The Qur’an is a Book of facts in which there is no room for false and unreal idealism. Note how the Qur’an makes it absolutely clear that while peace should be the ultimate aim of man, peace cannot be the only weapon to impose peace. It is just preposterous to claim that peace can be achieved and maintained by peaceful means only. There are many circumstances where violence and war are the only route to peace. This is something that the Qur’an explains in its typical extraordinary honesty and frankness. The Qur’an’s realism sets it apart from unrealistic religions and philosophies whose followers find themselves breaking the inapplicable teachings of their faiths almost all the time.
However, the Christian faith is not based on the New Testament only, but on the Old Testament as well. Christians believe in the Prophets2 of the Old Testament. Unlike the life of Jesus in the New Testament,3 the lives of the Old Testament’s Prophets contained a great deal of violence. A number of those Prophets are portrayed as warriors who fought many battles. For instance, the Old Testament states that Abraham led an army and “defeated” his enemy (Genesis 14:15). King David is described as someone who “spilled a great deal of blood” and “fought many battles”:
David said to Solomon: “My son, I really wanted to build a temple to honor the Lord my God. But the Lord said to me: ‘You have spilled a great deal of blood and fought many battles. You must not build a temple to honor me, for you have spilled a great deal of blood on the ground before me. Look, you will have a son, who will be a peaceful man. I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. Indeed, Solomon will be his name; I will give Israel peace and quiet during his reign'”.
Therefore, it is rather misleading to claim that Christianity gives special prominence to peace. It cannot have more of a claim to peace than the Old Testament. The latter is anything but a book of peace.
Not only the Old Testament, which Christianity considers to be the Word of God, but other aspects of Christian thought also undermine the positioning of Christianity as thereligion of peace. Christians have always known all too well that responding to violence with peace only is unrealistic, unwise, and impractical. This fact was openly and formally acknowledged as early as four centuries after Jesus Christ by St. Augustine (354-430 CE), one of the most influential Christian thinkers of all time. He introduced the concept of “just war” to complement the “peaceful” nature of Christianity. This has allowed Christianity the convenience of claiming to be a totally peaceful religion, while at the same time permitting its followers to resort to war when they deem it just and necessary!
Compare this opportunistic, misleading, and contradictory presentation of the alleged special status of peace in Christianity with the principled, honest, consistent, and realistic approach to the concepts of peace and war in the Qur’an.
History of Christianity, like the Old Testament and other bases of Christian thought, rejects the claim that Christianity is particularly associated with peace. The attitude of Christianity, or more accurately some of its representatives, toward peace and war, cannot be properly assessed without referring to the crusades. These were certainly religious wars that were instigated and supported by Popes and clerics, and carried out under the name of Jesus and Christianity. Pope Urban II (1088-1099 CE), whose speech at the Council of Clermont in November of 1095 effectively launched the first crusade and set in action this deadly chain of religious wars, promised the immediate remission of all sins of anyone who took part in the crusade. Although the crusaders were supposed to target Muslims, their very long list of victims included at the end many thousands of Jews, and even non-Catholic Christians.
Nothing in the history of Christianity and Christians suggests that they were more peaceful than other religions and people. It clearly rejects Huntington’s false claim that “Muslims fight each other and fight non-Muslims far more often than do peoples of other civilizations.”4 The two biggest wars in the history of humanity, World War I and II, which resulted in tens of millions of deaths were started by the Christian world. While, unlike the crusades, these two wars, and the many other wars that Christians were involved in, were not religious, they show clearly that the history of Christians is far from being one of peace, certainly not one of responding to aggression with peace. In the real world, a real slap on a real cheek, even of a Christian person, is very unlikely to produce a New Testament kind of response.
Verses 22.39-40 show clearly that armed jihad is a defensive rather than offensive form of struggle:
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).
