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The Quranic Commandments Regarding War/Jihad:

by Dr. Basharat Ahmad

Misconceptions regarding Jihad/Islamic war cleared


The Holy Quran clearly commands:

"So when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters, wherever you find them" — Holy Quran: Chapter 9, Verse 5.

Can we, in accordance with the above verse, kill any idolater? Please give a detailed and reasonable response.


First of all let us review the basic principle established by the Holy Quran regarding war. The Quran states:

"And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you but be not aggressive. Surely Allah loves not the aggressors." — Holy Quran: Chapter 2, Verse 190.

This establishes that war is only permissible against those people who fight against you. To fight against those who do not fight against you is being aggressive, which God, Most High, strongly dislikes.

Read the Quran in the light of this principle — you will find the matter clarified:

The idolaters of Arabia were implacable enemies of Islam and were bent upon extirpating the Muslims. Under pressure, they would sometimes agree to a peace treaty, but whenever an opportunity presented itself, they would ignore these treaties and attack the Muslims. The Quran has therefore described their behaviour in the following words:

"Those with whom thou makest an agreement, then they break their agreement every time, and they keep not their duty." — Holy Quran, Chapter 8, Verse 56.

The Attacks of the Enemies of Islam:

The mischief of these people knew no bounds: The Holy Prophet, on hearing of the advance of the Roman army, set out to repel this attack by marching along with most of his Companions to the northern frontier area of Tabuk. At this juncture, the polytheists of Arabia, seeing the City of Medina virtually defenceless, cast aside all their treaties of peace, and prepared to exterminate the Muslims. This was a critical situation. On one side the great empire of Rome stood ready to crush the Muslims, while on the home front, the entire polytheistic population of Arabia, casting aside all the peace treaties they had with the Muslims, were getting ready to extirpate Islam. If God’s Hand had not stretched out to help Islam, then undoubtedly the Muslims would have been massacred. God caused the Emperor of Rome to be intimidated (by the advancing Muslim army) and he aborted his attack. The plans of the polytheists were dashed, but it had become necessary to deal with a people who, at such a critical juncture, had acted traitorously and broken their agreements. The civilised nations of today, would declare martial law and execute hundreds; homes (of the traitors) would be bombed and demolished. Islam did no such act.

The Declaration of War:

On the day of Hajj (the greater pilgrimage), war was declared in a just and civilised manner. A notice period of four months was granted. The enemies were given respite to finish their pilgrimage and prepare for war. At the end of this period battle would be done as the polytheists had proven themselves unworthy of being treated as a noble enemy with whom a peace treaty could be established. Instead it had become necessary to subjugate them under a just Islamic Government, so that the country could be free from their mischief and trouble making. The freedom of these people had led to nothing but chaos and lack of security over the entire country. They did not respect their agreements and no man’s life and honour was safe. So, it had become necessary that they be brought under the rule of law so that the nation could be made free from their poisonous undertakings. For this reason, a clear exemption was made for those who did not break their agreements:

"Except those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything and have not backed up any one against you; so fulfil their agreement to the end of their term. Surely Allah loves those who keep their duty." (Holy Quran, Chapter 9, Verse 4).

The declaration of war was with those people about whom it is stated:

"How (can it be)? And if they prevail against you, they respect neither ties of relationship nor covenant in your case. They would please you with their mouths while their hearts refuse; and most of them are transgressors." (Holy Quran, Chapter 9, Verse 8).

In short, the idolaters of Arabia were declared unworthy to be trusted due to their traitorous behaviour, and for repeatedly helping and joining together with external enemies, with the purpose of destroying the Muslims. The only remedy of their constant mischief and trouble making, was the establishment of a stable Government for the Arabs, so that treachery and mischief would be terminated and peace would prevail. This could only be done by no longer leaving these people free, but by subjugating them under a Muslim Government. So, with perfect justice, a notice period of four months was given on the day of Hajj. The enemy were told that they could prepare for war as the Muslims would no longer make any agreements with them, but instead by vanquishing them, subjugate them under the laws of their government, so that in the future they would not be able to create any trouble or turmoil. The order was thus proclaimed:

"So when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters, wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way fee. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."

