The Sword Verse

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This is a sub-article to At-Tawba.

The so-called "Sword Verse" (ayat al-sayf), verse 5 from Sura At-Tawba in the Qur'an, is a well-known and widely-criticized Qur'anic call to violence against "pagans", asking Muslims to "fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them" (trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali).

This verse is often cited to justify attacks of Muslims on non-Muslims in jihadism.[1] By contrast, Islamic apologists tend to claim that the call to violence is limited to self-defense.[2]

Text and translations[edit]

The verse in the Arabic Qur'an reads

There are many translations some of which are:[3]

  • Sahih International:
  • Shakir:


The verse of the sword, according to mainstream Islamic theologians, abrogated as many as 124 verses of the Qur'an.[1][4]

Indian politician Arun Shourie, has criticized this verse (including many others) from the Qur'an in his book titled Indian Controversies, Essays in Religion and Politics.[5] Shourie says the sunnah and the hadith are equally evocative in their support of the notion of Jihad, which he deems to be the leitmotiv of the Quran.

Patricia Crone states that the famous Verse of the Sword is directed against a particular group accused of oath-breaking and aggression and excepts those polytheists who remained faithful. Crone states that this verse seems to be based on the same above-mentioned rules. Here also it is stressed that one must stop when they do.[6]

Explaining the context of this verse, Quranic Scholars (Muhammad Asad and Muhammad Ali) explain that the permission to fight and kill is being given regarding specific tribes already at war with the Muslims who have breached their peace agreements and have attacked the Muslims first.[7][8]

Hesham A. Hassaballa, the Deputy Director of the Illume Magazine[9] and a Chicago pulmonologist and writer writes in his article Does Islam Call For The Murder of 'Infidels'?:

It is clear, therefore, that this verse is one of self-defense. The Muslims here are commanded to "slay the pagans" who are hostile towards them. It is not a carte blanche to "kill all infidels". This verse is specific to a specific time, and it is not understood by the overwhelming majority of Muslims to be a general call for murder against all those who are not Muslim.

—Hesham A. Hassaballa, Does Islam Call For The Murder of 'Infidels'?[10]

Muhammed Asad, one of the first Pakistani ambassadors to the United Nations, in his book The Message of The Qur'an writes:

Now the enemy's conversion to Islam - expressed in the words, "if they repent, and take to prayer (lit., 'establish prayer') and render the purifying dues (zakah)" - is no more than one, and by no means the only, way of their "desisting from hostility"; and the reference to it in verses 5 and 11 of this surah certainly does not imply an alternative of 'conversion or death,' as some unfriendly critics of Islam choose to assume.

Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik refutes this criticism in the following way:

Critics of Islam actually quote this verse out of context. In order to understand the context, we need to read from verse 1 of this surah. It says that there was a peace treaty between the Muslims and the Mushriks (pagans) of Makkah. This treaty was violated by the Mushriks of Makkah. A period of four months was given to the Mushriks of Makkah to make amends. Otherwise war would be declared against them. This verse is quoted during a battle, and hence the Qur'an says, "Kill the Mushriks wherever you find them", during a battle to boost the morale of the Muslim soldiers. What the Qur'an is telling Muslim soldiers is, don’t be afraid during battle; wherever you find the enemies kill them.

—Zakir Naik

In his refutation, Naik goes even a step further to quote the succeeding verse (6) from the same Surah which reads:

If one amongst the pagans asks thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah; and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge.

[Quran 9:6]

He then asks

The Qur'an not only says that a Mushrik seeking asylum during the battle should be granted refuge, but also that he should be escorted to a secure place. In the present international scenario, even a kind, peace-loving army General, during a battle, may let the enemy soldiers go free, if they want peace. But which army General will ever tell his soldiers, that if the enemy soldiers want peace during a battle, don’t just let them go free, but also escort them to a place of security?

—Zakir Naik[12]

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wilson, Aaron N.R. Challenges of the progressive Muslim. [Bloomington, IN]: Xlibris Corp. p. 31. ISBN 1462873383. 
  2. ^ Ali, Maulana Muhammad (2011). The Religion of Islam. ISBN 1934271187. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Ibn Hazm, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, pp. 19, 27; Muhi al-Din Ibn al-'Arabi, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Krim (Beirut: Dar al-Andalus, 1978), p. 69; Burton, The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 7, s.v. "Naskh," p. 1010; Salama, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, p. 130, mentioned only 114.
  5. ^ Indian Controversies, Essays in Religion and Politics, ASA Publications, New Delhi-110021
  6. ^ Patricia Crone, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, War article, p.456
  7. ^ Asad, Muhammad: The Message of The Quran. Footnote 7, page 256. Redwood Books, Wiltshire, Great Britain
  8. ^ Ali, Maulana Muhammad: The Religion of Islam, Page 414 from CH V Jihad. The Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Islam (Lahore) USA. 1990 [1]
  9. ^ Articles by Hesham A. Hassaballa
  10. ^ Does Islam Call For The Murder of 'Infidels' by Hesham A. Hassaballa
  11. ^ The Message of The Qur'an by Muhammed Asad
  12. ^ Terrorism and Jihad: An Islamic Perspective by Dr. Zakir Naik