The so-called Sword Verse (ayat as-sayf) is the fifth verse of the ninth sura (Surat at-Tawbah) of the Qur'an. It is a widely-cited Qur'anic call to violence against "pagans" ("idolators", mushrikun), obliging Muslims to "fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them" ( fa-uq'tulū l-mush'rikīna ḥaythu wajadttumūhum فَاقْتُلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدْتُمُوهُمْ ; trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali).
This verse is often cited to justify attacks of Muslims on non-Muslims both in classical exegesis and in contemporary jihadism, while contemporary Muslim scholars tend to interpret the call to violence as limited to self-defense. The verse being from a Medinan sura, it has been of particular interest in the literature on abrogation. Although the name "sword-verse" (ayat as-saif) is not Qur'anic and has no support in the major Hadith, it is on record comparatively early, used the literature concerned with abrogation from the 10th century.
Text and translations
The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (1930)
|Abdullah Yusuf Ali,
The Holy Qur'an (1934)
|فَإِذَا انْسَلَخَ الْأَشْهُرُ الْحُرُمُ
فَاقْتُلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدْتُمُوهُمْ
وَخُذُوهُمْ وَاحْصُرُوهُمْ وَاقْعُدُوا لَهُمْ كُلَّ مَرْصَدٍ
فَإِنْ تَابُوا وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ
إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ ([Quran 9:5])
|fa-idhā insalakha l-ashhuru l-ḥurumu
fa-uq'tulū l-mush'rikīna ḥaythu wajadttumūhum
wakhudhūhum wa-uḥ'ṣurūhum wa-uq'ʿudū lahum kulla marṣadin
fa-in tābū wa-aqāmū l-ṣalata waātawū l-zakata fakhallū sabīlahum
inna llāha ghafūrun raḥīmun
|"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"
|"But when the forbidden months are past,
then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them,
and 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."
The entire passage in which 9:5 occurs is:
An acquittal, from God and His Messenger, unto the idolaters with whom you made covenant: (1) 'Journey freely in the land for four months; and know that you cannot frustrate the will of God, and that God degrades the unbelievers.' (2) A proclamation, from God and His Messenger, unto mankind on the day of the Greater Pilgrimage: 'God is quit, and His Messenger, of the idolaters. So if you repent, that will be better for you; but if you turn your backs; know that you cannot frustrate the will of God. And give thou good tidings to the unbelievers of a painful chastisement; (3) excepting those of the idolaters with whom you made covenant, then they failed. you naught neither lent support to any man against you. With them fulfil your covenant till their term; surely God loves the godfearing. (4) Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way; God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. (5) And if any of the idolaters seeks of thee protection, grant him protection till he hears the words of God; then do thou convey him to his place of security -- that, because they are a people who do not know. (6) How should the idolaters have a covenant with God and His Messenger? -- excepting those with whom you made covenant at the Holy Mosque; so long as they go straight with you, do you go straight with them; surely God loves the godfearing. (7)
Dr. Maher Hathout clarifies the historical context of the verse:
This verse was revealed towards the end of the revelation period and relates to a limited context. Hostilities were frozen for a three-month period during which the Arabs pledged not to wage war. Prophet Muhammad was inspired to use this period to encourage the combatants to join the Muslim ranks or, if they chose, to leave the area that was under Muslims rule; however, if they were to resume hostilities, then the Muslims would fight back until victorious. One is inspired to note that even in this context of war, the verse concludes by emphasizing the divine attributes of mercy and forgiveness. To minimize hostilities, the Qur'an ordered Muslims to grant asylum to anyone, even an enemy, who sought refuge. Asylum would be granted according to the customs of chivalry; the person would be told the message of the Qur'an but not coerced into accepting that message. Thereafter, he or she would be escorted to safety regardless of his or her religion. (9:6).
|This section may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. The specific problem is: needs to be based on scholarly sources discussing the history of abrogation literature rather than online essays. (November 2014)|
According to mainstream Islamic scholarship, the verse relates to a specific event in Islamic history. Namingly that Arabian Pagans made and broke a covenant with Arabic Muslims. The verses immediately preceding and following 9:5, 9:4 and 9:6, make the context very clear: Only those Pagans who broke the covenant were subject to violent repercussions. Furthermore, any Pagans who honored the covenant as well as those who repented were to be spared. Politician Arun Shourie has criticized the Sword Verse and many others from the Qur'an. Shourie says the sunnah and the hadith are equally evocative in their support of Jihad, which he deems to be the leitmotiv of the Qur'an.
Patricia Crone states that the verse 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, modern Quranic scholar Muhammad Asad restricts the permission to fight and kill as being given regarding specific tribes already at war with the Muslims who had breached their peace agreements and attacked them first. A similar interpretation of the verse as limited to defensive warfare is also found in Ahmadiyya literature, notably in Muhammad Ali's 1936 The Religion of Islam.
- Ali, Maulana Muhammad (2011). The Religion of Islam. ISBN 1934271187.
- Anwar al-Tanzeel wa Asrar al-Ta’weel, al-Baydawi, (9:5).
- Rūḥ al-ma‘ānī fī tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-‘aẓīm wa-al-sab‘ al-mathānī, Mahmud al-Alusi, (9:5).
- Arthur John Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, (9:1-7).
- Hathout, Jihad vs. Terrorism; US Multimedia Vera International, 2002, pp.52-53.
- Shourie, Arun. Indian Controversies, Essays in Religion and Politics ASA Publications, New Delhi-110021
- Patricia Crone, "War" in Encyclopedia of the Qur'an (2006), p. 456
- Asad, Muhammad. The Message of the Qur'an, 1980. Redwood Books, Wiltshire, Great Britain. p. 256, Footnote 7. For similar arguments see also e.g. Hesham A. Hassaballa, Articles; "Does Islam Call For The Murder of 'Infidels'"; Zakir Naik, "Terrorism and Jihad: An Islamic Perspective".
- Ali, Maulana Muhammad. The Religion of Islam. The Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Islam (Lahore) USA, 1990. Chapter V, "Jihad", page 414. On-line text