Home > Islam > War and Peace in the Koran

War and Peace in the Koran

War and Peace – I know that that sounds like the name of a Russian novel, but I want to discuss here some Koranic teachings regarding these matters. All that will be written here are based on my own personal interpretation of the Koran and on some things that I have read on the internet which were posted by moderate Muslims.

First of all, I think that it is necessary to look at one of the verses in the Koran regarding the abrogation of revelations. There are two verses that state this principle, verses 2:106 and 16:101, but the one in the Second Surah gives more explicit detail regarding the principle. I will quote Arberry’s translation.

And for whatever verse We abrogate or cast into oblivion, We bring a better or the like of it; knowest thou not that God is powerful over everything? (2:106, Arberry)

Whenever a verse or passage is abrogated in the Bible or in the Koran, a better one or something similar is put in its place. So, if a verse or a passage comes later than an earlier and better revelation, the earlier revelation was not abrogated and the later one must be interpreted metaphorically or else it uniquely applies to a particular situation. It cannot be an abrogating revelation if it is worse than the previous revelation. The Koran and the Bible state what is better. For example, in the Bible it says:

Better is an entertainment of herbs with friendliness and kindness, than a feast of calves, with enmity. (Proverbs 15:17, LXX)

and in the Koran it says:

Kind speech and forgiveness is better than charity followed by injury; and Allah is Self-sufficient, Forbearing. (Koran 2:263, Shakir)

The quote from the Book of Proverbs says that friendliness and kindness is better than enmity at any kind of dinner party. Of course, many would prefer the feast of calves over the herbs, but the atmosphere of friendliness and kindness would make the herbal feast more desirable to attend than the beef steak one with an atmosphere of enmity.

The verse from the Second Surah in the Koran says that it is better to say kind words to someone and be forgiving than it is to injure someone after giving money to the poor or to some charity.

Well, the Koran also says some things about peace. From one verse in the Koran, one can see the Koranic perspective on peace.

Peace is better. (Koran 4:128, Pickthall)

The context of this sentence pertains to relationships between a husband and his wife, but the basic idea has other applications. It is better for people and for nations to be at peace with each other than at enmity with each other. Friendliness and kindness is better than enmity.

The Koran recognizes religious and ethnic diversity.

For every religion We have appointed rites which they perform. So, [O Muhammad], let the disbelievers not contend with you over the matter but invite them to your Lord. Indeed, you are upon straight guidance. (Koran 22:67, Sahih International)

O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware. (Koran 49:13, Pickthall)

And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge. (Koran 30:22, Sahih International)

It also teaches that people should practice kindness and be forgiving toward one another.

And forget not kindness among yourselves. (Koran 2:237, Pickthall)

Keep to forgiveness (O Muhammad), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant. (Koran 7:199, Pickthall)

Lo! Allah enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbiddeth lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorteth you in order that ye may take heed. (Koran 16:90, Pickthall)

Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish worship and pay the poor-due and enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity. And Allah’s is the sequel of events. (Koran 22:41, Pickthall)

Let them forgive and show indulgence. Yearn ye not that Allah may forgive you? Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Koran 24:22, Pickthall)

But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which Allah hath given thee and neglect not thy portion of the world, and be thou kind even as Allah hath been kind to thee, and seek not corruption in the earth; lo! Allah loveth not corrupters. (Koran 28:77, Pickthall)

O my dear son! Establish worship and enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity, and persevere whatever may befall thee. Lo! that is of the steadfast heart of things. (Koran 31:17, Pickthall)

It teaches that one should love those who do not love them. Regarding first generation Muslims, it says:

Lo! ye are those who love them though they love you not, and ye believe in all the Scripture. (Koran 3:119, Pickthall)

They were practicing the teachings of Christ in the Gospels and following the examples of Christ and first century Christians. (See Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 23:34; Acts 7:55-60; I Peter 3:8,9; Revelation 2:8-11.)

In the Fourth Surah, it teaches that everyone should follow these examples.

Allah would explain to you and guide you by the examples of those who were before you, and would turn to you in mercy. Allah is Knower, Wise. (Koran 4:26, Pickthall)

The Koran promotes peace among people.

But he who feareth from a testator some unjust or sinful clause, and maketh peace between the parties, (it shall be) no sin for him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Koran 2:182, Pickthall)

And make not Allah, by your oaths, a hindrance to your being righteous and observing your duty unto Him and making peace among mankind. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (Koran 2:224, Pickthall)

There is no good in much of their secret conferences save (in) him who enjoineth almsgiving and kindness and peace-making among the people. Whoso doeth that, seeking the good pleasure of Allah, We shall bestow on him a vast reward. (4:114, Pickthall)

Whereby Allah guideth him who seeketh His good pleasure unto paths of peace. He bringeth them out of darkness unto light by His decree, and guideth them unto a straight path. (Koran 5:16, Pickthall)

So go ye unto him and say: Lo! we are two messengers of thy Lord. So let the children of Israel go with us, and torment them not. We bring thee a token from thy Lord. And peace will be for him who followeth right guidance. (Koran 20:47, Pickthall)

The word from a Merciful Lord (for them) is: Peace! (Koran 36:58, Pickthall)

The believers are naught else than brothers. Therefore make peace between your brethren and observe your duty to Allah that haply ye may obtain mercy. (Koran 49:10, Pickthall)

According to the Koran, Satan is the author of discord.