It is about defending one’s self, property and freedom against aggression that targets them. This is emphasized in so many verses throughout the Qur’an. It is well illustrated in the fact that Muslims are not permitted to fight anyone who is willing to offer them peace. Let’s look, for example, at what Allah says about the renegades who embraced Islam but later reverted to their old religion:
They [the hypocrites] desire that you [O you who believe!] disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be all alike; therefore, do not take from among them close friends until they immigrate in the way of Allah; but if they turn away, then seize and kill them wherever you find them, and do not take from among them a close friend or a helper (4.89). Except those who have a connection with a people between whom and you there is a treaty [of peace], or who come to you with hearts shrinking from fighting you or fighting their own people; had Allah wanted, He would have sent them on you, so that they would have fought you. Therefore, if they withdraw so they do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a case [to wage war] against them (4.90). You will find others who wish to have security from you and security from their own people, yet whenever tempted back to mischief they get plunged into it. Therefore, if they do not withdraw, offer you peace, and restrain their hands, then seize and kill them wherever you get hold of them; it is against these that We have given you a clear authority [to fight] (4.91).
Allah commands the Muslims here to fight, in addition to the disbelievers who have declared war against them, the hypocrites who rejoined the forces of disbelievers and fought against the Muslims after having a spell with them. Significantly, He excludes two groups from among those hypocrites.
The first group consists of those who had some relation with a people with whom Muslims had made peace. In other words, Muslims are disallowed to fight not only the people they have signed a peace treaty with, but also peoples who are connected to the signatories to peace. This shows the extent to which the Qur’an promotes and encourages the adoption of peace.
The second group of hypocrites includes those who decline to take side in the war between their people and the Muslims. Allah commands the Muslims not to fight those who withdraw, do not fight them, and offer them peace. As for those who side with their people against the Muslims, don’t offer peace, and don’t restrain their hands, Allah has given the Muslims a clear authority to fight them. It is absolutely clear that armed jihad is defensive reaction rather than offensive action.
There are so many references in the Qur’an instructing the Prophet and the Muslims to establish peace with any enemy once that enemy became interested in peace. Let’s have a look at another set of verses:
Surely, the worst of beasts in Allah’s sight are those who are ungrateful as they would not believe (8.55). Those with whom you [O Muhammad!] have made a covenant, yet they break their covenant every time and do not act dutifully (8.56). Therefore, should you get hold of them in the war, make of them an example that would disperse [the gathering army of] those who are behind them that they may be mindful (8.57). And if you fear treachery from a people, then throw back to them [their treaty] on equal terms. Surely, Allah does not love the treacherous (8.58). And let not those who disbelieve think that they can outstrip [Us]. Surely, they are not immune (8.59). And prepare [O you who believe!] for them what you can of force and horses tethered, to frighten thereby Allah’s and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know but Allah knows. And whatever you spend in the way of Allah will be paid back to you in full and you shall not be wronged (8.60). And if they incline to peace then incline [O Muhammad!] to it, and rely on Allah. Surely, He is the Hearing, the Knowing (8.61). And if they intend to deceive you, then surely Allah is sufficient for you. It is He who supported you with His help and with the believers (8.62).
Note that verse 8.56 talks about those who repeatedly violated their peace treaty with the Muslims. This does not only show the untrustworthiness and treacherousness of the people that Muslims had to make peace with, but it also evinces the keenness of the Muslims on peace. Prophet Muhammad was willing to reinstate the peace he had with other people even though the latter had breached it a number of times. If that violation of the peace treaty continued, the Prophet is given in verse 8.58 the permission not to abide by what had effectively become an abolished and worthless treaty.
Allah’s enjoinment on Muslims to make of the enemy an example that would disperse the gathered armies of other disbelievers emphasizes the fact that armed jihad is used as a means to avert more wars and aggression. This is also embodied in Allah’s command to Muslims in verse 8.60 to prepare for their enemies what they can “of force and horses tethered” in order to frighten with those enemies they knew and others they didn’t.
After highlighting the untrustworthiness and treacherousness of the disbelievers, Allah goes on to give the following amazing command to the Muslims: “And if they incline to peace then incline to it, and trust in Allah.” Despite those peoples’ history of savage aggression against Muslims, the latter are ordered to opt for peace should their enemies become interested in peace. This divine command teaches a kind of commitment to peace that is extraordinary by any standards. The Prophet would have felt apprehensive about agreeing peace with people who had repeatedly broken their word. This is why Allah commands the Prophet to rely on Him and reminds him that He hears and knows everything. He then continues to reassure the Prophet in the next verse that He is on his side should those people resort to deception: “And if they intend to deceive you, then surely Allah is sufficient for you.” Allah then reminds His Messenger how He supported him with “His help and with the believers.” Clearly, armed jihad in Islam is not about vengeance. It is the kind of armed struggle that can be truly and fairly described as a war for peace.
