THE WISDOM FUND: Issues & Answers

Does the Quran Promote Violence?

Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, Islamic Horizons, Nov/Dec 2001
Unfortunately, the charged atmosphere engendered by the Sept. 11 tragedy has prompted media opinions, based on some Qur'anic verses that are misquoted and taken out of context, that the Qur'an promotes violence.

Cal Thomas, a columnist for the Washington [DC] Times, did just this in his Oct. 3rd article "Can we be fooled twice?" For example, he presents only part of 5:85: "among those most hostile to the Believers you will find Jews and Pagans. . . " One wonders why he does not complete it: ". . . and nearest among them in love to the Believers you will find those who say: 'We are Christians,' because among them you find men devoted to learning, men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant."

Thomas quotes part of 9:5: ". . . then fight and slay the Pagans wherever find them. Seize them, besiege them, and lie in wait for them." However, when read in its full context, verses 1-5, the meaning is quite different.

Islam does not allow or sanctify the killing any innocent person regardless of his or her religion. According to the Qur'an and Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) life is sacrosanct.

We read in the Qur'an: ". . . Do not take life, which Allah has made sacred, except through justice and the law. He orders this so that you may acquire wisdom" (6:151) and, "Do not take life, which Allah has made sacred, except for a just cause. If anyone is killed unjustly, We allow his heir (to seek justice) but do not allow him to exceed bounds when it comes to taking life, for he is helped (by the law)" (17:33). According to the Qur'an, killing a person unjustly is the same as killing all of humanity, and saving a person is the same as saving all humanity. (See 5:32.)

Other critics of Islam found: "Kill them wherever you catch them. . . " (2:191), ". . . But if they turn away, seize them and kill them wherever you find them. (In any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks." (4:89), and similar verses.

When placed within their textual and historical contexts, however, their true meanings emerge:

"Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for Allah does not love transgressors. Kill them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out, for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. But do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there. 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. Fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression and justice and faith in Allah prevail. If they cease, engage in hostility only against those who practice oppression. There is the law of equality of for the prohibited months, and so for all things prohibited. If any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress likewise against him. But be conscious of Allah and know that He is with those who restrain themselves" (2:190-194).

The other verses read: "They hope that you will reject faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they). So do not take friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (from what is forbidden). If they become renegades, seize them and kill them wherever you find them. (In any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks, except for those who join a group with whom you have a (peace) treaty or those who approach you with hearts calling upon them to be neutral. If Allah had pleased, He could have given them power over you and they would have fought you. So if they withdraw from you and do not fight you, and (instead) send you (guarantees of) peace, then Allah has opened no way for you (to fight them). You will find others who wish to gain your confidence as well as that of their people. Every time they are sent back to temptation they succumb to it. If they do not withdraw from you or give you (guarantees) of peace besides restraining their hands, seize them and kill them wherever you find them. In their case, We have provided you with a clear argument against them" (4:89-91).

Nowhere do these verses give general permission to kill any one. They were revealed to Prophet Muhammad at the time when the nonbelievers were attacking Makkah's Muslims and threatening those in Madinah. In contemporary jargon we may say that as the Muslims were subject to constant terrorist attacks on Madinah, Allah allowed them to defend themselves. These verses do not allow Muslims to engage in terrorism; rather, they are warnings against terrorism, but they also contain clear calls for restraint and care.

Religious texts, if not read within their proper textual and historical contexts, are easily manipulated and distorted. Let us look at the Bible and apply the standards applied above.

In Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah, Moses shares this message from God as the Israelites prepare to enter the Promised Land: "I will make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the long-haired heads of the enemy." (Deut. 32:42)

"When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land that you are entering to possess, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, 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, destroy them utterly. Make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them" (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

"When your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, entices you secretly, saying 'Let us go and serve other gods,' . . . you shall kill him, your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God. . . " (Deuteronomy 13: 6-10)

"When you approach a city to fight it, offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, all the people 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, besiege it. When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, kill all the men in it. Take as booty only the women, children, animals, and all that is in the city, all its spoils. Use the spoils 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. Do not leave alive anything that breathes" (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).

"Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But spare for yourselves all virgin maidens" (Numbers 31:17-18).

"I will send my terror in front of you. . . you shall utterly demolish them and break their pillars in pieces" (Exodus 23: 23-24, 27).

The New Testament attributes the following statements to Jesus:

"Do not think that I have come to send peace on Earth. I did not come to send peace, but a sword. I am sent to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Mathew 10:34-35).

"I say to 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. As for my enemies who do not want me to reign over them, bring them here and kill them in my presence" (Luke 19:26-27).

There are dozens of other verses that, if taken out from their historical context, seem to favor violence. Some violent Muslim groups misuse the Qur'anic verses just as various violent Jewish and Christian groups have used them to justify their causes. The Crusaders used them against Muslims and Jews. The Nazis used them against Jews. Serbian Christians used them against Bosnian Muslims, and Zionists regularly use them against Palestinians. David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Baruch Goldstein all relied on religious texts to justify their violence.

Muslims believe in all Prophets sent by Allah, and so do not misuse or misinterpret the religious texts of other faiths in order to defame them. Even in recent times, Muslims have and are facing genocidal campaigns in Bosnia, Kosova, Chechnia, Kashmir, and Palestine—but they have not questioned Judaism and Christianity. Such a spirit needs to be reciprocated.

[Dr. Siddiqi has a doctoral degree from Harvard, and is the former president of the Islamic Society of North America, a member of the Fiqh Council, and adjunct professor of comparative religion at California State University - Fullerton]



back button