“Violence” in Language
Facts about the association of Islam with violence
The dictionary says: violence ('Unf') is the antonym of: gentleness (rifq). In the Arabic word root, some linguists have limited themselves to placing the vowel marking on the letter “ayn”.
The word violence carries a connotation of: mercilessness and cruelty.
Some sayings of the prophet make mercy the antonym of violence. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Allah is merciful and loves mercy. He rewards mercy with what violence cannot be rewarded with”(1).
The Prophet, peace be upon him, also loved mercy and urged his companions to show mercy in all their acts.
Aisha reports that the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Mercy in anything confers beauty on it. Mercy removed from anything only makes it vile”(2).
He also said: “Allah rewards mercy with so much more than violence can be rewarded with. If Allah loves a man, he would endow him with mercy. If the people of a house are deprived of mercy then they are also deprived of goodness”(3).
The Arabic root word standing for violence ('Unf) does not appear anywhere in the Quran, neither as a verb, noun or as adjective.
'Violence' and its Significance in Modern Times
The term “violence” has acquired ill-fame in our times as a criminalised and decried concept. Violence affects many aspects of life. In domestic life we speak of violence between husband and wife, between parents and children, and between the head or mistress of the house and their servants. In the social context, we speak of violence between employer and employee, and between the powerful and the weak. In the educational field, violence can mark the relationship of teachers with their students, and in the legislative field it can take shape in the sentencing of criminals, since Westerners label the sanctions or Islamic sentences as violent and harsh.
But the context where violence has acquired its greatest fame is the political one, and this is the implication we will address here. Political violence has been strongly condemned and criminalised in recent times, even though those who came up with the term and conferred on it its negative connotation have failed to come up with a clear definition of the word.
Muslims are the people most accused of violence, and the West is their main accuser. But reality says something different: westerners are the most violent people, and Muslims, wherever they are in the world, are the victims of this violence, as are their lives and their sanctities.
In the present study we will address “political violence” and the position of Muslims with regard to this issue.
What is meant by the term 'violence' in the political context where this term has been denounced by some and criminalised by others ? Does the accusation of Muslims of violence have valid grounds ? If so, is it Islam that urges them to engage in this violence ?
Let us try to define, albeit approximately, the concept of violence as meant in the present study.
Violence in the common understanding is : the use of physical or military force to vanquish an opponent in the absence of restrictive regulations, morals or law, and with no regard for the resulting prejudice to civilians and innocent people. Violence can be perpetrated by individuals, groups, or governments. A close look at reality reveals that some groups stand wrongly accused of violence.
Violence, as I see it, is the use of harshness and roughness where there is no need for it, at the inappropriate time, in degrees uncalled for, for no valid reasons, or with no rules and regulations to rein it in.
I purposefully used the word “harshness” and not physical or military force as is common and meant by most people.
Violence, from the Islamic perspective, is not limited to physical and military force, but goes beyond this to invest the fields of debating and arguing.
Islam rejects violence that is uncalled for, be it in word or in deed.
Accordingly, the approach adopted in the call to Islam has always been based on gentleness and a negation of violence. Allah says : “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” (An-Nahl, verse 125); “Say to My servants that they should (only) say those things that are best: for Satan doth sow dissensions among them : For Satan is to man an avowed enemy” (Al Isra, verse 53).
Allah instructed the believers to opt in their discourse with the other, for the good word; in fact, for the best words, not only good ones. Between the good word and the best one, the believers have to choose the best one.
Thus, in his discourse and argumentation, and to repel the sin of the other, the Muslim has to seek all things “better”. Allah (SWT) says in this regard: “Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better” (Fusilat, verse 34).
The Prophet (PBUH) was the best embodiment of the meanings and lofty values that the Quran brought. His code of conduct was the Quran. In his Saheeh, A1 Bukhari narrated that Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, said : “A group of Jews requested to see the Prophet (PBUH). In greeting him, they said : “Assamu alaikum” (by omitting the letter “l”, they wished death and annihilation on the Prophet). So I said : On you death and ****ation! He said: “Aisha, Allah loves moderation in everything”. I said : “did you not hear what they said ?!” He said : “I did and I replied: and on you too!”(4)
Those ill-wishing Jews did not observe the ethics of discourse with the Noble Prophet. They mispronounced and instead of saying “Assalamu alaika Mohammed”, they said : “Assamu alaika”, meaning death and annihilation. But the Prophet did not wish to make an issue of it, and simply replied : “and on you too”, i.e. death on you and me. He thus taught Aisha, his young intrepid wife the virtues of poise and moderation in all.
