It is alleged that since verses 18:75-76 and 18:81-82 speak of slaying a child because he would rebel and bring dishonor to his righteous parents, they are the inspiration for the crime of honor killings. Honor killings are done to a member of one’s family if they are thought to bring a grave dishonor or shame upon the family by indulging in sinful activity such as adultery. However, as evident in the explanation below, there is no such sanction in these verses. Islamic teachings forbid the unjust taking of a life.
So they journeyed on till, when they met a young boy, he slew him. Moses said, ‘Hast thou slain an innocent person without his having slain any one? Surely, thou hast done a hideous thing’. He replied, ‘Did I not tell thee that thou wouldst not be able to keep company with me in patience?’ (18:75-76)
And as for the youth, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should cause them trouble through rebellion and disbelief. So we desired that their Lord should give them in exchange a child better than him in purity and closer in filial affection. (18:81-82)
Firstly, it is important to note that these verses are a part of the 18th Chapter of the Holy Qur’an known as Al-Kahf (The Cave). Most of this chapter reads as parables and similes. In fact, one verse states: “And, surely, We have explained in various ways in this Qur’an, for the good of mankind, all kinds of similitudes…” (18:56). For example, this chapter is named after the story known as the ‘sleepers of the cave’ narrated as righteous people who slept in caves for 300 years before surfacing and reentering society. This parable narrates the story of early Christians who suffered severe persecution for 300 years and hid in the catacombs around Rome until it was safe for them to live normally again in the Roman empire.
Therefore, verses 18:66-83 is also a parable to draw a lesson from, not a sanction for honor killings. These verses speak about Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) meeting a man whom the Qur’an describes as ‘Our Servant’ and ‘Whom We taught knowledge from Ourself.’ Moses insists on accompanying the man on his journey to learn from his wisdom and knowledge. The man warns Moses that he will not be able to comprehend the events he will see (18:69) and must stay patient. The man then goes on to perform a series of acts that Moses (peace be upon him) finds objectionable including capsizing a boat belonging to poor fishermen (18:72) and slaying a young boy (18:75). Alas, Moses and his companion finally part ways when the companion explains to him the meaning behind the events. He explains that the boat he staved would have gone on to be captured by an evil King. The boy who was slain would have gone on to cause harm to his parents through rebellion. However, the companion of Moses clearly states in 18:83 – “ …and I did it not of my own accord”, rather these were acts decreed by God Almighty.
The lesson from this parable is that sometimes we will experience events that appear negative on the surface, but in reality are beneficial. Such events are commonly referred to as ‘acts of God’ or ‘a blessing in disguise’ or ‘the Lord acts in mysterious ways’. Because these deeper, hidden meanings may not be known to us but only to God, we should always exercise patience and fortitude. This is a recurring lesson that the companion emphasizes to Moses (pbuh).
Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) served as the chief arbiter of Medina. Nowhere is it recorded that he sanctioned the execution of anyone based on disrepute or on the claim that he is given knowledge by God Almighty that someone in the future will bring disrepute to their family. He always passed judgement with the due process of law and was chosen as the head of Medina due to this merit. In fact, the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (on whom be peace) wife Aisha (ra) was wrongly accused of adultery. Although people spread terrible rumors about her, he never took action.
The evident lesson of the parable in verses 18:66-83, and the examples of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) is ample proof no sanction of honor killings exists in these verses. The Holy Quran lays profound emphasis on the sanctity of human life, with the clear injunction “..that whosoever killed a person — unless it be for killing a person or for creating disorder in the land — it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind (5:33)”