Does Islam Really Say It’s Okay To Kill People Or Is That Just One Interpretation?

In light of the extremist attacks in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria, and against a Russian passenger plane in the last few weeks, many in the West are wrestling with questions of ideological coexistence. Over at Reddit, someone asked the question ‘does Islam’s holy book say to kill people or is that just an interpretation?’

Below are eight well considered answers to that question from every conceivable angle. 

1. Like Every Other Religion, Islam Isn’t Uniform

Well, it’s complicated.

There are some verses, called ‘Sword Verses’. For example- chapter 9 (At-Tawba), verse 5:

“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.”

This and similar verses were used to justify the Muslim expansions into the rest of the Middle East- so it’s hardly a non-traditional reading.

In the modern sense- there was a major shift in the 1950’s with the writings of Sayyid Qutb. He, essentially, preached what we see today in Jihadists.

You know how people say ‘Jihad is an internal or defensive struggle’? That’s a pre-Qutb interpretation. Qutb wrote that Jihad is an offensive struggle- not an entirely new idea, but popularized by him. Consider, for analogy that while there were many critics of the Catholic Church before Luther, he really kicked the whole thing off.

Fundamentalist Salafism (or Wahhabism) became closely associated with Qutb’s writings in the 70’s. Bin Laden and ISIS are closely associated with this strand of Islam- which is fundamentalist Sunni, essentially.

Of course, Iran is Shia- however, Ali Shariati, one of the fundamental philosophers of the Iranian revolution, preached something very similar- it’s unclear how much influence Qutb had on Shariati- however, given that Qutb’s writings were extremely influential already at the time that he was studying in the late fifties and sixties, he almost certainly would have encountered them.

Notably, although Shia, Shariati is very popular among some Sunnis.

Further, the current Ayatollah, Khamenei, translated Qutb’s works into Persian, and is considered to be very influenced by their teachings.

Sorry for that side jaunt, but it’s necessary to understand that this question depends on who you’re asking-Modern islamists, in both Sunni and Shia, as influenced by Qutb and Shariati, are quite clear that yes, offensive Jihad and killing the infidel are acceptable. More liberal and some more traditional movements say it is not.

Currently, it should also be noted that Qutbism and Shariatism are extremely popular among many powerful and influential groups in the Middle East- so attempts to dismiss it as a “tiny group” or a few radicals are extremely mistaken.

2. Islam Is No More Violent Than Christianity And Judaism Were

It does, but so do all holy books in the Abrahamic tradition, including the Bible.

It’s not about what your holy book says, therefore. It’s about how seriously and literally you take it. I don’t personally know any Jews who force their women to live elsewhere during their period, or stone anyone who’s worked on the Sabbath, and for that matter I know very few Christians who give unto Caesar without bitching about it, or who turn the other cheek.

There’s a great deal of focus lately on specific passages in the Qur’an, but what’s actually relevant is what any given person makes of those passages. You can find literalists and extremists in any faith tradition, and will if you look hard enough.

The reason people are talking about this is that they’re – very understandably – trying to decide for themselves if they should have a reason to feel differently towards Muslims than towards other people of devout faith. The answer is unfortunately a bit complicated, but history teaches some lessons about it.

The ancient world, during which much of the Old Testament takes place, was a time of great violence over much of the known world, and the ancient Jews frequently waged violent wars of conquest and domination. (To be fair, they were not alone in that. Indeed, everyone seemed to be doing something like that.) The first Muslim caliphate took over much of that same part of the world, also mostly by violence, eventually expanding into the Ottoman Empire, which survived into the early years of the last century. And around a thousand years ago, Christians of Europe waged a series of attempted conquests of the same area, known as the Crusades, also for religious reasons. All of them racked up impressive body counts.

To paint all Muslims of today with broad strokes is as fallacious as painting all of any other large group the same way. There are over one and a half billion Muslims in the world today, spread through most of the world, observing numerous denominations (or none). To suggest they all read the Qur’an the same way is clearly ignorant; if that were true, there’d be only one denomination. It’s the same reason there are several different Jewish denominations, and countless Christian ones: They do not all agree on it, but instead have numerous different interpretations.

