Verses about War and the Interpretation Thereof

Verses about War and the Interpretation Thereof

After seeing the definition of war in the Qur’an, let us now examine the verses about war that are misused by some radicals and used for criticism of Islam by some opponents of Islam:

Examination of Verse 191 of Surat al-Baqara:

Kill them wherever you come across them and expel them from where they expelled you. Fitna [sedition, strife] is worse than killing. Do not fight them in the Masjid al-Haram [the Sacred Mosque] until they fight you there. But if they do fight you, then you also fight them. That is how the unbelievers should be repaid. (Qur’an, 2:191)

This verse is one that was sent down after Muslims were subjected to severe pressure and violence and were forced to migrate from Mecca to Medina. The conditions we discussed in detail above came about and Muslims received the command to defend themselves against direct attacks. They used the methods of that community, which never stopped oppressing them, that refused to heed pleasant words and that turned a deaf ear against all calls to peace or negotiation, against it.

However, the verse also contains a reminder of the rules of war: “Do not fight them in the Masjid al-Haram until they fight you there. But if they do fight you, then you also fight them.” As we have seen, the only condition for fighting is for the other side to have attacked first. If they do not wage war, if they do not attack, then it is absolutely unlawful for Muslims to fight idolaters.

It is of course very suspicious how the radicals and opponents of Islam who distort this verse ignore this rather important provision. The verse explicitly grants Muslims only the right to self-defence: The verse is not therefore commanding warfare and aggression.

Another important element in the verses is revealed as follows: “Fitna [sedition, strife] is worse than killing.” Inciting communities, encouraging hatred, spreading hatred, anarchy and terror by engaging in slander and outright falsehoods thereby producing hostile masses of people is fitna, and the verse tells us that fitna is worse than killing; thus, the communities that attack Muslims are the ones that engage in actual, psychological and covert fitna and the harm they do is very great. Muslims naturally defend themselves when their aggression rears its head.

The way that some fanatics are taken in by hearsay or superstition and declare individuals, societies or faiths to be spreading fitna and then seek supposed evidence for their perversions from verses of the Qur’an is exceedingly wrong. Fitna involves actions that will lead to corruption, such as spreading division among Muslims, leading them into loss and sin by inflicting all kinds of troubles on them, then establishing the infrastructure for mass rebellions and engaging in physical and verbal assaults on Muslims. Therefore, in order to be able to accuse someone of fitna, they have to have committed one or more of these actions. Those who seek to accuse the members of another sect, or especially Jews or Israel by branding them as engaging in fitna thus fly in the face of this verse.

According to the Qur’an, it is a sin to accuse all Jews or Israel of engaging in fitna. People who spread fitna may emerge from any religion or country. Yet in the same way that it is impossible to brand all Arabs, Turks or Muslims as spreaders of fitna simply because there are some Arabs, Turks or Muslims who engage in fitna, there is also no question of branding all Jews or all Israelis as spreaders of fitna. According to the Qur’an, a Muslim can dine in the home of a Jew, can be his guest and friend, and can even marry a Jewish woman (this will be clarified in detail in chapter “The Outlook of Islam on the People of the Book”). That being the case, it is impossible for a Muslim to unconditionally brand a Jew as a spreader of fitna. People who make such sweeping claims know nothing of the Qur’an, as we said at the beginning, and are acting out of ignorance resulting from being raised under the influence of countless fabricated hadiths regarding fitna and the Jews. The position of the People of the Book according to the Qur’an will be examined in due course in later chapters.

Examination of Verses 89, 90 and 91 of Surat an-Nisa’:

They would like you to be unbelievers as they are unbelievers so that you will all be the same. Do not take any of them as friends until they have emigrated in the Way of God. But if they run away then seize them and kill them wherever you find them. Do not take any of them as either a friend or helper – (Qur’an, 4:89)

Except for those who seek shelter with people with whom you have a treaty, or who come to you greatly perturbed at the prospect of fighting either you or their own people. If God had willed, He could have given them the upper hand over you and then they would have fought you. If they keep away from you and do not fight you and submit to you, God has not given you any way against such people. (Qur’an, 4:90)

You will find others who desire to be safe from you and safe from their own people. Each time they are returned to fitna they are overwhelmed by it. If they do not keep away from you or submit to you or refrain from fighting, seize them and kill them wherever you find them. Over such people We have given you clear authority. (Qur’an, 4:91)

These verses refer to hypocrites. They say they are Muslims, live among Muslims and appear to be one of them, but actually harbour a great hostility toward God and Islam, and seek to stab Muslims in the back. God reveals that those who die as hypocrites are cast into the lowest circle of hell. As can be seen, because of its two-faced and treacherous nature, hypocrisy is an especially dangerous and despicable human model, quite unlike the deniers or the polytheists.

