Islam, Murder, and the Worth of Individual People


“Why should I condemn Osama bin Laden?” demanded the Islamist shaykh Omar Bakri Muhammad, who sheltered in the United Kingdom for twenty years, some time ago.  “I condemn Tony Blair, I condemn George Bush.  I would never condemn Osama bin Laden or any Muslims. . . .  We don’t make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents.  Only between Muslims and unbelievers.  And the life of an unbeliever has no value.  It has no sanctitity.”

That’s the Islam that all too many in the West “know.”

But permit me to translate the first portion of the Qur’anic verse 5:32, shown above:

“Because of that, We decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a person, except for [the crime of killing] another person or for corruption in the earth, it is as if he had killed all humankind, and that whoever saves a person’s life, it is as if he had saved the lives of all humankind.”

Who speaks with more authority for Islam  – that shaykh, or the Qur’an?

Daniel C. Peterson (Ph.D., University of California at Los Angeles) is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University and is the founder and editor-in-chief of the University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. He has published and spoken extensively on both Islamic and Mormon subjects. Formerly chairman of the board of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and an officer, editor, and author for its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, his professional work as an Arabist focuses on the Qur’an and on Islamic philosophical theology. He is the author, among other things, of a biography entitled Muhammad: Prophet of God (Eerdmans, 2007). He is the founder of He blogs daily at

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