Authoritative Islamic Exegesis (Tafseer) on the verses of Jihad mentioned in Surah Tauba—the 9thchapter of the holy Qur’an

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi,

 There are almost 24 verses in the Qur’an that seem to call for ‘jihad’(struggle) or ‘qital’(warfare). But the authoritative commentaries and exegesis (tafseer) on the 24 verses of Jihad in the Qur’an clarify that their interpretations cannot be fairly done until the historical situations, contextual rulings, literal nuances and terminological implications of Jihad are taken into serious consideration.

The basic principle employed by the classical Islamic scholars and Qur’an exegetes is not to miss out on theshan-e-nuzul (reason for revelation) as well as the historical contexts when interpreting any single verse of the Qur’an. This canonical principle concludes that any verse revealed in a certain context restricted to a particular time, cannot not be extended to our times.

Cherry-picking the Qur’anic verses, taking them out of context and ignoring countless other Qur’anic verses and Prophetic traditions is completely antithetical to the foundational principles of the Islamic theology. But, this is what the present-day radical jihadist ideologues are doing to further their nefarious objectives; mischief-making and hate-mongering in the name of Islam. Much in the same way, throwing around baseless objections and lame accusations without conducting an objective study is also contrary to all etiquettes of justice and fairness.

With an aim to apprise the readers of the true essence and contexts of these verses of Jihad as mentioned in the Qur’an, I am reproducing below the most misused Qur’anic verses of Jihad mentioned in its ninth chapter (Surah Tauba) along with the authentic interpretations of each verse, as rendered by the well-versed classical Islamic scholars. 

Noted Islamic scholar in India, Maulana Yaseen Akhtar Misbahi, has compiled the authentic tafseer (exegetic explanation) of theses verses in his book “Aayat-e-Jihad Ka Qur’ani Mafhoom” (Verses of Jihad and their Qur’anic meaning) published in Urdu.

In fact, most of the ‘sword verses’ are mentioned in the very 9th chapter of the Qur’an (Surah Taubah). Of them, three verses are often misquoted and abused by the self-styled jihadists and radical Islamists. They are as the following:

  • “And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakat, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful”. (Surah Taubah: 5)


  • “Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give you victory over them and satisfy the breasts of a believing people”. ((Surah Taubah: 14)


  • “O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous.” (Surah Taubah: 123)

Let’s first trace back the shan-e-nuzul (historical context) of these verses! Maulana Misbahi has given a comprehensive, yet concise explanation to the above verses relating to Jihad. He writes:

“Surah Taubah was revealed in Madina. There was an agreement between the pagans of Mecca and the Muslims. Most of the pagans broke the agreement and some of them did not. These verses came in relation to the pagans who had broken the covenant and were planning to attack the Muslims. It was only then that the order was given to fight and slay them wherever they might be found. As far the pagans who adhered to the covenant, the Holy Qur’an states: “But those pagans, with whom you had covenanted they did not detract anything in your contract, and did not help anyone against you, then fulfil their covenant till the promised day. Undoubtedly, Allah loves the pious ones.” (Surah Taubah Verse: 4).

Using the most excellent method of Qur’anic interpretation “tafseer bil Qur’an” (explanation of the Qur’anic verses by other verses), Maulana explains:

“These verses were for those who broke the covenant, who had committed treason and were either preparing for war on the then Muslims or were helping those who were planning to wage war against the Muslims. But those pagans who adhered to the covenant were exempted from this verse. Rather, the holy Qur’an ordered to honour and fulfil the covenant that was made with them. In addition, the Qur’an further states: “‘O beloved Prophet, if any one of the pagans seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know” (Surah Taubah: Verse 6).”

Apropos the above-mentioned verse (Surah Taubah: 123) which exhorts Muslims to fight the pagans who are close to them, Maulana Misbahi renders this explanation:

“This means that the methods of battle and war are different and variant depending on whether the enemies live close by or far away. Those people who live close by yet have enmity and hatred for you, place thorns in your path, are mocking your message and invitation, are looking at you with contempt and scorn, are grieving your friends and acquaintances and are making plans against you with your enemies, you would first deal with them, before you worry about the enemies who are far away.”

