Permission granted to fight back

After about fifteen years of pain and suffering from the time Muhammad (Peace be upon them) first declared his prophet hood, Allah (SWT) finally permitted Muslims to fight back. Allah (SWT) revealed:

The permission for war has been given to them against whom war is being waged, because they are oppressed.  Without a doubt, Allah has the power to help them. Those who were driven from their homes unjustly, for that they used to say, “Our sustainer is Allah”. [Qur’an 22:39-40]

Through this holy verse, Muslims were granted the permission to fight back for the very first time. For almost fifteen years, the early Muslims suffered at the hands of the Makkans, who plundered their wealth and property and killed and drove their families out of Makkah. Even after migrating to surrounding areas and to the city of Madinah, the enemies of Islam did not leave them alone. The permissions to defend Islam and Muslims was justified by every means, let alone that the Almighty granted it. Jihad against oppressive and tyrannical disbelievers guaranteed a peaceful future for Muslims and established Islam as a divine power against idolatry and polytheism. From the two verses quoted above, one can easily know the reason for the permission to fight back.

Although no one raised any objections when idol-worshipers and disbelievers inflicted pain and suffering on Muslims for 15 years, Allah (SWT) being the All-Knower, knew that once He granted permission to the believers to fight back against blatant persecution and once they then actually fought back against the injustice inflicted upon them, objections and condemnations would come from everywhere. Thus, Allah (SWT) further clarifies in the holy Qur’an:

…and had it not been for Allah to keep replacing some people by the means of others, so surely, sanctuaries would have been toppled, and Christian Churches, and Jewish places of worship, and Muslim masjid (mosques), in which is invoked Allah’s name greatly. And surely, Allah will help him who helps His deen (way of life: religion). Without a doubt, Allah is surely Powerful, Dominant. [22:40]

This also indicated that this divine permission was not new, as it had been granted before to other nations that were sent a prophet. Thus, this permission was not a tool for transgression, but a means to prevent it. Another reason for jihad is given:

And why would you not fight in the way of Allah and for the weak men, women, and children who supplicate, “O Sustainer, take us out from this community, whose inhabitants are oppressors, and make someone from Your mercy our supporter, and make someone from Your favor our helper. “ [Qur’an 4:75]

This verse contains a clear message that jihad is to liberate people, especially the weak and oppressed men, women, and children, and that the commandment of jihad is in response to their call and prayer to the Lord, to uplift them from the oppression of tyrants. Obviously, in response to their call, Allah (SWT) would not descend to earth Him-self, but would send His servants to answer the call of the oppressed. This is one just reason and purpose for jihad. Another important reason is given in the following verses. Allah (SWT) commands:

And kill them until there is no more terrorism left and the deen (way of life; religion) of Allah becomes most prominent. Then if they refrain, so without a doubt, whatever they do, Allah is watchful over it. And if they turn away then know that without a doubt, Allah is your master; how perfect a Master and how perfect a Helper. [Qur’an 8:39-40]

In these verses and in some right before them, are commandments that reveal the attitudes of the idolaters of Makkah and what appropriate actions were to be taken against them.  This permission to kill by the Almighty is only given to remove evil and evildoers, and to establish Islam’s prominence. It has no other purpose whatsoever. This permission must not be corrupted or misinterpreted to cause mischief and chaos. As soon as disbelievers stop, turn away, and refrain from causing mischief, Muslims are also to stop their fighting and to leave the matter to Allah (SWT).

Another important verse regarding the killing of no-Muslims is wroth quoting here in that many interpreters have misunderstood or misquoted it.

Then when the sacred months have passed, kill those idolaters wherever you come across them and capture them and imprison them and besiege them at every point of lookout, then if they seek repentance and begin to establish salah (prayer of worship) and begin to give zakah (obligatory charity), so get out of their way certainly Allah is forgiving, Merciful.  [Qurn’an 9:5]

These verses are about the mushrikin (idolaters) of Makkah and not for any other disbelievers. The command in the above verse was eventually cancelled out by the following verse:

And if they wish to make truce, then you are to accept the truce and have trust in Allah. Without a doubt, He is All-hearing, All-Knowing [Qur’an 8:61]

Even as per Qur’an 9:5 killing them was not a necessity, if they enter Islam or if they simply seek refuge. This verse was specifically meant for them, and was intended to bring them to Islam, not just to kill them. This verse should not be taken out of context. In the following verse, there is clear indication of Islamic tolerance and absence of coercion. Allah (SWT) states:

And if some idolater seeks your refuge, so give him refuge until he hears the Words of Allah, then deliver him to his place. This is because these people are ignorant. [Qur’an 9:6]

This means that he is not to be killed, even if he did not embrace Islam after hearing the message of truth. Muslims were to escort him safely to his destination and not kill him. What more can I say if one still believes that Islam is intolerant and permits indiscriminate bloodshed. While Islam is a religion of peace, it is not a religion of absolute pacifism, and that is an important distinction. Islam is not in favor of bloodshed, but it demands its followers to be courageous, not cowards.

