A historical view of polygamy and Islam’s position


by Mary Ali


Polygamy has been practiced by mankind for thousands of years. Many of the ancient Israelites were polygamous, some having hundreds of wives. King Solomon(S) is said to have had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. David(S) (Dawood) had ninety-nine and Jacob(S) (Yaqub) had four. Advice given by some Jewish wise men state that no man should marry more than four wives.


No early society put any restrictions on the number of wives or put any conditions about how they were to be treated. Jesus was not known to have spoken against polygamy. As recent as the 17th century, polygamy was practiced and accepted by the Christian Church. The Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints) have allowed and practiced polygamy in the United States.


Monogamy was introduced into Christianity at the time of Paul when many revisions took place in Christianity. This was done in order for the church to conform to the Greco-Roman culture where men were monogamous but owned many slaves who were free for them to use: in other word, unrestricted polygamy.


Early Christians invented ideas that women were “full of sin” and man was better off to “never marry.” Since this would be the end of mankind, these same people compromised and said “marry only one.”


Many times in the American society when relations are strained, the husband simply deserts his wife. Then he cohabits with a prostitute or other immoral woman without marriage.


Actually there are three kinds of polygamy practiced in Western societies: (1) serial polygamy, that is, marriage, divorce, marriage, divorce and so on any number of times; (2) a man married to one woman but having and supporting one or more mistresses; (3) an unmarried man having a number of mistresses. Islam condones but discourages the first and forbids the other two.


Wars cause the number of women to greatly exceed the number of men. In a monogamous society these women, left without husbands or support, resort to prostitution, illicit relationships with married men resulting in illegitimate children with no responsibility on the part of the father, or lonely spinsterhood or widowhood.


Some Western men take the position that monogamy protects the rights of women. But are these men really concerned about the rights of women? The society has many practices that exploit and suppress women, leading to women’s liberation movements from the suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the feminists of today.


The truth of the matter is that monogamy protects men, allowing them to “play around” without responsibility. Easy birth control and easy legal abortion has opened the door of illicit sex to women and she has been lured into the so-called sexual revolution. But she is still the one who suffers the trauma of abortion and the side effects of birth control methods.


Taking aside the plagues of venereal disease, herpes and AIDS, the male continues to enjoy himself free of worry. Men are the ones protected by monogamy while women continue to be victims of men’s desires. Polygamy is very much opposed by the male dominated society because it would force men to face up to responsibility and fidelity. It would force them to take responsibility for their polygamous inclinations and would protect and provide for women and children.


Among all the polygamous societies in history there were none that limited the number of wives. All of the relationships were unrestricted. In Islam, the regulations concerning polygamy limit the number of wives a man can have while making him responsible for all of the women involved.

“If you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one or one that your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.” (Qur’an 4:3)

This verse from the Qur’an allows a man to marry more than one woman but only if he can deal justly with them. Another verse says that a person is unable to deal justly between wives, thus giving permission but discouraging it.

“You will never be able to deal justly between wives however much you desire (to do so). But (if you have more than one wife) do not turn altogether away (from one), leaving her as in suspense…” (Qur’an 4:129)

While the provision for polygamy makes the social system flexible enough to deal with all kinds of conditions, it is not necessarily recommended or preferred by Islam. Taking the example of the Prophet Muhammad(S) is instructive. He was married to one woman, Khadijah, for twenty-five years. It was only after her death when he had reached the age of fifty that he entered into other marriages to promote friendships, create alliances or to be an example of some lesson to the community; also to show the Muslims how to treat their spouses under different conditions of life.


The Prophet(S) was given inspiration from Allah about how to deal with multiple marriages and the difficulties encountered therein. It is not an easy matter for a man to handle two wives, two families, and two households and still be just between the two. No man of reasonable intelligence would enter into this situation without a great deal of thought and very compelling reasons (other than sexual).


Some people have said that the first wife must agree to the second marriage. Others have said that the couple can put it into the marriage contract that the man will not marry a second wife. First of all, neither the Qur’an not Hadith state that the first wife need be consulted at all concerning a second marriage let alone gain her approval. Consideration and compassion on the part of the man for his first wife should prompt him to discuss the matter with her but he is not required to do so or to gain her approval. Secondly, the Qur’an has explicitly given permission for a man to marry “two or three or four”. No one has the authority to make a contract forbidding something that has been granted by Allah.


The bottom line in the marriage relationship is good morality and happiness, creating a just and cohesive society where the needs of men and women are well taken care of. The present Western society, which permits free sex between consenting adults, has given rise to an abundance of irresponsible sexual relationships, an abundance of “fatherless” children, many unmarried teenage mothers; all becoming a burden on the country’s welfare system. In part, such an undesirable welfare burden has given rise to bloated budget deficits which even an economically powerful country like the United States cannot accommodate. Bloated budget deficits have become a political football which is affecting the political system of the United States.


In short, we find that artificially created monogamy has become a factor in ruining the family structure, and the social, economic and political systems of the country.


It must be a prophet, and indeed, it was Prophet Muhammad(S) who directed Muslims to get married or observe patience until one gets married. ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud reported Allah’s Messenger(S) as saying,

“Young man, those of you who can support a wife should marry, for it keeps you from looking at strange women and preserves you from immorality; but those who cannot should devote themselves to fasting, for it is a means of suppressing sexual desire.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Islam wants people to be married and to develop a good family structure. Also, Islam realized the requirements of the society and the individual in special circumstances where polygamy can be the solution to problems. Therefore, Islam has allowed polygamy, limiting the number of wives to four, but does not require or even recommend polygamy.


In the Muslim societies of our times, polygamy is not frequently practiced despite legal permission in many countries. It appears that the American male is very polygamous, getting away with not taking responsibility for the families he should be responsible for.


(In this article, polygamy has been used to mean polygyny meaning having two or more wives. Islam forbids polyandry, meaning having two or more husbands.)

What is this “sword” that Islam was spread by?


The first few who embraced the “new” religion in Makkah in the Arabian Peninsula at the hands of the Prophet, were his wife Khadijah, his servant Zaid and his eleven year old cousin Ali. Among the ones who later joined this faith were the honest merchant, Abu Bakr; the iron man of Arabia, Umar the Great; the shy businessman, Uthman; the Prophet’s brave uncle Hamza and a slave of a pagan, Bilal. They simply couldn’t resist the MAGIC SWORD of a humble and lonely Prophet? The negligible minority of the believers in this new Faith was soon exiled from Makkah and they arrived in the city called Yathreb which later became known as MADINAH. The Muslim emigrants to Madinah brought their SWORD with them. The SWORD continued to work and its magnetic force continued to “pull” people towards it until the whole of Arabia joined the Faith. Compared to the population of the rest of the world at that time, the Arabs constituted a tiny minority. A fraction of this minority decided to take the SWORD beyond the boundaries of the Arabian desert to the mighty Mediterranean, the coast of Malabar and the far away East Indies Islands. People after people continued surrendering to this SWORD and joining the Faith.


So sharp was the edge of the SWORD! It simply conquered the hearts; bodies yielded automatically. It is the SWORD OF TRUTH, whose mere shine eliminates falsehood just like light wipes away darkness.




It continues to pierce the hearts of countless men and women today – in spite of the relentless efforts by persons with vested interests who like darkness to prevail, so that they may rob people of their good things. Read below the impressions of some who were recently conquered by the same SWORD. They are from different countries, speak different languages and have different backgrounds.


1. LEOPOLD WEISS (now Mohammed Asad): Austrian statesman, journalist, former foreign correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung; author of Islam at Cross Roads and Road to Mecca and translator of the Qur’an. He embraced Islam in 1926.

“Islam appears to me like a perfect work of Architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other. Nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure.”

2. AHMED HOLT: British Civil Contractor, traveler in search of the Divine truth, spent much of his time in research and comparative study of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He embraced Islam in 1975.

“The SWORD OF ISLAM is not the sword of steel. I know this by experience, because the sword of Islam struck deep into my own heart. It didn’t bring death, but it brought a new life; it brought an awareness and it brought an awakening as to who am I and what am I and for what am I here.”

3. BOGDAN KOPANSKI (now Bogdan Ataullah Kopanski): originally Polish, now American; Ph.D. in history and politics, had a very interesting journey to Islam and faced severe hardships; was imprisoned twice by the Polish communist regime (1968, 1981-82). He embraced Islam in 1974.

“When I was 12 years old I rejected the illogical and contradictory faith of the Church. Two years later in 1962 I was fascinated by the victorious struggle of the Algerian Muslim mujahideen against French colonialism. It was the first arrow of Islam…The high school and earliest days of my education in the University, I was a typical example of the ‘rebel generation’ of Reds…My way to the Truth of Al-Qur’an was slow and unpaved… In 1974 I visited Turkey, I wrote my M.A. dissertation about Sultan and Caliph Suleiman Kanuni’s policy towards the Polish Kingdom. There I was hit by the most beautiful voice of mankind, Adhan, the call to prayer. My hair stood up. An unknown, powerful force led me to an old masjid in Istanbul. There, old, smiling, Turkish bearded men taught me Wuzu, ablution. I confessed to tears, Shahada, and I prayed my first Salah Maghrib…I swept out the rubbish ideologies…The first time in my life, my mind was relaxed and I felt the pleasure of Allah’s love in my heart. I was a Muslim…”

4. VENGATACHALAM ADIYAR (now Abdullah Adiyar): Indian, noted Tamil writer and journalist; worked as a news editor in Dr. M. Karunanidhi’s daily Murasoli for 17 years; assisted 3 former Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu. Received Kalaimamani Award (Big Gem of Arts) from Tamil Nadu Government in 1982. He embraced Islam in 1987.

“In Islam I found suitable replies to nagging queries arising in my mind with regard to the theory of creation, status of woman, creation of universe, etc. The life history of the holy Prophet attracted me very much and made easy for me to compare with other world leaders and their philosophies.”

5. HERBERT HOBOHM (now Aman Hobohm): German diplomat, missionary and social worker. An intellectual who has been serving the German diplomatic missions in various parts of the world. Presently working as Cultural Attache in German Embassy in Riyadh. He embraced Islam in 1941.

“I have lived under different systems of life and have had the opportunity of studying various ideologies, but have come to the conclusion that none is as perfect as Islam. None of the systems has got a complete code of a noble life, Only Islam has it and that is why good men embrace it. Islam is not theoretical; it is practical. It means complete submission to the will of God.”

6. CAT STEVENS (now Yusuf Islam): British; formerly a Christian and a world famous pop singer. He embraced Islam in 1973.

“It will be wrong to judge Islam in the light of the behavior of some bad Muslims who are always shown on the media. It is like judging a car as a bad one if the driver if the car is drunk and he bangs it into the wall. Islam guides all human beings in daily life – in it’s spiritual, mental and physical dimensions. But we must find the sources of these instruction, the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet. Then we can see the ideal of Islam.”

7. MARGARET MARCUS (now Maryam Jamilah): American; formerly a Jewess, essayist and author of many books. She embraced Islam in 1962.

“The authority of Islamic Morals and Laws proceeds from Almighty God. Pleasure and happiness in Islam are but the natural by-products of emotional satisfaction in one’s duties conscientiously performed for the pleasure of God to achieve salvation. In Islam duties are always stressed above rights. Only in Islam was my quest for absolute values satisfied. Only in Islam did I at last find all that was true, good, beautiful and which gives meaning and direction to human life and death.

8. WILFRIED HOFMAN (now Murad Hoffman): Ph.D. in law (Harvard); German social scientist and diplomat; presently German Ambassador in Algeria. He embraced Islam in 1980.

“For some time now, striving for more and more precision and brevity, I have tried to put on paper in a systematic way, all philosophical truths, which in my view, can be ascertained beyond reasonable doubt. In the course of this effort it dawned on me that the typical attitude of an agnostic is not an intelligent one; that man simply cannot escape a decision to believe; that the createdness of what exists around us is obvious; that Islam undoubtedly finds itself in the greatest harmony with overall reality. Thus I realize, not without shock, that step by step, in spite of myself and almost unconsciously, in feeling and thinking I have grown into a Muslim. Only one last step remained to be taken: to formalize my conversion. As of today I am a Muslim. I have arrived.”

9. CASSIUS CLAY (now Muhammad Ali): American; three times World Heavyweight Champion, formerly a Christian. He embraced Islam in 1965.

“I have had many nice moments in my life. But the feelings I had while standing on Mount Arafat on the day of Hajj ( Muslims’ pilgrimage), was the most unique. I felt exalted by the indescribable spiritual atmosphere there as over a million and a half pilgrims invoked God to forgive them of their sins and bestow on them His choicest blessings. It was an exhilarating experience to see to people belonging to different colors, races and nationalities, kings, heads of states and ordinary men from very poor countries all clad in two simple white sheets praying to God without any sense of either pride or inferiority. It was a practical manifestation of the concept of equality in Islam.” (Speaking to the daily “Al-Madinah” Jeddah, 15 July, 1989)

These were the impressions of a few persons who had themselves been struck by the SWORD OF TRUTH, that is, the Message of Islam.