At the time of the events above, vengeance was, and is largely still today, a major drive for war and acts of aggression. Those early Muslims were born and brought up in an environment where lengthy, full-blown wars would be started for the most trivial of reasons. Tribes and individuals used to inherit and pass vengeances and grudges from one generation to another. For instance, the killing of a she-camel started the war of “al-Basus” between the clans of Taghlib and Bakr which lasted for 40 years (494-534 CE)! The clans of ‘Abs and Dhubyan fought another famous war that lasted for four decades. This time, the bloody war was started by a disagreement on a race between two horses, “Dahis” and “al-Ghabra‘,” after which the war was named! This shows how difficult and challenging was the above divine command of refraining from seeking revenge.
One remarkable example is the Muslim’s peaceful conquest of Mecca eight years after the Prophet and Muslims were forced out of it, escaping death and torture, and losing in doing so all their properties. In those eight years, the Qurayshites did not stop their persecution of the Muslims, keeping them in almost a continuous state of war. Nevertheless, when the Muslim army entered Mecca truly non-violently, the Prophet issued an amnesty for all its people, regardless of what they had done to Muslims over the years. Seventeen persons were excluded from the amnesty, but most of them were later pardoned. Only four were killed for their particularly heinous crimes. Most probably, the killing of those four reflects the fact that, had they been left alive, they would have caused the shedding of further blood.
The Prophet didn’t seek revenge even from the most evil people, some of whom had caused great pain and suffering to him personally. One such person was a woman called “Hind bint ‘Utba.” A few years earlier, she hired a slave to kill the Prophet’s uncle and one of his closest companions, “Hamza.” Her hatred for the Prophet and Muslims was such that she cannibalized Hamza’s liver and was involved in mutilating Muslim martyrs. When Hind bint ‘Utba came to visit the Prophet after the conquest of Mecca to declare her embracement of Islam, he couldn’t even look at her face, as that reminded him of her crimes which were still painful to him. Even this woman escaped any punishment.
These are great lessons in obeying Allah’s command of forgiveness. This is how the Prophet taught peaceful jihad by example not only word.
Let’s study another set of verses that shed light on the causes of the conflict between the Muslims and the disbelievers:
And if anyone of the polytheists seeks your protection [O Muhammad!], then protect him so that he may hear the Word of Allah, and escort him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who know not (9.6). How can there be a treaty with Allah and with His Messenger for the polytheists, save those with whom you [O you who believe!] made a treaty with at the al-Haram mosque? So long as they are true to you, be true to them. Surely Allah loves the dutiful (9.7). How [can there be any treaty for the others] when, if they get an advantage over you, they do not honor any relation or treaty with you? They satisfy you with their mouths, while their hearts refuse. And most of them are backsliders (9.8). They have purchased with the verses of Allah a little gain, so they turned away from His way. Surely, evil is what they do (9.9). They do not honor any relation or treaty with a believer; and these are the transgressors (9.10). But if they repent, establish regular prayers, and pay the obligatory alms, then they are your brethren in religion. And We detail Our verses for the people of knowledge (9.11). And if they break their oaths after their treaty [with you] and assail your religion, then fight the heads of disbelief. Surely they have no binding oaths, so that they may desist (9.12). Will you not fight a people who broke their oaths, and set out to drive out the Messenger, and they attacked you first? Do you fear them? Allah has more right that you should fear Him, if you are believers (9.13).
The first verse shows that Islam does not consider a peaceful disbeliever an enemy. In fact, the Qur’an commanded the Prophet to give protection to any polytheist who sought his help.
Verse 9.7 commands the Muslims to honor their treaty with the polytheists as long as the latter honored it. Allah considers this to be an act of dutifulness toward Him: “Allah loves the dutiful.” He reminds the Muslims in verses 9.8-10 that the polytheists used to break their peace treaties whenever they felt they had the upper hand over the Muslims, and that they showed a similar disregard for their relations with the Muslims. He explains that the polytheists made peace with their mouths, but did not embrace it with their hearts.
Muslims were commanded to forgive the polytheists and live with them in peace if the latter honored peace, and to forgive and consider them their brothers if they converted to Islam, as stated in verse 9.11. Allah then emphasizes in verse 9.12 that the aim of fighting the heads of disbelief is that “they may desist” and establish peace.
