What the Qur'an Really Says About Violence

by Silas


Since the 9/11 attacks and the continuing terrorism carried out by Muslims worldwide, Muslims living in the West have made considerable effort to portray Islam as a peaceful religion. They argue that the Muslim terrorists have "hijacked" Islam, i.e. that they are not behaving as true Muslims, and are committing acts condemned by Islamic teachings. They further state that the violent verses in the Quran are defensive and that the Quran needs to be understood in its proper context to in order to realize that Islam is truly a peaceful religion.

One such Muslim apologist is Hesham A. Hassaballa, regularly featured on Beliefnet. He wrote an article entitled, "What the Quran Really Says About Violence", which was published on Beliefnet on 23 August 2002: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/111/story_11172_1.html

After reading his article it was obvious that the readers won’t have a true understanding of what the Quran really says about violence. Instead they will only know Hassaballa’s opinion, an opinion that is unsupported by historical references and devoid of actual context. In fact, Hassaballa commits the very mistakes and errors that he accuses others of committing.

I am going to examine his article, break it down into a number of points, and discuss some of his errors. This article is long and I’ll have it posted as a series. I’ve taken the liberty to correct some of his spelling errors. My quotations of Hassaballa's work will be in blue color text, and quoted references will be in bold green text.

I challenge you, the reader, to search out the Islamic references that I quote. Do your own research and study, think for yourself, and draw your own conclusions. Don’t let anyone do your thinking for you on such a crucial issue.

If Islam is indeed a religion of aggressive violence then all non-Muslim peoples have reason to be concerned.

As a prelude, pause, take a second, and have a look around the entire world. Wherever you have a critical mass of Muslims living in a non-Muslim area you have Islamic violence. Buddhists in Thailand, Hindus in India, Christians in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Indonesia, animists in Sudan, Jews in Israel, atheists in France and Turkey, people in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia, whites, blacks, browns, etc., have all been murdered by devout Muslims. Islamic terrorism is here on a worldwide scale and it does not discriminate on the basis of race, nationality, or religion. No non-Muslims have been spared from Muhammad’s sword, the sword of Islam.




The Quran says many things about many issues. Many verses are intended for specific people, specific events, specific periods of time, etc, and are not intended to be universally applied, nor are they universal declarations. If you want to understand the Quran you’ll have to know not only the context of the verse, but also its application, chronological setting, and "continued validity". Otherwise anyone can quote the Quran out of context to prove their point.

I used the term, "continued validity" because the Quran has a peculiar doctrine of self cancellation, or "abrogation". This means that certain Quranic verses cancel out, or abrogate, other Quranic verses. Many times over a simple 23 year period, Muhammad’s "Allah" changed His mind, and changed the rules of the game. Hence what Muhammad spoke in the 15th year as the Quran may have been cancelled out by what he spoke in the 21st year. Christians and Jews should not approach the study of the Quran as they do their own Scriptures because its theological paradigm is not the same.

The Encyclopedia of Islam states on abrogation:

"Rather than attempting to explain away the inconsistencies in passages giving regulations for the Muslim community, Kuran scholars and jurists came to acknowledge the differences, while arguing that the latest verse on any subject "abrogated" all earlier verses that contradicted it. A classic example involves the Kuranic teaching or regulation on drinking wine, where V, 90, which has a strong statement against the practice, came to be interpreted as a prohibition, abrogating II, 219, and IV, 43, which appear to allow it". Encyclopaedia of Islam, published by Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands. [1]

Therefore in order to understand what the Quran really teaches about violence, one must know whether or not the verses in question have been abrogated. If they have been abrogated then their continued validity and application is null and void.

I want to examine and discuss not only the specific contexts of the Quran’s passages; I also want to show you Muhammad’s actions. Did Muhammad act in an aggressive, violent way against non-Muslims? I’m going to draw upon an incident near the end of Muhammad’s life that will show exactly which Quranic injunctions concerning violence he believed to be from Allah, and applicable, for himself and today’s Muslims. Remember, actions speak louder than words.



