Assertions that Islam exhorts its followers to be violent against non-Muslims are voices that are part of a rising cacophony of vicious criticism of the Qur'an. One can read and hear a whole range of negative opinions about this issue in the media. Few have taken an in depth look at the issue.
What does the Qur'an actually say about violence against non-Muslims? Does it say what these assertions claim it does? Does it say that it is the religious duty of Muslims to kill infidels?
But first some basic principles about reading and understanding the Qur'an. After all, studying the Qur'an is not exactly like reading Harry Potter. Like any other scripture there are rules that may be followed for a proper understanding of the text.
Muslim scholars suggest that those who read the Qur'an should keep at a minimum the following principles in mind. First, the reader should have an awareness of the inner coherence in the Qur'an. As the verses are connected to each other, the reader should study at the least, the preceding and following verses for a sense of the immediate context. Also the reader should look at all of the verses that deal with the same subject in the book. These are frequently scattered all over the scripture. The indices provided in many of the exegeses of the Qur'an as well as the books of concordance allow the reader to get this information relatively easily. Often there is information available about the occasion of revelation, the historical context, of a particular verse. This requires at least a cursory knowledge of prophet Muhammad's life. As Professor Fazlur Rahman of the University of Chicago would frequently point out, the Qur'an, in part at least, may be looked upon as a running commentary on the mission of Prophet Muhammad. Finally Qur'anic scholars advise us to analyze the way Prophet implemented a particular directive in a verse of the Qur'an in his own life and ministry. For all Muslims Prophet Muhammad was the ultimate exemplar of the Qur'an and its living embodiment.
Let us examine the verses in question with these exegetical principles in mind. One of the verses says "put down the polytheists wherever you find them, and capture them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them at every ambush" (Koran 9:5). The immediate context, as Muhammad Asad (The Message Of The Qur'an) points out, is that of a "war in progress" and not a general directive. It was an attempt to motivate Muslims in self-defense.
Muslims were given permission to defend themselves around the time of Prophet Muhammad's migration from Makkah, where he grew up, to the city of Madinah where he spent the rest of his life. This occurred in the 13th year of his 23-year mission. The danger to Muslims in Makkah at this time was extreme and there was a real possibility of their total eradication. They were permitted to fight back in self-defense against those who violently oppressed them.
"Permission is given (to fight) those who have taken up arms against you wrongfully. And verily God (Allah) is well able to give you succor. To those who have been driven forth from their homes for no reason than this that say 'Our Lord is God." Qur'an goes on to add, "Hath not God repelled some men by others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of God is ever mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down." (Qur'an 22: 39-42)
On another occasion Qur'an says, "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but don't transgress limits; for God loves not the transgressor." The verse goes on to say "And fight them on until there is no more oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression."(Qur'an 2: 190-193)
Muslim scholars are of the opinion that war is permitted in self defense, when other nations have attacked an Islamic state, or if another state is oppressing a section of its own people. When Muslims were to fight a war they had to maintain great discipline, avoiding injury to the innocent and use only the minimum force needed. Striking a blow in anger, even in battle, was prohibited. The prisoners of war were to be treated in a humane fashion. However, this is only a part of Jihad that Muslims are allowed to practice. A greater Jihad is struggle against one's own inner self.
The word Jihad comes from the root Arabic word "Jahd," which means to struggle or to strive. It is understood by piety minded Muslims as a positive, noble and laudatory term. That is how most apply it in their personal, social, political and military lives. The history of the Muslim rulers, on the other hand, gives us examples of those who attempted to sanctify their wars of personal aggrandizement as wars for a noble cause by applying the label Jihad to them. A few even named their war departments as the departments of Jihad. This kind of behavior may be likened to a politician's attempt to wrap him in the flag. Such exploitation of the term should not be allowed to corrupt the original or the commonly understood meaning of the word, which is to strive for the highest possible goals, struggle against injustice and practice self denial and self control to achieve the moral purity to which all piety minded people aspire.
