Learning to break kayfabe
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How many times do we see the above verse repeating the message to make it clear? These verse were revealed at a time when Muslims of Madinah were under constant attack from the Makkans. An example would be when the Makkans conducted the public crucifixion of the companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Khubaib bin Adi. These would be classified as 'terrorist activities' according to the modern usage of the term. So what does this verse say in this context? "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you", "unless they (first) fight you there" - the context of this verse applies to those who initiate the attack against Muslims. And even after they attack, the verse makes it clear: "But if they cease, God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." And it also makes clear the purpose for what Muslims fight: "fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God". It is the duty of Muslims to defend humanity from oppression and persecution and to establish justice. Muslims believe that God has placed us here on earth as his deputy or viceroy, and thus, it is our duty to enjoin the good and forbid the evil, to establish peace and justice in the land. Dr. Maher Hathout writes the following on verses 2:190-194:2:190-194 Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors. And kill them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for persecution 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, kill them. Such is the reward of those who reject faith. But if they cease, God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression. The prohibited month, for the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear (the punishment of) God, and know that God is with those who restrain themselves.
The historical context is something that must always be considered where developing an understanding of Qur'anic verses. Without knowing the circumstances behind the revelation, one cannot apply the verse as accurately. Shaykh Salman Al-Oadah writes about the general principles in Jihad:These verses were applicable to a particular situation or if, hypothetically, the same situation was to be repeated… Historically, fighting back against the aggressors was prohibited during the thirteen years of the Meccan period. After the migration to Medina and the establishment of the Islamic state, Muslims were concerned with how to defend themselves against aggression from their enemies. The aforementioned verses were revealed to enable them to protect the newly formed state by fighting in self-defence against those who fought them. However, the Qur’an clearly prohibits aggression. The verses explain that fighting is only for self-defence. Thus, a Muslim cannot commit aggression and kill innocent men, women, children, the sick, the elderly, monks, priests, or those who do not wish to fight. A Muslim is also mandated not to destroy plant life of livestock. (Hathout, Jihad vs. Terrorism; US Multimedia Vera International, 2002, p.49, emphasis added)
There are strict and detailed laws in Islam, which Muslims must follow carefully. A military Jihad must be performed under these regulations. Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes about verse 2:190:Jihad can never be fought for worldly gain, for conquest, or even for revenge. Muslims must only fight to protect the lives, property, and freedoms of people, especially their freedom to worship Allah when that freedom is forcibly attacked. They are never allowed to attack innocent people, even when they are themselves attacked by the countrymen of those innocents. Any people that go against this established principle of Islamic Law and murder civilians are fighting against Islam and everything that it stands for. It is ludicrous for them to call this fighting a jihâd, a word that means striving in the cause of Islam. They are in fact murderers in the light of Islamic Law and should be treated as such.