If Islam rejects violence in words, it abhors it even more in acts, or in the use of physical and military force when uncalled for, unjustly and in matters of repression and injustice.
Violence in Pre-Islamic Times
Before the advent of Islam, Arabs praised the attributes of power and cruelty, not those of mercy and justice. Suffice it to know that some killed their children, girls in particular, out of apprehension from real or feared poverty. Even more horrible is the fact that they killed them by burying them alive : “When the female (infant), buried alive, is questioned, For what crime she was killed” (Takweer, verses 8-9).
The poet Zuhair Ibn Abi Sulma says in his mu'allaqa :
He who protects not his fief with his sword
Shall see it brought down
And he who persecutes not shall be persecuted
The poet thus urges people to act with injustice so as not to fall prey to others, reminding us of the saying : Have your enemies for lunch before they have you for dinner!
Amru Ibn Kalthum, another pre-Islam poet, said in an equally famous mu'allaqa :
The world is ours and those in it
We kill when we kill able and strong we are
Oppressors, victims we are not
And first we will be in oppressing
He also said:
Water we shall drink clear when we do
And others after us shall drink it, troubled and muddied
One of the factors that encouraged the spread of such morals was blind tribalism which made for siding with one's people in justice and injustice alike, as the saying goes : “Take your brother’s side, whether he is the oppressor or the oppressed!”.
They ask not their brother for proof of his words
When in catastrophe he seeks their help
One of these tribal chiefs was described as a man in whose support one thousand swords would rise in unison when he is in rage, without questioning the reason of his wrath. When Allah honoured them with Islam, they were reborn, their beliefs changed as did their mode of thinking and their behaviour. They were taught good morals and behaviour and to be fair and to be witnesses to Allah even against themselves or their parents and relatives. They learnt not to be driven by the injustice of people and their enmity to lose sight of justice, and to follow right wherever it may take them, unsheathing their swords only to support righteousness, redress an injustice or assist a victim of oppression.
The Prophet (PBUH) gave a new dimension to the phrase “Take your brother's side” as : “Prevent him from committing an injustice, for that is how you can support him”.
Islam abrogated the wars of Jahilliyya, and called upon believers to collectively enter into peace, to bow to the power of right not to force, and to favour peace over war, and tolerance over tribalism.
Islam does not resort to force except to fend off an aggression, pre-empt trouble in religion, or champion the rights of the weak. This implies reluctance to engage in war, as Allah says : “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it.”. (A1 Baqara, verse 216).
But when a battle is won without fighting, as happened at the Battle of A1 Ahzab, the Quran comments on this with such verses as : “And Allah turned back the Unbelievers for (all) their fury: no advantage did they gain; and enough is Allah for the believers in their fight. And Allah is full of Strength, able to enforce His Will” (Al Ahzab, verse 25).
Is this not a beautiful and most eloquent phrase that shows the inclination of Islam to peace and its endeavour to preserve it : “'And enough is Allah for the believers in their fight”. Muslims were not keen on fighting for the sake of it. Instead, they only engaged in it under obligation.
When the Hudaybia battle was avoided thanks to reconciliation and the peace treaty signed just before the flames of battle broke out, and the companions pledged their loyalty to the Prophet until death under the tree, the Fath sura was revealed extolling this historic reconciliation and where Allah addresses the Prophet : “Verily We have granted thee a manifest Victory” (Al Fath, verse 1). A companion asked the Prophet: “is it truly a conquest ?” He replied : “Yes, it is”(5), for this companion could not imagine a conquest without fighting or battles.
The Prophet instructed his companions : “Do not aspire to meeting the enemy, and pray to Allah for safety. But if you do meet the enemy, remain steadfast and know that heaven is in the shadow of swords”(6).
Peace is then for the Prophet the desired safety that he prays to Allah for. He prays for safety in this world and forgiveness in the after world : “God I ask thee for forgiveness and safety”(7).