Finally, verse 9.13 urges the Muslims to fight aggression, reminding them of the background of the conflict with the disbelievers. First, it was the polytheists who broke the treaty they had with the Muslims. Second, like the Meccans who forced the Prophet to immigrate to al-Madina, the polytheists were trying to expel him from al-Madina. Third, it was the polytheists who attacked the Muslims first.
I would like to cite one more verse that shows the keen interest of Muslims on establishing peace with non-Muslims and honoring that peace:
Surely those who believed, immigrated, and jahadu [did jihad] with their properties and selves in the way of Allah, and those who gave shelter [to the immigrants] and helped them, these [the immigrants and the helpers] are close friends of each other. Those who believed but did not immigrate, you [O you who believe!] have no duty of close friendship toward them until they immigrate; and if they seek help from you for the purpose of religion, then help is incumbent on you, except [helping them] against a people between whom and you there is a treaty; and Allah sees what you do (8.72).
Muslims emigrated from Mecca to al-Madina. They were well received by the Muslims of al-Madina who gave them shelter and shared their belongings with them. In the verse above, Allah makes a clear distinction between those immigrant Muslims and others elsewhere who did not respond to the divine command to immigrate to al-Madina. The verse tells the Muslims in al-Madina that they are close friends to each other, but not to those Muslims who had not emigrated to join them in al-Madina. What is particularly relevant to our current discussion is Allah’s order in the second half of the verse. The Muslims who did not emigrate could be attacked because of their religion, in which case they might well ask for help from their brothers in al-Madina. However, that help would come only if the aggressors had no peace treaty with the Prophet. If those non-Muslims were in peace with the Prophet, the Muslims of al-Madina would not attack them and the call for help from the non-immigrant Muslims would go unheeded. There are two important points to highlight here.
First, note the way Muslims honor their peace pacts. Obviously, those who attack Muslims because of their religion are by no means friendly to Islam, let alone believers in its cause. This enmity, however, would not prevent Muslims from seeking peace with those people. This means that Muslims never forced Islam on anyone and they were completely honest and truthful in their efforts to seek and live in peace even with those who disliked their religion. They resorted to war only when the other party showed no interest in peace and insisted on aggression.
Second, the above verse leaves no doubt whatsoever that the Qur’an doesn’t permit the involvement in a war that can be averted. The war against those non-immigrant Muslims was not unavoidable. Had those Muslims immigrated to al-Madina, they would have been spared the aggression they suffered, because their persecutors had already agreed peace with the Muslims of al-Madina. There was a way to avoid war, which is to immigrate to al-Madina, hence the intervention of the Muslims of al-Madina was not forthcoming. However, if the non-immigrant Muslims had asked for help against aggressors who had not agreed peace with the Muslims of al-Madina, the latter would have responded, because that would have been an unavoidable war. If the aggressors had any interest in peace, they would have agreed peace with the Muslims of al-Madina.
1 While the most is made of this injunction (Matthew 5:39; Luke 6:29) to emphasize the alleged unconditional peace of Christianity, the following relevant statement, which is also attributed to Jesus, is hardly cited: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Matthew 10:34-36).
2 Note that there is a major difference between the use of the term “Prophet” in the Qur’an and the Bible. Prophethood in the Qur’an refers to the state of receiving revelations from Allah and acting as His Messenger to teach people the true religion. Biblical Prophethood, on the other hand, is associated with prophecies. A Qur’anic Prophet, such as David, might be described as a “man of God” in the Bible (II Chronicles 8:14).
3 Jamal Badawi makes a very interesting point about the prominence of peace in the life of Prophets Muhammad and Jesus. He notes that scholars agree that the ministry of Jesus lasted for about three years only. In other words, we have evidence of Jesus Christ following a completely peaceful policy for three years. Badawi stresses that Prophet Muhammad’s policy was also completely peaceful not only for the first three years of his mission, but for the following eleven as well! As I have already pointed out, Prophet Muhammad and his followers had to deal peacefully with all forms of persecution they were subjected to for fourteen years before they were granted permission to fight back.
4 Samuel Huntington, “The Age of Muslim Wars,” Newsweek, January 2002
Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
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