By Samuel Green


When we see the Taliban and Islamic State fighting each other, and other Muslim groups attacking Muslims, how are we to understand this? No doubt there are various issues involved. This article considers how the Qur'an and Sunnah contribute to Muslims fighting each other, then, it considers what the prophets teach us about this situation.

The Qur'an

In the Qur'an there are commands for Muhammad to make war on certain Muslims.

O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah, and give up what remains (due to you) from usury (interest), if you are (in truth) believers. And if you do not, then be warned of war (against you) from Allah and His messenger. And if you repent, then you have your principal (without interest). Wrong not, and you shall not be wronged. (Qur'an 2:278-279)

The context of the above verses is that some Muslims wanted to get the interest that was owed to them before they became Muslims. They are warned that if they seek this interest then Allah and Muhammad will make war on them. We see a similar command in 9:73.

O Prophet! Strive [Jihad] against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey's end. (Qur'an 9:73)

The context here is that Muhammad is calling the Muslims to Jihad. Some of the Muslim tribes did not want to fight, therefore, they are called hypocrites and Muhammad is to fight against them until they join the Jihad.

In sura 33 certain Muslims are called hypocrites and threatened with war if they continue to question Muhammad's moral and military judgement.

If the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and the alarmists in the city do not cease, We verily shall urge you on against them, then they will be your neighbours in it but a little while. Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter. (Qur'an 33:60-61)

In sura 49, Muhammad is commanded to fight Muslims until they "return unto the ordinance of Allah".

And if two parties of believers fall to fighting, then make peace between them. And if one party of them does wrong to the other, fight that which does wrong till it return unto the ordinance of Allah; then, if it return, make peace between them justly, and act equitably. Lo! Allah loves the equitable. (Qur'an 49:9)

In sura 66, those Muslims who questioned what Muhammad was doing are called hypocrites and were to be treated harshly.

O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be stern with them. Hell will be their home, a hapless journey's end. (Qur'an 66:9)

In summary, the Qur'an commands true Muslims to use whatever force is necessary against Muslims who do not follow all of Islam.

The Sunnah

Muhammad commanded the true Muslims to make war on those Muslims who did not stop using alcohol.

Narrated Daylam al-Himyari: I asked the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and said: Apostle of Allah! we live in a cold land in which we do heavy work and we make a liquor from wheat to get strength from it for our work and to stand the cold of our country. He asked: Is it intoxicating? I replied: Yes. He said: You must avoid it. I said: The people will not abandon it. He said: If they do not abandon it, fight with them. (Abu Dawood 3683; bk 26, no 3675)

Muhammad commanded the true Muslims to destroy the mosque of the hypocritic Muslims mentioned in sura 9:107.

The owners of the mosque of opposition had come to the apostle as he was preparing for (to attack) Tabuk, saying, "We have built a mosque for the sick and needy and for nights of bad weather, and we should like you to come to us and pray for us there." He said that he was on the point of travelling, and was preoccupied ... and that when he came back if God willed he would come to them and pray for them in it. When he stopped in Dhu Awan news of the mosque came to him, and he summoned Malik b. al-Dukhshum ... and Ma'n b. `Adiy ... and told them to go to the mosque of those evil men and destroy and burn it. ... and then the two of them ran into the mosque where its people were and burned and destroyed it and the people ran away from it. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 609; also Al-Tabari, vol. IX, pp. 60-61)

Some Muslim scholars use this example of Muhammad as justification for their own destruction of "hypocritical mosques".

We also derive from this story the permissibility of burning places of sin and disobedience, as the Prophet burnt Masjid Ad-Dirar (the Mosque of Harm); and it is incumbent upon the Imam to destroy it, either by demolishing it or burning it, or by altering its shape and changing its function. And if that was the case regarding Masjid Ad-Dirar, then the shrines where Shirk is practised should with all the more reason be destroyed and likewise the houses of the wine merchants and those who do evil deeds; Umar burnt down a whole village in which wine was sold. And he burnt down the palace of Sa'd when he secluded himself in it from the people and the prophet intended to burn down the houses of those who did not attend the Friday prayer or the congregational prayers; and the only thing which prevented him was the presence therein of persons whom it was not obligatory (i.e. women and small children). (Imam Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah, Provisions for the Hereafter (Mukhtasar Zad Al-Ma'ad), p. 429)

This seems to explain why we see Muslims, who consider themselves "the true believers", destroying the mosques of other Muslims.

