Taken Out of Context: Killing the "Infidels" and Violence in the Qur’an

The verses in question:

And slay them wherever you catch them (2:191)

and

…fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war.) (9:005)

Let’s put the first one back in its Quranic context:

“Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter… But if they cease, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful… If they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” (2:190–2:193)

This is obviously referring to a defensive war in which Muslims are oppressed and prevented from practicing their faith–and even then, limits are not to be transgressed and only those who practice oppression are met with hostility. I always get defensive when explaining these verses to non-Muslims, because their attitude tells me we’re hanging over a dark abyss of Islamophobia. And also because most of the times I’ve been asked about this verse with that attitude was by Christians, who you would think would understand what it’s like to have things taken out of context. But besides that, how can I blame non-Muslims for not understanding these verses when so many “misguided” Muslims use them to “justify” things like suicide bombing? (And yes, those quotes are there for a reason. I bet they know exactly that they’re twisting the Qur’an and taking it out of context. Even a total dunderhead would know suicide is forbidden.)
And now the second:

(But the treaties are) not dissolved with those Pagans with whom ye have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided any one against you. So fulfill your engagements with them to the end of their term: for God loveth the righteous. But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (9:004–9:006)

There is a historical context reflected in these verses. Mecca before had oppressed Muslim converts greatly. The relationship with the pagans (not the “infidels”—there is no such word in Arabic; the word is Latin infidelis, which means “unbelieving” or “unfaithful” and was actually used in the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church to refer to Muslims) changed after the Muslim victory. There was, consequently, a need to differentiate between those non-muslims who honored treaties with the Muslims and those who continuously breached these treaties and fought them. The treaties involved scheduled use of the territory as both used it to pray (to which “establish regular prayers” is referring) and the schedules were often interrupted with violent attacks. As explained by the verses that follow:

How can there be such a league, seeing if they get an advantage over you, they do not respect in you the ties either of kinship or of covenant? With fair words from their mouths they entice you, but their hearts are averse from you, and most of them are rebellious and wicked. (9:008)

War would be inevitable if these particular people kept breaching treaties.
Let’s look at the verse again, back in its proper context:
“So when the sacred months have passed away, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and keep them under observation, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely God is Forgiving, Merciful.”
These verses have been describing a defensive war, except this time a very specific one. Basically when the fourth months have passed (this is a grace period) and the other party INSISTS on fighting, then of course there will be a war. Those who are innocent, and those who repent for their crimes, are overlooked and forgiven: (9:006) “If one amongst the pagans ask you for asylum, grant it to him, then escort him to where he can be secure.”

21 thoughts on “Taken Out of Context: Killing the "Infidels" and Violence in the Qur’an

  1. Nahida, people judge us by what we do and not by what we say. Non-Muslims are watching the Muslim world looking for condemnation for all the acts of terrorism to be shouted from the Mosques and do not see it. Words ring hollow but deeds are forever. When I see Imams telling Muslims that hell awaits homicide bombers I will begin to accept you're comments regarding "out of context".I have know you for over five years and find you to be sincere. However on this subject I need to be shown not just told.

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    1. sowda

      For your information, imams from mosques within the UK were the first to condemn the acts of the 9/11. Clancy you need to understand that just because you aren’t seeing on Sky news doesn’t mean its not there. Let me ask you this, if you actually believe that Muslims aren’t condemning acts of terrorism then you are implying that we are for them or promoting them, right? Then why aren’t there the entire 1.6 billion population of Muslims around the globe committing acts of terrorism if you so believe that people don’t take words out of context from the quran. Why aren’t the rest of us doing it. If you believe that the Qur’an actually promotes terrorism why aren’t we all doing it since it is the central text of our religion…………………..

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  2. But if you want to know, really fast, earthly penalties for apostates are not supported in the Qur'an, and the Qur'an forbids murder except for very specific instances, apostasy not being one of them. Therefore, any hadith advocating the execution of apostates solely for the reason that they are apostates (and not because they're committing crimes against society that would have been punished by death anyway, regardless of the person's religion) is advocating murder and is therefore contradictory to what God had commanded, deeming these hadiths invalid.Human beings are not allowed to make permissible what God has made impermissible (like murder.)