The "holy war" concept, for which many non-Muslims use the word Jihad, is foreign to Islam. Rather, it comes from a concept first used to justify the Crusades by the Christian Church during the middle Ages. The concept of "holy war" may even go back to the time when the emperor Constantine the Great allegedly saw a vision in the sky with the inscription on the cross, "in hoc signo vinces" (in this sign you will be the victor). The Arabic term, as has been pointed out by scholars, for "the holy war" would be al-harab al-muqaddas, which neither appears in the Qur'an or the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Hadith). Prophet Muhammad's wars were defensive wars against groups who sought to eradicate Islam and the Muslims.
It is interesting and useful for social scientists or philologists to study how the meaning and usage of words differ in different communities. Ironically the word "crusade," because of its association with the crusades in the middle ages, should have had a pejorative sense to it and yet the word has acquired an ennobled meaning in the West. This in spite of the fact that the Church itself, along with most historians, acknowledge the injustice of the Crusades and the atrocities done in the name of faith. On the other hand, the word "Jihad" which means for Muslims, striving for the highest possible goal, has acquired the negative connotation of the holy war.
It is clear from even a cursory study of the Qur'an that Islam does not permit, condone or promote violence. Just the opposite, it abhors violence and allows it only in self-defense. A claim to the contrary is no more than bad fiction.
The critics of the Qur'an should remember that if the Bible were similarly quoted out of context, it would appear to be an extra ordinarily violent scripture. I will leave Graham and Robertson to defend the violence in the Bible and the history of Christianity.
Javeed Akhter is the Executive Director of The International Strategy and Policy Institute. His latest book is titled "The Seven Phases Of Prophet Muhammad's Life." This article was originally published on August 19, 2002.
An-Nisa, Chapter #4, verse #90 in Mohsin Khan translation, "...So if they withdraw from you, and fight not against you, and offer you peace, then Allah has opened no way for you against them." This verse has guided the fact that muslims should be in the defensive role in fighting. Or in other words, if the opponents cease in fighting with muslims, they should not retaliate.
Even though the word, fight, is mentioned in the Quran and An-Nisa, Chapter #4, verse 90 has restricted fighting to be in defensive role, Allah only granted his permission to fight to apostles instead of to muslims people nowadays. Other than his apostles, he demands them not to shed blood or even cutting down trees as mentioned in Sahih Bukhari,(Book #3, Hadith #104), ""(that)...SO ANYBODY WHO HAS BELIEF IN ALLAH AND THE LAST DAY (i.e. a muslim) SHOULD NEITHER SHED BLOOD IN IT NOR CUT DOWN TREES...ALLAH GAVE PERMISSION TO HIS APOSTLE, BUT HE DID NOT GIVE IT TO YOU...."
Let's conclude the right teaching of Quran. No doubts the Quran mentions the word, fight, numerously, it has no value nowadays since the word, fight, could only be applicable to his apostles instead of to muslim people nowadays. Not only that, the word, fight, for the apostles in the past was only meant for defensive role.
If all the word, fight, in the Holy Quran is meant to demand muslims to slaughter non-muslims, there should not be any reason for muslims to rescue the children of Israel as mentioned above?
From the above, it gives the ironical proof that the interpretation from muslim terrorists to treat the word, fight, as fighting against non-muslims is erroneous or else Allah would call his apostles to fight against the children of Israel instead of saving them.
Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #40, "O Children of ISRAEL! Remember My Favour which I bestowed upon you..."
Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #47, "O Children of ISRAEL!..."
Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #122, "O Children of ISRAEL! Remember My Favour which I bestowed upon you and that I preferred you to the 'Alamin [mankind and jinn (of your time-period, in the past)]."
The paragraph below even conveys the message that Allah even ordained children of Israel not to do this or that:
Al-Maeda, Chapter #5, Verse #32, "Because of that We ordained for the CHILDREN OF ISRAEL that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind..."
