Sleight of Hand at the White House Summit on Violent Extremism?

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

The Summit called by President Obama, was opened by Sheikh Sa’ad Musse Roble, President of the World Peace Organization in Minneapolis, Minn., reciting a “verse from the Quran,” the only clergy person to be called upon at the event to offer a religious invocation.

Imam Abdisalam Adam of the Islamic Civil Society of America offered a translation of the verses:

In translation those verses of the Quran mean “Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption in the land, it’s as if he has slain mankind entirely, and whoever saves one life, it’s as if he has saved mankind entirely”

Do these words really mean that? Well not exactly. Let’s look at the Koran, Chapter 5: Suras 32 and 33 which follow a previous narrative concerning Cain and Abel in the well accepted translation of the Koran into English written by Maulana Mohammed Ali, for years the leader of the self-proclaimed moderate Muslim denomination, Lahore Ahmadiya.

Born in Punjab, he emigrated to England there to become an Attorney. Ali took upon himself the task of translating the Koran into English (1917) with an explanatory commentary. Ali’s translation and commentary is used by, among others, Rev. Farrakhan’s Black Muslims.

The Suras - “For this reason we prescribed for the children of Israel that whoever kills a person, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he had killed all men. And whoever saves a life, is as though he had saved the lives of all men. And certainly Our messengers came to them with clear arguments, but even after that many of them committed excesses in the land. The only punishment of those who wage war against Allah and his messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is that they should be murdered, or crucified, or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides, or they should be imprisoned. This shall be a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.”

Commentary by Ali - The references are generally understood to be to the gravity of the crime of murder, requiring the execution of the criminal. But by the killing of a person may as well be meant the killing of the Prophet, who had come to establish righteousness. The killing of the great teacher of righteousness was indeed equivalent to the killing of all men and the saving of the life of that great savior of humanity was equivalent to saving humanity itself. The reference is to the Jewish plots against the life of the Holy Prophet, and that is the reason for mentioning here the Israelites in particular

The words used here imply originally all those opponents of Islam who wage war on the Muslims and made mischief in the land by causing loss to the life and property of innocent Muslims who fell into their hands. But it has generally been accepted as including all dacoits (“The term dacoit, Hindi: डकैत ḍakait, Urdu: ڈکیت ḍakait, Bengali: ডাকাত ḍākāt, means ‘a bandit’, a member of a class of robbers in India”) and murderers who cause disorder in a settled state of society. In fact, when war came to an end in Arabia and the kingdom of Islam was established over the whole peninsula, the enemies of Islam, being unable to oppose its authority openly, resorted to dacoity and murder to disturb the peace which was now established in the land. Hence, though it is such enemies that are primarily spoken of here, the words in general include all cases of murder and dacoity.

The punishment described is of four kinds, which clearly shows that the punishment to be inflicted in any particular case would depend upon the circumstances of the case as well as the time and place where the crime was committed. For instance, if murder has been committed in the course of dacoity, the punishment would include the execution of the culprit, which may take the form crucifixion if the offense is so heinous or the culprit is caused such terror in the land that the leaving of his body on the cross is necessary as a deterrent. In other cases, the punishment may be imprisonment, where the severer punishment of cutting off the hands is deemed unnecessary. The judge would take all the circumstances into consideration and inflict such punishment as he thought necessary. A particular case dealt with under this verse was of a tribe called Uainah. Some men of this tribe came to the Prophet, and accepted Islam. They fell ill and were sent by the prophet to a place at a little distance from Medina, for change of climate and recovery of health. But when they regained health, they killed the very people who served them and went off with their camels. Then they committed dacoities and violated the chastity of women, and they were severely punished…”

Please understand, I am not accusing Imam Abdisalam Adam of deliberately taking the passage out of context. He was simply practicing the religious rite of tiqiyya in speaking with non-believers. One may do this, utilize tiqiyya, to advance the cause of Islam or to gain the trust of the nonbeliever so that he will be more vulnerable and therefore easier to defeat. This is a well-known principle in Islam attributed to the prophet himself and should be known to anybody who has but a rudimentary knowledge of the Faith. What is to me incomprehensible, is that no one in the media took but a few minutes to look in the Koran to understand the context in which these words were written. Truly, it would appear, that few if any in the United States are interested in understanding Islam.