Countering the extremist Interpretation of the Quranic Verse: ‘Kill the Mushrikin Wherever You Find Them’
By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi

In the article titled “The Ruling On the Belligerent Christians” (Rumiyah: 9th issue, page 5), ISIS writes, “The default with regards to the blood of Mushrikin is that it is permissible to shed, due to the statement of Allah Almighty, “And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the Mushrikin 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 Zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” (At-Tawbah 5). ISIS quotes this and other similar verse “Kill them wherever you find them” (2:291) out of context to forcefully justify the killing of all those who do not ascribe their faith to what is commonly called Wahhabism or Salafism.

What is exactly meant by the verse “kill them wherever you find them” (2:191) or “Kill the Mushrikin wherever you find them” (9:5)?  If the readers look at the literal translation of these two verses, without understanding the circumstances and reasons of revelation (Asbabun Nuzul) as authentically mentioned in various Ahadith, they might get confused with the finding of peaceful verses of the Quran or more probably take out the unwanted meanings from them.

But, in fact these verses have a particular condition and can’t be applied today in the circumstances of this 21st century. In these verses, all disbelievers are not meant and neither is it meant that every non-believer should be killed wherever he or she is found.

Full Context of the Verse 2:191

To understand the verse (2:191) of the Quran in the way majority mainstream Muslim scholars have done so far, we need to examine the well-interpreted context of the verse (2:191) in full that is vividly clear from 2:190 to 2:195.

The context and occasion of the Revelation of the Verses 2:191

This verse was revealed at a time when the holy prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) set out for Makkah to perform Umrah along with his 1400 companions. When they reached Hudaybiyyah, the polytheists [Mushrikin] did not allow him and his companions to enter the city and perform Umrah as intended. It took a great deal of negotiating to reach the agreement that he and his companions would perform Umrah next year. This pact is known as treaty of Hudaybiyyah. The believers came back to Madinah as per the established treaty, in the next year, when the holy prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) decided to go to Makkah for Umrah, his holy companions started feeling concerned about the Arab polytheists who could not be trusted upon in a peace treaty as they were used to break treaties.

It was quite possible that the Arab polytheists or infidels may attack them. The problem was that fighting within the precincts of Makkah was not permissible in Islam. This was the time when Allah Almighty revealed the verse 2:192, stating that the sacredness of the precincts of Makkah must be observed by Muslims, but if the disbelievers attack them within the sacred limits, it would be permissible for them to fight back in defence. This way, the verse allowed them to meet the challenge of their oppression and kill them wherever they found them.

So, it is very clear that the verse “kill them wherever you find them…” does not include all common polytheists and non-Muslims such as those living in the world today. It only includes those who break peace-treaty and contentment of the country and kill innocents. So fighting against such infidel oppressors who break peace-treaty of the country is allowed, no matter whether the oppressor is a Muslim or a non-Muslim. But it should also be noted here that fighting in defence should be done through military operation by the state.

Explaining the Quranic Verse 9:5 [i.e. Kill the Mushrikin wherever you find them]

Many classical, traditional and modern scholars have presented adequate and satisfactory interpretation of the verse 9:5 which is essential for every believer of Islam to believe. Some of them are as follows:

Dr. Abdul Haleem comments on this verse (9:5):

“We must also comment on another verse much referred to but notoriously misinterpreted and taken out of context – that which became labelled as the ‘Sword verse’: “…Then when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, take them and besiege them and prepare for them every ambush….” [ 9:5 ] The hostility and “bitter enmity” of the polytheists and their Fitna [persecution, 2:193 ; 8:39] of the Muslims grew so great that the unbelievers were determined to convert the Muslims back to paganism or finish them off. “They would persist in fighting you until they turn you back from your religion, if they could….” [2:217]

