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Are We Ordained to Fight Non-Muslims During Peace?

09 September, 2016
Q Must we Muslims do jihad [striving for Allah] until all people are under Islamic rule? `Abdullah ibn Umar reported that the Prophet said:"I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay [obligatory alms]. If they say it, they have saved their blood and possessions from me, except for the rights of Islam over them. And their final reckoning is with Allah"(Al-Bukhari, Muslim). Does this mean that we must fight the world until they come under Islamic rule, that is wage a war of offense, even when they are at peace with us? The Quran says: {And fitnah [temptation] is worse than killing.} (Al-Baqarah 2:217) {Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and who forbid not what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden—who do not practice the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book—until they pay the poll tax out of hand and are humbled.} (At-Tawbah 9:123) Why must we, if the caliphate is established one day (and the Muslims are strong), attack the peaceful people of, for example Sweden (where I live), when they allow Muslims to do da`wah [inviting people to Islam] freely; they even help us here in Sweden. Once again, I know that we cannot force people to become Muslims, but we can force an Islamic system of governing on them, where they pay the jizyah [tribute]. I know that many Muslims say that we will do them a favor if we remove their evil governments, but why must we do that with the sword when they allow us to do da`wah. Most people want peace in their life and to live in love and harmony with their neighbors, so why can’t we let them live in peace and let Allah judge them on the Last Day? Maybe you will quote this verse: Fighting is prescribed for you and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.} (Al-Baqarah 2:16) I do not hate to fight and I am not afraid to lose my life in jihad if Allah says we must do it, but I will never be satisfied in my heart if one day I have to fight a people that are peaceful (like in Sweden where I live) and then the jihad I do will not be voluntary, and that would make me a munafiq [hypocrite] if I don’t fight with my heart. I know and you know that the people will try to stop Muslims by force if they try to bring Islamic rule over them. Can you even imagine how many people will be killed? This is weakening my iman [faith]. Please help me. What should I do? I love Allah and His Prophet(s), but when I think about things like this, my iman is destroyed. Allah's blessings on you and your family.


Salam  (Peace) Dear Brother,

Thank you very much for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

If you study the overall approach of Islam towards non-Muslims, as well as ponder over the contexts that called for the revelation of the verses you quoted, you can find the answer to your question.

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The value and significance of a belief system rests on its worthiness in comparison with other belief systems. If beliefs are imposed from outside they are not embraced; rather they are thrust upon unwilling people who may detest them on that score.

As Allah has created man as His vicegerent on earth, He bestowed on him not only blessings like intelligence, rationality, imagination, memory, and so on, but also the freedom to use all those faculties and make choices.

It is true that Allah decreed the religion of Islam for mankind; but we should never forget the fact that He has created humans as free beings on earth. This means that humans must willingly and knowingly accept Islam as a way of life. There is no compulsion or coercion in Islam. The Quran clearly states what means:

{Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.} (Al-Baqarah 2:256)

Allah wants to test mankind as to who is better in deeds than others. The Quran says what means:

{He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six days—and His throne was over the waters—that He might try you, which of you is best in conduct. But if thou wert to say to them, “Ye shall indeed be raised up after death”, the unbelievers would be sure to say, “This is nothing but obvious sorcery!”} (Hud 11:7)

{He Who created death and life, that He may try which of you is best in deed: and He is the Exalted in might, Oft-Forgiving.} (Al-Mulk 67:2)

It doesn’t make sense to say that He wants to test humans and at the same time He wants to deny the freedom to undertake that test.

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We need to consider the Quranic principles on religious freedom and diversity before we look at the content of the verses you quoted:

  • There is only One God, Who is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Al-Ikhlas:112).
  • Mankind is one, and all humans are equal (Al-Hujurat 49:13).
  • Muslims believe in all prophets and their scriptures (Al-Baqarah 2:136).
  • God does not do any injustice (Ya-Sin 36:54).
  • God allows fighting in cases where people are “wronged”: {To those against whom war is made, permission is given [to fight], because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is Most Powerful for their aid…} (Al-Hajj 22:39).
  • The use of force is ruled out in matters of religion. {Say: “The truth is from your Lord”: Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject [it]} (Al-Kahf 18:29).
  • The best way to counter evil is with good, and not with evil itself. {Goodness and evil can never be equal. Repel [evil] with good: then will he between whom and you was hatred become as it were your friend and intimate!} (Fussilat 41:34).

In the light of the fundamental Quranic principles mentioned above, we can talk about fighting as permitted by Islam. First, consider this verse:

{Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah does not love transgressors} (Al-Baqarah 2:190).

