15. The concept of War in the Quran and the Bible

 

'If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee....' (Surah 10, Yunus, verse 94)

 

 

1. INTRODUCTION

 

In this study we shall first of all consider what the Quran (Yusuf Ali's translation) and the Tafseer- e- Uthmani, one of the most respected Sunni Muslim commentaries, have to say on the subject of Jihad, holy war. The latter has universally been acknowledged by the religious authorities of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Deob and and Nadwa (India) as the most concise and authentic commentary. It is in fact a cumulative efforts of many great scholars during 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, namely Shah Wali-u-Allah, Shah Abdul Qadir Dehlavi, Shaikh-ul-Hind Mahmood-ul-Hasan and Shaikh-ul-Islam of Pakistan Shabbir Ahmad Uthmani. The English rendering of the commentary and the meanings from Urdu has been carried out by Maulana Mohammad Ashfaq Ahmad and published by AALAMEEN Publications of Lahore, Pakistan 1992. Secondly, we shall study the Christian view of holy war, based on the Bible and its Christian interpretation.

 

 

2. ISLAMIC VIEW OF WAR

 

AL-BAQARA 2,190:

'Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loveth not transgressors.'

Quotation from Tafseer - e - Uthmani commentary:

 

'From the time of Hazrat Ibraheem (Alayhissalaam) Makkah was the city of peace. No one would fight even with his enemy in Makkah. Similarly, the Four Holy Months (Ziqa'd, Zil Hajjah, Muharram and Rajab) were the months of peace. The whole Arabia was at peace during these months. In Zee Qa'ad 6 A.H., the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wassallam) intended to perform Umrah in Makkah with his followers. When he reached near Makkah the Idolaters gathered to fight and prevented the Muslims from going onward. At last an agreement was made according to which the Muslims were to recede without pilgrimage and come next year and perform the Umrah and stay in Makkah for three days in peace. Next year (Zee Qa'ad, 7 A.H.) when the Holy Prophet intended to start, the Followers were puzzled what to do if the Idolaters broke the agreement and prevented them from performing the Umrah and were prepared to fight. If they fought it would be a breach of the Holy Months and if they did not fight it was difficult to perform the Umrah. Allah sent order if the Idolaters started fighting with them they should retort. But they should neither make the attack first, nor should transgress the limit while retorting the aggression of the Idolaters. They should not be cruel in fighting that they should start killing children, women and peaceful men. The injunctions and laws of Jihad described at this place are connected with the situation arising from the Treaty of Hudaibeyah. The Muslims were not ordered to fight with the infidels if they kept peaceful according to the Treaty. They were ordered to fight only when the idolaters of Makkah attacked them...Note: Some of the pseudo-commentators, from this particular situation, have concluded that war is only permissible in self-defence. It is wrong as other verses clearly prove. Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes: 'War is only permissible in self-defence; and under well- defined limits' (Note 204, The Holy Quran).

 

Arberry has given the following translation of verse 190: 'And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, but aggress not; Allah loves not the aggressors.'

 

Here 'aggress not' and 'aggressors' is a wrong translation and against the real spirit and reference of the verse. The Arabic denotes two separate senses. The first one restrains the Muslims from transgression of limits while fighting with the Infidels in answer to their aggression, because, the Idolaters were by treaty bound to be at peace while Muslims performed the Umrah. The second sense is related to the Treaty itself. I.e. the Muslims were advised not to break the Treaty, which demanded mutual peace and no-war. If the Muslims had started fighting, it would have been a breach of contract. Consequently Muslims were instructed not to break the limits of justice and fair sense while fighting with the idolaters, nor break the terms of the Treaty by starting war against them. Generally aggression means first attack. Aggression is generally used in a bad sense and an aggressor looked down and condemned from all sides, because aggression carries the sense of tyranny and cruelty. But the reason knows that first attack is not always bad and oppressive. Sometimes the circumstances demand that first attack should be made on a certain party. Islam permits the first attack for two major purposes:

 

(1) for the sake of Allah (in the way of Allah) ; and

(2) for the sake of subjugated people under oppression of a certain power, as said in the following verse:

 

AN-Nisa 4,75: 'How is it with you that you do not fight in the way of Allah and for those who are under subjection -men, women and children- who say, 'O! Our Lord bring us forth from this city that the people thereof are oppressors and make for us from Thee a supporter and make for us from Thee a helper'?

