Does Islam Promote Violence?

Category: Faith & Spirituality Topics: Islam, Jihad, Quran, Violence Views: 13190

A common falsehood about Islam that continues to be promoted is that Islam exhorts its followers to be violent against non-Muslims. There are many prominent voices in the West 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 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" (Qur'an 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.

Javeed Akhter is the Executive Director of The International Strategy and Policy Institute.

  Category: Faith & Spirituality
  Topics: Islam, Jihad, Quran, Violence
Views: 13190

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Older Comments:
It i a fact that Islam does not promote violence or terrorism. I will not deny that there are verses about fighting and killing in the Quran but these were revealed in a certain situation and hence are to constrained to those situation. Plus, like any other book you can not take one line out and say that this is what the entire book says. You need to read it all to get a clear view. Most of the verses about violence are followed by verses that explain in what situation it is permitted. Please read the following article to find out more :

i just so the article about death its so wonder article , but very bad feelings when u hear some one ho die thx a lot about the webside its perfect

may i ask u something all of u ho is non musllim did u ever read koran if not read pls and see how the holly book say about violenc its not tolerat but pls don't say nothing if u don't read first after u red u can say what u mean pls pls thx u a lot

Islam, i.e., the Qur'an, like all religious texts is sufficiently ambiguous that essentially any interpretation can be supported. It is the powerful among the various believers who determine the meaning of the religion as far as others, the non-Muslims are concerned. The current news demonstrates how the religion is being interpreted by a significant number of Muslims. As others here have stated, the most relevant consideration is whether the moderate Muslims are speaking out against violence and whether they are supporting or opposing the violence espoused by the "extremists". If Islam is truly being hijacked by the violent branch of the faith, why do we not hear outrage from the others who are supposed to be in the majority? Why have the peaceful ones not expelled the radicals from the Madrassas, why do they allow their children to be inspired to violence against non-Muslims? All religion suffers from the same problem. Anyone can twist such writing to suit their purposes, as our re-born Christian president has demonstrated yet again. We are fortunate in this country to believe in the principle of the separation of church and state. Because of this principle, religious dogma does not control our country (as of now). As an atheist, I accept the right of others to believe whatever they choose so long as they keep it to themselves. All religions are self-serving institutions struggling for power and control over others, too often themselves controlled by the most evil among them.

Wow! Some people are inter-posting from Netscape.

For those who need help in understanding my faith and its connection to "violence," it'll be a good start to go to your local library and do some comparative literature.

IF you're too lazy and prefer the internet (like me) go to google video and type in Hamza Yusuf and just watch the video that gets one's mind going.

Salaam to my brothers and sisters.

"Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form." - Maulana Rumi

Moderate muslims are killed by extremist and are afraid to confront them. Therefore, their religion is run my the extremists. Sooner and not later, they will kill all of us or be killed in trying.

If Islam abhors violence where is the condemnation of all Muslim leaders to terrorist violence between fellow muslins in Iraq? Sorry I just don't but the whole religion of peace routine. I've been there and saw it first hand.

What can you say? Muslim's can deny all they want that Islam does not promote violence,but, if one is honest, and one studies history, or, just watches the evening news for the past 25 years or so,there is no question that the people who are perpetrating the most shocking acts on human beings (flying jets into the WTC, cutting off heads of living people, blowing up cafes, bombing innocent people on buses/trains, murdering school children in Russia, terrorizing the Phillipine country side, cutting off school girls heads "for revenge") are Muslims who follow the dictates of their religion. To deny that FACT, and then to say all of this insane, barbaric, murderous, anti-human behavior is not somhow connected to the ISLAMIC RELIGION they follow, AND its dictates, to deny all of that is somehow connected to the religion is like denying the ocean's tides are moved by the moon above. Islam is inherently violent. From its beginning to its end, ... Islam, and the fatalism and lack of critical thought it MANDATES to its followers is the most ugly and dangerous thing in the world today.


I understand that Islam does not promote violence, according to my definition of violence. Islamic terrorists for example are unIslamic because I, as a follower of Jesus my Lord, know that Islam teaches not to kill innocent people. It does teach to fight those who are hostile to Muslims, but not to kill innocent people in the process.

I don't follow what the media emphasizes about Islam, but I follow what the Qur'an and Sunnah says about Islam before coming to conclusions. One of the things that bothers me that is bad about Islam is that the Sunnah teaches that apostates can be put to death if they don't return to Islam within the prescribed time period. That is a doctrine which the Bible does not teach. It is true that Islam is tolerant of other religions in the sense that they can live among Muslims as long as they pay the tax. However, Islam is not tolerant in the sense that in a few authentic (Sahih) ahadith (i.e. Sahih Al-Bukhari) it teaches that any Muslim who converts to another religion can be put to death if he doesn't return to Islam. In other words, Afganistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc are following true Islam by making it illegal to convert to another religion after being a practicing Muslim.

