The Verse of the Sword

Category: Life & Society

Since September 11,a number of columnists and pundits have publicly proclaimed that, contrary to what Muslims might tell you, the Quran is full of verses calling upon the faithful to take up arms against the "infidels." The most popular verse quoted is the fabled "Verse of the Sword": "Fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them:seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)." (9:5) On the surface, this verse seems toconfirm Islam's perceived intolerance of non-Muslims. It may even lead one to conclude that all the talk about Islam being a religion of "peace" is a ruse, and that the real Islam is the violent, repressive faith practiced by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Hold your horses. When the verse is studied in its proper context, it is quite clear that Islam is indeed as tolerant and peaceful as Muslims say it is.

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Anyone with sinister intentions can quote a verse of scripture out of context to seemingly prove a point.

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From the very beginning of his mission, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was violently opposed by his people. The Meccans turned to violent torture and repression of Muhammad and his companions to try to muffle his message. Muhammad himself survived several assassination attempts. After ten years of hardship, the Meccans finally expelled the Prophet to Medina, a city 200 miles to the north. There, the inhabitants of Medina accepted Islam, and it became the first Islamic city-state with the Prophet Muhammad as its spiritual and political leader. While in Medina, the Meccan pagans did not relent their hostilities against the Muslims. Now, however, many surrounding tribes also became hostile to Islam and joined in the Meccans' fight. Several battles were fought against the Muslims. These tribes also attempted to assassinate the Prophet on several occasions, as the Meccans tried a decade earlier.

It is in this violent context that verse 9:5 was revealed. The commandment to "slay the pagans wherever you find them" in verse 9:5 speaks of the hostile Arab tribes surrounding Medina. At every given chance, these tribes attacked the Muslims and killed as many of them as possible for no just cause. Frequently, columnists and pundits who try to smear Islam quote verse 9:5 incompletely and out of context. The full verse reads as follows: "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them: seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent,establish regular prayers, and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: forGod is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful." If one reads on in the ninth chapter, the reasons of "slaying the pagans" is clearly outlined: "Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and took the aggressive by being the first (to assault) you? Do ye fear them? Nay, it isGod Whom ye should more justly fear, if ye believe!" (9:13) When sincere scholarship and exegesis is applied, itbecomes quite clear that verse 9:5 is one of self-defense andnotacarte blanche to kill all non-believers, as some would want us to believe.

In fact, the principle of fighting in Islam is self-defensive: "To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged; and verily,God is most powerful for their aid; (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, 'our Lord is God'. If God did notdefend one set of people by means of another, thenmonasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name ofGod is commemorated in abundant measure, would surely have been destroyed..." (22:39-40) However, Muslims are commanded not to be aggressive: "Fight in the cause ofGod those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; forGod loveth not transgressors." (2:190) In addition, whenthe enemy inclines toward peace, Muslims are commanded to cease hostilities: "But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God. for He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things)." (8:61) You see, Islam is a religion of peace. The guiding principle of Islam with respect to non-Muslims is one of tolerance and mutual respect: "God does not forbid you from dealing kindly and justly with those who do not fight you for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes: forGod loveth those who are just." (60:8)

Anyone with sinister intentions can quote a verse of scripture out of context to seemingly prove a point. This has been done for centuries by Christian extremists. Take this passage fromI Corinthians: "For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man." (I Corinthians 11:8-9) Can I conclude that Christianity is a sexist religion that seeks to oppress women? Of course not. However, the same is done with Islam. Its Holy Scripture is misquoted or quoted out of context, and false conclusions are made using those misquoted verses. Such insincere and disingenuous scholarshipis wrong and has no place in America today.

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Hesham A. Hassaballa is a member of the Independent Writers Syndicate. He is also a physician and resides in Chicago.



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