Fighting Verses in the Quran

Question and answer details
Dear Sir,I am a Muslim, and I have very kind Christian and other non-Muslim friends. Often we talk about topics of religion; and one question I get from them is this: ‘You speak of the divinity of your Book; but if you read Surat At-Tawbah verse 29, how can you claim that this comes from God (killing people of other faiths) if God is loving and so on?’I want to know what you think about this. And if so, can you give me an explanation in English of this verse?Thank you and best regards.
Shahul Hameed
Salam Mohamed,

Thank you very much for your question.

The verse you have mentioned is from Surah At-Tawbah. It says what means:

*{Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, [even if they are] of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.}* (At-Tawbah 9:29)

To truly grasp the significance of this verse, we need to understand a couple of things about the Qur’an: First, it is the collection of verses revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) in the different contexts of his life. Often, the revelation came when the Prophet actually needed divine guidance concerning a specific situation. The above verse among others, is an example of this. For this reason, knowledge of the context of revelation is absolutely necessary for the proper understanding of any verse in the Qur’an.

Surat At-Tawbah was revealed to the Prophet in a situation when the pagans were at war with the newly organized Muslim Ummah (nation); and the Muslims were fighting them for survival. One of the issues dealt with in this verse is how to treat those who break existing treaties and the Muslims, specifically, are asked to fight those who break treaties, until they were thoroughly routed or they repented and agreed to follow the conditions imposed on them, which will ultimately be for the good of all.

Jizyah is a much misunderstood tax the non-Muslims were asked to pay to the government in lieu of the Muslims’ payment of zakah. By paying the jizyah non-Muslims were guaranteed protection and rights including the right to worship as they chose, as long as they did not conspire against the Islamic authority. This can be equated nowadays to ‘nationality’ or ‘citizenship’. It is important to note that many times throughout Islamic history Christians and Jews opted to pay the jizyah and live under Muslim authority rather than the other options available to them under the various empires and ruling bodies. They knew that under Islam their humanity, rights and so on were respected and protected as long as they fell in line with the boundaries established by Islam.

Under an Islamic government, Muslim and non-Muslim citizens are free to practice their religion and both should obey the laws of the land. If the government levied a tax only on its Muslim subjects, it would be unjust, as all are equal under the government. At the same time, it would certainly be unjust to impose zakah on the non-Muslims; so a new tax called jizyah was introduced to balance the situation. All of us know that any government can legitimately ask its citizens to obey its laws; and a rebellious defiance of the laws of the land is not condoned by any government.

We should remember that the Muslims were a small band of people facing total annihilation, so the Prophet was compelled to fight for existence; for survival. He was a model for his followers even in fighting a last-ditch battle. Those who believe in “the Son of God who was betrayed, bound, beaten, and crucified” obviously have difficulty in accepting a fighting prophet, who, with righteous indignation, stands up for truth and justice. Islam does not believe in a God Who was tortured, killed and left helpless to be defeated by his enemies! Where is the mercy of God, when He demands the sacrifice of an innocent person to atone for the sins of others? Can He not choose to forgive mankind Himself without exacting retribution?

Islam is a very practical religion that encompasses all aspects of human life then and now. Therefore, when the Muslims were organized for the first time into a community in those lawless times, there had to be laws governing matters of social organization, and even rules for battle. We cannot imagine a situation where fighting is completely ruled out either. Let us examine the verse in question with the foregoing in mind. The immediate context of the above verse is that of a “war in progress” and not a general directive. It was an attempt to motivate Muslims to defend themselves. It was in view of the extreme danger the Muslims were facing, that they were permitted to fight in the first place. The Qur’an says what means:

*{To those against whom war is made, permission is given [to fight], because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid;- [They are] those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- [for no cause] except that they say, "our Lord is Allah”. Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his [cause];- for verily Allah is Full of strength, Exalted in might, [Able to enforce His will].}* (Al-Hajj 22:39-40)

*{Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter…}* (Al-Baqarah 2:190-191)

It is clear from the above verses that when Muslims fight, it must be for truth and justice. Furthermore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) instructed his followers to maintain the utmost discipline even in battles, including avoiding injury to the innocent and using only the minimum force needed.

Even a cursory study of the Qur'an must convince an objective student, that Islam does not permit, condone or promote violence. On the contrary, it abhors violence and allows it only in self-defense, and certainly not to obtain oil and other forms of material wealth. Those who blame the Qur’an for permitting the Muslims to fight can turn the pages of the Bible and see how Joshua at Jehovah's command: “left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded” (Joshua 10:40).

I hope this answers your question.


Useful Links:

Violence in the Qur’an

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