Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)

Verse 190..........Part 2

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Session 199

Chapter 2

Verse 190

a continuation

Fight in God’s cause against those who fight you, but do not overstep the limits: God does not love those who overstep the limits. (Chapter 2: Verse 190)

In the previous session, we discussed that God did not legislate fighting for the first 13 years of Islam.  And even when it was legislated, it was allowed to defend against aggression or to free the oppressed and exploited from tyranny.  God warned the Muslims against overstepping these limits. 

Here you may ask, what was the reason for the gradual approach of disallowing fighting then legislating it? We answer that God Almighty knew that the call of Islam would enter many houses of the Arabs and Meccans.  Early Muslims –just as early Christians and Jews- were subjected to unrelenting abuse and persecution.  A household might have believers in God, and disbelievers under one roof.  If God had prescribed fighting right from the beginning, there would have been a battle in each house. 

Furthermore, God knew that the Arab tribes had many people who were hot-headed, foolish and reckless.  They would go to war for trivial reasons.  In fact, before Islam, a war had raged for forty years between two tribes over livestock dispute.  A poet says:

There are people who, if evil flashed its teeth at them,

Rush to fight, whether in groups or alone;

They do not question their brother, as he places them

within the troops: ‘Why are we going to battle?’

The Arab tribes and Bedouins of the time used to fight for any reason.  Reckless zeal would drive them into battle with little thought.  On the other hand, they always stood up for the weak and oppressed and rushed to defend any person who was treated unjustly regardless of the danger.  God, the All-Merciful, wanted to extinguish the recklessness and zeal from their hearts while preserving their love for justice and integrity.  

Take the example of when the early Muslims –mostly from the family of Hashim-were marginalized and boycotted by the elites of Mecca.  This vulnerable group was forced to withdraw from society and ended up on the brink of starvation.  Five of the most prominent families in Mecca –all enemies of the Hashim family- gathered and proclaimed: How can we eat, drink and enjoy life while our fellow Meccans are trapped in the valley without food, drink or trade? These prominent families were unbelievers who hated Islam, yet they stood up against the boycott of the family of Hashim and broke the siege.  They all agreed to this decision because of their honor and commitment to what is right.  These were the qualities that Allah wanted to preserve while dispensing with the qualities of fanaticism and tribalism.  Changing ingrained social customs is not easy. Thus, Allah –the All-Wise- treated the Meccan society with leniency.  

To those who ask: why didn’t the Muslims fight their enemies from the first day and go after the leaders of disbelief in Mecca who were persecuting and torturing them? We answer that while there was fierce resistance to the new faith of Islam in Mecca, many of the leaders who used to fight the Muslims were the same ones who spread the banner of Islam years later after they embraced the faith.  Khalid ibn al-Walid, for example, was a daring commander in the ranks of Quraish who fought the Muslims early in his life.  Then God guided him to Islam, and he became one of the greatest Muslim military leaders.  What would have happened if this great commander did not get a chance to hear the message of Islam, or see the Muslims practicing their faith? What if he had been killed at the hands of Muslims?  Such an act would have deprived the Muslims of his talent, a talent that contributed to most of the Islamic conquests in the Syria and Iraq.

God’s wisdom retained the likes of Khalid who were opponents of Islam because they had a great future role serving Islam and protecting the Muslims.  Moreover, those who opposed Islam and persecuted the early Muslims served Islam with passion once they embraced the faith.  They wanted Allah to forgive their earlier transgressions, so they worked tirelessly to serve the community.  Take the example of Ikrima ibn Abi Jahl who was one of the fiercest enemies of the Muslims in Mecca.  Later on, he embraced Islam.  When he was fatally wounded in the battle of Yarmouk, he looked at his commander Khalid and asked: Are my deeds something the Messenger of God will be pleased with? As if he knew that Prophet Muhammad was angry with him before he became a Muslim.

There are many more examples of disbelievers who achieved high ranks once they embraced Islam such Amr ibn al-Aas who presided over Egypt after he won the hearts of its people with his wisdom and intelligence.  He removed the hatred of Muslims from their hearts without a fight.  Amr delivered the prophet’s message to the Christians of Egypt –also known as Aqbat-.  Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said to Amr: “Take good care of the Aqbat of Egypt as they are our kin in blood and our kin in faith.”

