The title of this post is a question often asked these days. The so-called experts on Islam seem to almost concur on some link between Islam and violence. Though it's hard to exonerate any of those experts from a political agenda or sometimes a pure hatred for Islam and/or Muslims, it still remains a valid question that every Muslim should be able to answer for himself or herself and for others. Does Islam condone violence? Is Islam to blame for the rise of terrorist activities? Even if we're able to clear the name of Islam, clearing Muslims from it is another challenge.
In our times, the saying, “not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim,” has almost become a cliché. While we Muslims know this is not true, and some Muslims go to the extent of proving so by citing examples from the KKK to Timothy McVeigh, we still owe an answer to ourselves and to others. To me, whether non-Muslims are involved in terrorist activities or not is irrelevant, and certainly does not justify Muslims being involved in terrorist activities. Another weak argument is to say that only a small percentage of Muslims are involved in terrorist activities. To me, no small number is small. Some of those so-called experts would have us believe that it's that small number of extremists who are following the literal injunctions of the Qurʾān while the mainstream Muslims are being apologetic and are involved in acts of deception and double-talk, perhaps in attempts to dissemble and deceive (in Muslim terminology, practicing Tuqya) the non-Muslim masses. In this short article, I will try to address some of those Quranic passages.
Perhaps the most often quoted verse of the Qurʾān is from chapter 9, verse 5:
فإذا انسلخ الأشهر الحرم فاقتلوا المشركين حيث وجدتموهم
“When the four forbidden months are over, then wherever you encounter the idolators, kill them!”
This verse seems to give an open license to kill all pagans or non-believers, without any restrictions. It is important for us to understand that Islam came to establish the rule of law and vehemently fought anarchism. Islam did not invent war. War has existed since the beginning of the human race. Islam came to regulate war. This is why you find clear injunctions given by Prophet Muḥammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) to his commanders to not kill non-combatants such as women, children, monks, the elderly, etc. Once the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) saw a dead woman in the battlefield and he made his objection clear and forbade the killing of women and children:
عن ابن عمر رضي الله عنهما أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم رأى امرأة مقتولة في بعض مغازيه، فأنكر قتل النساء والصبيان. متفق عليه
“Ibn Omar narrated that the Prophet saw a woman killed in one of the battles, so he forbade the killing of women and children.” [Bukhāri and Muslim]
Some might ask, but what about some other narrations that may imply the permissibility of killing women and children, at least if they happen to be in the wrong place or if they get in the way? One of those narrations goes like this:
عن الصعب بن جثامة رضي الله عنه قال سئل رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم عن أهل الدار يبيتون فيصيبون من نسائهم وذراريهم فقال هم منهم. متفق عليه
Sa'b bin Juthamah narrated that the Prophet was asked about night raids where women and children could be killed by mistake and he said “they are from them” [i.e. you don't intend to kill them but they may be killed in the process since it's hard to discern them from fighters. See Subul as-Salam hadith# 1296].
Here understanding the setting of these narrations is key. For example, ibn Hibban narrated the Hadith of Sa'b above and added:
ثمّ نهى عنهم يوم حنين
“Then he [the Prophet] forbade the killing [of women and children] on the Day of Hunayn.”
This shows that the absolute prohibition of killing women and children abrogated any earlier narrations that may indicate otherwise. Scholars may argue when exactly this prohibition took place. Ibn Hajar argues it was during the Battle of Hunayn:
ويؤكد كون النهي في غزوة حنين …فقال لأحدهم: “الحق خالدا فقل له لا تقتل ذرية ولا عسيفا” فتح الباري، كتاب الجهاد والسير، أهل الدار يبيتون
“What confirms the fact that the prohibition occurred during the Battle of Hunayn is that the Prophet sent for Khalid to inform him not to kill any minors or contractors [i.e. non-combatants].” [See Fat'h al-Bari, the Book of Jihad, the Chapter of Night Raids]
However, imām at-Tabarani narrated in his Awsat that the prohibition occurred during the Entry of Mecca:
أخرج الطبراني في الأوسط من حديث ابن عمر قال: لما دخل النبي مكة أُتي بامرأة مقتولة فقال “ما كانت هذه تقاتل” ونهى عن قتل النساء
“Narrated Ibn Omar, when the Prophet entered Mecca, a killed woman was brought to him and he said, 'She was not fighting,' and he forbade the killing of women.”
