Islam is one of the major religions of the world, with a followership of a quarter of the world’s population, thus making it the single religion with the highest number of followers. The Quran is the holy book of Muslims, from which they derive the teachings and guidelines that shape their activities belief system. The Quran was authored by Prophet Mohammed and as such, everything in it is regarded as divine and holy. One of the many themes that are contained in the Quran is that of warfare, a most controversial theme that has gained prominence in the world today as the fight against terrorism intensifies. However, this is a lot of misunderstanding about warfare and Islam, that many people like to draw a positive link between the two, citing the doctrine of Islam as being warfare in nature and thus, proliferating warfare. Nonetheless, this is not necessarily true because a closer analysis of the manner in which the concept of warfare is outlined in the Quran would reveal that Allah is peace loving and that such assumptions are misguided and misinformed. Besides, many non-Muslims have not read the Quran in order to determine how the concept of warfare is outlined and explained in the Quran, thus facilitating the development of misconceptions about warfare and Islam.
The concept of warfare is pronounced in the Quran, in the same way that it is in many other major religions, including Christianity. In a number of instances, Mohammed writes of instances when Allah commanded him to engage in warfare with the people of Mecca and the neighboring cities. For many, the interpretation for the Quran and warfare end here, without paying attention to the context in which Allah commissioned such activities by Mohammed and for all Muslims. Jihad, or the Holy war, is a war of salvation for Muslims, and not an offensive against people without cause or reason.
The ultimate purpose of followers of the Muslim faith is to worship Allah and strive to make Islam prevail on the earth against pagans and other non-believers. Section 9:33 of the Quran states, ‘ It is He Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad) with guidance and the religion of truth, to make it superior over all religions, though the Mushrikûn (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) hate (it) (The Quran, Haleem 9:33). Specifically, this verse is repeated two more times in the Quran, in Sura 61:9 and 48:28. In the ten years that Mohamed lived in Medina, between the years AD 622 and 632, Mohammed engaged in active and extensive missions to convert as many people as possible to Allah and although at times he was forced to use force and violence, it was all in the good mission of converting the people to Allah (Fishbein 89).
In the same way that God acted in favor for the children of Israel against other tribes, so did Allah for Muslims as they conquered other tribes. Sura 33:25 of the Quran states, ‘Allah turned back the unbelievers [Meccans and their allies] in a state of rage, having not won any good, and Allah spared the believers battle [q-t-l]. Allah is, indeed, Strong and Mighty. 26 And He brought those of the People of the Book [Qurayza] who supported them from their fortresses and cast terror into their hearts, some of them you slew [q-t-l] and some you took captive. 27 And he bequeathed to you their lands, their homes and their possessions, together with land you have never trodden. Allah has power over everything’ (The Quran, Haleem 33: 25). The passage above illustrates that Allah purports that all people observe the Muslim faith in a faithful and honorable manner so that they may gain the favor and support of Allah (Montgomery 90).
Those that do not understand the Muslim faith argue that Mohammed commissioned the killing of those that did not obey the rules of Allah and that women and children would be taken as slaves by their Muslim masters. Sura 4:24 of the Quran states, ‘And forbidden to you are wedded wives of other people except those who have fallen in your hands (as prisoners of war (The Quran, Haleem 4:24). However, in another verse of the Quran, Mohammed forbids the killing or shedding of blood for the innocent ones, including those that say bad things about Allah or the prophet. Referring to the story where the master killed his enslaved concubine for abusing the prophet, Mohammed rebuked the master for shedding her blood, stating that nothing was bad enough to warrant her blood to be shed.
