From Around the Web
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By Kabir Helminski and Hesham Hessaboula
(BARAKA Institute) January 30, 2015
There are a number of verses in the Qur’an that appear to call for Muslims to kill non-Muslims, and these verses have been too often quoted out of context with what appears to be a willful disregard of the context in which they occur. Among these—and perhaps the most often cited—is the infamous “Verse of the Sword”:
“Kill the mushrikeen (those Meccans who had declared war against Muhammad and his community) wherever you find them, and capture them, and blockade them, and watch for them at every lookout…”(9:5).
On the surface, this verse would seem to bolster the claim that Islam advocates violence against non-Muslims. There is much more to this story, however. This verse, and the others like it in the Qur’an, have a linguistic, historical, and textual context. Understanding that context is essential in understanding the message of the verse. Careful and unbiased study of these verses, in their proper context, will reveal that the exhortations to fight “idolators” and “unbelievers” are specific in nature and are not general injunctions for the murder of all those who refuse to accept Islam as their way of life. We must remember the challenging historical circumstances of these Qur’anic verses. As is known from the Prophet’s biography, the Meccan oligarchy fought against the Prophet’s message from the very beginning. It resorted to violent repression and torture of the Prophet and his followers when they realized that the flow of converts to Islam was increasing. The Prophet himself survived several assassination attempts, and it became so dangerous for the Muslims in Mecca that the Prophet sent some of his companions to take asylum in the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia. After thirteen years of violence, Muhammad was compelled to take refuge in the city of Medina, and even then the Meccans did not relent in their hostilities. Later, furthermore, various hostile Arab tribes joined in the fight against the Muslims, culminating in the Battle of the Trench, when 10,000 soldiers from many Arab tribes gathered to wipe out the Muslim community once and for all. As we know, the Muslims survived these challenges and eventually went on to establish a vast civilization.
At the time Verse 9:5 was revealed, Mecca had been conquered, the Meccans themselves had become Muslims, and many of the surrounding pagan Arab tribes had also accepted Islam and sent delegations to the Prophet pledging their allegiance to him. Those that did not become Muslim were the bitterest of enemies, and it was against these remaining hostile forces that the verse commands the Prophet to fight. It was in this violent context that the “Verse of the Sword” was revealed. This verse is part of a long chapter entitled “Repentance,” and it was revealed nine years after the Prophet immigrated to Medina.
Yet, verse 9:5 must never be quoted out of context. The verses immediately before and after it explain why verse 9:5 exhorts the believers to “kill idolaters wherever you find them.” The first verses state:
“There is immunity from God and the messenger of God for those polytheists (mushrikeen) with whom you have made treaties; So travel the earth for four months, and know that you cannot elude God, and that it is God who brings disgrace upon all who refuse to acknowledge the truth” (9:1-2).
The polytheists in these verses are those pagan Arabs who have deliberately broken the treaties they forged with the Prophet. How do we know this? Verse 4 continues:
“Except those polytheists with whom you have made a treaty and who have not failed you in anything and have not helped anyone against you; fulfill your treaties with them to the end of their term, for God loves the conscientious.”
Had we only quoted only 9:1-2, without the qualifying verse 9:4, it would seem that the Qur’an invalidates all non-aggression treaties made with the non-Muslims so that they can be “slaughtered” according to 9:5. That is clearly not the case. Those who want to malign Islam quote only 9:1-2 and neglect to mention 9:4.
Now, in its proper context, verse 9:5 can be properly understood. Most who quote 9:5 do so incompletely. The full verse reads:
“But when the sacred months are past, then kill idolaters wherever you find them, and capture them, and blockade them, and watch for them at every lookout. But if they repent and practice prayer and give alms, then let them go their way; for God is most forgiving, most merciful.”
This was a specific command to the Prophet at that specific time to fight those idolaters who were fighting the Muslims; those idolaters who, as 9:4 mentioned, failed in their treaty obligations and helped others fight against the Muslims. It is not a general command to attack all non-Muslims, and it has never signified this to the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout history. Had it been so, then every year, after the “forbidden months are past,” history would have witnessed Muslims attacking every non-Muslim in sight. The “forbidden months” are four months out of the year during which fighting is not allowed. Three of them occur in a row: the eleventh, twelfth, and first month of the Islamic calendar. This yearly slaughter never occurred. In addition, if one reads on in the ninth chapter, the Qur’an further explains why 9:5 commands the Prophet to “kill idolaters wherever you find them”:
“How, when if they get the better of you they do not respect either blood relations or treaty with you? They satisfy you with their words, but their hearts are averse, and most of them are dissolute” (9:8).
Further along the Qur’an declares:
“Will you not fight people who broke their oaths and planned to exile the messenger, and they took the initiative the first time? Do you fear them? God is more worthy of your fear, if you are believers” (9:13).
These pagan tribes, as the Qur’an clearly states, would not hesitate in the least to attack and kill the Muslims at their first chance, and thus they must be fought against. Furthermore, if 9:5 was a general exhortation to kill all non-Muslims, then verse 9:6 would make no sense:
“And if one of the polytheists asks you for protection, then protect him, until he hears the word of God: then deliver him to a place safe for him. That is because they are people who do not know.”
Yet, verse 9:6 does make sense because the command to “kill idolaters wherever you find them” refers solely to those who are in active hostility to the Muslims. Had verse 9:5 been an open invitation to kill all non-Muslims, it would have been more convenient for the verse to be revealed as soon as the Prophet arrived as leader in Medina, with an army of believers ready to fight to the death for him. Yet, as I previously mentioned, the verse was revealed nine years after the Prophet came to Medina.
See Part 2 HERE
 Literally, “those who “partnerize” God,” i.e. those who place their trust in imaginary gods, i.e. who worship the idols of their own superstition or self-interest.