No Muslims can tell me that is not true about Islam, because that is what Sahih Al-Bukhari teaches which is considered to be the most authentic Sunnah collection among the majority of Sunni Muslim scholars around the world.

In conclusion, most Muslims are good people, worthy of respect, and they should be shown love despite all of the negative energy from all the "Muslim extremists" as they are often referred to as. However, because of this apostasty law which is part of true Islam, any Muslim who accepts Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Savior cannot live in perfect peace in an Islamic nation, unless he or she keeps his faith undercover, and only shares it with trustworthy Muslims (whom are doing wrong by not turning the apostates over to authori

>>I have no problem with your are free to practice it. However, it has no place in my society (USA). Why do you come here? Why can't muslims live in a land where they can all be Muslims? Right or wrong, Islam is not a religion that belongs in the western world.

Such rabid Islamophobia is the exact reason why anti-Islamism must be fought. Its a pathological disease on par with anti-Semtism if not worse since far more people have the potential to be affected by it.

As for John's racist claim why do we come here? I didn't "come here." I was born and bred here. A better and more relevant question is: Why did you come here John? Go back to wherever your from and leave decent Americans who value multiculturalism and resist "white supremacy" alone.

As a black lady from Comedy Central says (in 2050 when the Hispanic and African minority will be a majority) to whites, "Go back to Czechslovakia!"

Very good points. Maybe you should explain why so many violent hostile actions are perpetrated on a daily basis by Muslim men. Skip the crusades, that is ancient history. Civilized people do not murder innocent civilians. Or, maybe the Muslim religion supports it in some way you are not aware of. Why else would so much violence be spread each day throughout the world by people claiming to be muslims?

Because if Islam don't permit violence why do they do it? They kill innocent people and make all asian people have bad name as Paki

I think this article gives us an interesting insight into the matter of violence in the Quran.

I am more concerned with the way the Quran teaches that non-muslims should be treated. The whole concept of Dhimmitude seems abhorent to me.

When one considers the sharia laws that muslim countries apply to non-muslims, they are very discriminatory. Unless I am mistaken, christians for example in Algeria can be put to death for preaching christianity.

This "self defense" claim you highlight is being used by Muslims to attack innocent citizens. Self defense is a loophole through which all your peoples' violence has been justified. Has it not been Bin Laden's claim that his attacks are in self defense?

If we assume Christians and other people were converted by force on the surface, then surely they'd raise their children and practice their way of life to hold their tradionts in tact as the Jews did even under totalitarian, wholesome persecution.

If Muslims converted by force, then we wouldn't have non-Muslims migrating with their best and the brightest minds to Baghdad to study medicine, astronomy, sciences, and naval technology.

The truth is (in history books) people of the Medieval times welcomed Muslim rule over other Empirical rule because the tax (jizya) was straigtforward an Muslims didn't charge interest where many of the "Christian societies of Syria, Palestine" were paralyzed with overburdened interest payments.

Excellent article.

Indeed ancient, medieval world there was no such thing as utilitzing no force.

If that would have been the case, then there would have been no Islam because their pagan enemies would have wiped them out. That was a simple Arabian mentality: might is right.

As for conquering land, of course the Muslim empire conquered land as did all Empires do: Roman, Byzantium, Persian, Chinese. However the issue of conquering land DOES NOT equal forcing people to convert.

They are two different things. If we assume they were intolerant and converted all of their "conquered subjects" by force, in direct contradiction of the Koran (because it is God who sways hearts) then surely you wouldn't see many of those very Chrisitians still existing in the Holy Land. Furthermore, you wouldn't see them defending Islam from the pope's disengenious anti-Islamic comments. Indeed these Christians have worse history with the Roman Catholic Church (killings) than with their Muslim counterparts. That doesn't mean they don't feel discriminated against. Some blacks feels discriminated in the US but the overall Islamic criteria is simple: Let people believe what they want to believe, the truth stands clear from falsehood. If God wanted everyone to believe in Him, then would you O Muhammad (s) contest that?

There is no questioning history. Muslims living in the UK think the west is out to get Islam. So why live there? Instead, they kill thousands of innocent citizens.

The real danger is that Islam is left with no friends. Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists - all want to show how DIFFERENT they are from Muslims.

There is going to be a clash of civilizations - all civilizations against Islam.

