By Zia H Shah

Permission to take up arms is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged and Allah, indeed, has power to help them. (22:40)

Followers of all religions can make tall claims about the beauty of their religions. In view of that, Promised Messiahas the lead follower of the Prophet Muhammadsaw, his holiness Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has laid down a beautiful criterion that followers of all religions need to support their claims from their scriptures. In that spirit majority of the references in this article are from the Holy Quran.


It was year 610 AD in the last ten days of the blessed month of Ramadhan, when the Holy Prophetsaw, was occupied in worship in the cave Hira that he suddenly perceived an unfamiliar presence before him. It addressed him and said, ‘Recite’, to which he replied: ‘I am not able to recite’. Thereupon the presence seized him and, clasping him to its bosom, squeezed him hard and then, releasing him, directed him again, ‘Recite’, and received the same reply as the first time. This was repeated once more, as if the embrace had been intended each time to influence Muhammad’s heart and to prepare him for the message that was to be delivered to him. After the third embrace, the presence released the Holy Prophet(saw) and directed him:

‘Recite in the name of thy Lord Who created. He created man from a clot of blood. Recite, for thy Lord is the Most Beneficent, Who has taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not’. (96:2-6)

The Holy Prophet’s preaching of this message of one God unleashed the fury and the prejudices of the Meccan polytheist society. The Meccans knew no limits in persecuting the Muslim minority. Many of the early Muslims were tortured and killed. Later on the weak among the Muslims were forced to migrate to the land of a compassionate Christian king in Abyssinia. Yet there seemed to be no end to persecution. In the tenth year of the Holy Prophet’s ministry Meccans perpetuated a complete social and commercial boycott against all the Muslims. Their thirst of hatred and jealousy was not quenched by all these cruelties and they launched the conspiracy to kill the prophet. This is mentioned in the Holy Quran,

“Call to mind the time, when the disbelievers plotted against thee that they might confine thee, or kill thee, or expel thee. They planned and Allah also planned, and Allah is the Best of planners.” (8:31)

The Holy Prophet was forced to migrate to Medina in 622 AD. This did not put an end to the hostile activities of the Meccans. Peace was denied to the Prophet and the Muslims even in Medina. It was in these circumstances that the Muslims were accorded Divine permission to take up arms in defense of freedom of conscience. Allah said and it is recorded in Sura Hajj,

“Permission to fight is granted to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged, and Allah indeed has power to help them. They are those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly only because they affirmed, ‘Our Lord is Allah’. If Allah did not repel aggression of some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is often commemorated, would surely be destroyed.” (22:41-2)

Only defensive war was to be permitted. There was no room for Pre-emptive strike in Islam. Any motive other than the safeguarding of the faith and putting down any mischief against it was regarded as inconsistent with the purpose of Jihad. The Holy Prophetsaw had announced that anyone who went forth to battle for the sake of spoils, or for the display of his bravery, or for any other worldly motive, disentitled himself to any spiritual reward.


The eighth verse of the third chapter of the Holy Quran supplies the believers with a sure and trust worthy principle of interpreting revealed Books, or, for that matter, any writing or speech, in a right manner, “Allah it is who has sent down to thee the Book; in it there are verses that are fundamental — they are the basis of the Book — and there are others which are allegoric. But those in whose hearts is perversity pursue such thereof as are allegoric, seeking to create confusion and to pervert their meaning. And none knows its right interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge.” (3:8) The principle is to follow the fundamental teachings and interpret the allegoric teachings in their light rather than other way around. People who have an axe to grind misinterpret a some what vague statement and then mold rest of the writing or speech in that light. The verses of Sura Hajj mentioned above are the fundamental teachings in regards to defensive warfare that is allowed in Islam. The other verses that should be considered fundamental on this issue are the verses 191-194 of the second chapter of the Holy Quran. Fighting is permissible only to repel or halt aggression; but even in the course of such fighting; Muslims are not permitted to adopt unduly aggressive measures.

“Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely, A1lah loves not the transgressors.” (2: 191)

‘Persecution is worse than killing’, for it seeks to destroy the soul. (2:192)


“fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is freely professed for the sake of Allah; but if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors.” (2: 194)

The phrase ‘but if they desist’ is mentioned not only in verse 193 but also in 194 clearly sealing the interpretation that the warfare is only defensive. Pertaining to these set of verses Sir Muhammad Zafarulla Khan, who was perhaps one of the best legal minds of the last century has written, “These are basic and fundamental directives. There is a host of other directions in the Quran with regard to the prosecution of war, but they are all subject to the conditions here laid down, and must be so construed.”1 Once one understands the guiding principles on the issue of war and peace the details become self evident to the well read. These principles also help us defend any criticism, leveled by the nonbelievers against the peaceful teachings of Islam.

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Click to access War-and-Peace-in-Islam-20080402MN.pdf

Click to access War-and-Peace-in-Islam-20080402MN.pdf

Click to access War-and-Peace-in-Islam-20080402MN.pdf

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