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  3. This was very interesting. I do have to say, I agree very thoroughly with the comment by Clancy Abend. In the aftermath of 9-11, The British PM Tony Blair Kept saying on TV that “ordinary Muslims do not condone these acts of violence.” Yet he could never find a single “ordinary Muslim” to go on TV with him and say “Yes, true that!” Anti-Muslim feeling was starting to build up, but all it woul have taken was for one prominent member of the British Muslim community to speak out and publicly condemn what was done. But nobody did.
    At that time I was teaching computer courses for teenagers in a predominantly Muslim area of London, and I can tell you categorically that those kids did NOT know what you have written above. They DID think that the Koran tells them that Muslims are justified in fighting non-believers. Somebody must have taught them that. I wonder who?

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      1. Do you mean why should they, or why would they?

        As I said, it WOULD have prevented a huge build-up of anti-Muslim sentiment. The resounding silence from “ordinary Muslims in Britain” meant the British public came to the conclusion Muslims are all anti Christian and anti British. So there’s a reason reason why, perhaps, somebody would have wanted to say that on TV.

        On the other hand, you shouldn’t say something if it isn’t true.

        What about you? Do you unconditionally condemn that violence? Would you speak out against it publicly?

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        1. I mean why should they? Why is it the duty of Muslims who are not responsible for violence to prevent anti-Muslim sentiment by answering questions that already assume they are guilty in the premises?

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          1. Oh, I see.
            Well, if they don’t want to prevent anti-Muslim sentiment, then they have no reason to speak out.
            Being “not responsible for violence” doesn’t mean anything, though. Being “not reponsible” for something is not the same as disapproving of it.

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          2. Then if you won’t assume that they disapprove of it because they are not responsible for it, why should you assume they approve of it if they don’t speak out against it?

            It is not the responsibility of the (underprivileged) innocent to inform the empowered majority that they are in fact “not all the same” and give into the racist narrative that they must be–by answering questions that assume from the beginning that the default is that they condone violence because they happen to share a religion.

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      2. Please point out at least one (or more ) occasions where terrorism was acted out and claimed by Christians for Christian beliefs and founded on Christian fundamentals…. But if there was I promise you there would be dozens, probably hundreds or thousands that would immediately dis- approve of terroristic killing in the name of Christ. If you reference any event i’m sure there was also immediately disapproval from the Christian community. Publically

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  4. Avid Reader

    The word “Kafir” is being slapped around everywhere.

    Open up the Mullah dictionary.

    The definition of a “Kafir: Everyone. However, If you don’t follow a “Mullah/Sheikh/Imam/ or some ugly bearded guy who thinks he knows Islam better than you” even if you only beleive in Allah and the Quran- you are classed as a “Kafir” too.

    One of their favorite topic is preaching violence on non-muslims. You’ll see some weird hadith being pulled out of someone’s sunshine-less hole saying, “If you see the jew, find him and kill him.”
    Or “Stone the christian!” and violence is even initiated against the Muslims who are classed as “Kafirs” by those Mullah men.

    All of them even say being friends with a non-muslim is haram- a stupid thing to say really. They forget the Quran again. Your post is so true. Love it that you quoted the Quran! :)

    I never saw Islam as a violent religion. Always saw it as a peaceful one which promotes self defences rather than offence.

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  5. jehannes

    God or Allah is perfect and people are not’ its simple as that, the teachings from the One u believe in are perfect and if everyone would stay true to those we would live in harmony regardless of which believe u have.

    Maybe I said it wrong but am saying people will have to answer for the lives they lived or ended and we cant judge that there’s only One who can, sadly a lot think he or she can judge an entire nation or believe because certain events.. but the truth is history books are full of events and all varies.

    Anyways I live in Europe (Holland and our Muslim’s are peaceful and understanding people) I am not sure what the truth is in the eastern lands about democracy development.. one day we read hopeful things on the news the other day a negative back step, well just want to say Good luck and best wishes for their future.

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  6. QUOTE: “This is obviously referring to a defensive war in which Muslims are oppressed and prevented from practicing their faith–and even then, limits are not to be transgressed and only those who practice oppression are met with hostility.”

    Why does Allah have to say that, if He is indeed that powerful? Honestly, if I am Allah, I will advise Muslims not to commit any violence but will send a flood or a plague to kill the wrongdoers. And when this is done, won’t all the Muslims have great admiration for Allah, while maintaining a pure heart, free from hatred?

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    1. The reasons why God wouldn’t do everything for you especially wheb your actions are supposed to set an example for how Muslims are supposed to live are pretty obvious.

      That’s like saying why would God make you toil away with the earth! Why not just make harvested crops magically appear!

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