Al-Maidah · Juz 6 · Qur'an Tafseer

Tafseer Surah al-Ma’idah Ayah 33

The Punishment of those who Cause Mischief in the Land

In ayaat 27 – 32, we read the event of the killing of Habeel and its gravity as a crime. In the present ayah and those which follow, there is a description of the legal punishments for killing, plundering, robbery and theft. Prompted in between the description of the punishments for robbery and theft is the need to fear Allah and the desirability of seeking nearness to Him through acts of obedience.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said,

إِنَّمَا جَزَآءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِى الاٌّرْضِ فَسَاداً أَن يُقَتَّلُواْ أَوْ يُصَلَّبُواْ أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُم مِّنْ خِلَـفٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْاْ مِنَ الاٌّرْضِ

“The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on the opposite sides, or be exiled from the land.”

Yahariboona is from the root letters ha-ra-ba [harb]. Harb means war and yaharibo means to wage war. It’s the opposite of peace. People snatch one another’s rights.

Can someone wage war against Allah and His Messenger? Waging war mentioned here means to harm the friends of Allah and His servants. Who are these people? They are the innocent people who have spread no mischief on the land. It also means to oppose and contradict the laws of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and His Messenger. To turn hostile, block roads and spread fear among people.

It is obvious that rare incidents of theft or killing and plundering do not cause public peace to be disturbed. In fact, this happens only when a powerful and organized group stands up to carry out acts of robbery, killing and plundering. Therefore, according to Muslim jurists, the punishment contemplated in this ayah is meant for a group or an individual who robs people and breaks the law of the land by the force of arms. This will not include those who indulge in common individual crimes such as thieves and pick-pockets. [Tafseer Mazhari]

Ibn Jareer recorded that Ikrimah and Al-Hasan Al-Basri said that the Ayat 33 – 34 were revealed about the idolators. Therefore, the ayah decrees that, whoever among them repents before you apprehend them, then you have no right to punish them. This Ayah does not save a Muslim from punishment if he kills, causes mischief in the land or wages war against Allah and His Messenger and then joins rank with the disbelievers, before the Muslims are able to catch him. He will still be liable for punishment for the crimes he committed.

The correct opinion is that this Ayah is general in meaning and includes the idolators and all others who commit the types of crimes the ayah mentioned.

Allah’s statement,

أَن يُقَتَّلُواْ أَوْ يُصَلَّبُواْ أَوْ تُقَطَّعَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَأَرْجُلُهُم مِّنْ خِلَـفٍ أَوْ يُنفَوْاْ مِنَ الاٌّرْضِ

“……they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on the opposite sides, or be exiled from the land.”

Four punishments have been introduced by using the word Aw أَوْ meaning “or”. It is employed to give choice. This means the Imam, Ameer or the ruler legally has the choice to award any one of the punishments mentioned as suitable to the case or award all four of them, depending on the gravity or negligibility of their crimes.

Yuqattalu is from the root letters qaf-ta-laam it means that they should be killed severely. No mercy should be showed. Each and every one of them who participated in this activity should be killed.

Ali bin Abi Talhah said that Ibn Abbas radhiAllahu anhu said about this Ayah, “He who takes up arms in Muslim land and spreads fear in the fairways and is captured, the Muslim Leader has the choice to either have him killed, crucified or cut off his hands and feet.” Similar was said by Sa`id bin Al-Musayyib, Mujahid, `Ata’, Al-Hasan Al-Basri, Ibrahim An-Nakha`i and Ad-Dahhak, as Abu Ja`far Ibn Jarir recorded.

As for Allah’s statement,

أَوْ يُنفَوْاْ مِنَ الاٌّرْضِ

“…or be exiled from the land….” some said that it means, he is actively pursued until he is captured, and thus receives his prescribed punishment, or otherwise he escapes from the land of Islam. Some said that the ayah means these people are expelled to another land, or to another state by the Muslims authorities. Sa`id bin Jubayr, Abu Ash-Sha`tha’, Al-Hasan, Az-Zuhri, Ad-Dahhak and Muqatil bin Hayyan said that he is expelled, but not outside of the land of Islam, while others said that he is to be imprisoned. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala ends this ayah by saying,

ذَلِكَ لَهُمْ خِزْىٌ فِى الدُّنْيَا وَلَهُمْ فِى الاٌّخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

“That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter.”