It is forbidden in verse 89 of Surat an-Nisa’ to adopt hypocrites as friends, those who abandon Muslims and who strive to make Muslims fall into the same perversions as themselves. What justifies fighting against them is the state in which the hypocrites in question engage in physical attacks on Muslims. We can see this from the verse that follows, verse 90. As is clear from the words “If they keep away from you and do not fight you and submit to you,” there is nothing to be held against a community that does not engage in attacks. The community the killing of which is permitted is quite clearly one that has declared war on Muslims first. Muslims are clearly given the right to defend themselves in the face of attacks here.

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In addition, verse 90 of Surat an-Nisa’ is another manifestation of the just, forgiving and affectionate language that always favours peace, of the Qur’an. Some hypocrites, who until then had always stabbed Muslims in the back and betrayed them but who later adopted a peaceful attitude toward Muslims are also immune, as we can see from the words; “Except for those who seek shelter with people with whom you have a treaty, or who come to you greatly perturbed at the prospect of fighting either you or their own people.” In the same verse God says, “If they keep away from you and do not fight you and submit to you, God has not given you any way against such people,” again emphasizing their immunity. This is the very definition of justice.

Verse 91 contains a situation described on the basis of the same conditions. Hypocrites who repent and who say they do not want to fight later return to fitna and begin attacking Muslims again. In that event, the provision regarding war is recalled in the Qur’an, saying that these people are not to be touched as long as they do not attack, but that if they do, then self-defence is legitimate.

We need to remember that the situation described in the verse was a specific one that came about during the Battle of Uhud and concerns those hypocrites who engaged in treachery on the battlefield.

Examination of Verse 5 of Surat at-Tawba:

Then, when the sacred months are over, kill the polytheists wherever you find them, and seize them and besiege them and lie in wait for them on every road. If they repent and perform their prayers and pay alms, let them go on their way. God is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur’an, 9:5)

In order to understand the conditions in the above verse we need to start reading from verse 1 of Surat at-Tawba; in that way we see that the polytheists deserving to be counter-attacked are not “all polytheists” but those perpetrating savage attacks on Muslims and who then come to agreements in order not to fight during the sacred months. The polytheists here are the ones who have cunningly tried to hunt Muslims down and have continued to attack them during the sacred months and have taken Muslims’ lives, although they have made a fair agreement with Muslims and they very well knew that Muslims would not enter into a war during the sacred months.

Under these conditions, Muslims are given the right in this verse to defend themselves against savage attacks. As shown in the verse, although the polytheists carried out their savage attacks in the sacred months, Muslims did not respond during those months, as commanded by God. They exhibited patience during those months and only began defending themselves once the sacred months were over. We also see that the verse describes the method that needs to be adopted in defence: seizure, siege and lying in wait on all roads. The primary conditions in wars based on international law are siege and seizure. The passages required for the siege are taken and held and the other side is thus prevented from moving. This verse therefore described the method adopted and now regarded as legitimate under international law. The only difference is that it is not Muslims doing the attacking; they are simply trying to put an end to the attacks against them.

There is also no question in this verse of engaging in any fight against those who stop their attacks and repent. They must be released; that is explicit.

When we look at the very next verse, we find a very important statement that describes the loving and protective spirit of the Qur’an. This verse eliminates all the claims made about Muslims by the opponents of Islam. The verse reads:

If any of the polytheists ask you for protection, give them protection until they have heard the words of God. Then convey them to a place where they are safe. That is because they are a people who do not know. (Qur’an, 9:6)

Through this verse, Muslims are advised to help a polytheist who has taken shelter with them and seeks their help, even if that endangers their own lives. The verse even suggests that such a Muslim should use himself as a shield to protect such polytheists. To put it another way, he has a responsibility to risk his own life to protect someone who denies God and to carry him to safety.

This is what the Qur’an commands. According to that commandment, someone is not to be killed for not believing in God. On the contrary, he must be protected, even at the cost of Muslims’ lives. Therefore, the justification for war has nothing to do with whether the other side believes in God or not or belongs to another faith. The justification for war is that the other side engages in assaults and torture, and takes people’s lives.

Another fact set out in the verse is that all people will be under the protection of Muslims so long as they do not attack or engage in extreme behaviour, irrespective of their religion, language, ethnicity or beliefs. A Muslim has a responsibility to protect the People of the Book, or an atheist or a communist, in the same way that he does other Muslims; this is a requirement of being a Muslim; this is the description of a Muslim in the Qur’an. If someone says, “I am a Muslim,” he must be protective of others.