“It was these hardened polytheists in Arabia, who would accept nothing other than the expulsion of the Muslims or their reversion to paganism, and who repeatedly broke their treaties, that the Muslims were ordered to treat in the same way – to fight them or expel them….Even with such an enemy Muslims were not simply ordered to pounce on them and reciprocate by breaking the treaty themselves; instead, an ultimatum was issued, giving the enemy notice, that after the four sacred months mentioned in 9:5 above, the Muslims would wage war on them. The main clause of the sentence “kill the polytheists” is singled out by some Western scholars to represent the Islamic attitude to war; even some Muslims take this view and allege that this verse abrogated other verses on war. This is pure fantasy, isolating and de-contextualising a small part of a sentence. The full picture is given in 9:1-15, which gives many reasons for the order to fight the polytheists. They continuously broke their agreements and aided others against the Muslims, they started hostilities against the Muslims, barred others from becoming Muslims, “expelled” Muslims from the Holy Mosque and even from their own homes. At least eight times the passage mentions their misdeeds against the Muslims. Consistent with restrictions on war elsewhere in the Qur’an, the immediate context of this “Sword Verse” exempts such polytheists who do not break their agreements and who keep the peace with the Muslims [9:7]. It orders that those enemies seeking safe conduct should be protected and delivered to the place of safety they seek [9:6]. The whole of this context to v. 5, with all its restrictions, is ignored by those who simply isolate one part of a sentence to build their theory of war in Islam on what is termed “The Sword Verse” even when the sword’s word does not occur anywhere in the Qur’an”.  (Muhammad Abdul Haleem, “Understanding The Qur’an” {I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd 2005}, pp. 65-66, “Jihad: a war against all Non-Muslims or not? By Kevin Abdullah Kareem”)

Ibn Arabi Rahimahullah says:

“It is clear from this that the meaning of this verse is to kill the pagans who are waging war against you” (Ibn Arabi, Ahkam Al-Quran: 2/456)

Imam Muhammad Al-Ghazali Writes His Commentary on Surah 9:5

“Muslims are therefore basically opposed to war and are never the ones to start it. By the imperative of their own religion, they are taught not to impose their beliefs on others by force. Their mission is to impart and communicate Allah’s message, leaving people free to decide whether to believe or reject it. Those who refuse to believe are free to pursue their lives in peace as long as they do not pose any obstacle or threat to Islam and the Muslims, who perceive their faith as the strongest and most vital binding relationship between Allah and humankind and that it is their responsibility to make others aware of it and provide them with the opportunity to understand and appreciate it.

“This is the basis of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in Islamic society. Allah says elsewhere in the Qur’an: “Therefore, if they (the unbelievers) do not trouble you and cease their hostility towards you and offer you peace, God gives you no authority over them” [al-Nisa: 90]. Those who take up arms against a Muslim state or parts of it must be met with force, and if they are overcome, they should be disarmed. Once that is achieved, they are free to lead their own lives and practise their beliefs in peace and security under the protection of the Muslim authorities, in return for which they have to pay a levy.

“This is the background against which prescription of the Jizyah, or exemption tax, came into being. It is not due from those who are neutral and have never taken up arms against the Muslim state. The Qur’anic verse gives ample explanation for the reason behind the establishment of this tax, for it stipulates who should pay it. They are those “who do not believe in God and the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, and who do not follow the true religion, until they pay the exemption tax unreservedly and with humility.”

(See: Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali, “A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an” [The International Institute of16: Islamic Thought, Second Printing, 2005], pp. 183-184, “Jihad: a war against all Non-Muslims or not? By Kevin Abdullah Kareem”)

Mr. Kevin Abdullah Kareem writes:

“The famous Hanafi Jurist Imam al-Tahawi also adhered to the position that non-believers could only be fought if they resorted to “armed conflict” and not simply on account of their “disbelief” (See: Ahmad al-Tahawi [d. 933]: “Kitab al-Mukhtasar”, ed. Abu al-Wafa al-Afghani [Cairo 1950], p. 281)

“This view is also strongly supported by the next authentic narration [Hadith] of our Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him): It is reported the Prophet said: “… Leave the Abyssinians alone, as long as they leave you alone, and do not engage the Turks, as long as they do not engage you…” (Abu Dawood (3748) and an-Nasaii (3125); Imam al-Albani graded it as authentic in his book, “Sahih al-Jami”, Hadith No. 3384, and also in his book, “Silsilat al-A ‘Hadeeth as-Sahihah”, Hadith No. 772)

Notice how the above Hadith contradicts the view of those who believe that the Holy Qur’an instructs Muslims to fight all Non-Muslims simply on account of their disbelief. If God in the Holy Qur’an [verse 9:29] had commanded Muslims to fight “all” non-Muslims simply on account of their disbelief, then there would have been no room for a statement from the Prophet like this. The above narration does not confirm the view that Muslims should attack people who do not pose any threat towards the Islamic country, nor have any intention to attack Muslims”.

