“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……” (al-Baqara,191) What does this verse mean?

Details of the Question
“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……” (al-Baqara,191) What does this verse mean?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It is wrong to draw the picture of a man only by looking at his little finger; it is similarly wrong and misleading to make a judgment about the Quran only by looking at the translation of a single verse.

There is a verse that some authors always mention and misinterpret in order to conceal the universality, tolerance of Islam and the vast freedom of thought in it:

“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……” (al-Baqara,191)

Before starting to analyze the issue, it is necessary to remind some judgments in the Quran so that the real aim of the Quran will be understood and the real interpretation of the verse mentioned above will be manifested.

A verse that is closely related with the issue is as follows: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from Error …..” (al-Baqara, 256)

In the interpretation of the verse, it is stated, “there is no compulsion in religion” and the following is added, “there is no permission for compulsion not only in religious issues but also in all issues.”

Another verse that teaches the same truth is as follows: “If it had been the Lord's Will they would all have believed all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind against their will to believe?” (Yunus, 99)

That is, the duty of the prophets and the aim of the Quran is to convey the truth to people. People were sent to the world for trial. One of the essentials of trial is to be able choose one of the ways, the right way or the wrong way, on one’s own. Since compulsion will eliminate the will of a person, there is no use of trial.

There are many verses that strengthen that meaning:

“If it had been Allah's Plan they would not have taken false gods: but We made thee not one to watch over their doings, nor art thou set over them” (al-An’am, 107)
“The Messenger's duty is but to proclaim (the Message). (al-Maida, 99
“If Allah so willed, He could make you all one people.” (an-Nahl, 93)
In another verse, attention is attracted to the following truth: “but if any deny faith; Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures.”(Aal-i-Imran, 97)

That is, Allah does not need anything of the any of the realms that He created and educated. He does not need the sunlight, the fruit of the trees, the blowing of the wind, the seasons following one another, the seeing and hearing of the living things; He does not need to be believed in, recognized and worshipped by people, either.

There are many verses like that. What is deduced from them is as follows: Allah calls people to believe and to continue worshipping for their own benefits; similarly, He orders them to carry out the duty of jihad for their own benefits. Although this meaning is valid for all ages and for the whole world of humanity, it addresses the Companions, who are the first people to be addressed by those verses, and the struggle between belief and unbelief in the Arabian Peninsula more.

When the religion of Islam emerged in the Arabian Peninsula, the main belief of the people living there was idolatry. The main aim of the Quran was to embed the belief of “oneness” (tawhid) in the hearts.

The chapter al-Fatiha starts with the declaration that Allah is the “Lord of the worlds”. All of the realms, skies, earths, people, animals, jinn, angels, plants were created, educated and trained by Allah, and they fulfill their duties thanks to Allah. It is a lesson of oneness.

It is emphasized in the following verses of the chapter that only Allah can be worshipped and that only His help can be asked for.

In another verse, attention is attracted to the fact that sustenance forms as a result of the cooperation of the sky and the earth, and it is taught that it is the Lord of the skies and the earth that is worthy of thanking.

In another verse, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is addressed, “It is true thou wilt not be able to guide everyone whom thou lovest: but Allah guides those whom He will and He knows best those who receive guidance.” (al-Qasas, 56) and it is declared that guidance, which is the greatest bounty, belongs to Allah only.

Thus, the lesson of oneness is given from the beginning to the end of the Quran; in the chapter an-Nas (the last chapter of the Quran), it is stated that Allah is the “Lord of people”. It is only Allah that educates and trains people. It is only He who trains the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the stomachs to digest; similarly, it is only He who trains the minds to understand, the hearts to believe, love and fear.

When we look at the past, we see that the common cause of the prophets is “oneness” (to accept that Allah is one). We also witness that humanity believes in something, whether it is right or wrong, that atheism is not widespread but that all kinds of polytheism is a great “mischief” that lead people astray.

When Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh), the greatest proclaimer of the belief of oneness started his greatest struggle against polytheism in Makkah, all polytheists opposed him and tried to dissuade him from his cause. They sent his uncle to him as a mediator. When he gave his uncle the following answer: “I would not abandon this cause even if they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand”, the period of force, bullying and torture started.

This point is very important: The polytheists living in and around Makkah were different from those in other places. They not only practiced their wrong belief on their own but also wanted to exterminate the light of oneness that emerged in their town and adopted the idea of eliminating it as a holy ideal; they were ready to sacrifice their lives for it. There were no other alternatives but two left: Either the belief of oneness would be victorious and the light of the Quran would be conveyed to humanity, or the wrong beliefs would invade the hearts of people. In other words, either people would be shown the way to Paradise, or the flow toward Hell would continue.

