Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 24 August 2005
Violence in the Qur'ân
Many people have contacted Barnabas Fund and the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity in recent weeks to ask what the Qur’an teaches about violence, war and terrorism. In response to these requests, we publish this review of relevant Qur’anic texts. It should be noted that, although the Qur’an is the primary source of Islamic law, it is not the only source, so other material has also contributed to the classical Islamic understanding of this subject.
VIOLENCE IN THE QUR'AN
The question of whether violence is found in the Qur'an is very relevant today in the aftermath of the recent series of terrorist attacks, perpetrated by Muslim individuals, especially since 11 September 2001, culminating with the attacks on London in July 2005. There is no doubt that the Qur’an includes a strand of passages extolling violence and Jihad which have always served as justification for Muslims involved in such actions down through the ages. Some voices in contemporary Islam are calling for a more peaceable reinterpretation of such passages, arguing for example that they were only applicable in a particular historical or geographical context. However, traditional and classical Islam – still espoused by many Muslims today - has always taken these passages at face value, and the generally accepted doctrine of abrogation has always asserted that the later aggressive Medinan passages have abrogated the more peaceful earlier Meccan verses.
The quotations here are from the translation by A. Yusuf Ali. Verse numberings can vary between one translation and another, so the same texts may be found a few verses earlier or later in other translations.
In Medina fighting was first allowed against attackers coupled with restrictions against fighting non-combatants.
Sura 2:190 Fight in the path of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God does not love transgressors.
Sura 2: 217 They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah to deny Him to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque and drive out its members. Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you turn back from their faith and die in unbelief their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be Companions of the Fire and will abide therein.
Sura 8:39 And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease verily Allah doth see all that they do.
Sura 22: 39 To those against whom war is made permission is given (to fight) because they are wronged and verily Allah is Most powerful for their aid.
INITIATING ATTACKS ALLOWED
As the strength of the Medina Muslim community grew, initiating attacks were allowed with certain restrictions as to sacred times and places.
Sura 2:191 And slay them wherever ye catch them and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.
Sura 9:35 The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year) so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth; of them four are sacred; that is the straight usage. So wrong not yourselves therein and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves
UNCONDITIONAL COMMAND TO FIGHT ALL UNBELIEVERS EVERYWHERE AND AT ANY TIME
Finally the command for indiscriminate Jihad against all unbelievers at all times and places was given which has been valid ever since until the day of Judgement. A typical verse is the “sword verse” Sura 9:5
Sura 9:5 But when the forbidden months are past then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them and seize them beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war). This verse is cited more than any other as abrogating less aggressive Qur’anic passages. It is said to have abrogated no fewer than 124 verses of the Qur’an. The reference to the sacred months is said to mean that after this specific period of sacred month, you need not respect any sacred months any more, but can fight whenever it is convenient.
PERMISSION TO ATTACK JEWS AND CHRISTIANS
While the sword verse 9:5 refers to idolaters, another verse, Sura 9:29 was given to permit attacking Jews and Christians (people of the book):
Sura 9:29 Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His apostle nor acknowledge the religion of truth (even if they are) of the People of the Book until they pay the Jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.