Tell My bondmen to speak that which is kindlier. Lo! the devil soweth discord among them. Lo! the devil is for man an open foe. (Koran 17:53, Pickthall)

We are not supposed to follow the footsteps of the devil.

O ye who believe! Follow not the footsteps of the devil. (Koran 24:21, Pickthall)

Remember that earlier in the blog I pointed out that “Peace is better.” (Koran 4:128, Pickthall) Well, in the 39th Surah, it says:

And follow the best of what was revealed to you from your Lord before the punishment comes upon you suddenly while you do not perceive. (Koran 39:55, Sahih International)

Peace is better than strife and war. Muslims are supposed to follow the best revelations. So, although there are passages in the Koran which pertain to warfare. Those passages are there out of necessity and NOT BECAUSE MUSLIMS ARE ALWAYS OBLIGED TO WAGE WAR.

Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not. (Koran 2:216, Pickthall)

In the Koran there are only three reasons for waging war. The three reasons are for self-defense, to liberate the oppressed, and to end religious persecution against Muslims. In the Second Surah, it says:

Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors. And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. But if they desist, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. 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 wrong-doers. The forbidden month for the forbidden month, and forbidden things in retaliation. And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you. Observe your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is with those who ward off (evil). (Koran 2:190-194, Pickthall)

Whenever an army attacks Muslims, they are supposed to fight back in self-defense. Who are they supposed to fight against? Those who fight against them. (Koran 2:190) “And slay them wherever ye find them.” Who are they supposed to slay wherever they find them? Those who fight against them. They are not supposed to slay just anyone. It says to drive them out of the places whence they drove the Muslims out. The Muslims had been persecuted by the polytheistic Arabs. The polytheists drove the Muslims out of their homes. So, the Koran says to fight them to stop the persecution and regain their homes. It says, “And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.” So, they are supposed to respect the religious shrine in Mecca by not fighting there unless the polytheists attack them there. “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.” The Muslims are supposed to fight them until persecution is no more. When it says “and religion is for Allah,” it does not mean that the polytheists are supposed to be forced to accept Islam. There are too many passages in the Koran that teach religious tolerance. I already wrote a blog on this subject. What it means is until Muslims are allowed to worship Allah freely unhindered by persecution. “But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers.” If the polytheists stop fighting, then the Muslims are supposed to stop fighting. Remember, “Peace is better.” Only the wrong-doers, that is, the criminals, need to be handled with force. “The forbidden month for the forbidden month, and forbidden things in retaliation.” The forbidden month is Ramadan. Muslims are supposed to fast during Ramadan and not wage war unless the enemy is attacking them during this month. “Forbidden things in retaliation” is war during Ramadan if an army attacks them in that month. This principle of fighting on a holy day or during a holy time period is also found in the Bible. (See I Maccabees 2:29-41.)

So, this passage from the Second Surah gives two reasons for waging war: self-defense and to end persecution. It also tells when fighting is authorized at the Inviolable Place of Worship (the Kaaba Stone) and during Ramadan.

Muslims are not allowed to fight against people who want to live in peace with them.

Except those who seek refuge with a people between whom and you there is a covenant, or (those who) come unto you because their hearts forbid them to make war on you or make war on their own folk. Had Allah willed He could have given them power over you so that assuredly they would have fought you. So, if they hold aloof from you and wage not war against you and offer you peace, Allah alloweth you no way against them. (Koran 4:90, Pickthall)

However, if a people with whom they are at peace, attacks them in war, they are allowed to fight back and “kill them wherever” they “find them.”

Ye will find others who desire that they should have security from you, and security from their own folk. So often as they are returned to hostility they are plunged therein. If they keep not aloof from you nor offer you peace nor hold their hands, then take them and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant. (Koran 4:91, Pickthall)

Muslims are not supposed to indiscriminately kill people while they are engaged in war. If someone offers them peace, even if he is not a Muslim, they are still not supposed to kill him.

O ye who believe! When ye go forth (to fight) in the way of Allah, be careful to discriminate, and say not unto one who offereth you peace: “Thou art not a believer,” seeking the chance profits of this life (so that ye may despoil him). With Allah are plenteous spoils. Even thus (as he now is) were ye before; but Allah hath since then been gracious unto you. Therefore take care to discriminate. Allah is ever Informed of what ye do. (Koran 4:94, Pickthall)

Muslims are permitted to wage war against a people who are oppressing Muslims in another country.

How should ye not fight for the cause of Allah and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: Our Lord! Bring us forth from out this town of which the people are oppressors! Oh, give us from thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender! (4:75, Pickthall)

In the Twenty-Second Surah, the Koran gives permission to Muslims to fight those who are persecuting them.

Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; and Allah is indeed Able to give them victory; those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is Allah – For had it not been for Allah’s repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down. Verily Allah helpeth one who helpeth Him. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty – those who, if We give them power in the land, establish worship and pay the poor-due and enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity. And Allah’s is the sequel of events. (22:39-41, Pickthall)

Notice in this passage that it mentions “cloisters and churches” as being some of the places “wherein the name of Allah is oft mentioned.” Apparently, seventh century Muslims were interested in protecting Orthodox Christians from religious persecution, too.

Muslims are required to stop fighting when their enemy desires peace.

And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah. Lo! He, even He, is the Hearer, the Knower. (Koran 8:61, Pickthall)

Muslims must be aware that Allah can change the hearts of their enemies so that they no longer hate the Muslims.

It may be that Allah will ordain love between you and those of them with whom ye are at enmity. Allah is Mighty, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Koran 60:7, Pickthall)

The Koran says that a treaty with a people can prevent them from helping Muslims in another country.

Lo! those who believed and left their homes and strove with their wealth and their lives for the cause of Allah, and those who took them in and helped them: these are protecting friends one of another. And those who believed but did not leave their homes, ye have no duty to protect them till they leave their homes; but if they seek help from you in the matter of religion then it is your duty to help (them) except against a folk between whom and you there is a treaty. Allah is Seer of what ye do. (Koran 8:72, Pickthall)

A Muslim army is a volunteer army. Non-muslims are not required to enlist in a Muslim army.

And if We had decreed for them: Lay down your lives or go forth from your dwellings, but few of them would have done it; though if they did what they are exhorted to do it would be better for them, and more strengthening. (Koran 4:66, Pickthall)

Some Muslims are supposed to stay home and continue to gain more knowledge of the Islamic religion.

And the believers should not all go out to fight. Of every troop of them, a party only should go forth, that they (who are left behind) may gain sound knowledge in religion, and that they may warn their folk when they return to them, so that they may beware. (Koran 9:122, Pickthall)

However, in a Muslim society, a tax can be imposed on Non-Muslims. The Muslim army is protecting them and they are not required to fight for the Islamic religion, but they need to pay for the protection they are receiving from the Muslims.  This tax is called the jizyah.

Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled. (9:29, Sahih International)

Actually, I think that this verse would not apply to an Orthodox Christian who is living in a Muslim society  and who abstains from pork and strong alcoholic beverages. Orthodox Christians believe in Allah and the Last Day. In our Creed the first words are: “I believe in one God…” So, we are monotheists. Also, in the Creed, it says: “He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” The last part of the Creed says, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life in the age to come.” Therefore, we do believe in the Last Day.

Abstaining from pork and strong drink in a Muslim society should not be viewed as such a bad thing by any Christian. By doing so, he is simply obeying the teachings of St. Paul. (Romans 14:14-18)

The jizyah is a fair concept in a Muslim society as long as it does not become so burdensome to the Non-Muslims that they cannot pay it. I have read that during the Ottoman Empire, the jizyah was so high that the Christians could not afford to pay it. The Muslims took the children away from their Christian parents and raised them to be Muslims and enlisted them in the Ottoman army. These children who were taken from their Christian parents were called Janissaries. This is a form of religious persecution. Raising people’s children to be members of a religious faith of which they do not want them to be a part is a form of religious persecution. By modern standards, it is also a human rights violation – actually, multiple human rights violations.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. (Article 4, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State. (Article 16, section 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. (Article 26, section 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

However, those Ottoman Empire Muslims were not practicing Islam in my opinion, because the Koran says:

O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Informed of what ye do. (Koran 5:8, Pickthall)

Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers. (Koran 60:8, Pickthall)

Actually, the Muslims were not even supposed to hate the Christians and do these types of things to them. They were supposed to love them even if they did not love them back. (Koran 3:119)

A good analogy here in regards to the practice of Islam and Islam itself is that of a car and its driver. If the car is a nice, high quality BMW, that runs well and the driver is a lousy driver and cannot drive very well, do not judge the car by the driver. The same holds true regarding Christianity. Just as there are Muslims who do not practice Islam well, there are Christians who do not practice Christianity well.

To sum up, the Koran prefers peace over war. Peace is better. The Koran encourages the practice of showing kindness toward others and being forgiving. An abrogating revelation is either better than the abrogated revelation or similar to it. The passages in the Koran pertaining to war should not be viewed as abrogating the ones that encourage peace-making and kindness. The Koran encourages respect for religious and ethnic differences. War is waged out of necessity, not because it is better than peace. Satan is the author of discord. War can be waged for only three different reasons: self-defense, to liberate the oppressed, and to end religious persecution. A Muslim army is a volunteer army. A tax was imposed on Non-Muslims to help maintain the Muslim army that was protecting them. Some Muslims are required to stay home and continue to gain knowledge of the Islamic religion. Some Muslims, like the Ottoman Empire Muslims, do not practice Islam very well. One should not judge Islam by the way some Muslims fail to practice their faith.

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