Do the Qur’an and Islamic law forbid terrorism?

By Robert Spencer at

This piece by establishment academic Juan Cole is well over a year old, and as a rule I only post topical material at Jihad Watch. However, with all the condemnations of the Islamic State as un-Islamic lately, coming from both Muslims and non-Muslims, the cognitive dissonance arises again: on the one hand we have armed terrorists (including many more groups besides the Islamic State) quoting the Qur’an to justify their actions and make recruits, and portraying themselves as the embodiment of true Islam. On the other hand we have both Muslims and non-Muslims not only denying this claim, but asserting that these groups not only do not represent a legitimate school of thought in the Islamic tradition, but have nothing to do with Islam at all — which raises the question of how this massive, worldwide misunderstanding of Islam arose.

Juan Cole here purports to show that the Qur’an and Islamic law clearly and unequivocally forbid terrorism. If that is true, then the Islamic State’s critics are correct. So what might happen if a devout and informed supporter of the Islamic State read Cole’s piece? Would his mind be changed, such that he would renounce his support for the jihadis? Or would he immediately think of reasons why Cole’s Qur’anic analysis was incomplete and inadequate?

These are key questions, for working to show that the Qur’an forbids terrorism has two possible purposes: to reassure jittery non-Muslims who are concerned about jihad terrorism and worried about the massive rates of Muslim immigration into Western countries, and to convince Muslims that jihad terror groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are not worth joining or supporting. The first purpose is not only worthless, but counterproductive if the second purpose is not accomplished. This is something I have written about many times: the difference between reform and deception. Many times I’ve been harshly criticized for not warmly endorsing, and even taking issue with, articles purporting to show that Islam forbids what jihad terrorists are doing. My sole issue with such articles is this: Will they convince jihad terrorists that their understanding of Islam is wrong? If not, then their only effect will be to foster complacency among Infidels. Certainly Cole’s piece reassures ignorant Infidels, such as the British Useful Idiot Sarah Brown of the UK dhimmi hate site Harry’s Place, who used it as part of her case against me as the wrong kind of opponent of jihad terror. But would it turn a jihad terrorist away from jihad terror? See below for my comments interspersed.

It is not irrelevant to note also that Juan Cole is on the Board of the National Iranian American Council(NIAC), which has been established in court as a front group lobbying for the Islamic regime in Iran. SaidMichael Rubin: “Jamal Abdi, NIAC’s policy director, now appears to push aside any pretense that NIAC is something other than Iran’s lobby. Speaking at the forthcoming ‘Expose AIPAC’ conference, Abdi is featured on the ‘Training: Constituent Lobbying for Iran’ panel. Oops.” According to Charles C. Johnson in the Daily Caller: “Iranian state-run media have referred to the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC)since at least 2006 as ‘Iran’s lobby’ in the U.S.” Iranian freedom activist Hassan Daioleslam “documented over a two-year period that NIAC is a front group lobbying on behalf of the Iranian regime.” NIAC had to pay him nearly $200,000 in legal fees after they sued him for defamation over his accusation that they were a front group for the mullahs, and lost. Yet Juan Cole remains on their Board.

“Top Ten Ways Islamic Law forbids Terrorism,” by Juan Cole, April 17, 2013:

Erik Rush and others who hastened to scapegoat Muslims for the Boston Marathon bombing are ignorant of the religion. I can’t understand why people who have never so much as read a book about a subject appoint themselves experts on it. (Try this book, e.g.). We don’t yet know who carried out the attack, but we know they either aren’t Muslims at all or they aren’t real Muslims, in the nature of the case.

For the TLDR crowd, here are the top ten ways that Islamic law and tradition forbid terrorism (some of these points are reworked from previous postings):

1. Terrorism is above all murder. Murder is strictly forbidden in the Qur’an. Qur’an 6:151 says, “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct, save lawfully.” (i.e. murder is forbidden but the death penalty imposed by the state for a crime is permitted). 5:53 says, “… whoso kills a soul, unless it be for murder or for wreaking corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and he who saves a life, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.”

