By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed
03 June, 2015
(Published exclusively on New Age Islam with Permission of the authors and publishers)
12. Non-Violence and Defensive Warfare
12.1. Qur’anic Model of Non-Violence
The Qur’an illustrates a model of non-violence in its last revealed Sura, al-Maidah in the following passage:
“Tell them with truth the story of the two sons of Adam: they offered a sacrifice; it was accepted from one of them and not accepted from the other, who said (to his brother): ‘I will surely kill you.’ (The brother) replied: ‘God accepts (offering) only from the heedful (Muttaqin) (5:27), and even if you stretch out your hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against you to kill you for I fear God, the Lord of the Worlds (28). I would rather you bring upon yourself my sin as well as your own sin and become an inmate of hellfire, and that is the reward of the oppressors’ (29). The (selfish) soul of the other prompted him to kill his brother: he murdered him, and found himself among the losers” (5:30).
The Qur’an concludes its foregoing story with the following moral:
“For that reason We decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills any person - unless it be (in punishment for) murder or causing corruption on earth - it shall be, as if he had killed all humanity, and whoso saves a life, it shall be, as if he had saved the life of all humanity…” (5:32).
12.2. Resistance to Persecution
As suggested in the underlined exception clause of the foregoing verse (5:32), the Qur’an recognizes the need for defending oneself against persecution. Thus one of the passages from the late Mecca period declares:
“The requital (Jaza’) for an affliction is a similar affliction, yet one who forgives and reconciles, his reward is with God for God does not love the oppressors (42:40). And whoever defends himself after being oppressed – it is they who are in no way (to blame) (41). The way (to blame) is only against those who oppress people and wreak terror (Yabghyuna) on earth - it is they who (await) a grievous punishment (42). Yet anyone who is patient and forgives - it is they (who show) determination (in handling) matters” (42:43).
“And if you take your turn (to punish), then return with what you were made to bear; but if you are patient, it will certainly be best for those who are patient (16:126). So be patient, and your patience is only through God, and do not grieve over them, nor feel depressed by their plots” (16:127)
12.3. Permission to Fight against Oppression
During the 12-year span of the Meccan period (610-622) the Qur’an repeatedly asked the Prophet and his followers to endure oppression in a non-violent manner. But this proved to be of no avail, and eventually the Prophet and his followers had to abandon their home and exile themselves to Medina to avoid persecution (622). It was around this time – the first year of the Medinite period (623) that the Qur’an gives them permission to fight:
“Permission (to fight) is given to those who have been wronged and God is indeed Able to grant them victory (22:39): those who have been driven from their homelands unlawfully – only because they say: ‘Our Lord is God!’ Had God not driven people, some (communities) by others – monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques in which God's name is regularly proclaimed, would have been demolished.(Remember,) God helps those who help His (cause). Indeed God is Powerful, Almighty” (22:40).1
12.4. Exhortations to Fight an Attacking Army
As the upcoming Muslim community in Medina came under repeated attacks from its powerful enemies, the Qur’an tutored it to fight the invaders. Thus in the valley of Badr, when a motley crowd of the Prophet’s followers faced a powerful Quraysh army (624), the revelation prepares, encourages, reassures and inspires the Muslims to fight (Notes 48, 50, 53, 67/Ch. 3). In the immediate aftermath of Badr, when the Quraysh were preparing to attack Medina to avenge their defeat, the Qur’an declares:
“Say to those (O Muhammad,) who deny (the revelation) that if they desist (from attacking you), their past (violence) will be forgiven; but if they revert (to hostility), the example of the ancient people is already set (for them to take warning) (8:38). Fight them until there is no more persecution, and the religion (din) of God is fully established; but if they desist (from fighting), surely God will be Observant of what they do” (8:39).
The ensuing period saw the Medinite Muslims fighting against powerful armies at Uhad (625) and Trench (627). Later, at Hudaybiyyah (628), an unarmed company of pilgrims, comprising practically the entire adult Muslim population at that time, risked annihilation at the hands of a mighty Quraysh army camping nearby. Each of these events found the Muslims in precarious condition, from moment to moment, and for days, and sometimes months together, as their enemies were overwhelmingly powerful, militarily poised to wipe them out. The revelation therefore gives them clear instructions to fight, even if it was to be in the traditionally sacred months or in the sacred precincts of Mecca, but urges them to keep within limits (2:190), and to cease fighting when there was no more persecution, and the din of God was established, or when their enemy desisted from fighting (2:193).
“Fight in God’s way those who fought against you, but do not exceed limits. Surely God does not love those who exceed limits (2:190). Kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out - for persecution is worse than slaughter; but do not fight them in the precincts of the Sacred Mosque until they (come to) fight you in it. But if they do fight you, kill them: this is the recompense for the disbelievers (191). But if they desist (remember,) God is Most Forgiving and Merciful (192); and fight them until there is no more persecution, and the religion (din) of God is established - but if they desist, let there be no hostility except with the oppressors” (2:193).