1. M. K. GANDHI: “…I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and his own mission. These, and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every trouble.” YOUNG INDIA, 1924


2. EDWARD GIBBON: The greatest success of Mohammed’s life was effected by sheer moral force without the stroke of a sword.” HISTORY OF THE SARACEN EMPIRE, London, 1870


3. A. S. TRITTON:The picture of the Muslim soldier advancing with a sword in one hand and the Qur’an in the other is quite false.” ISLAM, London, 1951, p. 21


4. DE LACY O’LEARY: History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslim, sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.” ISLAM AT CROSSROADS, London, 1923, p. 8


5. K. S. RAMAKRISHNA RAO:My problem to write this monograph is easier because we are not generally fed now on that (distorted) kind of history and much time need not be spent on pointing out our misrepresentations of Islam. The theory of Islam and sword, for instance, is not heard now in any quarter worth the name. The principle of Islam, there is no compulsion in religion, is well known.” MOHAMMED THE PROPHET OF ISLAM, Riyadh, 1989, p. 4


6. JAMES A. MICHENER:No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam…The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the Qur’an is explicit in support of the freedom of conscience.” ISLAM – THE MISUNDERSTOOD RELIGION, READERS’ DIGEST (American Edition) May 1955


7. LAWRENCE E. BROWNE:Incidentally these well-established facts dispose of the idea so widely fostered in Christian writings that the Muslims, wherever they went, forced people to accept Islam at the point of the sword.” THE PROSPECTS OF ISLAM, London, 1944.






1. III&E Brochure series.


2. WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ISLAM AND MUSLIMS by Suzanne Haneef, Kazi Publications, Chicago, Illinois


3. ISLAM IN FOCUS by H. Abdulati, American Trust Publications, Indianapolis, Indiana


4. THE BIBLE, THE QUR’AN AND SCIENCE by Maurice Bucaille, American Trust Publications, Indianapolis, Indiana


5. QUR’AN, AND INTRODUCTION by A. R. Doi, Kazi Publications, Chicago, Illinois


6. HADITH, AN INTRODUCTION by A. R. Doi, Kazi Publications, Chicago, Illinois


7. MUHAMMAD, HIS LIFE BASED ON THE EARLIEST SOURCES by Martin Lings, Inner Traditions International, Rochester, Vermont


8. LIFE OF MUHAMMAD by A. H. Siddiqi, Kazi Publications, Chicago, Illinois


9. HISTORY OF ISLAM by Masud-ul-Hasan, Islamic Publications, Lahore, Pakistan


10. THE CULTURAL ATLAS OF ISLAM by I. R. al-Faruqi and Lois L. al-Faruqi, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, New York

The Arabic word “jihad” means struggling or striving and applies to any effort exerted


by M. Amir Ali, Ph.D.


In the linguistic sense, the Arabic word “jihad” means struggling or striving and applies to any effort exerted by anyone. In this sense a student struggles and strives to get an education and pass course work; an employee strives to fulfill his/her job and maintain good relations with his/her employer; a politician strives to maintain or increase his popularity with his constituents and so on. The term strive or struggle may be used for/by Muslims as well non-Muslims; for example, Allah, One and Only True God says in the Qur’an:

“We have enjoined on people kindness to parents; but if they strive (jahadaka) to make you ascribe partners with Me that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not…” 29:8, also see 31:15.

In the above two verses of the Qur’an, it is non-Muslim parents who strive (jahada) to convert their Muslim child back to their religion.


In the West, “jihad” is generally translated as “holy war”, a usage the media has popularized. According to Islamic teachings, it is unholy to instigate or start war; however, some wars are inevitable and justifiable. If we translate the words “holy war” back into Arabic we find “harbun muqaddasatun“, or for “the holy war”, “al-harbu al-muqaddasatu. We challenge any researcher or scholar to find the meaning of “jihad” as holy war in the Qur’an or authentic Hadith collections or in early Islamic literature. Unfortunately, some Muslim writers and translators of the Qur’an, the Hadith and other Islamic literature translate the term “jihad” as “holy war”, due to the influence of centuries-old Western propaganda. This could be a reflection of the Christian use of the term “Holy War” to refer to the Crusades of a thousand years ago. However, the Arabic words for “war” are “harb” or “qital“, which are found in the Qur’an and Hadith.

For Muslims the term jihad is applied to all forms of striving and has developed some special meanings over time. The sources of this development are the Qur’an (the Word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad(S)) and the Hadith (teachings of Prophet Muhammad(S) [(S) denotes Sall-Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam meaning peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The Qur’an and the Hadith use the word “jihad” in several different contexts which are given below:


1. Recognizing the Creator and loving Him most


It is human nature to love what is seen with the eyes and felt with the senses more than the UNSEEN REALITY. The Creator of the Universe and the One God is Allah. He is the Unseen Reality which we tend to ignore and not recognize. The Qur’an addresses those who claim to be believers:

“O you who believe! Choose not your fathers nor your brethren for protectors if they love disbelief over belief; whoever of you takes them for protectors, such are wrong-doers. Say: if your fathers, and your children, and your brethren, and your spouses, and your tribe, and the wealth you have acquired, and business for which you fear shrinkage, and houses you are pleased with are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His way: then wait till Allah brings His command to pass. Allah does not guide disobedient folk.” 9:23-24

It is indeed a struggle to put Allah ahead of our loved ones, our wealth, our worldly ambitions and our own lives. Especially for a non-Muslim who embraces Islam, it may be a tough struggle due to the opposition of his family, peers and society.


2. Resisting pressure of parents, peers and society


Once a person has made up his mind to put the Creator of the Universe above all else, he often comes under intense pressures. It is not easy to resist such pressures and strive to maintain dedication and love of Allah over all else. A person who has turned to Islam from another religion may be subjected to pressures designed to turn him back to the religion of the family. We read in the Qur’an:

“So obey not the rejecters of faith, but strive (jahidhum) against them by it (the Qur’an) with a great endeavor.” 25:52

3. Staying on the straight path steadfastly


Allah says in the Qur’an:

“And strive (jahidu) for Allah with the endeavor (jihadihi) which is His right. He has chosen you and has not laid upon you in the deen (religion) any hardship …” 22:78

“And whosoever strives (jahada), strives (yujahidu) only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether independent of the universe.” 29:6

As for those who strive and struggle to live as true Muslims whose lives are made difficult due to persecution by their opponents, they are advised to migrate to a more peaceful and tolerant land and continue with their struggle in the cause of Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“Lo! As for those whom the angels take (in death) while they wronged themselves, (the angels) will ask: in what you were engaged? They will say: we were oppressed in the land. (The angels) will say: was not Allah’s earth spacious that you could have migrated therein? …” 4:97

“Lo! those who believe, and those who emigrate (to escape persecution) and strive (jahadu) in the way of Allah, these have hope of Allah’s mercy …” 2:218

Allah tests the believers in their faith and their steadfastness:

“Or did you think that you would enter Paradise while yet Allah knows not those of you who really strive (jahadu), nor knows those (of you) who are steadfast.” 3:142

“And surely We shall try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and fruits; but give glad tidings to the steadfast.” 2:155

We find that the Prophet Muhammad(S) and his clan were boycotted socially and economically for three years to force him to stop his message and compromise with the pagans but he resisted and realized a moral victory.


4. Striving for righteous deeds



Allah declares in the Qur’an:

“As for those who strive (jahadu) in Us (the cause of Allah), We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good doers.” 29:69

When we are faced with two competing interests, it becomes jihad to choose the right one, as the following Hadith exemplify.

Aisha, wife of the Prophet(S) asked, “O Messenger of Allah, we see jihad as the best of deeds, so shouldn’t we join it?” He replied, “But, the best of jihad is a perfect hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah).” Sahih Al-Bukhari #2784

At another occasion a man asked the Prophet Muhammad(S):

“Should I join the jihad?” He asked, “Do you have parents?” The man said, “Yes!” The Prophet(S) said, “then strive by (serving) them!” Sahih Al-Bukhari #5972

Yet another man asked the Messenger of Allah:

“What kind of jihad is better?” He replied, “A word of truth in front of an oppressive ruler!” Sunan Al-Nasa’i #4209

The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad(S) said:

“… the mujahid (one who carries out jihad) is he who strives against himself for the sake of obeying Allah, and the muhajir (one who emigrates) is he who abandons evil deeds and sin.” Sahih Ibn Hibban #4862

5. Having courage and steadfastness to convey the message of Islam


The Qur’an narrates the experiences of a large number of Prophets and good people who suffered a great deal trying to convey the message of Allah to mankind. For examples see the Qur’an 26:1-190, 36:13-32. In the Qur’an, Allah specifically praises those who strive to convey His message:

“Who is better in speech than one who calls (other people) to Allah, works righteous, and declares that he is from the Muslims.” 41:33

Under adverse conditions it takes great courage to remain a Muslim, declare oneself to be a Muslim and call others to Islam. We read in the Qur’an:

“The (true) believers are only those who believe in Allah and his messenger and afterward doubt not, but strive with their wealth and their selves for the cause of Allah. Such are the truthful.” 49:15

6. Defending Islam and the community


Allah declares in the Qur’an:

“To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to defend themselves), because they are wronged – and verily, Allah is Most Powerful to give them victory – (they are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right – (for no cause) except that they say, ‘Our Lord is Allah’…. ” 22:39-40

The Qur’an permits fighting to defend the religion of Islam and the Muslims. This permission includes fighting in self defense and for the protection of family and property. The early Muslims fought many battles against their enemies under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad(S) or his representatives. For example, when the pagans of Quraysh brought armies against Prophet Muhammad(S), the Muslims fought to defend their faith and community. The Qur’an adds:

“Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress limits. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors. … And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against transgressors.” 2:190,193

7. Helping allied people who may not be Muslim


In the late period of the Prophet Muhammad’s(S) life the tribe of Banu Khuza’ah became his ally. They were living near Makkah which was under the rule of the pagan Quraysh, Prophet Muhammad’s(S) own tribe. The tribe of Banu Bakr, an ally of Quraysh, with the help of some elements of Quraysh, attacked Banu Khuza’ah and inflicted heavy damage. Banu Khuza’ah invoked the treaty and demanded Prophet Muhammad(S) to come to their help and punish Quraysh. The Prophet Muhammad(S) organized a campaign against Quraysh of Makkah which resulted in the conquest of Makkah which occurred without any battle.


8. Removing treacherous people from power


Allah orders the Muslims in the Qur’an:

“If you fear treachery from any group, throw back (their treaty) to them, (so as to be) on equal terms. Lo! Allah loves not the treacherous.” 8:58

Prophet Muhammad(S) undertook a number of armed campaigns to remove treacherous people from power and their lodgings. He had entered into pacts with several tribes, however, some of them proved themselves treacherous. Prophet Muhammad(S) launched armed campaigns against these tribes, defeated and exiled them from Medina and its surroundings.


9. Defending through preemptive strikes


Indeed, it is difficult to mobilize people to fight when they see no invaders in their territory; however, those who are charged with responsibility see dangers ahead of time and must provide leadership. The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad(S), had the responsibility to protect his people and the religion he established in Arabia. Whenever he received intelligence reports about enemies gathering near his borders he carried out preemptive strikes, broke their power and dispersed them. Allah ordered Muslims in the Qur’an:

“Fighting is prescribed upon you, and you dislike it. But it may happen that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that you love a thing which is bad for you. And Allah knows and you know not.” 2:216

10. Gaining freedom to inform, educate and convey the message of Islam in an open and free environment


Allah declares in the Qur’an:

“They ask you (Muhammad) concerning fighting in the Sacred Month. Say, ‘Fighting therein is a grave (offense) but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its inhabitants. Persecution is worse than killing. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith, if they can. …” 2:217

“And those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed but) fight back.” 42:39

To gain this freedom, Prophet Muhammad(S) said:

“Strive (jahidu) against the disbelievers with your hands and tongues.” Sahih Ibn Hibban #4708

The life of the Prophet Muhammad(S) was full of striving to gain the freedom to inform and convey the message of Islam. During his stay in Makkah he used non-violent methods and after the establishment of his government in Madinah, by the permission of Allah, he used armed struggle against his enemies whenever he found it inevitable.


11. Freeing people from tyranny


Allah admonishes Muslims in the Qur’an:

“And why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? Men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You, one who will protect; and raise for us from You, one who will help’.” 4:75

The mission of the Prophet Muhammad(S) was to free people from tyranny and exploitation by oppressive systems. Once free, individuals in the society were then free to chose Islam or not. Prophet Muhammad’s(S) successors continued in his footsteps and went to help oppressed people. For example, after the repeated call by the oppressed people of Spain to the Muslims for help, Spain was liberated by Muslim forces and the tyrant rulers removed. After the conquest of Syria and Iraq by the Muslims, the Christian population of Hims reportedly said to the Muslims:

“We like your rule and justice far better than the state of oppression and tyranny under which we have been living.”