One of the rules of war is that the captured enemy may be killed, ransomed for monetary exchange, kept as a slave, or released freely. In Sura 47:4, the Quran states, “When you meet the disbelievers in battle, strike them in the neck, and once they are defeated, bind any captives firmly—later you can release them by grace or by ransom—until the toils of war have ended. That [is the way]” (The Quran, Haleem 47:4). Although many would take this passage to imply to the legitimization of killing of those that are captured at war, Allah provides three options for what may be done to such captives, and two of them do not involve murder. Therefore, such captives can be let free or be ransomed so that their lives are spared. Consequently, this serves to show that Allah is peace-loving and that Islam is not as warlike as it is often portrayed. Actually, in Sura 8:70 (The Quran, Haleem), the Quran proposes the following options for Muslim captors of their captives, “Prophet, tell those you have taken captive, “If God knows of any good in your hearts, He will give you something better [Islam] than what has been taken from you [the caravan], and He will forgive you“. Mohammed tells his followers that if the Meccans who were conquered had any sense within them, they would realize that it was actually a blessing to be captured and exposed to Islam; therefore, they would convert willingly. Such a decision was better than all of the material riches that money could afford them (Muhammad 54).
Although there were elements of warfare during the time of prophet Mohammed, Allah emphasizes on the need for willing submission on the part of the non-Muslims in the practice of Islam. This is contrary to the popular belief that Islam is a religion of force and coercion. In Sura 9:29, the Quran states, ‘Fight [q-t-l] against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued’. Sura 9:33 further states, ‘O believers [Muslims], many of the rabbis and monks devour the property of the people unjustly and bar others from the Path of Allah [Islam] (The Quran, Haleem 9:29, 9:33), . Those who hoard gold and silver and do not spend them in Allah’s path, announce to them a very painful punishment’. From these two passages above, it is clear that Allah is a fair and just, and hates all forms of injustice. The Quran states that the Christian Monks and Jewish rabbis should be punished for devouring the property of the church and the Synagogue consecutively, implying that none is superior to the teachings of Allah and God.
Of critical importance to the concept of warfare in the Quran is the consequence of the martyrs of Jihad. According to the Quran, these martyrs are guaranteed eternal life in Paradise. Sura 61:10 states, ‘You who believe, shall I show you a bargain that will save you from painful punishment? 11 Have faith in God and His Messenger and struggle [j-h-d] for His cause with your possessions and your persons—that is better for you, if only you knew—12 and He will forgive your sins, admit you into Gardens graced with flowing streams, into pleasant dwellings in the Gardens of Eternity (The Quran, Haleem 61:10). That is the supreme triumph. Consequently, Muslims who struggle in Allah’s war will either be spared to live another day and continue fighting for Allah. However, if they get killed, they will have their sins forgiven and they will be admitted to heaven to enjoy the pleasures of divinity. Sura 9:111 further states, ‘God has purchased the persons and possessions of the believers for the Garden—they fight [q-t-l] in God’s way: they kill [q-t-l] and are killed [q-t-l]—this is a true promise given by Him in the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an. Who could be more faithful to his promise than God? So be happy with the bargain you have made: that is the supreme triumph’ (The Quran, Haleem 9:111). Consequently, it is clear that those who stand firm in the name of Allah will be rewarded for their fortitude and courage in religion. Like any other major religion, believers face opposition and intimidation and thus, Allah urges Muslims to stand firm and defend the faith with their lives (Louay 34).
Islam is a religion of peace and love, encouraging its believers to stand firm and defend the religion and beliefs at no cost. Misconceptions about the concept of warfare in the Quran arise when people read some verses singly, without paying attention to the context in which these verses were written or the following verses. In all of the text, Allah comes out as a benevolent master, who looks out for the interest of His children. However, He is strict on the need for people to lead righteous lives so that they do not mix religion with secularism and in such cases; Muslims have the role of working to ensure that the faith is kept holy and pure.
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Louay Fatoohi. Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. Birmingham: Luna Plena, 2009.
Montgomery, Watt. Muhammad at Medina. London: Oxford University Press, 1956. 2004
Muhammad, Abu Zahra. Concept of War in Islam. Cairo: Ministry of Waqf, 1961. Print.
The Qur’an. New York: Viking, 2008. Print.