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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 24 (Verses 189 to 196)



Section/Ruku 24 [Verses 189 to 196]: Fighting in Defence:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

189 They ask thee of the new moons. Say: They are times appointed for men, and (for) the pilgrimage.
a And it is not righteousness that you enter the houses by their backs,b but he is righteous who keeps his duty. And go into the houses by their doors; and keep your duty to Allah, that you may be successful.

190 And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you but be not aggressive. Surely Allah loves not the aggressors.a

191 And kill them wherever you find them,a and drive them out from where they drove you out,b and persecutionc is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it;d so if they fight you (in it), slay them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.

192 But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.a

193 And fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is only for Allah.a But if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors.b

194 The sacred month for the sacred month, and retaliation (is allowed) in sacred things. Whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury he has inflicted on you and keep your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty.a

195 And spend in the way of Allah and cast not yourselves to perdition with your own hands and do good (to others). Surely Allah loves the doers of good.a

196 And accomplish the pilgrimage and the visita for Allah. But if you are prevented, (send) whatever offering is easy to obtain;b and shave not your heads until the offering reaches its destination.c Then whoever among you is sick or has an ailment of the head, he (may effect) a compensation by fasting or alms or sacrificing. And when you are secure,d whoever profits by combining the visit with the pilgrimagee (should take) whatever offering is easy to obtain. But he who cannot find (an offering) should fast for three days during the pilgrimage and for seven days when you return.f These are ten (days) complete. This is for him whose family is not present in the Sacred Mosque.g And keep your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is Severe in requiting (evil).

 2. Commentary:

189a. The month of Ramadan begins with a new moon and ends with the new moon of Shawwal. The latter is followed by three months, Dhu-l-Qa‘dah, Dhu-l-Hijjah (with which the year closes) and Muharram (the first month of the new year). These three along with Rajab, the seventh month of the year, form the four sacred months, which are referred to here in the word ahillah, pl. of hilal, meaning the new moon.

The indefiniteness of the question is removed by the answer. These were the months which were observed by the Arabs as sacred, in which the bitterest hostilities ceased and peace was established throughout the land, and thus trade was carried on peacefully and without molestation. It was also during these months that the pilgrimage to the sacred sanctuary at Makkah was performed. As this section deals with the injunctions relating to fighting, the question relating to the sacred months, which is made clearer in v. 217, is appropriately put here, and the answer recognizes the sacred character of those months. Their sacredness afforded to the people the material advantage of being able to carry on trade and the spiritual benefit of performing the pilgrimage. [Back to verse 189]

189b. The Arabs were a very superstitious people. When one of them set before himself an important object and was unable to attain it, he would not go into his house by the door, but entered it by the back and kept on doing so for a year (Rz). Or, the reference may be to the practice of entering the houses by the back on entering into a state of ihram for pilgrimage (B. 65: ii, 29). With Islam all superstitions were swept away. Or, entering by the back indicates turning aside from the right course, while entering by the doors signifies sticking to the right course (Rz). [Back to verse 189]

190a. This is one of the earliest revelations permitting the Muslims to fight. The subject is dealt with here in six verses, closing with v. 195, being again taken up in the following sections. It is remarkable that fighting in the way of Allah is here expressly limited to fighting in defence. Muslims were required to fight in the way of Allah, but they could fight only against those who waged war on them. Exactly the same limitation is placed on what was in all probability the first revelation permitting fighting: “Permission (to fight) is given to those on whom war is made because they are oppressed” (22:39).

It is clear from both these references that the Muslims were allowed to take up the sword only as a measure of self-defence. The enemies of Islam, being unable to suppress Islam by persecution, and seeing that Islam was now safe at Madinah and gaining strength, took up the sword to annihilate it. They knew that as yet the Muslims were very few in number and they thought they could extirpate Islam, by resorting to the sword. Their war against Islam was a war for the annihilation of Islam, as stated further on: “They will not cease fighting you until they turn you back from your religion, if they can” (v. 217). No course was left for the Muslims but either to be swept off the face of the earth or take up the sword in defence against an enemy which was a thousand times stronger.

It should be noted that it is this defensive fighting which is called fighting in the way of Allah. Fighting for the propagation of faith is not once mentioned in the whole of the Qur’an. [Back to verse 190]

191a. The personal pronoun in the words kill them refers to those with whom fighting is enjoined in the previous verse. When there is a state of war, the enemy may be killed wherever he is found. [Back to verse 191]

191b. The persecutors had driven the Muslims out from their houses in Makkah and from the Sacred Mosque there, which was now the Muslim Spiritual Centre. Thus the Muslims were ordered to carry on war against their persecutors until they were dispossessed of that which they had taken possession of by force. These words further show that the enemy was not to be exterminated, but only to be dispossessed of what he had unlawfully taken. [Back to verse 191]

191c. The word which I have rendered as persecution is fitnah, which originally means a burning with fire, and then affliction, distress and hardship, slaughter, misleading or causing to err, and seduction from faith by any means (LL). An explanation of these words is met with in v. 217: “They ask thee about fighting in the sacred month. Say: Fighting in it is a grave offence. And hindering (men) from Allah’s way and denying Him and the Sacred Mosque and turning its people out of it are still graver with Allah, and persecution is graver than slaughter.” Fitnah is thus synonymous with hindering men from Allah’s way and the Sacred Mosque, and denying Allah and turning people out of the Sacred Mosque, and indicates the persecution of the Muslims. Ibn ‘Umar explained the word fitnah when he said: “And there were very few Muslims, so a man used to be persecuted on account of his religion: they either murdered him or subjected him to tortures until Islam became predominant, then there was no fitnah”, i.e., persecution (B. 65: ii, 30). [Back to verse 191]

