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The Usual Suspects

Verses Commonly Used to Denigrate Islam

From a lecture by G. Waleed Kavalec

When a Muslims happens to engage in discussion with a non-Muslim, especially one taught to hate or fear Islam, a familiar pattern is likely to emerge that entails questions or confrontation related to some verses in the Qur’an. If you have had some of these discussions, you find that, almost always, the questions revolve around the same verses, such as:

2:191 - 4:34 - 5:51 - 8:12 - 9:5 - 9:14 - 9:29 - 25:52 - 47:4

These verses are what I term “The Usual Suspects.” They comprise those verses that some in the West extract out of context as “proof” that Islam is a violent and oppressive religion.

Let us look the verses. (Yusuf Ali translation is used unless otherwise noted).

the usual suspect verses

2:191 
“And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.”

4:34
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).”

5:51
“O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”

8:12
“Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them."

9:5
“But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”

9:14
“Fight them, and Allah will punish them by your hands, cover them with shame, help you (to victory) over them, heal the breasts of Believers.”

9:29
“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

25:52
“Therefore listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness.”

47:4
"Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost.”

It should be easy to see why these ayah are so popular with those who like to bash Islam.

Taken alone, without the rest of the Qur’an, they do appear to paint a warlike and oppressive picture.

But we, as believers, are called upon to invite to the way of our Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching.  And clearly these ayah, misunderstood and out of context, do not correctly convey “the way of our Lord”. Especially not to those whose opinion already has been tainted from other sources.

So, we need to familiarize ourselves with “The Usual Suspects” and the context in which they appear in the Qur’an. We also need to be able to quote preceding or subsequent ayah that clarifies their true meanings. And, in some cases, we need to acquaint ourselves with the artifacts that are due to translation and culture. The most important thing is that we learn and have knowledge of the truth of Islam.

Let us first examine the “war” verses.

2:191 
“And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.”

We do not have to look far to find out to whom the Qur’an is addressing; the immediate preceding verse, 2:190, reads

“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.”

In  Qur’an 2:191 we are told to fight back against those who fight us.  And, even when we have to do so,  Allah commands us not to transgress the limits spelled out in the Qur’an, such as not killing innocent people.

8:12
“Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them."

Context:  this is what believers were instructed after having just won a battle against the attacking pagans, a battle won against great odds.

9:5
“But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”

Context: again, this is how believers were commanded to deal with the invading pagans who have been attacking and oppressing those who believe in One God. But even for these pagans, the very next verse, 9:6, commands:

“If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah; and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge.”

The same applies for the remainder of the verses in this section.  In verses 9:11 and 12 we are directed to give them every opportunity to correct their ways, even after they have attacked.“But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity,- they are your brethren in Faith: (thus) do We explain the Signs in detail, for those who understand.”

“But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and taunt you for your Faith,- fight ye the chiefs of Unfaith: for their oaths are nothing to them: that thus they may be restrained.”

So, finally…

9:14
“Fight them, and Allah will punish them by your hands, cover them with shame, help you (to victory) over them, heal the breasts of Believers..”

and

9:29
“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

Some of The Usual Suspects are nothing but clever bits of misdirection by those who oppose Islam.  Al Furqan 25:52 is a classic example:

25:52
“Therefore listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness.”

The word here “strive” – jihad in Arabic – does not, and has never meant, fight, war or battle; it means to “make good effort.”  In 25:52 we are asked to make our best efforts to turn ourselves and others away from disbelief. As to when we actually are in war or battle:

47:4
“Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost.”

The Qur’an consistently decrees that we are to offer peace, but if it is refused, we are instructed to fight to win.

Now let us look at the two most commonly cited verses among The Usual Suspects.

5:51
“O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”

Here we see an example of an artifact of translation. The actual Arabic source of the verse says:

   “do not take Jews and Christians as your auliya, they are but auliya to each other”

It is incorrect to translate “auliya” as “friends and protectors.” Auliya is the plural of wali, and anyone from an Arabic culture can confirm that one’s wali is much more than merely a friend.   Wali can mean "custodian", "protector", or "sponsor". A "Wali" is someone who has authority or guardianship over another individual. For example, in Islamic law the father is wali of his children. Also, when a man sends a representative to propose to a prospective bride, that trusted person is his wali – the wali’s promises carry the authority of the one making the proposal. Therefore, the directive is that we only give such authority over ourselves to another Muslim.

And, finally, the last verse on the list of The Usual Suspects says:

4:34
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).”

The incorrect interpretation of this verse is among the reasons, which lead to the notion that Islam treats women poorly. The word used in the second to last clause that is translated to “beat” is “'ribÅ«hunna,” an Arabic  word that has more than twenty-five meanings in Arabic. In context the correct understanding is “send them forth”.
Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar provides an excellent exposition of this verse.

It is important to note that the verses addressed in this lecture are NOT a comprehensive list. So, these are not the only ones that believers will encounter when addressing some of the negative messages against Islam. But, as already noted, The Usual Suspects list consists of the more commonly addressed. 

In conclusion, when we see such verses taken out of context, the appropriate response is simply to put it back into its Qur’anic context. And, when see a verse distorted by bad translation; the best answer is to seek and offer the complete meaning of the original Arabic.

We never need invent a response - The truth already is in the Qur’an.