An example of Jihad in the Koranic scripture
The organization of the Koran, as a full text, is not chronological, but rather, is believed by most Muslims to have been directed as to its chapter and verse to the Prophet Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel over the 22 and one-half years of revelation from God. The first Caliph, Abu Bakr, the closest companion of the Prophet Mohammed, first made the Koran into a single volume. It was then widely distributed by the Second Caliph, Omar. The organizational structure is from the longest chapter to shortest. While this organization can help maintain its theological authenticity, it also makes it easier for militant Islamists to dissociate history from religion, and try to extrapolate verses which originally applied only to a single conflict, towards a grossly distorted and inappropriate general call for war.
Within Chapters 2, 5, and 9 (in that chronological order) are various discussions concerning the Tribe of Quraysh, the original tribe of the Prophet Mohammed, based in Mecca. Many of the members of Quraysh remained idol-worshippers, and repeatedly persecuted and warred with those who had left the tribe to become Muslims. In fact, the Muslim calendar begins in the year of emigration away from Mecca, toward Medina.
They ask you about the lunar months, say these are timing devices for people and for pilgrimage. It is not piety to come to the houses from the back of them; but piety is to be godfearing; so come to the houses by their doors, and fear God; so that you may succeed. (2:189) And fight in the way of God with those who fight you, but aggress not: God loves not the aggressors. (Koran 2:190) Kill them anywhere you find them and push them out from where they pushed you out, persecution is more grievous than slaying. Do not fight them in the Holy Mosque until they fight you there; then if they fight you, slay them- such is the consequences for the unbelievers who fight you.(Koran 2:191) But if they desist, surely god is All-forgiving, all-compassionate.(Koran 2:192)
Idol-worshipping was rampant in Mecca. The Ka’ba was the home of hundreds of idols prior to Islam. Mohammed began to receive the revelation of Islam from the Angel Gabriel in 610 C.E. Muslims who followed his monotheistic message, and belief in the God of Abraham, were persecuted and tortured for their views. They were viewed as a religious and economic threat to the polytheists. Pilgrimages into Mecca were a major source of income to those who facilitated and aided it, and Islam was threatening that monopoly. In 615 C.E., Muslims escaped to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) for their own safety, but then returned. Similarly, they later emigrated from Mecca to Medina, in 622 C.E. They were invited by the leaders of Yathrib (Medina) to help broker a peace among the various tribes in conflict in Medina.
Muslims fought the Meccans in three major battles and in a number of skirmishes over the years of Mohammed’s proclamations after arriving in Yathrib (Medina). The Muslims of Medina were able to maintain their position and avoid defeat. With the ongoing threat of further battles, in 628 C.E., Mohammed led Muslims back to Mecca, to immigrate back to their homeland. War was averted through the signing of the ten-year peace treaty of Hudabiyah, between the Muslims and the Meccans. In exchange for being allowed to complete their yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, the Muslims agreed to stay in Medina all other times of the year, and to never proselytize their faith. Muslims believe that the above verses (2:190-192) were revealed in answer to a concern over what they would do if they were attacked by the Meccans, while doing their rituals in Mecca.
Thus, to a peaceful Muslim, this passage has nothing to do with aggressively killing anyone, let alone Christians and Jews. It is, rather, about Muslims being given permission to defend themselves, and to enter a just war only if and when the treaty they had signed was violated by the idol-worshippers of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca.
According to this interpretation, then, war was thus the consequence of a violation of a signed treaty, and only as a last resort. It also must be done justly, and end immediately if the enemy disengages from the conflict. The instructions given to our American soldiers fighting al Qaeda and other militant Islamists today are no different, in principle. Certainly, this is not to compare what was in essence a theocracy at the formation of the first Islamic state, with our own free, secular American society.
The climate of violent, immoral Arab tribes which existed just prior to the revelation of Islam is also a far more medieval society than our own. However, the morals and principles our leaders may rely upon in order to justly enter armed conflict are similar. Thus, the murderous violation of peace treaties, confiscation of property, and commission of torture and mayhem between tribes can only be responded to with war that is based in justice and humanitarianism. As history has repeatedly seen, without God’s guidance permitting armed response, “to turn the other cheek” would have meant the annihilation of the Muslim population. Just as the God of Abraham sanctioned Moses to engage in war to defend the Jewish people against the idol-worshippers, so too do Muslims believe that Mohammed was divinely authorized to defend Muslims through war.
