In the second year after the immigration of the Prophet to al-Madina in 622 CE, i.e. about fourteen years after the revelation of the Qur’an, Allah granted Muslims permission to use force to defend themselves. Muslims could now fight back to protect themselves and their properties; they were entitled to armed jihad. Most scholars consider verse 22.39 to be the first verse that granted Muslims the right to carry arms to defend themselves against their attackers. This is the permission verse, along with verses that precede and follow it:
Surely, Allah defends those who believe. Surely, Allah does not love any one who is unfaithful, ungrateful (22.38). Permission [to fight] has been granted to those against whom war is waged, because they are oppressed; and surely, Allah is well capable of assisting them [to victory] (22.39). [The permission is to] those who have been driven out of their homes without a just cause, only because they say: “Our Lord is Allah.” Had it not been for Allah repelling some people by others, then certainly cloisters, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which Allah’s name is much remembered would have been pulled down. And surely Allah will help him who helps His cause; surely, Allah is Mighty, Invincible (22.40). [The permission is to] those who, should We establish them in the land, will keep up prayer, pay the obligatory alms, enjoin good, and forbid evil; and Allah’s is the sequel of events (22.41).
Note the justification for granting the Muslims the right to armed jihad. They were allowed to fight back those who had waged war against them and driven them out of their homes. Armed jihad is obviously a permission for armed self-defense.
Allah also emphasizes in verse 22.39 the fact that He is well capable of granting the Muslims victory. This was an extremely remarkable promise. At the time, the Muslims were a very small minority whose enemy was almost everyone in that region. It suffices to know that in their first major battle against disbelievers, known as the battle of Badr after its location, the Muslim army consisted of three hundred and thirteen men only. The fact that the victorious Muslim fighters were a much smaller army than their defeated enemy is documented in the Qur’an:
And surely Allah assisted you [O believers! to victory] at Badr when you were vulnerable; so act dutifully toward Allah so that you may give thanks [to Him] (3.123).
The fulfillment of the promise of victory in verse 22.39 is one miracle that attests to the divine source of that promise and, therefore, of the Qur’an.
Verse 22.40 stresses that, had Allah not instructed people to defend themselves, their freedom of worship would have been eroded as “cloisters, churches, synagogues, and mosques” would have been destroyed. Significantly, Allah does not differentiate between those places, treating them equally as places of worship.
Rather than aggression to deprive people of their freedom, as portrayed in its popularized image, armed jihad is a just struggle for freedom.
Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
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