Cole says of the Qur’an that “murder is forbidden but the death penalty imposed by the state for a crime is permitted.” So he acknowledges that the Qur’an doesn’t forbid all killing. Terrorists claim to be killing those whom the Qur’an directs them to kill. Among these are people who fight against the Muslims and have driven them out of lands: “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors. And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter” (2:190-191). That would include Israelis, who according to Islamic supremacist myth drove the Muslims out of their homes and seized their land in 1948. The Qur’an also directs Muslims to kill those who joined the Muslims but then turn against them: “They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them” (4:89). That would include those who are considered apostates from Islam and those who collaborate with perceived enemies of the Muslims — such as Muslims who aid America-backed regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Muslims are also told in the Qur’an to kill idolaters: “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (9:5). That would include pretty much everyone who is not a Muslim. And Muslims are to kill in battle (by beheading) those who don’t believe in Islam: “Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necks…” (47:4). There again, there is no qualifier — the directive is against non-Muslims in general.

Thus as they kill Israelis, supporters of or collaborators with U.S.-backed regimes, and non-Muslims, terrorists don’t believe they are committing murder, but executing commands of the Qur’an itself.

2. If the motive for terrorism is religious, it is impermissible in Islamic law. It is forbidden to attempt to impose Islam on other people. The Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right way has become distinct from error.” (-The Cow, 2:256). Note that this verse was revealed in Medina in 622 AD or after and was never abrogated by any other verse of the Quran. Islam’s holy book forbids coercing people into adopting any religion. They have to willingly choose it.

Contrary to Cole’s claim that 2:256 was never abrogated, according to an early Muslim scholar, Mujahid ibn Jabr, it was actually abrogated by Quran 9:29, which commands Muslims to fight the People of the Book. Others, however, according to the Islamic historian Tabari, agree with Cole that 2:256 was never abrogated, but was revealed precisely in reference to the People of the Book. They are not to be forced to accept Islam, but may practice their religions as long as they pay the jizya (poll-tax) and “feel themselves subdued” (9:29).

Those who offer 2:256 to claim there is no Islamic imperative to wage jihad against unbelievers omit or fail to recognize that the aim of jihad is not the forced conversion of non-Muslims. For non-Muslims brought to heel by jihad, the choice (as laid out by Muhammad himself) is conversion, death, or subjugation (dhimmitude). The twentieth-century Muslim Brotherhood theorist and Islamic scholar Sayyid Qutb accordingly denies that 2:256 contradicts the imperative to fight until “religion is for Allah” (8:39; 2:193). “Islam has not used force to impose its beliefs,” he says. Rather, jihad’s “main objective has been the establishment of a stable society in which all citizens, including followers of other religious creeds, may live in peace and security”—peace and security meaning, for Qutb, subordinate status for non-believers in an “Islamic social order.”

In this light, the Quranic idea that there is “no compulsion in religion” fits together without any trouble with the exhortation to fight until “religion is for Allah.” Muslims must fight until “religion is for Allah,” but they don’t force anyone to accept Allah’s religion. They enforce subservience upon those who refuse to convert, such that many of them subsequently convert to Islam to escape the humiliating and discriminatory regulations of dhimmitude. Only at the end of the world will Jesus, the Prophet of Islam, return and Islamize the world, abolishing Christianity and thus the need for the jizya. Then religion will be “for Allah,” and there will be no further need for jihad.

Terrorists know all this, and will laugh derisively at Cole’s invocation of 2:256 against their activities.

3. Islamic law forbids aggressive warfare. The Quran says, “But if the enemies incline towards peace, do you also incline towards peace. And trust in God! For He is the one who hears and knows all things.” (8:61) The Quran chapter “The Cow,” 2:190, says, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.”