"And if anyone of the idolaters seek thy protection, protect him till he hears the word of Allah, then convey him to his place of safety. This is because they are a people who know not." (Holy Quran, Chapter 9, Verses 5 & 6).

The Ways of War:

When a war is begun, there remains no set theatre. Wherever a member of one side meets a member of the other party, battle is done. Killing, imprisonment, and not allowing an enemy entry into one’s territory are the three methods used in war. If an enemy is encountered, a soldier will try to either kill him, or take him a prisoner, or at the least keep him out of one’s territory. These three ways are mentioned here (in the Quran).

"…slay the idolaters, wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them." (Holy Quran, Chapter 9, Part of Verse 5).

It is beyond my understanding, that in these present peaceful times, how any one can justify, on the basis of this verse, the killing of any idolater. This verse only gives the three means of waging war. Thus it is also stated "and lie in wait for them in every ambush." For in war, ambush is an essential and vital method of attacking one’s enemy.

The Conditions for Peace:

Further on the method by which peace could be made with these troublesome treaty-breakers is stated. There are basically two ways. Firstly, peace could be made, if the opponents sincerely accepted Islam and thus become a part of the ruling nation and share in the aims and purposes of the Muslims. In such a case, trust would necessarily be re-established, as they would be considered brothers in Islam. The other method would be if the opponents sought protection from the Muslims, and accepted being ruled by a Muslim Government. These two methods are mentioned here in the Quran. First it is stated:

"But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (Holy Quran, Chapter 9, Verse 5, last part).

That is, if they genuinely turn to Islam by establishing prayer and paying the poor rate, and they are not just buying time by professing Islam, then do not war with them. The second method for peace is described as follows:

"And if anyone of the idolaters seek thy protection, protect him till he hears the word of Allah, then convey him to his place of safety. This is because they are a people who know not." (Holy Quran, Chapter 9, Verses 5 & 6).

Thus, the Muslims are required to give refuge to any Idolater who seeks their protection. Furthermore, as these people were unaware of the Word of God, the Muslims were commanded to instruct their vanquished foes thereof — so that they may profit thereby.

The True Purpose of the War:

A common misunderstanding exists that the purpose of the war was to convert the idolaters to Islam. This misperception is due to the fact that one of the ways that the war could be terminated, was if the idolaters accepted Islam. This perception is however absolutely wrong. The purpose of the war was to cut off the mischief of a people who by their constant traitorous acts and breaking of treaties had been proven unreliable. Peace in the country could only be established by subjugating them under a regular established Government. Just as the Quran forbade war with those idolaters who did not break their treaties, similarly war was terminated with those idolaters who repented and entered Islam. (For this reason, in addition to "repentance" the Quran requires "Establishment of Prayer and paying the poor rate" as a condition of peace.) That is the idolaters should not just pay lip service to becoming Muslim, but by their deeds establish their sincerity and thus become worthy to be trusted. That is why, war is forbidden on their accepting Islam. However, if the purpose of the war was only to convert the idolaters, then the command to protect the idolaters would be meaningless — and no protection should be given except to those who became Muslims. The very fact that protection is commanded to be given to idolaters, establishes that the real purpose of the war was not to convert the idolaters. The purpose of the war was thus only to have the treaty breaking idolaters to sue for peace and thus to be brought under an established Islamic Government, after which there would be no need for further battle. The idolaters, if they did accept Islam, would gain as they would become part of the ruling nation, and by demonstrating sincerity could regain the trust they had lost due to their repeated violation of their treaties.

Related Links:
Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at-e-Islam Lahore © 1999–2012
[Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam]
aaiil.org | muslim.sh | ahmadiyya.ws | islam.lt