In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
Time and again, over and over and over again, I either read or hear from people that Islam calls for the murder of “infidels,” or all those who are not Muslim. This perception is so pervasive, so entrenched, and I really do not know from where it comes. Yes, there are Muslims who do believe this: 19 of them crashed three planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 of my innocent American brothers and sisters. But, I don’t know from where they got this idea.
“It is the Qur’an, you idiot!!!” I am quite sure some of you just screamed that to your computer screen. Really? Where? I do not know of one verse which directs the believers to kill all “infidels.” Yet, I am constantly reminded of the contrary, such as this verse:
“Now when you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks until you overcome them fully…” (47:4).
Or this one:
“O you who have attained to faith! Fight against those unbelievers who are near you and let them find you adamant, and know that God is with those who are conscious of Him” (9:123).
Or this one:
“O Prophet! Strive hard (lit., make “jihad”) against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be adamant with them…” (66:73).
Yet, perhaps the “poster child” of all the verses in the Qur’an which are cited as evidence that Islam calls for the murder of infidels is this one, the so-called “Verse of the Sword”:
“Slay the pagans wherever you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place…” (9:5).
Case closed? Wrong. These verses have a context, and when understood in their proper context, it will become quite clear that the verses cited above are not a carte blanche for Muslims to kill all non-Muslims.
Before I address specific verses, however, a few general principles of the Qur’an when it comes to fighting must be explained. Also, I rely almost exclusively upon Muhammad Asad’s explanation of the Qur’an as my source material. Let us begin, then.
In the Qur’an, the principle of fighting is purely self-defensive. According to all available Traditions, the earliest verses revealed with regards to fighting are these:
“Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged and, verily, God has indeed the power to succour them; those who have been driven from their homelands against all right for no other reason than their saying, ‘Our sustainer is God!’” (22:39-40).
Along with this verse is 2:190, which says:
“And fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you…“
Thus, it is quite clear that fighting is to be done in self-defense. Now, anyone can commit acts of terror and aggression and say, “it’s in self-defense.” In fact, that is precisely what Al Qaeda is doing: they claim by killing 3,000 people in New York City and Washington, D.C., they are “defending” the Muslim nation against “Zionist and Crusader” aggression against the Muslims. What sheer rubbish.
The Qur’an clearly states, in the remainder of 2:190 it says:
“...but do not commit aggression, for verily, God does not love aggressors.”
“Committing aggression” includes killing innocent civilians in Tel Aviv, Beslan, New York, Baghdad, or wherever. Furthermore, when the enemy ceases its hostility, fighting must cease:
“…but if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, save against those who [willfully] do wrong” (2:193).
Another verse repeats this insistence that hostility must cease when the enemy stops its aggression against you:
“But if they [the enemy] incline to peace, incline thou to it as well, and place thy trust in God: verily, He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing! And should they seek but to deceive thee [by their show of peace] – behold, God is enough for thee! He it is who has strengthened thee with His succour, and by giving thee believing followers” (8:61-62).
Thus, even if the enemy is feigning a peaceful posture, the Muslims are still commanded to cease hostility and “place their trust in God.” Thus, it is quite clear that fighting is in self-defense, and aggression is not allowed. Now, Muslims have waged wars of aggression in the past, for sure, and they even called them “jihad against the infidels” in order to justify their desire for territorial expansion. In fact, one of the most pertinent examples of this was the Ummayad Dynasty, which enacted a policy of “jihad” as perpetual warfare. But, such a policy is not Islamically correct, and as the collapse of the Ummayad Dynasty showed, not sustainable.
Still, the point of the matter is, the framework underlying fighting in Islam is self-defense, and all other verses which deal with fighting or call on the believers to “fight the unbelievers” must be understood in this framework. Yet, this begs the question: why are these verses even in the Qur’an at all? Why fight at all? The answers to these questions will be dealt with next, and just as it is important to understand the principle of fighting in Islam, it is equally important to understand the historical context of the Qur’an in order to understand verses such as 9:5 completely.
To be continued…