If you delve into the ancient books of any Abrahamic faith tradition, or even just study their documented history of the last few millennia, you’re going to find a lot of blood. That is not specifically relevant to those living in modern times. The vast majority of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are not violent people and have no interest in revisiting the barbarity of ancient times.

3. Young Muslims Must See The West As Aggressors

I admittedly don’t know much about the Muslim texts, but there’s a huge part of this that I think people are missing it. Everyone is posting the interpretations that they know or have found which all say things like only attack when being attacked and cease when they cease to fight.

The problem is that these brainwashed young men in ISIS truly do believe that they are constantly being attacked and constantly being oppressed by America and the “Western Culture.” While we don’t have “open war” going on currently, we have troops on the ground and we’ve had our hand in the business over there for years now. I know we’re doing good, the world knows we’re doing good; but they see it as non-believers going into their homeland and fucking shit up. So they want to fight back. I’m not justifying anything but from their perspective a lot of these guys are just defending their land, their religion, and their independence. It’s extremely ill-informed and ridiculous but this is why and how it’s happening.

Unfortunately I don’t know if it can ever change. Religion is a powerful thing and it makes people believe things that may seem ridiculous or just simply wrong. As long as they believe their God is telling them this, they will continue to do it, no matter the level of enlightenment and education we can provide.

4. Everyone Justifies Their Own Actions, Islam Is No Different

Short answer: Yes the Quran does indeed condone violence against non-believers, oppressors, aggressors, and so on though generally says that believers should be spared.

Slightly more lengthy answer: When asked this question or it gets brought up I usually reference 2;190-193 in the Quran.

2.190. Fight against those who fight against you in the way of Allah, but do not transgress, for Allah does not love transgressors.

2.191. Kill them whenever you confront them and drive them out from where they drove you out. (For though killing is sinful) wrongful persecution is even worse than killing. Do not fight against them near the Holy Mosque unless they fight against you; but if they fight against you kill them, for that is the reward of such unbelievers.

2.192. Then if they desist, know well that Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Compassionate.

2.193. Keep on fighting against them until mischief ends and the way prescribed by Allah prevails. But if they desist, then know that hostility is only against the wrong-doers.

Now in part this can be seen as talking about a “defensive” war, about fighting aggressors, oppressors, etc. Yet when we look at the historical context of the verses this is talking about the Muslims who are in Medina fighting the non-Muslims in Mecca (which they would eventually defeat, capture, and turn Mecca into their holiest city).

The most basic concept presented is, “don’t fight unjustly” basically don’t be a douchebag when you fight, don’t salt the earth, kill the livestock, and burn the villages to the ground. Spare those who repent, that if a person accepts the word of Allah they should be spared (though still punished under law for their crimes which might result in execution), that the fighting ends when only believers remain.

We can actually see these ideals in action in history during the Islamic Conquests. From about 635 AD to 736 AD nearly a fully century of conquests Islam and the caliphate (theocratic Islamic empire) spread its authority throughout the Middle East conquering nearly everything in their way.

Basically at one point Islam as a “government” ruled Medina and that was basically it. Then they conquered Mecca and controlled most of what is today Saudi Arabia. From there the Islamic Conquests in the centuries following the death of the prophet led to the Caliphate basically ruling what we know today as the Middle East, and a rather large segment of North Africa among other territory.

These conquests, conquering territory, fighting, and leading great armies, etc, were carried out by the Prophet when he led the people to take Mecca and by his followers and successors in leading the Muslim people after his death, these were people who literally spoke, ate, drank, etc with the prophet they had first hand knowledge of the prophet’s thoughts, ideas, actions many were related by marriage if not blood, like they married a cousin, were someone’s uncle, etc. These people founded an empire by conquering their neighbors in warfare, by having an effective standing army to expand their control.

Often times “justifications” were and are used, and this something not limited to Islamic history but everyone’s history. The Arabian tribes betrayed us, X people don’t let muslims worship in their lands, etc. Just like Pearl Harbor was used as justification for the US to get involved with Germany somehow instead of just fighting in the Pacific against Japan.

TL;DR, yes the Quran condones killing people especially non-believers or those they consider aggressors, oppressors, etc. It also talks about forgiveness, striving for peace, and other things. That said the Prophet and the people who knew the Prophet led long lasting conquering campaigns that formed the Islamic empire and they did this through warfare, killing, and fighting. They claimed it was justified, but everyone claims their actions are justified including terrorists today, government years ago, and even the random thief who broke into a house will justify his actions.