I’ll discuss some of Hassaballa’s premises then break it down into a series of points. He’s made a lot of errors: he’s gotten his Islamic history wrong, left out vital information, confused different Arab tribes in different geographical areas, and failed to provide any contextual information. I’m going to try to provide you with brief, but sufficient, contextual detail to enable you to understand what the Quran really teaches about violence.

Hassaballa lays his groundwork for discussion and understanding:

For there to be any semblance of an intelligent and scholarly analysis of verses of the Qur'an, a full understanding of the Arabic language along with understanding of the context of the verses in question is an essential prerequisite.


I agree that we must know the context of the Quran’s verses in order to understand the Quran. But I disagree that a person must be fluent in Quranic Arabic in order to have this understanding. People are able to understand the Quran and its contexts by reading what qualified Quranic scholars, Muslim or otherwise, have written in their own languages. I now consider myself to be fluent in English, al-humdulilah! There are many publications written by many Quranic scholars and published in English, and other languages, that enable me, you, and others, to understand the Quran.

Specifically, there are many verses in the Quran, corroborating material in the Traditions (Hadith), Muhammad’s biographical information, (Sira), and Islamic scholar’s commentary, (Tafsir), all available in English, that enable us to study, understand, and draw logical conclusions on what the Quran teaches about violence. I will be using and documenting these references in my critique, so that you may be able to verify my statements and position.


Hassaballa’s flawed assumption:

Neither Islam's conservative critics, nor the "scholars" and "experts" they read and quote from in their writings, possess such knowledge. What they do is misquote, mistranslate, or quote Qur'anic verses out of context and use those misquotations as evidence for their claims. These tactics violate every rule of Scriptural Exegesis 101.


This assumption is bad because Hassaballa does not know the capabilities of the "scholars" conservative critics quote. I will quote from several recognized Muslim scholars.

Further, I want to ask a question: Is Hassaballa a qualified Quranic scholar? Being able to read Arabic does not qualify one as a Quranic scholar, just as being able to read Greek does not qualify one to be a New Testament scholar. What exactly are Hassaballa’s qualifications to teach the Quran? Is he is a graduate from Al-Azhar, with a PhD in Quranic studies? Or is he just a Muslim doctor who seeks to present a white-washed image of Islam to an unknowing American audience?

If Hassaballa is demanding that the critics quote from recognized scholars then we have the right to demand that Hassaballa be such a scholar to defend the Quran. I am only placing upon him what he places upon others.



Below, Hassaballa details his position on the context of 9:5

When the infamous "Verse of the Sword" is studied in its proper context, it becomes quite clear that the claim the Qur'an is violent is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

The first question that must be asked is, "Where is Hassaballa getting this context that he references?" After all, if he is going to lecture us about context then he should provide them. What are they? Or is he just giving us his smoke and mirrors?

Hassaballa voices his opinion of Sura 9:5’s context but I want you to know upfront that he does not provide any references for his story. For all we know his version of the "context" could be a handy-dandy fairy-tale told to fool unknowing readers.

From here on out I am going to break down Hassaballa’s significant errors and use Islamic source materials, or quotes from recognized Islamic scholars, to support my case. I say let the early historical Islamic documents speak for themselves. I say let the great Islamic scholars lecture us and tell us what the Quran really says about violence.


Error 1

The Meccans then turned to torture and repression of Muhammad and his companions to try to muffle his message, which was nothing more than the abandonment of the worship of idols for the worship of the One True God.


Hassaballa has omitted much detail here concerning the conflict between the Meccans and Muhammad. Hassaballa has tried to paint Muhammad as this poor, innocent, preacher who did nothing more than to call people to believe in one God. That is not the whole story. In fact Muhammad went to great trouble to ridicule the Pagan faiths. Below is a reference from the great Islamic historian Tabari. You can purchase his 39 volume set of History, of which 4 volumes (6 – 9) deal with Muhammad at Amazon.com.

