Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 191 & 192..........Part 2
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)
In the previous sessions, we discussed the legislation of fighting in Islam and explained how God had entrusted the believers with the responsibilities of defending their faith against aggression and standing up to tyrants and oppressors. Before the advent of Prophet Muhammad –peace be upon him-, it was the responsibility of prophets and messengers to deliver God’s teachings; while the heavens took on the responsibility of disciplining those who fought against God and spread corruption. We presented the example of Prophet Moses delivering the Torah and spreading the word of God; while the heavens intervened to punish Pharaoh and his followers. We also explained that verses such as: Do not give in to the disbelievers and the hypocrites: ignore the harm they cause you and put your trust in God. God suffices as a Guardian. (33:48), and Forgive and forbear until God gives his command: He has power over all things (02:109) are meant to help discipline one’s self against fanaticism, extremism and the desire for revenge. Allah wants the believers to be wise, patient and careful in carrying out His teachings. Allah wants the believers to resort to fighting only as a last option, and only after careful deliberation and reflection. Fighting should be a tool to defend values, not to seek gain, revenge or spread fear. For all these reasons, God legislated fighting gradually. He says in verse 190: ‘Fight in God’s cause against those who fight you’ setting defense as the sole reason to carry arms. God also made an exception for those who are attacked in sacred places or during sacred months to be able to defend themselves against those who take advantage of these sanctities. He says in verse 194: ‘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.’
God gave a clear reason for this exception. He says: “persecution is worse than killing” meaning that those who are working tirelessly to spoil people’s faith and create divisions among the believers have to be stopped. Preventing people from hearing God’s message and joining the faith is one crime, but spreading corruption within the faith and creating divisions among the believers is a much more severe crime. This is yet another proof that fighting in Islam is legislated as a means for defense and to protect the Muslims against aggressors.
Here, we should ask a critical question: Are the believers asked to fight to defend the Muslims only? Or are they asked to fight in defense of every oppressed people regardless of faith? We answer that Allah has sent His message to humanity as a whole, so whoever is attacking the believers should be fought and stopped; and whoever is oppressing people –regardless of their faith- and forcing them into belief against their will should be fought and stopped, even if the oppressor claims to be Muslim. We defend the weak and the oppressed so that they are free in choosing their path in life. God says:
There is no compulsion in religion: true guidance has become distinct from error, so whoever rejects false gods and believes in God has grasped the firmest hand-hold, one that will never break. God is all hearing and all knowing. (2:256)
The real aim is fairness and justice, and the enemy are the tyrants and the unjust regardless of their faith. God says addressing the Muslims:
If two groups of the believers fight, you should try to reconcile them; if one of them is oppressing the other, fight the oppressors until they submit to God’s command, then make a just and even-handed reconciliation between the two of them: God loves those who are equitable. (49:9)
This brings us back to the verse. God says: ‘And do not fight them at the Sacred House until they fight you there’ because it befits you as believers to respect the sanctity of God’s sacred Mosque. But if your enemies dared to fight in the Sacred Mosque, then God has permitted for you to fight back. He says: ‘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.’ Take note that God had asked the Muslims to stand against anyone who dares to violate Islam’s sacred House, but to cease when the aggression stops. God – the All-Merciful- wants the heart of the believer to be free from the desire for personal revenge and the desire to turn from a defender of faith to an aggressor.
Take the example of Omar bin al-Khattab –one of the prophet’s close companions- when a friend of his pointed out a man in the crowd and said: ‘Omar, this is the man who killed your brother Zaid.’ Omar replied: ‘What can I do to him now that he has embraced Islam? Islam has sanctified his blood.’ Omar put faith ahead of his personal desire for revenge.
Faith in God is dearer to the believer than his own blood. Whenever the Prophet (peace be upon him) would see Wahshi -the murderer of the Prophet’s uncle Hamza- the most he would do was to turn his face away from him, but he did not kill him or avenge his Uncle. So, Islam is not a religion of hatred, revenge, or settling of scores; to the contrary, the more faith you have in your heart, the less these feeling find a way into it. God says:
But if they stop, then God is most forgiving and merciful. (2:192)
Meaning: As soon as the enemies of Islam stop their aggression and their efforts to break down the Muslims community, the Muslims ought to stop too.