Myth-Conceptions Pt. II: Death to the Infidel.
The second misconception I’m going to address, and possibly the one responsible for most of the fear that lies at the root of Islamophobia, is the claim that Islam calls for the death of non-believers, also known as infidels or Kuffar. The EDL actually use the word Infidel as a term of endearment, and wear it as a badge of honour.
How true is this? Is there any foundation to the fear? You’ll be reminded of 9/11 and the thousands killed on that fateful day, the 7/7 London bombings, the Times Square bomber, the Madrid & Bali atrocities, as well as numerous failed and foiled attempts to slaughter innocents. We are then presented with quotes straight from the Qu’ran.
“Now when you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks until you overcome them fully…” (47:4).
Or this one:
” O you who have attained to faith! Fight against those unbelievers who are near you and let them find you adamant, and know that God is with those who are conscious of Him” (9:123).
Or this one:
“O Prophet! Strive hard (lit., make “jihad”) against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be adamant with them… ” (66:73).
Yet, perhaps the “poster child” of all the verses in the Qur’an which are cited as evidence that Islam calls for the murder of infidels is this one, the so-called “Verse of the Sword”:
“Slay the pagans wherever you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place…” (9:5)
You’ll find these passages on every anti-Islamic blog and website being presented as proof that the Qur’an orders Muslims to kill non-believers. It doesn’t look good so far does it? Shit. How many Muslims are there worldwide? Latest figures estimate 1.57 billion. That’s quite a lot, 23% of the global population. Nearly a quarter. Each Muslim would only need to take out 4 infidels each, what are they waiting for? The Qur’an is 1400 years old for crying out loud!
What about the UK? We keep hearing about the Islamisation of our green and pleasant land. You can’t move for Mosques going up on every corner, Halal meat is being forced down our kids necks like geese at Christmas, no not Christmas we can’t say that anymore, we’re not allowed to cook bacon in our own homes with the windows open, and Muslims can even settle divorces with their own barbaric laws, in OUR COUNTRY!
The last census had the UK’s Muslim population at 1.6m, but more recent estimates claim that it’s nearer 2.4m. In a country of roughly 60m people, that accounts for 4%. A ratio of 1 Muslim to every 25 non-Muslim. I suppose total annihilation would be fairly problematic, but having said that, Muslims are breeding (Muslims don’t procreate or reproduce, only humans do that) at such a high rate they’ll outnumber us soon anyway.
But hang on though. I’ve actually met some Muslims, and I’m still alive. Maybe the beard confused them? What about Manny I used to work with? Ali I went to college, got drunk and stoned with? What about the Somali family two doors down? What about the Bangladeshi lads who put up with me and my drunken mates ordering a curry at 1am? What about the hundreds of taxi drivers that have ensured my safe arrival home on a wet Friday night? What about the doctors and nurses who helped deliver my daughters? See what I’m getting at? Common sense should be able to tell us that what the likes of Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, the EDL and BNP are warning us of is not borne out by reality.
This isn’t good enough though. Common sense hasn’t been distributed equally throughout the human race. If the Qur’an encourages, and approves the global genocide of non-believers, some devout Muslims will feel compelled to obey the command won’t they? If the Qur’an is the word of Allah they wouldn’t be a true Muslim unless they follow his word, right?
I could refer to any number of essays and commentaries but I’ll quote Dr. Hesham Hassaballa and his work on this particular misconception. It’s fairly lengthy and could probably be explained far more concisely, but I’ve decided to print a large chunk just in case anyone reading needs to be utterly convinced.
In a nutshell, the Qur’an only allows fighting as self-defence. Put in their proper context within the book, and that period of history, it is clear that the aforementioned verses are not a carte blanche for Muslims to kill all non-Muslims.
According to all available Traditions, the earliest verses revealed with regards to fighting are these:
“Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged and, verily, God has indeed the power to succour them; those who have been driven from their homelands against all right for no other reason than their saying, ‘Our sustainer is God!’ ” (22:39-40).
Along with this verse is 2:190, which says:
“And fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you…”
The Qur’an clearly states, in the remainder of 2:190 it says:
“…but do not commit aggression, for verily, God does not love aggressors.”
“Committing aggression” includes killing innocent civilians in Tel Aviv, Beslan, New York, Baghdad, or wherever. Furthermore, when the enemy ceases its hostility, fighting must cease:
“…but if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, save against those who [willfully] do wrong” (2:193).
“But if they [the enemy] incline to peace, incline thou to it as well, and place thy trust in God: verily, He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing! And should they seek but to deceive thee [by their show of peace] – behold, God is enough for thee! He it is who has strengthened thee with His succour and by giving thee believing followers” (8:61-62).
Thus, even if the enemy is feigning a peaceful posture, the Muslims are still commanded to cease hostility and “place their trust in God.” Thus, it is quite clear that fighting is in self-defence, and aggression is not allowed.
The point of the matter is, the framework underlying fighting in Islam is self-defence, and all other verses which deal with fighting or call on the believers to “fight the unbelievers” must be understood in this framework.
Here Dr. Hesham Hassaballa gives the historical context.
