that Allah be disobeyed, he has committed mischief on the earth.
Meaning of Mischief
Tafsir Ibn Kathir

Rather then being an unqualified condemnation of murder, the verse itself and the passage that encompasses it contain a warning and threat against those who disobey Allah.

(2:256) Let there be no compulsion in religion

Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.

Quran 2:256, often cited as evidence of religious tolerance in Islamic law, was understood to refer only to those who convert to Islam rather than leave it. The circumstances given in the hadith literature about the revelation of the verse show the context and sense in which the above verse was read - one markedly different from its modern usage.

Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas
When the children of a woman (in pre-Islamic days) did not survive, she took a vow on herself that if her child survives, she would convert it a Jew. When Banu an-Nadir were expelled (from Arabia), there were some children of the Ansar (Helpers) among them. They said: We shall not leave our children. So Allah the Exalted revealed; "Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error."

Some scholars at a time when freedom of religion was seen as particularly undesirable even considered the verse to be abrogated (see main article). Ibn Kathir in the version of his tafsir abridged by Sheikh Muhammad Nasib Ar-Rafa‘i, says the following (note that this portion has not been translated by Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri who is responsible for the abridged version of Tafsir Ibn Kathir):

Allah says: "There is no compulsion in religion", meaning: do not force anyone to embrace Islam, because it is clear and its proofs and evidences are manifest. Whoever Allah guides and opens his heart to Islam has indeed embraced it with clear evidence. Whoever Allah misguides blinds his heart and has set a seal on his hearing and a covering on his eyes cannot embrace Islam by force...hence Allah revealed this verse. But, this verse is abrogated by the verse of "fighting...Therefore, all people of the world should be called to Islam. If anyone of them refuses to do so, or refuses to pay the Jizya they should be fought till they are killed. This is the meaning of compulsion. In the Sahih, the Prophet said: "Allah wonders at those people who will enter Paradise in chains", meaning prisoners brought in chains to the Islamic state, then they embrace Islam sincerely and become righteous, and are entered among the people of Paradise.[1]
Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 1999: First Edition, Part 3, pp. 37-38
Allah said,

(There is no compulsion in religion), meaning, "Do not force anyone to become Muslim, for Islam is plain and clear, and its proofs and evidence are plain and clear. Therefore, there is no need to force anyone to embrace Islam. Rather, whoever Allah directs to Islam, opens his heart for it and enlightens his mind, will embrace Islam with certainty. Whoever Allah blinds his heart and seals his hearing and sight, then he will not benefit from being forced to embrace Islam.

It was reported that the Ansar were the reason behind revealing this Ayah, although its indication is general in meaning. Ibn Jarir recorded that Ibn `Abbas said ﴿that before Islam﴾, "When (an Ansar) woman would not bear children who would live, she would vow that if she gives birth to a child who remains alive, she would raise him as a Jew. When Banu An-Nadir (the Jewish tribe) were evacuated ﴿from Al-Madinah﴾, some of the children of the Ansar were being raised among them, and the Ansar said, `We will not abandon our children.'

Allah revealed,

(There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the right path has become distinct from the wrong path.)

Abu Dawud and An-Nasa'i also recorded this Hadith. As for the Hadith that Imam Ahmad recorded, in which Anas said that the Messenger of Allah said to a man, ("Embrace Islam. The man said, "I dislike it. The Prophet said, "Even if you dislike it.)

First, this is an authentic Hadith, with only three narrators between Imam Ahmad and the Prophet . However, it is not relevant to the subject under discussion, for the Prophet did not force that man to become Muslim. The Prophet merely invited this man to become Muslim, and he replied that he does not find himself eager to become Muslim. The Prophet said to the man that even though he dislikes embracing Islam, he should still embrace it, `for Allah will grant you sincerity and true intent.'

In context, it becomes clear that the verse was traditionally understood to only partially reflect religious tolerance as it is presently understood.

(2:195) Do not cast yourselves into destruction

And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for Allah loveth those who do good.

Quran 2:195 uses the word 'destruction' to refer to the abandonment of Jihad (rather than its implementation). In this respect it is similar to Quran 5:32, as the popular reference to the verse assumes an interpretation and context altogether opposite that held by the Islamic scholarly and scriptural tradition.

"A man from among the Ansar broke enemy (Byzantine) lines in Constantinople (Istanbul). Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari was with us then. So some people said, `He is throwing himself to destruction.'

