Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: Regarding verse 5:32
“On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.” (Yusuf Ali)
Does this verse apply to our Shari’ah? Seeing as it begins with: “…we ordained for the children of Israel that…”
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
Yes, this is verse is generally applicable despite its referencing the Children of Israel specifically.
A Key Interpretative Principle
There is an underlying interpretative principle that states that when analyzing texts consideration is given to the generality of their meanings and not the specificity of their historical contexts or causes.
For example, Allah Most High forbade the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) from performing the funeral prayer for hypocrites, a general ruling applicable to all hypocrites despite the verse being revealed in the specific context of `Abdullah ibn Ubayy.
Similarly, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) stated that, “Actions are by intentions”, a general principle despite being stated in the specific context of an individual who migrated for the sake of marrying a woman.
Explanation of the Verse
Based on the above, the commentators of the Qur’an mentioned clearly that what is mentioned in the verse is generally applicable.
Imam Baghawi stated in his commentary on this verse, “Sulayman ibn `Ali said: ‘I asked Hasan [al-Basri], ‘Does this apply to us as it applied to the Children of Israel?’ He replied, ‘Yes, indeed! By He who there is no god other than, the blood of the Children of Israel is no nobler to Allah than ours.'” [Ma`alim al-Tanzil]
Imam Nasafi stated, “They [s: the Children of Israel] were specified with mention even though this applies equally to all because the Torah was the first book within which there were legal rulings stipulated.” [Madarik al-Tanzil] Imam Qurtubi also mentions the same reason in his commentary.
Thus, it is clear that despite the verse specifically addressing the Children of Israel, the gravity and sin of killing an innocent life applies to everyone across the board, whether from our times or before. This meaning is what is of primary concern to us, not the specific context per se the verse relates to.
And Allah knows best