The defeated rulers of Syria were Roman Christians and Iraq was ruled by Zoarastrian Persians.


What should Muslims do when they are victorious?


Muslims should remove tyranny, treachery, bigotry, and ignorance and replace them with justice and equity. We should provide truthful knowledge and free people from the bondage of associationism (shirk or multiple gods), prejudice, superstition and mythology. Muslims remove immorality, fear, crime, exploitation and replace them with divine morality, peace and education.


The Qur’an declares:

“Lo! Allah commands you that you restore deposits to their owners, and if you judge between mankind that you judge justly. Lo! It is proper that Allah admonishes you. Lo! Allah is ever Hearer, Seer.” 4:58

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah’s witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety and fear Allah. And Allah is well acquainted with all that you do.” 5:8

“And of those whom We have created there is a nation who guides with the Truth and establishes justice with it.” 7:181

“Lo! Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorts you in order that you may take heed.” 16:90

“Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish prescribed prayers (salah) and pay the poor-due (zakah) and enjoin right conduct and forbid evil. And with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs.” 22:41

Did Islam spread by force, swords or guns?


The unequivocal and emphatic answer is NO! The Qur’an declares:

“Let there be no compulsion (or coercion) in the religion (Islam). The right direction is distinctly clear from error.” 2:256

Here is a good study of the question of the spread of Islam by a Christian missionary, T.W. Arnold:

“… of any organized attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing. Had the caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years. The Eastern Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of Christiandom throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of the Mohammedan [sic] governments towards them.”

Islam does not teach nor do Muslims desire conversion of any people for fear, greed, marriage or any other form of coercion.


In conclusion, jihad in Islam is striving in the way of Allah by pen, tongue, hand, media and, if inevitable, with arms. However, jihad in Islam does not include striving for individual or national power, dominance, glory, wealth, prestige or pride.




1. For the sake of simplicity and easy reading, masculine pronouns have been used throughout this brochure. No exclusion of females is intended.


2. Haykal, M.H., THE LIFE OF MUHAMMAD, Tr. Ismail R. Faruqi, American Trust Publications, 1976, p. 132.


3. Haykal, pp. 216, 242, 299 and 414 for the Battles of Badr, Uhud, Al-Khandaq and Hunayn, respectively.


4. Haykal, p. 395 for the Conquest of Makkah.


5. Haykal, pp. 245, 277, 311 and 326 for campaigns against the tribes of Banu Qaynuqa’, Banu Al-Nadir, Banu Qurayzah and Banu Lihyan, respectively. Also, see p. 283 for the Battle of Dhat Al-Riqa’.


6. Haykal, pp. 284, 327, 366, 387, 393, 443 and 515 for the Battles of Dawmat Al-Jandal, Banu Al-Mustaliq, Khayber, Mu’tah, Dhat Al-Salasil, Tabuk and the Campaign of Usama Ibn Zayd, respectively.


7. Hitti, Philip K., HISTORY OF THE ARABS, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1970, p. 153.


8. Arnold, Sir Thomas W., THE PREACHING OF ISLAM, A HISTORY OF THE PROPAGATION OF THE MUSLIM FAITH, Westminister A. Constable & Co., London, 1896, p. 80.

Jihad: one of the most misunderstood concepts in Islam


by M. Amir Ali, Ph.D.


Islam” and other various Islamic terms and concepts are grossly misunderstood in the West. Muslims can hardly find anyone to blame but themselves because (a) they have failed to live by the Islamic tenants in our times, and (b) they have failed to promote understanding of Islam in the West through outreach projects. This brochure is a humble attempt to briefly explain the terms given in the title. The Institute of Islamic Information & Education (III&E) has published almost fifty brochures and several articles for promoting understanding of Islam among Muslims and non-Muslims equally. Please write to the III&E or visit their web site for more information.


Some of the Islamic Terms


  • Islam means a commitment to live in peace through submission to the Will of God (Allah).
  • Muslim is a person who makes a commitment to live in peace through servitude to Allah.
  • Jihad means “struggle” and “strive” against evil thoughts, evil action and aggression against a person, family, society or country. Jihad may be a “justifiable war”, borrowing the Christian term.
  • Mujahid is a person who engages in Jihad for the sake of Allah according to the Qur’an (Muslim’s source book for guidance) and Sunnah (the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him). Mujahideen is the plural of Mujahid.
  • Islamic terrorism – There is no such phrase or term in the Islamic source books of the Qur’an or the Sunnah and has no place in Islam.
  • Sunnah – Sunnah is the preferred way of the Prophet Muhammad that includes his teaching. The sources of the Sunnah are authentic Hadith (reports of the Prophet’s sayings, doings and approvals) collections.

The True Meaning of “Jihad”


Jihad is usually associated with Islam and Muslims, but in fact, the concept of Jihad is found in all religions including Christianity, Judaism and political/economic ideologies, such as, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, etc. Islam defines Jihad as striving and struggling for improvement as well as fighting back to defend one’s self, honor, assets and homeland. Also, Jihad is interpreted as the struggle against evil, internal or external of a person or a society. Jihad, in Islam, means doing any or all but not limited to the following:


  1. Learn, teach, and practice Islam in all aspects of one’s life at all times to reach the highest and best education in order to benefit oneself, family and society.
  3. Be a messenger of Islam everywhere, in every behavior and action.
  5. Fight evil, wrongdoing, and injustice with all one’s power by one’s hand (action), with one’s tongue (speech), or at least with one’s heart (prayer).
  7. Respond to the call for Jihad with money, effort, wisdom and life; yet, never fight a Muslim brother, a Muslim country, or a non-Muslim society that respects its treaties and harbors no aggressive designs against Islam or Muslims.
  9. Suicide under any pretext is not condoned as Jihad in Islam.
  11. Converting people to Islam by force or coercion is never Jihad but a crime, punishable by law.
  13. The promise of “70 or 72 virgins” is fiction written by some anti-Islam bigots.

The Levels of Jihad


  1. A personal struggle within one’s self to submit to Allah, fight evil within one’s self, achieve higher moral and educational standards – Inner Jihad.
  3. Jihad against evil, injustice and oppression within one’s self, family and society – Social Jihad.
  5. Jihad against all that prevents Muslims from servitude to God (Allah), people from knowing Islam, defense of a Muslim society (country), retribution against tyranny, and/or when a Muslim is removed from their homeland by force – Physical Jihad or an armed struggle.

The Qur’an defines physical Jihad as being the highest level of Jihad that one can undertake. Its reward is eternal Paradise. Muslims also know that all humans are accountable for what they have done during their life on this earth. Muslims will be asked about what they did with their lives and their level of submission to Allah on the Day of Judgment.


Does Jihad mean Holy War?


In Islam, there is no such thing as holy war. This terminology was generated in Europe during the Crusades and their war against Muslims. Islam recognizes Jews and Christians as the “People of the Book” because they all follow the Prophet Abraham, believing in Moses’ and Jesus’ teachings. For many centuries, Muslims have peacefully coexisted with Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths, maintaining social, business, political and economic treaties. Islam respects all humans and faiths as long as there is no religious oppression, forbidding Muslims from serving Allah, preventing others from learning about Islam, and not respecting treaties. For more information on the topic of Jihad see the brochure Jihad Explained or request brochure #18 from the III&E, the publisher of this article.


Who is authorized to call for Jihad as a war?


Jihad must be performed according to Islamic rules and regulations and only for the sake or in the service of Allah. The physical or military Jihad must be called by a Muslim authority, such as, a president or head of a Muslim country after due consultations with the learned leadership.


What Does Islam Say about Terrorism?


The term “terrorism” does not exist in the Qur’an or the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. If the terms “terrorist or terrorism” are derived from a verb used in the Qur’an, such as 5:33 describing a “Muslim’s” terrorist acts, it is in condemnation and prescribes most severe punishment. Islam is a religion and a way of life that does not separate politics from religion. Islam is a religion of mercy, unity and most importantly peace with one’s self and others, to defend not to fight.


Allah said in His Book the Qur’an:

“God does not forbid you from showing kindness and dealing justly with those who have not fought you about religion and have not driven you out of your homes, that you should show them kindness and deal justly with them. God loves just dealers.” (Qur’an 60:8)

“Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not begin aggression. for God loves not aggressors.” (Qur’an 2:190)

“If they seek peace, then seek you peace and trust in God for He is the Hearer, the Knower.” (Qur’an 8:61)

“… and let not the hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is next to piety; and fear Allah, for Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (Qur’an 5:8)

“But (remember that an attempt at) requiting evil may, too, become an evil: hence whoever pardons (his foe) and makes peace, his reward rests with Allah- for, verily He does not love transgressors.” (Qur’an 42:40)

“The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he between whom and thee there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a bosom friend. (Qur’an 41:34)

Some of the Prophet Muhammad’s Teachings (Sunnah)


  1. He prohibited Muslim soldiers from killing women, children and the elderly, or cut a palm tree, and he advised them, “… do not betray, do not be excessive, do not kill a newborn child.”
  3. Whoever has killed a person having a treaty with the Muslims shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise, though its fragrance is found for a span of forty years.
  5. The first cases to be adjudicated between people on the Day of Judgment will be those of bloodshed.” Killing is the second major sin in Islam.
  7. Truly your blood, your property, and your honor are inviolable.”
  9. There is a reward for kindness shown to every living animal or human.”

Islam and Human Rights


  1. The Qur’an and Sunnah encourage Muslims to respect the life and property of all mankind.
  3. In an Islamic State these rights are considered sacred, whether a person is Muslim or not.
  5. Islam protects honor, forbids insulting others, and/or making fun of them.
  7. Islam rejects certain individuals or nations being favored because of their wealth, power, and/or race.
  9. All Muslims believe that Allah created all humans free and equal, only to be distinguished from each other on the basis of God-consciousness or piety and never on the basis of race, color or ethnicity.

Islam is a practical religion that respects all human beings and it was revealed for all mankind. Its message is that of peace and submission to Allah. Muslims believe in all the Prophets mentioned in the Bible, and the Qur’an. The Qur’an shares many moral teachings of the Old Testament and the New Testament. These three religions (and their books) were founded upon the revelations by One True God, Allah. For more information on this topic please see the brochure Human Rights In Islam or ask for brochure #7 from the III&E, the publisher of this article.


Jihad in the Bible


Let us see what the Bible has to say about Jihad in the meaning of war and violence. The following verses are from the Bible, New International Version (NIV), 1984, italics added.

“Do not allow a sorceress to live. Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death. Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed. Exodus 22:18-20

“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded and that day about three thousand of the people died.” Exodus 32:27-28

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites…. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps…. (Moses ordered) “Now kill all the boys. And kill every women who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Numbers 31: 1-18

(Jesus said) “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.” Luke 19:27

“He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Luke 22:36

Differential treatment


Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness. If an individual Muslim were to commit an act of terrorism, this person would be guilty of violating the basic tenants of Islam. When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City building, no American or Christian was labeled as a terrorist or was the target of hate crimes. When Irish Christians carry out acts of terrorism against each other and on the British Isles, the Christian religion is not blamed but individuals or their political agenda. Unfortunately, the same is not true for American Muslims and Arabs. The vast majority of Muslims or Arabs have no association with the violent events around the world yet Islam is invoked with terrorism. It is unfair to 1.5 billion Muslims of the world and religion of Islam.


Criteria of guilt


Innocent until proven guilty in an open court is an accepted universal principle of justice along with liberty and freedom for all humankind. However, the U.S. failed to practice the same principles for those who are not U.S. nationals. Even worse, the U.S. is creating military tribunal for secret trials because there may be inadequate evidence to prove Arabs and Muslims guilty in open courts.


May Allah bless us all and purify our hearts from all misunderstanding, malice, hate and anger.

“Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors.”


by M. Amir Ali, Ph.D.

“Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors.” Al-Qur’an 2:190

“And those who, when great wrong is done to them, defend themselves.” Al-Qur’an 42:39

Violence is the use of force to subdue others that may include killing. Violence may be morally legitimate in the eyes of a majority of people when killing animals and birds for self-protection or for food. However, in the religions of Jainism and some sects of Buddhism and Hinduism even killing of animals and insects is not legitimate.


At the human level, violence may be divided into three major types: (1) Violence committed by an army against another army; in this case it is called a battle or war, (2) Violence organized by the civilians against tyranny and oppression or to replace one political system with another; in this case the conflict may be called terrorism, civil war or a war of liberation or freedom, depending who is talking, and (3) Violence committed by individuals or a small group of people for personal gain or revenge; in this case it is called murder, robbery or vendetta, respectively.


Commonly, the meaning of the term Islam is given as peace and also submission. “Violence in Islam” is an oxymoron; a meaningless phrase. The contemporary Muslim world situation appears to make the question, “violence in Islam?”, a relevant one. Anti-Islam forces, such as, Christian Fundamentalists, Zionists of all colors and shades, Russians, Serbs, Hindu Fundamentalists and others love to refer to the cherry-picked Qur’an verses to point out that Islam means terrorism and violence, not peace. Unfortunately, the ignorant masses of the West have been raised since their school days in believing that Islam is terrorism and violence. In addition, the pro-Zionist media loves to please the masses through reinforcing this belief and for keeping Islam unpopular in the West in order to prevent its propagation. As the Zionists see that an increasing Muslim voting population in the West as a threat to the existence of the Israeli entity, they would rather eliminate the presence of Islam in the West, particularly, the U.S.


Since the 9-11 terror in New York, the most cited Qur’an verse is 9:5 in support of false allegation of murder of non-Muslims and forcing them to convert to Islam when they refuse. The meaning of this one verse may best be understood and appreciated when the reader has full background of the context of revelation and what the message was given as a whole. Surah (chapter) 9 has two names, At-Tauba and Al-Bara’, meaning the repentance and freedom from obligation (disavowal), respectively. Verses 1-37 of Surah 9 were revealed as a block and verses 1 to 16 make up the context of the verse 5. Let me quote the translation of all 16 verses from Zafar Ishaq Ansari’s Towards Understanding the Qur’an, Vol. 3, pp 187-195.

“(1) This is a declaration of disavowal by Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) to those who associate others with Allah in His divinity (mushrikeen) and with whom you have made treaties. (2) You may go about freely in the land, for four months, but know well that you will not be able to frustrate Allah, and that Allah will bring disgrace upon those who deny the truth (kafireen). (3) This is a public proclamation by Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) to all men on the day of the Great Pilgrimage (Al-Hajj Al-Akbar): Allah is free from all obligations to those who associate others with Allah in His divinity (mushrikeen); and so is His Messenger. If you repent, it shall be for your own good; but if you turn away, then know well that you will not be able to frustrate Allah. So give glad tidings of a painful chastisement to those who disbelieve (those who reject this call). (4) In exception to those who associate others with Allah in His divinity (mushrikeen) are those with whom you have made treaties and who have not violated their treaties nor have backed up anyone against you. Fulfill your treaties with them till the end of their term. Surely Allah loves the pious (muttaqeen). (5) But when the sacred months (Al-Ashhar ul-Hurum) expire, slay those who associate others with Allah in His divinity (mushrikeen) wherever you find them; seize them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them. But if they repent and establish the Prayer (As-Salat) and pay Zakah, leave them alone. Surely Allah is All-Forgiving, Ever Merciful. (6) And if any of those who associate others with Allah in His divinity (mushrikeen) seeks asylum, grant him asylum that he may hear the Word of Allah, and then escort him to safety for they are people bereft of all understanding. (7) How can there be a covenant with those who associate others with Allah in His divinity (mushrikeen) on the part of Allah and His Messenger except those with whom you made a covenant near the Sacred Mosque (Al-Masjid Al-Haram)? Behave straight with them so long as they behave straight with you for Allah loves the God-fearing (muttaqeen). (8) How can there be any covenant with the rest who associate others with Allah in His divinity (mushrikeen) for were they to prevail against you, they will respect neither kinship nor agreement. They seek to please you with their tongues while their hearts are averse to you, and most of them are wicked (faasiqoon). (9) They have sold the revelations of Allah for a paltry price and have firmly hindered people from His path. Evil indeed is what they have done. (10) They neither have any respect for kinship nor for agreement in respect of the believers. Such are indeed transgressors (mu’tadoon). (11) But if they repent and establish Prayer (Salat) and give Zakah they are your brothers in faith. Thus do We expound our revelations to those who know (ya’lamoon). (12) But if they break their pledges after making them and attack your faith, make war on the leaders of unbelief (A’immatul Kufr) that they may desist, for they have no regard for their pledged words. (13) Will you not fight against those who broke their pledges and did all they could to drive the Messenger away and initiated hostilities against you? Do you fear them? Surely Allah has greater right that you should fear Him, if you are true believers. (14) Make war on them, Allah will chastise them through you and will humiliate them. He will grant you victory over them, and will soothe the bosoms of those who believe; (15) and will remove rage from their hearts, and will enable whomsoever He wills to repent. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (16) Do you imagine that you will be spared without being subjected to any test? Know well that Allah has not yet determined who strove hard (in His cause), and has not taken any others besides His Messenger and the believers as His trusted allies? Allah is well aware of all that you do.” The Qur’an 9:1-16.

No Compulsion or Coercion 2:256. The Qur’an verses are clear in commanding the believes that there is no coercion or compulsion in Islam to convert. The history of 14 centuries is the proof that Muslims had no systematic compulsion to convert people to Islam.


One verse translation is given below:

“(256) There is no coercion or compulsion in the Deen (religion, way of life). The right way now stands clearly distinguished from the wrong. Hence he who rejects the evil ones and believes in Allah has indeed taken hold of the firm, unbreakable handle, and Allah (Whom he has held for support) is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” The Qur’an 2:256

Muslims have honored this commandment and they have been careful in not forcing people to convert to Islam. The best examples are Spain, India, East Europe where Muslims entered with armies and conquered them yet these countries remained non-Muslim majority. On the other hand, in Sub-Sahara Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia where Islamic armies never entered, these countries became Muslim majority countries. In our time in the 21st century, no Muslim army has entered in North America or Europe yet millions of people are converting to Islam by their own will.


One of the principles of understanding the Qur’an is that a verse (ayah) should be read (a) in the context of the surrounding verses, not in isolation, (b) in the context of its revelation, which may be found in the Hadith collections, and (c) in the context of the whole Qur’an. A fourth requirement frequently presented is to see the words, terms and phrases used and as understood by the companions of the Prophet and following two generations (Salaf). It simply means reading various commentaries of the Qur’an of the classical period and finding how they understood and explained a given verse or a passage. Not knowing Arabic is not an excuse because in the 20th century a few commentaries of the Qur’an in English language have appeared and these writers have summed up the earlier commentators; some of them are Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Towards Understanding the Qur’an referred to above, Muhammad Asad and Abdullah Yusuf Ali. There are two translations and commentaries in the works, one by Dr. Irfan Ahmad Khan to be published from India and the other by Dr. Ahmad Zaki Hammad to be published from Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt. Some parts of the both works have been published.


Another aspect of understanding the Qur’an verses is the time frame for application of their meaning. A verse or a passage may have special meaning for a particular time of the revelation and it does not apply after the time has passed. Or a verse or a passage may also have a generalized meaning for all times to come since its revelation.




Those who quote Qur’an verses with the objective of criticizing it and Islam do not meet any of the above given requirements yet they interpret verses according to their whims and fancy. These people have no objectivity but malice and prejudice. Before I explain the above verses I would like to give a few definitions of some Qur’anic terms. The spellings of the following terms may vary from one writer to another when transliterated in a European language.


MUSLIMS: Those who believe in a Messenger / Prophet of Allah and follow his teachings; accordingly, followers of all prophets since the time of Abraham were Muslims, followers of Muhammad included.


MUNAFIQ (sing.): Technically a Munafiq is a Muslim but due to the absence of real faith in Islam, Allah considers him to be a hypocrite. Qur’an has hundreds of verses about Munafiqoon or Munafiqeen (case based plu.) because they are the cause of most danger to Islam and Muslims, much more than the worst non-Muslim enemies of Islam. This is true in our time also. All those “Muslims” who are helping the enemies of Islam for waging war on Islam and Muslim societies are certainly hypocrites.


BANI ISRAEL (YAHUD): All people who followed the Prophets from Moses to the last Prophet before Jesus.


NASARA: This term is used for Christians only. Some scholars think that the term is derived from Nazareth but others think that it is derived from the Arabic word for helper.


AHL AL-KITAB: this means people of the Book, Christians and Jews both or depending upon the context, Jews only or Christians only.


MUSHRIK (sing.) Mushrikoon or Mushrikeen (case based plural): This applies particularly to the idol worshippers of Arabia who lived at the time of the Prophet. Most of them converted to Islam but a few converted to Christianity; no more Mushrikoon are living in the Arabian Peninsula. In our time Hindu, Buddhists and any other people who worship an idol god would fall under this category.


KAAFIR (sing.) Kaafiroon or Kaafireen (plu.): These are non-Muslims who rejected Islam after knowing Islam from authentic sources. See Qur’an verses 2:6-7 about them. I would like to translate the term as “Islam-rejecters” but the ignorant translate it as “infidels”. Unfortunately, ignorant translators use the term infidel for Mushrik as well as Kaafir whereas these are very different terms.


JAAHIL (sing.) Juhla or Jahiloon or Jahileen (plu.): Literally it means an ignorant person but as a Qur’anic term it means those ignorant people who are unaware of Islamic teachings and they didn’t have a chance to accept or reject Islam. Once a person rejects Islam after knowing its teachings from authentic sources, this person would be a Kaafir.


JIHAD. This term is frequently mistranslated as “holy war”. In Islam there is no such thing as holy war because all wars are filthy, however, some wars are unavoidable. The Christian term, “justifiable war” is also applied in Islam. Literally, Jihad means to strive or to struggle. For a better treatment of the topic see my article JIHAD EXPLAINED.


QITAL (HARB)Qital means a battle and Harb means war, which the terms to be used for real war and these two terms means battle and war.


WALI (sing.) Awlia’ (plu.): Commonly the term Wali is translated as “friend” that gives rise to misunderstanding about the message of the Qur’an. Depending upon the context it may mean a friend but more often it means a protector or protecting friend or an ally, which is a lot more than a simple friend.


In the above quoted passage of 9:1-16 in the verses 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7 the term used is mushrikeen meaning this is not about any other people than the idolaters (mushrikeen) of Makkah. Another point to note is that the address is towards those who violated the peace treaty with the Prophet Muhammad. This theme repeats in all the verses up to 9:16. Naturally, Allah, in the Qur’an, is instructing the Prophet Muhammad to free himself from the peace treaty obligation, known as the Treaty of Hudaybiah; he made in the year 6 AH for a ten-year period. But the idolaters of Quraysh violated the treaty in the second year and raided a tribe who was an ally of the Prophet. The verse gives specific instruction to fight those who violated the treaty and killed allies of the Prophet. The meaning of the verse does not extend to other non-Muslims except under the exact similar conditions. Those who have never been allies of the Muslims have no treaty to violate. Islam prohibits aggression against those who have not attacked the Muslims. This point takes us to the verses 2:190-194.


In the verse 9:5 there is a mention of Al-Ashhar ul-Hurum meaning the months of prohibition, sometimes translated as sacred months, which are Rajab, Dhul Qe’dah, Dhul Hijjah and Muharram, the 7th, 11th, 12th and 1st months of the Arabic lunar calendar. The month of Rajab was reserved for Umrah or lesser Hajj and the other three months were considered the months for Hajj the greater pilgrimage to Makkah. During these months Arabs used to celebrate peace for the safety of the return travel to Makkah and any war or looting was considered prohibited. However, they found a back door to violate these months of safety and invented the custom of Nasi. Under this invention they could exchange a real prohibited month with another non-prohibited month and could go on looting and war and surprise the weaker travelers. Islam kept the custom of prohibited months but abrogated the custom of Nasi.


Qur’an verses 2:190-194. The translation of these verses is given below;

“(190) Fight (qaatiloo) against those who fight against you in the way of Allah, but do not transgress, for Allah does not love transgressors (mu’tadeen). (191) Kill them whenever you confront them and drive them out from where they drove you out. (For though killing is sinful) wrongful persecution is even worse than killing. Do not fight against them near the Masjid Al-Haram (in Makkah) unless they fight against you; but if they fight against you kill them, for that is the reward of such disbelievers (kafireen). (192) Then if they desist, know well that Allah is Forgiving, Most Merciful. (193) Keep on fighting against them until mischief ends and the way prescribed by Allah prevails. But if they desist, then know that hostility is only against the transgressors (Adh-Dhalimeen). (194) The sacred month for the sacred month; sanctities should be respected alike (by all concerned). Thus, if someone has attacked you, attack him just as he attacked you, and fear Allah and remain conscious that Allah is with those who guard against violating the bounds set by Him.” The Qur’an 2:190-194.

In the verses 190-191 given above it is obvious that Allah is commanding the Muslims, in the Qur’an, to fight against those who began the fight but do not do anything more than necessary to repel the attack because Allah does not like transgression, that is, going beyond one’s limits. The verse 192 puts further emphasis on driving the invaders out of your homes, your property and maybe out of your country to remove their occupation.


Verse 193 emphasizes that mischief and persecution is worse than killing, therefore, it is the responsibility of the Muslims to remove mischief and persecution and work to bring justice and equity according to the rules of Islam.


Verse 194 refers to the sacred or the months of prohibitions of war; the command is to honor the months but if the adversaries violate them the Muslims are allowed to respond in kind. Similarly, if the opponents attack, the Muslims are allowed to respond in kind but not to violate the limits or the use of excessive force. The use of excessive force is a pagan concept as the U.S. is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Qur’an 5:33-34. Another verse that is frequently quoted for attacking the Qur’an is 5:33 but it should be read with 5:34. The translation is given below:

“(33) Those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and go about the earth spreading mischief – indeed their recompense is that they either be put to death, or be crucified, or have their hands and feet cut off from the opposite sides or be banished from the land (or imprisonment). Such shall be their degradation in this world; and a mighty chastisement lies in store for them in the World to Come (34) except for those who repent before you have overpowered them. Know well that Allah is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.”

These two verses were revealed in response to the treatment of one or more “Muslims” who reverted back to his/their previous religion and became terrorists and highway robbers looting trade caravans. In addition they began encouraging the enemies of the Prophet Muhammad and Muslims to attack and destroy the city-state of Madinah. Allah’s order came to fight them and subdue them followed by killing or crucifying them or cutting hands and feet from opposite sides or imprisoning them. If they submit themselves before being subdued forcefully and ask for forgiveness then forgive them. Their asking forgiveness includes their voluntary returning to Islam. Obviously, these verses are not about non-Muslims or forcing them to convert to Islam.


Such a treatment will be meted out to all apostates who combine treason with apostasy. Also, the same fate is due to highway robbers and terrorists who commit heinous crimes after peace, justice and equity has been established under Islamic rule. In the absence of Islamic rule neither peace is possible nor justice and equity but a tyranny of one kind or the other. In the contemporary Muslim world (2004 CE) there is not a single “Islamic” country having Islamic rule but there are over fifty Muslim majority countries having tyrannical rules and most of them are puppets of either the European or American powers. Naturally, there is no peace, no justice and no equity but chaos, murder, persecution, exploitation, looting of the people’s money and tyranny. These countries are ruled by the criminals supported and protected by the enemies of Islam who are rulers in Europe and America.


Qur’an 4:74-76. These verses are part of the section 4:71-76 but I will skip first three verses, as they are simple to understand. The translation is given below:

(74) Let those who seek the life of the Next World in exchange for the life of this world fight (yuqatil) in the way of Allah. We shall grant a mighty reward to whoever fights in the way of Allah, whether he is slain or comes out victorious. (75) How is it that you do not fight (la tuqatiloona) in the way of Allah and in support of the helpless – men, women and children – who pray: “Our Rabb (Cherisher, Provider), bring us out of this land and whose people are oppressors and appoint for us from Yourself a helper.” (76) Those who have faith fight (yuqatiloona) in the way of Allah, while those who disbelieve (kafaroo, reject Islam) fight in the way of Taghut (Satan, any non-God). Fight, then, against the followers of Satan (Shaytan). Surely, Satan’s strategy is weak. The Qur’an 4:74-76. [Note that the word Jihad or its derivatives have not been used in these verses. The words for fight are derived from the root qatala.]

The background of these verses is the Battle of Uhud that took place in the year 3 AH in the vicinity of Madinah. One year before the Battle of Uhud, the Makkan pagans had brought a well-equipped army of 1,000 in the with the plan of annihilating the Prophet and his followers. But the Prophet intercepted them 60 miles south of Madinah in the company of 313 companions; this was a very poorly equipped band of Muslims. The Prophet and his companions were victorious and all major leaders of the pagan Quraysh were killed and they lost 70 soldiers. The Makkans returned defeated but swore to come back to destroy the Prophet, his mission and his city-state of Madinah. In the following year, in 3 AH Makkans came back with a better equipped army of 3,000 and the Prophet was able to gather a band of only 700 and the battle took place near Madinah at the foot of Mt. Uhud. Both sides suffered heavy losses and there was no clear victory for either side. Makkans returned to Makkah without achieving their goal of annihilation of the Prophet and his mission, yet this emboldened the Makkans. This followed two years of hard persecution and torture of Muslims living outside of Madinah, whether in Makkah or in other villages where pagans ruled. Prophet Muhammad had to send intelligence and guard missions all around to find who was conspiring and who was planning another aggression against Madinah and the Muslims.


The verse 4:71-76 were revealed in the above given background and they should be understood within this context. The verse 4:71 instructs the Muslims to stay ready for defense because they may not know who and when will attack small city-state of Madinah. The verse 4:72-73 talks about the condition of hypocrites who do not want to fight because they love this worldly life more than the life of hereafter, however, they do want the war booty when victory comes. The verse 4:74 assures sincere Muslims that if they die in the battle they will surely enter paradise but if they come back victorious, that would be good for them, too. Either way whether they survive the war or die in the war, they are assured of great reward from Allah. The verse 4:75 motivates the Muslims to stand up to defeat the oppressors and tyrants who have no conscience but the greed of this world and power. The oppressed people cry for Allah’s help and it comes in the form of sincere Muslims who stand up in support of these people.


The verse 4:76 declares that sincere Muslims fight to make Allah’s rule supreme and to establish peace, justice and equity, whereas, those who fight for land, country, nationalism, patriotism, loot, murder, revenge, wealth and other worldly motives, fight for the Taghut, anyone other than Allah, that is, for the sake of the Satan. Those who fight for the sake of Satan, sometimes may appear to be winning in achieving their worldly goals but they are losers in the long term and certainly, in the life hereafter they will end up in the hell-fire.


It is obvious that Allah condemns aggression totally and condemns any war in pursuit of worldly reasons. Whereas Allah approves and motivates a war of defense and to protect the weak who are persecuted and oppressed. In this early 21st century there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who are oppressed and persecuted by the West and its agents as rulers of the Third World countries.


Qur’an 22:39-40. During the Prophet’s life in Makkah he was forbidden to respond to violent offenses against him or his followers. The command of Allah was to tie down their hands; it was total pacifism. The only thing his followers were allowed to do was to leave the town and take refuge in Habashah (Ethiopia). This restriction was lifted in Madinah when an Islamic city-state was established with its own free government under the Prophet, its own economy and volunteer defense forces. Order came in the following words in translation:

“(39) Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged – and, verily Allah indeed has the power to help them; (40) those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Rabb (Sustainer, Cherisher) is Allah. For had it not been for Allah repelling some men by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft mentioned, would assuredly been destroyed. Surely, Allah helps him who helps Allah. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty.” The Qur’an 22:39-40

The meanings of these two verses are simple enough not requiring any explanation.


47:4-6. These verses were revealed shortly after the verses 22:39-40 given above lifting the ban on armed resistance against the invaders and aggressors.

(4) “Therefore, when you meet those who disbelieved (kafaroo) (in the battle) smite their necks and, when you have thoroughly subdued them, then take prisoners of war and bind them firmly. After the war lays down her burdens, then you have the choice whether you show them favor or accept ransom. Thus are you commanded. If Allah wanted, He Himself could have punished them; but He adopted this way so that He may test some of you by means of others. As for those who are slain in the cause of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost. (5) Soon He will guide them, improve their condition (6) and admit them to the paradise which He has made known to them.” The Qur’an 47: 4-6.

Aggression against the Muslim society of Madinah was already in progress, therefore, further instructions were given regarding defensive strategy. Allah instructed the Muslims to stand firm and fight hard taking prisoners only when necessary. These prisoners may be forgiven and released or accept ransom and release them. Allah promised Paradise for those who defend their faith.


Friendship or protection?


Another Qur’an verse that is used for attack on Islam is 5:51, which may be translated as:

“O you who (claim to) believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for your allies (or as your protectors, awlia’). They are the allies (protectors, awlia’) of each other. And among you he who takes them for allies (protectors), shall be regarded as one of them. Allah does not guide the transgressors.”

Frequently, the term wali is translated as “friend” and the meaning of the verse changes completely. When wali is translated to mean “friend” the verse appears to convey the message that Islam prohibits making friends from the Christians and the Jews. This belies the history of 13 centuries of Islam. From 638 to 1917 Muslims and Jews have been each others friends and sometimes protectors. During the period of the Inquisition in Spain, Muslims and Jews suffered together and protected each other. Whenever there were pogroms of the Jews in Europe, they fled to North African Muslim ruled countries or to the East where the Turks ruled and they found sympathy, friendship, welcome and rehabilitation. Similarly, Christians and Muslims have been living together in peace all over the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and other countries. One example of the Christian-Muslim harmony is that the Orthodox Church had its headquarter in Constantinople before 1453 when Muhammad II conquered it for the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople was the seat of the Orthodox Church and it remained throughout the Turkish rule and it continues to be the seat of the Orthodox Church. However, I consider the verse 5:51 a prophecy and a warning to the Muslims of the 20th century onward. European powers when they left the colonies they always gave upper hand to the non-Muslim minorities leaving Muslims weak; this was the situation in India, North Africa, Sub-Sahara Africa and other parts of the world. Arabs trusted the British that after defeat of the Turks, they will become independent but they were betrayed. Instead of independence of the Arabs, puppet monarchies and Israel were established on their lands. Betrayal and more betrayal, all around. Pakistan signed the Baghdad Pact (which was renamed as CENTO after the exit of Iraq from the treaty) and joined SEATO in the 1950s in support of the U.S. efforts against communism, allowed American bases on its land and became a nuclear target of the Soviet Union. On the contrary, the U.S. conspired with India against Pakistan. When India attacked Pakistan in 1965 and again in 1971, the U.S. betrayed and helped India for the breaking up of Pakistan. Secularism is paganism, when one trusts the secularists they experience betrayal just the way the Prophet faced betrayal of the pagans of Arabia 14 centuries ago.


The other side of the coin is with whom among non-Muslims are worthy of friendship? See the Qur’an verses 60:8-9:

“(8) Allah forbids you not those who warred not against you on account of religion (Al-Deen) and drove you not out from your homes, that you should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loves the just dealers.” (9) Allah forbids you only those who warred against you on account of religion (Al-Deen) and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out , that you make friends of them. Whosoever makes friends of them such are wrong- doers.”

The verses 60:8-9 were revealed in the background of the pagans of Makkah who had driven out the Prophet and his companions out and they took refuge in Madinah. Similar things were happening to many new Muslims who were being evicted by their own people on account of their new faith.


Should the Muslims trust pagans of the West? I think NOT! Pay heed to the Qur’an’s warning. Personally, I have no problem making friends, sympathizing with my neighbors and colleagues, having dinner with them, going on a picnic or camping with them. I have met a lot of very decent Christians and Jews and they are worthy of friendship and trust. The verse of the Qur’an 5:51 is not talking about friendship at a personal level but signing pacts at the national level. The experience of the Muslim countries during the last 90 years shows that the pagan secular nations of Jewish and Christian background are not worthy of trust. These nations will not miss any opportunity of betrayal for destroying Islam and Muslims.


The Toilet Paper of the West.


All Muslim puppet rulers of the West in the Muslim majority countries are actually traitors to their own people. These traitors work like toilet paper rolls or tissue paper well kept before use. Once toilet paper has been used for wiping the bottoms, it is flushed down the toilet. I have seen in Pakistan many such traitors have been flushed down the toilet; a few names are: Liaqat Ali Khan, Iskander Mirza, Gen. Ayub Khan, Gen. Yahya Khan, Gen. Ziaul Hal, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Shareef, Mujeebur Rahman and the next to be flushed is Gen. Pervez Musharraf. In other countries we find Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Ahmad Chalabi; now waiting to be flushed down the toilet are Hamid Karzai, Iad Allawi, Ghazi Al-Yawar and a number of other puppets, dictators in the Muslim majority countries.




War in Islam was permitted to the Prophet Muhammad only after fifteen years of trying to live in peace against all aggression. Only when anti-Islam forces decided to totally annihilate Islam, were the Muslims permitted to fight back. The situation remains the same even in our time at the beginning of the 21st century CE. Over 50 years ago Muslims have been living as colonial subjects of the West for over two centuries. As they are coming out of the submissive posture of colonial days and desire to live according to Islamic principles, the West, led by the U.S., is trying to re-impose its hegemony over the Muslim world. The Muslims are left with no choice but fight back. The West must learn to let the Muslim world resolve her problems her own way rather than imposing her hegemony over the Muslims through puppets like Pervez Musharraf, Hosni Mubarak, Abdullah II of Jordan, Qaddafi and others.


I have discussed all the Qur’an verses about armed struggle against the enemies of Islam, but if there are any other attacks forward them to me to address them and write response. Please forward your comments and questions to


June 22, 2004

Islam has laid down some universal fundamental rights for humanity as a whole, which are to be observed and respected under all circumstances. To achieve these rights, Islam provides not only legal safeguards, but also a very effective moral system. Thus, whatever leads to the welfare of the individual or the society is morally good in Islam and whatever is injurious is morally bad. Islam attaches so much importance to the love of God and love of man that it warns against too much formalism.