Abu Ayyub said, `We know this Ayah (2:195) better, for it was revealed about us, the Companions of Allah's Messenger who participated in Jihad with him and aided and supported him. When Islam became strong, we, the Ansar, met and said to each other, `Allah has honored us by being the Companions of His Prophet and in supporting him until Islam became victorious and its following increased. We had before ignored the needs of our families, estates and children. Warfare has ceased, so let us go back to our families and children and attend to them.' So this Ayah was revealed about us:

(And spend in the cause of Allah and do not throw yourselves into destruction.) the destruction refers to staying with our families and estates and abandoning Jihad."[2]
Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasa'i, `Abd bin Humayd in his Tafsir, Ibn Abu Hatim, Ibn Jarir, Ibn Marduwyah, Al-Hafiz Abu Ya`la in his Musnad, Ibn Hibban and Al-Hakim

It is evident that traditionally the verse was read such that 'destruction' metaphorically referred to the spiritual destruction of that person's soul who refused to engage in Jihad, which had been divinely prescribed. In sahih (authentic) hadith, Muhammad is reported to have referred to such persons who refused to engage in Jihad as being 'hypocrites'.

It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: One who died but did not fight in the way of Allah nor did he express any desire (or determination) for Jihad died the death of a hypocrite.
Whoever dies but neither fought (i.e., in Allah's cause), nor sincerely considered fighting, will die a death of Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic era of ignorance.
Jihad is made Obligatory
Sahih hadith, Tafsir Ibn Kathir
“O Prophet! Strive hard agaunt the infidels and the hypocrites, and be firm against them, and their abode is hell, and evil is their resort.” Holy Qur'an (66:9)

“Go forth (equipped) lightly or heavily, and strive hard in Allah's cause with your property and own selves; this is better for you, if you know.” Holy Qur'an (9:41)

Jihad is a holy duty made obligatory upon all Muslims by Allah, the Almighty. The Muslims should defend themselves if being attacked in order to preserve their faith, spread Islam, and stand against tyrants and oppressors. Allah made jihad obligatory, in all its forms, whether it is the jihad of society or self, speaking a word for the sake of preserving Islamic call Da'wah, or defending the sanctuaries of the Muslim nation. Jihad is considered among the best forms of worship with Allah, the Most High.

He who spends even a small amount of money in Allah's way will find his reward increased many times by the Beneficent Creator. Whoever is harmed or suffers inflictions in the cause of Allah will have his reward with Allah on the Resurrection Day.

The martyr who sacrifices himself and dies for the sake of his faith finds his place in Paradise. He receives blessings from the prophets and the righteous. He is alive and provided for by Allah, The Exalted.

(8:61) If they incline towards peace, you incline also, Allah hates aggressors

But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah: for He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things).

Abrogation (Naskh) refers to one Qur'anic verse superseding another, and is explicitly described by Qur'anic verses and various hadith narrations. From Umayyad and Abbasid times, some scholars considered the so-called 'sword verse' Q 9:5 to abrogate various more peaceful verses and interpreted it as an open ended persmission for expansive warfare. According to some later classical scholars, even Quran 8:61 and its message of reconciliation was abrogated by the sword verse. Islamic modernist and academic scholars regard such a view as reflecting the imperial expediencies of a later period.[3]

‘This has been abrogated by the “sword verse” [Q. 9:5]’
Surat Al-'Anfāl (The Spoils of War) 8:61
Tafsir al-Jalalayn (Suyuti)

Quran 9:5 commands fighting against breakers of a treaty.

But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

The same verse adds that "if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them". The only way a non-believer can repent and establish regular prayers is by converting to Islam. Muhammad is reported to have clarified this message further, saying that fighting must go on even after it has come to a natural conclusion.

(Until the war lays down its burden.) Mujahid said: "Until `Isa bin Maryam (peace be upon him) descends. It seems as if he derived this opinion from the Prophet's saying, There will always be a group of my Ummah victorious upon the truth, until the last of them fight against Ad-Dajjal.) Imam Ahmad recorded from Jubayr bin Nufayr who reported from Salamah bin Nufayl that he went to the Messenger of Allah and said, "I have let my horse go, and thrown down my weapon, for the war has ended. There is no more fighting. Then the Prophet said to him, Now the time of fighting has come. There will always be a group of my Ummah dominant over others. Allah will turn the hearts of some people away (from the truth), so they (that group) will fight against them

Verse 8:61 is no longer applicable in the eyes of prominent classical scholars and those who continue to identify with them.

