One take on “Jihad” and violence in Islam (1)

One take on “Jihad” and violence in Islam (1) April 21, 2020


Selimiye dome daakhil
The interior of the dome of the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


I share a few notes to myself from John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (New York: Gallup Press, 2007), 17-19:


Jihad is not associated or equated with the words “holy war” anywhere in the Quran.  (17)


The earliest Qur’anic verses dealing a right to defend oneself, with “defensive jihad,” came shortly after the forced hijra or emigration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina in AD 622.  They were fleeing persecution:


Leave is given to those who fight because they were wronged — surely God is able to help them — who were expelled from their homes wrongfully for saying, ‘Our Lord is God’ (Qur’an 22:39-40)

And fight in the way of God with those who fight you, but aggress not: God loves not the aggressors.  (Qur’an 2:190)


The Qur’an stresses that warfare, and responses to aggression and violence, should be proportional to the offense:


Whoever transgresses against you, respond in kind.  (Qur’an 2:194)


But, say Esposito and Mogahed, the Qur’an also emphasizes that peace is the normal default, not violence and warfare.  Although fighting against an enemy is permitted — Islam isn’t Quakerism and it surely can’t be argued to teach ahimsa or satyagraha — Muslims are also urged to make peace:


If your enemy inclines toward peace, then you too should seek peace and put your trust in God.  (Qur’an 8:61)

Had God wished, he would have made them dominate you, and so if they leave you alone and do not fight you and offer you peace, then God allows you no way against them.  (Qur’an 4:90)


Of course, there are other Qur’anic verses that seem to advocate war and violence:


But what of those verses, sometimes referred to as the “sword verses,” that call for killing unbelievers, such as:  “When the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait at every place of ambush” (Qur’an 9:5)?  This is one of a number of Quranic verses that critics cite to demonstrate the inherently violent nature of Islam and its scripture.  These same verses have also been selectively used (or abused) by religious extremists to develop a “theology of hate” and intolerance and to legitimize unconditional warfare against unbelievers.  (18)


And then Esposito and Mogahed make what I regard as a very important historical point:


During the period of expansion and conquest, many of the religious scholars (ulama) enjoyed royal patronage and provided a rationale for caliphs to pursue their imperial dreams and extend the boundaries of their empires.  They said that the “sword verses” abrogated or overrode the earlier Quranic verses that limited jihad to defensive war.  (19)


Esposito and Mogahed argue that Qur’an 9:5 (“When the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them”) should be quoted in full and not in isolation.  The next words are


But if they repent and fulfill their devotional obligations and pay the zakat [the Muslim charitable tax], then let them go their way, for God is forgiving and kind.  (Qur’an 9:5)


And the same rule should apply to another verse that is commonly quoted by critics of Islam:


Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forgiven by God and his Apostle, nor hold the religion of truth [even if they are] of the People of the Book.  (Qur’an 9:29)


The line that follows, within that very verse, is


until they pay the tax and agree to submit (Qur’an 9:29)


To be continued.



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