Allah (SWT) reveals in the holy Qur’an:

Certainly Allah has bought from Muslims their souls and wealth for the price of Heaven, which is for them. They fight in the way of Allah, so they kill and are killed. On this, absolute promise has been made in the Taurat (Torah) and the Inji l (gospels) and the Qur’an. And whoever fulfilled the covenant with Allah, so be happy with your trade, which you made with Him and this is the ultimate success. [9:111]

Great rewards are for those who willingly perform great services to Islam. Certainly, it is not easy to kill or be killed. This verse reminds us that previous hoy books (i.e., the Torah, Psalms and Bible) had verses of jihad similar to those now found in the holy Qur’an. Muslims have been commanded to do jihad against polytheists and disbelievers, as people of the Book (primarily Jews and Christians) were commanded before them. However, in the absence of oppression and persecution, jihad with the sword is not to be utilized.

There are many verses in the holy Qur’an regarding jihad, which if not properly understood and interpreted in the right context prevent jihad from being executed lawfully. Valid judgments cannot be formed on incomplete, improper, or distorted information. For further clarification, let me quote another verse to explain with whom Islam does not require jihad.

Allah does not forbid you; from those people who did not fight with you on account of religion, nor did they drive you out of your homes from behaving well with them, and being just to them. Without a doubt, Allah likes those who are just. Allah only forbids you from those people who fought against you on account of religion, and drove you out of your homes, and helped in driving you out from befriending them. Whoever befriends them is indeed the oppressor. [Qur’an 60:8-9]

This clearly shows that with regard to those non-Muslims who are not enemies of Muslims, who do not wage war in matters of religion, and who have not thrown them out of their homes, one should be good to them and not wage war against them.

Many verses contain similar messages preventing \ Muslims from doing armed jihad against people who do not interfere in preaching Islam, do not make mischief and cause chaos, do not oppress people and so on and so forth. Regardless of what religion or race they belong to or how opposing their religious beliefs are to Islam, Muslims should have no animosity against them, their lives, and their property. This is a divine and decisive decision. An important commandment regarding this is that “There is no compulsion in deen (way of life; religion); certainly, guidance has been separated from the evil path…” [Qur’an2: 256]. Whoever chooses to follow the divine guidance will see its fruit, and whoever chooses otherwise, their matter rests with Allah (SWT).

Many verses of the Qur’an, in addition to the ones quoted above, clearly show that current misunderstandings about Islam and Muslims are false. Islam does not allow Muslims to kill indiscriminately, nor does it make them thirst for the blood of non-Muslims.  The verses usually quoted to support the notion that Islam is violent religion and teaches violence to its followers are simply ripped out of context in order to defame Islam and to misinform people. These commandments were revealed for specific times, i.e., during a battle in the battlefield. They were not meant to be taken out of context and used for other times and conditions.

There are also very clear teachings regarding this subject in the traditions of the Prophet (Peace be upon them), which I present below.

A companion of the Prophet (Peace be upon them) ‘Abdullah bin Masud asked “O Prophet (Peace be upon you), which act is most prominent? He replied, “Performing salah (prayers of worship) at its prescribed time.” He then asked, “What is after that?” The Prophet (Peace be upon them) replied, “Serving parents. “I asked, “Then what?” He replied, “Jihad in the way of Allah.” I then stopped asking. [Bukhari]

Someone asked the Prophet (Peace be upon them), “O Prophet! D o I do jihad first or embrace Islam first?” The Prophet (Peace be upon them) said, “Embrace Islam first, then do jihad.” Se he embraced Islam, did jihad, and was martyred. [Bukhari]

Someone asked the Prophet (Peace be upon them), “Who is considered a soldier of Allah, one who fights to acquire wealth, fights to earn fame, or fights to prove his bravery?” The prophet (Peace be upon them) replied, “The one who fights to achieve prominence for the righteous faith (Islam) is considered a fighter in the way of Allah.” [Bukhari]

Preparing for a battle Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) said, “I will hand over the banner to the person who shall conquer the fort.” He called the honorable Ali (Karam Allah Wajhu) handed him the banner, and instructed him thusly, “We fight with them so that they may become Muslims like us. When you reach there, invite them to Islam, and explain their obligations towards Allah. So I swear to Allah, if even one person is found and accepts the right path through you, it is much better for you than acquiring one hundred [red ] camels.” [Bukhari]

It is also narrated that if the merciful Prophet (Peace be upon them) reached the battleground at night, he would never attack the enemy and would wait until the morning. During a battle the Prophet (Peace be upon them) stated, “I, the Prophet of Allah, Muhammad, establish the tradition of loving for sake of Allah and of having animosity only for the sake of Allah,” (not for the sake of oneself) [Bukhari].