5. It’s Absolutely About Interpretation

You’re asking an impossible question. It doesn’t matter what the actual words are, everything is up to interpretation. Show me the most black and white example of advocating violence in any holy book, and I’ll show you someone who insists it’s a parable for something else. Show me the most harmless and innocuous verse in the same holy book, and I’ll show you the person who thinks it advocates genocide.

Text is irrelevant, the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, whatever aren’t math textbooks where there is no room for interpretation. The words don’t matter, the person reading them does.

6. The Qur’an Advocates Killing Non-Believers, Without Reservation

The quran is OK with killing people who deserve death, but it explicitly states that killing the “innocent” is completely forbidden. This is where people get misinformed, and how deception gets spread: The “innocent” is not what you think it is. The innocent by the definition given in the Quran are strict Muslims. It explicitly goes into detail about what makes you not innocent. If you believe in other religions or are atheist, you are not innocent. If you are unclean, eat banned foods, you are not innocent. If you do not abide by the sexual rules laid out in the Quran, you are not innocent. If you do not do your duty of prayer, fasting, and mosque attending, you are no innocent. So on and so forth. If you are not innocent, you are not protected by the book. In some regards you have a chance to become “innocent” and convert but if you do not you should not live– according the Quran. Many of the innocence breaking acts are immediately punishable by death.

There are over 100 verses in the Quran that deal with violence and killing the non-innocent. So yes, it actually says to kill people. It would be much more difficult to interpret the Quran as a peaceful book rather than a violent one. Muhammed himself had numerous people brutally killed because they spoke out against him. He is “Gods ideal man.” The same man who wed and bred and 8 year old child.

Make no mistake, if one was to truly follow the Muslim way, they have a duty to convert or kill non-believers and the cleanse the earth of those who are breaking holy law.

7. As A Muslim, This Scares Me

I’m a Muslim, and this thread scares me at how negatively it paints me. Honestly, If you want to know about something that is allegedly supposed to give meaning to your whole life and existence, please don’t draw conclusions on things based on what you read in a reddit thread… I’m not going to go into it because frankly, its very long and complex. But if I can leave you with one thing, please understand that there are almost 2 billion Muslims in the world, basically a quarter of the planet. If all of us were as bad as this thread makes me seem, I’m sure the world be a lot worse than it is.

And for those that say that its because i’m part of the “liberal few” or a part of some group that doesn’t understand my own religion well enough, I have to say that I disagree. I’ve devoted my life to knowing my religion, not a few hours or weeks or months. Ultimately, you’re free to think whatever you’d like, but either way, I’m very sorry you feel this way.

8. A Former Muslim Says Yes, Islam Says To Fight And Kill

Former Muslim here (Sunni Egyptian upbringing)

Yes, the Quran says to fight and kill people. The problem today is that Sunni Islam exists without any significant reform movement, so the original teachings/sayings/deeds from 7th century Arabia are still considered valid today.

When Muhammad first received his revelations, he tried to plea with the Meccans to stop worshiping multiple Gods, and to stop idol worship. Only a few people joined his cause.

Then he embarked on a journey to Medina, where many violent campaigns against non Muslims occurred. This is where Muhammad gained the bulk of his followers. At Muhammad’s orders, the Muslims used to raid traveling caravans and steal from them.

Muhammad also had Jewish poets assassinated for simply mocking him. One famous example is the Jewish poet Ka’b Ibn Ashraf, who would write negative poetry about Muhammad and Muslim women. He was murdered by Muhammad’s companion at his direct request.

One other example of unnecessary violence comes from the fate of the Banu Qurayza; a Jewish tribe whose men were beheaded by the Muslims after surrender, and whose women and children were sold into slavery and traded for weaponry. All of this was directly approved by Muhammad.

I think many westerners, in their effort to appease and be kind to Muslims, make comments in defense of Islam, without actually knowing the nature of the religion.

I leave you with a quote from Muhammad, taken from the most highly regarded collections of hadith (teachings & sayings attributed to Muhammad).

*Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ), and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah.” * Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Ask me anything as long as it’s safe for all ages and just fantastically interesting.

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