The Noble Prophet hated the word itself of war and disliked hearing it. This is the reason why he said once : “the names dearest to Allah are Abdullah and Abdurrahman, and the worst are Harb (Arabic for war) and Murra”(8).
But if called to defend faith, life, family, homeland and sanctities, Muslims must spring to the task and neither dawdle behind nor show reluctance. Allah said in this regard : “O ye who believe! What is the matter with you, that, when ye are asked to go forth in the cause of Allah, ye cling heavily to the earth ? Do ye prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter ? But little is the comfort of this life, as compared with the Hereafter. Unless ye go forth, He will punish you with a grievous penalty, and put others in your place; but Him ye would not harm in the least. For Allah hath power over all things” (At-Tauba, verse 38-39).
Is Violence a Trait of Muslims?
This is the nature of Islam and the position of Muslims. Unfortunately, we see the West depicting Muslims as ferocious lions. However, such a standpoint is not novel but is deeply-seated in Western culture, embedded in the young and growing with the old, enshrined in their creed.
The Muslim faith is based on belief in an almighty god of retribution, and Muslims are requested to adopt the attributes of Allah and follow His model in might, power and retribution. Thus, they had no mercy for the enemies of Allah and of Islam. Allah ordered the Messenger in these words : “Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them”. (At-Tauba, verse 73).
This perception of Muslims is wrong and, needless to say, unfair.
Indeed, while Allah is described in the Islamic faith as mighty, overpowering and a god of retribution, He is also described as merciful, gracious, kind and magnanimous. The Quran says : “Know ye that Allah is strict in punishment and that Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful” (Al-Maïda, verse 98);“thy Lord is quick in punishment : yet He is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful” (Al An’am, verse 165), “But verily thy Lord is full of forgiveness for mankind for their wrong-doing, and verily thy Lord is (also) strict in punishment” (Ar-Ra’d, verse 6), and “Tell My servants that I am indeed the Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful; And that My Penalty will be indeed the most grievous Penalty” (Al Hijr, verses 49-50). Observe how He made of forgiveness and mercy names for Himself, and made punishment one of His actions : “Who forgiveth sin, accepteth repentance, is strict in punishment, and hath a long reach (in all things)” (Ghafir, verse 3).
There is also a certain balance between the attributes of power and mercy, and between those of might and those of beauty as called by Muslim scholars.
The person perusing the Quran will observe the prevalence of names denoting beauty, mercy, magnanimity and their recurrence in the Holy Book.
In fact, the adjective ‘jabbar’ or irresistible is mentioned in the Quran only once towards the end of the ‘Hashr’ sura as one of several holy names: “Allah is He, than Whom there is no other god;- the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace (and Perfection), the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Irresistible, the Supreme: Glory to Allah. (High is He) above the partners they attribute to Him. He is Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (or Colours). To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare His Praises and Glory: and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise” (Al Hashr, verse 23-24). The irresistible is used in this sura to mean the mighty entity to whose power all are compelled to bow(9), hence its location in the verse between the words “exalted in light” and “supreme”. All of these attributes denote power, a trait necessary to warn off the oppressors and arrogant who wrongfully wreak havoc on earth, all the more to appreciate their insignificance before the might of Allah whom nothing on earth or in the heavens can defeat.
In addition to these, Allah is also described as the “source of peace”, the peace that all people advocate nowadays. It is no wonder that names such as Abdulsalam (servant of peace) are common among Muslims. Next to the word “peace” appears the phrase “the preserver of safety” who bestows on mankind safety and grants them faith and security.
The word “irresistible” (qahhar) appears in the Quran six times only and in contexts that require the use of such attribute, such as in the verse: “Say: (Allah) is the Creator of all things: He is the One, the Supreme and Irresistible” (Ar-Ra'd, verse 16). It also appears in the story of Yusuf when he said to his two pagan companions in jail: “O my two companions of the prison! (I ask you): are many lords differing among themselves better, or the One Allah, Supreme and Irresistible?” (Ususf, verse 39), inviting them thus to draw a comparison between their proclaimed deities and this supreme God.
In the chapter of “Sad”, Allah says : “truly am I a Warner : no god is there but the one Allah, Supreme and Irresistible” (Sad, verse 65). In this verse, Allah (SWT) orders His Prophet to deny himself all the attributes of divinity for he is no more than a warner, and proclaim that the true god is the One and Mighty. All of these attributes are placed in context to serve a purpose.
