Does the Qur’an Teach Violence?
By Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi
Q: Does Islam really teach peace? I am a Christian and I do not hate Muslims, but I read in the Qur’an verses like, “And slay them wherever ye catch them..” (2:191) and “…But if they turn away, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks.” (4:89). How can a peaceful religion teach these things? How do you explain these verses. These quotations from your Holy Book do really make us very uneasy with your faith. I would appreciate your reply.
A: Thank you very much for your kind words that you do not hate Muslims. Hate is not good for any person. I want to assure you that we Muslims also do not hate non-Muslims, be they Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhist or followers of any religion or no religion. Our religions does not allow killing any innocent person regardless of his or her religion. The life of all human beings is sacrosanct according to the teachings of the Qur’an and the guidance of our blessed Prophet Muhammad -peace be upon him and upon all the Prophets and Messengers of Allah.
The Qur’an says about the prohibition of murder, “…Take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus does He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.” (al-An’am 6:151) and Allah says in the Qur’an, “Nor take life - which Allah has made sacred - except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, We have given his heir authority (to demand Qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the law)” (al-Isra’ 17:33). According to the Qur’an, killing any person without a just cause is as big a sin as killing the whole humanity and saving the life of one person is as good deed as saving the whole humanity. (See al-Ma’idah 5:32)
However, your question is valid then how come the Qur’an says, “kill them wherever you find them…” as it is mentioned in Surah al-Baqarah 2:191 and Surah al-Nisa’ 4:89. The answer is simple and that is you should read these verses in their textual and historical context. You should read the whole verse and it is better that you read few verses before and few after. Read the full text and see what is said:
“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors. And kill them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, kill them. Such is the reward of those who reject faith. But if they cease, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression. The prohibited month, for the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.” (al-Baqarah 2:190-194)
For your second quotation also read the full text:
“They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): so take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (from what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks. Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (Of peace), or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If Allah had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (guarantees of) peace, then Allah hath opened no way for you (to war against them). Others you will find that wish to gain your confidence as well as that of their people: every time they are sent back to temptation, they succumb thereto; if they withdraw not from you nor give you (guarantees) of peace besides restraining their hands, seize them and slay them wherever ye get them; in their case We have provided you with a clear argument against them. (Al-Nisa’ 4:89-91)
Now tell me honestly, do these verses give a free permission to kill any one any where? These verses were revealed by God to Prophet Muhammad at the time when Muslims were attacked by the non-Muslims of Makkah on a regular basis. They were frightening the Muslim community of Madinah. One may say using the contemporary jargon that there were constant terrorist attacks on Madinah and in this situation Muslims were given permission to fight back the “terrorist”. These verses are not a permission for “terrorism” but they are a warning against the “terrorists.” But even in these warnings you can see how much restraint and care is emphasized.
It is important that we study the religious texts in their proper context. When these texts are not read in their proper textual and historical contexts they are manipulated and distorted. It is true that some Muslims manipulate these verses for their own goals. But this is not only with Islamic texts, it is also true with the texts of other religions. I can quote dozens of verses from the Bible which seem very violent, if taken out from their historical context. These Biblical texts have been used by many violent Jewish and Christian groups. Crusaders used them against Muslims and Jews. Nazis used them against Jews. Recently Serbian Christians used them against Bosnian Muslims. Zionists are using them regularly against Palestinians.
Let me mention just a few verses from the Old Testament and New Testament and tell me what do you say about them:
“When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you. And when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. (Deutronomy 7:1-2)
“When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you… Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes (Deutronomy 20:10-17)
Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, sparefor yourselves. (Numbers 31:17-18)
Even in the New Testament we read the following statement attributed to Jesus saying to his disciples:
“I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence. (Luke 19:26-27)