We read in the Qur’an:

It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in God and the Last Day and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the freeing of captives; to be steadfast in prayers, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which you made; and to be firm and patient in pain and adversity and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-conscious. (2:177)

We are given a beautiful description of the righteous and God-conscious man in these verses. He should obey salutary regulations, but he should fix his gaze on the love of God and the love of his fellow-men.


We are given four directions:


a) Our faith should be true and sincere,
b) We must be prepared to show it in deeds of charity to our fellow-men,
c) We must be good citizens, supporting social organizations, and
d) Our own individual soul must be firm and unshaken in all circumstances.


This is the standard by which a particular mode of conduct is judged and classified as good or bad. This standard of judgment provides the nucleus around which the whole moral conduct should revolve. Before laying down any moral injunctions, Islam seeks to firmly implant in man’s heart the conviction that his dealings are with God, who sees him at all times and in all places; that he may hide himself form the whole world, but not from Him; that he may deceive everyone but cannot deceive God; that he can flee from the clutches of anyone else, but not from God’s.


Thus, by setting God’s pleasure as the objective of man’s life, Islam has furnished the highest possible standard of morality. This is bound to provide limitless avenues for the moral evolution of humanity. By making Divine revelations as the primary source of knowledge, it gives permanence and stability to the moral standards which afford reasonable scope for genuine adjustments, adaptations and innovations though not for perversions, wild variation, atomistic relativism or moral fluidity. It provides a sanction to morality in the love and fear of God, which will impel man to obey the moral law even without any external pressure. Through belief in God and the Day of Judgment, it furnishes a force which enables a person to adopt moral conduct with earnestness and sincerity, with all the devotion of heart and soul.


It does not, through a false sense of originality and innovation, provide any novel moral virtues, nor does it seek to minimize the importance of the well-known moral norms, nor does it give exaggerated importance to some and neglect others without cause. It takes up all the commonly known moral virtues and with a sense of balance and proportion it assigns a suitable place and function to each one of them in the total scheme of life. It widens the scope of man’s individual and collective life – his domestic associations, his civic conduct, and his activities in the political, economic, legal, educational, and social realms. It covers his life from home to society, from the dining-table to the battle-field and peace conferences, literally from the cradle to the grave. In short, no sphere of life is exempt from the universal and comprehensive application of the moral principles of Islam. It makes morality reign supreme and ensures that the affairs of life are regulated by norms of morality instead of dominated by selfish desires and petty interests.


It stipulates for man a system of life that is based on all good and is free from all evil. It encourages the people not only to practice virtue, but also to establish virtue and eradicate vice, to bid good and to forbid wrong. It wants that their verdict of conscience should prevail and virtue must be subdued to play second fiddle to evil. Those who respond to this call are gathered together into a community and given the name Muslim. And the singular object underlying the formation of this community (Ummah) is that it should make an organized effort to establish and enforce goodness and suppress and eradicate evil.


Here we furnish some basic moral teachings of Islam for various aspects of a Muslim’s life. They cover the broad spectrum of personal moral conduct of a Muslim as well as his social responsibilities.




The Qur’an mentions this as the highest quality of a Muslim:

The most honorable among you in the sight of God is the one who is most God-conscious. (49:13)

Humility, modesty, control of passions and desires, truthfulness, integrity, patience, steadfastness, and fulfilling one’s promises are moral values that are emphasized again and again in the Qur’an:

And God loves those who are firm and steadfast. (3:146)

And vie with one another to attain to your Sustainer’s forgiveness and to a Paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which awaits the God-conscious, who spend for charity in time of plenty and in times of hardship, and restrain their anger, and pardon their fellow men, for God loves those who do good. (3:133-134)

Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong; and bear patiently whatever may befall you; for this is true constancy. And do not swell your cheek (with pride) at men, nor walk in insolence on the earth, for God does not love any man proud and boastful. And be moderate in your pace and lower your voice; for the harshest of sounds, indeed, is the braying of the ass. (31:18-19)

In a way which summarizes the moral behavior of a Muslim, the Prophet (PBUH) said:

“My Sustainer has given me nine commands: to remain conscious of God, whether in private or public; to speak justly, whether angry or pleased; to show moderation both when poor and when rich; to reunite friendship with those who have broken off with me; to give to him who refuses me; that my silence should be occupied with thought; that my looking should be an admonition; and that I should command what is right.”

Social Responsibility


The teachings of Islam concerning social responsibilities are based on kindness and consideration of others. Since a broad injunction to be kind is likely to be ignored in specific situations, Islam lays emphasis on specific acts of kindness and defines the responsibilities and rights within various relationships. In a widening circle of relationships, then, our first obligation is to our immediate family – parents, spouse, and children – and then to other relatives, neighbors, friends and acquaintances, orphans and widows, the needy of the community, our fellow Muslims, all fellow human beings, and animals.




Respect and care for parents is very much stressed in the Islamic teaching and is a very important part of a Muslim’s expression of faith.

Your Sustainer has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. whether one or both of them attain old age in your life time, do not say to them a word of contempt nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility and say: My Sustainer! Bestow on them Your mercy, even as they cherished me in childhood. (17:23-24)

Other Relatives

And render to the relatives their due rights, as (also) to those in need, and to the traveler; and do not squander your wealth in the manner of a spendthrift. (17:26)



The Prophet (PBUH) has said:

“He is not a believer who eats his fill when his neighbor beside him is hungry.”

“He does not believe whose neighbors are not safe from his injurious conduct.”

According to the Qur’an and Sunnah, a Muslim has to discharge his moral responsibility not only to his parents, relatives and neighbors, but to all of humanity, animals and trees and plants. For example, hunting of birds and animals for the sake of game is not permitted. Similarly, cutting down trees and plants which yield fruit is forbidden unless there is a pressing need for it.


Thus, on the basic moral characteristics, Islam builds a higher system of morality by virtue of which mankind can realize its greatest potential. Islam purifies the soul from self-seeking egotism, tyranny, wantonness and indiscipline. It creates God-conscious people, devoted to their ideals, possessed of piety, abstinence, discipline and uncompromising with falsehood. It induces feelings of moral responsibility and fosters the capacity for self-control. Islam generates kindness, generosity, mercy, sympathy, peace, disinterested goodwill, scrupulous fairness and truthfulness towards all creation in all situations. It nourishes noble qualities from which only good may be expected.

The Ancient Myth Exposed


by T.O. Shanavas


A Christian friend asked me once, “Will you marry your seven
year old daughter to a fifty year old man?” I kept my silence.
He continued, “If you would not, how can you approve the marriage
of an innocent seven year old, Ayesha, with your Prophet?” I told
him, “I don’t have an answer to your question at this time.”
My friend smiled and left me with a thorn in the heart of my faith.
Most Muslims answer that such marriages were accepted in those days.
Otherwise, people would have objected to Prophet’s marriage with


However, such an explanation would be gullible only for those who are
naive enough to believe it. But unfortunately, I was not satisfied with
the answer.


The Prophet was an exemplary man. All his actions were most virtuous
so that we, Muslims, can emulate them. However, most people in our Islamic
Center of Toledo, including me, would not think of betrothing our seven
years daughter to a fifty-two year-old man. If a parent agrees to such
a wedding, most people, if not all, would look down upon the father
and the old husband.


In 1923, registrars of marriage in Egypt were instructed not to register
and issue official certificates of marriage for brides less than sixteen
and grooms less than eighteen years of age. Eight years later, the Law
of the Organization and Procedure of Sheriah courts of 1931 consolidated
the above provision by not hearing the marriage disputes involving brides
less than sixteen and grooms less than eighteen years old. (Women
in Muslim Family Law
, John Esposito, 1982). It shows that even
in the Muslim majority country of Egypt the child marriages are unacceptable.


So, I believed, without solid evidence other than my reverence to my
Prophet, that the stories of the marriage of seven-year-old Ayesha to
50-year-old Prophet are only myths. However, my long pursuit in search
of the truth on this matter proved my intuition correct. My Prophet
was a gentleman. And he did not marry an innocent seven or nine year
old girl. The age of Ayesha has been erroneously reported in the hadith
literature. Furthermore, I think that the narratives reporting this
event are highly unreliable. Some of the hadith (traditions of the Prophet)
regarding Ayesha’s age at the time of her wedding with prophet
are problematic. I present the following evidences against the acceptance
of the fictitious story by Hisham ibn ‘Urwah and to clear the
name of my Prophet as an irresponsible old man preying on an innocent
little girl.


EVIDENCE #1: Reliability of Source


Most of the narratives printed in the books of hadith are reported
only by Hisham ibn `Urwah, who was reporting on the authority of his
father. First of all, more people than just one, two or three should
logically have reported. It is strange that no one from Medina, where
Hisham ibn `Urwah lived the first 71 years of his life narrated the
event, despite the fact that his Medinan pupils included the well-respected
Malik ibn Anas. The origins of the report of the narratives of this
event are people from Iraq, where Hisham is reported to have shifted
after living in Medina for most of his life.


Tehzibu’l-Tehzib, one of the most well known books on
the life and reliability of the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet,
reports that according to Yaqub ibn Shaibah: “He [Hisham] is highly
reliable, his narratives are acceptable, except what he narrated after
moving over to Iraq” (Tehzi’bu’l-tehzi’b,
Ibn Hajar Al-`asqala’ni, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, 15th century.
Vol 11, p. 50).


It further states that Malik ibn Anas objected on those narratives
of Hisham which were reported through people in Iraq: “I have
been told that Malik objected on those narratives of Hisham which were
reported through people of Iraq” (Tehzi’b u’l-tehzi’b,
Ibn Hajar Al-`asqala’ni, Dar Ihya al-turath al-Islami, Vol.11,
p. 50).

Mizanu’l-ai`tidal, another book on the life sketches
of the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet reports: “When
he was old, Hisham’s memory suffered quite badly” (Mizanu’l-ai`tidal,
Al-Zahbi, Al-Maktabatu’l-athriyyah, Sheikhupura, Pakistan, Vol.
4, p. 301).




Based on these references, Hisham’s memory was failing
and his narratives while in Iraq were unreliable. So, his narrative
of Ayesha’s marriage and age are unreliable.


It is vital also to keep in mind some of the pertinent
dates in the history of Islam:


  • pre-610 CE: Jahiliya (pre-Islamic age) before revelation
  • 610 CE: First revelation
  • 610 CE: AbuBakr accepts Islam
  • 613 CE: Prophet Muhammad begins preaching publicly.
  • 615 CE: Emigration to Abyssinia
  • 616 CE: Umar bin al Khattab accepts Islam
  • 620 CE: Generally accepted betrothal of Ayesha to the Prophet
  • 622 CE: Hijrah (emigation to Yathrib, later renamed Medina)
  • 623/624 CE: Generally accepted year of Ayesha living with the Prophet

EVIDENCE #2: The Betrothal


According to Tabari (also according to Hisham ibn ‘Urwah, Ibn
Hunbal and Ibn Sad), Ayesha was betrothed at seven years of age and
began to cohabit with the Prophet at the age of nine years.


However, in another work, Al-Tabari says:All four of his [Abu
Bakr’s] children were born of his two wives during the pre-Islamic
period” (Tarikhu’l-umam wa’l-mamlu’k,
Al-Tabari (died 922), Vol. 4, p. 50, Arabic, Dara’l-fikr, Beirut,


If Ayesha was betrothed in 620 CE (at the age of seven) and started
to live with the Prophet in 624 CE (at the age of nine), that would
indicate that she was born in 613 CE and was nine when she began living
with the Prophet. Therefore, based on one account of Al-Tabari, the
numbers show that Ayesha must have born in 613 CE, three years after
the beginning of revelation (610 CE). Tabari also states that Ayesha
was born in the pre-Islamic era (in Jahiliya). If she was born before
610 CE, she would have been at least 14 years old when she began living
with the Prophet. Essentially, Tabari contradicts himself.




Al-Tabari is unreliable in the matter of determining Ayesha’s


EVIDENCE # 3: The Age of Ayesha in Relation to the Age of Fatima


According to Ibn Hajar, “Fatima was born at the time the Ka`bah
was rebuilt, when the Prophet was 35 years old… she was five years
older that Ayesha” (Al-isabah fi tamyizi’l-sahabah,
Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Vol. 4, p. 377, Maktabatu’l-Riyadh al-haditha,
al-Riyadh, 1978).


If Ibn Hajar’s statement is factual, Ayesha was born when the
Prophet was 40 years old. If Ayesha was married to the Prophet when
he was 52 years old, Ayesha’s age at marriage would be 12 years.




Ibn Hajar, Tabari an Ibn Hisham and Ibn Humbal contradict
each other. So, the marriage of Ayesha at seven years of age is a myth.


