My last couple of posts have been responses to a commenter who calls himself “InPeace”. His initial comment was on my article ‘Islamist’ Terrorism in Nigeria, regarding my question as to how any real Muslim could take part in bombing Christian churches and murdering Christians. Not only may it be inferred from statements of the Qur’an that such actions are ‘beyond the bounds’; such actions are explicitly prohibited in the Qur’an and in other statements of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be with him and his family) such as the Charter with St. Catherine’s monastery – in which the protection by Muslims of Christians “both near and far” is mandated “until the Last Day”.
Anyone who honors God and His Prophet is bound to honor these laws laid down in God’s Revelation (the Qur’an) and that Charter. The Muslim believes that there is no contradiction in the Qur’an; so he does not have the liberty of claiming that while some places in the Qur’an prohibit aggressive warfare, murdering Christians and Jews, and destroying their churches and synagogues, others permit it or command it. He does not have the liberty to pick and choose from ‘conflicting’ accounts. Whatever a non-Muslim may believe about the inerrancy of the Qur’an, Muslims insist on it. Hence my question: how can any real Muslim carry out such atrocities in defiance of the clear and explicit prohibitions of “God and His Prophet”?
In my last article Fight Christians and Jews Because of What They Believe I made the point that in all other passages in the Qur’an which concerned fighting in the cause of God (besides 9:29 which was under discussion), all fighting is explicitly required to be defensive in nature; and I stated that one surely will not expect a Muslim to believe that in this one verse God contradicted everything else He had ever said in the Qur’an on the subject (including in the immediate context of verses 1-28, verse 13 in particular).
“InPeace” replied in a comment that the Qur’an is full of contradictions, and gave one instance which he believes to be an obvious contradiction. I’m not going to get into a ‘back and forth’ discussion concerning alleged contradictions in the Qur’an, because it’s irrelevant. Whatever “InPeace” or any other non-Muslim may believe about such alleged contradictions, no Muslim will accept the idea. For him, as 4:82 says, contradictions within the Qur’an would prove that the Qur’an did not come from God; so if he finds any such contradictions, that in itself would compel him to abandon his Muslim faith. There are articles and books written by Muslims explaining the alleged contradictions. One may accept such explanations, or may believe they are rather mere attempts to “explain away” things that are legitimate discrepancies. But no Muslim can accept such internal errors without abandoning his Muslim faith. And of course if he abandons his Muslim faith, then he would no longer have a basis for attacking “people of the Book” because of what they believe, supposedly based on 9:29.
So again, no one can legitimately expect a Muslim to accept that 9:29 contradicts all other Qur’anic regulations on ‘rules of warfare’. A Muslim is bound to interpret 9:29 in a way which is compatible with all of the other teaching of the Qur’an on the matter.
This is not hard for the Muslim believer to do, though. Despite the determined efforts of “InPeace” to prove otherwise (based on his reading of such anti-Muslim sites as TheReligionofPeace.com and the writings of Robert Spencer), verse 29 of Sura 9 does indeed fit right in with the context of verses 1-28.
Although verses 1-28 are generally believed to be written at least primarily concerning the ‘idolaters’ of Mecca – and this is probably true – nevertheless neither the inhabitants of Mecca nor any of the Arab tribes (such as the Quraysh) are specifically mentioned anywhere in those verses. The initial proclamation was made by Ali ibn Abi Talib (may God be pleased with him) on “the day of the Great Pilgrimage” and was addressed to “all people” or “all mankind” because people from all over Arabia and other lands were congregated there on that day.
Those whose treaties were revoked, and whom the Muslims were called on to fight (from the Arabic root ‘QTL’) are consistently referred to as those who ‘disbelieved’ or ‘rejected’ God and His Message (based on the Arabic root ‘KFR’ – ‘kafir’ for instance), and ‘idolaters’, ‘polytheists’, ‘pagans’, ‘those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God’ (based on the Arabic root ‘ShRK’ – ‘shirk’ and mushrikun for instance). Never in these verses are those terms specifically limited to the people of Mecca or the surrounding tribes. The terms refer to all such people with whom Muhammad had made treaties, covenants, or charters, and who had violated those charters.