Regardless of when exactly the prohibition took place, it's clear that it did occur toward the end of the Prophet's life. Both the Entry of Mecca and the Battle of Hunayn occurred in the 8th year of Hijrah.
But, what about verse 9:5? Here, we have to observe the context of the verse. Many people who quote this verse rarely take the time to check the verses that immediately precede or come afterward, which makes you wonder if they're sincere in trying to understand the context properly. But leaving intentions aside, it's incumbent on any serious truth-seeker to look beyond one verse and try to understand it in light of other verses. First, looking at the immediate context, we see that verse 13 of the same chapter mentions a few reasons for this particular war declaration.
ألا تقاتلون قوماً نكثوا أيمانهم وهمّوا بإخراج الرّسول وهم بدؤوكم أوّل مرّة
“How could you not fight a people who have broken their oaths, who tried to drive the Messenger out, who attacked you first?” [Taubah 9:13]
This verse mentions people who initiated hostilities, who drove the Prophet and the believers out of their homes (referring to the forced migration to Madīnah), and who broke their pacts (referring to the Treaty of Hudaybiyah). Verses 8 and 10 mention those who have total disregard to ties of kinship and to contracts.
لا يرقبون في مؤمن إلاّ ولا ذمّة
“…They respect not the ties, neither of kinship nor treaty…” [Taubah 9:8]
It's clear here that Islam is not waging war against all pagans or non-believers. Looking at the historical context, the Prophet didn't understand this verse to mean the killing of all pagans. For example, when the conquest of Mecca took place, the Prophet issued a general pardon to all its inhabitants, who were not only pagans but also those that had fought him for the longest time, and regarding whom many of those verses had been revealed.
Looking at other verses of the Qurʾān allows us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of war and peace in Islam. Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta'āla) reminds us in verse 8:61 that if enemy combatants show any inclination toward peace, then it's incumbent on us to show a similar inclination. Verse 2:190 tells us to fight only those who fight us and not to commit any act of injustice or transgression. But, then you have the clever so-called expert on Islam come and say well all those verses are abrogated and only the Verse of the Sword applies. The Verse of the Sword, of course, is nothing but verse 9:5 discussed above. The answer to this claim is that it simply is not true. Consider for example the following verse. Verse 60:8 states that God does not stop believers from offering the best forms of treatment to those who didn't fight them:
لا ينهاكم الله عن الذين لم يقاتلوكم في الدين ولم يخرجوكم من دياركم أن تبرّوهم وتقسطوا إليهم إنّ الله يحبّ المقسطين
“Allāh does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought against you for your faith or driven you out of your homes. Allāh loves the just.” [Al-Mumtahina 60:8]
It's very interesting that the Qurʾān uses the word Birr, which encompasses all acts of good, to describe dealings between Muslims and the vast majority of non-Muslims. This verse should set the record straight on whether Islam is behind terrorism. According to this verse, not only is the killing of innocent people forbidden, but extending best treatment to such people is an obligation. But is this verse abrogated? Not according to the most prolific exegetes (scholars ofTafseer) of Islam. At-Tabari, after mentioning various opinions about the verse, says that the most correct opinion is that this verse is general and applies to all who “didn't fight us”, without any exceptions.
At-Tabari also asserts that this verse is not abrogated:
وَلَا مَعْنَى لِقَوْلِ مَنْ قَالَ : ذَلِكَ مَنْسُوخ
“The statement that this verse is abrogated has no merits.”
Al-Qurtubi also asserts that this verse still applies (i.e. not abrogated), according to the vast majority of Muslim exegetes.
Both al-Tabari and al-Qurtubi lived at a time when Islam was a super-power, so no one can argue that they were involved in any exercise of double-talk or mass-deception in order to appease their non-Muslim counterparts!