Jihad In The Qur’an

The Initial Verses

Let us now go to some verses from the Qur’an.

The first battle fought by the Prophet and his followers was a war of defense. It is known as the Battle of Badr, a place that is near the city of Medina (the Prophet’s city in Arabia). This was a battle in which the Prophet came with his followers to face the enemy force that had come all the way from Mecca that was still controlled by the infidels.

The first verse of the minor jihad, the armed struggle, revealed at that time is in Chapter 22, Surah Al-Hajj, of the Qur’an, verses 39-40. It clearly explains the purpose of the minor jihad:

“Permission is granted to those who are fighting because they have been oppressed…those who have been expelled from their homes without any just cause…” (Surah al-Hajj, 22:39-40)

Again, referring to the non-believers of Mecca who waged war after war against the Prophet and his followers in Medina, the Qur’an in Chapter 2, Surah al-Baqara, verse 190, says:

“Fight in the way of God those who are fighting against you; and do not exceed (the limits). Verily Allah does not love those who exceed (the limits).” (Surah al-Baqara, 2:190)

In this verse, the talk is about responding to a war by defending yourself; there is no talk of initiating aggression at all. Even in the defensive mode of struggle, Almighty God warns the Muslims that they should not “exceed” beyond the proper limits.

Islam teaches that Muslims should be strong in order to defend themselves, but that does not mean they have to become aggressive and unjust. In Chapter 8, Surah al-Anfal, verses 60-61 of the Qur’an, God has provided this general guidance very clearly when He addresses Muslims in the following way:

“Prepare against them (i.e., the enemy) with whatever force and trained horses you can in order to frighten thereby Allah’s enemy, your enemy, and others besides them who you do not know but Allah knows them.” (Surah al-Anfal, 8:60)

After giving this general guidance of being strong and prepared to defend ourselves, the verse goes on:

“But if they (the enemies) incline to peace, then you (also) incline to it, and put your trust in Allah…” (Surah al-Anfal, 8:61)

In short, Islam wants Muslims to be strong so that others would not bully them; but then they have to extend the hand of peace even towards their enemies if there is an inclination of peace on the enemy’s part.

The Problem Of Text & Context

Some writers and speakers quote the Qur’anic verses out of context and try to blame Islam for promoting violence and terrorism. They take a “text” and use it outside its “context”.

It is just like someone searches through the Bible and picks the following words or sentences to prove that the Bible promotes violence:

“Take all the leader of these people, kill them.” (Numbers 25:7)

“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Numbers 31:17-18)

“Kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin.” (Judges 21:11)

No fair-minded person will accept such “out of context” presentation of the Biblical verses. Yet we see many Christian evangelists and missionaries do exactly the same to the Qur’an without any hesitation.

So let us look at some examples of taking the Qur’anic “text” outside its “context”.

First Example

Chapter 2 (Surah al-Baqara), verse 191 is quoted as follows:

“Kill them wherever you find them.”(2:191)

To understand the full context of this verse, read verses 190 to 193 together:

“And fight in the way of God those who are fighting against you, and do not exceed the limits, surely God does not love those who exceed the limits” (2:190).
“And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out–persecution is severer than slaughter. And do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque [in Mecca] until they fight with you in it; but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers” (2:191).
“But if they desist, then surely God is Forgiving, Merciful” (2:192).
“And fight them until there is no persecution and religion should be only for God; but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors” (2:193).

The context clarifies that the verse 191 is allowing Muslims of Medina to defend themselves against the aggression of the unbelievers of Mecca. It surely does not say that Muslims should go around the world killing any infidel that they find!

Second Example

Chapter 4 (Surah an-Nisaa), verse 74 which supposedly encourages blood shedding:

“So let those fight in the way of God who are willing to sell this world’s life for the hereafter; and whoever fights in the way of God, then be he slain or be he victorious, We shall grant him a mighty reward.” (Surah an-Nisaa, 4:74)

Those who quote this verse, conveniently leave out the next verse no. 75 which explains the purpose and justification for the minor jihad:

“And what is the matter with you that you do not fight in the way of God for [the sake of] the oppressed men, women, and children who pray: ‘Our Lord, take us out of this town whose people are oppressors, and appoint for us from Thee a guardian and give us from Thee a helper…” (Surah an-Nisaa, 4:75)

This verse is clearly urging the Muslim to stand up for the oppressed men, women and children. Should not divine religions defend the oppressed men, women and children?

Third Example

Chapter 9 (Surah at-Tawba), verse 12:

“Fight the leaders of unbelief”(9:12).

This is just part of the whole passage where God talks about the Muslims in Medina and their truce agreement with the unbelievers of Mecca. See verses 12 to 14:

“And if they break their oaths after their agreement and revile your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief –surely their oaths are of no value– so that they may desist” (9:12).

“What is the matter with you that you do not fight a people who broke their oaths and aimed at the expulsion of the Prophet [from Mecca], and they attacked you first? Do you fear them? But God is most deserving that you should fear Him, if you are believers” (9:13).

“Fight them; God will punish them by your hands and bring them to disgrace, and assist you against them, heal the hearts of a believing people, remove the rage of their hearts, and God turns (mercifully) to whom He pleases, and Allah is Knowing, Wise” (9:14).

The context clearly gives the right of defence to the Muslim but, in no way, does it promote aggression.

Fourth Example

Chapter 9 (Surah at-Tawba), verse 36:

“Fight the polytheists all together” (9:36).

In reality, this sentence is part of an entire verse in which God talks about the sacredness of four of the twelve months in which fighting is forbidden. Then it says:

“And fight the polytheists all together as they fight you all together; and know that God is with those who guard (evil)” (9:36).

Those who like to take this Qur’anic verse out of its context conveniently miss out the part “as they fight you all together”. As you see, this verse is also responding to the aggression started by the polytheists against the Muslims; it does not talk about initiating a war.


From these examples, it is quite clear that Islam is not talking about the minor jihad for the sake of aggression; rather it is allowing the Muslims to physically defend their lives, properties, and lands against any aggression, and also to fight for ending tyranny against the oppressed men, women and children.

The verses regarding the idol-worshippers of Mecca are very specific and related to that time period. Let us again look at Chapter 22, verses 39-40:

“Permission (to fight) is granted to those who are fighting because they have been oppressed, and most surely God is well able to assist them. Those who have been expelled from their homes without a just cause except that they say, ‘Our Lord is Allah’” (Surah al-Hajj, 22:39).

“Had there not been God’s repelling some people by others, certainly the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which God’s name is mentioned would have been demolished. And surely God will help him who helps His cause; most surely Allah is Strong, Mighty” (Surah al-Hajj, 22:40).

Islam deals with the realistic human society and not with the idealistic society. In the words of Dr. Sayyid Hussain Nasr, “Muslims view the Christian ethics as being too sublime for ordinary human beings to follow; it seems that the injunction to turn the other cheek was being meant only for saints. Christian people over the centuries have not shown any more restraint in war than have non-Christians. The ideal preached and the practice followed have often little to do with each other.”1

Let us conclude with the chapter 109 of the Qur’an:

“Say: O those who do not believe! I do not worship what you worship. Nor do you worship what I worship. Nor am I going to worship what you worship. Nor are you going to worship what I worship. You shall have your religion, and I shall have my religion.” (Surah al-Kafiroon, 109:1-6)

  • 1. See in Hans Kung & Jurgen Moltmann, eds., Christianity Among World Religions (Edinburgh: Clark, 1986) p. 7.