by Mehol K. Sadain

Today, I had time to discuss with some ulama the reasons a Muslim is radicalized and start advocating extreme ideological preferences that they anchor on the Qur’ān, or their interpretation of verses in the Qur’ān.  One such verse that is interpreted by extremist to justify their killing ways is verse 191 of Surah Al-Baqarah, which goes this way, in English translation:

 “And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, 

slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.”

The exhortation “slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out” is mistakenly taken as an order to kill all whom they think are their enemies, as well as drive these perceived enemies away from their habitations, regardless of who they are and their positions in life. Even a Muslim who does not follow their extreme beliefs is considered an enemy who deserves to be killed.

This indiscriminate resort to violence conveniently forgets that there are verses before and after the exhortation “to slay” people who are considered enemies. The preceding verse 190 sets a condition to the fighting, in this wise:

“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.” 

Clearly, there are rules or limits to be observed in the fighting, and one of those which the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) prescribed, is not to fight or kill non-combatants. This is completely different from the extremists’ interpretation of killing everyone whom they perceive as not sharing their beliefs.

In fact,  even the enemy is to be accorded respect and amity once they cease fighting. Hence, verse 192 coming after verse 191, continues:

“But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” 

The verse implies that if Allah can be 

forgiving and merciful, so must ordinary men be equally forgiving and merciful.

This mercy is the reason cessation of hostilities is emphasized in the next verse 193, which punctuates the series of revelations with the conditional order:

“And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.”

Verse 191 therefore, is not to be taken alone. It must be interpreted in consonance with other related verses, specifically 190, 192 and 193. When you take them all together, the order to kill is only against those who fight the Muslims and only to prevent tumult and oppression from overwhelming the Muslims. When the 

enemies stop fighting, so must the Muslims. Interpreted this way, verse 191 becomes an order for Muslims to fight for his faith in Allah and for the ends of justice and eventual peace. It is not a verse to justify killing. Rather, it is a verse to regulate the conduct of war.

Recent legal and ethical developments in the conduct of war has given this a name: International Humanitarian Law. The Muslims have long practiced this in their protocols of war, but they simply call it Allah’s commands. MKS

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