One of the most seriously misunderstood aspects of Islam is its position on fighting. This stems both from a widespread, general ignorance of Islam and a tendency to view the violent behavior of groups and individuals with only nominal ties to Islam as representative of Islam. For Muslims, the Qur'an contains God's own words and is not the work of inspired men. It is therefore, the ultimate authority which defines the beliefs and practices of Islam.

Often, people take verses, or parts of verses from the Qur'an, ignoring context and related verses, to make Islam appear warlike and violent, or to justify hostility and aggression. But a careful examination of the Qur'an yields a very different view.

The word jihaad is familiar to most Americans and seems to evoke images of wild eyed, fanatics slaughtering infidels in a holy war. But what is the Qur'anic concept of jihaad and how does it relate to war and fighting? There is no concept of holy war (al-Harb almuqaddas) in the Qur'an.

The noun jihaad occurs 4 times in the Qur'an. The verb jaahada (to struggle, strive) in various forms appears 29 times. None of these refers directly to fighting, let alone specifically to military action.

In 14 of the 29 places the verb jaahada appears in the Qur'an, striving in the cause of God is used in very a very general context as a quality of those who believe. Many of these verses have nearly identical wording:

alatheena amanuu wa haajaruu wa jaahaduu fi sabeelallah bi amwalihim wa anfusihim. [those who believe and emigrate and strive in the cause of God with their wealth and their selves] (2:218; 3:142; 5:57; 8:72,74,75; 9:16,20,44,88 ; 16:110; 29:6,69; 49:15).

Two other instances tell how hypocrites hate to strive in God's cause and try to avoid it (9:81,86). Where the Qur'an specifically commands striving, there is no reference to warfare (5:38, 9:41,73, 22:78, 25:52, 66:9).

Verses 29:8 and 31:15 give believers permission to disobey parents who strive (jaahadaa) to make them associate partners with God. Even under such circumstances the believer is ordered to be considerate and just toward the parents.

We learn from the Qur'an that believers must be willing to exert great efforts in the cause of God, using our wealth and ourselves. These efforts (jihaad) may, or may not include fighting (qitaal). Fighting is called for only under certain circumstances and then, is strictly regulated in the Qur'an.

One often misused verse is 2:216;

"Fighting is prescribed for you and it is hateful to you. It is possible that you hate a thing that is good for you, and that you love a thing that is bad for. God knows and you do not know."

But this is, by no means the only verse that deals with fighting. What else does the Qur'an say about fighting? When, where, why, how, and with whom is fighting allowed? We find fighting commanded in these words:

Fight in the cause of God THOSE WHO FIGHT YOU. But DO NOT COMMIT EXCESSES. God does not love those who commit excesses. And slay them where encounter them. And expel them FROM WHERE THEY EXPELLED YOU. Unrest and oppression are worse than killing. Do not fight them at the sacred mosque, unless they fight you there. But IF THEY FIGHT YOU, slay them. Such is the reward of the disbelievers. (2:190-191 emphasis added).


These verses order fighting only those who fight you, suggesting only defensive combat. This is supported by the verses immediately following:

BUT IF THEY CEASE, God is Forgiving, Merciful, and Fight them UNTIL THERE IS NO MORE UNREST OR OPPRESSION and religion is for God. But if they cease, LET THERE BE NO HOSTILITY EXCEPT TO OPPRESSORS (2:192-193 emphasis added).

Combat is not limited to self-defense, however, but also includes defense of others;

And why should you not fight in the cause of God and THE WEAK AND OPPRESSED AMONG MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN who say, "Our Lord rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors. And give us from You, a protector. And give us from You, a helper" (4:75 emphasis added).


The Qur'an indicates whom to fight, as we saw in 2:193 above. It also details specific behaviors in which they engage that justify fighting them:

The unbelievers plotted to resist you, or kill you or, expel you....The unbelievers spend their wealth to hinder (people) from the path of God....They are those with whom you made a covenant. BUT THEY BREAK THEIR COVENANT EVERY TIME and they are not conscious of God....But IF THEY VIOLATE THEIR OATH SAFTER THEIR COVENANT, AND DEFAME YOU FOR YOUR FAITH, fight the leaders of the unbelievers. For their oaths mean nothing to them. Perhaps they will be restrained. Will you not fight people who VIOLATED THEIR OATHS AND PLOTTED TO EXPEL THE MESSENGER, and ATTACKED YOU FIRST?(8:30, 36, 56, 9:12-13 emphasis added).

Knowing when to stop fighting is also critical and is dealt with by the Qur'an in no uncertain terms:

And fight them UNTIL THERE IS NO MORE UNREST AND OPPRESSION, and religion is for God.... But IF THEY LEAN TOWARD PEACE, YOU LEAN TOWARD PEACE and trust in God. He is the Hearer, the Knower (8:39, 61 emphasis added).

Finally, the Qur'an calls for good relations with all who uphold their treaties and do not fight against the Muslims:

As long as they stand true to you, stand true to them. For God loves the pious....God DOES NOT FORBID YOU, regarding THOSE WHO DO NOT FIGHT YOU FOR THE RELIGION, NOR EXPEL YOU FROM YOUR HOMES, FROM DEALING WITH THEM KINDLY AND JUSTLY. For God loves the just (9:7, 60:8 emphasis added).

These and other verses in the Qur'an make it clear that fighting is required in self-defense, or in defense of the weak and oppressed. But aggression is forbidden and fighting is allowed only against direct combatants, or their active supporters.


By Aisha Musa (