He then re-iterates the general principles behind Jihad in his commentary on verse 2:191:War is only permissible in self-defence, and under well-defined limits. When undertaken, it must be pushed with vigour, but not relentlessly, but only to restore peace and freedom for the worship of God. In any case strict limits must not be transgressed: women, children, old and infirm men should not be molested, nor trees and crops cut down, nor peace withheld when the enemy comes to terms. (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, Text, Translation and Commentary )
This is the true focus behind Jihad, and Muslims must never lose this focus. Jihad is solely for the purpose of aiding humanity and bringing justice and freedom to the oppressed. Therefore, all actions must be in-line with this focus and the strict regulations governing Jihad. The focus is to defend, not destroy. One who focuses on the betterment and aid of humanity will realize that destruction will never achieve this. Abdul Majid Daryabadi writes extensively on verse 2:190:In general, it may be said that Islam is the religion of peace, goodwill, mutual understanding, and good faith. But it will not acquiesce in wrong-doing, and its men will hold their lives cheap in defence of honour, justice, and the religion which they hold sacred. Their ideal is that of heroic virtue combined with unselfish gentleness and tenderness, such as is exemplified in the life of the Apostle. They believe in courage, obedience, discipline, duty, and a constant striving by all the means in their power, physical, moral, intellectual, and spiritual, for the establishment of truth and righteousness. (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, Text, Translation and Commentary )
Muhammad Asad explains verse 2:190 in the following manner:2:190 “And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you” – Violating the truce they themselves had signed. The Muslims, after having borne untold persecution with almost superhuman fortitude for years and years at the hands of the pagans of Makkah, are now for the first time enjoined to take to reprisals. ‘For a full thirteen years the Muslims were subjected to relentless persecution in Mecca. The Prophet and his followers fled for life to Medina, but the enemy would not leave them alone in their refuge. They came to attack them within a year, and the first three battles were fought in the very locality which will whether the Prophet was an assailant or defendant’ (Headley, The Original Church of Jesus Christ and Islam, p. 155). The Makkans had signed a truce and were the first to break it. The words ‘fight with those who fight you’ clearly show, firstly, that the Muslims were not the aggressors, and secondly, that those of the enemy who were not actual combatants – children, women, monks, hermits, the aged and the infirm, the maimed, and the like – had nothing at all to fear from the Muslim soldiery. It was in light of this express Divine injunction that the great Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, charged his troops into Syria, ‘not to mutilate the dead, nor to slay old men, women, and children, nor to cut down fruit-trees, nor to kill cattle unless they were needed for food; and these humane precepts served like a code of laws of war during the career of Mohammadan conquest.’ (Bosworth Smith, Mohammed and Mohammedanism, p. 185). Has not Islam thus, in prescribing war against those who break God’s law, who challenge His righteous authority, and who fill the world with violence and injustice, made every concession short of the impossible? Has any code of military ethics been so chivalrous, so humane and so tender towards the enemy? ‘The moral tone adopted by the Caliph Abu Bakr, in his instructions to the Syrian army, was’, says a modern Christian historian, ‘so unlike the principles of the Roman government, that it must have commanded profound attention from a subject people. Such a proclamation announced to Jews and Christians’ sentiments of justice and principles of toleration which neither Roman emperors nor orthodox bishops had ever adopted as the rule of their conduct’ (Finlay, Greece Under the Romans, pp. 367-368). (Daryabadi, The Glorious Qur’an, emphasis added)
And on verse 2:191, he states the following:This and the following verses lay down unequivocally that only self-defence (in the widest sense of the word) makes war permissible for Muslims. Most of the commentators agree in that the expression la ta'tadu signifies, in this context, "do not commit aggression"; while by al-mu'tadin "those who commit aggression" are meant. The defensive character of a fight "in God's cause" - that is, in the cause of the ethical principles ordained by God - is, moreover, self-evident in the reference to "those who wage war against you", and has been still further clarified in 22: 39 - "permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged" - which, according to all available Traditions, constitutes the earliest (and therefore fundamental) Quranic reference to the question of jihad, or holy war (see Tabari and Ibn Kathir in their commentaries on 22: 39). That this early, fundamental principle of self-defence as the only possible justification of war has been maintained throughout the Quran is evident from 60: 8, as well as from the concluding sentence of 4: 91, both of which belong to a later period than the above verse. (Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, emphasis added)
This extensive commentary on this verse should sufficiently address all confusion and misconceptions that resulted from misquoting this verse.In view of the preceding ordinance, the injunction "slay them wherever you may come upon them" is valid only within the context of hostilities already in progress (Razi), on the understanding that "those who wage war against you" are the aggressors or oppressors (a war of liberation being a war "in God's cause"). The translation, in this context, of fitnah as "oppression" is justified by the application of this term to any affliction which may cause man to go astray and to lose his faith in spiritual values (cf. Lisan al-Arab). (Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, emphasis added)
8:12-13 Recall that your Lord inspired the angels: "I am with you; so support those who believed. I will throw terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved. You may strike them above the necks, and you may strike even every finger." This is what they have justly incurred by FIGHTING God and His messenger. For those who fight against God and His messenger, God's retribution is severe.
