Quran and violence 3: Jihad, idolaters and infidels

Rohit Dhankar

(Continued from part 2)

What I have posted so far, including this post, is open to some serious charges of deliberate misinterpretation and/or bias. Some of them could be: (i) Particularly fundamentalist translations are used. (ii) The verses are cherry-picked, and those which show Quran in better light are ignored. (iii) Quotations are given almost without any analysis. And, (iv) that the verses supposed to be revealed in particular context are presented as universal principles. I will deal with these charges in the next post (tomorrow), because some material (by the way of examples) is needed before one can make any case on these issues.

Jihad, idolaters and infidels

Verse 2:190 states “And fight in the Way of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors.” [NQ] This is a much debated verse. Some emphasise “fight in the way of Allah”, indicating fight for religious purposes. Others remind “those who fight you, but transgress not”; therefore, it is a verse sanctioning fighting a defensive war.

The explanation offered by Noble Quran [NQ], however, clearly sides with the first interpretation. NQ’s explanation is worth quoting in full. First, it states that “[T]his Verse is the first one that was revealed in connection with jihad, but it was supplemented by another (9:36)”. We will have a look at 9:36 presently. But before that the meaning and importance of Jihad should be understood as per NQ: “Al-Jihad (holy fighting) in Allah’s Cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry) is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars (on which it stands). By Jihad Islam is established, Allah’s Word is made superior, (His Word being La ilaha illallah which means none has the right to be worshipped but Allah), and His Religion (Islam) is propagated. By abandoning Jihad (may Allah protect us from that) Islam is destroyed and the Muslims fall into an inferior position: their honour is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim, and he who tries to escape from this duty, or does not in his innermost heart wish to fulfil this duty, dies with one of the qualities of a hypocrite.


Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Masud: I asked Allah’s Messenger, “O Allah’s Messenger! What is the best deed?” He replied, “To offer the (prayers) at their early fixed stated times.” I asked, “What is next in goodness?” He replied, “To be good and dutiful to your parents.” I further asked, “What is next in goodness?” He “To participate in Jihad in Allah’s Cause.” I did not ask Allah’s Messenger anymore and if I had asked him more, he would have told me more. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol.4, Hadith No.41).” [Emphasis added]

This explanation does not leave any doubt that: (i) jihad is not some internal purification as far as this verse is concerned, it has to be fought with ‘full numbers and weaponry’, this is a duty, so no deviating interpretation is allowed. (ii) It is not a defensive war, but one to make Allah’s word and Islam supreme, which means nothing else can be worshipped. (iii) Jihad is at the least third best deed for a Muslim, after offering regular prayers and looking after one’s parents.

But there are other interpretations. We should have a look at the least at one of them. TuQ explains in footnote 266 that the call to fight is given to Muslims (O Muslims!). Then goes on to explain in footnote 267 that “in the way of Allah” refers to “in the cause of His true Religion; in the cause of truth, justice, equity and humanity. To combat the dark forces of polytheism, superstition, perfidy, irreligion, and religious persecution, and not for the greed of booty or for self-aggrandisement, nor yet to extend the ‘sphere of influence’ of this country or that. Is the extermination of moral evil, in any sense, an unworthy object of war?” [Emphases added]

This is an interesting explanation. It first lists “the cause of truth, justice, equity and humanity” which are very much acceptable as good cause to struggle for, even if not for war. But then gives another list “the dark forces of polytheism, superstition, perfidy, irreligion, and religious persecution”. Polytheism clearly indicates the agenda; and it is implied that superstition, perfidy and irreligion can be stemmed by monotheism only. Now, if a war could be waged to eradicate polytheism then the definitions of justice, equity and humanity cannot remain as they are supposed to be in the modern world. Nor can ‘religious persecution’ be understood as ‘lack of freedom to practice one’s own religion’, as the war itself is against a religious idea, namely polytheism. The whole passage looks like either an eyewash or an alternative discourse which defines justice etc. in its own manner, which is unknown to unbelievers and infidels. And, it does not take the position that the jihad is not general against all polytheists, in all lands and all times. The verse may have come in the local context of fighting a religious war with Makkans, later in this article we have to look at the attempts to draw universal eternal principle from contextual commands.

The next verse is clearly in connection with the fight between the believers and people of Makka. 2:191 And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing. And fight not with them at Al-Masjid-al-haram (the sanctuary at Makkah), unless they (first) fight you there. But if they attack you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.”

Al-Fitnah is translated in various ways. NQ explains it as “polytheism, to disbelieve after one has believed in Allah, or a trial or a calamity or an affliction” at one place; the meaning in the next verse makes it more general “disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah”. TuQ explains “(of irreligion and impiety). The word covers, on the part of the Makkans, a number of other such crimes over and above the grossest forms of idolatry, as treachery, perfidy, wanton persecution of the Muslims, and aggression in fighting.” The centre of the meaning clearly is “polytheism”. Worshiping other beings with Allah is the real issue, rest of the ‘crimes’ are just additional reasons. And as soon as this meaning is given, the call to fight becomes universal against “al-fitnah”.

Therefore, it is necessary to “fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (Alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers).” [NQ, 2:193] This verse makes it clear that even if ‘they’—whomsoever they may be—cease fighting, the war against polytheists must go on.

The verse 9:36, mentioned above demands “…so wrong not yourselves therein, and fight against the Mushrikun (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) collectively as they fight against you collectively. But know that Allah is with those who are AI-Muttaqun (the pious).” The verse 9:38 admonishes those who “when … asked to march forth in the Cause of Allah (i.e. Jihad) you cling heavily to the earth? Are you pleased with the life of this world rather than the Hereafter? But little is the enjoyment of the life of this world as compared to the Hereafter.” And warns them (9:39) if you march not forth, He will punish you with a painful torment and will replace you by another people; and you cannot harm Him at all, and Allah is Able to do all things.” A believer who does not march willingly in jihad will get “painful torment”. And will be replaced with another people.

Hadith supports this idea. Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet said, “Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world, even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah’s Cause).” (Sahih AI·BukhM, Vol.4, Hadith No.53-A).” [NQ]

One can make a much bigger list of verses of this nature, but perhaps it is not needed. If this does not sanction violence against polytheists and unbelieves one does not know what would?


One Response to Quran and violence 3: Jihad, idolaters and infidels

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: