Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, SunniPath Academy Teacher
In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.
The short answer is no.
The Qur'an does not teach that "infidels" should be killed, taxed, or converted as a matter of principle.
The answer to your next question is also no. Actually, this is a saying, or hadith, attributed to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. Scholars differ over the interpretation of this saying. However, the best method of understanding this hadith is to look at the biography of the Prophet, peace be upon him. When he established the first Islamic state in Medina, he regarded the Jews as allies, and concluded a treaty with them. Only when they violated the treaty and sided with the Muslims' enemies did the Prophet change his policy toward them. It is possible that this hadith is a reflection of the tensions between Muslims and Jews in Medina. However, bear in mind that Islam accords special status to both Christians and Jews, as we will see later.
First, let's look at where these statements come from. These are common stereotypes about Islam. People who don't understand the religion like to toss around the accusation that the Qur'an teaches violence and anti-semitism. Unfortunately, a lot of people who buy into these misconceptions have distinctly Islamophobic agendas that preclude them from having any positive views of Islam.
Islam is a fourteen-hundred years old way of life. One simply can't take the scripture of Islam, which is the Qur'an (also spelled Koran), and make sweeping generalizations about the religion, particularly when one lacks the qualifications to interpret the Qur'an.
The Qur'an makes reference to different groups of non-Muslims. First, the Qur'an recognizes the natural diversity of humanity, "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." (Qu'ran, 49:13)
There is also the recognition that human beings are religiously and ethnically diverse, "For, had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray him that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did!" (Qur'an, 16:93)
What then does the Qur'an say about "infidels?" First, what does the term infidel mean? It is not a Qur'anic term. It is a term that Christians have historically applied to non-Christians, particularly Muslims. Christian doctrine simply did not recognize the legitimacy of Islam. Hence, Muslims were "infidels," and usually placed in the same category as "pagans" and "savages."
The Qur'an speaks of "kuffar," or those who disbelieve, or cover up the truth, or deny the truth of God and His messengers. However, it is incorrect to translate "kafir" as infidel. The Qur'an also does not label all non-Muslims as kuffar, or unbelievers.
The Qur'an talks about a group of non-Muslims called "Ahl al-Kitab," or People of Scripture. These are people who have received divine revelation, particularly Christians and Jews. Therefore, the Qur'an automatically recognizes previous Abrahamic faiths and accords special status to the adherents of Christianity and Judaism. What is ironic is that Christian and Jewish doctrine makes no provision for the recognition of Islam; however, Islam recognizes both Christianity and Judaism as divinely-revealed religions. But it is Islam that is always accused of intolerance!
The Qur'an is the culmination of the Abrahamic tradition. Thus, Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the completion of God's message to humanity. Muslims also believe that the Qur'an has been preserved in its original form since its revelation over 1400 years ago. Unlike the Bible, the Qur'an has not been altered by human hands. For Muslims, this is a miracle and proof of God's concern for humanity.
Let's look at one of the most misunderstood passages of the Qur'an:
"And fight in the cause of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits. And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out..."
Most people usually only quote the first part.
Here's the entire passage:
"And fight in the cause of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits. And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah) until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the reward of the unbelievers. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors." (Qur'an, 2:190-192)
Let's look at the interpretation of the above verses. First, examine the historical context. These verses were revealed at a time when Islam was under siege, when the small Muslim community was fighting for its very existence against powerful polytheists. The biography of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace, makes it very clear that the Prophet preached peacefully for the first 13 years of his mission. He left Mecca for Medina to make a new start. Even when the polytheists in Mecca were persecuting Muslims and looting their houses, the Prophet hesitated to fight. He only took up arms when God gave him permission:
"Permission (to fight) is given to those upon whom war is made because they are oppressed, and most surely Allah is well able to assist them." (Qur'an, 22:39)
The first battles the Muslims waged were in self-defense. They were disciplined and adhered to strict codes of conduct. Noncombatants, including women and children were not targeted. Furthermore, the Muslims avoided destroying property, livestock, and trees.
Even as Islam spread beyond the borders of Arabia into the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires (Syria and Persia), non-Muslims were accorded certain rights. If they accepted the authority of the new Islamic government, then treaties were concluded and the non-Muslims paid a special tax, called a jizya. The options were not convert, die, or pay the tax. Instead, non-Muslims were allowed to practice their own religions and maintain their own institutions. In lieu of converting to Islam, they paid the jizya, or poll tax. This tax exempted them from military service and gave them special status under the Islamic system. Many non-Muslims actually welcomed Muslim rule, knowing that they had certain rights under the new system. In fact, some Muslim rulers actually discouraged conversion, because they preferred collecting the poll tax. This tribute system was very compatible with the political economy of the premodern world.
Islam could not have had the huge appeal it did if Muslims' first response was to kill "infidels." Within one hundred years of the Prophet's death, Islam had spread from Spain in the West to China in the East. Islam's initial spread was through political-military means. However, Muslim rulers usually insured that local populations could practice their own religions and have their own institutions, provided they accepted Muslim rule and paid their taxes. Muslims ruled places like the Indian subcontinent for centuries and did not forcibly convert the population. In fact, India remained majority Hindu under Muslim rule.
The Ottomans created a multi-confessional, multi-ethnic millet system where Muslims, Christian, and Jews lived together in peace. In fact, the Ottomans' elite military corp, the Janissaries, were predominantly Christian.
Islam's tolerance, and indeed welcoming, of other religions flourished in places like Spain, where Muslims cultivated an atmosphere of learning, scholarship, and art. Christians flocked to study in the universities of Muslim Spain.
In the Catholic Reconquista of Muslim Spain, Muslim and Spanish Jews were generally ordered to convert to Christianity, be expelled, or die.
When the Spanish Jews fled the Catholics, where did they go? They sought refuge with the Ottoman Muslims in Istanbul. This was in the 15th century. To this day, there is a Jewish quarter in Istanbul where the people still speak Spanish, descendants of the Spanish Jews who found a home with the Muslims!
Let's go back to the Qur'an:
The Qur'an says, "Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah (God) and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." (Qur'an, 2:62)
And, the Qur'an also states, "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things." (Qur'an, 2:256)
Today, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Today, as yesterday, and in centuries past, Islam speaks to people's hearts with the beautiful message that There is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger.
This is a message that has inspired countless believers from all walks of life, a religion followed by over 1.5 billion human beings the world over, including my own family, who were raised as Christians, but discovered the beauty of Islam over three decades ago.
May Allah guide us all.
And Allah knows best.
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