Isn't Islam a Militant Religion?
Among the biggest misconceptions about Islam is that it is a militant religion. A few verses from the Qur'an are often quoted out of context by its opponents or by those who know little about it in order to perpetuate the myth that Islam promotes violence, bloodshed and brutality and exhorts Muslims to kill non-believers.
To cite one example, would-be detractors usually quote from the Qur'an: “Then kill the polytheists wherever you find them." But in order to understand these words it is necessary to put them back into their proper context. After several military campaigns in which the pagans of Makkah attempted to annihilate the Muslims, a peace agreement was drawn up between the two sides. The pagans soon violated this treaty, so the Muslim army was instructed to resume combat against those who were fighting them. In light of the historical context of these words, an unbiased person would certainly agree that they cannot be used as proof that Islam promotes violence or orders the killing of anyone outside its fold.
The people being referred to in this verse are the pagan Arabs who had been waging war against the Prophet and who had broken their covenant and treaties with him. The verse is not speaking about other pagan Arabs who did not break their treaties and take up arms against Muslims. And most definitely it is not speaking about the Jews, Christians or the pagans outside of Arabia.
The verse that follows, which is conveniently ignored by the adversaries, completes the picture:
"If any one of the polytheists asks you for asylum, then grant him asylum so that he may hear the words of Allah [i.e., the Qur'an]. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know."1
What army general today would direct his soldiers to spare an enemy during a battle and then escort him to a place of safety? But this is what God has instructed in the Qur'an. Islam keeps warfare at a level of mercy and respect for the enemy unlike that of any other system. It orders that armies deal with the enemy justly even on the battlefield and has drawn a clear line of distinction between combatants and non-combatants in enemy territory. Prophet Muhammad instructed his armies, "Do not kill any old person, child or woman,2 and do not kill monks in monasteries."3For those enemies active in combat and those taken as prisoners of war, the list of rights is lengthy. There should be no torture, no killing of the wounded and defenseless, and no mutilation of enemy corpses. Had the purpose of battle been to force unbelievers to accept Islam, the Prophet would never have commanded the Muslims to refrain from hostilities once the enemy had relented and would not have prohibited the killing of priests and monks.
Moreover, Islam permits war only in specific and critical circumstances as a last resort when all other attempts at obtaining peace and justice have failed. This is indeed the logical option for any nation. Western countries themselves defend the necessity of war to implement or maintain peace and do not regard it as a dangerous evil.
Muhammad was a prophet of mercy, but he was compelled to turn to battle when certain powers refused mercy and morality and sought to deprive others of them. Sometimes he had to fight for the mere survival of his mission. But the total number of days the Prophet was required to spend in defensive warfare comes to less than a year, and his most famous battles did not last for more than one day. Once security was ensured, he immediately reverted to peace and diplomacy.
The Qur'an clearly says:
"Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not commit aggression. Indeed, Allah does not like aggressors."4
"And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing."5
Weapons can only be drawn against those who continue to persecute and oppress others and prevent them from following their own consciences in matters of belief. Even when they are compelled to fight and consequently conquer the land, their duty thereafter is to establish God's law and uphold justice for all people, Muslim and non-Muslim. It is not their right to coerce their subjects into accepting Islam. Non-Muslims are allowed to remain on their own faith and to practice it, although they are also expected to respect Islamic laws and not provoke unrest and disorder.
2) Narrated by Abu Dawud.
3) Narrated by Ahmad