Allah as the avenger does not appear in the Quran in this form of adjective, but came in the form of “lord of Retribution” in a context where He warns the unbelievers and the oppressors : “Then those who reject Faith in the Signs of Allah will suffer the severest penalty, and Allah is Exalted in Might, Lord of Retribution.” (Al-Imran, verse 4).
In the sura of ‘Ibrahim’, and in condemning the oppressors and their treatment of prophets and messengers, Allah says : “Never think that Allah would fail his apostles in His promise : for Allah is Exalted in power, - the Lord of Retribution” (Ibrahim, verse 47).
Responding to those who threaten the prophet with their statues, Allah says : “Is not Allah enough for his Servant ? But they try to frighten thee with other (gods) besides Him! for such as Allah leaves to stray, there can be no guide. And such as Allah doth guide there can be none to lead astray. Is not Allah Exalted in Power, (Able to enforce His Will), Lord of Retribution ?” (Zumar, verses 36-37).
Also appearing in a different form : “And who does more wrong than one to whom are recited the Signs of his Lord, and who then turns away therefrom ? Verily from those who transgress We shall exact (due) Retribution” (Sajdah, verse 22). Similar to this verse is another one reading : “One day We shall seize you with a mighty onslaught: We will indeed (then) exact Retribution!” (Dukhan, verse 16).
All of these names denote the loftiness and greatness of Allah (SWT). There are also names that convey meanings of honour, for He describes Himself in the following term : “thy Lord,- full of Majesty, Bounty and Honour” (Ar-Rahman, verse 27), and also in adjectives of beauty, which names and descriptions are very recurrent in the Noble Quran.
Taking a look at the attributes of mercy, forgiveness, magnanimity, kindness and such descriptions, we will find that they occur in the Quran on numerous occasions.
If we take as example the words “the Merciful, the Gracious”, we will find that 113 chapters of the Quran start with the basmala (In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Gracious). It opens the fatiha which is read by the Muslim at least 17 times in his daily prayers : “Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds; Most Gracious, Most Merciful” (Fatiha, verse 2, 3).
The words “gracious” and “merciful” occur together in the Quran five times in addition to the 113 times of the basmala.
Allah also says : “He said : With My punishment I visit whom I will; but My mercy extendeth to all things” (Al Araf, verse 156). Thus, Allah made punishment conditional upon His will, but placed no restrictions on his mercy.
In the prayer of the angels for the faithful, the sura reads : “Our Lord! Thy Reach is over all things, in Mercy and Knowledge. Forgive, then, those who turn in Repentance, and follow Thy Path; and preserve them from the Penalty of the Blazing hell” (Ghafir, verse 7).
The chapter of “Ar-Rahman” opens with Allah’s words : “(Allah) Most Gracious! It is He Who has taught the Qur'an. He has created man: He has taught him speech (and intelligence)” (Ar-Rahman, verses 1-4).
In fact, the Quran equates the adjective gracious with the name Allah in the following verse : “Say : Call upon Allah, or call upon the Most Gracious : by whatever name ye call upon Him, (it is well) : for to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names” (Al Israa, verse 110). This name occurs in the Quran fifty-seven times other than the basmala.
The adjective “merciful” appears in the Quran ninety-five times in addition to the basmala.
Sometimes it appears associated with “compassionate”, and in other instances associated with names such as the Forgiving, as in Allah’s verse : “Say : O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah. for Allah forgives all sins : for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Zumar, verse 53).
In other places, it appears associated with kindness as in the verse: “And never would Allah Make your faith of no effect. For Allah is to all people most surely full of kindness, Most Merciful”. (Al Baqara, verse 143).
Another attribute of Allah is that of beneficence, as mentioned in this verse : “Truly, we did call unto Him from of old: truly it is He, the Beneficent, the Merciful!” (Tur, verse 28).
He is also described as : “For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful” (Tauba, verse 118)
And : “It is a Revelation sent down by (Him), the Exalted in Might, Most Merciful” (Ya Sin, verse 5).
The Quran describes Allah as the most merciful of the merciful five times, and also as the best of the merciful, twice.