12.5. Fighting Is Condemned but Justified On Specific Grounds
Imbued with the virtues of mercy and kindness enjoined by the Qur’an, some among the Prophet’s followers disliked fighting. The Qur'an warns them that their judgment might be fallacious (2:216), and argues that while fighting was bad, religious persecution and forcing people into exile was even worse (2:217, 4:75).
“Fighting is prescribed for you though it may be abhorrent to you. But you may dislike a thing, which is good for you, while you may like something, which is bad for you. (Remember,) God Knows (what is good and what is bad for you), but you do not know (2:216). They ask you (O Muhammad,) about fighting in the sacred month. Say: ‘Fighting in it is a grave (offence), but graver still before God is to obstruct God's way, to deny Him, and (to deny access to) the Sacred Mosque and drive away its people - for persecution is worse than slaughter.’ They will never cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith, if they could just do so. And if any of you do turn back from your faith and die in disbelief, their deeds will be of no avail in this life or in the hereafter, and they will be inmates of hellfire and they will remain there” (2:217).
“And why should you not fight in the cause of God and of the weak (and oppressed) – men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord, rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and provide us a protector from You; and provide us a helper from You” (4:75).
It is clear from the foregoing Qur’anic illustrations that the Qur’an justified fighting on three major grounds: defence of faith, persecution and exile.
12.6. The Ultimate Goal Is Peaceful Coexistence
The Qur’an fully clarifies itself in a passage dating from the late Medinite period that asks the Muslims to be just and virtuous to those who did not fight against them over religion, nor expelled them from their homelands (60:8), and reminds them that their enemies could eventually turn their friends (60:7), thus predicting the eventual friendship of the Medinite Muslim community with their Meccan foes. The revelation also clarifies that it forbade the Muslims to befriend only those who fought against them over religion, and expelled them from their homelands and helped (others) in their expulsion (60:9).
“It may be that God will bring about love between you and those of them you (now) regard as your enemies. (Remember,) God is Able (to do anything) and God is Most Forgiving and Merciful (60:7). God does not forbid you to be virtuous (tabarru) and just to those who did not fight you over religion, nor drove you from your homelands. Indeed, God loves the just (8). God only forbids you to befriend those who fought against you over religion, and expelled you from your homelands, and backed (others) in your expulsion; and whoever befriends them – it is they who are unjust” (60:9).
The opening injunction of this passage is a general reminder to all warring factions for all times of the prospect of an eventual reconciliation. The Qur’an therefore cannot approve of any chemical, biological, or atomic warfare because their injurious effects can outlast the war, and only intensify the enmity even after peace has been restored. Likewise, destruction of civil amenities, and planting of mines and booby traps or any form of explosives that threaten the life of ordinary citizens after the end of hostilities is not permitted by the Qur’an.
12.7. The Qur’an Does Not Approve Of Violent Acts
All Qur’anic verses relating to fighting came during the Medinite period, when the Muslims had formed an integrated community under the unified leadership of the Prophet, and were in a position to defending themselves in an organized and politically responsible manner. This was different from responding violently against injustice in an individual capacity or a fragmented manner. The Qur’anic Meccan period exhortations on jihad (Ch. 11.2) are also not supportive of any recourse to violence in an individual or splintered manner, when faced with corporate oppression. Accordingly, one of its verses describes goodness (non-violence) as a means to win the heart of the oppressors:
“Goodness (Hasanat) and evil (Sayy’iat)* are not equal. Therefore, return the latter with that which is good, and then the one between you and whom there was enmity will indeed become your close friend (41:34). None is granted this except those who are patient; and none is granted this except the very fortunate” (41:35). *[The word has a broad shade of meaning - from minor lapses to abominable deeds.]
Moreover, the Qur’an does not furnish any example of a prophet raising arms against his opponents, or inciting his people into violence: one after another, the prophets are shown to have sworn to endure the injustices of their people until God made the truth manifest.
In sum, the Qur’anic message enjoins a peaceful and non-violent approach in the face of corporate oppression. It however allows politically responsible warfare under a duly vested authority on three grounds as mentioned above: i) for religious freedom and against ii) persecution and iii) forced exile. However, Islamic jurists have interpreted the Qur’anic message on resisting persecution to justifying violent rebellion, if persecution is unbearable, unrelenting, unending and endemic.
12.8. Read in Isolation, Verses on Contemporary Battles Can Be Misleading
Given the historical dimension of the Qur’anic references to fighting, reading a verse in isolation and out of context can be misleading and dangerous. Thus, for example, verse 9:5 reads:
“But when the sacred months are past, kill the pagans wherever you find them, and capture them, surround them, and watch for them in every lookout; but if they repent and establish regular prayer and give charity, then let them go their way, for God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (9:5).
Read out of context, this is a call to take up arms against all pagans until they embraced faith. However, the very next verse states:
“If anyone of the pagans seeks your protection* (O Muhammad), grant him protection, so that he may hear the words of God; and then deliver him to a place, safe for him. That is because they are a people without knowledge” (9:6) *[Lit., ‘seeks to become your neighbor.’]
