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The "Sword" Found in the Qur'an

by Bob Walker   (Bob personally emailed this)

Concerning the 'sword' in the Qur'an, the testimony of Islam today is that of a religion which condones violence for the sake of Allah.

Though many Muslims try to deny this, they have to agree that there are ample examples of violence found not only within the Qur'an, but also exemplified within the life of the prophet Muhammad.

While in Mecca, Muhammad was surrounded by enemies, and while there he taught his followers toleration, according to sura 2:256, which says, "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error..." As a minor player, surrounded by enemies he did well to receive this 'convenient' revelation. But the call for toleration changed when his power was established in Medina, once the charter had been written which regulated life between the various differing groups.

Muhammad needed a livelihood for himself and those who had come with him from Mecca. Thus he undertook a number of "expeditions," sending groups of his soldiers out to raid Meccan caravans in order to find booty.

Though there was a rule in the Hijaz at that time not to fight during the "holy month," Muhammad, nonetheless sent a number of his troops to raid an unsuspecting trading caravan. This caused havoc in his own camp because a Meccan had been killed in the month in which bloodshed was forbidden. Promptly another 'convenient revelation' came which authorized the attack (read sura 2:217).

Later on, in 624 C.E., after having been in Medina for two years, a Meccan caravan of 1,000 men was passing close to the south-west of Medina. Muhammad, with only 300 men went out to attack it at the battle of Badr. He defeated the Meccans, and consequently received tremendous status, which helped his army grow.

The Medinans participated in further battles, some of which they won (i.e. the battle of the trenches) and others which they lost (the battle of Uhud). In fact, Muhammad himself is known to have conducted 27 battles and planned 39 others.

Muslims, however, continue to downplay any emphasis on violence within the Qur'an, and they emphatically insist that the Jihad, or Holy War was only a means of defence, and was never used as an offensive act. Sahih Muslim III makes this point, saying, "the sword has not been used recklessly by the Muslims; it has been wielded purely with humane feelings in the wider interest of humanity" (Sahih Muslim III, pg.938).

In the Mishkat II we find an explanation for Jihad:

"[Jihad] is the best method of earning both spiritual and temporal. If victory is won, there is enormous booty and conquest of a country which cannot be equalled to any other source of earnings. If there is defeat or death, there is ever-lasting Paradise and a great spiritual benefit. This sort of Jihad is conditional upon pure =motive, i.e. for establishing the kingdom of Allah on earth (Mishkat II, pg.253) Also in Mishkat II we learn with regard to Jihad, that: Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: To whichever village you go and settle therein, there is your share therein, and whichever village disobeys Allah and His Messenger, its one-fifth is for Allah and His Messenger, and the remainder is for you" (Muslim, Mishkat II, pg.412)

The claim that Muslims acted only in self-defense is simply untrue. What were Muslims defending in North Africa, or Spain, France, India, Persia, Syria, Anatolia or the Balkans? These countries all had previous civilizations, many of which were more sophisticated than that of Islam, yet they all (outside of France) fell during the conquests of Islam in the first few hundred years, and their cultures were soon eradicated by that of Islam. Does that not evidence a rather offensive interpretation for Jihad?

We can understand the authority for this history when we read certain passages from the Qur'an, which, itself stipulates a particularly strong use of violence. The full impact of invective against the unbeliever can be found in sura 9:5 which says, "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay those who join other gods with Allah wherever you find them; besiege them, seize them, lay in wait for them with every kind of ambush..." Of like nature is sura 47:4 which says, "When you encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads, until ye have made a great slaughter among them..."

Similarly sura 9:29 states: "...Make war upon such of those to whom the scriptures have been given as believe not in Allah, or in the last day, and who forbid not what Allah and his apostle have forbidden... until they pay tribute..." And in sura 8:39 we find, "And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression. And there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do."

The murder of between 600-700 Banu Kuraiza Medinan Jewish males by the sword, and the slavery of their women give testimony to this sura (Nehls pg.117)

According to the Dictionary of Islam we read:

"When an infidel's country is conquered by a Muslim ruler, its inhabitants are offered three alternatives:

1. the reception of Islam, in which case the conquered became enfranchised citizens of the Muslim state

2. the payment of Jizya tax, by which unbelievers obtained "protection" and became Dhimmis, provided they were not idolaters, and

3. death by the sword to those who would not pay the Jizya tax

(Dictionary of Islam, pg. 243).

War is sanctioned in Islam, with enormous rewards promised to those who fight for Allah, according to sura 4:74. Later in verse 84, Muhammad gives himself the divine order to fight. This is the verse which is the basis for calling Islam "the religion of the sword" (Shorrosh 1988:174).