It means, the punishment prescribed by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is a disgrace for them among mankind in this life, along with the tremendous torment Allah has prepared for them in the Hereafter. The punishment in dunya is shame, humiliation, punishment, contempt and torment in this life, before the Hereafter. And if they do not repent from these evil deeds until death overcomes them, they will be stricken by the punishment that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala prescribed from them in the Hereafter i.e. thrown in the hellfire. This view supports the opinion that these Ayat were revealed about the idolators.

As for Muslims, in his Saheeh, Muslim recorded that Ubadah bin As-Samit said, “The Messenger of Allah sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam took the same pledge from us that he also took from women: That we do not associate anything with Allah in worship, we do not steal, commit adultery, or kill our children, and that we do not spread falsehood about each other. He said that he who keeps this pledge, then his reward will be with Allah. He who falls into shortcomings and was punished, then this will be his expiation. And those whose errors were covered by Allah, then their matter is for Allah: If He wills, He will punish them and If He wills, He will pardon them.”

Ali narrated that the Messenger of Allah sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam said,

مَنْ أَذْنَبَ ذَنْبًا فِي الدُّنْيَا فَعُوقِبَ بِهِ، فَاللهُ أَعْدَلُ مِنْ أَنْ يُثَنِّيَ عُقُوبَتَهُ عَلى عَبْدِهِ، وَمَنْ أَذْنَبَ ذَنْبًا فِي الدُّنْيَا فَسَتَرهُ اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَعَفَا عَنْهُ، فَاللهُ أَكْرَمُ مِنْ أَنْ يَعُودَ عَلَيْهِ فِي شَيْءٍ قَدْ عَفَا عَنْه

“He who sins in this life and was punished for it, then Allah is far more just than to combine two punishments on His servant. He who commits an error in this life and Allah hides this error and pardons him, then Allah is far more generous than to punish the servant for something that He has already pardoned.”

Recorded by Ahmad, Ibn Majah and At-Tirmidhi who said, “Hasan Gharib”. Al-Hafiz Ad-Daraqutni was asked about this hadeeth, and he said that it was related to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam in some narrations, and it was related to the Companions in others, and that this narration from the Prophet is Saheeh.

Incident Behind the Revelation of Surah al-Ma’idah Ayah 33

Al-Bukhari and Muslim recorded that Abu Qilabah Abdullah bin Zayd Al-Jarmi, said that Anas bin Malik radhiAllahu anhu said, “Eight people of the Ukl tribe came to the Messenger of Allah sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam and gave him their pledge to follow Islam. Madina’s climate did not suit them and they became sick and complained to Allah’s Messenger. So he said,

أَلَا تَخْرُجُونَ مَعَ رَاعِينَا فِي إِبِلِهِ، فَتُصِيبُوا مِنْ أَبْوَالِهَا وَأَلْبَانِهَا

‘Go with our shepherd to be treated by the milk and urine of his camels.’ So they went as directed, and after they drank from the camels’ milk and urine, they became healthy, and they killed the shepherd and drove away all the camels. The news reached the Prophet and he sent (men) in their pursuit and they were captured. He then ordered that their hands and feet be cut off (and it was done), and their eyes were branded with heated pieces of iron. Next, they were put in the sun until they died.” This is the wording of Muslim.

Treatment with milk and urine means there were medications made with these items. A severe punishment was ordered for them because they brutally killed the shepherd. A person who is looking after you, feeding and treating to you and you kill him? This is terrorism. The presence of such people in a society is terror for the entire society.


– In this ayah, we learn about the punishment for those who spread terrorism whether it is highway robbery or innocent people living in a city are being killed without any reasons.

– Through this ayah, we learn about the magnitude of crime of waging war against Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and Rasoolullah sallAllahy aalyhi wa sallam. We earlier learned in Surah al-Baqarah that those who take, give or deal in riba are waging war against Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and His Messenger. By working in bank or maintaining account there one is going against the command of Allah therefore it is a serious crime and hence the punishment is severe.

– The object of our deen is to cleanse the earth from fasaad and establish peace and justice. It is the responsibility of those in authority or power to catch those who are spreading fasad in the society.

– Punishment is given according to the crime a person has committed. The discretion has been left to the judge, however, it will be one of those mentioned in the ayah.

– Disobedience to Allah causes corruption on the earth. When a person is disobedient he commits sins. He forgets to distinguish between what’s lawful and what’s not lawful as a result he commits one sin after another and spread corruption on the earth. Therefore, committing sins is not permissible.

– We also learn that “islah” can be done in two ways: verbally [through advice] or force. We first stop people through our words, but when they don’t listen to us we use force against them.

Why such severe punishments have been mentioned? It is in order to stop the crime. When people are held accountable and given punishment no one else will dare to follow their footsteps.

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