The Prophet’s message of “there is none worthy of worship except God” was a direct challenge to the power structure. If the Arabs abandon their worship of the pagan gods, the Quraysh’s logic went, Quraysh’s economic monopoly vanishes. Moreover, “there is none worthy of worship besides God” also challenged their non-chalant attitude toward the enormous injustice of Arab society in the Seventh Century. When someone pledges that there is none worthy of worship except God, they necessarily accept God’s way of doing things and running their lives. Preventing injustice and having concern for the poor and less fortunate is an essential aspect of Islamic ethics, and this was a challenge the Meccan oligarchs were not willing to take up. Thus, they opposed the Prophet’s message.
On top of the relentless attacks and hostility toward the Muslims from the direction of Mecca, many surrounding Arab and Bedouin tribes were also hostile to the Muslims, and they joined in the fight against the Prophet. In fact, these Arab tribes sought to assassinate the Prophet on many occasions. The hostility did not cease until the signing of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah in 628 C.E., and it was only after the Meccans broke the treaty (contrary to some modern accusations) that the Prophet finally marched on Mecca and conquered it in 630.
It was in this terribly hostile environment that the verses commanding the Muslims to “fight the unbelievers” were revealed. This was the historical context of verse 9:5 and others like it. Quite clearly, the verses are commanding the Muslims to defend themselves against the aggression of their enemies, and they are not commands for the Muslims to “kill all infidels.”
Now that we understand that fighting in Islam is purely self-defensive and that the Prophet (pbuh) was violently opposed to the bitter end, we can understand verse 9:5 – along with those similar to it – more completely. Indeed, the verse is very violent at first glance:
“…slay the pagans where you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place” (9:5).
Yet, go back and start at the beginning – whilst knowing what we already know – and you will understand that this verse is not an open exhortation for violence against those who are not Muslim:
“And so, when the sacred months are over, slay those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait of them at every conceivable place. Yet if they repent, and take to prayer, and render the purifying dues, let them go their way: for, behold, God is Much-Forgiving, a Dispenser of Grace.” (9:5)
This verse is specific to a specific time, and it is not understood by the overwhelming majority of Muslims to be a general call for murder against all those who are not Muslim.
By the way, it seems that the verse has a “convert or die” clause by saying “if they repent…”, but Muhammad Asad has a nice explanation of this:
“Now the enemy’s conversion to Islam – expressed in the words, ‘if they repent, and take to prayer (lit., “establish prayer”) and render the purifying dues (zakah)’ – is no more than one, and by no means the only, way of their “desisting from hostility”; and the reference to it in verses 5 and 11 of this surah certainly does not imply an alternative of ‘conversion or death,’ as some unfriendly critics of Islam choose to assume.”
Fighting is only in self-defense, and verse 9:5 is in keeping with this principle. This is further supported by the subsequent verses in the chapter.
“And if any of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God (i.e., the pagans) seeks thy protection, grant him protection, so that he might [be able to] hear the word of God [from thee]; and thereupon convey him to a place where he can feel secure: this, because they [may be] people who [sin only because they] do not know [the truth].” (9:6)
The commentator Razi believes the phrase “place where he can feel secure” denotes his homeland. As Muhammad Asad explains, this implies that he is free to accept or not accept the message of the Qur’an. If verse 9:5 is a open exhortation for the murder of all non-Muslims, they why would the Qur’an immediately tell the Muslims to grant a pagan protection to hear the word of God and then let him go to a place of safety?
The Qur’an is quite clear: if non-Muslims do not show hostility towards the Muslims, then they are not to be harmed. Nay, they are to be treated with kindness and respect:
“As for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them full equity, for verily, God loves those who act equitably.” (60:8)
According to Zamakhshari, the expression “God does not forbid you” implies a positive exhortation. Moreover, remember the first verse revealed about fighting? I did not tell you why God has ordained armed conflict as a last resort in Islam…until now:
“Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged and, verily, God has indeed the power to succour them: those who have been driven from their homelands against all right for no other reason than their saying, ‘Our Sustainer is God!’ For, if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques – in [all of] which God’s name is abundantly extolled – would surely have been destroyed [before now].” (22:39-40, emphasis added).
If non-Muslims are “worse than trash” in Islam, if Muslims are supposed to “kill all the infidels,” then how could it be that the protection of churches and synagogues (along with mosques) are cited as the reason to fight? This can be when one realizes that the contention that Muslims are supposed to “kill all the infidels” is a farcical falsehood, which it is. Non-Muslims are not “worse than trash” in Islam, the Qur’an itself says so:
“Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians (author note: possibly the Mandaeans, the followers of John the Baptist) – All who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward with their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.” (2:62)
Digesting the verses is not easy if you’re unaccustomed to it, and even more so if, like me, you’re an atheist and you don’t really ‘feel’ it. But ‘feeling’ it is less important to me than understanding and relaying the truth. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need to be a loony lefty, a theologian or even need to read the extracts I’ve included to know that all Muslims aren’t hell bent on wiping out Western civilization. But if, like me, it’s not enough just to kind of ‘know’, and you want a clearer understanding of the facts, it’s not that much of a hardship. If you want to read the full articles however, the links are below.
An explanation of 4:47 can be found here:
Dr. Hesham Hassaballa
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi