Archief voor maart, 2016

my_image_of_the_quran_by_msnsam-d50xawoThe same question keeps coming back: is Islam a religion of peace or a religion of violence? As often, the truth is found somewhere in the middle. Fact is that Islamic terrorists use religious texts to legitimate their actions. What strikes me is that a lot of people – even Muslims – still don’t seem to know what’s written in the Quran, this does no good to the religious discussion. One person only recites peaceful passages from the Quran, the other only hateful passages. In this article I quote some verses (Ayas) from the Quran about peace and violence to show that it’s not merely a matter of interpretation, but mainly a matter of cherry picking.

I am aware of the fact that my approach is vulnerable in the sense that I’m cherry picking myself and that there is a danger of ‘quoting out of context’. However, one should know that the Qur’an contains 114 chapters (Suras) arranged roughly from longest to shortest with the exception of the short first chapter (the Fatiha or ‘Opening’). This arrangement means that chapters often bear very little relation to preceding and following ones. I only quote complete verses and if I think it’s relevant also the surrounding verses to avoid quoting out of context. However, I strongly encourage you to read the Quran yourself if you’re interested in this subject. For a broader context and deeper understanding you should also read the ḥadīṯh which is about the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad.

Peaceful verses

“There is no compulsion in religion: rectitude has become distinct from error. So one who disavows the Rebels and has faith in Allah has held fast to the firmest handle for which there is no breaking; and Allah is all-hearing, all-knowing.” [2:256]

“That is why We decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul, without [its being guilty of] manslaughter or corruption on the earth, is as though he had killed all mankind, and whoever saves a life is as though he had saved all mankind. Our apostles certainly brought them manifest signs, yet even after that many of them commit excesses on the earth.
Indeed the requital of those who wage war against Allah and His Apostle, and try to cause corruption on the earth, is that they shall be slain or crucified, or have their hands and feet cut off from opposite sides or be banished from the land. That is a disgrace for them in this world, and in the Hereafter there is a great punishment for them,
excepting those who repent before you capture them, and know that Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful.”

Parts of the verses above are often recited to show that Islam is a religion of peace. Some scholars claim that Sura 2:256 is abrogated (I explain the ‘Law of Abrogation’ later) by other Suras like Sura 9:5 that orders to kill the polytheists. Sura 5:32 says that killing one soul is the same as killing all mankind, but Sura 5:33 says that those who wage war against Allah should be slain or crucified. This contradiction leaves some space for interpretation. Most Islamists consider ‘the West’ as a homogeneous group that is waging war against Islam, so in their eyes it’s legitimate to kill all Westerners.

Violent verses

“Warfare has been prescribed for you, though it is repulsive to you. Yet it may be that you dislike something while it is good for you, and it may be that you love something while it is bad for you, and Allah knows and you do not know.” [2:216]

“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress. Indeed Allah does not like transgressors.
And kill them wherever you confront them, and expel them from where they expelled you, for faithlessness is graver than killing. But do not fight them near the Holy Mosque unless they fight you therein; but if they fight you, kill them; such is the requital of the faithless.
But if they relinquish,1 then Allah is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Fight them until faithlessness is no more, and religion becomes [exclusively] for Allah. Then if they relinquish, there shall be no reprisal except against the wrongdoers.” [2:190-194]

“Then your Lord signaled to the angels: ‘I am indeed with you; so steady the faithful. I will cast terror into the hearts of the faithless. So strike their necks, and strike each of their fingertips!’” [8:12]

Then, when the sacred months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush. But if they repent, and maintain the prayer and give the zakāt, then let them alone. Indeed Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful.
If any of the polytheists seeks asylum from yougrant him asylum until he hears the Word of Allah. Then convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.” [9:5-6]
Note: Zakāt is a religious tax.

“Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give your victory over them and satisfy the breasts of a believing people.
And remove the fury in their hearts. And Allah turns in forgiveness to whom He wills; and Allah is knowing and wise.”