It is clear that the permission for fighting is given here to the Muslims to defend themselves; and even there, they are warned against transgressing limits. Let us now see the background in which the “fighting verses” were revealed:

During the first thirteen years of his prophetic mission, Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers were subjected to the most brutal persecution.

They were even forced to live in a valley adjacent to Makkah, subject to a very severe form of boycott. Subsequently, they were driven out of their homes, all their property was confiscated, and many of them were tortured and killed; and they would all have been massacred if they had not escaped to Madinah.

In Madinah, the Muslims were received very honorably by the people of that city, and eventually Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was accepted as a leader of the communities there.

Hearing of the popularity of the Prophet in Madinah, the Makkans were upset, for they expected a campaign from Madinah to take revenge on them. Fearing this, they wanted to destroy Muhammad and his Islam!

There were some events which intensified this fear, all of which prompted the Makkans to gather a powerful army and march towards Madinah.

At this time, Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers could have fled to some other city to escape the Makkan army, for the Muslims were only one-third of the large army that were marching towards them.

Also, they were ill-equipped for war. But at this time, God’s command came to Muhammad (peace be upon him) to stand his ground and fight. It was in this context permission to fight was given.

This battle took place at Badr, where the Muslims—who only numbered 313 persons and who had very little in the way of war equipment by the standards of those days—defeated a well-equipped army of a thousand fighters from Makkah.

This was a war between the forces of truth and falsehood, and truth won. After this battle, the Makkans did not remain idle; their pride was wounded and they waged many more battles against the Muslims.

Meanwhile, in Madinah, the Muslims were growing in numbers and in strength. Under divine guidance, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was able to form a society and a government in Madinah. Its constitution was the Quran and its laws were derived from the Quran.

It was a truly Islamic government, which had to make provisions for those who had not become Muslims. Those who did not become Muslims were not compelled to become Muslims; but naturally they were asked to obey the laws of the government.

Some of the problems faced by the Muslims, as a political community are discussed in Surat At-Tawbah (9), from where you quoted many verses. One major question is what the Muslims should do if the enemies break faith and commit treachery.

This was with reference to the pagans’ breaking of the treaties made between them and the Muslims. No nation can go on with a treaty if the other nation violates it at will! This is evident in the verse that means:

{But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem [of war]; but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and pay zakah, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.} (At-Tawbah 9:5)

The first clause in the verse refers to the time-honored Arab custom of a period of warning and waiting given to the offenders after a clear violation.

They would be given four months time to repair the damage done or make peace. But if nothing happened after the expiry of those forbidden months, what should be done? This is what the present verse says.

According to this verse, fighting must be resumed until one of two things happens: Either the enemy should be vanquished by relentless fighting—that is what is meant by {then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem [of war]}; or they should “repent, establish prayers, and pay zakah.”

We must understand that this fighting was against the pagans who forced the Prophet and his Companions to leave, not only their own homes, but even their hometown of Makkah for Madinah. Once the Muslims were organized into a community in those lawless times, the rules to be followed by the Muslims were clearly laid down, even in the matter of war.

This verse is particularly about the rule of law. Once the Islamic government was established with Madinah as headquarters, it was the duty of the citizens to follow the law of the land. The Muslims had to pay zakah, according to the Shariah, while the non-Muslims were required to pay the jizyah, which was a tax in lieu of the Muslim zakah.

To deny this tax to the government showed open defiance of the government and therefore needed to be countered with punitive steps. This is a principle followed in all modern governments. The choice is either to become a Muslim and obey all Islamic regulations or to continue as non-Muslim, paying jizyah and being subject to the government.

Thus, the most important point here is that the verses of the Quran must be interpreted only with reference to the context of revelation. Eternal principles like “God is One” are not problematic, but the legal provisions may raise questions that can be answered only in the light of the context of revelation.

These are the points I wish to underscore:

  1. We as Muslims must always stand for justice and peace. And you know, real peace is unattainable without justice. But there is no question of fighting non-Muslims to convert them, or to impose Islamic rule on them. But if the majority of the people of a country choose Islamic government, all the people of that country must follow the law of the land. And at the same time, it is the duty of the Islamic government to see that the non-Muslims must be protected and they must be given full human rights, including the right to practice their religion.

    2. There is no question of Muslims breaking international treaties and understandings, which include respect for the territorial integrity of other countries, the religious freedom of their people to practice any religion they choose and their political authority.

    3. For the above two reasons, I would like to tell you that your iman (faith) demands that you keep peace with all those non-Muslims around you wherever you are. But as a Muslim, it is your duty to do da`wah to them in the most peaceful and diplomatic way possible, as Allah commands in the Quran when He says what means:

{Invite [all] to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His path, and who receive guidance.} (An-Nahl 16:125)

And Allah knows best.

I hope this answer is useful. Thank you and please keep in touch.