 

Quotation from Tafseer - e - Uthmani commentary:

'For the sake of Allah' includes the propagation of Islam, the survival of Islam, the extermination of those hindrances that impede the progress and expansion of Islam. The first attack, which is made for the first or the second purpose or for both, is not aggression as spoken and used in modern International Law. Islam calls it Jihad. There is no proper equivalent to this word in English language or in any Modern System. If the Muslims fight for the sake of self-defence it is also Jihad. But the real Jihad is the former undertaken in the way of Allah or for the deliverance of the oppressed people in a certain country. The Muslims, therefore, should not be misguided about Jihad. The Orientalists and the Perverted Muslims have tried to taboo the 'Real Jihad' and only allowed the self-defensive war. Even cats and dogs fight for the sake of self-defence. Islam wants to electrify the Muslims to exterminate Kufr (Infidelity) and Fasad (corruption) from the Earth and establish the system of Islam all over the world. Where Jihad by pen is fruitless there Jihad by sword is successful.

 

One thing, however, should be noted that some pseudo-Islamists advocating world peace say that Islam means peace. It is a very dangerous fallacy. All the forces that are directed against Islam and all the systems that are against Islam are declared by the word of Fasad (corruption) in the Quran. The Muslims are ordered to eradicate Fasad (corruption) on Earth. The modern conception of peace leads to nothing but to the status quo of Fasad, while the right conception of Islam leads to the eradication of the very roots of corruption on Earth (Tr.) 'Do not wrong anyone' means that children, women and old men should not be killed intentionally during the war and fight should not be started first by the Muslims because they were bound to honour the Treaty.'

 

AL-BAQARA 2,191: 'And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.'

 

Quotation from Tafseer - e - Uthmani commentary:

'Wherever you find them' i.e. whether you find them within Harem or outside Harem. 'From where they expelled you' i.e. from Makkah. 'Fithna' here means deviation from Islam or apostasy from Islam or barring other people from Islam. It also implies the efforts of subversion of religion itself. Prevention from Islam is a far greater sin than slaughter in the holy month. The practice of idolatry and the practice of urging others to idolatry by the infidels is much more detestable than war within the Harem of Makkah. So the Muslims should not demur and answer tit for tat. 'Makkah', no doubt, is a place of peace; but when they started the fight and persecuted you and vexed enmity on your Islam (an action more heinous than slaughter), they lost security and peace. So kill them wherever you find them. When Makkah was occupied the Holy Prophet had declared, 'Kill him who takes out his weapons' and all the rest were given security.'

 

AL-TAWBA, AL-BARA'T 9:29:

'Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.'

 

Quotation from Tafseer - e - Uthmani commentary:

'When the story of Polytheists was over, order was sent down to break down the power of the Jews and Christians so that they might not hinder the expansion of Islam. The Polytheists and Idolaters were primarily aimed to be totally exterminated from the soil of Arabia, but so far as the Jews and Christians were concerned the main policy in the beginning was to shatter their power against Islam and its expansion. So permission was granted that if they accepted obedience and paid Jizyah they could live in the Islamic State and their life and property shall be safe. If they did not accept obedience they would be dealt with like the Polytheists i.e. they would also be exiled or slain, because they do not also believe in Allah and the Messenger as must. They do not care about the orders and commands of Allah and His Messenger. They do not even sincerely and correctly follow the teachings of Moses and Jesus, whom they recognize their Prophets. They simply follow their desires and wishes. They do neither believe correctly in the Divine Religion brought by Jesus before, nor do they accept the Religion of Islam brought by the Last Prophet, Muhammad (SAS). On the other hand, they are always busy in their struggle against Islam and always thinking to extinguish the lamp lighted by Allah. If such treacherous fellows are left free there shall be a great corruption and mischief in the Islamic State because the flames of Kufr and disobedience shall be always burning.'

 

AL-TAWBA, AL-BARA'T 9:41: 'Go ye forth, (whether equipped) lightly or heavily, and strive and struggle, with your goods and your persons, in the cause of God. That is best for you, if ye (but) knew.'

 

Quotation from Tafseer - e - Uthmani commentary:

'When there is general proclamation of Jihad no lame excuse is acceptable so all the able-bodied persons poor and rich, young and old, horsemen and foot-men, should come out for Jihad in all circumstances, because Jihad is better for them from the viewpoint of the World and the Hereafter.'

AS-SAFF 61,4: 'Truly God loves those who fight in His Cause in battle array, as if they were a solid cemented structure.'