In verse 28, those ‘mushrikun’ (“those who ascribe partners to God”, “idolaters”, “polytheists”, etc.) are said to be unclean; and after that year they were not to be allowed to “come near the Sacred Mosque”. Remember, this was addressed to pilgrims from all over Arabia and other countries, not just the inhabitants of Mecca.
Then verse 29 and following verses introduce for the first time a specific group of “disbelievers” and those who “ascribe partners to God”: the “people of the Book” who do not truly follow the “religion of Truth” which was revealed in those portions of “the Book” which they had been given, and who had (like other ‘mushrikun’) violated their treaties or charters and either fought against the Muslims or supported invaders.
That these “people of the Book” were in violation of their charter with Muhammad (peace be with him and his family) and were in rebellion is, I believe, at least part of what is meant by who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden. Some of the things forbidden by God and His Messenger, and spoken of frequently in the preceding verses, are the breaking of oaths, oppression, and violent aggression. Whether or not that is part of what is meant by that phrase, though, it is explicitly said that they had to be fought until they paid the protection/exemption tax (‘jizya’) and that they needed to be “subdued”.
People who are quietly and inoffensively living their lives don’t need to be “subdued”; and if they were not at that time paying the ‘jizya’, they were in violation of their charter. This tax was part of the charter which was established in Medina when Muhammad first arrived there to settle the Medinans’ disputes; and it was a part of other charters established with other ‘communities’ who accepted the authority and protection of Muhammad. The very fact that they were refusing to pay this tax showed that they were in rebellion. In addition, the “people of the Book” over and over had supported and joined in with the invaders from Mecca and the Arab tribes whenever they attacked the community at Medina.
Also, although “InPeace” wishes to maintain that Muhammad Asad’s explanation concerning the threatened attack by Byzantine Christians is just “apologist spin and hearsay”, this is historical fact which I don’t believe is seriously questioned by historians. It seems to be fairly overwhelming consensus that it is this threatened invasion which formed the background for this Sura 9. The whole of the Sura was revealed shortly before, during, or shortly after the expedition to Tabuk by the Muslim army, and verses 1-37 are said to have been revealed all at one time. The efforts of the Christian man known as Abu Amir to incite the Byzantine Emperor against the Muslims are a valid part of the historical setting.
“InPeace” says that by referring to historical events, I am going outside the Qur’an to interpret it; but any reasonable person knows that a good part of interpreting any writing “in its context” is to interpret it in its historical context. Certainly with the Qur’an, every portion of the Revelation was given in a particular historical setting and was given in reference to that historical setting. Those who reject the consideration of that setting in ‘interpreting’ the Qur’an – whenever knowledge of that history is available – cannot be expected to be able to arrive with any certainty at the correct meaning of the Qur’an.
Certainly the people who first heard the recitation of the Qur’an were aware of that history; and they would understand the Revelation in keeping with that setting in which it was given. When we are able to acquire knowledge of that history, we also will have a better chance of understanding the Revelation given in that setting. The frequent attacks by non-Muslim Arab tribes, and the support given to them by the “people of the Book”, are very much a part of the historical background which explains what is meant by Sura 9 when it speaks of those who ascribe partners to God breaking their oaths, attacking the Muslims and seeking to kill them and the Prophet.
How, then, are “the people of the Book” related to those ‘disbelievers’ and ‘ascribers of partners to God’ who are spoken of in verses 1-28? “InPeace” thinks they are totally different groups of people, not at all related; so verses 1-28 don’t form a “context” for verse 29. In fact, though, the verses following verse 29 tell us that the “people of the Book” being referred to are specifically Jews and Christians; and that they are ‘disbelievers’ (‘kafirun’) and “those who ascribe partners to God” or “idolaters” (‘mushrikun’).
Verses 30 and 31 first describe the “shirk” by saying that the Arabian Jews had been heard to say that Ezra (peace be with him) was a Son of God, and the Christians of course said that the Messiah (Jesus – God’s blessings be with him) was God’s Son. Also, those “people of the Book” took their Rabbis and Monks (again, Jews and Christians – despite “InPeace” wanting to add others into the designation of “people of the Book”) as lords in addition to God – as well as Christ, the son of Mary.
