Muhammad: a Man of Violence or a Man of Peace?

Question and answer details
I am saddened by the sad situation that exists between Islam and the 'people of the book'. I recently started reading the Quran and see the respect that Muhammad had for the 'people of the book'. So what went wrong? I understand why Muhammad condemned the Jews that worshiped the Golden Calf but he also says that there are 'many many good people of the book'. From what I have read so far I find it hard to believe that Muhammad would have condoned the violence of 9/11 and the suicide bombings etc that are done in the name of Islam. An explanation would be much appreciated.
Jasser Auda

Salam (Peace) Dear Tom,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

I first greet you with the Islamic greeting: Peace be with you. This greeting indicates, first of all, that Islam is a religion of peace.

Regarding the relationship between Muslims and the ‘People of the book’, what the Quran had mentioned about them is what every Muslim takes for matters of belief. I will basically quote the Quran to make the following few points:

God made it part of true belief to believe in the message of Moses (peace be upon him), and all Prophets, and that there is ‘guidance and light’ in the Torah. God said in the Quran verse 5:44:

{Verily, it is We (God) who bestowed from on high the Torah, wherein there was guidance and light. On its strength did the prophets, who had surrendered themselves unto God, deliver judgment unto those who followed the Jewish faith; and so did the [early] men of God and the rabbis, inasmuch as some of God's writ had been entrusted to their care; and they [all] bore witness to its truth. Therefore, [O children of Israel,] hold not men in awe, but stand in awe of Me; and do not barter away My messages for a trifling gain …}

God also said that Jesus (peace be upon him) is merely following footsteps of earlier prophets who preached the Torah, and that Jesus’ Gospel was also ‘guidance and light’ as translated in verse 5:46:

{And We caused Jesus, the son of Mary, to follow in the footsteps of those [earlier prophets], confirming the truth of whatever there still remained of the Torah; and We vouchsafed unto him the Gospel, wherein there was guidance and light, confirming the truth of whatever there still remained of the Torah, and as a guidance and admonition unto the God-conscious}

In the same context, Muhammad was told in verse 5:48:

{And unto thee [O Muhammad] have We vouchsafed this divine writ, setting forth the truth, confirming the truth of earlier revelations …}

So, earlier revelations are all part of God’s revealed truth. However, God made it clear in the Quran that ‘People of the Book’ are not one homogeneous entity. Like the followers of every religion, there are good people and there are otherwise which is shown in verses 3:113-116

{[But] they are not all alike: among the People of the Book there are upright people, who recite God's messages throughout the night, and prostrate themselves [before Him]. They believe in God and the Last Day, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and vie with one another in doing good works: and these are among the righteous. And whatever good they do, they shall never be denied the reward thereof: for, God has full knowledge of those who are conscious of Him. [But,] behold, as for those who are bent on denying the truth - neither their worldly possessions nor their children will in the least avail them against God …}

But in any case, Muslims are ordered to deal with all People of the Book in the best terms. Even arguing with them should be in the ‘best manner’ as illustrated in verse 29:46:

{And do not argue with the People of the Book otherwise than in a most kindly manner…}

The Quranic message with the People of the Book is a message of peace. Here are God’s commands in verse 60:8:

{… show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably.}

However, the next verse 60:9 states:

{God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards those who fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid [others] in driving you forth: and as for those [from among you] who turn towards them in friendship; it is they, they who are truly wrongdoers!}

So, therefore, the issue is not the religion of Moses or Jesus, which every Muslim confirms to their truth. The issue is whether the ‘People of the Book’ will accept good faith and friendship or will ‘drive you forth from your homelands.’

But there is always hope. The message of peace is still valid if there is an intention of peace. I will quote the Quran once more, in verse 8:61 says:

{But if they incline to peace, incline to it as well, and place your trust God: verily, He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing!}

However, the next verse 8:62 states:

{But should they seek but to deceive thee by their show of peace - behold, God is enough for thee! He it is who has strengthened thee with His victory and by giving thee believing followers.}

Now, regarding 9/11 and similar attacks on innocent people, yes! I agree with you that Muhammad would have never condoned such acts.

In one of the battles, when Muhammad (peace be upon him) saw an old woman who was killed by Muslim soldiers, he shouted in anger: ‘Why was she killed?! Was she a fighter? She does not look like a fighter! Why was she killed?!’

So, as a Muslim, this is a lesson for me to differentiate between combatants and innocent civilians, even in the middle of a battle field, let alone in peaceful cities and communities.

May God promote the voices of wisdom from all sides in order to bring about peace.

I hope this helps address your concern.


Useful links:

Harming or Respecting People of the Book

Proof that Muhammad Was a Prophet

Was Muhammad Really a Man of Peace?

About Muhammad