Fight (if need be) in the pursuit of God’s guidance against those who initiate fighting against you, but don’t be the aggressor—God does not love the aggressors. And fight them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. Also, do not fight them in the precinct of the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you there. But if they fight you (in it), then fight them back. This is the fitting reply to the disbelievers. 91
But if they stop, then (know that) God is Forgiving and Merciful (i.e., you ought to behave similarly). And continue fighting until there is no more oppression and God’s worship is allowed to flourish without hindrance. If they stop, there should be no more hostility, except (punishment) of the oppressors. 92
91 These two verses have become a source of much abuse by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Some Christians (especially Evangelicals) and media personalities jump to seriously misleading conclusions that God encourages Muslims to fight and kill people without any justification. A careful and unbiased attempt to under- stand the above verses will prove beyond any doubt that their claim is without any merit. God clearly states in the first verse that aggression is not an acceptable mode of behavior by telling us not to be an aggressor, and He further reinforces that message by stating that He does not love the aggressors. Hence, anyone who claims to be serving God through aggressive fighting or acts is obviously misled, including today’s terrorists of any faith and some governments that take extreme measures in the name of counterterrorism.
The second verse allows for fighting only to the extent that people have already been fought against and defines limits so as not to go beyond harms already done to them. Even then, forgiveness and seeking peace is preferred to continuous fighting. Another important position is that persistent persecution of a people is considered worse than fighting or killing; the persecution of Jews in Germany, the persecution of Arab Muslims and Christians in Palestine, the perse- cution of non-communists in communist countries, the persecution of Muslims and ethnic Croats in former Yugoslavia, and the persecution of political opponents in many Muslim countries have all lead to a loss of human dignity, negative changes in the human psyche, and the creation of generations of paranoid individuals and soci- eties that change social norms and human dynamics on a large scale.
92 In addition to rules about fighting, a rule about hostility was also established: If a party stops fighting, then the other party should do the same and attempt reconcili- ation based on the goodwill of forgiveness and mercy for mankind. But there should still be punishment (in a legal system) for those who initiated and perpetuated the fighting and oppression of people.
In the context of today’s war on terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, these verses provide comprehensive guidance for mankind. Persecution, killing, and aggression of any form are strongly denounced, thus obligating mankind to stop all such activities in the world so that people can be free to practice their ways of life (and religion).
For Muslims, these instructions are extremely relevant in today’s context. While fighting back is allowed, it has to be done in the proper context and within the norms of what has been defined here very clearly. Also, the best way to fight back is to improve the condition of people through education, economic development, an institutional legal system, and good governance and not through suicide bombings, war machinery, and dictatorships. These rules provide us with simple but enlightened ways to engage in and disengage from all kinds of conflicts, especially those that are more physical in nature, such as rival wars, unjust tyranny, and military or government occupations.
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