Then the end of verse 31 explicitly says that what those Jews and Christians (who weren’t truly following the religion of Truth which they had been given) were doing was “shirk”: But they were commanded [“people of the Book” – SGP] to serve only one God: there is no god but Him; He is far above whatever they set up as His partners (yushrikun).
At the end of verse 32, these Christians and Jews who don’t truly follow the religion of Truth revealed in that portion of “the Book” which they were given are said to be kafirun (“disbelievers” or “rejecters of truth”): They try to extinguish God’s light with their mouths, but God insists on bringing His light to its fullness, even if the disbelievers [kafirun] hate it.
At the end of verse 33, they are again specifically accused of “shirk”: It is He Who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, to show that it is above all [other] religions, however much the idolaters [mushrikun – “those who ascribe partners to God” or “those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God”] may hate this.
Verse 34 shows us that the Message had not suddenly shifted to the Meccan “polytheists” when it referred to “disbelievers” and “idolaters in verses 31-34: You who believe, many rabbis and monks wrongfully consume peoples’ possessions and turn people away from God’s path…
So verse 31 refers to the ‘partners’ of God which those Christians and Jews (“people of the Book”) imagined (yushrikun); verse 33 refers to them as “idolaters” or “those who ascribe partners to God” (mushrikun); and verse 32 calls them “disbelievers” or “rejecters” (kafirun). In other words, these verses specifically say that these “people of the Book” definitely belong in the category of those “mushrikun” and “karfirun” referred to in the first 28 verses; and the Muslims are told to “fight” them (QaTiL) just as they were told to fight (faQaTiL –verse 12) and “slay” (faQTuL – verse 5) the previously mentioned “karifun” and “mushrikun” who were oath breakers. All of these verses were originally revealed at the same time, and form one context concerning fighting “kafirun” and “mushrikun” who violated their oaths and either aggressively attacked the Muslim community or supported such attackers.
“InPeace” mentions the cousin of Muhammad (peace be with him and his family) named Ibn Abbas (may God be pleased with him), who is highly regarded for his knowledge and wisdom by both Sunnis and Shias. He (“InPeace”) asserts that Ibn Abbas taught offensive warfare against Christians and Jews – just because of their beliefs – from Sura 9:29. I would have to be able to read the actual words (in a good and accepted English version) of Ibn Abbas in order to be able to determine whether or not he actually taught such a thing. I am not willing to accept that he did simply because “InPeace”, Robert Spencer, TheReligionof Peace.com, “AnsweringIslam”, etc assert that he did. Seeing the way such people distort and twist the Qur’an which I can read and have read, I have no confidence that they are correctly ‘interpreting’ Ibn Abbas.
I tried to find a commentary on this verse by Ibn Abbas online; but all I could find was a statement that a number of medieval commentaries cited Ibn Abbas as supporting the practice of symbolically showing the subjugation of the “people of the Book” by ‘striking their necks’ when they brought the ‘jizya’ (protection/exemption tax) each year. If that is correct, it’s not the same as teaching offensive warfare just because of what the Christians and Jews believed. It was merely a way of symbolically illustrating that the rebellious “people of the book” had indeed been subdued and recognized it. Note that the Qur’an itself did not prescribe that symbolic action; all that was required was that the “people of the Book” clearly show their submission (or that their rebellion had been completely subdued).
There is no ‘abrogation’ of previous verses of Revelation in 9:29 – certainly not of 2:256 (there is no compulsion in religion) and similar verses that teach the same thing. Just as earlier verses in the chapter tell the Muslims to fight and kill the “mushrikun” (idolaters, or those who acribe divinity to others beside God), yet any of those idolaters who have not broken their oaths and fought against the believers (or supported those who fought) are excluded from this command to the Muslims; so in verse 29 and following, the “people of the Book” are to be fought – but only those who have broken their oaths by refusing to pay the tax required in their charter with Muhammad, and who have revolted against the Muslim community or supported other attackers. Their revolt must be subdued, and they must be compelled to pay the tax required by their oath and charter.
