“Kill Them Wherever You Find Them” – A Misunderstood Quranic Verse
Like a person suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (a common disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts), there are many who often derogatively question about the verse on ‘killing’ in the Quran. The relevant reference is in Chapter 9 Verse 5 which states:
“And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
These days one cannot escape not hearing utterances of words from the Arabic vocabulary relevant to Islam. Some of the terms like ‘Sharia ‘, ‘Hijab’, ‘Hadith’, ‘Madarasa’, ‘Quran ‘, ‘Jihad‘ and so on. On many occasions, I have directly confronted a few of these people by simply asking them, “Do you know what ‘Sharia’ means?” “Have you any knowledge of what you are speaking about?” “Do you know the etymology of the word ‘Sharia’.” Sadly, the answer I have always heard is ‘No. I don’t know” or “Not that much.”
It is without proper knowledge that every Tom, Dick and Harry, pretending to be experts, come before the media to express opinions. Amongst them are politicians, monks and the misguided ordinary people. Since most of the Sri Lankan audiences think not with their brains but with their hearts, they automatically become captivated listeners of these pseudo-experts. A simple case of the blind leading the blind.
Then there is another category of pseudo-experts. These are Google experts. They write copiously in social media, newspapers, making comments etc. Most of them visit anti-Muslim or anti-Islamic sites in Google and obtain their information from unauthentic sources. There are thousands of such sites dedicated to spreading misinformation not only about Islam but on other religions too.
These half-baked pundits not only do a lot of damage to society by creating misperception in the minds of the unwary public but, also, expose themselves as a set of CLOWNS to the discerning.
Kill the polytheists
Mark Twain said, “it is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled”. The widespread misperception about this Quranic verse is both illogical and irrational. Sadly, when a person is biased even the truth will look like falsehood. What is sometimes difficult to understand is that these stupid questions are being asked mostly by educated people who are considered intellects! Are they not betraying their own intelligence quotient levels? Mark Twain is spot on in his quote.
If one does not know, to learn from those who know is normal. What is not normal is when the person without knowledge acts as if he is conversant with the subject. Not only that such person even takes that extra effort to interpret the meaning of something of which he has no knowledge of.
This column proffers an explanation to the above-misperceived verse. The reader’s kind attention is drawn to think wisely and independently without prejudice.
Firstly, Muslims have been living in Sri Lanka for more than a thousand years. This Verse was in existence since then. If they had started killing from that time onwards, today no polytheist would be living in Sri Lanka. In reality, is that the case? Be honest and question yourself, has any Muslim ever threatened to kill you just because you are not a Muslim?
All of this started after 21/4. The consequence of sustained unethical, unprincipled and disgraceful media campaign to create fear psychosis among the people. Again, I remind the reader to think wisely.
Secondly, let us use our common sense. Take the separatist war waged between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. What do you think the leader of the LTTE would have told his combatants in the war zone? Would he have said to embrace and greet the soldiers of the Sri Lankan army or kill them wherever they find them? On the other hand, what would the commander of the army platoon tell his soldiers? He would encourage them to kill the LTTE combatants wherever they find them, capture them, besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. The commander surely would not ask his soldiers to embrace and greet the LTTE combatants.
Thirdly, a journey into the pages of the Mahavamsa reveals interesting details. Chapter XXV of the Mahavamsa is titled, ‘The Victory of Dutthagamani’. Logically, for there to be a victor some other had to be vanquished. Let’s read what the Mahavamsa records,
“ …. Phussadeva blew his conch shell, the army of the Damilas was scattered; nay, Elara turned to flee and they killed many Damilas. The water in the tank there was dyed red with the blood of the slain, therefore it was known by the name Kulantavapi.”
Here, the widespread killing of the Damilas is described by the water tank turning into red with blood. Further, look at what Dutthagamani said in the battlefield with regard to his opponent King Elara, as written in the Mahavamsa:
“King Dutthagamini proclaimed with beat of drum:`None but myself shall slay Elara.‘ When he himself, armed, had mounted the armed elephant Kandula he pursued Elara and came to the south gate (of Anuradhapura).”