The above verses show that Allah was not against Israel. A question has to be raised: Should muslims be against non-muslim people?
Your article was very educative. I wish the fanatics in the ummah would also read it and know that the jihad they claim to be fighting is not islamic.
You are trying to conclude that the foundation of the Muslims rests upon injustice. You are totally wrong. The foundation of Muslims rests upon the quran and the teachings of the prophet. In those you will not find any injustice. It does not rest upon the actions of a few wrongdoers. It is true that many rulers who were Muslim committed acts which were not Islamic. Their actions have nothing to do with Islam. Do not view Islam and Muslims through the actions of a few. If you do this, then it can be turned around upon you. I could say that the Jewish world rests upon a foundation of injustice because of Ariel Sharon's actions.
Understanding the history of Palestine, it is understandable that many extremists would arise to the cause. I feel for them, and pray for them daily. They are misguided and desperate and we have many people just like that in this country as well.
correspondence. Last word are that the
Understanding Muslims will have to be more
vocal and active in playing their role about
Islam and not be bystander. Other people
should also be mor e understanding.
Many thanks for your reply. First at the outset please accept my apologies that my writing conveyed that Islam promotes violence.
I am however glad that you mention the central problem facing Islam - The hijacking of Islam by radical elements. All the killings undertaken by Islamic militants around the world from Indonesia to Africa have been justified by leading clerics of Islam by specifically qouting the Holy Koran and the Sunnah.
This use of Islamic teachings or as per your reply mis use of Islamic teaching is the handiwork of Islamic scholars and Imams thus it needs to be fought by key Islamic leaders and Imams, outsiders like me cannot do anything.
Key Imams in the Gulf states need to prove to the muslim ummah by weight of theology that Usama, Mullah Omar and other like them are wrong in interpreting Islam and its teaching.
Dear Sir, I would be glad to read and pass it on to all of my non muslim friends (we all can read arabic script) a discourse by the Imam of Mecca and Medina that would without doubt prove that killing by islamic militants of women and children cannot be justified.
Sir it has to be somebody of the stature of the above Imams I mention who can dispel the notion that links Islam and violence. It needs to be in arabic and meant not for non muslims but for the muslim ummah.
thanks once more for pointing out the other web site I have visited it and find it quite useful.
May God Bless you and help continue the wonderful work of this great meeting place of Islam - that is this web site.
I do not disagree a bit regarding muslims
killing muslims and others but in the name of
Islam as propagated by the fanatic frustrated
muslim cleric's teaching. This does not mean
that it is Islam that teaches these killings. Mr.
Manjit singh may kindly read " Challenging
ignorance on islam in www.arab news.com by
searching the article and the article now
running in Islamicity '"Does Islam promote
violence" both written by non muslims. Hindus
killing Muslims in India is not the teaching of
hinduism either. There fore let us not judge
the religion by the acts of followers but judge
the followers according to the teaching of the
I agree with Dr Habib as the communal element. However the statistics as published by the UN highlight that more Indian muslims (Muhajirs according to pakistan) have been killed in Pakistan than in India.
Also it needs to be kept in mind that the militants in Jammu and kashmir routinely kill women and children in fact 70% of all people killed in militant attacks have been women and children and they are all kashmiri's. In the end it is kashmiri's killing fellow kashmiri's.
I can point to the similar senseless killing of civilians by islamic militants around the world eg Indonesia (Aceh), Phillipines (Jolo), Jinyang (China), Kasmir (India), Afghanistan (under Taliban), Chechnya (Russia), Alabania, Suicide bombers in Israel. Dr Habib what you find here is that Islamic militants are in conflict with tribals, Christians, communists, hindus & Buddhists, orthodox, Catholics, Jews. How come the only common thread is Islamic militancy?