The reformation process to defeat Islamism and Jihadism in the 21st century will need to relegate to history the example of Mohammed – which conflated all of his roles as spiritual leader, faith leader, and governmental and military leader.
Today, Muslims can and must separate history and religion. The verses that Jihadists and Islamists often cite as justification relate to a very specific battle in ancient Muslim history, and in the context of the war that erupted from the tribal conflicts and persecution of Muslims, between the Meccan idol-worshipping tribe of Quraysh, and the Muslims of Medina. Within these stories and history are principles of just warfare: that is, one that is based in self-defense, only fighting against those who attacked first, and admonitions to only fight as much as is absolutely necessary to secure an enduring peace.
Nowhere in the Koran does God tell Muslims how to establish and run their governments. Nowhere in the Koran does God tell Muslims that they must emulate the Prophet Mohammed’s role and actions as a military or governmental leader. Nowhere in the Koran does God tell Muslims that they must impose their beliefs, practices and rituals upon others. And most certainly, nowhere in the Koran does God tell myopic automatons to instigate murderous, terrorist actions against civilians and other non-combatants who, by definition, are incapable of causing them harm.
My interpretation of the Koran has always included the overriding idea that the Prophet Mohammed’s example, spiritually and morally, is for all times – but that his political and military actions were an example that cannot be taken out of the context of the times in which he lived.
As contemporary Muslims, we need to relegate to history the fact that the origins of our faith were established by a fighting force that defended a faith-community that was also a nation-state, 1,400 years ago. We need to acknowledge that a nation like the United States with its Constitution written atop natural laws, where our faith’s rules are our own to practice, in a secular, individual and peaceful fashion, is far preferable to living under a theocracy – Islamic or otherwise – in which one faith, and only that faith, may be practiced as enforced by threats, coercion and violence.
Thus, verse 2:190 refers to the tribe of Quraysh, and cannot be extrapolated to any other group to justify war. Similarly, verse (2:191) refers to the earlier time in which the Muslims had been removed from their homes in Mecca prior to emigrating to Medina.
With this interpretation of these verses, one could make an argument that Islam advocates peace, and only condones war as a last resort, as a defensive measure, against annihilation. I and other liberty-loving Muslims wholeheartedly reject the notion that this verse can be interpreted to justify commandeering airplanes, murdering their flight crews, and flying them into buildings occupied by innocent civilians. Similarly, I reject the entire notion that this passage can be used to justify the imposition of Islamism – or even Islam itself – upon anyone through any means, least of all through violent, offensive warfare. Further, liberty-loving minded Muslims will stand against Islamism as a political ideology, and will do everything in our power to prevent its metastasizing through our culture.
One of the most frequently-cited Koranic passages by militant Islamists and Jihadists is Chapter 9, Verse 5. The literal interpretation of the series of verses (9:4-9:7), from sources I have always used, is as follows:
Those of the unbelievers (idol-worshippers) who signed treaties with you and did not violate them, provided no assistance to your enemies, and abided by their commitments to you, then by all means keep your commitments to them, God loves the God-fearing who keep their word. (9:4) Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolators (those who did not sign treaties) wherever you find them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place. But, if they repent and establish worship, and practice charity, let them go their way, God is all-forgiving, all compassionate. (9:5) If an unbeliever (idolator) requests an asylum with you, grant it to him, so he may have the chance of hearing the word of God, then convey him to his place of security. That is because they are a people who do not know. (9:6) The idol-worshippers have no credibility with God or His apostle, but as to those who made the treaty with you at the Grand Mosque, honor it with you. God loves those who abide by what they promise. (9:7)
This passage also refers to the “disbelievers,” which refers only to the idol-worshippers of Quraysh, at that particular time in Muslim history when the Meccans were looking to destroy the Muslims, and then violated the treaty they had signed. After the violation, Muslims threatened war but came into Mecca peacefully by promising that if their enemies stayed in their homes, there would be no war. Thus, war was averted. War ethic teaches that a diplomatic threat of war can be necessary in order to prevent war. This passage also only refers to the idol-worshippers of Mecca, and no other faith group at all, and no other time in history.
Freedom-loving Muslims must help America and the free world fight against Islamists and Jihadists. The only way for Islamists to abort their dream of a theocracy under their version of Islam is for them to be overwhelmed with a better vision (interpretation) of an Islam and our Koran based in liberty: an Islam that articulates and defends pluralism, tolerance, free speech, free markets, and all the other fruits of a free society; an Islam that rests at home with the freedoms which Americans claim as their birthright and will defend at all costs.