 

Quotation from Tafseer - e - Uthmani commentary:

'.... It is said in the traditions that once some Muslims were assembled somewhere (in Medina) . They said, 'If we come to know what is most pleasing to Allah, we well do the same.' At this these verses were revealed i.e. they should be cautious of what they are saying. If they want to know what is most pleasing to Allah they should listen that Allah loves most those men who stand against the enemies of Allah in His way like an iron-wall, and in the battlefield they make ranks in such a lofty manner as if they form a wall, engineered, with lead, impervious to any break and disruption. Now they should test themselves at this criterion. No doubt, there are many of you who have proved themselves perfectly true to the standard, but there may be some among you whose actions have falsified their oral claims.'

 

Questions regarding the Quranic view of holy war

The Quran seems to contain numerous verses that promote violence, such as: 'Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.' (Surah 9:29, transl. Yusuf Ali) Why do moderate Muslims say these are not to be taken also as physical fighting in the light of Islamic history? Reliable, early Muslim sources state that the prophet of Islam commanded his followers to kill Ka'b ibn Ashraf and Abu Rafi with pretence and deceit because they did not accept his claim to be a prophet. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.4, p. 168, Vol.5, pp 253-254) He also attacked his opponent in the battle of Badr and the settlement of Ta'if which had rejected his message too.


Some Muslims say that the Quran only allows for a defensive war. According to the above examples is it correct to say that those who verbally disagree with Islam already provide a reason to be fought against physically? This view seems to be confirmed by the fact that Islam's initial fight for Europe was only halted at the battle of Tours, France, in 732 AD? Surely, in those days Europe did not pose a threat to the Islamic world against which Muslims had to defend themselves.


The 'Dictionary of Islam' states that those unwilling to pay 'Jizya', a poll tax imposed on citizens who refuse to become Muslims in a conquered nation, are killed. (T.P. Hughes, 1988, "Jihad", see also Surah 9:29 quoted above) Does that not contradict the Quranic verse, 'Let there be no compulsion in religion...'(Surah 2:256) or has that passage been replaced by later commands from Allah?


3. THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF HOLY WAR

 

The Christian approach to war and peace is found in the character of God. The Bible describes Him as the 'God of peace' (Heb 13:20). But it also calls Him a 'Warrior' (Exo 15:3). How do we reconcile these two apparent opposites? The answer is found by identifying His enemy.

 

Teaching of the Torah (Old Testament)

God is passionately opposed against all forms of injustice, wrongdoing and sin. He is deeply immersed in battle against these forces of evil which hold captive the people He created. In the Old Testament we read the story of how He selected the Jewish people to set them free from the evil one and his influence. Ultimately this blessing was to come to the whole world (Gen 12:3) through the Jewish 'Messiah' translated as 'Christ' in English. God re-conquered the land of Canaan from the evil powers that had claimed it for themselves by force of arms and reliance on idols. At that time national and political entities were viewed as the creation of the gods and living proofs of their power. By practising child sacrifice, religious prostitution and divination the Canaanites had become so terribly sinful that punishment was unavoidable. (Gen 15:16, Deut 18:9-12). God commissioned the Jews lead by Joshua to take the land in His name out of the hands of the idolatrous inhabitants. It was later known as Israel and Palestine. The Lord's triumph testified to all nations that the God of Israel is the one true and living God, whose claim on the world is absolute. It was also a warning that the irresistible advance of the kingdom of God would ultimately disinherit all those who opposed it, giving place in the earth only to those who acknowledge and serve the Lord.

The battles the Israelites fought in the Old Testament were therefore the Lord's holy war, undertaken at a particular time in history. God gave His people under Joshua no commission or licence to conquer the world with the sword but only a unique, limited mission. The conquered land itself would not become Israel's national possession by right of conquest, but it belonged to the Lord. So the land had to be cleansed of all remnants of paganism. Its people and their wealth were not for Israel to seize as the booty of war from which to enrich themselves (Jos 7). On that land Israel was to establish a commonwealth faithful to the righteous rule of God and thus be a witness and a blessing to the nations. If Israel herself became unfaithful and conformed to Canaanite culture and practice, she would in turn lose her place in the Lord's land. That is exactly what happened later.

