The Jihad Dilemma

The Myth of Islamic Defensive vs. Offensive Commands

Ever since the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, it has been publicly announced by many Muslims that Islam is a religion of  peace and tolerance, a religion that promotes harmony with others, especially those who are non-Muslims. In addition to that, there have been many recent attempts to redefine the word “Jihad” to only mean spiritual struggle by excluding physical fighting against infidels from its context. Furthermore, the word Holy War is systematically1 and intentionally being removed from the Islamic terminology as a sign of the many desperate attempts by Muslims to disassociate it with the core teaching of Islam.2

One question commonly asked is “why is this religion so violent?”  However, in order for anyone to explore the real meaning of Islamic Jihad and to understand the many religious imperatives behind it, one must turn his/her attention to the main Islamic sources that guide the every day’s Muslim practice; including the practice of Jihad. These sources include: the Quran, the Hadith,[1] and the life of the prophet of Islam; known as Sunnah.[2]

The Doctrine of Jihad in the Quran

A survey of the chronological order of the Quran will quickly reveal to the reader that the doctrine of physical Jihad (or Fighting) has evolved through a number of stages during the ministry of Muhammad, starting with the weak stage of the Islamic state in Mecca all the way to end stage prior to the death of Muhammad in Medina.

It is crucial to note that the call to violence or physical Jihad by the Quran developed as Muhammad’s support increased. What this means is that when Muhammad started his ministry in Mecca in A.D. 610, he and his followers were a small minority and had to endure opposition, ridicule, and persecution by the pagan Arabs for almost thirteen years. However, upon immigrating to Medina in A.D. 622, Muhammad’s role evolved (as that was not a very slow and gradual process over many years, but a rather radical shift, I would rather write: changed) from being a mere prophet and a warner to an established political and religious leader over the entire Islamic community.[3]

Soon after his arrival to Medina, Muhammad began to reveal Quranic passages directing him and his followers to fight in the cause of Allah against their enemies; including both the Arab polytheists and the People of the Book (Jews and Christian). In the following section we will provide a sample of the many passages in the Quran which supports these various stages.

The No Retaliation Stage[4]

This stage is represented by the many Meccan passages which directed Muhammad and his followers to not retaliate against anyone who attacked them. Such passages are represented by the following verses:  (Actually, I cannot see any verse among the below cited ones that says not to retaliate when attacked. There is no violence of the opposition mentioned, only their disbelief, and opposition to Muhammad’s ideas, but nothing about them attacking, or using force or violence in any way. I find that striking.)

Q. 73:10-11 Only God can adequately deal with his enemies

"And have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble (dignity). And leave me (alone to deal with) those in possession of the good things of life, who (yet) deny the truth, and bear with them for a little while."

Q. 52:45-48 The man of God strives to only proclaim the message of God

"So leave them alone until they encounter that day of theirs, wherein they shall (perforce) swoon (with terror) ... And verily, for those who do wrong, there is another punishment besides this... Now await in patience the command of thy Lord, for verily thou art in Our eyes."

Q. 43:88-89 Muhammad is to turn away from those who reject him and say “Peace” to them

"(God has knowledge) of the (Prophet's) cry, ‘O my Lord! Truly these are a people who will not believe!’ But turn away from them, and say, ‘Peace!’ But soon shall they know!" (actually, the last clause sounds like a veiled threat for the near future.)

Q. 67:26 Muhammad’s mission is to be a warner

"Say ‘... I am (sent) only to warn plainly in public.’"

Q. 29:46 Muslims ought not to argue with the people of the book (Jews and Christians), but emphasis the oneness of God

"And dispute ye not with the People of the Book [a term used for Jews and Christians], except with means better (than mere disputation) ... But say, 'We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you. Our God and your God is One, and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).'"

The preceding passages, and many others like it, took place (can a passage take place? I would say: Were revealed, or were given) during Muhammad’s ministry in Mecca from A.D. 610 to A.D. 622. During this time the people of Quraish (Muhammad’s own tribe) had subjected the small Muslim community of Mecca to oppression, torture, ridicule and assaults. [No evidence for that in the above verses, though.] Such treatment culminated in the denial of Muslims to worship at the Sacred Mosque to fulfill their religious duties.[5] [Not only is it strange that the Muslims wanted to worship there, but it is also not really surprising that the Meccans say: When you are ridiculing our religion and our gods, why should we still welcome you to worship in the sanctuary of our gods?  How horrible could their oppression and torture have been if THIS is the culmination, the climax of their assaults? This is a denial, refusal, but even that cannot be called violence against the Muslims. Otherwise, the USA is violent and oppressive for not opening their boarders to everyone who wants to enter the country – even without respecting its values and rules. I would say that is a word game and perversion of the word “oppression”.] At that time, Muhammad and his followers fled to Medina after receiving an invitation from the Arabs in the area, following the death of his Uncle Abu Talib, who was one of (why: one of?) his main protector against the Quraish people.

Upon arrival to Medina,[6] Muhammad was given a political leadership position along with his already established religious one. As a result, Muhammad and his followers began to loot and rob the passing Meccan caravans as they were making their way north or south.[7] This practice in turn caused the Meccan’s to retaliate by attacking the Muslims.  It was at that time when Muhammad began to claim that his god was revealing passages to him allowing him to fight back. (It may be appropriate to put “fight back” in quotation marks, since your statement already makes it clear that the Muslims started the attacks.)



Recommended reading:


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[1] Hadith is the collection of the prophet’s sayings and teachings. Some Muslim scholars consider them to be divinely inspired and at the same par with the Quran.

[2] Sunnah is Sunnah (سنة, plural سنن sunan, Arabic; "habit", "custom" or "usual practice" refers in Muslim usage to the example of the sayings and living habits of Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam and his companions as recorded in a hadith. The sunnah of Muhammad includes his specific words, habits, practices, and silent approvals: it is significant because it addresses ways of life dealing with friends, family and government. Recording sunnah was an Arabian tradition and, once people converted to Islam, they brought this custom to their religion. The sunnah is consulted after referring to the Qur'an, if the issue is not addressed there. The term "Sunni" denotes those who claim to practise these usages. In Shi'a Islam the term includes the deeds and sayings of the twelve Imams who Shi'a Muslims believe were chosen to lead the Muslim community (Ummah).  The Quran commands Muslims to follow the prophet’s example and promised additional reward and good deeds for those who do so. See

[3] Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah (London: Oxford University Press, 1955).

[4] Rev. Richard Bailey, The Teaching Of Islam From Its Primary Sources – the Quran and Hadith. Cited 27 September 2010. On-line:

[5] It must be noted that the Ka’aba and the sacred mosque in Mecca at that time was filled with Idols. One can only wonder why Muslims would want to worship in a place that is filled with idols.

[6] Medina is the name of the town where Muhammad is buried and where the 2nd Holy Mosque of Islam exists. It is located 200 miles north of Mecca.

[7] Once again we ask, how can a prophet of God allow for such pagan practices to be conducted by his followers?


1 This is footnote Number 1.

2 This is footnote number 2.