From all this, we understand the wisdom of delaying the legislation of fighting and war in Islam.  Allah had preserved the Meccan society, allowed the early embracers of Islam to focus on their faith and disciplined them to bear the hardships of life in a hostile environment.  That ensured that anyone who joined Islam –knowing the challenges ahead- had a firm belief in his or her heart.  Those were the believers that carried God’s message to all corners of the earth.  They were true to themselves, true to their faith, and they were worthy of the responsibility of defending their faith and standing up for the weak and oppressed.  That is why the order to fight came later and gradually.  God says:

Fight in God’s cause against those who fight you, but do not overstep the limits: God does not love those who overstep the limits. (Chapter 2: Verse 190)

                 Let’s look at the historical events that lead to the revelation of this verse: Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions longed to visit the Sacred House in Mecca, and they planned to perform the pilgrimage trip of Umrah.  They set off for Umrah in the month of thil-Qi’dah in the sixth year after the prophet’s migration.  When they reached a place called Hudaybiyah, the elites of Quraish stood in their way and said:  Muhammad and his companions are not allowed to enter Mecca.  The negotiations between the two parties continued, and the Messenger of God agreed to postpone his Umrah pilgrimage until the following year.  It was agreed that Quraish would vacate Mecca for three days next year so the Muslims can perform Hajj.


                 The Prophet’s companions –not aware of the agreement- had been ready with their Ihram clothes, and their hair cut short as required.  They were excited and happy to visit God’s sacred house.  When they heard the news of postponing Umrah until next year, they were taken by surprise.  They were only twenty kilometers away from Mecca!  The companions were saddened, and some were angry.  Omar bin al-Khattab (may God be pleased with him) said to the Prophet in anger: “are you not the Messenger of God? Are you not upon the truth?” Abu Bakr replied to him: “Omar, calm down, he is the Messenger of God.”


                 It was the wisdom of Um Salama –the wife of the prophet- that defused the situation.  Prophet Muhammad returned to her with sadness and concern.  He –peace be upon him- said: “The Muslims have perished O Um Salama, I ordered them, but they did not comply.”  Um Sallama gave advice that showed her wisdom, compassion, and thoughtfulness.  When she saw the look of concern on her husband’s face, she said: excuse them O Messenger of God for they are in shock and grieve.  They longed to enter the House of God, and as they drew closer, they were deprived of it.  Muhammad, why don’t you carry on the order of God by yourself.  Do as you were commanded and do not speak to anyone.  If they see you implementing God’s orders, they will follow you.”  The Prophet (peace be upon him) took his wife’s advice did as God commanded.  Sure enough, when the companions saw the prophet, they all followed him.


                 God did not want those who had high hopes to visit His sacred house to leave with sorrow in their hearts.  Thus, and before they returned to Madina, Allah revealed the actual reason behind the deal prophet Muhammad struck with Quraish.  God says:


They were the ones who disbelieved, who barred you from the Sacred Mosque, and who prevented the offering from reaching its place of sacrifice. If there had not been among them, unknown to you, believing men and women whom you would have trampled underfoot, inadvertently incurring guilt on their account- God brings whoever He will into His mercy- if the believers had been clearly separated, We would have in?icted a painful punishment on the disbelievers. (48:25)


             God informed the Prophet and his companions that they had believing brothers and sisters in Mecca who hid their faith.  Had you entered Mecca despite Quraish’s warnings, they would have fought you, and you had to fight back.  You would not have been able to distinguish between the two.  Had the believers been known to you, we would have authorized you to fight.  After the revelation of this verse, the Muslims understood the wisdom behind the deal.  The Muslims, however, still feared that if they returned next year, Quraish might renege on their word.  Thus, before their return, God Almighty authorized them to fight if the need arises.  He, Almighty, says:

Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. (2:190)

Perhaps, the most important phrase in this verse is “fight in the way of God.”  Allah wants to put an end to the tyranny and pride of human beings.  Thus, it is necessary that the intention of fighting must be for God alone and not for gaining superiority or punishing an enemy or forcing your will upon them.  There is no fighting for status, money, or to ensure access to markets and resources.  Fighting is only allowed for protecting the weak and raising the word of God.

God further warns: “do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors” again emphasizing that Muslims must not fight those who did not fight them.  Suppose, for example, that a group or a country came to fight the Muslims.  But the residents of this country -such as the women, the children and the elderly- did not take part in the fight.  It is not permissible to fight these residents, even if they support the policies of their government.  The reaction of the Muslims must be according to the action taken against them and not a step further.  Why? Because fighting civilian populations is an act of aggression and God Almighty does not like the aggressors.  The fight must be only to repel aggression, not to start one.