The Qur'an and Fighting

fitnah, or sedition, is a greater crime than murder. it is a right, nay a duty, of whosoever witnesses it, whether perpetrated against an individual or a whole community, to take up arms and fight for the sake of god and thus put an immediate end to it. it is here that the orientalists and the missionaries raise their eyebrows and voices, shouting: "do you see? here is muhammad agreeing that his religion actually calls to war, to jihad in the cause of god, that is, to compel man by the sword to enter into islam. isn't this precisely what is meant by fanaticism? now contrast this with christianity, which denies fighting and condemns war, which calls for peace and advocates tolerance, which binds men in bonds of brotherhood in god and in christ . . . ." in arguing this point i do not wish to mention the statement of the new testament, "i have not come to send peace but a sword . . . ."[matthew, 10:34] nor do i want to analyze the meanings implicit in such statements. the muslims understand the religion of jesus only as interpreted by the qur'an. rather, i want to begin by refuting the claim that muhammad's religion calls for fighting and coercion of men into islam. that is a false accusation denied by the qur'anic judgment:

"there is no compulsion in religion-the truth is now distinct from error;" as well as by the command, "fight in the cause of god those who fight you, but do not commit any aggression. god does not love the aggressor."[qur'an, 2:256, 190]

the same directives are contained in a number of other verses.

war in the cause of god

jihad, or war for the sake of god, is clearly defined in the verses which we have mentioned and which were revealed in connection with the expedition of `abdullah ibn jahsh. its definite meaning is to fight those who sway the muslim away from his religion and prevent him from walking in the path of god. this fight is waged solely for the freedom to call men unto god and unto his religion. to use a modern expression consonant with the usage of the present age, we may say that war in islam is permitted-nay, it is rather a duty-when undertaken in defense of freedom of thought and opinion. all weapons used by the aggressors may be used against them. if somebody seeks to sway a man from conviction or opinion, and he effectively uses propaganda and logic without physical coercion, persecution, discrimination, or use of illicit means such as bribery, no man may stop him except by answering his argument and analyzing and exposing his logic. however, if he resorts to armed force to prevent a man from holding a certain opinion, then it becomes necessary to answer his armed power with equal armed power wherever practical. man has no dignity if his convictions have none. convictions are far more precious than wealth, position, power or life itself. to those who appreciate the meaning of humanity, convictions are far more precious than the material life which man shares with the animals. if man's humanity consists of no more than eating and drinking, growing and struggling for survival, he is one with the animals. man's spiritual and moral convictions constitute the moral bond which unites him to his fellowmen, the spiritual link between him and god. the life of conviction is man's great distinction from the animal kingdom. by it, man wills for his brother that which he wills for himself; by it, he inclines to share his wealth with the poor, the destitute, and the miserable, though such sharing may imply some deprivation to his near relatives; by it, man enters into communion with the universe to perform that which enables the universe to realize the perfection which god has prescribed and established for it.

should conviction take possession of a man and should another man attempt to make him renounce it under conditions in which self-protection or defense are impossible, such a man would do what the muslims did before their emigration from madinah, namely, to bear patiently all injury, persecution, and injustice. neither hunger nor deprivation of any kind would cause him to succumb to ignoble desires; patient forbearance was precisely what the muslims practiced in makkah as well as what the early christians had practiced. but those who suffer in patience for the sake of their convictions are not the majority of mankind nor the plebians among them. they are, however, the select and chosen few whom god has endowed with such moral strength that they are capable of standing up against any injury or injustice, however great. it was precisely this kind of conviction which the new testament has associated with the judgment that whoever is endowed therewith "shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove."[matthew, 17:20]. but if it is possible for man to defend himself against aggression with the same arms as the aggressor, to fight the man who blocks the path of god by use of his own means, then it is his duty to do so. otherwise, one would be weak of faith and doubtful in conviction. that is what muhammad and his companions did after they had achieved a measure of security for themselves in madinah. that is equally what the christians did after they had achieved power in rome and byzantium, after the conversion of the roman emperors.

christianity and fighting

the missionaries say, "but the spirit of christianity condemns fighting altogether." i do not wish to pause here for investigating the truth, or lack of it, of such a claim. the history of christianity, however, is a legitimate witness in this matter and so is the history of islam. from the dawn of christianity until today every country of the world has been soaked with blood in the name of jesus christ. the romans and the byzantines of old as well as the european peoples of modern times are guilty of shedding blood in religious causes. the crusades were launched and their fires fanned by christians, not by muslims. for hundreds of years, one army after another rolled out of europe in the direction of the muslim orient to fight, to destroy, and to shed blood. in every case, the popes who claimed to be the vicars of jesus christ, blessed and encouraged these armies and hurried them to jerusalem and other destinations. were all these popes heretics? was their christianity spurious? or was every one of them a pretender, an ignoramus, unaware that christianity absolutely condemns fighting? the missionaries rejoin, "those were the middle ages, ages of darkness, unfit as evidence against christianity." if this is an argument on which they pin some hope, let us then turn to the twentieth century in which we now live and which they call "the century of the highest human civilization." this century has indeed seen the same darkness as did the middle ages. lord allenby, representing the allied forces of england, france, italy, rumania, and america, stopped in jerusalem in 1918 after his conquest of that city toward the end of the first world war and said: "today the crusades have come to an end."

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