Is Jihād only for Self-Defence?
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

There are some scholars who believe that all wars fought by the Prophet of Islam were defensive. Muhammad (sws) never carried out unprovoked attacks. Please comment.


I am afraid that this is not true. There are indeed scholars who hold this view Sir Thomas Arnold is one prominent authority who holds this view. He writes:

There are no passages to be found in the Qur’ān that in any way enjoin forcible conversion, and many that on the contrary limit propagandist efforts to preaching and persuasion. It has further been maintained that no passage in the Qur’ān authorizes unprovoked attacks on unbelievers, and that, in accordance with such teaching, all the wars of Muhammad were defensive.1

In my opinion, this view point has emerged because of a misunderstanding of certain verses of the Qur’ān. Following is a typical verse2 that is quoted in support of this stance:3

وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا (١٩٠:٢)

Fight in the way of Allah with those who fight against you and do not transgress bounds. (2:190)

The verse apparently says that Muslims should only fight their enemy when the enemy initiates the attack. However, if the context of the verse is kept in consideration, this seems to be an erroneous interpretation. The verse is not talking about war in general. It is talking about war in the vicinity of the Baytullāh and that too in the forbidden months. The succeeding verses read:

وَلَا تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِنْدَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّى يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ فَإِنْ قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ (١٩٢:٢)

But do not initiate war with them near the Baytullāh unless they attack you there. But if they attack you, put them to the sword [without any hesitation]. (2:192)

الشَّهْرُ الْحَرَامُ بِالشَّهْرِ الْحَرَامِ وَالْحُرُمَاتُ قِصَاصٌ فَمَنْ اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ فَاعْتَدُوا عَلَيْهِ بِمِثْلِ مَا اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ(١٩٤:٢)

A sacred month for a sacred month; [similarly] other sacred things too are subject to retaliation. So if any one transgresses against you, you should also pay back in equal coins. Have fear of Allah and [keep in mind that] Allah is with those who remain within the bounds [stipulated by religion]. (2:194)

So, in other words, verses like 2:190 have a specific context and do not relate to Jihād waged in general.

Moreover, the propounders of the view that Jihād is only for self-defence must reflect on other verses of the Qur’ān which explicitly ask the Muslims to wage offensive war. Perhaps the most explicit of these verses are 4:75 and 9:29.



1 Thomas Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, 4th ed., (Lahore: Ashraf Publications, 1979), p. 451.

2 Maulvi Chiragh Ali, Jihad, 1st ed., (Karachi: Karimsons), p. 17.

3 For a complete list of verses that are used by the advocates of this stance, see Maulvi Chiragh Ali, Jihad, 1st ed., (Karachi: Karimsons), p. 225-7.

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