‘Kill the Unbelievers Wherever You Find Them: What Does The Verse In The Quran Mean?

Islam 101: What does the verse in the Qur’an ‘kill the unbelievers wherever you find them’ mean?

Edited by Aftab Ahmad Malik

J. Samia Mair
Baltimore Muslim Examiner

Often when someone wants to criticize Islam, that person mentions the verse in the Qur’an that has been translated as “kill the unbelievers wherever you find them” (9:5).

Some of the other translations of this verse and specifically, the translation of the word “al-mushrikin” (“unbelievers”) state:

“slay those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them” (Muhammad Asad)
“then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them” (Yusuf Ali)
“slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (A.J. Arberry)

The entire verse states:

“And so, when the sacred months are over, slay those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place! Yet if they repent, and take to prayer, and render the purifying dues, let them go their way: for, behold, God is much forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” (9:5, Muhammad Asad)

In the book The State We Are In: Identity, Terror & The Law of Jihad, Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Atkiti gives a fatwa on ‘Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless against the Killing of Civilians,’ which he wrote in response to those who justify the targeting of civilians by suicide bombing and claim it is jihad.

In his fatwa, Shaykh Afifi responds to several questions, including:

If it is said: “What about the verse of the Qur’an which says ‘kill the unbelievers wherever you find them’ and the sahih hadith which says ‘I have been ordered to fight against a people until they testify’?”

He responds:

“We say: It is well known among scholars that the following verse…

[kill the idolaters wherever you find them] is in reference to a historical episode: those among the Makkan Confederates who breached the Treaty of Hudaybiyya which led to the Victory of Makka, and that therefore, no legal rulings, or in other words, no practical or particular implications, can be derived from this Verse on its own.

The Divine Irony and indeed Providence from the last part of the Verse, ‘wherever you find them’—which many of our mufassirs {interpreters of the Qur’an} understood in reference to place (i.e., attack them whether inside the Sacred Precinct or not)—is that the victory against the Makkans happened without a single battle taking place, whether inside the Sacred Precinct or otherwise, rather there was a general amnesty for the Jahili Arabs {pre-Islamic Arabian pagans} there.

Had the Verse not been subject to historical context, then you should know that it is of the general type and that it will therefore be subject to specification by some other indication. Its effect in lay terms, were it not related to the Jahili Arabs, is that it can only refer to a case during a valid war when there is no ceasefire.

Among the well known exegeses of ‘al-mushrikin’ from this Verse are ‘an-nakithina khassatan’ [specifically those who have breached (the Treaty)], ‘al-ladhina yuharibunakum’ [those who have declared war against you]; and ‘khassan fi mushriki l-‘arabi duna ghayrihim’ [specifically, the Jahili Arabs and not anyone else].

As for the meaning of ‘people’ in the above well-related hadith, it is confirmed by Ijma {consensus} that it refers to the same ‘mushrikin’ as in the Verse of Sura al-Tawba {9:5} above, and therefore what is meant there is only the Jahili Arabs during the closing days of the Final Messenger and the early years of the Righteous Caliphs and not even to any other non-Muslims.

In sum, we are not in a perpetual state of war with non-Muslims. On the contrary, the original legal status is a state of peace, and making a decision to change this status belongs only to a Muslim authority who will in the Next World answer for their ijtihad {the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation} and decision; and this decision is not divinely charged to any individuals—not even soldiers or scholars—and to believe otherwise would go against the well-known rule in our Law that a Muslim authority could seek help from a non-Muslim with certain conditions, including, for example, that the non-Muslim allies are of goodwill towards the Muslims:”*

In short, the verse above often quoted by critics of Islam to suggest that Islam requires the killing of non-Muslims does not mean what those critics profess it means. Indeed, if that were the case, there would not be non-Muslims living in Muslim-run countries, which has been the case since the 7th century.

*Words between { } are added by me for clarity. Also, some of the Arabic translations of English words have been removed for the same reason.

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