Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 191 & 192
Verses 191 & 192
And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and persecution is worse than killing. And do not fight them at the Sacred House until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. But if they stop, then God is most forgiving and merciful.
(Chapter 2: Verses 191, 192)
The Arabic language takes much of its words from the surrounding environment and from tangible things. The word “overtake” is translated from the Arabic origin “thaqiftum.” It is derived from the root “tha” “Qa” “Fa” which means to straighten a branch. The Arabs used to take branches off trees to make spears and staffs out of them. A branch may be crooked or rough, so they would straighten it by removing any protrusion and crookedness. It is the same word “Tathqeef” that is used for education which fixes a person’s ignorance. Similarly, in this verse, the word “thaqiftum” has within its root correcting what is wrong and straightening what is crooked.
God says: “And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you.” Again, in this verse, God directs the believers to fight only those who have transgressed against them. It is a universal right to defend one’s home, and fight any aggressor who wants to expel you –or expel anyone- out of his or her home. You will find the same logic of fairness throughout the Quran. God says:
If you have to retaliate to an attack, make your response proportionate, but if you endure patiently, it is indeed better for the patient. (16:126)
in another verse:
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. (2:190)
And in another chapter:
Let harm be retaliated by an equal harm, though anyone who forgives and puts things right will have his reward from God Himself––He does not like those who do wrong. (42:40)
When you listen to these verses, and more specifically when you listen to a phrase such as ‘Let harm be retaliated by an equal harm’ you may be asking yourself: Am I supposed to reward one evil act with another? Isn’t that doing wrong? We answer that Allah wants the aggressors to know that there will be consequences for their aggression. A Muslim is not to do wrong. However, he or she has the right to seek justice and react to aggression. Similarly, Allah –The All-Merciful, The All-Wise- does not plot against His creation; however, those who plot against God and the believers should expect to be treated the same way. God says: ‘They plotted and Allah plotted. But Allah is the best of plotters’ (3:54). Being able to seek justice, and treat others as they treat you is a right. Allah, however, always directs the believer to rise to higher grounds and treat others with nobility and forgiveness. Take note how Allah –after giving you the right to seek justice- concluded each and every one of the verses we reviewed: He says in chapter 16:
but if you endure patiently, it is indeed better for the patient.
In chapter 2:
but do not overstep the limits: God does not love those who overstep the limits.
In chapter 42:
though anyone who forgives and puts things right will have his reward from God Himself––He does not like those who do wrong.
And lastly in chapter 2:
Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. But if they stop, then God is most forgiving and merciful.
Here we should pause and study the phrase: “persecution is worse than killing.” The word “persecution” is translated from the Arabic origin ‘Fitna’ which means a trial, test, or the spread of corruption. It’s Arabic root ‘Fa Ta Na’ often refers to the process of purifying Gold by removing all impurities. The Goldsmith takes a gold nugget, places it in the fire and as it melts any other metals and impurities mixed with it would separate and rise to the top. Thus, ‘Fitna’ is a trial that separates the good from the bad.
Sadly, the disbelievers and polytheists had used terrible tools in order to spread corruption within the Muslim society. Since the first calls to Islam in Mecca, they have subjected the Muslims to torture and worked tirelessly to weaken their resolve and plant divisions amongst them.
God orders the Muslims to fight in order to repel aggression. God also commands the Muslims to respect the sanctity of the Sacred House and respect the sanctity of the four sacred months. However, He –Almighty- wanted to protect the Muslims against those who have no respect or consideration for what is sacred. Perhaps these sacred times and places would entice the enemies of Islam to initiate aggression knowing that the Muslims would not respond. Thus, Allah legislated for the believers a permission to fight in the sacred months, in the sacred place, and while in the state of ihram if necessary to repel aggression and seek retribution. God explains: “and persecution is worse than killing” meaning that those who attempt to violate sanctities and use people’s faith as a tool for harm are committing something that is worse than murder. Those who ruin people's faith, spread division and corruption are murderers of entire societies. So, there should be no excuse to shy away from a fighting them, even in the sacred places during sacred months. God says:
A sacred month for a sacred month: violation of sanctity calls for fair retribution. So if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him as he attacked you, but be mindful of God, and know that He is with those who are mindful of Him. (2:194)