“When you meet the faithless in battle, strike their necks. When you have thoroughly decimated them, bind the captives firmly. Thereafter either oblige them [by setting them free]or take ransom till the war lays down its burdens. That [is Allah’s ordinance], and had Allah wished He could have taken vengeance on them,1but that He may test some of you by means of others. As for those who were slain in the way of Allah, He will not let their works go awry.” [47:4]

Parts of the verses above are often recited by jihadi ideologists to encourage Muslims to fight the unbelievers. And indeed, the call for violence in this verses is very clear. But there again is a contradiction, because there is also space for forgiveness. The verse after the famous Sword Verse even tells Muslims to grant asylum to the polytheists because ‘they are the people that not know’.


“If you are slain in the way of Allah, or die, surely forgiveness and mercy from Allah are better than what they amass.
And if you die or are slain, you will surely be mustered toward Allah.”

“Do not suppose those who were slain in the way of Allah to be dead; rather they are living and provided for near their Lord.” [3:169]

“Not equal are those of the faithful who sit back —excepting those who suffer from some disability— and those who wage jihād in the way of Allah with their possession and their persons. Allah has graced those who wage jihād with their possessions and their persons by a degree over those who sit back; yet to each Allah has promised the best reward, and Allah has graced those who wage jihād over those who sit back with a great reward:” [4:95]

“Those who have believed and migrated, and waged jihād in the way of Allah with their possessions and persons have a greater rank near Allah, and it is they who are the triumphant.
Their Lord gives them the good news of His mercy and [His] pleasure, and for them there will be gardens with lasting bliss,
to remain in them forever.
With Allah indeed is a great reward.” [9:20-22]

In these verses we see that a reward is promised to the ones that die in the way of Allah. What exactly dying in the way of Allah means, is a matter of interpretation. Scholars make a distinction between ‘the greater jihad’ which is the inner battle of the soul and the ‘lesser jihad’ which is the violent battle against unbelievers. Since Sura 4:95 makes an exception for disabled people we can assume that this verse is about the violent battle. Some Islamist scholars claim that jihad is the sixth pillar of Islam, most Muslims strongly disagree with that.

It’s very important to keep in mind that the Quran is written a long time ago, in a totally different world. The problem is however that most orthodox Muslims believe that the Quran was uncreated and that the earthly Quran is simply an exact copy of Allah’s eternal word. To excuse or explain parts of the Quran by referring to historical context is therefore highly problematic. If the Quran is indeed Allah’s eternal guidance to mankind, human beings should be able to follow it at all times and under all circumstances. If we read the verses above we see a lot of contradictions. Sometimes in different chapters, but even in the same verse. It usually starts with a call for violent battle and ends with the phrase that Allah is forgiving and merciful. Important here is that there is only mercy for people that convert to Islam. Furthermore there are verses that say that there is no compulsion in religion and that killing is bad – but also verses that call to kill the unbelievers. Important here is that the Quran works according the ‘Law of Abrogation’, which means that where two verses contradict each other, the more recent one cancels out (abrogates) the earlier one. In general terms, it can be stated that passages ‘revealed’ in Medina will always abrogate passages ‘revealed’ in Mecca if there is any conflict between them. Unfortunately most violent verses have been revealed later than the peaceful ones and thus have more religious authority.

If you believe in God and if you believe the Quran is the infallible word of God, then it’s pretty hard to resist the call for violence towards infidels. We see that both jihadi ideologists and moderate Muslims only use the verses of the Quran they like. On the one hand we should be happy that most Muslims ignore the violent passages, on the other hand we should acknowledge that they are there – and we should discuss that problem. The inspiration or excuse for violence is not coming out of nowhere, it’s coming from the Holy Book.



Averroes, “The chapter on Jihad” of Bidayat al-mujtahid [A manual of Islamic legal thought] in: Peters (1996), 27-42.

Peters, R. “Jihad, an introduction” in: Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam, 1996, 1-8.

The Quran. Online Translation and Commentary.

Townsend, P. Arabic for Unbelievers. 2014.