The whole of Sura 5 is recognized by Muslims as having been revealed in the 10th year following the immigration to Medina – about 1 year after Sura 9, and shortly before the Prophet’s death. It makes no difference if some Islam-haters wish to deny this because it’s inconvenient for their position; the point is that Muslims themselves believe this to be true. Therefore, they must recognize that a year after the revelation of Sura 9, there were still “people of the Book” present in Muslim territory who were mocking and ridiculing the Muslims and their faith, and practicing their own faith; yet the Muslims were merely told that they must not take such people as allies and protectors. They were not told to fight those mocking disbelievers and ‘idolaters’ until their disbelief, mockery, and ‘idolatry’ were “subdued”.
Yes, they were almost certainly paying the ‘jizya’, as was their responsibility under their charter; and their previous rebellion had been subdued so that they were no longer fighting the Muslim community or supporting those who fought. But the disbelief and ascription of divinity to others beside God still existed. Therefore, the false beliefs of these “people of the Book” could not have been the cause of the command in 9:29 to fight them.
This has been longer than usual; but let me summarize the argument.
(1) Verses 1-28 of Sura 9 concern “kafirun” (disbelievers) and “mushrikun” (those who ascribe divinity to others beside God) who have broken their oaths and covenants, and have initiated fighting against the Muslim community.
(2) These “mushrikun” in the first 28 verses are not specifically identified with any tribe or city. The revocation of treaties was announced to all the pilgrims – from all over Arabia and other countries – who were present at this “Day of the Great Pilgrimage”.
(3) In verse 29, a specific group of people who are to be fought is mentioned: “people of the Book” who do not truly follow the religion of Truth which they had been given in that Book.
(4) These “people of the Book” are said to have broken their covenant, because they were not paying the required tax and they were in a state of rebellion which needed to be subdued. They, like the “mushrikun” mentioned earlier, initiated fighting against the Muslims or supported those who fought.
(5) These covenant breaking “people of the Book” are identified as “kafirun” (disbelievers) and “mushrikun” (those who ascribe partners to God) – first by describing their “shirk” (ascription of partners to God), and then explicitly saying they are “mushrikun” and “kafirun”. They are explicitly among those who were spoken of in the first 28 verses.
One more thing, and I promise I’ll quit! 😀 “InPeace”, in his comment on my last article, brought up Sura 8:39: Believers, fight them until there is no more persecution, and all worship is devoted to God alone… He considers this as obvious proof that the verses about “no compulsion in religion” and fighting only those who first fought them were either ‘abrogated’, or there is a ‘contradiction’.
His mistake is the same as when he referred to 8:35 – So taste the punishment for your disbelief; he refuses to read verses in their contexts. The context of verse 39 is the same as verse 35 (which he referred to in his original comment): the people to be fought are those who had plotted to take you captive, kill, or expel you (verse 30). Specifically, with reference to verse 39, they sought to debar people from the Sacred Mosque, although they are not its [rightful] guardians. Only those mindful of God are its rightful guardians, but most of the disbelievers do not realize this (verse 34); or as verse 36 put it: They use their wealth to bar people from the path of God, and they will go on doing so…
When verse 39 says that all worship must be for God alone, it is speaking about worship at the Sacred Mosque. This “Ka’ba” was built by Abraham and Ishmael and dedicated to the worship of God alone; things must return to that state. The “mushrikun” were currently seeking to keep the true worshipers of God out of the “Ka’ba”; fighting would continue until that ended, and only God’s true worshipers were allowed there.
Sura 9:28, which was written about 7 years after Sura 8, says that after that year, no “mushrikun” (those who ascribe partners to God) were to be allowed near the Sacred Mosque (and the following verses state that many of the “people of the Book” fit that category); worship there would indeed return to the way it was originally: dedicated to God alone.
Yet, as pointed out previously, 1 year after Sura 9, and 8 years after Sura 8, Christians and Jews were still being allowed to practice their distinctive versions of the religion of truth – and even those who didn’t really follow that religion of truth and who ridiculed the Muslim faith were permitted – and this was explicitly authorized by God. They may not have been permitted to use the Sacred Mosque for their worship, but they were not forced to ‘convert’. They could use their own churches and synagogues; and such buildings were under the protection of Muhammad and his followers. The Sacred Mosque, however, was for God alone.