Jihad - Qital - Harb - Holy War, Violence and the Qur'an

Part 3



Jihad, Qital, Harb, War and Violence in the Qur'an

Many Muslims, reacting to Western criticism, which associates jihad exclusively with physical armed violence, tend to assert that jihad is purely an inner struggle. This is untrue. We also often hear that Islam is a religion of peace not of violence. This is supposed to be true as far as relations within the Islamic community are concerned and in those countries where Muslims are in a minority. This distinction is clearly made in the Qur'an:

Muhammad is God’s Apostle; and those who are [truly] with him are firm and unyielding towards all deniers of the truth, [yet] full of mercy towards one another. (Q. 48:29)

The Islamic community (ummah) is meant to reflect the fundamental belief of Islam, the unity of God, and transcend all barriers of nation, race and gender. It's vocation is to peace, harmony and unity. The reality, however, is quite different. Non Muslims do not constitute part of the ummah and therefore relations between Muslims and non Muslims do not necessarily reflect that same peace and harmony. To what extent it does or does not depends on national and cultural factors and whether Muslims are the majority or minority in a specific country. There are many factors that determine to what extent the letter and the spirit of the Qur'an is applied or not applied in daily living and in specific social contexts. What concerns us here is the primary source, the Qur'an and what it says about these relations. This enables both Muslims and non Muslims to understand to what extent believers live in accordance with these norms. It is there for guidance, 1 it is the yardstick by which all believers can measure the extent to which their lives reflect their faith. It is the primary point of reference for all. It is here that according to all Muslims the universal message for the benefit of humanity is contained. 2

The verses of the Qur'an most relevant to the third form of jihad, jihad al saif, qital, harb, fighting and warfare are as follows. These are quoted in the order in which they appear in the Qur'an:
1.   Hence, fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone. (Q. 2:190-194, Medinan period)
2.   Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And God knows, while you know not.(Q. 2:216, Medinan period)
3.   Fight you all in the path of Allah, and be aware that Allah is all-knowing" (Q. 2:244, Medinan period)
4.   And fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone. And if they desist – behold, God sees all that they do. (Q. 8:39, Medinan period)
5.   And so, when the sacred months are over, slay those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place. Yet if they repent, and take to prayer, and render the purifying dues, let them go their way: for, behold. God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. (Q. 9:5, Medinan period). 3
6.   O you who have attained to faith! What is amiss with you that, when you are called upon, "Go forth to war in God’s cause," you cling heavily to the earth? Would you content yourselves with [the comforts of] this worldly life in preference to [the good of] the life to come? But the enjoyment of life in this world is but a paltry thing when compared with the life to come! If you do not go forth to war [in God’s cause], He will chastise you with grievous chastisement, and will place another people in your stead – whereas you shall in no wise harm Him: for God has the power to will anything. (Q. 9:38, 39, Medinan period)
7.   And [remember:] We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them without [an inner] truth; but, behold, the Hour [when this will become clear to all] is indeed yet to come. Hence, forgive [men’s failings] with fair forbearance. (Q. 15:85, Meccan period)
8.   Hence, proclaim openly all that thou hast been bidden [to say], and leave alone all those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God. (Q. 15:94, Meccan period)
9.   Then declare what you are commanded and turn away from the polytheists. (Q. 15:94, Meccan period)
10. Call thou [all mankind] unto thy Sustainer’s path with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the most kindly manner: for, behold, thy Sustainer knows best as to who strays from His path, and best knows He as to who are the right-guided. (Q. 16:125,Meccan period)
11. Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged – and, verily, God has indeed the power to succour them. (Q. 22:39, Medinan period)
12. And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in a most kindly manner – unless it be such of them as are bent on evildoing - and say: "We believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, as well as that which has been bestowed upon you: for our God and your God is one and the same, and it is unto Him that We [all] surrender ourselves. (Q. 29:46, Meccan period)
13. When you meet the unbelievers (in battle), smite their necks (fadarb al-riqab) until you have crushed them then bind your captives firmly; thereafter (you are entitled to) set them free, either by an act of grace, or against ransom, until the war ends. (Q. 47:4, Medinan period)
14. Verily, God loves [only] those who fight in His cause in [solid] ranks, as though they were a building firm and compact. (Q. 61:4, Meccan period)

Read in this order, the order in which they appear in the Qur'an, there would seem to be a significant evolution from the violent, warlike jihad of the sword to the more tolerant, non violent jihad, a peaceful spreading of the message of Islam. However, it is universally recognised by Muslim scholars that the various suras or chapters are not in chronological order. The last 85 suras of the Qur'an, with one or two exceptions, were revealed in the early phase, when the prophet was in Mecca. The first 29 suras, again with one or two exceptions, were revealed at a later stage in Medina. 4 So we still have an evolutionary process but not from intolerant to tolerant, warlike to peaceful but from tolerant to intolerant, from peaceful to violent and warlike.

