Hatred and violence in today’s passage:
Prescribed for you is fighting, though it be hateful to you. Yet it may happen that you will hate a thing which is better for you; and it may happen that you will love a thing which is worse for you; God knows, and you know not. They will question thee concerning the holy month, and fighting in it. Say: ‘Fighting in it is a heinous thing, but to bar from God’s way, and disbelief in Him, and the Holy Mosque, and to expel its people from it — that is more heinous in God’s sight; and persecution is more heinous than slaying.’ They will not cease to fight with you, till they turn you from your religion, if they are able; and whosoever of you turns from his religion, and dies disbelieving — their works have failed in this world and the next; those are the inhabitants of the Fire; therein they shall dwell forever. But the believers, and those who emigrate and struggle in God’s way — those have hope of God’s compassion; and God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. (Qur’an 2:216-218)
The passage exhorts the believers to fight, even though “it be hateful to you.” Maulana Bulandshahri explains the traditional view: “While the Muslims were in Makkah, they were weak and few in number, never possessing the capability nor the divine permission for Jihad (religious war). After migrating to Madinah, they received the order to fight their enemies in defence, as a verse of Surah Hajj [chapter 22 of the Qur’an] proclaims: “˜Permission (to fight) has been granted to those being attacked because they are oppressed” [22:39]. Later on the order came to fight the Infidels (kuffar) even though they do not initiate the aggression.” Bulandshahri was a modern-day theologian, but this view of the three stages of development of the Qur’an’s teaching on warfare is found in Ibn Ishaq’s eighth-century work, and in the writings of mainstream Islamic theologians throughout the ages, including Ibn Kathir, Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Juzayy, As-Suyuti, and many others. It is only denied by Islamic apologists in the West whose dishonesty on other matters is manifest.
Muhammad’s first biographer, an eighth-century Muslim named Ibn Ishaq, offers a story that gives the background of this passage. After the Hijrah, Muhammad’s move from Mecca to Medina, the Muslims began raiding caravans of the pagan Quryash — Muhammad’s own tribe, which had rejected him. Muhammad himself led many of these raids. These raids served a key economic purpose: keeping the Muslim movement solvent. At one point Muhammad sent one of his most trusted lieutenants, Abdullah bin Jahsh, along with eight other Muslims out with orders to watch for a Quraysh caravan at Nakhla, a settlement not far from Mecca, and “find out what they are doing.”
Abdullah and his band took this as an order to raid the Quraysh caravan, which soon came along, carrying leather and raisins. But it was the last day of the sacred month of Rajab, during which, by longstanding Arab custom, fighting was forbidden. This presented them with a dilemma: if they waited until the sacred month was over, the caravan would get away, but if they attacked, they would sin by killing people during the sacred month. They finally decided, according to Ibn Ishaq, to “kill as many as they could of them and take what they had.”
On the way home to Medina, Abdullah set aside a fifth of the booty for Muhammad. But when they returned to the Muslim camp, Muhammad refused to share in the loot or to have anything to do with them, saying only: “I did not order you to fight in the sacred month.” But then Allah revealed v. 217, including the key passage “persecution is more heinous than slaying,” explaining that the Quraysh’s opposition to Muhammad — their persecution of the Muslims was more offensive in his eyes than the Muslims” violation of the sacred month: the slaying of the Quraysh during Rajab. The raid was thereby justified. Whatever sin the Nakhla raiders had committed in violating the sacred month was nothing compared to the Quraysh’s sins. Ibn Ishaq explained this verse: “They have kept you back from the way of God with their unbelief in Him, and from the sacred mosque, and have driven you from it when you were with its people. This is a more serious matter with God than the killing of those whom you have slain.”
Once he received this revelation, Muhammad took Abdullah’s booty and prisoners. Abdullah was considerably relieved, and asked, “Can we hope that it will count as a raid for which we shall be given the reward of combatants?” Here again Allah answered in a revelation, saying that those who “struggle in God’s way — those have hope of God’s compassion” (v. 218). “Struggle” here is jahadu (Ø¬ÙŽØ§Ù‡ÙŽØ¯ÙÙˆ), which is a form of jihad, and “jihad for the sake of Allah” or “jihad in the way of Allah” (Ø¬ÙŽØ§Ù‡ÙŽØ¯ÙÙˆØ§Ù’ ÙÙÙŠ Ø³ÙŽØ¨ÙÙŠÙ„Ù Ø§Ù„Ù„Ù‘Ù‡Ù) always in Islamic theology refers to jihad warfare, not to more spiritualized understandings of jihad.
Ibn Kathir, following Ibn Ishaq, also recounts this incident, which was a momentous one: good became identified with anything that redounded to the benefit of Muslims, and evil with anything that harmed them, without reference to any larger moral standard. Moral absolutes were swept aside in favor of the overarching principle of expediency. Sayyid Qutb explains that “Islam is a practical and realistic way of life which is not based on rigid idealistic dogma.” Islam “maintains its own high moral principles,” but only when “justice is established and wrongdoing is contained” “” i.e., only when Islamic law rules a society “” can “sanctities be protected and preserved.” So evidently they need not be before that point.