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Are There Violent Teachings in the Quran?

15 October, 2016
Q The Quran is promised to be held pure and constant. Could I ask you then, please, how it could be interpreted to justify suicide bombings and “holy wars”? Doesn’t this conflict with Quranic teachings? Thank you for your time and comments.


Salam Dear Ario,

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

Now, a word of clarification about the so-called “suicide bombings”: Islam clearly prohibits suicide. There is no doubt about it. But what is described as “suicide bombing” in Palestine, could be viewed from a different angle.

This is due to the fact that it is the last ditch battle fought by the Palestinians who are deprived by the Israelis of their land, their home and their dignity as humans. It is their only battle, as they have no weapons except their own bodies and their own lives to resist the invasion of those who come with F-16s, tanks, and machine guns to kill their very own children.

The Israeli settlers occupy the houses, built after demolishing the hovels of the Palestinians in their land, inflicting the most inhuman conditions of siege on their victims. How can we ever say that these settlers are perfectly innocent?

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This means the issue is really complex. You cannot just condemn the freedom fighters of Palestine, simply in the name of a form of resistance they have invented. This is the kind of politics that we must analyze to understand what is happening in the Muslim world now…

But, let us now come to the Quran, which is the revealed word of God and the divine guidance for Man. It is worth mentioning here that it is in the Arabic language and no translation of the Quran is called the Quran, but only a translation.

This is because every translation involves an interpretation, depending on the understanding of the translator. In order to understand the full nuances of the Quranic verses, one need to know the Arabic language. This is a problem not always acknowledged by Western critics.

One point we need to remember about the understanding and interpretation of the Quran is that we must know the backdrop against which the gradual revelation of divine guidance was unfolding. That is to say, we must know the contexts, which called for the revelation of the respective verses.

It is God Who is speaking to us through the Quran, but He uses a human language. Still, the humans who read the Qur’an may not understand its verses in the correct way. This is because of their different intellectual capacities, their insufficient educational standards and such other factors that may influence people’s perceptions. Of course, this is applicable to the reading of all books.

For this reason, Muslims do not encourage everybody to go about interpretingand explicating the Quran. Rather, they would accept scholars of established repute as authoritative interpreters of the Qur’an. This is particularly important in the case of verses that may yield differing understandings.

Now, having clarified this point, I must also point out that the Quranic verses on violence and suicide are so clear that they do not lend themselves to varying readings. In fact, from the Quranic point of view, the act of inciting terror in the hearts of defenseless civilians, the wholesale destruction of buildings and properties, the bombing and maiming of innocent men, women and children are all forbidden and detestable acts.

Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness. The vast majority has nothing to do with the violent events some have associated to Muslims. If an individual Muslim were to commit an act of terrorism, this person would be guilty of violating the laws of Islam.

There is little sense in attributing such violations to Islam. It is true that the Quran permits Muslims to fight; but the permission is not for committing aggression, but for defending themselves against aggression, against oppression and injustice. You can read this clearly in Surah 22, verses 39 – 40:

{To those against whom war is made, permission is given [to defend themselves], because they are wronged – and verily, Allah is Most Powerful to give them victory – [they are] those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right – [for no cause] except that they say: “Our Lord is Allah…”}

Obviously, this permission includes fighting in self-defense and the protection of family and property. This is along with the freedom of believing and practicing of faith. Still, always the proviso is that fighting should be the last option, when all other avenues are closed.

Thus, the early Muslims in Arabia were forced to fight many battles, against the powerful armies of the pagans. This is when they tried to annihilate the prophet (peace be upon him) and his new religion. The Quran also adds in Surah 2, verses 190-193:

{Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress limits. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors…. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against the transgressors…}

It is worthy of stating here that Islam attaches great importance to the establishment of justice in every field of human activity. This emphasis on justice often brought the Muslims face to face with many exploiters and oppressors of the past and the result was at times fighting. The Quran says in Surah 5, verse 8:

{O you who believe! Stand out firmly as Allah’s witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety and fear Allah. And Allah is well acquainted with all that you do.}

Please also read in Surah 22, verse 41:

{Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish prescribed prayers (salah) and pay obligatory charity (zakah) and enjoin right conduct and forbid evil. And with Allah rests the end [and decision] of [all] affairs.}

It is also important to note that the Quran prohibits the use of force in the matter of religious propagation. The Quran categorically states in Surah 2, verse 256:

{Let therebe no compulsion [or coercion] in the religion [Islam]. The right direction is distinctly clear from error.}

Jihad is a concept that is usually misunderstood in Islam. In the West, jihad is generally translated as “holy war”, a usage the media have popularized. According to Islamic teachings, it is unholy to instigate or start a war; just for the sake of fighting or achieving power.

The use of the expression “holy war” as the meaning of jihad could be a reflection of the Christian use of the same term, to refer to the Crusades of a thousand years ago. In fact, the concept of a holy war is alien to Islam and the Arabic words for ‘war’ are ‘harb’ or ‘qital’, which are found in the Quran and hadith (the sayings of the prophet).

In Islam, the term jihad is applied to all forms of striving. It is used particularly in the sense of striving in the way of Allah by pen, tongue, hand, media and if inevitable, with arms. But most certainly, jihad in Islam does not include striving for individual or national power, glory, wealth, prestige, pride or world dominance.

And Allah knows best. Hope my answer is satisfactory. Thank you.

Salam and please keep in touch.

About Professor Shahul Hameed
Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.