It is necessary to look at the verses of violence in the Quran about the polytheists of that period through that point of view. For instance, the struggle was not against a few polytheists but against the whole belief of polytheism and those who represented and wanted to protect it. As a matter of fact, we see that the Quran does not continue its harsh statements about the polytheists of Makkah when it addresses other polytheist nations. The statements about Christians, who have the belief of trinity, and other members of the People of the Book are not harsh at all.

“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation) unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say "We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” (al-Ankabut, 46)

Some people who overlook that point say the following:

How can you say that Islam is tolerant toward different beliefs when this verse is present: “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…” (al-Baqara,191)?

It is necessary to analyze some aspects of the issue due to its importance: The people that the verse addresses are Arab polytheists. “In the law of Equality there is (saving of) life to you O ye men of understanding.” (al-Baqara, 179)

In these verses, the believers are ordered to kill those who kill the believers and to exile those who exiled the believers; it is also emphasized that fitnah (mischief) is worse than killing. To kill a person means to exterminate his life in this ephemeral world. To cause mischief, to force people to worship idols means to send them to Hell permanently. It is obvious that the latter is worse than the former. What is more, the mischief of Makkan polytheists had a dimension of killing, too. They buried their daughters alive and declared war against believers in order to kill them.

Here, we want to present another verse expressing the same meaning: “Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah and those who reject Faith fight in the cause of Evil: so fight ye against the friends, of Satan: feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan.” (an-Nisa, 76)

“And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere.” (al-Anfal, 39)

What is meant by the word “them” in the verse are the polytheists, and what is meant by tumult or oppression is associating partners with Allah. “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 practice oppression.” (al-Baqara,193)

I would like to report two things that I regard very important from the interpretations of the last verse:

“The reason why that verse was sent down was the oppression and torture carried out by the people of Makkah against believers and their pressure to make believers exit Islam. Then, the meaning of the verse is: “Kill polytheists so that you will defeat them and there will be no mischief of exiting Islam. You should fight them in order to be protected from their torture so that polytheism will disappear and the religion of oneness will replace it. (Konyalı M.Vehbi Ef. 1-2/331)

While war is commanded in order to eliminate mischief, another verse brings the following restrictions: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.” (al-Baqara, 190)

War should be in the way of Allah; the wars that are fought to obtain some interests like invading lands, capturing booty, and obtaining slaves do not have the characteristic of jihad. Another limitation is not to transgress limits. It is a kind of oppression to punish a criminal more than he deserves, like torturing him or cutting one or some of his organs.

In order to be able to interpret the issue correctly, it is very important to understand the first verses of the chapter at-Tawbah:

“A (declaration) of immunity from Allah and His Messenger to those of the pagans with whom ye have contracted mutual alliances.” (at-Tawbah, 1)

“Go ye, then for four months, backwards and forwards, (as ye will), throughout the land, but know ye that ye cannot frustrate Allah (by your falsehood) but that Allah will cover with shame those who reject Him..” (at-Tawbah, 2)

Those verses declare that the contracts signed with polytheists, who did not keep their promises, were cancelled. They also warn the enemies of Islam, who were given four months of time, that they will be defeated.

In the next verse, the polytheists are called to repent; they are warned that they will be tortured in hell if they do not.

In the fifth verse, the following order is given, “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them …….”
In the sixth verse, it is stated that if any of the polytheists asks to be forgiven although the period of contract is over, they need to be forgiven and the following is added:
“so that he may hear the word of Allah; and then escort him to where he can be secure: That is because they are men without knowledge..”

Those verses are the last ones that were sent down. Muslims were victorious; the unbelievers were informed that they should either become Muslims or agree to fight; they were given four months (a long period) to believe or to leave; the Messenger of Allah clearly declared that there would not be two religions in the Arabian Peninsula.

The people that the verse and the hadith were notified to were those who tried to extinguish the light of Islam for more than twenty years, who exiled Muslims from their hometowns, who followed the Muslims to Madinah and tried to kill them there, who were killed for the sake of polytheism and who martyred many Companions; they were idealistic and determined polytheists. In spite of all these things, a contract was signed with them, and Muslims tried to live peacefully with them. It was the polytheists who always broke those agreements (except for two tribes). They were notified clearly that when the duration of the contract ended, the peace period would end. From then on, either the belief of oneness or polytheism would prevail. It was time to end it all.