How then can a claim be made to the effect that the god of Muslims has no attributes but those of cruelty, mightiness, revenge and harshness, and that Muslims simulate these attributes ?
How can this compare with what the Torah says in the Book of Exodus, believed in by Jews and Christians alike, that God is jealous and likes inflicting revenge to a point where children, grandchildren and even later generations are punished for the sins of their forefathers ?
“For I Hashem thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me”(10).
The Quran is very clear in the responsibility of each person for their actions and deeds. No one can be accountable nor be punished for a sin committed by another person; even the closest person to them: “Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds” (Al Muddathir, verse 38), and also : “Every soul draws the meed of its acts on none but itself : no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another” (An’am, verse 164).
The Quran also affirms that all divine books concur on this matter : “Nay, is he not acquainted with what is in the Books of Moses- And of Abraham who fulfilled his engagements ?- Namely, that no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another” (An-Najm, verses 36-38).
The Quran proclaimed that the message brought by Mohammed came as a mercy to all mankind. Allah says : “We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures” (Al Anbia, verse 107).
Speaking about himself, Mohammed said : “I am but mercy bestowed on humanity”(11).
Allah praised the Prophet in the following words : “It is part of the Mercy of Allah that thou dost deal gently with them Wert thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about thee” (Al Imran, verse 159).
The attribute of mercy was the most salient feature of his message as well throughout his life(12). He said : “The merciful shall receive the mercy of Allah, have mercy on those on earth and you shall benefit from the mercy of He who is in the heavens”(13). And also : “He who has no mercy shall not receive Allah’s mercy”(14).
The Quran praised the kind and generous believers in these words : “And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive (Saying), We feed you for the sake of Allah alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks.” (Al Insan, verses 8-9).
The Quran also denounces the Israelites for their cruelty and harshness: “Thenceforth were your hearts hardened : They became like a rock and even worse in hardness” (Al Baqara, verse 74).
The Holy Book also considered hardness of heart a punishment in itself for those who display it and said about the people of Israel : “But because of their breach of their covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard” (Al Maidah, verse 13).
Allah also says : “Seest thou one who denies the Judgement (to come) ? Then such is the (man) who repulses the orphan (with harshness), and encourages not the feeding of the indigent” (Al Ma’un, verses 1-3), considering the hardness of heart that leads to repulsing the orphan and ignoring the poor an indicator of lack of faith.
Is Western Civilisation a Christian One ?
We have heard the Christians proclaim their Christianity and describe the current civilisation as a Christian one(15). The Christ never raised a sword in the face of someone, and even instructed one of his disciples in these words : “But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other. And if a man will contend with thee in judgement and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him. And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two. Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away”(16). Thus evil is not fought with evil, and power is not met with power. Jesus invited his disciples to love their enemies and bless those who persecute and calumniate them(17).
How true is this claim then ? Are the Westerners truly Christian ? Do Christianity and its commandments, as proclaimed in the Bible, have any sway over their lives ? Did the Christians, followers of the Christ, apply these teachings and commandments in their lives and their relations with the others, nations and religions alike ? Did they even apply them in their relationships with each others ?
The rich history and the current reality state the following: the followers of the Christ have gone the farthest possible from these commandments. No one turned his left cheek to the person who slapped him on the right one. In fact, they tackled the world with slaps on both cheeks, with no valid reason but a thirst for oppression.
Throughout history, Christians have killed those who opposed them in horrific massacres of which the tales can make a child go grey in the hair and even killed millions of their own people. Modern history keeps fresh records that cannot be erased.
The Catholics killed millions of Protestants when they first emerged, and the Protestants killed millions of Catholics when they triumphed over them(18).
Christians killed each other by the millions in the two world wars of the twentieth century. All of them were Christians who believed in the Bible and held as creed the religion of Jesus, peace be upon him. This reality has forced the following comment from some European Christian researchers : “No prophecy of the Christ has come true as did his saying : “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword’(19).
Thus history, as well as reality, have proven that the followers of the religion of love and peace embody the most sanguinary of all religions, the quickest to show hostility and the most harsh and barbaric in dealing with the others.
The Torah and Violence
Anyone wishing to know the contribution of Islam as a religion that brought reform, renewal and organised the use of force compared to the way the situation was under older faiths and ancient nations, has only to take a brief look at the content of modern day Torah. Jews and Christians alike follow this as the divine revelation sent by Allah to Moses, peace be upon him, and about which Jesus, peace be upon him, said: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I came to fulfil”(20).