 

Teaching of the Injil (New Testament)

War is a terrible curse that the human race brings on itself as it seeks to possess the earth by its own unrighteous ways. But it pales before the curse that awaits all those who do not believe in God and His word. The meaning of the Hebrew name 'Joshua' is 'God saves.' The English version of that name is 'Jesus'. For a time He now reaches out to the whole world by calling everyone to believe that He died for their sins at the cross. Those who trust in Him by doing what He says are guaranteed eternal life in heaven (1Joh 5:13) Soon, however, Jesus himself, the second Joshua, will wield the sword of His judgement at His second coming upon those who do not believe in Him (Rev 19:11-16).

 

Since we still live in the time of God's undeserved favour where His Good News is preached let us examine the ministry of Jesus to see what kind of warfare He modelled for His followers. In His works He was in conflict with the various disorders which imprison people; in His words He battled with sin, especially the hypocrisy and practical godlessness of religious people. The final showdown came in His death when He met the full fury of evil and 'made peace through the blood of His cross'. His first words to His disciples after his resurrection were 'Peace be with you', signalling that His victory had brought harmony and reconciliation between God and those who accepted it. Jesus' followers too are involved in God's present kind of war. They need to be very disciplined like soldiers (1 Tim 1:18), and are part of God's army fighting against all that opposes his rule. There will only ever be real peace when sin is defeated in human relationships, in social life and in political structures. Just as Jesus was not slow to speak out against all that oppressed people, so his followers should not be afraid to oppose sin in whatever guise it comes. They use the weapons of peace as He did: clear teaching which confronts hypocrisy and wrongdoing, a willingness to speak to their 'enemies' and address them with love, understanding and respect; a desire to negotiate rather than drive people away. When it comes to advancing the kingdom of God on this earth, war is now forbidden:

 

Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.' (John 18:36)

When it comes to maintaining law and order in this world, force may be used as a last resource by the governing authorities:

 

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God's servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4)

 

This passage does not contradict earlier ones which forbid revenge and ask to overcome evil with good (12:14.21). Those verses are directed to private, individual Christians. However, at the same time they can also be state officials. In the latter role, followers of Christ who work as police or prison officers, as judges or soldiers become God's agents in the punishment of evil doers. One way in which He executes His judgement on them is through the state. In some emergency situations, when no policeman is present, it may be right for a Christian to intervene in a fight, protect an innocent person against assault or arrest a burglar. Then he would become temporarily an arm of the law. Members of the ruling authorities who became followers of God were not encouraged to leave their positions (Luk 3:14, Act 10) Those who became Christians in the early Church were discouraged to join the army mainly because of its involvement in the Roman camp cult religion, called Mithraism. The statement 'rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong,' is describing the proper, ideal function of rulers. It does not mean that this will always be the case. When civil rulers overstep their proper function, followers of Jesus are to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:18-19; 5:29-32).

 

Violence will always be the last resort. When evil comes in its starkest forms which will not listen to the voice of reason, which refuse to negotiate, and which trample down the innocent and defenceless, then there may be cause for self defence. This view known as the 'Just War' argument is held by a majority of Christians today. It asserts that war is only ever justified when four conditions are met. The cause must be just; war must be absolutely the last resort, when all other avenues to avoid conflict have failed; conflict must not involve non-combatants (Prov 6:16-17); war should be limited in its scope, avoiding unnecessary loss of life and destruction. It is a large question whether these last two conditions can ever be met in modern, especially nuclear warfare.

 

But the Christian's primary commitment is, of course, to peace, and it should be their earnest desire to play a full part in God's battle against the visible and invisible forces which tear this planet apart. Christians are called to be the light of the world (Mat 5:14). If they do not shine by doing good deeds it is no wonder that the darkness of terrorism prevails. As well as asking for forgiveness they urgently need to stand up for the oppressed! The good news is that God is going to have the last word. Sin, death and evil will ultimately be defeated through Jesus Christ and God's reign of peace in all its fullness will one day be a reality. (Isa 2:1-4)

 

 

4. CONCLUSION

 

Jesus said: 'Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.' (Matthew 10:34-37)

 

While Jesus, the Prince of Peace, brought peace between the believer and God and peace among men, the inevitable result of his coming is conflict. War has broken out between him and his enemies, between light and darkness, between his children and the devil's children. This conflict can occur even between members of the same family. After comparing the Christian and the Muslim view of war the reader is now left with having to make an awesome choice. His preference will determine whether or not he might have to go and murder in the name of Allah those who oppose Islam. Moreover, where he will spend his eternal life will also depend on it. I urge you in the light of these terrible consequences not to let this matter rest until you find true peace with God through Jesus Christ,

'For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all--this was attested at the right time.' (1Timothy 2:5-6)