Imam Muhammad al-Ghazali concludes his commentary on Surah 9:5

“Our natural disposition and tendency favour peace, harmony, and stability among relatives, neighbours, and friends. However, while condoning and encouraging these tendencies, the Qur’an also says: “…Much as you dislike it, fighting has been prescribed for you. But you may despise something that is good for you, and you may love something that is bad for you. God knows, but you do not …” [2:216]. Peace is to be welcomed when rights are protected and beliefs are respected; but if peace means abject surrender and subjugation, it cannot be easily defended on moral or realistic grounds. This delicate balance is well presented in the verse: “… They ask you whether fighting is permitted during the sacred month. Say, ‘fighting in it is a grave matter’ …” [2:217], meaning it is not permitted. However, what should be done if aggression is perpetrated, terrorizing peaceful communities and jeopardizing their rights of worship and belief? Should not aggression be repelled, in order to protect one’s rights? The verse continues: “….but to deny God and debar people from His path and prevent them from worshiping in the Holy Mosque, and to drive its inhabitants away, is far graver in the sight of God…” [2:217]. In short “…sedition (Arabic: Fitnah) is a greater threat than killing…” [2:217] and fighting or armed resistance should be permitted in “defence” of one’s integrity and beliefs. However, in circumstances in which we are faced with enemies who will not be satisfied until we forsake our religion and way of life and adopt theirs, defensive action becomes obligatory and the blame for instigating the conflict will not fall on us but on those who were the cause of it.

“These introductory remarks enable us to appreciate fully the meaning of the following verse: “…fight for the cause of God those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression because God does not love the aggressors…” [2:190]. This is an eternal principle, and everything else the Qur’an has to say on this subject agrees with it. Some commentators have been erroneously misled into believing that Surah al-Tawbah contains injunctions that contradict this principle. The command given in that Surah to undertake to fight back does not, however prescribe fighting against fair-minded, neutral, or reasonable people. It condones it against groups who have grudges against the Muslims and are actively undermining their peace and security and inflicting harm upon them. That is the reason for the Qur’an’s condemnation that: “…Evil is what they (the unbelievers) have done; they respect no pacts or agreements with the believers and they are the aggressors…..” [Al-Tawbah: 9-10]

“Furthermore, the Qur’an emphasizes the need to confront those aggressors in a just and clean fight, by asking: “…Would you not fight against those who have broken their oaths and conspired to drive the Messenger out, and attacked you first? Do you fear them? Surely you should fear God instead, if you are true believers…” [Al-Tawbah: 13]. It is difficult to see how this can be seen as prescribing waging war against those who do not commit aggression, or that it overrides the principle given in al-Baqarah which states clearly that fighting is undertaken only in response to aggression.

“This – when propounded by some Muslims – is at best a misunderstanding, and at worst an objectionable undermining of eternal Islamic principles, inviting noxious charges against Islam, for which we have only ourselves to blame. Here it is worth stressing that the Qur’an prescribes legitimate defensive war on condition that it is undertaken for the cause of God and not for personal glory nor to gain a special advantage; nor should wars be prescribed for the sake of vainglorious and bigoted nationalist interests to prove that a particular country is supreme and master of all ! Wars conducted in recent times have been organized to usurp the wealth and the resources of weaker nations, and to colonize and control their lands and destinies for the benefit of strong and mighty ones. Far from being just wars, fought in the name of God, they are true works of evil.

(Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali, “A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an” [The International Institute of 16: Islamic Thought, Second Printing, 2005], pp. 18-20, see also “Jihad: a war against all Non-Muslims or not? By Kevin Abdullah Kareem”)

Having analyzed the afore-mentioned details about the full context, application of the Quranic verses 2:291 and 9:5, and their reasons and circumstances of revelation (Shan-e-Nuzul) through the comments of Islamic theologians, jurists and scholars, it is vividly clear that these verses do not allow anyone to go and kill any non-Muslim or Muslim in the name of eliminating shirk. Therefore, the members of ISIS who misinterpret or mis-contextualise these verses in a bid justify their terror attacks are greatly violating Islam—the Din that is naturally based on peace and tranquillity. Thus those who are rushing to support ISIS or brainwashing the Muslim community are creating Fitna in the land and will draw on themselves the wrath of Allah Almighty.

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