Examination of Verse 13 of Surat at-Tawba:

Will you not fight a people who have broken their oaths and resolved to expel the Messenger, and who initiated hostilities against you in the first place? Is it them you fear? God has more right to your fear if you are believers. (Qur’an, 9:13)

This verse is another of those that show the commandments regarding fighting in the Qur’an. When a polytheistic community that had come to a truce with Muslims – in other words, that lived in peace with them as required under those agreements – broke that truce and started attacking, when they tried to force our Prophet (pbuh) to leave his own land and go into exile and when, as the verse explicitly states, they initiated hostilities, Muslims had the right to fight back against them.

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Examination of Verse 33 of Surat al-Ma’ida:

The subject we have particularly stressed in all the verses about warfare is also noticeable in this verse. The characteristics of the community to be fought against are set out in great detail here: They wage war on God and His Messenger and go about the world corrupting it. These people do not merely engage in physical attacks on Muslims; they also spread corruption across the world. The verse is speaking of a community that represents a problem for the whole world, that everyone regards as a perverse, corrupt and warlike society.

As in all wars, killing is possible in resisting a community that has actively declared war on Muslims, so long as it is a last resort, and one of the measures that can be imposed is to force those people from their lands. To put it another way, according to the verses of the Qur’an, Muslims are permitted to do things that would normally be forbidden – such as killing and forcing people into exile – only in the event of such a state of war.

Examination of Verse 57 of Surat al-Anfal:

So if you come upon such people in war, make a harsh example of them to deter those coming after them so that hopefully they will pay heed. (Qur’an, 8:57)

We also need to assess this verse in the light of the perspective and evidence we have been looking at in detail. It must not be forgotten that the Medinan period when some verses were sent down was a time of intense fighting. This was purely the result of injustice perpetrated against Muslims “who were expelled from their homes without any right, merely for saying, ‘Our Lord is God’…” (Qur’an, 22:40) as stated in one verse. Moreover, as the verse goes on to say, “If they keep away from you and do not fight you and submit to you, God has not given you any way against such people.” Muslims have a responsibility to stop the fighting and not to insult the other side when it does come to an end.

Looking at a few verses before verse 57 of Surat al-Anfal, we see that communities with which Muslims had reached agreement are being referred to. As almost every verse that gives permission for legitimate self-defence states, these communities are ones which had broken their truce with Muslims and then immediately attacked them.

It is important to produce a deterrent force in the face of that community which engages in one attack after another, refuses to listen to reason and creates corruption by constantly breaking peace agreements because once that is done, those communities that have become accustomed to spreading corruption will no longer have the strength to do so and other groups of polytheists preparing to follow their lead and create corruption and start attacking will thereby lack the courage to do so. This is a necessary and important precautionary measure against that community that breaks every peace treaty, and one that will prevent subsequent conflict.

Great importance is attached to sanctions being “deterrents” in the constitutions of just about all countries of the world and in international law. The aim is to prevent an offense being committed by the same or another person. These precautions in international law are extremely appropriate, and it is unjust, as well as a violation of both common sense and fairness, for people who regard them as necessary for states of law to oppose the same measures when it comes to Islam.

Examination of Verse 4 of Surah Muhammad:

Therefore when you meet in war those who are unbelievers strike their necks. Then when you have decimated them, tie their bonds tightly and set them free or ransom them, until the war is finally over. That is how it is to be. If God willed, He could avenge Himself on them. But it is so that He can test some of you by means of others. As for those who are killed in the Way of God, He will not let their actions go astray. (Qur’an, 47:4)

As with other verses, what this verse is emphasizing is the presence of a climate of war. The treaty has been broken, the polytheists have gone on the offensive and there is now no alternative but to respond to that aggression. What this verse is describing is the international rules of warfare. In addition, it also describes something that is not applied under the international rules of warfare: the release of prisoners as soon as the fighting is over. Yet, prisoners of war are still being held in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba even though the war in Afghanistan is over, and organizations such as the U.N. and NATO regard this as legitimate. But the Qur’an does not regard that unlawfulness as legitimate: In the view of Islam, all prisoners must be released as soon as the fighting is over.

The verses concerning war are clearly describing defensive wars under the conditions of the time, being waged solely against polytheists and hypocrites who initiate hostilities and spread fitna and corruption. The main reason why these verses are misinterpreted and used for the policies of rage and hatred of the radicals is that hundreds of false hadiths have been added to Islam and the false perspectives of some analysts. Yet the Qur’an needs to be read with a pure and enlightened mind, purged of all false hadiths and other superstition. When considered in the light of the reality of war at that time, the meaning of these verses is crystal clear.

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