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Violence in the Qur'ân


23 August 2005

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.

DEFENSIVE FIGHTING

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.


 

GENERAL DUTY OF JIHAD

Sura 2:216 Fighting is prescribed for you and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth and ye know not.
Sura 2:244 Then fight in the cause of Allah and know that Allah heareth and knoweth all things. Sura 4:76 Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah and those who reject faith fight in the cause of evil: so fight ye against the friends of Satan: feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan.
Sura 4:84 Then fight in Allah's cause thou art held responsible only for thyself and rouse the believers. It may be that Allah will restrain the fury of the unbelievers: for Allah is the strongest in might and in punishment.
Sura 47:4 Therefore when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight) smite at their necks; at length when ye have thoroughly subdued them bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you some with others. But those who are slain in the way of Allah He will never let their deeds be lost.
Sura 4:71 O ye who believe! take your precautions and either go forth in parties or go forth all together.
Sura 4:84 Then fight in Allah's cause thou art held responsible only for thyself and rouse the believers. It may be that Allah will restrain the fury of the unbelievers: for Allah is the strongest in might and in punishment.

STRIKE TERROR IN HEARTS OF INFIDEL ENEMY

Sura 3:151 Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers for that they joined companions with Allah for which He had sent no authority: their abode will be the fire; and evil is the home of the wrong-doers!
Sura 8:60 Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power including steeds of war to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies of Allah and your enemies and others besides whom ye may not know but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah shall be repaid unto you and ye shall not be treated unjustly.

REWARDS PROMISED TO THOSE WHO DIE IN JIHAD

Sura 2:154 And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: "They are dead." Nay they are living though ye perceive (it) not.
Sura 3:157 And if ye are slain or die in the way of Allah forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all they could amass.
Sura 3:170 They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah: and with regard to those left behind who have not yet joined them (in their bliss) the (martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear nor have they (cause to) grieve.
Sura 3:195 And their Lord hath accepted of them and answered them: "Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you be he male or female: ye are members one of another; those who have left their homes or been driven out therefrom or suffered harm in My cause or fought or been slain verily I will blot out from them their iniquities and admit them into gardens with rivers flowing beneath; a reward from the presence of Allah and from His presence is the best of rewards.
Sura 4:74 Let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter. To him who fighteth in the cause of Allah whether he is slain or gets victory soon shall We give him a reward of great (value).
Sura 4:94 Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home): unto all (in faith) hath Allah promised good: but those who strive and fight hath He distinguished above those who sit (at home) by a special reward.
Sura 4:95 Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home): unto all (in faith) hath Allah promised good: but those who strive and fight hath He distinguished above those who sit (at home) by a special reward.
Sura 9:111 Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their good; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth through the Law the Gospel and the Qur'an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme.

JIHAD AGAINST THOSE WHO CORRUPT THE LAND

Context of the verse on the killing of one person being equal to the killing of the whole world:
Sura 5:32 On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief (corruption) in the land it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear Signs yet even after that many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.
Sura 5:33 The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Apostle and strive with might and main for mischief (corruption) through the land is: execution or crucifixion of the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.