In sura 5:33 the Qur'an orders those who fight Allah and his messenger to be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off; or they can be expelled out of the land. In sura 48:16-17, we read that all who die "fighting in the ways of the Lord" (Jihad) are richly rewarded, but those who retreat are sorely punished.

The first blood shed under Muhammad was carried out by a blind disciple named Umair, who stabbed and killed a woman named Asma while she slept suckling her baby because she had criticized Muhammad with poetic verses. Upon hearing of this Muhammad said "Behold a man that hath assisted the Lord and His prophet. Call him not blind, call him rather 'Umair,' the seeing." (Nehls pg.122).

Therefore, when those of us who are Christians read these suras, and see the example of the prophet himself, we find a total rejection of the previous teachings of Jesus who calls us to live in peace and put away the sword. We then are incredulous when we hear Muslims claim that Islam is the religion of peace. The record speaks for itself.

For those countries who aspire to use Islamic law, statistics prove revealing. According to the 1994 State of the World Atlas, while only five northern countries (i.e. western) are categorized as "Terror States" (those involved in using assassination, disappearances and torture), twenty-eight of the thirty-two Muslim states fall into this category (except UAE, Qatar and Mali) (Kidron 1991:62-63).

Furthermore, it seems that most Muslim countries today are following the example of their prophet and are involved in some sort of armed conflict. It is difficult to know where the truth lies. While the West documents and publishes its criminal activities openly, the Muslim countries say very little. Lists which delineate where each country stands in relation to murders, sex offenses and criminality include most of the western countries, yet only four Muslim countries out of the thirty-two have offered statistics for the number of internal murders, while only six out of the thirty-two have offered a list of sex offenses, and only four of the thirty-two have divulged their level of criminality. Therefore, until more Muslim countries are willing to come forward with statistics, it is impossible to evaluate the claim which they make: that western states have a higher degree of degradation and criminality than that of Muslim states.

We do know, however, that in the 1980's, of the fourteen countries who were involved in ongoing "general wars," nine of them were Muslim countries, while only one was a non-western Christian country.

Why, we wonder, are so many Muslim countries embroiled in so many wars, many of which are against other Muslims? Muslims answer that these are not good examples because they are not authentic Muslim states. Yet, can we not say that to the contrary, these countries do indeed follow the examples which we find so readily not only within the text of the Qur'an, but within the life of the prophet, and in the history of the first few centuries of Islam. Muhammad's life, and the Qur'an which he gave to the world, both give sufficient authority for the sword in Islam. While this may cause the 20th century western Muslim to squirm uncomfortably, it cannot be denied that there is ample precedent for violence within their scriptures and within their own history. What we choose to ask, however, is whether the witness of violence within Islam exemplifies the heart of a loving and compassionate God, one who calls Himself merciful; or whether it rather exemplifies the character of 7th century Arabia, with all its brutal desert tribal disputes and warfare?

Compare the opposing concept of Jesus:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one kilometre, go with him two kilometres. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:38-44)

So what can we say about the authority of the Qur'an? Can we say it is a divinely inspired book sent by Allah for all of humanity, for all time? Can it claim supernatural as well as literary qualities, which not only place it above other revelations, but point to its divine origins? Much of what I have offered you here points to the fact that the Qur'an lacks in all three qualities, and seems to reflect more the life and times of its supposed mediator than that of the heart of a universal God. The idolatrous tendency of Muslims towards the Qur'an, as well as the confusion of its literary makeup, and the special conditions given to Muhammad, point to a book put together by one man, or as we now know, a group of much later men, than an inspired piece of God's revealed word.

If one were to contrast the 66 books of the Bible written over hundreds of years by at least 40 different authors, with the Qur'an which came through one man, Muhammad, during his lifetime, there would be no contest as to which was the superior literature. In the final analysis, the Qur'an simply does not fit the breadth of vision, nor the literary style or structure of that found in the Old and New Testament. To go from the Bible to the Qur'an is to go from the superior to the inferior, from the authentic to the counterfeit, from God's perspective to that of an individual, caught up and controlled by his own world and times.

I end this section with a quote from an expert on the Qur'an, Dr. Tisdall, who says: "The Qur'an breathes the air of the desert, it enables us to hear the battle-cries of the Prophet's followers as they rushed to the onset, it reveals the working of Muhammad's own mind, and shows the gradual declension of his character as he passed from the earnest and sincere though visionary enthusiast into the conscious imposter and open sensualist." (Tisdall 27)