We all know that an integral part of offering dawah is clarifying the misconceptions that many NonMuslims (and sometimes, even Muslims) have about Islam. However, while many of us are enthusiastic about offering dawah and battling through Islamophobia, not many of us are informed of the proofs from the Qur’an that back up the claims we know so well.
Today, the rise of Sheikh Google has made it all too easy for people, with both malignant and benevolent intentions, to arrive at completely misconstrued information about Islam, all backed up by direct quotations from the Qur’an. Like with any text, quotations can’t be lifted from the Qur’an out of context, but in addition to understanding the literary context of an ayah, it’s also important to understand the historical context of it. Knowing when and why an ayah was revealed is a crucial part of understanding its significance. As Muslims, it should be our responsibility to have this knowledge and understanding which is necessary to refute common misunderstandings.
Recently, someone asked me the question we’ve heard time and time again: What does the Qur’an say about violence in the name of Allah? Specifically, this person had been misinformed that Jihad is the practice of Extremists to eliminate “infidels,” who she had been told are Christians. Luckily for me, she had approached me over social media, so it wasn’t obvious right away that I didn’t actually have the exact answer to her question. Of course, I knew that Islam preaches peace and that verses from the Qur’an are misconstrued to show otherwise, but I didn’t actually know these ayahs by heart, and I essentially didn’t have anything except my own word to give to her, when she needed nothing short of Allah’s. So I spent the next couple of days doing research on the topic, and below you’ll find my response. It is my hope that this may prove beneficial to someone else, and that we may effectively become better da’ees.
The Qur’an doesn’t teach or advocate violence in the name of Allah. The Qur’an does talk about jihad, but jihad is the arabic word for struggle, specifically, any struggle that a believer undergoes for her/his faith. It can be something daily such as Muslim women wearing hijab or a Muslim working on making sure she/he prays five times a day, or a bigger struggle such as facing discrimination.
Unfortunately, there are a few ayahs from the Qur’an that are repeatedly misquoted by people who want to portray Islam as a violent religion. For example, a common misquotation is:
And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (9:5)
The preceding verses which provide the context here have been conveniently left out and are as follows:
[This is a declaration of] disassociation, from Allah and His Messenger, to those with whom you had made a treaty among the polytheists. So travel freely, [O disbelievers], throughout the land [during] four months but know that you cannot cause failure to Allah and that Allah will disgrace the disbelievers. And [it is] an announcement from Allah and His Messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah is disassociated from the disbelievers, and [so is] His Messenger. So if you repent, that is best for you; but if you turn away – then know that you will not cause failure to Allah . And give tidings to those who disbelieve of a painful punishment. Excepted are those with whom you made a treaty among the polytheists and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you; so complete for them their treaty until their term [has ended]. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him]. And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah . Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know. How can there be for the polytheists a treaty in the sight of Allah and with His Messenger, except for those with whom you made a treaty at al-Masjid al-Haram? So as long as they are upright toward you, be upright toward them. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him] (9:1-7).
First of all, Islam was revealed among a population of polytheists and idol-worshippers, so there is no mention of Christians here. Secondly, Islam was not welcomed with open arms. Despite the fact that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions were peaceful in their spread of Islam, they were persecuted to such an extent that they were forced to leave their city of Makkah and travel to Medina, where they were finally welcomed and eventually Islam began to prosper from there. During this time, there was a treaty between the Muslims and the Pagan Arabs, but the Pagans broke the treaty. These verses were revealed by Allah as a response to the breaking of the treaty, allowing 4 months for amending the treaty, after which those who broke the treaty may be punished. Before calling this out as an act of Islamic violence — I want you to consider that this how the world works, countries make peace treaties, and if either side breaks the treaty, war breaks out. But the verses go on to detail to act with mercy and forgiveness and to continue to treat well those who treated the Muslims well. Even to the point that there is the specific verse, And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety (9:6), which details that despite it all, if one of the opposers were to even request protection, then the Muslims were obligated by the will of God to protect them. They were only permitted to fight those who would fight them.
Another common verse that people take out of context is:
And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. (2:191)
In context, the verse reads:
Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah . But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors. [Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him. (2:190-194)
Here, it is explicitly given that Muslims are only permitted to resort to violence if they are attacked and oppressed first and only to the same extent that they have been attacked, and that even then, they must stop the fighting as soon as the other side stops, regardless of whether or not differences have been settled. All this verse does is give Muslims the ability to stand up for themselves, which is a universally acknowledged right for any people, while also maintaining strict guidelines to be merciful and choose peace whenever possible.
As for your point about “infidels” being Christians, Islam acknowledges both Jews and Christians as “people of the book.” We all believe in one God, and we believe in both the Torah and Bible to be revelations of God, and as Christians see the Torah as the Old Testament and the Bible as the New Testament, Muslims see the Qur’an as the final & complete testament. God tells us clearly, The [Muslim] believers, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians – all those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good – will have their rewards with their Lord. No fear for them, nor will they grieve. (2:62)
Again, I hope that this explanation is enlightening, and if there is any good in any of what I have written, it is from Allah alone, and if there is anything incorrect, it is from me, and you have my sincerest apologies in advance.