Today's installment brings the Qur'an's quintessential violent passage:
Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Qur'an 9:5)
This is the notorious Verse of the Sword, a verse that is much beloved by present-day jihadists. In a 2003 sermon, Osama bin Laden rejoiced over this verse: “Praise be to Allah who revealed the verse of the Sword to his servant and messenger [the Prophet Muhammad], in order to establish truth and abolish falsehood.”
The Qur'an commentator Ibn Juzayy says that this verse abrogates “every peace treaty in the Qur’an,” and specifically abrogates Qur'an 47:4’s directive to “set free or ransom” captive unbelievers. Another, As-Suyuti, says: “This is an Ayat of the Sword which abrogates pardon, truce and overlooking” – that is, perhaps the overlooking of the pagans’ offenses. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that the Muslims must “slay the idolaters wherever you find them, be it during a lawful [period] or a sacred [one], and take them, captive, and confine them, to castles and forts, until they have no choice except [being put to] death or [acceptance of] Islam.”
Ibn Kathir echoes this, directing that Muslims should “not wait until you find them. Rather, seek and besiege them in their areas and forts, gather intelligence about them in the various roads and fairways so that what is made wide looks ever smaller to them. This way, they will have no choice, but to die or embrace Islam.” He also doesn’t seem to subscribe to the view commonly put forward by Muslim spokesmen in the West today — that this verse applies only to the pagans of Arabia in Muhammad’s time, and has no further application. He asserts, on the contrary, that “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” means just that: the unbelievers must be killed “on the earth in general, except for the Sacred Area” – that is, the sacred mosque in Mecca, in accord with Qur'an 2:191.
If the unbelievers convert to Islam, the Muslims must stop killing them. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn: “But if they repent, of unbelief, and establish prayer and pay the alms, then leave their way free, and do not interfere with them.” Ibn Kathir: “These Ayat [verses] allowed fighting people unless, and until, they embrace Islam and implement its rulings and obligations.” Sayyid Qutb says that the termination of the treaties with a four-month grace period, combined with the call to kill the unbelievers, “was not meant as a campaign of vengeance or extermination, but rather as a warning which provided a motive for them to accept Islam.”
Finally, it is noteworthy that, according to As-Suyuti, the jurist “Ash-Shafi’i took this as a proof for killing anyone who abandons the prayer and fighting anyone who refuses to pay zakat [alms]. Some use it as a proof that they are kafirun [unbelievers].” Likewise Ibn Kathir: “Abu Bakr As-Siddiq used this and other honorable Ayat as proof for fighting those who refrained from paying the Zakah.” Thus even Muslims who do not fulfill Islamic obligations fall into the category of those who must be fought. This is a principle that latter-day Salafist movements apply broadly and use frequently in branding governments that do not rule according to strict Islamic law as unbelievers who must be fought by those who regard themselves as true Muslims. This has played out over the last couple of years in the "Arab Spring" revolts.