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And slay them wherever ye catch them.." (2:191)
A classic and popular example of what Muslim scholars call a ‘cut and paste’ approach. Everything becomes so much easier for the Anti-Islamists when they remove the context. The solution is to simply replace the verse in its context:
2:190-194 Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors. And kill them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for persecution and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there;but if they fight you, kill them. Such is the reward of those who reject faith. But if they cease, God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression. The prohibited month, for the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear (the punishment of) God, and know that God is with those who restrain themselves.
How many times do we see the above verse repeating the message to make it clear? These verse were revealed at a time when Muslims of Madinah were under constant attack from the Makkans. An example would be when the Makkans conducted the public crucifixion of the companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Khubaib bin Adi. These would be classified as 'terrorist activities' according to the modern usage of the term. So what does this verse say in this context? "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you", "unless they (first) fight you there" - the context of this verse applies to those who initiate the attack against Muslims. And even after they attack, the verse makes it clear: "But if they cease, God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." And it also makes clear the purpose for what Muslims fight: "fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God". It is the duty of Muslims to defend humanity from oppression and persecution and to establish justice. Muslims believe that God has placed us here on earth as his deputy or viceroy, and thus, it is our duty to enjoin the good and forbid the evil, to establish peace and justice in the land. Dr. Maher Hathout writes the following on verses 2:190-194:
These verses were applicable to a particular situation or if, hypothetically, the same situation was to be repeated… Historically, fighting back against the aggressors was prohibited during the thirteen years of the Meccan period. After the migration to Medina and the establishment of the Islamic state, Muslims were concerned with how to defend themselves against aggression from their enemies. The aforementioned verses were revealed to enable them to protect the newly formed state by fighting in self-defence against those who fought them. However, the Qur’an clearly prohibits aggression. The verses explain that fighting is only for self-defence. Thus, a Muslim cannot commit aggression and kill innocent men, women, children, the sick, the elderly, monks, priests, or those who do not wish to fight. A Muslim is also mandated not to destroy plant life of livestock. (Hathout, Jihad vs. Terrorism; US Multimedia Vera International, 2002, p.49, emphasis added)
The historical context is something that must always be considered where developing an understanding of Qur'anic verses. Without knowing the circumstances behind the revelation, one cannot apply the verse as accurately. Shaykh Salman Al-Oadah writes about the general principles in Jihad:
Jihad can never be fought for worldly gain, for conquest, or even for revenge. Muslims must only fight to protect the lives, property, and freedoms of people, especially their freedom to worship Allah when that freedom is forcibly attacked. They are never allowed to attack innocent people, even when they are themselves attacked by the countrymen of those innocents. Any people that go against this established principle of Islamic Law and murder civilians are fighting against Islam and everything that it stands for.
It is ludicrous for them to call this fighting a jihâd, a word that means striving in the cause of Islam. They are in fact murderers in the light of Islamic Law and should be treated as such.