I have no inkling whether the Westerners who label Islam as a “religion of the sword”, and who claim that they believe in the “Holy Book”, including the Torah part, have read the passages that I will quote. And if they did, do they or not fully grasp their meaning ?
Read, my dear objective reader, what the Torah says about the matters of war and fighting, and the use of force against opponents.
Under the heading “Laws of Warfare”, and I believe this heading was devised by the book publishers, the Torah says in Chapter 20 of Deuteronomy:
“When thou drawest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that are found therein shall become tributary unto thee, and shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it. And when Hashem thy God delivereth it into thy hand, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword; but the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take for a prey unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which HaShem thy God hath given thee. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations”.
Such was the strict order of the Torah to the Israelites, or the Jews who embraced the faith of Moses when it came to the siege and conquest of far cities. If the city responded to the call to surrender, then all its inhabitants became slaves! And if they refused to surrender and a war ensued in which they were defeated, then the Torah orders the conquerors to kill all males at the sword. Such was the order to God, the Torah did not provide any other alternatives to death, such as conversion to Judaism, payment of Jizya, or such other options, nor did “Hasehm thy God” exclude the children or the elderly from the males to be slain.
The Quran says : “Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them) : thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens” (Muhammad, verse 4). The Quran made the limit of fighting weakening the enemies in order to capture them instead of killing them.
The Quran also says : “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Tauba, verse 29), thus granting enemies the chance of sparing their lives and the obligation of entering Islam unwillingly through the option of paying Jizya, a small sum in return for their protection.
Laws of Siege and Conquest of Cities in the Land of Promise
When the Torah addresses the peoples of the region called the Land of Promise, it reads : “Howbeit of the cities of these peoples, that Hashem thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth, but thou shalt utterly destroy them : the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; as Hashem thy God hath commanded thee, that they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods, and so ye sin against Hashem your God”(21).
These six communities were to be exterminated without being called first to embrace the faith, pay the Jizya or conclude a pact of submission or surrender. There is no option but that of the sword. Death and total annihilation were the fate of these poor peoples whose only crime was living before the Jews in the land these called that of Promise.
The interpreters of the Torah comment on this paragraph saying : “How can a compassionate God order the annihilation of all peopled cities ? He did it to protect the children of Israel from the paganism which would undoubtedly have caused their destruction (20-18). In fact, if the Children of Israel had not totally annihilated these evil peoples as they were instructed to, they would have been more at risk of persecution, bloodshed and destruction than if they had heeded the instructions of God!!!”
These interpreters justified the genocide of these peoples as the order of God and they even expressed regret that some peoples escaped the annihilation caused by the sword of Israel!
How can these instructions of the Torah compare with the rules brought by the Quran ?
In what the interpreters call the Land of Promise : “thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth, but thou shalt utterly destroy them’, which means the total annihilation of the inhabitants of these lands. Why then be shocked by what the Christian Europeans did when they set foot in North America, in the genocide of the Indians, original inhabitants of the land! Why be shocked at what the British and others did when they discovered and landed in Australia, and the ensuing extermination of the aborigines. Those and others used in this war of extinction methods and means that relate in no way to morals or humanity. To describe them as “savage” would be an injustice to wild animals because animals only kill what they need for food. Once satiated, they refrain from killing, but those never tire of killing and shedding blood even if it flowed in rivers.
The concept of apocalypse and annihilation is originally a Torah one that was passed on by Jewish and Christian Torah readers. It is a concept totally rejected by Islam whether applied to human communities or animal ones. Islam did not sanction the extermination of any kind of species and for no motive whatsoever. The Prophet (PBUH) said : “If dogs were not a nation, I would have ordered their killing”(22), i.e. killing them and saving people from their harm.
But the Prophet (PBUH) looked at the matter in a deeper manner, appreciating that these dogs formed a nation (in the phrasing used in the Quran) with its own traits and characteristics that distinguish it from other communities and that Allah created for a wise reason of which some are cognisant and others ignorant. Allah says : “There is not an animal (that lives) on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but (forms part of) communities like you” (Al An’am, verse 38).