Together 9:5/6 clarify that these verses relate to an ongoing state of war between the Muslims and the pagans, and that the instruction in 9:5 was in relation to those pagan Arabs (the Quraysh) who mounted an aggression against the Muslims, and was not meant for those who sought peace. The people who sought peace were to be given protection, and were not to be coerced to embrace Islam, as clearly explained by Muhammad Asad on the strength of al-Razi.2
12.9. Fighting against the People of the Book
One of the verses of Surah al-Tawbah declares:
“Fight those from among the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) who do not have faith in God, nor in the Last Day, and do not consider forbidden what God and His messenger have forbidden, and do not acknowledge the religion of truth - until they pay tribute (Jizyah) willingly as subjects” (9:29).
This is the only verse in the Qur’an, which gives an unqualified instruction to fight (Qatilu) the People of the Book (Christians and Jews). Its directive, however, must be comprehended in the historical context of the revelation: the verse was revealed in the course of Tabuk expedition and enabled the Prophet to form peace alliances with the Christian and Jewish settlements of the southern regions of Byzantium without any military engagement - as noted earlier (Ch. 3.12). The question arises: does the verse constitute a Qur’anic injunction for all times? The Qur’an has the answer.
The inclusion of the Prophet in the verse lends it an existential character. If perpetual warfare was intended, fighting (Qatala) might have been a compulsory duty for all Muslims for all times. But neither the Prophet, nor his immediate successors imposed any such condition on the community. Thus, from early decades of Islam, the Muslim soldiers were paid for their services. Hence, the Qur’anic foregoing instruction to fight against the People of the Book must be context specific, and cannot therefore be regarded as a Qur’anic injunction for perpetual warfare.
12.10. The Broader Notion of Jizyah
The Qur’an refers to the term Jizyah only in the foregoing verse (9:29). It uses the root JZY across its text with the connotation of a reward for good deeds, or a just recompense for something good or evil.3 As recorded in the traditions, Jizyah was used as an exemption tax, which all able bodied non-Muslims were required to pay for their exemption from military services. Accordingly, women, under age and old men, sick or crippled men, and monks and priests were exempt from this tax. Those non-Muslims who volunteered military services were also exempt.4 This apart, Jizyah also served as a balancing tax - as a partial substitute for the Zakat that Muslims were required to pay towards public funds. Thus, in effect, Jizyah was a combination of welfare levy, and exemption tax. Through the medieval ages, the Western scholarship has ignored this social and political equation and presented Jizyah as somewhat of a punitive tax on a vanquished community. However, historical facts dating from early decades of Islam demonstrate that the vanquished communities were indeed happy to pay the Jizyah, as it gave them such protection and security, as they had never seen before.5 The concept of Jizyah was however abused with the forging of a document in the fifth century of Islam, and many vanquished Christians communities were subjected to whole range of restrictions.6 But that is history, the course of which is set by political ambitions, clash of interest, and power equations. This summary focuses at the Qur’anic notion of jizyah as illustrated by the Qur’an and applied in the early years of Islam, and therefore historical developments and distortions are excluded.
1. The underlined stipulation underscores the Qur’anic sanction of religious freedom, and complements the Qur’anic message on religious tolerance (Ch. 9.2).
2. Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 9, Note 11.
3. Illustration on the Qur’anic use of the root JZY:
Jaza’ (32:17, 34:37, 39:34), yajzi (24:38, 30:45), yujzo (25:75), najzi (29:7): a reward for good deeds
Yujza (6:160) : a recompense or a just award
tujza (92:19): a reward in return for a favor
jaza’ (4:93, 42:40), yujza (40:40), yujzo (6:120): a recompense for an evil deed
4. Thomas W. Arnold, Preaching of Islam, 2nd revised edition 1913, reprinted Delhi 1990, p. 61.
5. Here are some historical glimpses extracted from the works of Philip K. Hitti, and Thomas Arnold.
i. The terms of surrender of Jerusalem and Damascus to Khalid Ibn al-Walid and Caliph Umar demonstrate that jizyah was collected in lieu of security of life, property, and the churches of the dhimmis(people of other faiths under covenant of protection), and for the protection of their city walls against any aggressor. The principle was so noble, and its application was so honest, that many Christian settlements looked forward to their integration with the Islamic state. - Philip K.Hitti, History of the Arabs, 1937, 10th edition, London 1993, p. 152
ii. In the face of an imminent aggression from Emperor Heraclius, Caliph Umar’s General, Abu Ubaidah issued a proclamation to returning the money (Jizyah) that was collected from the Christian subjects of the conquered cities of Syria, fearing his inability to protect them. The order was put into effect and enormous sums were paid back to the people out of the state treasury, so much so that the Christians called down blessings upon the Muslims, saying: “May God give you rule over us again, and make you victorious over the Romans; had it been they, they would not have given us back anything, but would have taken all that remained with us.”- Thomas W. Arnold, Preaching of Islam, 2nd revised edition, 1913, reprinted Delhi 1990, p. 61.
6. Thomas W. Arnold, Preaching of Islam, 2nd revised edition, 1913, reprinted Delhi 1990, p. 56-58.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.