"Abu Talib, your nephew has reviled our gods, denounced our religion, derided our traditional values and told us that our forefathers were misguided. Either curb his attacks on us or give us a free hand to deal with him for you are just as opposed to him as we are, and we will deal with him for you. Tabari, Vol 6, pages 93, 94, [2]

Muhammad went out of his way to mock and insult other people and their faiths. Understandably they were angry. These Pagans later asked Muhammad to stop with the insults and they would leave him alone. Muhammad refused. Muslims often claim that they do not like their religion insulted, yet Muhammad excelled in insulting other faiths.

Further, the Quran, and Islam’s message contains far more than a simple, "abandonment of the worship of idols for the worship of the One True God". The Quran is a long book and it contains many questionable and bizarre statements. If Muhammad were to have only preached belief in one God, and not ridiculed the Pagans, and not exalted himself as a prophet, and not uttered so many other statements, I doubt the Meccans would have moved against him. They would have viewed Muhammad as they viewed the Christians and Jews they knew.


Error 2

After 10 years of hardship, the Meccans finally expelled the Prophet to Medina, a city 200 miles to the north. Since they could not kill him, this was the only thing the Meccans could do to stop the Prophet's message.


Hassaballa commits a significant error here. Here is a Muslim that is not familiar with the story of the Hijrah! The Meccans did not order Muhammad to leave Mecca, rather Muhammad ran for his life. Up to this point in history, Islam was very weak, and barely growing. For his 13 years of labor Muhammad had few converts.

And monotheism was well known in Mecca because there were many Jews and Christians living in the Saudi Peninsula. The Meccans were not worried so much about his message as much as they were offended by his insults. As a consequence the Muslims were persecuted severely by the Meccans.

For their safety Muhammad finally sent his people north to Medina to join with the Muslims already living there. This transition from Mecca to Medina is known as the "Hijrah". While this migration was transpiring the Meccans realized Muhammad was going to join another group of people to fight against them so they moved against Muhammad and intended to kill him. However Muhammad ran for his life and escaped by the skin of his teeth.

Here is a quote from Ibn Ishaq who was one of the earliest Muslim scholars. Ibn Ishaq wrote the "Sirat Rasulallah" which is the earliest extant biography of Muhammad’s life. It is available in English as, "The Life of Muhammad", translated by A. Guillaume, [3]. It is also available at Amazon.com.

I quote from Guillaume’s book, page 221

After his companions had left, the apostle stayed in Mecca waiting for permission to migrate…

When the Quraysh saw that the apostle had a party and companions not of their tribe and outside their territory, and that his companions had migrated to join them, and knew that they had settled in a new home and had gained protectors, they feared that the apostle might join them, since they knew that he had decided to fight them.

It was not his message the Meccans were worried about, it was his commitment to violence.


Error 3

There, the inhabitants of Medina accepted Islam, and it became the first Islamic city-state with the Prophet Muhammad as its spiritual and political leader.


There were many inhabitants of Medina that rejected Muhammad and the religion he created: Islam. Hassaballa has omitted a great amount of detail with respect to Muhammad in Medina, especially since we are talking about Islam and violence. It was in Medina that Muhammad became the blood-spilling, master of the beheadings. If you think that what the Muslims did to Paul Johnson, Daniel Pearl, and Nick Berg was bad, wait till you get a load of Muhammad in action! Heads rolled at his feet and he gave a hearty "Allah Akbar!"

When Muhammad arrived in Medina, there were some Medinan Muslims living there. However the majority of Medinans were not Muslim. There were large groups of Jews and Pagan Arabs in Medina who rejected Muhammad as a prophet and did not accept Islam. Over time, Muhammad persecuted the Jews and either drove them out of Medina, or killed them. He massacred some 800 men by beheading them and enslaved their women and children. You can read about it here:


In another early case Muhammad hated a group of Jews that rejected him and denied his claim of prophethood. So he dealt treacherously with them.