The Qur’an also tells Muslims to fight the People of the Book until they “pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued” (9:29); that verse doesn’t mention anything about fighting only those People of the Book who begin hostilities. So how does that verse fit in with 2:190? Is aggressive warfare actually forbidden in Islamic law? Many Islamic authorities say no. In his eighth-century biography of Muhammad, Ibn Ishaq explains the contexts of various verses of the Qur’an by saying that Muhammad received revelations about warfare in three stages: first, tolerance; then, defensive warfare; and finally, offensive warfare in order to convert the unbelievers to Islam or make them pay the jizya. Mainstream Qur’an commentaries by Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juzayy, As-Suyuti and others also emphasize that the ninth chapter of the Qur’an, which contains this command to fight the People of the Book, abrogates every peace treaty in the Qur’an.

In the modern age, this idea of stages of development in the Qur’an’s teaching on jihad, culminating in offensive warfare to establish the hegemony of Islamic law, has been affirmed by Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb, Pakistani Islamic scholar and politician Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, the Pakistani Brigadier S. K. Malik (author of The Qur’anic Concept of War), Saudi Chief Justice Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid (in his Jihad in the Qur’an and Sunnah), and others. The terrorists know all this, too.

4. In the Islamic law of war, not just any civil engineer can declare or launch a war. It is the prerogative of the duly constituted leader of the Muslim community that engages in the war. Nowadays that would be the president or prime minister of the state, as advised by the mufti or national jurisconsult.

Here Cole is ignoring the distinction between offensive and defensive jihad, which is not surprising, since he denies the existence of offensive jihad as a concept in Islamic law. In Islamic law, only the caliph can declare offensive jihad, and that jihad is an obligation on the community as a whole (fard kifaya); an individual is released from it if others are taking it up. But all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree that when a non-Muslim force enters a Muslim land, defensive jihad becomes the individual obligation of every Muslim (fard ‘ayn) rather than a collective obligation of the entire umma, and need not be declared by anyone. Bulghah al-Salik li-Aqrab al-Masalik fi madhhab al-Imam Malik (“The Sufficiency of the Traveller on the Best Path in the School of Imam Malik,”) says this: “Jihad in the Path of Allah, to raise the word of Allah, is fard kifayah [obligatory on the community] once a year, so that if some perform it, the obligation falls from the rest. It becomes fard `ayn [obligatory on every Muslim individually], like salah and fasting, if the legitimate Muslim Imam declares it so, or if there is an attack by the enemy on an area of people.” The Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi’i schools of Sunni jurisprudence further declare that jihad, once it is fard ‘ayn, is no different from prayer and fasting — in other words, to engage in warfare with non-Muslims in that case is a religious devotion that cannot lawfully be evaded. Hashiyah Ibn `Abidin, an authoritative text of the Hanafi school, says that jihad is “fard ‘ayn if the enemy has attacked part of the Islamic homeland. It thus becomes an obligation like salah [prayer] and fasting which cannot be abandoned.”

Today, in the absence of a caliph (at least until the advent of the Islamic State), jihadis cast all their jihads as defensive, and retail lists of grievances to justify them and bring them into accord with Islamic law, which only allows for defensive jihad without a caliph. Thus the terrorists, as long as they cast their jihads as defensive, need not have a declaration of war from any leader.

5. The killing of innocent non-combatants is forbidden. According to Sunni tradition, ‘Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the first Caliph, gave these instructions to his armies: “I instruct you in ten matters: Do not kill women, children, the old, or the infirm; do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy any town . . . ” (Malik’s Muwatta’, “Kitab al-Jihad.”)

Terrorists who believe that it is perfectly acceptable for them to kill innocent non-combatants can point to this hadith: “It is reported on the authority of Sa’b b. Jaththama that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him), when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: They are from them.” (Sahih Muslim 4321) “They are from them” — i.e., the women and children of the polytheists are from the polytheists and can lawfully be killed.

6. Terrorism or hirabah is forbidden in Islamic law, which groups it with brigandage, highway robbery and extortion rackets– any illicit use of fear and coercion in public spaces for money or power. The principle of forbidding the spreading of terror in the land is based on the Qur’an (Surah al-Ma’ida 5:33–34). Prominent [pdf] Muslim legal scholar Sherman Jackson writes, “The Spanish Maliki jurist Ibn `Abd al-Barr (d. 464/ 1070)) defines the agent of hiraba as ‘Anyone who disturbs free passage in the streets and renders them unsafe to travel, striving to spread corruption in the land by taking money, killing people or violating what God has made it unlawful to violate is guilty of hirabah . . .”