EVIDENCE #4: Ayesha’s Age in relation to Asma’s


According to Abda’l-Rahman ibn abi zanna’d: “Asma
was 10 years older than Ayesha (Siyar A`la’ma’l-nubala’,
Al-Zahabi, Vol. 2, p. 289, Arabic, Mu’assasatu’l-risalah,
Beirut, 1992).


According to Ibn Kathir: “She [Asma] was elder to her sister
[Ayesha] by 10 years” (Al-Bidayah wa’l-nihayah,
Ibn Kathir, Vol. 8, p. 371, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933).


According to Ibn Kathir:She [Asma] saw the killing of her son
during that year [73 AH], as we have already mentioned, and five days
later she herself died. According to other narratives, she died not
after five days but 10 or 20, or a few days over 20, or 100 days later.
The most well known narrative is that of 100 days later. At the time
of her death, she was 100 years old.” (Al-Bidayah wa’l-nihayah,
Ibn Kathir, Vol. 8, p. 372, Dar al-fikr al-`arabi, Al-jizah, 1933)


According to Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani: “She [Asma] lived a hundred
years and died in 73 or 74 AH.” (Taqribu’l-tehzib,
Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, p. 654, Arabic, Bab fi’l-nisa’, al-harfu’l-alif,


According to almost all the historians, Asma, the elder sister of Ayesha
was 10 years older than Ayesha. If Asma was 100 years old in 73 AH,
she should have been 27 or 28 years old at the time of the hijrah.


If Asma was 27 or 28 years old at the time of hijrah, Ayesha should
have been 17 or 18 years old. Thus, Ayesha, being 17 or 18 years of
at the time of Hijra, she started to cohabit with the Prophet between
at either 19 to 20 years of age.


Based on Hajar, Ibn Katir, and Abda’l-Rahman ibn abi zanna’d,
Ayesha’s age at the time she began living with the Prophet would
be 19 or 20. In Evidence # 3, Ibn Hajar suggests that Ayesha was 12
years old and in Evidence #4 he contradicts himself with a 17 or 18-year-old
Ayesha. What is the correct age, twelve or eighteen?




Ibn Hajar is an unreliable source for Ayesha’s age.


EVIDENCE #5: The Battles of Badr and Uhud


A narrative regarding Ayesha’s participation in Badr is given
in the hadith of Muslim, (Kitabu’l-jihad wa’l-siyar, Bab
karahiyati’l-isti`anah fi’l-ghazwi bikafir). Ayesha, while
narrating the journey to Badr and one of the important events that took
place in that journey, says: “when we reached Shajarah”.
Obviously, Ayesha was with the group travelling towards Badr. A narrative
regarding Ayesha’s participation in the Battle of Uhud is given
in Bukhari (Kitabu’l-jihad wa’l-siyar, Bab Ghazwi’l-nisa’
wa qitalihinna ma`a’lrijal): “Anas reports that on the day
of Uhud, people could not stand their ground around the Prophet. [On
that day,] I saw Ayesha and Umm-i-Sulaim, they had pulled their dress
up from their feet [to avoid any hindrance in their movement].”
Again, this indicates that Ayesha was present in the Battles of Uhud
and Badr.


It is narrated in Bukhari (Kitabu’l-maghazi, Bab Ghazwati’l-khandaq
wa hiya’l-ahza’b): “Ibn `Umar states that the Prophet
did not permit me to participate in Uhud, as at that time, I was 14
years old. But on the day of Khandaq, when I was 15 years old, the Prophet
permitted my participation.”


Based on the above narratives, (a) the children below 15 years were
sent back and were not allowed to participate in the Battle of Uhud,
and (b) Ayesha participated in the Battles of Badr and Uhud




Ayesha’s participation in the Battles of Badr and
Uhud clearly indicates that she was not nine years old but at least
15 years old. After all, women used to accompany men to the battlefields
to help them, not to be a burden on them. This account is another contradiction
regarding Ayesha’s age.


EVIDENCE #6: Surat al-Qamar (The Moon)


According to the generally accepted tradition, Ayesha was born about
eight years before hijrah. But according to another narrative in Bukhari,
Ayesha is reported to have said: “I was a young girl (jariyah
in Arabic)” when Surah Al-Qamar was revealed (Sahih Bukhari, kitabu’l-tafsir,
Bab Qaulihi Bal al-sa`atu Maw`iduhum wa’l-sa`atu adha’ wa


Chapter 54 of the Quran was revealed eight years before hijrah (The
Bounteous Koran
, M.M. Khatib, 1985), indicating that it was revealed
in 614 CE. If Ayesha started living with the Prophet at the age of nine
in 623 CE or 624 CE, she was a newborn infant (sibyah in Arabic)
at the time that Surah Al-Qamar (The Moon) was revealed. According to
the above tradition, Ayesha was actually a young girl, not an infant
in the year of revelation of Al-Qamar. Jariyah means young
playful girl (Lane’s Arabic English Lexicon). So, Ayesha,
being a jariyah not a sibyah (infant), must be somewhere
between 6-13 years old at the time of revelation of Al-Qamar, and therefore
must have been 14-21 years at the time she married the Prophet.




This tradition also contradicts the marriage of Ayesha
at the age of nine.


EVIDENCE #7: Arabic Terminology


According to a narrative reported by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, after the death
of the Prophet’s first wife Khadijah, when Khaulah came to the
Prophet advising him to marry again, the Prophet asked her regarding
the choices she had in mind. Khaulah said: “You can marry a virgin
(bikr) or a woman who has already been married (thayyib)”.
When the Prophet asked the identity of the bikr (virgin), Khaulah
mentioned Ayesha’s name.


All those who know the Arabic language are aware that the word bikr
in the Arabic language is not used for an immature nine-year-old girl.
The correct word for a young playful girl, as stated earlier, is jariyah.
Bikr on the other hand, is used for an unmarried lady without
conjugal experience prior to marriage, as we understand the word “virgin
in English. Therefore, obviously a nine-year-old girl is not a “lady”
(bikr) (Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol. 6, p. .210, Arabic, Dar
Ihya al-turath al-`arabi, Beirut).




The literal meaning of the word, bikr (virgin),
in the above hadith is “adult woman with no sexual experience
prior to marriage.” Therefore, Ayesha was an adult woman at the
time of her marriage.


EVIDENCE #8. The Qur’anic Text


All Muslims agree that the Quran is the book of guidance. So, we need
to seek the guidance from the Quran to clear the smoke and confusion
created by the eminent men of the classical period of Islam in the matter
of Ayesha’s age at her marriage. Does the Quran allow or disallow
marriage of an immature child of seven years of age?


There are no verses that explicitly allow such marriage. There is a
verse, however, that guides Muslims in their duty to raise an orphaned
child. The Quran’s guidance on the topic of raising orphans is
also valid in the case of our own children. The verse states: “And
make not over your property (property of the orphan), which Allah had
made a (means of) support for you, to the weak of understanding, and
maintain them out of it, clothe them and give them good education. And
test them until they reach the age of marriage. Then if you find them
maturity of intellect, make over them their property…” (Quran,


In the matter of children who have lost a parent, a Muslim is ordered
to (a) feed them, (b) clothe them, (c) educate them, and (d) test them
for maturity “until the age of marriage” before entrusting
them with management of finances.


Here the Quranic verse demands meticulous proof of their intellectual
and physical maturity by objective test results before the age of marriage
in order to entrust their property to them.


In light of the above verses, no responsible Muslim would hand over
financial management to a seven- or nine-year-old immature girl. If
we cannot trust a seven-year-old to manage financial matters, she cannot
be intellectually or physically fit for marriage. Ibn Hambal (Musnad
Ahmad ibn Hambal, vol.6, p. 33 and 99) claims that nine-year-old Ayesha
was rather more interested in playing with toy-horses than taking up
the responsible task of a wife. It is difficult to believe, therefore,
that AbuBakr, a great believer among Muslims, would betroth his immature
seven-year-old daughter to the 50-year-old Prophet. Equally difficult
to imagine is that the Prophet would marry an immature seven-year-old


Another important duty demanded from the guardian of a child is to
educate them. Let us ask the question, “How many of us believe
that we can educate our children satisfactorily before they reach the
age of seven or nine years?” The answer is none. Logically, it
is an impossible task to educate a child satisfactorily before the child
attains the age of seven. Then, how can we believe that Ayesha was educated
satisfactorily at the claimed age of seven at the time of her marriage?


AbuBakr was a more judicious man than all of us. So, he definitely
would have judged that Ayesha was a child at heart and was not satisfactorily
educated as demanded by the Quran. He would not have married her to
anyone. If a proposal of marrying the immature and yet to be educated
seven-year-old Ayesha came to the Prophet, he would have rejected it
outright because neither the Prophet nor AbuBakr would violate any clause
in the Quran.




The marriage of Ayesha at the age of seven years would
violate the maturity clause or requirement of the Quran. Therefore,
the story of the marriage of the seven-year-old immature Ayesha is a


EVIDENCE #9: Consent in Marriage


A women must be consulted and must agree in order to make a marriage
valid (Mishakat al Masabiah, translation by James Robson, Vol.
I, p. 665). Islamically, credible permission from women is a prerequisite
for a marriage to be valid.


By any stretch of the imagination, the permission given by an immature
seven-year-old girl cannot be valid authorization for marriage.


It is inconceivable that AbuBakr, an intelligent man, would take seriously
the permission of a seven-year-old girl to marry a 50-year-old man.


Similarly, the Prophet would not have accepted the permission given
by a girl who, according to the hadith of Muslim, took her toys with
her when she went live with Prophet.




The Prophet did not marry a seven-year-old Ayesha because
it would have violated the requirement of the valid permission clause
of the Islamic Marriage Decree. Therefore, the Prophet married an intellectually
and physically mature lady Ayesha.




It was neither an Arab tradition to give away girls in marriage at
an age as young as seven or nine years, nor did the Prophet marry Ayesha
at such a young age. The people of Arabia did not object to this marriage
because it never happened in the manner it has been narrated.


Obviously, the narrative of the marriage of nine-year-old Ayesha by
Hisham ibn `Urwah cannot be held true when it is contradicted by many
other reported narratives. Moreover, there is absolutely no reason to
accept the narrative of Hisham ibn `Urwah as true when other scholars,
including Malik ibn Anas, view his narrative while in Iraq, as unreliable.
The quotations from Tabari, Bukhari and Muslim show they contradict
each other regarding Ayesha’s age. Furthermore, many of these
scholars contradict themselves in their own records. Thus, the narrative
of Ayesha’s age at the time of the marriage is not reliable due
to the clear contradictions seen in the works of classical scholars
of Islam.


Therefore, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the information
on Ayesha’s age is accepted as true when there are adequate grounds
to reject it as myth. Moreover, the Quran rejects the marriage of immature
girls and boys as well as entrusting them with responsibilities.


T.O. Shanavas is a physician based in Michigan. This article first
appeared in The Minaret in March 1999.


© 2001 Minaret


Extracted 09/06/02 from The

What Was The Age of Ummul Mu’mineen Ayesha (May Allah be pleased with her) When She Married To Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)?


(Courtesy of


Some people believe that Ayesha (May Allah be pleased with her) was nine years old at the time of her marriage with Mohammad (peace be upon him) was consummated.