You would have seen Basia's comments? I can vouch that they are 100% valid and the silence of Islamic scholars and justification of the deeds by some is breathtaking in its arrogance and naivety and as per this article against the Holy Koran.
I however must congartulate the developers of this wonderful site that allows us to debate in the true spirit of Islam. many congratulations!
It is not Islam that forced individual to butchery
but the communal hatered in India
that exists specially fueled by the existing
government - an ever un ending saga of
India's division. It has now engulfed the
No, Islam doesn't Promote Violence, Islam is a very pieceful Religion..............................i fully Agree with it.................
status in their field are examples of those who
does not have the vision to look at a matter
with open mind. It is wisdom to examie facts
as they appear and before a final opinion is
made one should sit down and discuss the
matter of other faith, which they hate so much,
with scholar of other faith. Such remarks may
be quoted from bible out of context to form
similar opinion, Thanks to many christians
whose work defends Islam, Send this
message to them.
Good article. Now, pull your head out of the sand, swallow your Islamic PRIDE and take a good long look at reality.
We all know that Islam does NOT promote violence...but it is something that IS promoted by Imam's and is VERY popular language between Muslims everywhere...especially Pakistanies and Arabs.
Pat Robinson and Frank Graham are not exactly wrong are they???
Yes, I know I am a muslim and we are NOT supposed to cover the truth and LIE.
there are passages in the bible that, taken out of context, give the impression that such acts are permissible. Read if you will:
17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
14 The Israelites carried off for themselves all the plunder and livestock of these cities, but all the people they put to the sword until they completely destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed. (If it was good for the Israelites wouldn't it be good for us?)
1 Sam 15
. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy  everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.' " (Guess who's saying this: Samuel the Prophet to Saul, God's anointed. Should we follow this example?)
Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes
Want to try the New Testament?
"I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence. (Luke 19:26-27)
"Do not think that I have come to send peace on earth. I did not come to send peace, but a sword. I am sent to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Matthew 10:34-35)
This should be enough I think. Yes my friend, even the Bile can be quoted out of context.
"Passages in the Bible tell the faithful to slaughter unbelievers until there are no more, to kill their livestock, women and to even tear unborn babies from the wombs of their mothers."
Where does it say that? It says in Hosea 13:16 that "Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.". This is a prophecy, not a command, though.
Is something similar mentioned elsewhere in the bible, or are you hypocritically taking part in what you are accusing christians of, namely, trying to interpret someone else's religion?
Please address issues like Plastine, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Also why not address that American policies and actions are real causes of all the turmoils around the globe. The impirial ampitions of America, its unconditional support of Zionist state, and its propping up every single dictator that serves American interests are the real causes of all the violence in the Muslim World; and those issues are ones that need to be addressed, not nonsense propogated by the American Christian right.
First, I take insult not only when Christians attempt to define Jihad for me but when they compare verses on war in the Quran to verses on war in the Bible. I have not read the Torah so I cannot, in good faith, comment on that scripture. As for the Bible, however, there are numerous passages entailing stories of gore and slaughter. Passages in the Bible tell the faithful to slaughter unbelievers until there are no more, to kill their livestock, women and to even tear unborn babies from the wombs of their mothers. NOWHERE BUT NOWHERE in the Quran is this kind of incitement to violence found. I apologize if I have offended anyone but open the King James Version of the bible and read for yourselves. Please, do not compare the Quran, in its' reference to war, to the bible.
My second point is that I take insult when non-Muslims attempt to explain an Islamic concept to me. No thank you. I know what Jihad means, I grew up in the noble cause and perform it everyday in my life. So I don't need the likes of Pat Robertson or George Bush to tell me what Jihad is. I don't tell you which concepts in your religion are correct or incorrect, so please don't attempt to explain MY RELIGION TO ME! Yes, I am angry. Angry at the patronization Muslims are being forced to listen to in the name of political correctness. It is just another attempt by secularists to whitewash issues and side step the real reasons behind the difficult state of the world today.