The Sword Verse
- 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 violcence against "pagans", asking Muslims to "fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them" (trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali).
Text and translations
The verse in the Arabic Qur'an reads
فَإِذَا ٱنسَلَخَ ٱلۡأَشۡہُرُ ٱلۡحُرُمُ فَٱقۡتُلُواْ ٱلۡمُشۡرِكِينَ حَيۡثُ وَجَدتُّمُوهُمۡ وَخُذُوهُمۡ وَٱحۡصُرُوهُمۡ وَٱقۡعُدُواْ لَهُمۡ ڪُلَّ مَرۡصَدٍ۬ۚ فَإِن تَابُواْ وَأَقَامُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتَوُاْ ٱلزَّڪَوٰةَ فَخَلُّواْ سَبِيلَهُمۡۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌ۬ رَّحِيمٌ۬
There are many translations some of which are:
|“||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.([Quran 9:5])||”|
- Abdullah Yusuf Ali has translated the verse as:
|“||But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.||”|
|“||Do not wait until you find them. Rather, seek and besiege them in their areas and forts, gather intelligence about them in the various roads and fairways so that what is made wide looks ever smaller to them. This way, they will have no choice, but to die or embrace Islam."||”|
- Sahih International:
|“||And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.||”|
|“||So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.||”|
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. 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.
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.
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'?
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.
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
- Indian Muslims Against Terrorism by Yoginder Sikand
- Understand Qur'an, The Easy Way
- The Qur'an and War: Observations on Islamic Just War
- Chapter Introductions to the Qur'an - by Syed Abu-Ala' Maududi
- Tafheem-ul Qur'an Towards Understanding the Qur'an (translated by Zafar Ishaq Ansari)
- Terrorism and Jihad: An Islamic Perspective - Part - 3 by Dr. Zakir Naik
- Terrorism and Jihad: An Islamic Perspective - Part - 4 by Dr. Zakir Naik
- Does Islam Preach Terrorism? by Prof. Shahul Hameed, Consultant to the Discover Islam Section, IslamOnline.net
||This article uses bare URLs for citations, which may be threatened by link rot. (June 2014)|
- Wilson, Aaron N.R. Challenges of the progressive Muslim. [Bloomington, IN]: Xlibris Corp. p. 31. ISBN 1462873383.
- Ali, Maulana Muhammad (2011). The Religion of Islam. ISBN 1934271187.
- 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.
- Indian Controversies, Essays in Religion and Politics, ASA Publications, New Delhi-110021
- Patricia Crone, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, War article, p.456
- Asad, Muhammad: The Message of The Quran. Footnote 7, page 256. Redwood Books, Wiltshire, Great Britain
- Ali, Maulana Muhammad: The Religion of Islam, Page 414 from CH V Jihad. The Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Islam (Lahore) USA. 1990 
- Articles by Hesham A. Hassaballa
- Does Islam Call For The Murder of 'Infidels' by Hesham A. Hassaballa
- The Message of The Qur'an by Muhammed Asad
- Terrorism and Jihad: An Islamic Perspective by Dr. Zakir Naik