In the first year of Hijrah, four expeditions were sent [by the Muslims to the Quraish], that is, the expedition under Hamzah, the expedition under Ubaidah bin Harith, the expedition under Sa'ad bin Abi Waqqas and the Al-Abwa' expedition under the Holy Prophet himself. In the first month of the second year two more incursions were made on the same route. These are known as Buwat Expedition and Zawal Ushairah Expedition. Two things about all these expeditions are noteworthy. First, no blood was shed and no caravans were plundered in any of these expeditions. This proves that the real object of these expeditions was to show to the Quraish which way the wind was blowing. Secondly, not a single man from the people of Al-Madinah was sent by the Holy. Prophet on any of these incursions. All the bands consisted purely of the immigrants from Makkah so that the conflict should remain between the people of the Quraish themselves and should not further spread by the involvement of other clans. On the other side, the Quraish of Makkah tried to involve others also in the conflict. When they sent bands towards Al-Madinah, they did not hesitate to plunder the people. For instance, an expedition under the leadership of Kurz bin Jabir al-Fihrl plundered the cattle of the people of Al-Madinah from the very vicinity of the city to show what their real intentions were. This was the state of affairs when, in Sha'aban, 2 A. H. (February or March, 623 A. D.) a big trade caravan of the Quraish, carrying goods worth $50,000 or so, with only a guard of thirty to forty men, on its way back from Syria to Makkah, reached the territory from where it could be easily attacked from Al-Madinah. As the caravan was carrying trade goods worth thousands of pounds, and was scantily guarded, naturally Abu Sufyan, who was in charge of it, from his Past experience feared an attack from the Muslims. Accordingly, as soon as he entered the dangerous territory, he despatched a camel rider to Makkah with a frantic appeal for help. When the rider reached Makkah, he, following an old custom of Arabia, tore open the ears of his camel, cut open his nose and overturned the saddle. Then rending his shirt from front and behind, he began to cry aloud at the top of his voice, "O people of Quraish despatch help to protect your caravan from Syria under the charge of Abu Sufyan, for Muhammad with his followers is in pursuit of it; otherwise I don't think you will ever get your goods. Run, run for help." This caused great excitement and anger in the whole of Makkah and all the big chiefs of the Quraish got ready for war. An army, consisting of 600 armored soldiers and cavalry of 100 riders with great pomp and show marched out for a fight. They intended not only to rescue the caravan but also to put to an end, once for all, the new menace from the Muslims who had consolidated themselves at Al-Madinah. They wanted to crush that rising power and overawe the clans surrounding the route so as to make it absolutely secure for future trade... ...the Holy Prophet and the true Believers had realized the urgency of that critical hour which required the risk of life: therefore they marched straight to the south-west, wherefrom the army of the Quraish was coming. This is a clear proof of the fact that from the very beginning they had gone out to fight with the army and not to plunder the caravan. For if they had aimed at plundering the caravan they would have taken the north- westerly direction and not the south- westerly one. (Maududi, Tafheem Al-Qur'an, emphasis added)
[The Makkans] were too much exasperated and enraged and fell upon the Muslims to exterminate them once and for all. The Muslims, however, after supplicating their Lord, calling upon Him for assistance, were made to hold to their position and conduct a defensive war plan that was successful enough to inflict heavy losses on the attackers. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) used to pray to his Lord ceaselessly persistently and day and night to come to their succour. When the fierce engagement grew too hot he again began to supplicate his Lord saying: O Allâh! Should this group (of Muslims) be defeated today, You will no longer be worshipped..... Immediate was the response from Allâh, Who sent down angels from the heavens for the help and assistance of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his companions. The Noble Qurân observes: And recall when your Lord inspired the angels: Verily, I am with you, so keep firm those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved. [8:12]
(Al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum; Riyadh-Saudi Arabia, Dar-us-Salam Publications, 1996; pp. 219-220)
8:61 But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God: for He is One that hears and knows (all things).