Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Verses regarding War (The Holy Quran, Ch 9)

Question: "Are you familiar with the contents of Surah 9 (At-Tauba), and are you comfortable with the implications of many of its verses, especially verse 5?" The 129 verses of this very long Surah contain many verses suggesting an animosity towards other religions and anyone who is not Muslim.
*** Verse Five."Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (5)"*** Verses Thirty thru Thirty-Three."And the Jews say:. Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they! (30)"They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One God. There is no god save Him. Be He glorified from all that they ascribe as partner (unto Him)! (31)"Fain would they put out the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah disdaineth (aught) save that He shall perfect His light, however much the disbelievers are averse. (32)"He it is who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion, however much the idolaters may be averse. (33)"*** Verse One Hundred and Twenty-Three."O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him). (123)"
These are some of the verses that suggest intolerance of non-Muslims. Please be aware that I could easily find a number of intolerant verses in passages from the New Testament or the Talmud as well. Abrahamic religions were born in a culture of intolerance, while many of the eastern religions show little sign of such intolerance in their sacred scriptures.Is their anything that can be done, from the Islamic perspective, to help the Abrahamic religions get beyond such expressions of intolerance without sacrificing essential tenets of their faith?

To answer your question regarding the verses which call on to armed struggle in the name of God, a little background is necessary for a better understanding.
It appears to have been the tradition of God Almighty that whenever He has sent messengers with clear signs for the guidance of humans, He has given them clear victory over their opponents.
Noah was rejected by most of his people, the handful who believed survived the Great Flood.
Lot was disbelieved and rejected, Sodom was destroyed.
Moses was disbelieved, Pharoah met his death, and the enslaved tribes of Israel were able to cross over and escape.
They tried to crucify Jesus, Allah saved Jesus, and decreed that those who believed in Jesus will be above those who disbelieved in him, and thus the Jews, inspite of thier intelligence and brilliance, are always in need of protection. In the medieval times, they sought refuge in Muslim lands, now they need US veto and aid. An abiding punishment for rejecting the Prophet.
The Quran is full of repeated examples of nations to whom prophets came, were disbelieved in, and thus, after proving their persistent rejection of truth, finally incurred the wrath of the Almighty. The key words here are 'rejecting clear signs'_ the people knew that this was the truth and yet they insisted upon rejecting it, hence they established the case against their own souls. God does not do injustice, He sent signs and messengers bearing truth and glad tidings, prophets who told of the hereafter, of what was to become of those who insisted on rejecting what they knew to be the truth, and what was to be the outcome of those who embraced faith with all their heart.
The people of Prophet Muhammad's time are repeatedly being invited to faith, throughout the Quran, as well as reminded of the end of those nations which rejected God's message, so that they have no argument against it when it befalls them. The verses you quote are time-specific, as they are directives during those periods when the muslims were in a state of war with the non-believers. They had treaties with some of them which were being violated time and again. Also, bear in mind that most of these wars were defensive, as the muslims had migrated to Medina with little or no material belongings, and the Muslims of Medina were hosting and sharing with them, thus the muslims were fighting more on faith whereas the opponents were far stronger militarily. These were special times, events and circumstances in the Prophet's time. These verses do not mean that we can take the licence and, go and kill. A proper declaration was made to those with whom Muslims had entered in treaty, only to see them repeatedly breached, that hence the treaty stood revoked and dissolved, and a warning of 4 months time was given to them to either mend their ways or prepare for war.
Specifically, these verses are set in the backdrop of 9 and 10AH (AH means after migration to Medina. 8AH is the year the Muslims conquered Makkah).Also, please remember that Muslims were required to follow strict rules during war, such as not attacking women and children, if a non-believer combatant would, on coming under a sword, say that he believed in Islam, killing him was prohibited. Once, in such a situation, a companion of the Prophet went ahead and killed such a person, on the plea that he only said that to save his life, yet was severely reprimanded and questioned how he could say such a thing with any certainty when he couldn't peep into peoples' hearts! Unlike regular armies, which loot and plunder and rape when victors, Muslims are strictly prohibited from any such acts.
When Makkah was conquered, it was declared that all people are safe and no one will be done any injustice with. The religion of Islam carries the message of peace, and strives to lift humanity out of the sufferings and injustices that we humans unwittingly allow to be perpetrated upon us by other humans, it seeks to establish social justice and freedom, and states: "There is no compulsion in religion (2:256)".
There are many verses in the Quran which tell us that there are people among the Jews and the Christians and Sabians( and others), who are pious and doers of good, and will be rewarded by the Almighty for their beliefs and good deeds. In Surah Maida, we are told that we are permitted to share meals with the people of the book... you don't invite sworn enemies over feasts, do you? Allah does not contradict Himself, therefore, it is important to understand the verses with reference to context. God forbid, if you are in a state of war with somebody, what would you advice your soldiers? And would your directives be applicable for quoting in peace-time with friendly nations, or be equally applicable to peaceful or innocent citizens?
Another great tragedy of our times is the mis-reporting in the media. Evil people with criminal agendas exist in all societies. When a non-muslim does some such act, his or her religion is never dragged into the limelight. But when a muslim does some such act, the religion is highlighted to make it appear as the fault of the teachings of the religion rather than the person's own crime. Besides, people who have been oppressed and robbed of their land and belongings, their people killed, if they are throwing stones out of frustration at big tanks which threaten their very existence, who bears the bigger blame? These can be understood as desperate reactions. Whereas, as far as suicide bombings, etc are concerned, as muslims, we are not allowed to hurt innocent, unarmed people; these are organized crimes perpetrated on unarmed people, must have a source of funding and proper planning, and thus must be seen as deliberate criminal acts and the perpetrators dealt with accordingly.
As far as the relevance to today's wars are concerned, as one scholar explained to me, after the Prophet's demise, the Muslim Caliphs only conquered the lands that had been sent invitations to believe in the prophethood of Muhammad, and inspite of knowing that he was the messenger of God, yet chose to reject the message. They stopped short of going any further than those lands, inspite of favourble conditions for conquest. The scholar was of the opinion that we should not try to apply those verses to today's wars, as the Prophet is no longer between us.
You may wish to read this introduction, summary and explanation of Ch 9 by Abdullah Yusuf Ali: http://www.quran4u.com/Tafsiraya/009%20Tawbah.htm

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