"It is the consensus of the scholars of this Ummah that if part of the religion is Allah's and other part is not, fighting must go on until the entire religion is Allah's".[4]
Ibn Taymiyyah
"Jihad and the rifle alone. NO negotiations, NO conferences and NO dialogue."
Join The Caravan, p9
Sheikh Abdullah Yusuf Azzam
"So, if the fighting stops, the disbelievers will dominate, and fitnah, which is Shirk (polytheism), will spread."
Join The Caravan, p20
Sheikh Abdullah Yusuf Azzam

(2:190) Fight those who fight you

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.

Quran 2:190 is also held to have been abrogated by some classical scholars, this time by the 'verse of immunity', which is found at the very beginning of the chapter containing the 'sword-verse'. Islamic modernist and academic scholars regard such a view as reflecting the imperial expediencies of a later period.[3]

After the Prophet (s) was prevented from [visiting] the House in the year of the battle of Hudaybiyya, he made a pact with the disbelievers that he would be allowed to return the following year, at which time they would vacate Mecca for three days. Having prepared to depart for the Visitation [‘umra], [he and] the believers were concerned that Quraysh would not keep to the agreement and instigate fighting. The Muslims were averse to becoming engaged in fighting while in a state of pilgrimage inviolability in the Sacred Enclosure [al-haram] and during the sacred months, and so the following was revealed: And fight in the way of God, to elevate His religion, with those who fight against you, the disbelievers, but aggress not, against them by initiating the fighting; God loves not the aggressors, the ones that overstep the bounds which God has set for them: this stipulation was abrogated by the verse of barā’a, ‘immunity’ [Q. 9:1], or by His saying below:
Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2:190
Tafsir al jalayn (Suyuti)
(And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you,) Abu Al-`Aliyah said, "This was the first Ayah about fighting that was revealed in Al-Madinah. Ever since it was revealed, Allah's Messenger used to fight only those who fought him and avoid non-combatants. Later, Surat Bara'ah (chapter 9 in the Qur'an) was revealed." `Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam said similarly, then he said that this was later abrogated by the Ayah

Chapter 9, which contains both the 'verse of immunity' and the 'sword verse', known as surah al-Tawbah, was part of the final substantive revelation Muhammad pronounced in his life. Seen as a sort of closing message, the majority of classical scholars agreed with the basic idea that the Muslim ummah was destined to engage in an endless war with the unbelieving world until all had submitted to Allah and there was no more 'fitnah' in the land (according to many academic scholars, 'fitna' means tumult or oppression in the Quran, but was later glossed by classical scholars to include disbelief).[3]

Abu Ishaq said that he heard al-Bara' b 'Azib (Allah be pleased with him) say: The last complete sura revealed (in the Holy Qur'an) is Sura tauba (i e. al-Bara'at, ix.), and the last verse revealed is that pertaining to Kalala.

(8:39) Fight them until there is no more fitnah

And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression [Fitna], and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do.

The Arabic word Fitna (فِتْنَةٌ‎), used in Quran 8:39 and other verses means "tumult" or "oppression". However, according to many modern academic scholars, certain muslim scholars in a later period glossed the word to include shirk or disbelief in order to suit the imperial needs of a later period. This reinterpretation is continued even by some conservative muslim scholars today.

Allah then commanded fighting the disbelievers when He said:

(...until there is no more Fitnah) meaning, Shirk. This is the opinion of Ibn `Abbas, Abu Al-`Aliyah, Mujahid, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, Ar-Rabi`, Muqatil bin Hayyan, As-Suddi and Zayd bin Aslam.

Allah's statement:

(...and the religion (all and every kind of worship) is for Allah (Alone).) means, `So that the religion of Allah becomes dominant above all other religions.' It is reported in the Two Sahihs that Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari said: "The Prophet was asked, `O Allah's Messenger! A man fights out of bravery, and another fights to show off, which of them fights in the cause of Allah' The Prophet said:

(He who fights so that Allah's Word is superior, then he fights in Allah's cause.) In addition, it is reported in the Two Sahihs:

(I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight the people until they proclaim, `None has the right to be worshipped but Allah'. Whoever said it, then he will save his life and property from me, except for cases of the law, and their account will be with Allah.)
So fight them until there is no more shirk, and none is worshipped except Allaah alone with no partner or associate, and trials and calamities, which are disbelief and polytheism, are lifted from the slaves of Allaah on earth, and religion is all for Allaah alone, and so that obedience and worship will be devoted to Him alone and none else.[5]
Tafsir al-Tabari

(2:62) Theists, Christians, and Jews, shall be in Heaven

Main Article: Christians, Jews and Muslims in Heaven
Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.

