Sep 172005
This article is from the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.

While granted permission from Allah to fight back those who attack them, Muslims are reminded in many verses that they should never commit aggression even toward their sworn enemies. Their response must not be disproportionate or go beyond the limits of the permission for armed jihad:
And let not hatred of a people, having prevented you [O you who believe!] from visiting the al-Haram1 mosque, cause you to commit transgression. And help one another in [practicing] righteousness and dutifulness, and do not help one another in [committing] sin and transgression. And act dutifully toward Allah. Surely, Allah is severe in punishment (from 5.2).
O you who believe! Stand firm for Allah, [as] witnesses with justice. And let not hatred of a people cause you not to act equitably; act equitably; that is nearer to dutifulness. And act dutifully toward Allah. Surely, Allah is aware of what you do (5.8).
And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you [O you who believe!], and do not transgress. Surely, Allah does not love the aggressors (2.190). And kill them wherever you find them and drive them out whence they drove you out; persecution is severer than killing. And do not fight them at the al-Haram mosque until they fight you in it, but if they do fight you, then kill them. Such is the reward of the disbelievers (2.191). But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful (2.192). And fight them until there is no persecution and religion is Allah’s. But if they desist, then there should be no hostility, except against the wrongdoers (2.193).

 Verse 2.190 reiterates the fact that Muslims were granted permission to resort to armed jihad against those who attack them. Muslims were simply defending themselves. The verses above make it totally clear that it was the disbelievers who started all forms of hostilities, and that stopping the aggression was in their hands. Muslims were only responding to the aggressors, and doing so in a measured way.

Note also how verse 2.192 stresses that Allah remains forgiving and willing to offer mercy to the disbelievers if they quit their hostilities. This is not only a message to the disbelievers encouraging them to resort to peace, but it is also a clear instruction to the Muslims that the end of hostilities means no lingering grudges or seeking of revenge. Given that Allah offers forgiveness and mercy to the sinful when they repent, Muslims must certainly respond to the ceasing of hostilities with forgiveness and mercy toward their enemy.

Let’s look at another relevant set of verses. Addressing the believers, verse 42.36 belittles whatever can be earned in this world, and encourages the believers to aspire more toward the rewards of the hereafter: “So whatever you are given, that is only a provision of this world’s life; and what is with Allah is better and more lasting for those who believe and rely on their Lord” (42.36). Allah then goes on to talk about qualities of the believers and give them more instructions: 

And who avoid the greater sins and indecencies, and when they get angry they forgive (42.37). And who respond to [the call of] their Lord, keep up prayer, manage their affairs by mutual consultation, and spend out of what We bestow on them (42.38). And who, when wronged, help each other [against the aggressor] (42.39). And the recompense of an act of aggression is a similar act, so whoever forgives and makes reconciliation then he will have his rewards from Allah. Surely He does not love the wrongdoers (42.40). As for those who help each other [against the aggressor] after they have been oppressed, Allah has not made a case against them (42.41). The case is rather against those who wrong people and practice oppression unjustly on earth; those shall have a painful punishment (42.42). And as for showing patience and forgiveness, these are surely actions of determination (42.43).

 The fact that Muslims got involved in wars because they were oppressed is made clear in verse 42.39. Allah stresses in verse 42.41 that defending one’s self against oppression is not a sin. The sinful people, verse 42.42 states, are those who wrong and oppress other people. Note how this set of verses starts and ends with instructions urging Muslims to forgive. In other words, Allah’s message to the Muslims is to fight back when war is waged against them, but to stop all hostilities and forgive their past enemies when peace is attained.

Contrary to its popular image among those who have not studied it, the Qur’an always enjoins Muslims to forgive. It also states that when patience and forgiveness are an option, they are better than retaliation. The following verses order the Muslims to forgive the People of the Book who were as hostile to the new religion as the Qurayshites, and in fact established with the latter a war alliance against the Muslims at some point: 

But because of their [the Children of Israel] breaking their covenant2 We cursed them and made their hearts hard. They alter [divine] words from their context, and they forgot a part of what they were reminded of. And you [O Muhammad!] will continue to discover treachery from them, save a few of them; so forgive them and overlook [their misdeeds]; surely Allah loves the doers of good (5.13). Many of the People of the Book wish that they could turn you [O you who believe!] back into disbelievers after you have believed, out of envy from themselves, [even] after the truth has become manifest to them. So, forgive and overlook [their misdeeds] until Allah brings about His judgment; surely Allah has power over all things (2.109).

 Allah’s command to the Muslims not to transgress – which is stated explicitly in 5.2, 5.8, 2.190, 2.193, 42.40, and other verses – stresses a number of points. First, Muslims must not fight someone who has not chosen to fight them. Second, when they respond to aggressors, their response must be in line with the rules that govern armed jihad. For instance, if the aggressors genuinely decided at some point to opt for peace, Muslims must take the route of peace immediately. Third, the Muslims’ response to any hostility must be proportionate and measured. Any failure to apply this would result in the once victims becoming, according to the Qur’an, aggressors themselves. Let’s study the third point in more detail. 


1 The al-Haram mosque embraces the Ka’ba in Mecca.
2 The Qur’anic concept of “covenant with Allah” is very different from its Biblical counterpart. It is not restricted to one ethnic group of people, as Allah made a covenant with every people to whom he sent a Prophet, including the later generations of those people. It refers to His Message and commandments to people, and to His promise to reward the obedient and punish the disbeliever. For instance, the following verses refer to some aspects of Allah’s covenant with the Children of Israel: 

And when We made a covenant with the Children of Israel: “You shall not worship other than Allah; and you shall do good to your parents, the near of kin, the orphans, and the needy; and speak to people good words; and keep up prayer; and pay the obligatory alms.” Then you turned back in rejection, except a few of you (2.83). And when We made a covenant with you [O Children of Israel!]: “You shall not shed your blood and you shall not drive your people out of your cities”; then you ratified and bore witness to it” (2.84).

 The following verse refers to Allah’s covenant with the followers of Prophet Muhammad: 

And remember the favor of Allah on you [O you who believer!] and His covenant with which He bound you, when you said: ‘We have heard, and we obey’; and be dutiful toward Allah; surely Allah knows what is in the breasts of people. (5.7). 



Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

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