The Description of War in the Qur’an

The Qur’an is quite explicit on when and how war is to be waged:

Fight in the Way of God against those who fight you, but do not go beyond the limits. God does not love those who go beyond the limits. (Qur’an, 2:190)

War can only be waged against those who attack Muslims; it must be a defensive war. It is absolutely prohibited in the Qur’an for Muslims to attack the other side for no reason. In defensive wars, the properties of innocents, civilians, women, children and the elderly as well as holy sites such as churches and synagogues are inviolable.

What God commands Muslims in the Qur’an is that they must always keep justice at the fore, even if they are angry at a community because of its injustices and aggression. God reveals in one verse:

You who believe! Show integrity for the sake of God, bearing witness with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just. That is closer to devoutness. Have awe of God. God is aware of what you do. (Qur’an, 5:8)

For example, in one verse God prohibits Muslims from going beyond the limits regarding communities that try to stop Muslims from entering the Ka’aba, advising them to treat them and everyone else with kindness:

Do not let hatred for a people who debar you from the Masjid al-Haram [the Sacred Mosque] incite you into going beyond the limits. Help each other to goodness and piety. Do not help each other to wrongdoing and enmity. Have awe of God. … (Qur’an, 5:2)

Muslims are warned by Almighty God not to overstep the bounds, even though they have deliberately been prevented from performing their religious obligation of the Hajj (pilgrimage) and have been treated unjustly. God commands Muslims to behave justly even under those conditions, and commands them to behave well and not be angered. Muslims have an obligation to obey this commandment in the Qur’an, no matter what the circumstances.

The verse that describes the only justification for fighting – self-defence – also contains another condition on the subject of war: not to go to excess. This means that in the event of an attack a Muslim must simply defend himself, must not overreact and must take no other action than defensive measures. In other words, aggression, violence, anger and extremism are banned in the Qur’an.

Other verses reveal the obligation to engage only in defence war against aggressors in these terms:

God does not forbid you from being good to those who have not fought you in the religion or driven you from your homes, or from being just towards them. God loves those who are just. God merely forbids you from taking as friends those who have fought you in the religion and driven you from your homes and who supported your expulsion. … (Qur’an, 60:8-9)

There is an important distinction here. It is unlawful for Muslims to attack people who have never attacked them, even though they are strongly opposed to Muslims on the level of ideas. A Muslim has a responsibility to treat such people with respect and justice. According to this verse, Muslims are only permitted to engage in defensive warfare against people who oppress them because of their beliefs and actually physically attack them; against people who initiate hostilities, in other words. Everyone will, of course, defend himself if he is attacked. This is the right of every person, nation and country, and is also the correct thing to do.

The fact that our Prophet (pbuh) engaged in no self-defence until the revelation of the verses permitting such activity represents enormous self-sacrifice and religious devotion. Until that time, our Prophet (pbuh) had merely resorted to methods of compromise and trying to convince the other side, as required by the verse “… argue with them in the kindest way …” (Qur’an, 16:125) even though the sole aim of the pagan Quraysh was slaughter.

Having made that important point, we shall now examine all the verses that the peddlers of superstition and opponents of Islam seek to offer as evidence for the violence perpetrated supposedly in the name of Islam, and will refute their errors on the subject one after the other.

Before looking at these verses, we need to know that all the battles described in the Qur’an were waged against a particular community in that region, and that these special conditions are expressed in the verses. That community was a polytheistic one, with which an agreement had been reached. Therefore, all these battles were determined by the behaviour and aggression of the community in question which had breached the peace and friendship agreements. The verses sent down therefore concern the state of affairs at that time and describe that specific climate.

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