What the Qur'an Really Says About Violence

Part 2

[ Read Part 1 first. ]

Error 5

Now, however, many surrounding tribes also became hostile to Islam and joined in the Meccans' fight.


This is another misleading statement. Arab society was "tribal" and at times they did fight amongst themselves. But, if any one group of people were considered violent, it was the Muslims. Why? Because it was Muhammad and the Muslims that broke a sacred trust amongst the Arabs and attacked, plundered, enslaved and murdered other Arabs during a time of year, (the "Sacred Months"), of recognized, and expected, peace among all Arab tribes.

As mentioned above, not long after Muhammad arrived in Medina he sent his men out to attack and plunder other people’s goods. However, among the Arabs in the area there were four months that were considered "sacred". It was during this time that no warfare was permitted. One of the reasons for this was to allow commerce so that the Arab people could have a livelihood.

However, during one of the sacred months, one of the Muslim’s raids, attacked a caravan and murdered a caravan attendant, stole the goods, and enslaved other attendants. This created an outcry among many Arabs, even amongst the Muslims! The Muslims were seen as villains for transgressing a sacred time. And how did Muhammad react when confronted with his crime? He claimed to get yet another "revelation" from Allah allowing him to make war upon, murder, enslave, and plunder non-Muslims. Here is the verse from the Quran:

Sura 2:216, 217.
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.
217. They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: "Fighting 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.

One of the great Islamic scholars, Baidawi, commented on this verse:

In this case the more specific (that is, the prohibition against fighting during the month of Rajab) would be abrogated by the general (that is, the general command to kill the unbelievers).

Baidawi was a famous Quranic Exegete of the Shafi’i school of Islam. He was so esteemed that he is known as "The Judge" in reference to Quranic commentary. You can find his comments in Helmut Gätje’s book, "The Quran and its Exegesis", Oneworld, Oxford, England, 1997, [7] (at Amazon.com.

So Muhammad was saying that it was indeed allowable for the Muslims to make war upon non-Muslims, even during a time when the other Arab tribes were working together to live in peace.


Error 6

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.


Hassaballa may have lumped the actions of 8 years together in one statement. I prefer that we should focus on specific incidents and their respective contexts.

Since Hassaballa mentions assassinations, I think it fair to examine the assassinations Muhammad had carried out. Muhammad had many people murdered. For example, Muhammad had a 120 year old Jewish man, Abu Afak, assassinated simply because the man doubted Muhammad’s claim to prophethood.

Quoting from Guillaume’s "The Life of Muhammad", page 675:

"Who will deal with this rascal for me?"

During the night a Muslim murdered Abu Afak as he slept. Quoting from the Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, volume 2, page 32:

"... so he placed the sword on his liver and pressed it till it reached his bed."

You can read more about this murder here: http://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/abu-afak.htm

Not long thereafter Muhammad had a mother of 5 children assassinated for a similar reason. Her name was Asma. Some of her children were still in infancy. Muhammad asked his men to murder her. Quoting from "The Life of Muhammad", page 676:

"Who will rid me of Marwan’s daughter?"

During the night a Muslim crept into her home and stabbed her to death while she slept in bed with her children. Quoting from the Tabaqat, volume 2, page 31:

"He thrust his sword in her chest till it pierced up to her back. Then he offered the morning prayers with the prophet at al-Medina. The apostle of Allah said to him: "Have you slain the daughter of Marwan?" He said: "Yes.

You can read more about Asma’s murder here: http://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/asma.htm

Muhammad killed far more non-Muslims than his enemies killed Muslims. In Medina the Muslims took the place of the Meccans as the oppressors. And I want you to know that Muhammad had many other people murdered.


Error 7

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.


Hassaballa is off target here. Hassaballa states that this verse was revealed in connection with Pagan Arab tribes surrounding Medina allying themselves with the Meccans to make war upon the Muslims. Again note that he has not provided any references.

