Friday, February 02, 2007

Explanation of Verse 5 of Surah Taubah (Chapter 9)

One of the objections raised against Islam by the critics is on the verse 5 of Surah Taubah (Chapter 9): Allah says in the glorious Quran “And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” The allegation is that Quran says that kill the Non-Muslims wherever you find them. This is the verse which is often quoted to show that Islam is a ruthless religion and it teaches its followers extremism.

It has been mentioned by Islamic Scholars again and again that Quran cannot be understood just by reading the verses; one has to read the exegesis of Quran or study from an authentic scholar. This verse is thrown at Muslims time and again without proper research being done; even if the critics read from the first verse until around the thirteenth verse, it would have still clarified few of their doubts. But it looks like that some of them knowingly keep quoting this verse out of context just to throw dirt on the religion of Islam.

In this article, the whole background of this verse will be discussed and after a thorough analysis of the explanation of the first few verses of Surah Taubah (chapter 9), Insha’Allah (God willing), the readers will understand how the critics of Islam are mistaken.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the word mentioned in the verse 5 is Mushrikeen which means polytheists and thus it does not include all the Non-Muslims. Secondly, God has mentioned different types of polytheists in this chapter. If one does not understand the different types of polytheists then two major problems occur: firstly, one does not know in which verse God is talking about which group of polytheists, and secondly one who has not read the exegesis of Quran puts all the polytheists in one category as a whole, and thus thinks that God has commanded to kill all the polytheists.

It is imperative to understand some of the historical incidences which took place after five Hijri (five years after the Muslims migrated to Medina). After the unsuccessful attempt of the Non-Muslims in the war of Khandaq (in which the Non-Muslims tried to annihilate Muslims) they returned back to Makkah. Prophet (peace be upon him) told his companions that now the Makkans will never attack us again. Some time later the Prophet (peace be upon him) also saw a dream that Muslims are doing Umrah (small pilgrimage). Since the dream of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was always a revelation, it was decided that Muslims will go for Umrah. Muslims had left Makkah for six years and they yearned to go back to their birthplace and to the place where the Holy Kaaba was present (as the polytheists had forbidden their entry into Makkah and it was impossible for them to go there).

Consequently the Muslims departed for Makkah (without any ammunition to show that they had no intention to fight, and they just wanted to perform the Umrah), but they were stopped by the polytheists at a place called Hudabiyyah. They did not allow them to perform Umrah. The Polytheists had intentions to fight, but at that time Prophet (peace be upon him) said that I would make peace with them if they want to make peace with us, and I would accept any condition put forth (no matter how unjust so that a peace treaty could be signed; this further shows that Islam is not a religion of violence but peace). So in the end Muslims signed a peace treaty even though the conditions were extremely unjust.

The first condition Quraish (main tribe of the polytheists) put forth was that Muslims cannot perform Umrah this year. The Prophet (peace be upon him) accepted this condition (and when asked that your dream was a revelation and how is it possible that we cannot perform Umrah, he replied that the dream did not necessarily mean that we will do Umrah this year; we will do it eventually in the near future). The second condition they put forth was that if anyone turns away from your religion (Islam) and comes to us we will not return that person; on the other hand, if someone from one of us immigrates to Medina, the Muslims will return that person to us. The Prophet (peace be upon him) accepted this as well. It was also decided that Muslims and Polytheists will not fight each other for the next ten years. The fourth condition was that any Arab tribe is free to join either Muslims or the Polytheists if they wish. Along with this condition it was decided that if some tribe joins with Quraish or the Muslims, and if someone fights with that tribe then it will be considered an act of war on Quraish or the Muslims (as they have joined with either of them and thus are considered a part of them). The fifth condition was that next year Muslims will come for Umrah. The sixth term was that Muslims will come next year for Umrah for three days only without any ammunition. Hence, the treaty was signed on these conditions and next year in seventh Hijri Muslims came for three days and performed their Umrah.

There were two Arab tribes (Banu Bakr and Banu khuza’a) who used to fight each other a lot. Banu khuza’a joined the Muslims and Banu Bakr joined the Quraish in Makkah. After a while, there arose a conflict between these two tribes regarding a stream of water. The conflict was pre-planned by Banu Bakr and they used this excuse to carry out their plot. A lot of people from Banu khuza’a were killed in that conflict. The Quraish were not only aware of this plan of Banu Bakr, but they provided Banu Bakr with ammunition as well. So knowing that Quraish were on their side, Banu Bakr settled some of their previous scores with Banu Khuza’a.