The exaltedness of his exemplary character and of Muslims was witnessed when they forgave their staunchest enemies on the day they conquered Makkah, without bloodshed. The Muslims had suffered for over fifteen years at the hands of the Makkans. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) always forgave people when they harmed him personally, but he punished them when they disrespected the holy commandments of Allah (SWT). He spent his life in achieving prominence for Allah (SWT) and for Islam. He never allowed his personal needs, wishes, and priorities to interfere with his work for Allah (SWT).

The struggle for peace is an integral part of life, and striving for good and condemning evil, supporting right and confronting wrong, fighting for justice and eliminating injustice etc. should continue throughout life. It is also a fact of life that no civilized society prefers war, but it is also a universal truth that honorable and courageous nations fight headlong with enemies of peace and those who cause aggression. When enemies dare to challenge peaceful nations that is not the time to show courtesy or decency, but to show power and bravery. It is the battlefield that decides who gets thrown into the cave of obscurity and who emerges to be the victorious leader.

Empirical evidence and history show that until nations are not confronted, they cannot progress and reach the point of perfection. Without defending themselves they are never able to secure and promote their cause. Islam is blamed for being spread by the power of the sword, when clearly there is not truth in the argument. Yes, Muslims defended themselves with the sword and resorted to it when the enemy failed to recognize the universality of Islam and tried through every means to destroy the deen (religion; way of life) of the Almighty. Islam, as a religion, was never spread by the sword, but by the character of its followers in every corresponding era.  As more people became Muslims, the message of Islam was then carried by them to every corner of the world; certainly, it was not done by the sword.

Many biased scholars relate the spread of Islam to wars and bloodshed. Certainly, waging war and spilling blood is in the nature of man, and human history is full of bloodshed. If it happened at the hands of a few so called Muslim, it should not be attributed to Islam.  Because of someone’s biased opinions, we simply cannot disregard the work of thousands of Muslims saints, Sufis, and righteous scholars, who dedicated their life for the peaceful propagation of Islam and never utilized a sword for it.   A sincere study of how Islam spread throughout the world will remove the ever so repeated contention that Islam was spread through the sword.

In fact, the merciful Prophet (Peace be upon them) never killed a soul with his own hand. He did not lay waste human lives like bloody war-mongers did throughout human history. He fought wars only to the extent necessary and revived humanity from external sicknesses. He showed respect even to a dead body and made it unlawful to deface or mutilate it. After all, for him, a human being was human being; there was no distinction between friends and foes in that regard.

The set of instructions given by the Honorable Abu Bakr (RA) upon dispatching an army to Syria (632 C.E.) is worth mentioning here.

There you will find monasteries with monks in seclusion. Beware that you do not confront them; nor kill women, children, and elderly; nor cut down the date trees or any other trees; nor destroy any structures/property. [Bukhari]

Anyone with oratory and writing skills can cleverly distort the meanings of the verses of the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet (Peace be upon them) in support of their hidden agendas. Some have distorted the true meaning of jihad and presented it in a way opposite to what it actually is. However, any wrong interpretation of jihad does not change the fact that one meaning of jihad is “holy war.”

With regards to jihad, I personally do not agree with the word “holy,” because these days, almost everything has been turned upside down, and anything can be labeled “holy,” and at the same time not reflect any holiness; however, jihad by sword is an “Islamic war,” a “holy” one in its true sense. As I have explained before, any Muslim who does not do jihad with his base self to overcome his inner evils should not partake in armed jihad to achieve prominence for Islam. In any case, one cannot cross any of the numerous strict limitations in doing armed jihad. If he does, then his war cannot be called “Islamic war.”

In my opinion, these days jihad by the pen should be the priority, but of course only be those who practice jihad with one’s self. After all, one of the commandments of the holy Qur’an is:

Call towards the way of your Lord with solid strategy and good counsel and debate with them in the most desirable manner.  [16:125]

This can most easily be done through speech/writing/literature.

Let me summarize by saying that the purpose of armed jihad is not to kill non-Muslims or terrorize them. The overall purpose of jihad is to bring people closer to Islam, so they may voluntarily accept it, enter into the spiritual realm of Islam, and find the inner peace they are searching for elsewhere. Who else will do this besides Muslims?


This post is in a series of many to come on the topic of Islam from a Sufi Perspective. More articles are to follow. Please follow in the Category : Islam as a Sufi Perspective, or Alternatively subscribe to our blog!

Topics to be covered in coming future Insha Allah!

  • Difference between Jihad and Terrorism
  • Islam and Extremism
  • Is fundamentalism a part of Islam or not?

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