Notice that Cole invokes but does not quote 5:33-34. Now why might that be? Could it be because this passage actually mandates harsh penalties reminiscent of the Islamic State and the Taliban for those who “make war upon Allah and His messenger”? “The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom; save those who repent before ye overpower them. For know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (5:33-34)

7. Sneak attacks are forbidden. Muslim commanders must give the enemy fair warning that war is imminent. The Prophet Muhammad at one point gave 4 months notice.

A Muslim warrior recounted of the Khaybar raid: “We met the workers of Khaybar coming out in the morning with their spades and baskets. When they saw the apostle and the army they cried, ‘Muhammad with his force,’ and turned tail and fled. The apostle said, ‘Allah Akbar! Khaybar is destroyed. When we arrive in a people’s square it is a bad morning for those who have been warned’” (Ibn Ishaq 511). The Jews of Khaybar were coming out with their spades and baskets because they were not expecting to do battle; they were going to work on their farms. Muhammad’s appearance was a complete sneak attack. He says that the inhabitants of Khaybar had been warned, but he had not warned them he was coming or given them any notice of the attack; he had just warned them about the impending judgment of Allah.

8. The Prophet Muhammad counseled doing good to those who harm you and is said to have commanded, “Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

He also represented in the Hadith as having said this: “Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war…When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them…. If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them” (Sahih Muslim 4294).

Once again, the terrorists know this.

9. The Qur’an demands of believers that they exercise justice toward people even where they have reason to be angry with them: “And do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness.”[5:8]

As far as the terrorists are concerned, carrying out the dictates of the Qur’an, including those mandating the killing of unbelievers, is precisely what justice is.

10. The Qur’an assures Christians and Jews of paradise if they believe and do good works, and commends Christians as the best friends of Muslims. I wrote elsewhere, “Dangerous falsehoods are being promulgated to the American public. The Quran does not preach violence against Christians.

Quran 5:69 says (Arberry): “Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabeaans, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness–their wage waits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow.”

In other words, the Quran promises Christians and Jews along with Muslims that if they have faith and works, they need have no fear in the afterlife. It is not saying that non-Muslims go to hell– quite the opposite.

When speaking of the 7th-century situation in the Muslim city-state of Medina, which was at war with pagan Mecca, the Quran notes that the polytheists and some Arabian Jewish tribes were opposed to Islam, but then goes on to say:

5:82. ” . . . and you will find the nearest in love to the believers [Muslims] those who say: ‘We are Christians.’ That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud.”

So the Quran not only does not urge Muslims to commit violence against Christians, it calls them “nearest in love” to the Muslims! The reason given is their piety, their ability to produce holy persons dedicated to God, and their lack of overweening pride.

The Qur’an also says: “Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings” (98:6). Who are “those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture”? They are the Christians and Jews who do not become Muslims. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn explains: “Before his [that is, Muhammad’s] arrival they had all agreed to believe in him when he would come; then those who disbelieved in him from among them became envious of him.” The passages about Jews and Christians being saved refers to Jews and Christians who become Muslims, while those who remain Jews and Christians are “the worst of created beings.” In his commentary on 5:69, Ibn Kathir makes this clear, telling Jews and Christians that they will have “no real religion until you adhere to and implement the Tawrah [Torah] and the Injil [Gospel]. That is, until you believe in all the Books that you have that Allah revealed to the Prophets. These Books command following Muhammad and believing in his prophecy, all the while adhering to his Law.”

So Juan Cole has failed to make his case that the Qur’an and Islamic law forbid terrorism: no terrorist will be convinced. All that Juan Cole has achieved is making the Sarah Browns of the world go away contented — at least, that is, until the next bomb drops.

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1 Response to Do the Qur’an and Islamic law forbid terrorism?

  1. SLIMJIM says:

    Very long…but needed

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