Here we have inverse evolution (regression) and change and this introduces a number of problems, not least the problem of conflicting verses. There exists a special doctrine aimed at resolving this problem of conflicting verses deriving from changes of circumstances and direction. This doctrine is called "abrogation" (naskh). The principle of abrogation means that if two verses convey contradictory or conflicting messages the later verse "abrogates" the earlier one(s). In this case it can be claimed that the violent verses abrogate the peaceful ones, which would therefore be no longer valid. 5 This principle of abrogation is clearly sanctioned by the Qur'an: 2:106 which says:

We do not abrogate a verse or let it be forgotten without bringing a better or similar one. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?” We do not abrogate a verse or cause it" to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that God is over all things competent? (Q. 2:106, Medina period)
This is also confirmed in the Meccan verse and therefore attesting to the continuing necessity of replacing one verse with another:
Whenever We replace one verse by another verse - and Allah knows what he should reveal - they are wont to say: You are nothing but a fabricator (who has invented the Qur'an). (Q. 16:101, Meccan period)

For the unwary reader there are many pitfalls in reading the Qur'an, the theory of abrogation is only one. 6




1 It is traditionally accepted that the first sura or chapter of the Qur'an (al-Fatihah), although not the first in chronological order, is a prayer for guidance, and that the answer to that prayer is all that follows: "It is You we worship and You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path – The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor" (Q.1:5-7). The second sura is a reply to this prayer for guidance: "This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of God" (Q. 2:2).

2 There are tendencies and movements within the ummah that assert that the Qur'an should be the only source. Those who maintain that the Qur'an should be the only source are called Qur'anists and believe that the sunna, hadith and shariah, which they believe to be human constructs, should have no place in the Islamic faith. They constitute a fast growing international movement.

Interestingly, among those who supported this tendency was the late Colonel Gadaffi. However, as soon as he expressed his views publicly in favour of the Qur'an only and rejection of the Hadith a committee of scholars was consituted and went to warn him of the consequences if he persisted in his views. If he did he would be considered an infidel, as he would be rejecting many fundamental truths of Islam. The punishment for this is death. Needless to say Gadaffi, although prepared to take on the world, including the USA, retracted his Qur'an only views. This should be warning enough for all those who persist with this heretical view of Islam.

3 This is the well known "verse of the sword, which many consider to have abrogated all peaceful verses.

4 A hadith in the Al- Bukhari collection informs us that sura 9 was the last to be revealed and the last verse was Q. 4:11: "Narrated Al-Bara: The last Verse that was revealed was: 'They ask you for a legal verdict: Say: Allah directs (thus) about Al-Kalalah (those who leave no descendants or ascendants as heirs).' And the last Sura which was revealed was Baraatun (9)" (Al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, Bk. 60, 177). Others claim that it was the penultimate sura. Whichever claim is accepted sura 9 represents the end of the line in the evolutionary process from the peaceful to the violent and would therefore abrogate other verses that are in conflict with it.

In the same Al-Bukhari Hadith collection there is no agreement on which is the last verse or even last sura of the Qur'an. Here there is another hadith that gives sura four and ayat (verse) 176 as being the last: "Narrated Al-Bara: The last Sura that was revealed was Bara'a, and the last Verse that was revealed was: "They ask you for a legal verdict, Say: Allah's directs (thus) about those who leave no descendants or ascendants as heirs." (4.176)" (Al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, Bk. 60, 129)

Sayyid Abul A 'la Mawdudi, in his abridged version of Tafhim al-Qur'an, writes: "According to reliable traditions, this was the last surah of the Qur'an [sura 110] that was revealed some three months before the Prophet's demise. Thereafter, only a few verses were revealed but not any complete surah", Zafar Ishaq Ansari, Towards Understanding the Qur'an, UK Islamic Mission Dawah Centre, Birmingham (UK), 2011, p. 977.

If the sources themselves cannot agree then understandably neither can the scholars.

5 Abrogation is not usually admitted between different sources. In Shāfi'ī's theory abrogation between the Sunna and the Qur'ān is not accepted. In later Islamic jurisprudence this became possible. An example of this is the abrogation of Q. 2:180. also, in the case of Q. 2:24, flogging is no longer performed on those sentenced to stoning.  The abrogating verses are known as nasikh and those abrogated are known as mansukh.
As far as the general theory of abrogation is concerned there is little clarity or consensus, with contemporary scholars denying or correcting the thought of classical scholars. Different theories are advanced and technical terminology introduced to support rival claims. Claims and counterclaims with contemporary scholars claiming that the classics had a broader meaning of naskh which included takhsee.

Lack of clarity and conflicting elements present in the sources can only generate further conflict. At the end of the day this all works against the claim that the Qur'an contains the actual words of God. Can the words of God lack clarity given the specific and unique form of transmission of the message claimed by Islam? The simple fact remains that the Qur'an itself speaks of abrogation of verses and therefore abrogation there must be if the Qur'an is considered to be 100% truthful.

Believers must be able to read the Qur'an without the technical paraphernalia of divergent Islamic jurists.  It is no wonder that there are contemporary movements who want the Qur'an alone. The word and concept of "abrogation / naskh" was used by Imam Shāfi'ī in his book Al Risala in the first two hundred years of Islam.

Independently of the issue of abrogation, an evolution from the non violent to the violent, from the tolerant to the non tolerant cannot be denied and this is dangerous ground and, indeed, fertile ground for modern violence and terrorism of all sorts which is likely to continue despite the hair splitting of Islamic jurists and rival fatwas.

6 Another is the constant use of unnecessary brackets, either round or square, used in translations which sometimes blatantly alter the meaning of the original Arabic. Yet another pitfall is the commentaries written by recent scholars whose aim sometimes seems to be to render the Qur'anic text more palatable to the western mindset. Sometimes they do not correspond to traditional or classical interpretations. They deny they are altering the word of God as the word of God for Muslims is only the original Arabic spoken by the Quraysh. This was the language that the angel Gabriel used when reciting the message to Muhammad. It follows that only those who know classical Arabic have unhindered access to what is considered the literal word of God. See also note 3 on page 1




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