With such an elevated vision, Islam was the first to call, fourteen centuries ago, for what humanity is advocating today in the preservation of species from extinction. They dubbed it the “Principle of Noah”(23), may Allah be pleased with him, in reference to his act of taking a couple of every species on the arch, thus preserving all the animal species that were doomed to extinction as a result of the flood.
Let us ponder this lofty horizon that Islam opened before humanity in matters of preservation of all animal and bird species and other creatures, considering them ‘nations like us’, and let us compare it to the despicable levels reached by westerners who were nurtured on the Torah’s nihilist concept, and therefore committed crimes of genocide that bring shame on humanity.
We were eyewitnesses to what the Zionist Jewish butchers inflicted upon the people of Palestine. Horrendous massacres were perpetrated in which perished women, children, old people and defenceless civilians who were mercilessly murdered with no regard for any human consideration. This they did in places such as Dir Yassine and others, stooping to such depravity as to disembowel pregnant women, remove unborn children and mutilate them with their weapons laughing and joking all the time! They killed the son before the eyes of the father and the screaming mother! They killed mother and father before the eyes of their children, and with such barbarity instilled terror in the hearts of the Palestinians who fled their homes in fear, leaving them to these blood thirsty terrorists.
These sanguinary criminals were only implementing the teachings of the Torah that they were fed : spare no life!
This is what the Torah holds in store for these peoples: destroy them down to the last person! Leave no one alive! This is what God ordered Moses, his people and his followers, with these cities and their people when they vanquish them. The order was issued and they had to obey, to start by fighting them and then kill them; no invitation to convert to a religion, and no Jizya to be accepted if offered. No option other than the sword.
Moses(24), Joshua and David after them, literally applied these injunctions, destroying whole communities, mercilessly and relentlessly killing dozens and hundreds of thousands of their opponents, deserving the description that Allah gave the Children of Israel when He said : “Thenceforth were your hearts hardened : They became like a rock and even worse in hardness” (Baqara, verse 74).
How can this compare with Allah’s words : “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors. And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there”(Baqara, verse 190-191). The Quran did not sanction the transgression of limits in dealing with the enemies even when they hated Muslims and Muslims loathed them, and even when they prevented Muslims from praying at the Holy Mosque. When Allah said : “And let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression” (Maidah, verse 2).
What about this verse which was revealed after what they called the “sword verse” : “If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah. and then escort him to where he can be secure” (Tauba, verse 6).
Or this verse: “But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah - for He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things). Should they intend to deceive thee,- verily Allah sufficeth thee : He it is That hath strengthened thee with His aid and with (the company of) the Believers” (Anfal, verse 61-62).
How can this compare to the war ethics brought by Islam ? Only those who fight can be fought, and no woman, child, elderly, blind or invalid person, priest in a monastery, a farmer tilling his land, or any other civilians not involved in the war can be killed.
The Noble Quran instructs Muslims in times of battle to fight their enemies until they weaken them, and once they are defeated to stop fighting them and capture them instead. After capture, the Muslims have the choice between either releasing them out of generosity of heart, or exchanging them for either ransom money or for Muslim prisoners. Allah says : “Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them) : thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom” (Muhammad, verse 4).
This does not come close to what the Torah says : “Thou shalt utterly destroy them”!
Islam ordained capture after defeat, and also the good treatment of prisoners. The Prophet urged his companions to treat the prisoners of Badr in a good way. Allah also said in praise of pious believers : “And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive” (Al Insan, verse 8).
Muslims were also warned against taking revenge on the bodies of the dead and mutilating them. The Prophet (PBUH) warned his commanders against that as did the Rightly-guided caliphs.
When the head of a commander of the enemy was brought to the first caliph after the Prophet, he was outraged and said: “You have exceeded your limits!”, and said : “Do not bring decaying corpses to the city of the Prophet”(25).
When he was told : “They do that with the heads of our commanders’, he said : Do we follow the suit of Persia and Rome ? By Allah, no head shall be brought to me after today. Letters and news shall suffice”(26).
(*) Director of the Centre for Sunnah and Seerah Studies, University of Qatar, and head of the World Federation of Muslim Scholars.
(1) Narrated by Muslim in his Saheeh on an account of Aisha (2593).
(2) Narrated by Muslim on an account of Aisha (2594).
