A religion of peace?
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Quite often we hear that the Qu'ran promotes violence, which, on the surface, seems to be a reasonable charge given that Islamic terrorists use the book as justification for their actions. But moderate Muslims respond that Islam is a religion of peace.
In support of the violent nature of Islam, some of those who make the accusation point to 17 verses which they consider to be commands to kill and to make war. (There are more verses which can be referred to, but these 17 are the most common.)
Let's look at those verses. I've incorporated some additional verses (in italics) which provide some context for my comments.
I've chosen two different translations, the first two that came up in a web search. (i.e. not deliberately selected to make a point.)
|Verse:||Dr. Rashad Khalifa Translation||University of Michigan Library version|
|[2:190] You may fight in the cause of GOD against those who attack you, but do not aggress. GOD does not love the aggressors.
[2:191] You may kill those who wage war against you, and you may evict them whence they evicted you. Oppression is worse than murder. Do not fight them at the Sacred Masjid, unless they attack you therein. If they attack you, you may kill them. This is the just retribution for those disbelievers.
[2:192] If they refrain, then GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
[2:193] You may also fight them to eliminate oppression, and to worship GOD freely. If they refrain, you shall not aggress; aggression is permitted only against the aggressors.
|[2.190] And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.
[2.191] And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.
[2.192] But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
[2.193] And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors.
|Comments: It seems reasonably clear to me that the intention of these verses is self- defense. But, there is a difference between aggressors and oppressors. If "oppressor" is closer to the original Arabic meaning, the range of justification for taking action in self-defense is widened.|
|2:244||[2:244] You shall fight in the cause of GOD, and know that GOD is Hearer, Knower.||[2.244] And fight in the way of Allah, and know that Allah is Hearing, Knowing.|
|Comments: This verse is in the same sura as the earlier verses, and taken in context, we can still reasonably interpret it as an exhortation to fight in self-defense.|
[4:74] Those who readily fight in the cause of GOD are those who forsake this world in favor of the Hereafter. Whoever fights in the cause of GOD, then gets killed, or attains victory, we will surely grant him a great recompense.
[4:75] Why should you not fight in the cause of GOD when weak men, women, and children are imploring: "Our Lord, deliver us from this community whose people are oppressive, and be You our Lord and Master."
[4:76] Those who believe are fighting for the cause of GOD, while those who disbelieve are fighting for the cause of tyranny. Therefore, you shall fight the devil's allies; the devil's power is nil.
[4:84] You shall fight for the cause of GOD; you are responsible only for your own soul, and exhort the believers to do the same. GOD will neutralize the power of those who disbelieve. GOD is much more powerful, and much more effective.
[4:89] They wish that you disbelieve as they have disbelieved, then you become equal. Do not consider them friends, unless they mobilize along with you in the cause of GOD. If they turn against you, you shall fight them, and you may kill them when you encounter them in war. You shall not accept them as friends, or allies.
[4:90] Exempted are those who join people with whom you have signed a peace treaty, and those who come to you wishing not to fight you, nor fight their relatives. Had GOD willed, He could have permitted them to fight against you. Therefore, if they leave you alone, refrain from fighting you, and offer you peace, then GOD gives you no excuse to fight them.
[4:91] You will find others who wish to make peace with you, and also with their people. However, as soon as war erupts, they fight against you. Unless these people leave you alone, offer you peace, and stop fighting you, you may fight them when you encounter them. Against these, we give you a clear authorization.
|[4.74] Therefore let those fight in the way of Allah, who sell this world's life for the hereafter; and whoever fights in the way of Allah, then be he slain or be he victorious, We shall grant him a mighty reward.
[4.75] And what reason have you that you should not fight in the way of Allah and of the weak among the men and the women and the children, (of) those who say: Our Lord! cause us to go forth from this town, whose people are oppressors, and give us from Thee a guardian and give us from Thee a helper.
[4.76] Those who believe fight in the way of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the way of the Shaitan. Fight therefore against the friends of the Shaitan; surely the strategy of the Shaitan is weak.
[4.84] Fight then in Allah's way; this is not imposed on you except In relation to yourself, and rouse the believers to ardor maybe Allah will restrain the fighting of those who disbelieve and Allah is strongest in prowess and strongest to give an exemplary punishment.
[4.89] They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah's way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper.
[4.90] Except those who reach a people between whom and you there is an alliance, or who come to you, their hearts shrinking from fighting you or fighting their own people; and if Allah had pleased, He would have given them power over you, so that they should have certainly fought you; therefore if they withdraw from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not given you a way against them.