Although Muslims defeated polytheists, they gave polytheists some time; those who wanted to know and learn Islam were let do so; if they did not believe, they were not killed but they were made sure to return to their towns safely. Besides, they were warned once more at the end of the verse that a tragic end awaited them.

The reason why Makkan polytheists were treated differently form other polytheists and the People of the Book was in order to settle and strengthen the true religion and the belief of oneness in and around Makkah and then to spread it to the whole world. The seed should be strong so that many trees would originate from it. From then on, nobody would worship idols, nobody would circumambulate the Kaaba naked, nobody would bury their daughters alive, everybody would believe in the Lord of the worlds, everybody would obey His orders and avoid His prohibitions in the Arabian Peninsula. Everybody would know that they were travelers to the hereafter and would do good deeds for the eternal land.

Thus, blessed and magnificent believers that would surpass angels would be brought up and they would try hard to convey the light of Islam to the whole world.

They would make jihad in order to eliminate oppression in the towns that people were oppressed but they would not force anybody to become Muslims when they were victorious; they would only lift the embargo imposed on the minds and hearts and they would present people with an environment of freedom that they could choose the good.

The following verse that orders those who suffered from the oppression of Makkan polytheists to be saved is an important guide which is very significant in terms of lifting similar oppression:

“And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?― men, women, and children, whose cry is: "Our Lord! rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect; and raise for us from Thee one who will help!"?” (an-Nisa, 75)

In order to eradicate the harmful elements around that cadre, the Muslims in Makkah started the attempt to conquer Makkah based on the order of that verse and eventually achieved it. After that, the cadre became perfect. In a very short time, the civilization of Andalusia and after that the Seljuk and Ottoman civilizations emerged and the light of the Quran illuminated the world. First, polytheism was cleared off the hearts and oneness became prevalent. Justice replaced oppression and high ethics replaced debauchery.

The believers who drew lessons from that verse started to make jihad and conquer new countries in order to break the strength of those who wanted to force people to accept their wrong beliefs and to end the oppression inflicted on Muslims.

“The aim of war in Islam is not taking revenge, killing or forcing people to adopt Islam but defeating the enemy and breaking their strength, hence making them subject to the decrees of the truth by letting them be free in their religion.” (Elmalılı Tefsiri, 2/864-5)

By collecting a tax called jizyah from the people of the countries that they conquered, Muslims made those people their subjects and protected their lives and property.

The following hadith about zimmis (non-Muslims living in a Muslim country and having the right of benefiting from the rights of citizenship by paying jizyah) is very significant:

“… If a person oppresses a zimmi and loads him a burden more than he can afford will find me against him in the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud, Imarah, 33, see Munawi, Fayzu`l-qadir, 6/19; Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad, 8/170; Ajluni, Kashfu`l-khafa, 2/342.)

The following explanation of Fakhraddin Razi, the great interpreter (mufassir), about jihad is very significant: “A person who fights unbelievers must have the aim and determination of eliminating unbelief. Therefore, it is wajib for a person who is fighting an unbeliever to give up killing him if he thinks that the probability of dissuading the unbeliever from unbelief without fighting him is greater.” (Tafsir Kabir; 4/436)

Those who utter the objections that are dealt with in this article should evaluate the following decree of Islam very well: “If an unbeliever becomes a zimmi and pays jizyah in the land of Islam or makes peace with Muslims outside the land of Islam, his rights are reserved.”

Accordingly, a person who kills a zimmi is retaliated just as a person who kills a Muslim is retaliated. If Muslims had misinterpreted that verse like those people mentioned above, they would have killed all of the polytheists, idolaters, Christians and Jews of the countries that they conquered.

History tells us just the opposite. The churches and synagogues that still exist in Islamic countries refute that claim.

Those who interpret the above-mentioned verse wrongly and incompletely and attack Islam are wrong; similarly, those who evaluate that verse based on their own minds and think of killing all non-Muslims are wrong like those people and are far away from the spirit of Islam.

The mistakes of those people, whom Badiuzzaman describe as “bigoted in religion and lacking reason” cannot be attributed to Islam.

It is wrong to attack Islam by using those people as a pretext. If it is necessary to attack somebody or something, the committees of seduction and subversion that have been trying hard to lead Muslims away from Islam continuously for over a century should be attacked.

The people who were deprived of learning Islam truly and who learned the Quran incompletely or even wrongly have eventually started to harm those enemies of Islam, too.

Moreover, it is well known that the organizations that organize people like that are supported by foreign countries, that they act like a company of murdering and that they make people commit many disgraceful acts from smuggling arms to drug trafficking in return for money.

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