It would seem that your greatest challenge and the true starting place is not the effort to convince the non-Muslim world that Islam does not promote violence, but instead work to convince those muslims who do react with violence. It is unfortunate that while you seek to maintain a more liberal interpretation of the Qur'an, there are many of your brothers who do not.

It seems that a prominent Christian, Jew, westerner, or secularist can not speak his beliefs about Islam openly without becoming a target. The situation with the Pope's statement is case and point. Does it come as a surprise to Muslims around the world that non-muslims do not believe Muhammed to be a prophet? Is this news to them?

I am a Christian because I have had a personal encounter with the living Jesus, not because my parents are Christian or because my culture is Christian, because it is not!
I do not hate Muslims. I pray for them and accept what they chose to believe, but I believe from the study I have done of the life and teachings of Muhammed that many Muslims will find it in his teachings to use violence as they see fit, because he (Muhammad) himself used it. Christ on the other hand never brandished a sword and anyone who hates another, harms another or kills another apart from (self-defense) can NOT call himself a disciple of Christ.

The key words are "in self defense" and the way the muslims interpret that. A cartoon, a casual quote by a pope -- these seem to be sufficient reason for violence in words and actions in "self defense". Since so many Muslims are ready to go to war when someone offers any criticism at all, we non-muslims can't help but believe that the Holy Book promotes violence. Yes it has nice words in some places, but in others just the opposite, so I guess a Muslim has to pick and choose when there are contradictions in the text. I've read the Book more than once, and if I were to take it as the literal word of God, not subject to any kind of interpretation, I'd have to be violent myself. In any event, another prophet said, "By their fruits you shall know them".


Steve. Why did you mark your comment as 'against' while you are 'for'? Unlike David who is downright alienated of Islamic issues, you are wittier and more informed, still, you misunderstood certain things.

You said:"Muslims are ALWAYS fighting someone or something they do not like or are fearfull of (cartoons or the Pope)." My question to you is, isn't anybody else doing them same thing but from a different perspective? Doesn't Bush do the same? Doesn't Canada do the same to her own people? Remember the Oka crisis, Ipperwash and Caledonia? The Muslims do things from their perspective. Singling them as irrational is not fair. Because you would support the occupation of native lands by means of force and terror, it doesn't mean that you are right and the occupied ones are wrong because they fight you and opose you. It was always like this. An imperialist or expansionist power used everything to justify its crimes and used all the propaganda means to incriminate the occupied and subjugated. Do you remember what the native Americans were called by the white invaders? They were called savages, babarians and blood-thirsty redskins! After they were reduced to the stage of submission to the white European rule, they were subjected to forced Christianization and European culture, insomuch that now they need to dig into their past to revive their identity. What a shame! What a shame that after so many massacres, still we have crisis like Oka, Ipperwash, Caledonia and still to come! So, my confused compatriot, the problem is not with Islam or any main-stream religion for that matter, nor with the people, how could the poor masses be guilty? The problem and the guilt belies with the occupiers, the imperialists, the fortune seekers, the exploiters, the crooked politicians that would bent over themselves to create a crisis, a war, a massacre, a holocaust. One nation at the time. Now is Islam, tomorrow would be something else, and the cycle continues.

Assalamualaikum wbrt and greetings to all.

I notice that there seems to be queries from other e-mail respondents writer especially the non muslims I presumed. David from Australia commented that how is it that while Islam is said not to promote violence but 100 years after the passing away of Prophet Muhammad ( peace be upon him ) the Muslims armies began their conquest of the Middle East reaching Turkey and Spain ?

I am not a historian by discipline, but the conquest began after the impasse of the first four caliphs notably Caliph Abu Bakar as Siddique, Umar al Khattab, Uthman bin Affan and Ali ibni Abi Talib ( may peace be upon them all ).

I explain it in this manner, I believe that some of those wars after the 4 caliphs were not really justified while the rest, there could be a justification. But it isn't true at all that Islam promotes violence and neither was the faith spread by the sword.

I like to take the readers to South East Asia particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, the two Muslim nations. Islam first came to Malaysia during the 12th Century AD and this was evident by the discovery of the inscripted stone containing the Sharia rules in parts in trengganu, ( a state in Malaysia ). History has it that no Muslim armies were ever sent to both Malaysia and Indonesia. It was spread through trade, the Arab traders and the Muslim merchants from Malabar province, India were stoic muslims who saw their duty as not only to trade but to spread the word of GOD among the local populace.

Today Indonesia has become the largest populated muslim nation in the world.

