We have demonstrated that it is a principle in Islam that there is no compulsion in religion and we have discussed the objectives of jihad. Now, we shall turn our attentions to some texts that are often misunderstood.
One of these is the verse: “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war). But if they repent and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them, for Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful.” [Surah al-Tawbah: 5]
Some people – especially some contemporary non-Muslim critics of Islam – have tried to claim that this verse abrogates the verse “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” They argue that the generality of this statement implies that every unbeliever who refuses to accept Islam must be fought. They support their allegation by pointing out that this verse is one of the last verses to be revealed about fighting.
However, this verse in no way abrogates the principle in Islamic Law that there is no compulsion in religion. It may be general in wording, but its meaning is quite specific on account of other verses of the Qur’an that are connected with it as well as on account of a number of pertinent hadith. We will be discussing these texts shortly.
The people being referred to by this verse are the pagan Arabs who had been waging war against the Prophet (peace be upon him) and who had broken their covenant and treaties with him. This verse is not speaking about the other pagan Arabs who did not break their treaties and take up arms against the Muslims. It is also most definitely not speaking about the Jews or Christians, or, for that matter, the pagans who were living outside of Arabia.
If we look at the verses in Surah al-Tawbah immediately before and after the one under discussion, the context of the verse becomes clear.
A few verses before the one we are discussing, Allah says: “There is a declaration of immunity from Allah and His Messenger to those of the pagans with whom you have contracted mutual alliances. Go then, for four months, to and fro throughout the land. But know that you cannot frustrate Allah that Allah will cover with shame those who reject Him.” [Surah al-Tawbah: 1-2]
In these verses we see that the pagans were granted a four month amnesty with an indication that when the four months were over, fighting would resume. However, a following verse exempts some of them from the resumption of hostilities. It reads: “Except for those pagans with whom you have entered into a covenant and who then do not break their covenant at all nor aided anyone against you. So fulfill your engagements with them until the end of their term, for Allah loves the righteous.” [Surah al-Tawbah: 4]
So when Allah says: “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)” we must know that it is not general, since the verse above has qualified it to refer to the pagan Arabs who were actually at war with the Prophet (peace be upon him) and those who broke their covenants of peace.
This is further emphasized a few verses later where Allah says: “Will you not fight people who broke their covenants and plotted to expel the Messenger and attacked you first?” [Surah al-Tawbah: 13]
Ibn al-`Arabi, in his commentary on the Qur’an, writes: “It is clear from this that the meaning of this verse is to kill the pagans who are waging war against you.” [Ahkam al-Qur’an: (2/456)]
Allah also say right after the verse under discussion: “How can there be a covenant before Allah and His Messenger with the pagans except those with whom you have made a treaty near the Sacred Mosque? As long as they stand true to you, stand true to them, for Allah does love the righteous.” [Surah al-Tawbah: 7]
Another misunderstood text is the hadith where the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I have been commanded to fight the people until they bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that I am Allah’s Messenger. If they do so, then there blood and their wealth are inviolable except in the dispensation of justice, and their affair is with Allah.” [Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim]
There can be no qualms about this hadith’s authenticity, since it is recorded in both Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. However, this hadith is also not to be taken generally, out of context, and in complete disregard to all the other textual evidence.
The term “people” here is not referring to all humanity. Ibn Taymiyyah says: “It refers to fighting those who are waging war, whom Allah has permitted us to fight. It does not refer to those who have a covenant with us with whom Allah commands us to fulfill our covenant.” [Majmu` al-Fatawa (19/20)]
Islam commands the Muslims to be just with people of other faiths, whether they be Jews, Christians, or pagans. Islam calls us to treat them kindly and try to win their hearts as long as they do not take up arms against us. Allah says: “Allah forbids you not with regard to those who neither fight against you for your faith nor drive you out of your homes from dealing kindly and justly with them, for Allah loves those who are just.” [Surah al-Mumtahanah: 9-10]
Allah commands Muslims to respect their non-Muslim parents and to accompany them in this world in a good manner.
The Qur’an commands us to argue with them in the best manner. Allah says: “Argue with the People of the Scripture in the best manner except those among them who act oppressively. Say: We believe in the revelation that has come down to us and in that which came down to you. Our God and your God is one, and it is to Him we submit ourselves as Muslims.” [Surah al-`Ankabut: 46]
We are ordered to uphold our covenants with the non-Muslims and not betray them or transgress against them. The Prophet (peace be upon him) gave a stern warning to us against killing a non-Muslim with whom we are at peace. He said: “Whoever kills one with whom we have a covenant will not smell the scent of Paradise.” [Sahih Muslim]
The faith of a Muslim is not acceptable unless he believes in all of the Prophets who were sent before (peace be upon them all). Allah says: “O you who believe! Believe in Allah, His Messenger, the scripture that He revealed to His messenger and the scripture that he revealed before. Whoever disbelieves in Allah, His angels, His books, His Messengers, and the Last Day has gone far astray.” [Surah al-Nisa’: 136]