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Understanding the Fighting Verses of the Quran

Part 1: Context or Conning with the Text

Sitting in the classroom, your teacher looks at you and says, “You’re in big trouble”.

As you enter her house, your mom calls out to you and says, “You’re in big trouble.”

Arriving at work you find a notice from your boss asking you to see him because, as he writes, “You’re in big trouble.”

You check your phone and your best friend texting you writes, “You’re in big trouble.”

Placing the groceries on the counter, your spouse looks at them and says, “You’re in big trouble.”

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Did you feel the same in each scenario? Most likely, you didn’t.

Depending on the contexts, the intensities of words like “you’re in big trouble” vary. It could be a cause for a chuckle if it’s what your best friend just texted you after a casual chat.

If it’s coming from mom, it could mean disapproval of what you’re about to do. Coming from your boss, it could mean you would have to brush up your resume. If it’s coming from your spouse- well, we’ll let you interpret that one.

If we change the context of focus from the relationship context to the historical context the interpretation of the text also changes. If the chat history with your best friend is about stocks you just invested in, then the text “you’re in big trouble” may not be a cause for a chuckle after all.

The social, historical and relationship context of each person plays a great role in how you interpret the text, “you’re in big trouble.”

As we can see, reading a text by assuming what the context should be can lead to the complete opposite reality.

Verses in Context

When we deal with the fighting verses in the Quran, it’s important to keep in mind the various contexts of these verses.

Instead of discussing the various contexts of these verses in detail at this point of this series, I would like to highlight one very important context that covers all the fighting verses: the spirit of the law.

The spirit of the law is understood by the general timeless principles and objectives that are consistent and thematic throughout the jurisprudence of Islam.

When we look at the Book- the Quran as a whole, we are able to understand the spirit of the law. Trying to interpret the word of the law without the spirit can easily lead one to an incorrect interpretation.

The idea that Islam encourages forced conversions or that non-Muslims should be indiscriminately killed simply because they believe in a different religion is not only absurd but also does not coincide with the spirit of Islamic law- the shariah.

No Compulsion in Religion

There are dozens of verses that paint a different view than the polemics presented by many of the anti-Islam propagandists claiming that Islam is violent and aggressive.

Take for example the following verses:

But how is it that they come to you for judgment while they have the Torah? (Quran 5:43)

And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. (Quran 5:47)

Do the above verses fit into the idea that Islam requires forced conversions? Actually, there is not a single command in the Quran stating that Muslims should go out to the world and convert others.

Instead, the word “invite” is used. An invitation to Islam leaves room for the invitation to be rejected and is far from the idea of forced conversions.

Forced conversions by the sword would require a great deal of pursuit, hunting, and compulsion of the non-Muslims.

It would also require a great deal of enforcement after the forced conversions to ensure they remain converted. Besides sounding ridiculous, it also goes against the spirit of the law that is outlined in the verses below:

There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. (Quran 2:256)

He who obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah; but those who turn away – We have not sent you over them as a guardian. (Quran 4:80)

And they say, “[We pledge] obedience.” But when they leave you, a group of them spend the night determining to do other than what you say. But Allah records what they plan by night. So leave them alone and rely upon Allah. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs. (Quran 4:81)

And We have not appointed you over them as a guardian, nor are you a manager over them. (Quran 6:107)

And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers? (Quran 10:99)

Then declare what you are commanded and turn away from the polytheists. (Quran 15:94)

Indeed, We sent down to you the Book for the people in truth. So whoever is guided – it is for [the benefit of] his soul; and whoever goes astray only goes astray to its detriment. And you are not a manager over them. (Quran 39:41)

And those who take as allies other than Him – Allah is [yet] Guardian over them; and you, [O Muhammad], are not over them a manager. (Quran 42:6)

But if they turn away – then We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], over them as a guardian; upon you is only [the duty of] notification. (Quran 42:48)

We are most knowing of what they say, and you are not over them a compeller. (Quran 50:45)

So turn away from whoever turns his back on Our message and desires not except the worldly life. (Quran 53:29)

You have the right to your religion, and I have the right to my religion. (Quran 109:6)

None of the previous verses support the idea that there should be forced conversions or indiscriminate killings of people of other faiths.

The principle is to invite others to Islam without compulsion. If they refuse or turn away, then no Muslim is a manager or guardian over what they should believe.

Why do these previous verses shape the spirit of the law and not the fighting verses? The fighting verses are specific and are bound to a context whereas the previously mentioned verses are general and principle oriented.

For example, the verse: {There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion} (Quran 2:256) is a general principle and not limited to a specific event.

However, the verse: {Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they comply.} (Quran 9:29) was revealed in a specific context in reference to the conflict between the Romans.

The Romans had initially shown aggression to the young Muslim State by killing an ambassador of the Prophet. The Romans also had their allies preparing to attack Madinah.

The verse is not commanding an indiscriminate license to fight all non-Muslims, but rather is responding to the situation at hand. The verse is describing the Romans and not prescribing fighting anyone with their description.

It would therefore be a mistake to publicize a list of the fighting verses and ignore their context to try to portray Islam as violent. Such an action, if done deliberately, would be propaganda via conning with the text.

The general verses mentioned previously that shape the spirit of the law are also supported by the very actions of the Prophet Muhammad from the very beginning of his prophethood in Makkah till his death in Madinah.

What were some of these prophetic actions and what impact did they have on the spirit of the law? Check out Part 2 for the answer and more details.


In conclusion, let’s take a look at a few verses from the New and Old Testament:

“But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them- bring them here and kill them in front of me.” (Luke 19:27)

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mathew 10:34)

“Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ “The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” (Exodus 32:27-29)

It is bewildering that some of the anti-Islam propagandists when presented with the previous verses from the New and Old Testament begin to explain that the verses need to be interpreted in a specific context. Yet, they do not allow the fighting verses of the Quran to exist in its context!

Therefore, it’s important not to dismiss context otherwise one may end up conning with the text.

(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)