Look I may well say that Christianity came to Malaysia by conqest i.e during the arrival of the Portuguese, Dutch and then British but I am rational enough not to. When Muslim armies invaded the Middle East, they didn't force Islam down to anybody. In fact during the "Inquisition " period, Jews seeked protection in Islamic nations from the excesses of the Christian crusa

Yours is an interpretation which is contradicted by history.
Within 100 years of death of Muhammad the principally
Christian states of Syria, Palestine and Egypt had been invaded
and conquered by the sword. Christians had been there 600
years when Muhammad was born. By the end of the 8th Century
AD, Moslim armies had captured North Africa and Spain again by
the sword. Asia Minor (Turkey) based on Constantinople had
been a Christian kingdom since the time of St Paul. It was
conquered by the Seljuk turks in the 11th Century.
Moslim expansion into Europe continued until the 17th Century
when they were defeated at Vienna because the wet weather
made it impossible to move their cannons. Peaceful?
Despite the set backin Vienna, the Ottoman empire centred in
Turkey ruled the whole of the middle east until the end of WW I.
To conclude, your interpetation of the Koran may be borne by
the text, and it may be the true meaning of the text, the one
intended by God, but it has been contradicted by every Caliph
and those interpreters who have been able to raise Moslim
armies to achieve their ends.
Moslems who live in Western nations are free to exercise their
brand of Islam without fear of the strict punishments that afflict
their fellow belieers in the middle east. If they wish to reform the
"conquest" view of Islam which pertains among Moslems in every
non-Western nation, they should encourage a scholarship that
includes the views of that great medieval Moslim scholar al-
Farabi and his disciples, Averroes and Avicenna. Then they
should turn to Aristotle.

MOE FROM U.S.A said:

Salam, although the article is wonderful, I just think that the writer should not get very carried away in using words that are not often common. I know catering to the World is not that easy, but using simple grammar and alluding (concluding or insinuating) to the point of an article and reaching the main understanding is more efficient than using sophisticated and stylish words in where one may focus more on the word, than the actual meaning of the article. Once in a while throw in a level 400 word, but for the most part, keep it simple, please! Thanks Moe

Hello, Steve, you made a mistake in your typing. You meant to say that the problem is not with Islam, but with some people. You said "is" instead, in the first sentence. Just modify that. Thanks.

Thats funny, the most violent people on earth(westerners) pointing fingers at others. Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Bush, Blair, Olert come to mind, and the current Pope was a member of the Hitler Youth back in the day. Can you spell hypocrisy.

Yes Islam is a religion of peace, but the problem is with Islam, but with Muslims (people). Muslims are ALWAYS fighting someone or something they do not like or are fearfull of (cartoons or the Pope). All the problems we have in the world are with Muslims (Canada, USA, UK, Spain, Netherland, Middle East, India, Pakistan, Phillipine, etc...). What these people need are leaders that are not meglomaniacs who use the Koran and their greed for power to control people. We need the Muslim world to become educated. They need to learn that the Crusades ended 400 years ago - things have changed since then. They need to take responsibility for their part in the world's problems and act.

Asalaam Ulaikum.
Re recent ignorant comments by the Pope. This only goes to show how much the West (and The Pope) needs to know not only about the rest of the world but the very significant part of the world - Islam!


when you say this (we should not kill the innocent or start wars), sadly, some people nowadays, who are in the islamic world, accuse you of being traitor to islam and kafer. the quoraan ayat are more than clear, it is them who do not want to use their common sense.
May Allah lead us and them to the right way, and may Allah enlighten muslim minds, which are becoming more and more closed and angry. May Allah keep muslims away from all jahiliyyah ideas that are coming back gradually.

This explanation simply cannot be repeated enough times. It is sad that so many youngsters and uneducated folks have not been exposed to this explanation as clear and true, and thus are so vulnerable to cruel and vicious people who describe jihad and the manner of conflict in a very different way.

MashaAllah, all praise is to God. This is the true essence of Islam. I hope this true peace message reaches the hearts of non-muslims and muslims alike and bring greater understanding between the 3 Abrahamic faiths.

Capital No is the simple answer.It is only the media that is trying by all means to distort the teachings of the Prophet (S.A.W.)with the help of some prejudice Non-Muslims who see Islam as the fastest growing Religion all over the World which teaches equality of the whole humanity.So it is no wonder when you see the type of propaganda campaign against Islam and the Muslims.Despite all these people are not dapt they know the truth and In Sha Allah it will continue to spread until the arrival of Jesus Son of Mary who would come before the end of the World.Mind you He is coming back as a Muslim as all the Prophets from Adam to Muhammad Alaihis Salam were all Muslims.