For example, the chronology of this verse is mentioned in Yusuf Ali’s Quran, one of the more popular English Qurans. Ali states page 435, that verses 1-29 were revealed during the month of Shawwal, A.H. 9, and read by Ali out loud to the various pilgrims in Mecca two months later to give Muhammad’s new policy a wide hearing. Muhammad had conquered Mecca in A.H. 8, a full year prior.

But better detail is available from the early Muslim historians. They document the chronology and context behind verse 9:5. Quoting from Ibn Ishaq, pages 617 – 619: (The Quranic verses are in bold)

A discharge came down, permitting the breaking of the agreement between the apostle and the polytheists that none should be kept back from the temple when he came to it, and that none need fear during the sacred months. That there was a general agreement between him and the polytheists; meanwhile there were particular agreements between the apostle and the Arab tribes for specified terms. And there came down about it and about the disaffected who held back from him in the raid on Tabuk, and about what they said (revelations) in which God uncovered the secret thoughts of people who were dissembling. We know the names of some of them, of others we do not. He said [1] "A discharge from God and His apostle towards those polytheists with whom you made a treaty," i.e. those polytheists with whom you made a general agreement. "So travel through the land for four months and know that you cannot escape God and that God will put the unbelievers to shame. And a proclamation from God and His apostle to men on the day of the greater pilgrimage that God and His apostle are free from obligation to the polytheists," i.e., after this pilgrimage. So if you repent it will be better for you; and if you turn back know that you cannot escape God. Inform those who disbelieve, about a painful punishment except those polytheists with whom you have made a treaty," i.e. the special treaty for a specified term, "Since they have not come short in anything in regard to you and have not helped anyone against you. So fulfill your treaty with them to their allotted time. God loves the pious. And when the sacred months are passed, He means the four which he fixed as their time, "then kill the polytheists wherever you find them, and seize them and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. But if they repent and perform prayer and pay the poor-tax, then let them go their way. God is forgiving, merciful. If one of the polytheists, i.e. one of those whom I have ordered you to kill, asks your protection, give it him so that he may hear the word of God; then convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know."

Prior to this "revelation" of chapter 9, Muhammad had several different "agreements" with various Arab tribes. Some of these agreements were for a specified time. Others were general agreements allowing the Pagans to visit the Kaba (the large Pagan shrine in Mecca), and perform their religious rituals. Some of these tribes were peaceful with the Muslims. Allah gave Muhammad a "revelation" allowing him to break all these various agreements, either immediately, or later. Thereafter he would attack all Pagans following the four sacred months. He would keep those treaties that were for a specified time with tribes that were on friendly terms. However, once those times were complete, a state of war would be in place.

I want to present a series of quotes from a Quranic commentary, the "Tafsir of Ibn Kathir", volume 4, [8]. Ibn Kathir was one of the greatest Islamic scholars of all time. His works are used throughout the Islamic world today. You can purchase his Tafsir here.

On verse 9:5, page 375: (words in ( ) brackets are mine).

"But if they repent and perform the Salah, and give the Zakah, then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful"

Abu Bakr As-Siddiq used this and other honorable Ayat (verse or passage) as proof for fighting those who refrained from paying the Zakah. These Ayat allowed fighting people unless, and until, they embrace Islam and implement its ruling and obligations.

On verse 9:5, page 376:

So when the sacred months have passed… meaning, "Upon the end of the four months during which We prohibited you from fighting the idolators, and which is the grace period We gave them, then fight and kill the idolators wherever you may find them…

On verse 9:5, page 377:

This honorable Ayah was called the Ayah of the Sword, about which Ad-Dahhak bin Muzahim said, "It abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolater, every treaty, and every term." Al-Awfi said that Ibn Abbas commented: "No idolater had any more treaty or promise of safety ever since Surah Bara’ah was revealed.