Fourthly, the Bhagavad Gita with reference to Arjuna’s war states as follows:
“If you fight, you will either be killed on the battlefield and go to the Heaven, or you will gain victory and enjoy the kingdom on earth. Therefore, arise with determination, O son of Kunti, and be prepared to fight.” Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 37
“Dronacharya, Bheeshma, …., and other brave warriors have already been killed by me. So, kill them without being disturbed. Just fight and you will be victorious over your enemies in battle.”Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 11, Verse 34
Some references for purposes of comparative religious knowledge is given below in relation to the Bible.
“As for my enemies who did not want me for their king, bring them here and kill them in my presence.” Luke: 19:27
“Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them”. Numbers: 25:17.
In all of the above instances, what each did was to kill the enemies and not embrace and kiss them?
Fifthly, in the same manner, what the Quran also mentions is in a war situation kill the rivals who are at war with the Muslims. This is what Chapter 9 Verse 5, refers to about killing. This does not mean that the Quran is commanding the Muslims to kill his Sinhala or Hindu neighbour. What stupid thinking is this?
The brief history of this verse is that Prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings be on him) was persecuted for 13 years in Mecca. The Muslims unable to endure the persecution migrated to Medina. Even after that the Meccans attacked them in Medina on and off for a period of nine years. This commandment was then given after suffering and being patient for all these years and, it only relates to those tribes who continued hostilities.
There is more explanation that can be given from the historical and contextual point of view, which I limit due to space constraint. In passing, let us look at the next verse to this wrongly understood ‘killing’ verse.
Quran says, ‘Protect them’
“And if anyone of the polytheists seeks your protection (asylum), then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are people who do not know.” (9/6)
The very next verse speaks about protecting the polytheists. The obvious implication is that the disbelievers who are not at war with the Muslims have to be protected by the Muslims. Note carefully, this verse commands not only to protect the disbelievers but, also, to grant them safe asylum. Some may ask, how many generals in the battlefield will grant protection to an enemy combatant who seeks protection and, also, ensure that the combatant is taken to a place which is safe and secure for him? However, a Muslim general is religiously duty-bound not only to give protection but, also, to take such person to a safe environment. Herein one finds the Islamic teachings of fairness and justice even in the war front.
Army of 10,000
During the conquest of Mecca circa 630 AD, Prophet Muhammed (May peace and blessings be on him) entered Mecca with a force of 10,000 companions. This was necessitated because on several occasions the polytheists had violated the peace treaties signed with them. The several tribes who were parties to the peace treaties were demanding justice against these continuing violations.
In his translation titled, “The Life of Muhammad”, Professor Alfred Guillaume writes,
“The Apostle had instructed his commanders when they entered Mecca only to fight those who resisted them.” (Page 550).
Ibn al-Athir a Muslim historian in the 12-13th century AD and renowned for his masterpiece entitled, “Al-Kamil Fi al-Tarikh” records that the Prophet on the day of conquest said the following to the enemies:
“Even he Who enters the house of Abu Sufyan will be safe, He who lays down arms will be safe, He who locks his door will be safe” (Page 329).
After entering Mecca, the Prophet had said that no blood should be shed. Further, in granting a general amnesty to all the Meccans who had surrendered, the Prophet after addressing them said,
“O Men of Quraysh ….. Rise then and go your way. For you are free.” (The Life of Muhammad by Dr. Haykal).
Compassion Not Retribution
What historians record here is that among these people to whom clemency was granted were those who had earlier inflicted injuries on the Prophet, those who conspired to kill him, those who chased him from his home in Mecca and those in various ways persecuted his early followers. The strong army was waiting in the battle array for his command to wipe out Mecca. Contrary to vengeance, hatred or retribution what was in Prophet’s mind was peace, harmony and forgiveness. He extended such compassion even to the bitterest of his enemies. He could have easily exterminated the disbelievers if that is what the Quran is saying. Therefore, it is important to understand the context and history of Quranic revelations before acting like experts on the subject.