Friday, September 3, 2010

A Discourse: The Verse of The Sword?

Name of Questioner Yasin - Turkey
Title: The Verse of the Sword: The Final Word?
Date 12/Feb/2008
Question As-Salamu Alaykum, Does the verse of the sword (ayat as-sayf) abrogate all the other peaceful verses, e.g. 2:256?
Topic Qur'an & Scriptures
Name of Counselor Ahmad Saad


Salam, Yasin.

It is really good and strange at the same time that I am speaking about the same topic twice almost within the same week.

I was interviewed recently by an MA student writing an essay about jihad. We were discussing the verse of the sword and the notion of abrogation and the claims of today's so-called jihadists that such a verse abrogates all other verses in the Quran that command justice and kindness with non-Muslims.

Let's establish certain facts at the beginning before we proceed to the core of your question.

Is There Abrogation in the Quran?

The claim of abrogation or the theory of abrogation is not absolute, that is, there is no full agreement on it amongst scholars. In fact, the opposite is true. While some scholars say that abrogation has happened and others, including Abu Muslim Al-Asfahani for instance, deny the existence of abrogation.

Even those who say it has happened differ as regards to the meaning of abrogation itself. Does it mean amendment or adaptation or full cancelation and invalidation?

There is another aspect of disagreement as to which are the abrogated verses and which are the abrogating ones. Which ones belong to the first category and which constitute the second? Therefore, bringing the validity of everything which people dislike to the zone of abrogation is totally erroneous.

For even those who agree to the existence of abrogation, there are certain conditions and requirements that should be met here. The Islamic scholar Jalal Ad-Din As-Suyuti mentions some of these requirements in his well known book Al-Itqan fi Ulum Al-Quran. This is also confirmed by two great scholars of two different scholarly backgrounds: Ibn Hazm and Ash-Shatibi.

Even looking into the earlier writings and the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself, there is no mention of abrogation. The main two verses used by the proponents of abrogation are strongly and widely refuted by scholars of the other view. Many details about this refutation could be found in the writings of Ad-Dahhak and Ata ibn Abi Rabah.

Abrogation: The Last Resort

The notion that formulates the default stand between Muslim scholars is that we should not recourse to the zone of abrogation — even when we accept it — unless there is an impossibility of reconciling what apparently seems contradictory of the texts.

Rather, we should always try to give priority to some texts over others according to considerations such as the time of revelation, the situation of revelation, and the relevance to today's situation.

In fact, we should spare no effort in trying to create harmony between the texts that apparently seem contradictory. To this effect we should always be conscious of the fact that the universality and infinite validity of the Quran go against the notion that some verses can be cancelled under whatever claim.

Controversy Over the Verse of the Sword

The so-called 'verse of the sword' is itself controversial amongst scholars. Let me raise a question here: who called it so? Neither Almighty Allah nor His Prophet ever called it so.

There are names of the chapters (surahs) of the Quran which were given by the Prophet. No one singled out certain verses and called them so unless reported authentically through hadiths. Moreover, there is no report to the effect that there is a verse called so.

Now, does not the claim that there is a verse of sword in the Quran serve the misconception raised by many Orientalists that Islam is a violent religion? A claim that runs against the name of Islam which is taken from the lexical root of 's-l-m', one of its various meanings being 'peace'.

Speaking more closely about the so-called verse of sword, we can simply say that even the scholars who claim that there is such a verse, they are not in agreement on allocating this verse.

Some of them say it is verse 5 in surah 9 (At-Tawbah). Some others say it is actually verse 36 of the same surah. A third group, however, says it is actually verse 29 while a fourth group of exegetes refers to verse 41 to be the verse of the sword.

A close look into these will show that what they are saying is mere speculation that cannot be taken for granted or solely accepted on their own without having enough evidence verifying them. The evidence we are asking for here are the authentic sayings of the Prophet.

Reading Context

Even close examination of such verses and putting them into their contexts can show that they are actually defined by such context in a way that makes them impossibly perceived on their own.

The first verse of the four reads:

*{… then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush.}* (At-Tawbah 9:5)

This verse is normally quoted outside of its context. In reading this verse we should read the preceding and the subsequent verses. These verses refer to a certain group of idolaters who did not respect their treaty with Muslims.

Rather, they slew them and prevented them from practicing their religious freedom. They also launched a massive war against Muslims everywhere and forced them to leave their houses.

Against these non-believing oppressors Muslims are justified, as much from the Quranic background as from logical background, to fight back in a defensive jihad.

Therefore, the verse speaks about defense, not attack. This is proved by the subsequent verses that command protection of any non-believer who seeks protection, delivering him to the place where he feels secure without causing him any threat.

There are even other opinions by early exegetes of the Quran to the effect that this verse itself is abrogated by verse 4 in Surat Muhammad (47) which commands directly the fighting of non-believers in the battlefield only, and that the prisoners of war should be given the option of ransom or the Muslims free them out of grace.

A further examination of the other three verses of which one is claimed to be the 'verse of the sword' and reading them into context will show that they are actually describing fighting of the combatants who are engaged in a warfare with Muslims and are persecuting them.

Even the verse that speaks about fighting the non-believers amongst the People of the Book, it is highlighted by erudite scholars that it speaks about the Roman state as the Romans at that time attacked Muslims and were engaged in a long process of fighting against them and threatening the borders of the Arabian peninsula.

Again, there is no mention of any sword here except a legitimate defense of the Muslim community against those who unjustifiably attack it and persecute its members and deny them their basic right of freedom.

Book of Peace

There are tens of verses that give a clear message of inclining to peace and settle any disputes through peaceful ways.

The clear injunction in many verses confirms that there is no compulsion in religion and that anyone is free to adopt whatever faith he finds more convincing. We cannot cancel these tens of verses because of four verses whose interpretation is still a bone of contention amongst scholars of knowledge.

Being a book of guidance and peace for humanity, the Quran's message for peace is valid through time and space and cannot be cancelled because the reasons of its validity are not subject to expiry.

We cannot dig deep into Islamic heritage and get some odd views and present them as representatives of the mainstream view or as the only interpretation, because this is as dangerous as reading texts out of context.

Following this methodology, we can find many defective views everywhere in every culture, religion or heritage.

Muslims are supposed to defend what is in the Quran by reading the Quran itself before we knock anybody else's door.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.


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