Sura 9:5 is not focused only on the Arab tribes surrounding Medina. Instead it deals with all non-Muslim Arab tribes with whom Muhammad had treaties or general agreements. This verse commands Muslims to make war upon non-Muslims.


Error 8

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 practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."


If one wants to understand the context of a passage of the Quran one should read the entire passage and any supporting background information. This is where the biographical work of Ibn Ishaq and the historical work of Tabari come in. They detail the context or background for this passage’s "revelation"… We’ve just seen that it allowed Muhammad to break all treaties, even with peaceful tribes.

Now notice what these Pagans must do in order to be safe: repent, pray, give to religious charity. What Muhammad is saying in 9:5 is that these people must convert to Islam or be killed! That is why Ibn Kathir wrote:

Abu Bakr As-Siddiq used this and other honorable Ayat as proof for fighting those who refrained from paying the Zakah. These Ayat allowed fighting people unless, and until, they embrace Islam and implement its ruling and obligations.


Error 9

If one reads on in the ninth chapter, the reasons for "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 is God Whom ye should more justly fear, if ye believe!" (9:13) When sincere scholarship and exegesis is applied, it becomes quite clear that verse 9:5, and all others similar to it, is one of self-defense and not a carte blanche to kill all non-believers, as some would want us to believe.


Because Hassaballa has missed the context for this verse HE does not see that this passage is for both defensive and offensive measures. 9:5 is primarily offensive in nature. Note how the Muslims are told to wait before going on a campaign to attack the Pagans, (when the sacred months are over… then go!).

Take a look at the root of Muhammad’s faith regarding violence. From the Hadith of the Sunan of Abu Dawud, Book 14, Number 2635, [9]:

Narrated Anas ibn Malik:
The Prophet said: I am commanded to fight with men till they testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is His servant and His Apostle, face our qiblah, eat what we slaughter, and pray like us.

Muhammad believed that God had told him that to fight, (and kill), all non-Muslim peoples until they ceased in believing in other Gods, became Muslim, or paid extortion, (more on that later).


Error 10

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...If God did not defend one set of people by means of another, then monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure, would surely have been destroyed..." (22:39-40)


Hassaballa asserted at the beginning of his article that the context of a passage must be known in order to understand the Quran. I agree. But Hassaballa has disregarded the context of the passage he quotes, probably because he does not know it.

The verses Hassaballa quotes are part of the previously mentioned, "Order to Fight", which we have discussed. This order to fight is primarily defensive, but is also offensive. Again, here is where the context of the passage comes into play. The verse Hassaballa omitted from the chronological revelation is 2:193, and it commands Muhammad to fight non-Muslims until they cease from believing in Pagan Gods. The entire passage allows for defensive and offensive war against Pagans.

Further, there are later Quranic passages that command violence against all non-Muslims, whether they be Christian, Jew, Pagan, atheist, etc. More on this later.


Error 11

In addition, when the enemy inclines toward peace, Muslims are commanded to cease hostilities: "But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace" (8:61).


Again no context references provided by Hassaballa. Most scholars say that chapter 8 of the Quran was spoken about the Battle of Badr, which occurred in 2 A.H. If this verse is about that battle, I’ll note that it was Muhammad that started the war with the Meccans by attacking and robbing their caravans. Doesn’t sound like someone was really interested in peace does it? I would think that the only reason Muhammad wanted to incline towards peace was when he felt he was outgunned.

Further, Muhammad instructed the Muslims to make war upon non-Muslims as discussed above and below.

Finally, when it came to war with the Muslims having the upper hand, this is what Muhammad commanded the Muslims to do:

Therefore do not falter or sue for peace when you have gained the upper hand. God is on your side and will not grudge you the reward of your labors. (47:35)

Muhammad was telling the Muslims to keep fighting their opponents and defeat them. That way they will be able to plunder their goods (the spoils of war were their "reward of your labors")

>> Continue with Part 3: Errors 12-14 & Conclusions >>

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