Historical context of the Surah Taubah

Explaining other verses of jihad mentioned in Surah Taubah, Maulana Misbahi gives a historical account of the chapter (Surah Taubah) to depict the true picture:

“Surah Taubah was revealed one year after the conquest of Makkah in the ninth Hijri. On the 10th of Zul Hijjah, Hazrat Ali (r. a) recited 30 or 40 verses of the Qur’an to the pilgrims assembling on the Mount ‘Uqba’ near Makkah. He passed on the following four messages to the pilgrims from the Prophet (pbuh): ‘After this year pagans will not be allowed to enter the precincts of the holy Ka’aba. No nude person will walk around the Ka’aba (as was the practice in the days of ignorance or jahiliyah). Only believers will enter Paradise. All covenants and agreements which have been made with the Prophet and which have a specific end date will be respected and adhered to, whereas those covenants which do not have a specific end date will become null and void after four months. When the pagans heard all this, they said, “0 ‘Ali! Tell your cousin (the Prophet pbuh) that we have broken the covenant. We have no agreement with him other than battling with spears and arrows.”

Having brought to the readers the real situation and context behind the above verse, Maulana Misbahi writes:

“The hands of friendship cannot be extended to those who threaten warfare and bloodshed and neither can they be showered with petals of love and affection. The only solution is to face and confront them for defence. This is the basic principle in the war state. All armies and military units act upon this principle and code in war. This was the principle of wars in previous eras; it is the code of armies today and will remain the basic principle in future generations too.”


  • “Indeed, the postponing [of restriction within sacred months] is an increase in disbelief by which those who have disbelieved are led [further] astray. They make it lawful one year and unlawful another year to correspond to the number made unlawful by Allah and [thus] make lawful what Allah has made unlawful. Made pleasing to them is the evil of their deeds; and Allah does not guide the disbelieving people.” (Surah Taubah: 9:37)


Maulana gives the explanation of this Qur’anic verse (9: 37):

“When the Arabs, who were habituated of waging wars and battles, wanted to battle during the forbidden months in Islam (Dhul Qa’dah, Dhul Hijjah, Muharram, Rajab) they would change the forbidden months as they saw fit for their desires or for worldly gains. The Qur’an states that declaring the months as lawful and unlawful as they see fit is another mischief of the pagans alongside all other mistreatments meted out by them. Greed and gluttony had blinded them and they had gone astray. As a result of their evil actions, Allah did not show them the right path because He does not guide those who remain stubborn in their misguidance.”

It is also interesting to note that Maulana brings into discussion, in the same thread, the matter of free will in accepting or rejecting the faith, as outlined in the Islamic thought. He writes: “Amongst the human generations, there have always been many different traditions, cultures, customs and colours. There are people on the right path as well as people who are misguided. Guidance and misguidance have been clearly explained and Allah the Almighty has given mankind the choice to decide the path they desire. Those whose hearts are pure and whose nature is wholesome accept the truth through divine guidance. And those whose hearts are void of the light of guidance remain trapped in the quagmire of misguidance.”


  • “Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise.” (9:111)


Explaining this verse, Maulana writes:


“In this verse, Muslims are given a glad tiding. They are told that they will be given paradise in exchange for their lives and wealth that they laid down for the cause of the righteousness. Thus, they are exhorted to live [rather than die] and strive for the noble objectives using their wisdom, intelligence, experience, tongue, pen, wealth and precious life. Therefore, they should use all their intellectual, spiritual and physical strength in the righteous path; should obey the divine commands; should resist the temptations of the selfish desires and the evil whims and deceit of Satan; should worship the Creator and help all His creations; should respect their lives and faith more than their own lives. If they do this, then there will be everlasting peace and comfort for them. They will be deserving of paradise in exchange.”

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and doctoral researcher in media and culture studies. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired Diploma in Qur’anic Arabic from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P., and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies, Badaun, U.P. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and has pursued his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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