Here is a quote of what Muhammad said to the Banu Qaynuqa Jews, from the Hadith collection of Sahih Muslim, [4]. This collection is one of the highest esteemed collections of Islamic Hadith in Sunni Islam (85% of the world’s Muslims). You can find this collection here.

"I am preaching Allah’s word so accept Islam and be safe. Otherwise, the earth belongs to Allah and His apostle and I wish to expel you from Medina." (Paraphrase of Sahih Muslim, book 19, #4363).

Notice how Muhammad now claimed to own the whole world!

Muhammad waited for an excuse to attack these Jews. They fought and Muhammad besieged them. They negotiated and Muhammad said that he would allow them to leave Medina with what they could carry. However, Muhammad lied! Instead of letting them leave he tied them up and intended to massacre them. However, a Pagan leader named Ubay Salul, confronted Muhammad and made him stop before he could butcher the Banu Qaynuqa Jews. (This makes you wonder, why is a Pagan leader stopping the so-called prophet of Allah from his intended course of action. Additionally, isn’t it telling that the "Pagan" had a higher standard of morality then Muhammad?)

Below is a quote from Ibn Sa’d’s "Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir" [5]. This is another of one of the earliest extant biographies of Muhammad and other early Muslims. This is translated by Moinul Haq as "The Book of the Major Classes", and may be available here.

"They submitted to the orders of the apostle, that their property would be for the prophet while they would take their women and children with them. Then under his orders their hands were tied behind their backs ... Ibn Ubay had a talk with the apostle and entreated him (to release them) ... He abandoned the idea of their killing and ordered them to be banished from al-Madinah." Tabaqat Vol 2, p32, 33.

abbed Muhammad...

The Messenger of God said, "Let me go!" – he was so angry that they could see shadows in his face (that is, his face colored). Then he said, "Damn you, let me go!" ... (Muhammad said) "They are yours."

The truth is that Muhammad gained rulership of Medina by force of arms. The last 10 years of his life were spent in Medina and the trail of blood behind him grew ever wider.


Error 4

While in Medina, the Meccan Pagans did not relent in their hostilities against the Muslims.


Hassaballa has his facts backwards. It was Muhammad who initiated the hostilities. After Muhammad fled to Medina the Meccans stopped bothering with him. He had left Mecca and he was no longer their problem. Tabari says that it was Muhammad that began the hostilities with the Meccans by robbing trade caravans and murdering some attendants. Here is a quote from Tabari. The "incident" mentioned below is Muhammad’s attack upon and plunder of a trade caravan during a time of recognized and expected peace.

Tabari, volume 7, page 29:

This incident had provoked (a state of) war between the Messenger of God and Quraysh and was the beginning of the fighting in which they inflicted casualties upon one another…

Notice it was Muhammad, the thief, who started the conflict with the Meccans by attacking their trade caravans and not the other way around.

Now let’s take a deeper look into the Quran. Just before Muhammad ran away from Mecca he claimed to have received a "revelation" in which Allah told him to make war upon all non-Muslims. These specific verses are known as "The Order to Fight". From the Quran these are 22:39-41 and 2:193. 2:193 is the verse we want to focus on. The first 3 verses are primarily defensive in nature but the last verse allows aggression against all non-Muslims:

2:193. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (Alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zālimūn (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.) The Noble Quran [6].

A commentary in detail about the Muslims in these verses is found in the Sirat Rasulallah. Quoting again from Guillaume’s "Life of Muhammad", page 213: (words in ( ) brackets are mine)

When they (the Muslims) are in the ascendant they will establish prayer, pay the poor-tax, enjoin kindness, and forbid iniquity, i.e., the prophet and his companions all of them." Then God sent down to him: "Fight them so that there be no more seduction," [b] i.e. until no believer is seduced from his religion. "And the religion is God's," i.e. until God alone is worshipped."

So, Muhammad claimed to receive from his God the command to fight non-Muslims, until "God alone is worshipped". These Quranic verses were not only for self defense, they also allowed aggressive violence, even terrorism, against non-Muslims.

>> Continue with Part 2: Errors 5-11 >>

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