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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;

Asad writes,

Most of the classical commentators regard this passage as a legal injunction, and interpret
it, therefore, as follows: “The recompense of those who make war on God and His apostle and
spread corruption on earth shall but be that they shall be slain, or crucified, or that
their hands and feet be cut off on opposite sides, or that they shall be banished from the
earth: such shall be their ignominy in this world.” This interpretation is, however, in
no way warranted by the text, and this for the following reasons:
(a) The four passive verbs occurring in this sentence – “slain”, “crucified”, “cut off” and
“banished” – are in the present tense and do not, by themselves, indicate the future or,
alternatively, the imperative mood.
(b) The form yuqattalu does not signify simply “they are being slain” or (as the commentators
would have it) “they shall be slain”, but denotes – in accordance with a fundamental rule
of Arabic grammar – “they are being slain in great numbers”; and the same holds true of the
verbal forms yusallabu (“they are being crucified in great numbers”) and tuqatta’a (“cut off
in great numbers”). Now if we are to believe that these are “ordained punishments”, it
would imply that great numbers – but not necessarily all – of “those who make war on God
and His apostle” should be punished in this way: obviously an inadmissible assumption of
arbitrariness on the part of the Divine Law-Giver. Moreover, if the party “waging war on
God and His apostle” should happen to consist of one person only, or of a few, how could a
command referring to “great numbers” be applied to them or to him?
(c) Furthermore, what would be the meaning of the phrase, “they shall be banished from the
earth”, if the above verse is to be taken as a legal injunction? This point has, indeed,
perplexed the commentators considerably. Some of them assume that the transgressors should
be “banished from the land [of Islam]”: but there is no instance in the Qur’an of such a
restricted use of the term “earth” (ard). Others, again, are of the opinion that the guilty
ones should be imprisoned in a subterranean dungeon, which would constitute their “banishment
from [the face of] the earth”!
(d) Finally – and this is the weightiest objection to an interpretation of the above verse
as a “legal injunction” – the Qur’an places exactly the same expressions referring to
mass-crucifixion and mass-mutilation (but this time with a definite intent relating to the future) in the mouth of Pharaoh, as a threat to believers (see 7:124, 20:71 and
26:49). Since Pharaoh is invariably described in the Qur’an as the epitome of evil and
godlessness, it is inconceivable that the same Qur’an would promulgate a divine law in
precisely the terms which it attributes elsewhere to a figure characterized as an
“enemy of God”.

In short, the attempt of the commentators to interpret the above verse as a “legal injunction”
must be categorically rejected, however great the names of the persons responsible for it.
On the other hand, a really convincing interpretation suggests itself to us at once as soon
as we read the verse – as it ought to be read – in the present tense: for, read in this way,
the verse reveals itself immediately as a statement of fact – a declaration of the
inescapability of the retribution which “those who make war on God” bring upon themselves.
Their hostility to ethical imperatives causes them to lose sight of all moral values; and
their consequent mutual discord and “perverseness” gives rise to unending strife among
themselves for the sake of worldly gain and power: they kill one another in great numbers,
and torture and mutilate one another in great numbers, with the result that whole communities
are wiped out or, as the Qur’an puts it, “banished from [the face of] the earth”. It is
this interpretation alone that takes full account of all the expressions occurring in this
verse – the reference to “great numbers” in connection with deeds of extreme violence, the
“banishment from the earth”, and, lastly, the fact that these horrors are expressed in
the terms used by Pharaoh, the “enemy of God”.


Asad, Muhammad (1980). The Message of the Quran.

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