(3) Narrated by Muslim on the authority of Jarir (2594).
(4) Narrated by Al Bukhari in “AlAdab” (6024), and by Muslim in “As-Salam” (2165), on an account by Aisha.
(5) Narrated by Abu Dawoud in “Al Jihad” (2736) on an account of Mujmaa Ibn Jariya.
(6) Agreed upon from the hadith of Abdullah Ibn Abi Awfa, Al Bukhari (2966), and Muslim (1742).
(7) Narrated by Ibn Dawoud (5074), Ibn Majah (3871), Al Hakim (1/517) who proclaimed it authentic on an account of Ibn Umar.
(8) Narrated by Ibn Dawoud in “Al Adab” (4950) on an account of Abi Wahb Al Jushami.
(9) Some interpreted this attribute as the redresser who champions the weak and remedies their situation, even though this meaning is inconsistent with the topic at hand. Cf. Al Qortobi’s Tafseer, end of Al Hashr chapter.
(10) Book of Exodus (5/20).
(11) Narrated by Al Hakim (1/35), and by Ad-Dahbi on Abu Hurayra.
(12) Cf. “From Violence and Persecution to Kindness and Mercy”; from the author’s book “Islamic Revival: from Adolescence to Maturity”, Dar Al Shorouq, Cairo.
(13) Narrated by Abu Dawoud (4941), and Tirmidi (1925), reputed sound on a narration of Abdullah Ibn ‘Amru.
(14) Narrated by Ahmed, Al Shaikhan, Tirmidi on Ibn Jarir, and narrated by Ahmed and Tirmidi on Abi Saeed, “Saheeh Al Jami” (6597).
(15) Western civilization could not be any further from Christianity. It is a purely materialist culture while Christianity is spiritualism incarnate. While western civilization allows debauchery and gratification, the Christ says: “He who looks with his eyes has committed adultery”. I have said it a long time: this is not the civilization of Jesus the son of Mariam, but that of the Anti-Christ, he is one-eyed and this is a short-sighted civilization that looks at life and mankind through the eyes of materialism. Cf. “Essence of Modern Civilization”, from the author’s book: “Islam is the Civilization of Tomorrow”, pp. 11-25. Maktabat Wahba, Cairo, and Arrissala Institution, Beirut.
(16) The Book of Mathew: (5: 39-42), and the Book of Luke: (6: 29-30)
(17) The Book of Mathew: (5: 43-44), the Book of Luke: (6 : 27-28)
(18) Cf. the tales of Sheikh Rahmatoallah Al Hindi in his book “Idhar Al Haq” with facts and figures quoted from books written by Christians about the records of massacres and persecution by the Catholics against the Protestants when they first emerged, then those of the Protestants against the Catholics in retaliation, pp. 509-528, edition of Dar Ihiaa at-Thurat, Qatar.
(19) The Book of Mathew : 10:34, and the Book of Luke : 12:15
(20) The Book of Mathew: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfil”, (5:17). Cf. the Book of Mark: 9:50, and the Book of Luke: 14:34-35.
(21) The Torah: 6 Deuteronomy, 20:10-17, pp. 392-293.
(22) Narrated by Abu Dawoud (2845), Tirmidi (1489), Nasaii (4285) and Ibn Majah (3204), all quoted in “Kitab As-Said” of Abdullah Ibn Mughaffal. Tirmidi rated the hadith as: sound and good, and the hadith was mentioned by Al-Albani in Saheeh Al Jami Al Saghir as sound (5321).
(23) Cf. the author’s book on “Protection of Environment in Islamic Charia”. Chapter: Preserving Nature’s Balance, page 152, Dar Shorouq, Cairo, 2003.
(24) Moses, peace be upon him, was certainly above all the horrors attributed to him. There is nothing in the Quran or the Prophet’s hadiths to corroborate or even suggest this. What we mention here are the beliefs held by people according to their holy books, and how these beliefs influenced them, their behaviour and their relationships with the others.
(25) Abdulraziq: “Al Musannaf” (5/306), and “Al Atharain”: 9701-9702.
(26) Narrated by Saeed Ibn Mansour in “Sunan”, vol. 3, account No. 2636, and Al Baihaqi in “Al Sunan Al Kubra” (9 /132).