, emphasis added)
There are strict and detailed laws in Islam, which Muslims must follow carefully. A military Jihad must be performed under these regulations. Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes about verse 2:190:
War is only permissible in self-defence, and under well-defined limits. When undertaken, it must be pushed with vigour, but not relentlessly, but only to restore peace and freedom for the worship of God. In any case strict limits must not be transgressed: women, children, old and infirm men should not be molested, nor trees and crops cut down, nor peace withheld when the enemy comes to terms. (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, Text, Translation and Commentary )
He then re-iterates the general principles behind Jihad in his commentary on verse 2:191:
In general, it may be said that Islam is the religion of peace, goodwill, mutual understanding, and good faith. But it will not acquiesce in wrong-doing, and its men will hold their lives cheap in defence of honour, justice, and the religion which they hold sacred. Their ideal is that of heroic virtue combined with unselfish gentleness and tenderness, such as is exemplified in the life of the Apostle. They believe in courage, obedience, discipline, duty, and a constant striving by all the means in their power, physical, moral, intellectual, and spiritual, for the establishment of truth and righteousness. (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, Text, Translation and Commentary )
This is the true focus behind Jihad, and Muslims must never lose this focus. Jihad is solely for the purpose of aiding humanity and bringing justice and freedom to the oppressed. Therefore, all actions must be in-line with this focus and the strict regulations governing Jihad. The focus is to defend, not destroy. One who focuses on the betterment and aid of humanity will realize that destruction will never achieve this. Abdul Majid Daryabadi writes extensively on verse 2:190:
2:190 “And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you” – Violating the truce they themselves had signed. The Muslims, after having borne untold persecution with almost superhuman fortitude for years and years at the hands of the pagans of Makkah, are now for the first time enjoined to take to reprisals. ‘For a full thirteen years the Muslims were subjected to relentless persecution in Mecca. The Prophet and his followers fled for life to Medina, but the enemy would not leave them alone in their refuge. They came to attack them within a year, and the first three battles were fought in the very locality which will whether the Prophet was an assailant or defendant’ (Headley, The Original Church of Jesus Christ and Islam, p. 155). The Makkans had signed a truce and were the first to break it. The words ‘fight with those who fight you’ clearly show, firstly, that the Muslims were not the aggressors, and secondly, that those of the enemy who were not actual combatants – children, women, monks, hermits, the aged and the infirm, the maimed, and the like – had nothing at all to fear from the Muslim soldiery. It was in light of this express Divine injunction that the great Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, charged his troops into Syria, ‘not to mutilate the dead, nor to slay old men, women, and children, nor to cut down fruit-trees, nor to kill cattle unless they were needed for food; and these humane precepts served like a code of laws of war during the career of Mohammadan conquest.’ (Bosworth Smith, Mohammed and Mohammedanism, p. 185). Has not Islam thus, in prescribing war against those who break God’s law, who challenge His righteous authority, and who fill the world with violence and injustice, made every concession short of the impossible? Has any code of military ethics been so chivalrous, so humane and so tender towards the enemy? ‘The moral tone adopted by the Caliph Abu Bakr, in his instructions to the Syrian army, was’, says a modern Christian historian, ‘so unlike the principles of the Roman government, that it must have commanded profound attention from a subject people. Such a proclamation announced to Jews and Christians’ sentiments of justice and principles of toleration which neither Roman emperors nor orthodox bishops had ever adopted as the rule of their conduct’ (Finlay, Greece Under the Romans, pp. 367-368). (Daryabadi, The Glorious Qur’an, emphasis added)
Muhammad Asad explains verse 2:190 in the following manner:
This and the following verses lay down unequivocally that only self-defence (in the widest sense of the word) makes war permissible for Muslims. Most of the commentators agree in that the expression la ta'tadu signifies, in this context, "do not commit aggression"; while by al-mu'tadin "those who commit aggression" are meant. The defensive character of a fight "in God's cause" - that is, in the cause of the ethical principles ordained by God - is, moreover, self-evident in the reference to "those who wage war against you", and has been still further clarified in 22: 39 - "permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged" - which, according to all available Traditions, constitutes the earliest (and therefore fundamental) Quranic reference to the question of jihad, or holy war (see Tabari and Ibn Kathir in their commentaries on 22: 39). That this early, fundamental principle of self-defence as the only possible justification of war has been maintained throughout the Quran is evident from 60: 8, as well as from the concluding sentence of 4: 91, both of which belong to a later period than the above verse. (Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, emphasis added)
And on verse 2:191, he states the following:
In view of the preceding ordinance, the injunction "slay them wherever you may come upon them" is valid only within the context of hostilities already in progress (Razi), on the understanding that "those who wage war against you" are the aggressors or oppressors (a war of liberation being a war "in God's cause"). The translation, in this context, of fitnah as "oppression" is justified by the application of this term to any affliction which may cause man to go astray and to lose his faith in spiritual values (cf. Lisan al-Arab). (Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, emphasis added)
This extensive commentary on this verse should sufficiently address all confusion and misconceptions that resulted from misquoting this verse.