Islam does not encourage violence in revenge for violence. Rather, as it sees it, the best solution is to work out means to prevent future violence, and with regard to past violence to adopt a policy of forgiveness.
It was only after the Prophet (Pbuh) and many of his companions shifted to Medina that Muslims received permission to resort to violence to defend themselves from the attacks of others. At this time, the Prophet had established a political community that was ruled in accordance with God's laws. Yet, despite this, aggression and violence directed against Muslims, including those who had remained behind in Mecca , continued, and so God instructed the Muslims to resort to violence in self-defence, as a response to their opponents' barbarities. As the Quran declared:
“Sanction (to fight) is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; and Allah is indeed Able to give them victory. Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is Allah”.
Elsewhere, the Quran says: Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.
The sort of war that Muslims have been permitted to engage in by the Quran is not an offensive or aggressive one or one that is waged in order to capture and incorporate any territory into a Muslim political domain. Rather, this is a strictly defensive war that aims at preventing the aggressor from engaging in war again. When in Medina , the Prophet and the early Muslims were finally allowed to resort to violence in self-defence, and this was in a context when their Meccan opponents attacked the Islamic polity in Medina and also forcibly sought to prevent people from accepting the message of Islam, which was their fundamental right. Consequently, Muslims were given permission to fight so that strife could be stopped and everyone who wanted to accept God's path could do so. As the Quran says:
And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers.
And, elsewhere, the Quran says:
How should ye not fight for the cause of Allah and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: Our Lord! Bring us forth from out of this town of which the people are oppressors! Oh, give us from thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender!
Clearly, strife and corruption in the land often leads to people being denied the right to choose the path that they want to adopt for themselves. Thus, while Islam allows for Muslims to resort to violence to save their lives and lands from the attacks of aggressors, it also permits violence to challenge those who forcibly suppress people's right to follow Islam on their own free will. Still, it must be noted that in Islam the use of violence, whether for punishment of crimes or for the protection of Islam and Muslims or for upholding the right of people to freely choose their faith, is allowed only to the limit necessary for the purpose, because violence more than that required for a particular purpose is impermissible.
To reiterate, besides for the purpose of defensive war and punishment of crimes, resort to violence is not at all permitted in Islam, especially the sort of violence that results in the loss of life.
Thus, the Quran specifically states:
And do not wrongfully kill any living being which Allah has forbidden; and for whoever is slain wrongfully, We have given the authority to his heir, so he should not cross limits in slaying; he will surely be helped.
Islam does not encourage violence in revenge for violence. Rather, as it sees it, the best solution is to work out means to prevent future violence, and with regard to past violence to adopt a policy of forgiveness. As the Quran lays down:
And those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed but) help and defend themselves. The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due, from Allah: for (Allah) loveth not those who do wrong. But indeed if any do help and defend himself after a wrong (done) to them against such there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrong-doing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice: for such there will be a Penalty grievous. But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs.
In this regard, one should keep in mind the response of the son of Adam mentioned in the Quran, which I referred to earlier. True believers in God do indeed have the right to respond to violence with violence, but it must be remembered that Islam has before it certain higher goals that might demand a different sort of response, and it is precisely this that the Quran repeatedly points to. It is true that we have the right to react to violence unleashed on us through counter-violence, that is to say in self-defence, but we must also keep in mind that doing so might, in many cases, have a seriously negative impact on our mission of inviting others to God's path and of being witnesses unto humanity.
(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand [email protected]) This is the second part of a two part series article. The first part appeared in the July, 2009 issue of Islamic Voice)