[4.91] You will find others who desire that they should be safe from you and secure from their own people; as often as they are sent back to the mischief they get thrown into it headlong; therefore if they do not withdraw from you, and (do not) offer you peace and restrain their hands, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them; and against these We have given you a clear authority.
|Comments: These verses are generally considered as authority for Holy War against unbelievers. But again, in context, I read the verses as authority to fight only those who oppress (again, that can be interpreted widely) or those who join in battle. In my view, these verses are not in themselves authority it initiate a war.|
|9:5||[9:5] Once the Sacred Months are past, (and they refuse to make peace) you may kill the idol worshipers when you encounter them, punish them, and resist every move they make. If they repent and observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and give the obligatory charity (Zakat), you shall let them go. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.||[9.5] So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.|
|*Comments: This verse seems to be a blanket authorization for violence against non-believers and which encourages forced conversion. The phrase "and they refuse to make peace" seems to be an interpretive insertion by the translator rather than part of the text.|
[9:12] If they violate their oaths after pledging to keep their covenants, and attack your religion, you may fight the leaders of paganism - you are no longer bound by your covenant with them - that they may refrain.
[9:13] Would you not fight people who violated their treaties, tried to banish the messenger, and they are the ones who started the war in the first place? Are you afraid of them? GOD is the One you are supposed to fear, if you are believers.
[9:14] You shall fight them, for GOD will punish them at your hands, humiliate them, grant you victory over them, and cool the chests of the believers.
|9.12] And if they break their oaths after their agreement and (openly) revile your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief-- surely their oaths are nothing-- so that they may desist.
[9.13] What! will you not fight a people who broke their oaths and aimed at the expulsion of the Apostle, and they attacked you first; do you fear them? But Allah is most deserving that you should fear Him, if you are believers.
[9.14] Fight them, Allah will punish them by your hands and bring them to disgrace, and assist you against them and heal the hearts of a believing people.
|Comments: These verses again seem to relate to self-defense, particularly against those who signed a treaty and broke it.|
|9:29||[9:29] You shall fight back against those who do not believe in GOD, nor in the Last Day, nor do they prohibit what GOD and His messenger have prohibited, nor do they abide by the religion of truth - among those who received the scripture - until they pay the due tax, willingly or unwillingly.||[9.29] Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.|
|*Comments: One translation says "fight back," the other "fight." Which is it? Either way, non-believers are required to submit and pay a tax "willingly or unwillingly."|
|9:36||[9:36] The count of months, as far as GOD is concerned, is twelve. This has been GOD's law, since the day He created the heavens and the earth. Four of them are sacred. This is the perfect religion; you shall not wrong your souls (by fighting) during the Sacred Months. However, you may declare all-out war against the idol worshipers (even during the Sacred Months), when they declare all-out war against you, and know that GOD is on the side of the righteous.||[9.36] Surely the number of months with Allah is twelve months in Allah's ordinance since the day when He created the heavens and the earth, of these four being sacred; that is the right reckoning; therefore be not unjust to yourselves regarding them, and fight the polytheists all together as they fight you all together; and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).|
|Comments: Again, the command to fight seems to be defensive.|
|9:123||[9:123] O you who believe, you shall fight the disbelievers who attack you - let them find you stern - and know that GOD is with the righteous.||[9.123] O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness; and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).|
|*Comments: One translation justifies fighting in self-defence, the other based solely on non-believers being close by.|
|61:4||[61.4] Surely Allah loves those who fight in His way in ranks as if they were a firm and compact wall.|
|Comments: This is a clear statement that God loves those who fight on his behalf, but it is not clear whether the fight is offensive or defensive.
There are two verses (which those pointing to Islam as a religion promoting violence do not refer to) in the preceding sura which seem fairly clear to me as a direction:
In my opinion, most of the verses in the Qu'ran which some scholars claim promote violence do not really do so. They are advocating self-defense. 60:8 and 60:9 certainly support that case. However, 9:5 and 9:29 do seem to support offensive violence and forced conversion, and 9:123 can certainly be interpreted that way.
In the end, it comes down to interpretation. As with the holy texts of most other religions, there is endless room to read differing meanings into the text.
While I think those that consider Islam to be a religion of peace do have a case, it is by no means airtight. And if they want to make their case, it is not non-believers they have to convince, it is their co-religionists who have a differing viewpoint.