(2:278) You who believe, beware of God: give up any outstanding dues from usury, if you are true believers. (279) If you do not, then be warned of war from God and His Messenger. You shall have your capital if you repent, and without suffering loss or causing others to suffer loss. (Taken from the Abdel Haleem English version of the Qur’an).
It is really quite interesting to see the desperation some people have to prove that the Qur’an itself approves aggressive fighting by Muslim believers. Over and over in the Qur’an, believers are told to fight only defensively; to fight only those who have initiated oppression and warfare against them or against other people unable to defend themselves. Let me just quote some of these many passages.
The very first time the believers were given permission to fight was either shortly before, or shortly after, Muhammad (peace be with him and his family) left Mecca for Medina: (22:39, 40) Those who have been attacked are permitted to take up arms because they have been wronged – God has the power to help them – (40) those who have been driven unjustly from their homes only for saying, ‘Our Lord is God.’ If God did not repel some people by means of others, many monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where God’s name is much invoked, would have been destroyed…
(42:41) There is no cause to act against anyone who defends himself after being wronged, (42) but there is cause to act against those who oppress people and transgress in the land against all justice – they will have an agonizing torment – (43) though if a person is patient and forgives, this is one of the greatest things.
(2:190) Fight in God’s cause against those who fight you, but do not overstep the limits: God does not love those who overstep the limits. (191) … Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you there. If they do fight, kill them – this is what such disbelievers deserve – (192) but if they stop, then God is most forgiving and merciful. (193) Fight them until there is no more persecution, and worship is devoted to God. If they cease hostilities, there can be no [further] hostility, except toward aggressors. (194) … So if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him as he attacked you, but be mindful of God, and know that He is mindful of those who are mindful of Him.
(4:75) Why should you not fight in God’s cause and for those oppressed men, women, and children who cry out ‘Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors! By your grace, give us a protector and give us a helper!’?
(4:89) They would dearly like you to reject faith, as they themselves have done, to be like them. So do not take them as allies until they migrate [to Medina] for God’s cause. If they turn [on you], then seize and kill them wherever you encounter them. Take none of them as an ally or supporter. (90) But as for those who reach people with whom you have a treaty, or who come over to you because their hearts shrink from fighting against you or against their own people, God could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you. So if they withdraw and do not fight you, and offer you peace, then God gives you no way against them. (91) You will find others who wish to be safe from you, and from their own people, but whenever they are back in a situation where they are tempted [to fight you], they succumb to it. So if they neither withdraw, nor offer you peace, nor restrain themselves from fighting you, seize and kill them wherever you encounter them: We give you clear authority against such people.
These verses do not exhaust the clear teaching of the Qur’an that fighting is to be defensive, and whenever the opposition ceases fighting and seeks peace, the Muslim must also cease fighting and establish peace. Even in Sura 9, from which the mockers of Islam – and perhaps some ‘extremists’ among professing Muslims (who are themselves making a mockery of Islam, though) – like to take a couple of verses to try to establish the opposite, this same teaching is clearly presented. But my last three articles have been about that Sura and its meaning; so I won’t go into that one further here.
But the ridiculers and haters of Islam are so desperate to prove that the Qur’an contradicts itself and actually supports aggression and terrorism in some cases, that they will come up with objections like: “what about Sura 2:278 and 279?” (quoted at the beginning of this article). “See! God and His Messenger aggressively go to war against usurers, even though they’re believers!”
This is really laughable for one who reads even just the immediate context, and uses his reason. 🙂 First of all, the way I understand the phrase then be warned of war from God and His Messenger is that it is the warning of war which comes from God and His Messenger. God is issuing, by means of His Messenger, a warning about ‘war’. This is perfectly consistent with the role of Muhammad as Messenger of God: he delivers God’s message. Over and over the Qur’an emphasizes that the role of Muhammad is simply to deliver God’s message, whether that be a message of warning or a message of good news (“Gospel”).
The “war” itself is between the usurer and God. This is clear from the context: (276) … Whoever, on receiving God’s warning, stops taking usury may keep his past gains – God will be his judge – but whoever goes back to usury will be an inhabitant of the Fire, there to remain. God blights usury, but blesses charity with multiple increase: He does not love the ungrateful sinner. (277) Those who believe, do good deeds, keep up the prayer, and pay the prescribed alms will have their reward with their Lord: no fear for them, nor will they grieve… (281) Beware of a Day when you will be returned to God: every soul will be paid in full for what it has earned, and no one will be wronged.
The meaning then is that those who refuse to obey God’s prohibition of usury should take warning from God and His Messenger that God is against them. The “war” is metaphorical, not a literal call to arms and physical fighting against those who practice usury. It’s like when we speak of a ‘war against drunk drivers’ or a ‘war against speeders’. We mean that law enforcement is going to ‘crack down’ on them, and be strict in enforcement of the law.
Even if one believes that the meaning is that God and His Messenger will wage war against the usurer, the warfare is still metaphorical. It is the kind of ‘fighting’ spoken of in 25:52 – so [Muhammad] do not give in to the disbelievers: strive hard against them with this Qur’an. “Strive” is the word “jihad”, which actually occurs twice in the literal rendering: “strive [jahid]… with striving [jihadan]”.
This, of course, is an exact parallel with what the Christian apostle Paul said in Ephesians 6:10-18, when he spoke of the believers’ struggle [jihad?] against spiritual powers and rulers. One piece of the “armor of God” which they were told to take was the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (verse 17).
I might add, also, that even this ‘war’ against usurers is a ‘defensive war’: it is a defense of the poor against the greedy rich who seek to profit by their poverty. From the point of view of God, as given in the Qur’an, this seeking to make a profit from the little wealth the poor have is oppression. God warns that He (or He and His Messenger) will certainly come to the defense of such poor people – even if it’s “only” through punishment at the Day of Judgment, and blessing on that Day for those who were oppressed. Those who give simply in charity, though, not seeking to earn a profit from such charity, are promised God’s blessing.
God’s Book gives clear light to guide believers; but those who are determined to attempt to make God’s way crooked may well be left by God to stray in their blindness, deafness, and hardness of heart. For those who are left to stray, there is no one who can guide them.