Quran 2:62 is often referenced as evidence for the idea that Islam teaches religious pluralism and grants salvation to persons of diverse faiths. While modern historians such Fred Donner have taken hold to the idea, considering that the early Islamic movement was likely far more cosmopolitan in nature than is believed to be the case by the later Islamic tradition itself, classical scholars have been and remain entirely uncompromising in their non-pluralistic interpretation of this verse. Classical scholars either hold the verse to be describing the salvation of those who were Christian or Jewish in the past or hold the verse to have been abrogated by other verses such as Quran 3:85.

And if any believe not in Allah and His Messenger, We have prepared, for those who reject Allah, a Blazing Fire!
And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers.

Other hadiths affirm the classical interpretation, with a set of narrations describing how Muslims will be spared hell-fire on the Day of Resurrection by having Christians and Jews take their places hell.

Abu Musa' reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: When it will be the Day of Resurrection Allah would deliver to every Muslim a Jew or a Christian and say: That is your rescue from Hell-Fire.

(109:1-6) To you be your way, and to me mine

Surah Kafiroon (literally the chapter about "unbelievers") is frequently cited as an example of the Islamic scriptures endorsing religious pluralism.

Say: O ye that reject Faith!
I worship not that which ye worship,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
To you be your Way, and to me mine.

Traditionally, this verse was revealed in the Meccan period before Muhammad became powerful, and may best be understood as a plea for the Meccans to leave the early believers alone (see main article). Commentators were keen to stress that it did not condone shirk, and some even considered it abrogated. Maududi in the quote below takes another approach.

There was a time in Makkah when although a storm of opposition had arisen in the pagan society of Quraish against the message of Islam preached by the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace), yet the Quraish chiefs hall not yet lost hope that they would reach some sort of a compromise with him. Therefore, from time to time they would visit him with different proposals of compromise so that he accepted one of them and the dispute between them was brought to an end.
. . .
If the Surah is read with this background in mind, one finds that it was not revealed to preach religious tolerance as some people of today seem to think, but it was revealed in order to exonerate the Muslims from the disbelievers religion, their rites of worship, and their gods, and to express their total disgust and unconcern with them and to tell them that Islam and kufr (unbelief) had nothing in common and there was no possibility of their being combined and mixed into one entity. Although it was addressed in the beginning to the disbelieving Quraish in response to their proposals of compromise, yet it is not confined to them only, but having made it a part of the Quran, Allah gave the Muslims the eternal teaching that they should exonerate themselves by word and deed from the creed of kufr wherever and in whatever form it be, and should declare without any reservation that they cannot make any compromise with the disbelievers in the matter of Faith. That is why this Surah continued to be recited when the people to whom it was addressed as a rejoinder, had died and been forgotten, and those Muslims also continued to recite it who were disbelievers at the time it was revealed, and the Muslims still recite it centuries after they have passed away, for expression of disgust with and dissociation from kufr and its rites is a perpetual demand of Faith.
Commentary on Qur'an Chapter 109:1-6
Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, Tafhim al-Qur'an


Killing animals for 'good reason' is acceptable

It was narrated that 'Amr bin Sharid said: "I heard Sharid say: 'I heard the Messenger of Allah say: Whoever kills a small bird for no reason, it will beseech Allah on the Day of Resurrection saying: O Lord, so and so killed me for no reason. And he did not kill me for any beneficial purpose." (Hasan)

The above hadith is often cited incompletely, with the bold portion being excluded, presumably because that final clause suggests that it is ok to kill animals and that animals do not mind being killed for 'beneficial' purposes.

See Also


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  1. Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, Surah Al-Baqarah, ayat 253 to 286, Surah Al-Imran, ayat 1 to 92, abridged by Sheikh Muhammad Nasib Ar-Rafa‘i [Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 1999: First Edition], Part 3, pp. 37-38
  2. The Command to spend in the Cause of Allah - Tafsir Ibn Kathir
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 See for example Mohammad Hassan Khalil, "Jihad, Radicalism and the New Atheism", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017, pp. 9-16
  4. Shaykh ul-Islaam Taqi ud-Deen Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah - The Religious and Moral Doctrine of Jihaad - p.28, 2001 Maktabah Al Ansaar Publications, ISBN 0953984753
  5. The reason why jihaad is prescribed - Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 34647