When this news reached Prophet (peace be upon him) he conducted an investigation and when this incidence was confirmed, he sent a delegation to Quraish with the message that you have three options: the Quraish must pay compensation for the murders committed (hundred camels for one life), or the Quraish should clearly declare that they have broken their ties with Banu Bakr and then the Muslims will deal with them, or the Muslims should be allowed to kill same number of people from a sub tribe of Banu Bakr (i.e. Banu Nafaasa) on the principle of life for life. Quraish rejected this proposal and said if Muslims attack any of our allies we will take action against them with equal might. They further said that Muslims can do whatever they want with us (meaning we are not afraid of them and we will take care of them). Because of this act of Quraish, the treaty of Hudabiyyah was annulled (as the fourth condition of the treaty was not honoured).

When the treaty was null and void, Muslims conquered Makkah in eighth Hijri, and Prophet (peace be upon him) assured Banu Khuza’a that appropriate action will be taken. In ninth Hijri some Muslims went for pilgrimage and then these verses of Surah Taubah were revealed. Prophet (peace be upon him) sent Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) to Makkah to recite these verses to the Polytheists (one of the reason being that from next year only Muslims will be allowed to perform pilgrimage and not the polytheists). Now in Makkah there were four types of Polytheists.

The first type of Polytheists was of those with whom Muslims had a treaty of peace without mention of any timeframe. The second type was of those with whom there was no treaty at all as they used to live far away and there was no need for any treaty with them. The first, second and third verse of Surah Taubah talks about these polytheists and Allah says “[This is a declaration of] disassociation, from Allah and His Messenger, to those with whom you had made a treaty among the polytheists. So travel freely, [O disbelievers], throughout the land [during] four months but know that you cannot cause failure to Allah and that Allah will disgrace the disbelievers. And [it is] an announcement from Allah and His Messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah is disassociated from the disbelievers, and [so is] His Messenger. So if you repent, that is best for you; but if you turn away – then know that you will not cause failure to Allah. And give tidings to those who disbelieve of a painful punishment” [Al Quran 9:1-3]. God has commanded here that the treaty will be honoured, but from next year only Muslims will be allowed to perform pilgrimage. It is further stated in the narrations of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that he told Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) to announce that from now on no one will circle the Kaaba in nude (as was the practice in the days gone by) and that no polytheist will enter paradise unless they repent.

The third type of polytheists was of those with whom Muslims had treaty for a certain amount of time: they were the two tribes of Banu Kanaana (Banu Zamaara and Banu Madlij). The verse revealed in the Quran was in the month of Shawaal 9th Hijri and so the treaty with them was valid until nine more months. Allah says “Excepted are those with whom you made a treaty among the polytheists and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you; so complete for them their treaty until their term [has ended]. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him]” [Al Quran 9:4]. The Muslims were commanded to fulfill their treaty and not to renew it with those who did not break their treaty or supported anyone against the Muslims.

Fourth type was of the ones who broke the treaty of Hudabiyyah (i.e. Quraish, Banu Bakr and Banu Nafaasa). Allah gave them permission that for four months you can stay here but after that time you must leave this area. This is mentioned in the verse five which says “And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Al Quran 9:5]. Basically if they leave then they will not be harmed but if they do not, then God allowed Muslims to fight them, and in the battlefield kill those who broke the treaty (as their act of killing people of Banu Khuza’a was equivalent to the act of war on the Muslims). So verse 5 speaks about killing those polytheists who did not honour the treaty of Hudabiyyah in the battlefield, and the critics of Islam try to project that Muslims are allowed to kill all the Non-Muslims. Note that God says if they repent then let them go (even after their horrendous acts Islam teaches forgiveness and peace and not fighting).

Furthermore, one has to combine this verse with the next verse which says “And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know” [Al Quran 9:6]. Meaning that in the battlefield if someone asks for asylum, not only give them protection but also escort them to a place of security. The question here is that which army General in the battlefield can give this type of command? This clearly proves that the main emphasis of Islam is on peace.

I hope after the above mentioned explanation it would be clear that it is incorrect to state that Islam is violent religion and commands its followers to kill all the Non-Muslims. This is a gross misconception and it is used by those who do not understand the Quran or those who have enmity in their hearts against Islam. May Allah guide us all and show us the right path.

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