191d. The sacredness of the Inviolable place was not to be violated by the Muslims, notwithstanding the terrible afflictions that they had to suffer there, so long as the disbelievers were not the aggressors in this respect too and fought with the Muslims within the sacred territory. [Back to verse 191]

192a. Note the clemency of the Islamic fighting injunctions. The Muslims were to sheathe their swords if the enemy desisted from fighting. The disbelievers took advantage of such directions in practising deception on the Muslims: “Those with whom thou makest an agreement, then they break their agreement every time” (8:56). [Back to verse 192]

193a. When persecution ceases, and men are not forced to accept or renounce a religion, being at liberty to profess any religion of the truth of which they are convinced, then there should be no more fighting. The words that follow make the sense quite clear. If they desist from persecution, the Muslims are at once to stop fighting against them, and hostilities are not to be continued against any except the aggressors.

A comparison with 22:40 will show that this is the correct explanation. There the object of the Muslim fights is plainly set forth in the following words: “And if Allah did not repel some people by others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques in which Allah’s name is much remembered would have been pulled down”. This shows clearly that the Muslims fought not only in defence of mosques, but also in that of churches and synagogues, and even of the cloisters of monks. The same object is stated here in the words religion is only for Allah, so that there is no persecution on the score of religion, and everyone is at liberty to hold any belief which he likes. The verse, in fact, lays down the broad principles of religious freedom.

If we interpret these words as meaning that fighting is to be continued until all people accept Islam, all those verses in which agreements with the enemy and desisting from fighting are spoken of become meaningless. Such an interpretation is belied not only by the Holy Qur’an, but by history itself, for many a time did the Prophet make peace with the unbelievers. [Back to verse 193]

193b. The word ‘udwan here, as also the word i‘tida used thrice in the following verse, indicates an exceeding of the proper limit, and hence it is applied to wrongful or unjust conduct, but the punishment by which an injury is inflicted on the offender for wrongful conduct is called i‘tida, for “it is sometimes in the way of aggression and sometimes in the way of requital” (LL). According to R, i‘tadu here means requite or punish him according to his wrongful conduct. The punishment of an evil is frequently spoken of in the terms of that evil in the Holy Qur’an and in Arabic literature; see 15a. The words except against the oppressors signify that hostilities can only be carried on against the oppressors, so that when they desist from oppressing, hostilities against them must be stopped. [Back to verse 193]

194a. This is similar to what is said in v. 191 regarding the Sacred Mosque. If the opponents violated the sacred months by attacking the Muslims first in those months, the Muslims were permitted to fight against them in the sacred months. And generally retaliation or requital within the limits of the original act of aggression is permitted in the case of all sacred objects, for inaction in that case would be suicidal. [Back to verse 194]

195a. The defensive wars of the Muslims needed funds and so the Muslims are told that they should contribute to the war fund; it is here called spending in the way of Allah. If they withheld monetary aid to defend themselves when attacked, they would be casting themselves to perdition with their own hands. [Back to verse 195]

196a. Apparently a new subject, the subject of pilgrimage is introduced here, but it would be seen that the Holy Qur’an has generally linked up the two subjects of war and pilgrimage. The reason is that the Muslims were free at Madinah to perform all the religious ordinances required by Islam, but they were not free to perform the pilgrimage, their Spiritual Centre, Makkah, being in the possession of their enemies who were at war with them.

Hajj and ‘umrah, the latter of which is generally translated as the minor pilgrimage, but which may more correctly be rendered as the visit, differ slightly. The ‘umrah may be performed at any time, whilst the hajj or the pilgrimage proper can only be performed at a particular time. Of the ceremonies connected with pilgrimage proper, the staying on the plain of ‘Arafat is dispensed with in the case of the ‘umrah. Thus the principal requirements of ‘umrah are ihram, making circuits round the Ka‘bah and running between the Safa and the Marwah.

The pilgrimage in fact represents the last stage in the progress of the spiritual pilgrim. Of the principal requirements of the pilgrimage, the first, or ihram, represents the severance of all worldly connections for the love of God. All costly dresses in which the inner self is so often mistaken for the outward appearance, are cast off, and the pilgrim has only two seamless wrappers to cover himself. The other important requirement is making circuits round the Ka‘bah, called tawaf, and running between the Safa and the Marwah, called sa‘y, and both these are external manifestations of that fire of Divine love which has been kindled within the heart, so that like the true lover, the pilgrim makes circuits round the house of his beloved One. He shows in fact that he has completely surrendered himself to his beloved Master, and sacrificed all his interests for His sake. [Back to verse 196]

196b. Makkah was still in the hands of the opponents of Islam, who prevented the Muslims from performing the pilgrimage. According to I‘Ab and many other authorities, prevention here means prevention by the enemy and not by a disease, while according to others prevention of both sorts is included (Rz). [Back to verse 196]

196c. The shaving of the head is a sign of the pilgrim getting out of the state of ihram. In case of prevention, the offering should be sent to the Sacred House, or if this is not possible, it should be sacrificed where the pilgrims are detained. [Back to verse 196]

196d. This is a prophecy that a time would come when the power of the enemy would be completely broken down, and the Muslims would make their pilgrimage to Makkah, safe and secure, not having to fear detention. [Back to verse 196]

196e. A combination of the visit and the pilgrimage means that after the performance of the visit, the pilgrim does not remain in the state of ihram, but again enters into that state at the time of the pilgrimage. [Back to verse 196]

196f. That is, when you return home after the performance of the pilgrimage. [Back to verse 196]

196g. By this are understood those who do not live in Makkah. [Back to verse 196]



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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 24 (Verses 189 to 196)

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