The age of Ayesha (ra) has been grossly mis-reported in the ahadith. Not only that, I think that the narratives reporting this event are not only highly unreliable but also that on the basis of other historical data, the event reported, is quite an unlikely happening. Let us look at the issue from an objective standpoint. My reservations in accepting the narratives, on the basis of which, Ayeshas (ra) age at the time of her marriage with the Prophet (pbuh) is held to be nine years are:


  • Most of these narratives are reported only by Hisham ibn `urwah reporting on the authority of his father. An event as well known as the one being reported, should logically have been reported by more people than just one, two or three.
  • It is quite strange that no one from Medinah, where Hisham ibn `urwah lived the first seventy one years of his life has narrated the event, even though in Medinah his pupils included people as well known as Malik ibn Anas. All the narratives of this event have been reported by narrators from Iraq, where Hisham is reported to have had shifted after living in Medinah for seventy one years.
  • Tehzibu’l-tehzib, one of the most well known books on the life and reliability of the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) reports that according to Yaqub ibn Shaibah: “narratives reported by Hisham are reliable except those that are reported through the people of Iraq”. It further states that Malik ibn Anas objected on those narratives of Hisham which were reported through people of Iraq. (vol 11, pg 48 – 51)
  • Mizanu’l-ai`tidal, another book on the narrators of the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) reports that when he was old, Hisham’s memory suffered quite badly. (vol 4, pg 301 – 302)
  • According to the generally accepted tradition, Ayesha (ra) was born about eight years before Hijrah. But according to another narrative in Bukhari (kitabu’l-tafseer) Ayesha (ra) is reported to have said that at the time Surah Al-Qamar, the 54th chapter of the Qur’an, was revealed, “I was a young girl”. The 54th surah of the Qur’an was revealed nine years before Hijrah. According to this tradition, Ayesha (ra) had not only been born before the revelation of the referred surah, but was actually a young girl (jariyah), not an infant (sibyah) at that time. Obviously, if this narrative is held to be true, it is in clear contradiction with the narratives reported by Hisham ibn `urwah. I see absolutely no reason that after the comments of the experts on the narratives of Hisham ibn `urwah, why we should not accept this narrative to be more accurate.
  • According to a number of narratives, Ayesha (ra) accompanied the Muslims in the battle of Badr and Uhud. Furthermore, it is also reported in books of hadith and history that no one under the age of 15 years was allowed to take part in the battle of Uhud. All the boys below 15 years of age were sent back. Ayesha’s (ra) participation in the battle of Badr and Uhud clearly indicate that she was not nine or ten years old at that time. After all, women used to accompany men to the battle fields to help them, not to be a burden on them.
  • According to almost all the historians Asma (ra), the elder sister of Ayesha (ra) was ten years older than Ayesha (ra). It is reported in Taqri’bu’l-tehzi’b as well as Al-bidayah wa’l-nihayah that Asma (ra) died in 73 hijrah when she was 100 years old. Now, obviously if Asma (ra) was 100 years old in 73 hijrah she should have been 27 or 28 years old at the time of hijrah. If Asma (ra) was 27 or 28 years old at the time of hijrah, Ayesha (ra) should have been 17 or 18 years old at that time. Thus, Ayesha (ra), if she got married in 1 AH (after hijrah) or 2 AH, was between 18 to 20 years old at the time of her marriage.
  • Tabari in his treatise on Islamic history, while mentioning Abu Bakr (ra) reports that Abu Bakr had four children and all four were born during the Jahiliyyah — the pre Islamic period. Obviously, if Ayesha (ra) was born in the period of jahiliyyah, she could not have been less than 14 years in 1 AH — the time she most likely got married.
  • According to Ibn Hisham, the historian, Ayesha (ra) accepted Islam quite some time before Umar ibn Khattab (ra). This shows that Ayesha (ra) accepted Islam during the first year of Islam. While, if the narrative of Ayesha’s (ra) marriage at seven years of age is held to be true, Ayesha (ra) should not have been born during the first year of Islam.
  • Tabari has also reported that at the time Abu Bakr planned on migrating to Habshah (8 years before Hijrah), he went to Mut`am — with whose son Ayesha (ra) was engaged — and asked him to take Ayesha (ra) in his house as his son’s wife. Mut`am refused, because Abu Bakr had embraced Islam, and subsequently his son divorced Ayesha (ra). Now, if Ayesha (ra) was only seven years old at the time of her marriage, she could not have been born at the time Abu Bakr decided on migrating to Habshah. On the basis of this report it seems only reasonable to assume that Ayesha (ra) had not only been born 8 years before hijrah, but was also a young lady, quite prepared for marriage.
  • According to a narrative reported by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, after the death of Khadijah (ra), when Khaulah (ra) came to the Prophet (pbuh) advising him to marry again, the Prophet (pbuh) asked her regarding the choices she had in her mind. Khaulah said: “You can marry a virgin (bikr) or a woman who has already been married (thayyib)”. When the Prophet (pbuh) asked about who the virgin was, Khaulah proposed Ayesha’s (ra) name. All those who know the Arabic language, are aware that the word “bikr” in the Arabic language is not used for an immature nine year old girl. The correct word for a young playful girl, as stated earlier is “Jariyah”. “Bikr” on the other hand, is used for an unmarried lady, and obviously a nine year old is not a “lady”.
  • According to Ibn Hajar, Fatimah (ra) was five years older than Ayesha (ra). Fatimah (ra) is reported to have been born when the Prophet (pbuh) was 35 years old. Thus, even if this information is taken to be correct, Ayesha (ra) could by no means be less than 14 years old at the time of hijrah, and 15 or 16 years old at the time of her marriage.

These are some of the major points that go against accepting the commonly known narrative regarding Ayesha’s (ra) age at the time of her marriage.


Neither was it an Arab tradition to give away girls in marriage at an age as young as nine or ten years, nor did the Prophet (pbuh) marry Ayesha (ra) at such a young age. The people of Arabia did not object to this marriage, because it never happened in the manner it has been narrated.

How most people in the U.S. perceive Islam, and the way in which Islam—in particular, its scripture, the Quran—deals with the concept of jihad.


by Asma Barlas


The title of my talk is “On Interpretation and Exceptionalism” and it deals both with the way in which most people in the U.S. perceive Islam, and the way in which Islam—in particular, its scripture, the Qur’an—deals with the concept of jihad.


As someone who has been asked to speak about Islam only a couple of times in the ten years I’ve been at Ithaca College, it’s obvious to me that this new interest in it is the result not of positive developments but of people’s desire to make sense of the attacks on the U.S. allegedly by a group of Muslim men, which has left them fearful, angry, and bewildered.


The irony is that looking to Islam alone may not provide the answers, or the closure, that people are seeking.


As Robin Wright says, “mining the Quran for incendiary quotes is essentially pointless. Religions evolve, and there is usually enough ambiguity in their founding scriptures to let them evolve in any direction. If Osama Bin Laden were a Christian, and he still wanted to destroy the World Trade Center, he would cite Jesus’ rampage against the money-changers. If he didn’t want to destroy the World Trade Center, he could stress the Sermon on the Mount.


Even if one doesn’t agree with this view, the point is that every religion—or secular ideology, for that matter—offers the possibility of violence and peace, oppression and liberation, depending on who is interpreting it, how, and in what particular contexts. As I always say, there is little family resemble between modern liberation theology and the Christianity of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Conquest.


And yet, ignoring that every religion is open to multiple interpretations, many people are attacking Muslims for making “it sound like there are two versions of the Quran floating around out there. If so, what is the difference between the Quran that the Terrorists are reading, and the Quran that the rest of the Muslim world is reading? . . . I need to have the ‘real’ Islam please stand up.” (This is from an article forwarded to me by a friend with no title or bye-line).


The same author—who says he’s a Catholic—also says he doesn’t “want to hear [the] history about the Crusades, or the U.S. foreign policy crap, or . . . comparisons [of Islam] to Christianity and Judaism.” Thus, while wanting Muslims to explain which Qur’an we are reading and which is the real Islam, he himself chooses not to explain the difference between the bible that the Crusaders and Conquistadors were reading and the bible he has been reading, nor to convince others why his Christianity is the “real” one.


Such a strategy not only lays upon Muslims a burden that believers in other religions refuse to bear themselves, but it also obscures the fact that the bloodiest conflicts, like the two World Wars, have had secular, not religious roots. Even those conflicts we think of as religious can be shown to be about power and resources, not merely ideology. This is no less true of the Crusades, than it is of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, or Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, or even the attacks of September 11th.


We might, therefore, be better served by trying to understand the political and economic conditions that engender conflicts and religious extremism; but this would require us to focus on the nature of our own foreign policies and also to recognize the complicity of secularism, capitalism, and liberal democracy in creating a global division of labor that, in privileging the few at the expense of the many, has provided the breeding grounds for much of modern day extremism, religious or not.


Second, even if we are to refocus attention away from politics and economics by looking only to religion to explain the events of 9/11th, I doubt that the confusion, hostility and fear most people are feeling these days are conducive to understanding Islam or for engaging in an honest dialogue with Muslims.


Ironically, even those people who are not necessarily angry with Islam will find it hard to have such a dialogue so as long as they continue to assume that learning about Islam will enable them to make sense of 9/11 inasmuch as this expectation arises in the assumption that there is a connection between Islam and terrorism.


It is this assumption that reveals the extent to which people think of Islam as exceptional and, in so thinking, do deep epistemic violence to it. Let me clarify with an example.


Terrorism and Islam’s Exceptionalism


Modern forms of terrorism were introduced into the Middle East in the 1940s by Jewish groups in then British-occupied Palestine. It was the Irgun, the Stern gang, and the Hagana that began the practice of bombing “gathering places [and] crowded Arab areas [in an attempt to] terrorize the Arab community” (Smith, 1992: 19; 140). The Stern gang even attacked Jewish banks, resulting in “Jewish loss of life” (120). The Irgun, as we know, “slaughtered about 250 men, women and children whose mutilated bodies were stuffed down wells” in the village of Dair Yassin (143).


Even though many such terror tactics continued until fairly recent times, people in the U.S. did not put world Jewry on call by asking Jews to explain what Judaism has to say about killing innocent civilians. People may have denounced these terrorist groups—freedom fighters to many—but they did not call on all Jews to explain which Torah or Talmud the Jewish terrorists were reading, or asked the “real” Judaism to “stand up.”


Why, then, this assault on Muslims to explain what their “bible”—as that savant, Larry King, calls the Quran—teaches about violence? (He even badgered Hanan Ashrawi, assuming that because she’s Palestinian, she’s a Muslim, even though she’s not.) The same people who say (like the anonymous author I quoted earlier does) that they don’t give a “rat’ —” about Islam nonetheless are shrieking for the “real” Islam to stand up!


In an atmosphere where only Muslims are expected to keep protesting our humanity and to defend our religion, my politics dictated that I should not speak at all in any forum on Islam. But, my religion teaches the jihad of knowledge and, as a Muslim, this jihad is obligatory for me. That is why I am here today, to speak to you about jihad.


Jihad in the Quran


The word jihad means “striving” or “struggle,” and not “war”. So, the Quran speaks of the jihad of the soul, of the tongue, of the pen, of faith, of morality, and so on. This is the “greater jihad” and it is what allows us Muslims to actualize our identity as Muslims.


There is also the jihad of arms whose aim is to struggle in the cause of God; this is the “smaller jihad” and it permits fighting as a means of self-protection. There are a number of verses in the Quran about this form of jihad and I will quote two of the main ones:


Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged—and verily God has indeed the power to succor 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 and churches and synagogues and mosques—in all of which God’s name is abundantly extolled—would surely have been destroyed [before] now” (22: 39-40).


The second verse is,

. . . fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression—for, verily, God does not love aggressors. And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away from wherever they drove you away—for oppression is even worse than killing” (2:190).


Although references to killing make most of us recoil, it’s important not to let our horror become an alibi for refusing to recognize some transparent truths.


First, one can kill huge numbers of people, while also avoiding any casualties to oneself, without even fighting a war. Consider the economic sanctions on Iraq that are killing off nearly 5,000 children a month, all because our government opposes one man. My point is not to justify war, but to draw attention to one of its faces that we routinely ignore.


Second, Islam did not invent war; it merely teaches a specific approach to it. This approach forbids aggression, or attacking one’s enemies unawares, and it also instructs Muslims to cease hostilities if aggression against them ceases. The last point may seem unimportant until one recalls that the U.S. destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima after the Japanese had broadcast their terms of surrender. More recently, the U.S. army shot about 100,000 Iraqi troops retreating from the battlefield during the Gulf War, with senior U.S. generals calling it a “duck shoot.”


Third, it is not just any type of aggression Muslims must resist, but religious persecution. Thus, jihad is not for extending territories, protecting political or economic interests, or killing one’s foes, reasons for which all nations, including Muslim, generally go to war.


Fourth, the Quran also teaches the precepts of forgiveness and peace. As it says, “Since good and evil cannot be equal, repel thou evil with something that is better, and lo, he between whom and thyself was enmity may then become as though he had always been close unto thee, a true friend” (41:34); and “. . .when you are greeted with a greeting of peace, answer with an even better greeting, or at least the like thereof” (4:86).


Of course, quoting verses selectively from the Quran is not the best way to convince people of the truth of one’s argument, much less to impart a holistic understanding of its teachings, but such are the limitations of a ten-minute talk. The point I want to stress is that the Quran asks us to read it for its best meanings and it defines Islam as “sirat ul mustaqeem”, the straight path, the middle path, the path of moderation, not excess.


There is no question that some Muslims have fallen into extremism and excess and there is also no question that we need to do a better job of reading the Quran for liberation than we have done so far. This requires us to struggle constantly to try and redefine our understanding of it. That is why I’m never averse to anyone wanting to know what Islam “really” teaches because such questions can help in that definitional struggle, or jihad.


But, unfortunately, many people who are beating up on Muslims today to identify the “real” Islam are not really interested in our doing so; rather, they use such questions to cast the proverbial first stone at us. To such people, I would say, you have no right to ask this question until you also are willing to assume the responsibility of asking “which is the ‘real’ U.S.: the one that advocates freedom, civil liberties, and democracy at home, or the one that carries out wars and violence and repression abroad?” Surely, there is much to be learned by asking the “real” U.S. also to “please stand up.”

Talk given at Ithaca College, Oct. 29th, 2001

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