After Muhammad died, Abu Bakr also made war on the Muslims who stopped paying the zakat (tax).

Narrated Abu Huraira: When Allah's Apostle died and Abu Bakr was elected as a Caliph after him, some of the Arabs reverted to disbelief. Umar said to Abu Bakr, "How dare you fight the people when Allah's Apostle said: I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and whoever says: None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, saves his wealth and his life from me unless he deserves a legal punishment justy, and his account will be with Allah!" Abu Bakr said, "By Allah, I will fight him who discriminates between Zakat and prayers, for Zakat is the compulsory right to be taken from the wealth by Allah, if they refuse to give me even a tying rope which they use to give to Allah's Apostle, I would fight them for withholding it." Umar said, "By Allah, it was nothing, except I saw that Allah had opened the chest of Abu Bakr to the fight, and I came to know for certain that was the truth." (Sahih al-Bukhari 7284; vol 9, bk 92, no 388)

Muhammad's war on Muslims

These references show that the Qur'an and Sunnah command faithful Muslims to make war on Muslims who do not obey all of Islam's teaching. This is an important aspect of Jihad: Jihad includes fighting Muslims. This teaching is also the basis for takfir which is the practice of one Muslim declaring another Muslim a hypocrite or unbeliever.

A clear line of demarcation has been drawn between the hypocritical “Muslims” and the true Muslims, and instructions have been given regarding the treatment that should be meted out to the hypocrites. (S. Abdul A`La Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, vol. 2, p. 229)

Jihad is not just against non-Muslims; it is also against Muslims. This is why the Taliban, Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other groups attack Muslims. They believe they are the true Muslims and that other Muslims are hypocrites and guilty of taqfir. They believe it is their duty to fight them until they accept every aspect of their version of Islamic law (shariah).

This Islamic war against Muslims has existed since the time of Muhammad. Non-Muslim countries did not start this war, and they cannot stop it. When non-Muslim countries support Muslim leaders who do not implement every aspect of Islamic law they have taken a side in this war whether they realise it or not.

Living with this command

The Qur'an and Sunnah commands the "rightly guided" Muslims to make war on those Muslims who do not obey all of the Islamic law. This command comes from a right desire to see God exalted in every area of life and to have all things ordered by his word. The problem is that no one can be trusted to have this type of power.

When certain Muslims believe they are the "rightly guided" ones and they impose their will on other Muslims, it leads to tyranny, corruption, and the forced worship of God. Many Muslims in the world suffer because of those Muslims who believe they are "rightly guided". This command for the "rightly guided" Muslims to fight other Muslims is a complete disaster for Islam and everyone else. It leads to suffering and God's name being mocked in the world.

Why does this command fail to work?

God's kingdom

Through the prophets God demonstrated and explained, long before the time of Muhammad, that humans cannot be trusted with such power. The history of Christianity and Islam shows that whenever Christians or Muslims have tried to force others to keep God's law it has failed.

Humans cannot bring God's rule to this earth because we are all sinful and fail.

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:22-23)

Who can say, "I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin"? (Proverbs 20:9)

So know [O Muhammad] that there is no god save Allah, and ask forgiveness for your sin and for believing men and believing women. (Qur'an 47:19)

The Promise of the Messiah

Since there is no one who can truly bring God's government to the world, God has promised to send the Messiah.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Isaiah 11:2-5)

The Messiah is our only hope. Yet, in spite of God's clear teaching about the Messiah, Muhammad recited that "rightly guided" Muslims are to make war on other Muslims. This is the opposite of what the prophets and the Gospel say. It is not how God wants his people to establish his rule on earth; it just repeats the failure of those who have attempted this in the past.


It is right and proper for us to want to see all of life lived for God and everything ordered by his word, but we must do this God's way and not our way. God's way is to send the Messiah and he calls upon us to follow the Messiah now. Pray that God will help you follow the Messiah.

Almighty God, you are the true and living God.
I confess that I have not lived your way and that I need your help.
Thank you for sending the Messiah.
Please help me now to follow the Messiah and learn from him.

Start learning from the Messiah by reading a gospel and then all the prophets.


Imam Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah, Provisions for the Hereafter (Mukhtasar Zad Al-Ma'ad), Riyadh: Darussalam, 2003.

S. Abdul A`La Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, Lahore: Islamic Publication, 6th ed., 2007.

Al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, vol. IX, "The Last Years of the Prophet" (trans: Ismail K. Poonawala), Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1990.

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Last updated 20 Febuary 2024.

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