Jihad against the Disbelievers
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

My question concerns the following verse of the Qur’ān:

O ye who believe! Fight the disbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you: and know that God is with those who fear Him. (9:123)

Should we just start fighting with the unbelievers on the basis of this verse?


Each Qur’ānic verse has a perspective and a context and must be understood accordingly. The verse referred to and other verses of similar meaning are directed at the immediate addressees of a Prophet (Rasūl) and have no bearing on us. According to the Qur’ān, the people towards whom a Prophet is assigned are dealt with by the Almighty by a special law. This needs some elaboration:

A prophet is the final authority on this earth about matters which pertain to faith. No other person can illustrate and explicate the essentials of faith in a better manner. He uses his extraordinary powers of intellect and reasoning to deliver and disseminate the truth revealed to him. He exposes the truth in its ultimate form after which a person can have no excuse but stubbornness and enmity to deny it. According to the Qur’ān, God's purpose in endowing life to people is to test whether they accept and uphold the truth when it comes to them. In these special circumstances, the truth is unveiled to them in its purest form by no other a personality than a prophet. If they then deny it, there is no possibility whatsoever that a further extension in life can induce them to accept it. It is at this juncture that the Divine law sanctions the death sentence for them.

The sentence is enforced upon them in one of the two ways depending upon the situation which arises. In the first case, after itmām i hujjah (ie unveiling the truth to the extent that no one has an excuse to deny it), a prophet and his companions not being able to achieve political ascendancy in some other territory migrate from their people. In this case, Divine punishment descends upon them in the form of raging storms, cyclones or other calamities which completely destroy them. Historically speaking, the tribes of `Aād and Thamūd and the people of Noah and Lot besides many other nations met with this dreadful fate, as has been mentioned in the Qur’ān. In the second case, a prophet and his companions are able to acquire political ascendancy in a land where after itmām i hujjah upon their people, they migrate. In this case, a prophet subdues his people by force, and executes them if they do not accept faith. It was this situation which had arisen in the case of the Prophet (sws). On account of this, the Almighty bade him to declare that the people among the ummiyyīn who do not accept faith until the day of Hajj-i-Akbar (9th Hijrah) will be given a final extension by a proclamation made in the field of Arafāt on that day. According to the proclamation, this final extension would end with the last day of the month of Muharram, during which they must accept faith, or face execution at the end of this period. The Qur’ān says:

When the forbidden months are over, slay the idolators wherever you find them. Seize them, surround them and every  where lie in ambush for them. But if they repent and establish regular prayers and pay zakāt, then spare their lives. God is oft-forgiving and ever merciful. (9:5)

A hadīth illustrates this law in the following manner:

I have been ordained to fight against these people until they testify to the oneness of God and assent to my prophethood, establish regular prayers and pay zakāt. If they accept these terms, their lives will be spared except if they commit some other violation that demands their execution by Islamic law. (Bukhārī, Kitābu’l-Imān)

This law, as stated before, is specifically meant for the  people towards whom the Prophet (sws) had been directly assigned. Apart from them, it has no bearing upon any other person or nation.

Today, an Islamic state can launch jihad only against injustice and oppression – where they may be. Except on these accounts, Islam has not given an Islamic state the permission to take up arms against any country.

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