Quran Facts | 17:34 – KILLING DISBELIEVERS IS A JUST CAUSE
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17:34 – KILLING DISBELIEVERS IS A JUST CAUSE

Introduction

It is alleged that several verses of the Holy Quran incite believers to commit violence against non-Muslims by way of aggression. Such verses are misused by extremists to commit acts of violence against non-Muslims. However, a holistic and consolidated study of the verses, the teachings of the Holy Quran and the historical narratives of the aggression of the opponents of Islam, as well as the broader context of the Roman-Persian wars clearly demonstrates that these wartime injunctions were defensive in nature. The conflicts occurred due to the oppression of fundamental freedoms including the freedom of conscience and practicing one’s religion of choice. Islamic teachings permits military engagement as a defense and protection of fundamental human freedoms.

And kill not the soul which Allah has forbidden save for a just cause. And whoever is killed wrongfully, We have surely given his heir authority to demand retaliation, but let him not exceed the prescribed bounds in slaying; for therein he is helped by law. (17:34)

 

Allegation

The allegation against 17:34 is that it only provides an exemption against killing for believing Muslims but not for disbelievers fanning the ideology of those who commit extremist acts of violence in this day and age.

 

Context

Far removed from the allegation that this verse calls for killing of everyone with the exception of Muslims, this verse is addressing the concept of laws applied to murder during civil discourse in society, not a state of war. The previous verses 17:32-33 are speaking of the phenomenon of infanticide as a result of social ills, such as adultery and abortion: Kill not your children for fear of poverty. It is We Who provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin. And come not near unto adultery; surely, it is a foul thing and an evil way. This civil law and discourse aspect of this verse is :also supported by the narrative in the next verse 17:35: And come not near the property of the orphan, except in the best way, until he attains his maturity, and fulfill the covenant; for the covenant shall be questioned about.

 

The allegation says that the part which states “…save for just cause…” means that Muslims could slay disbelievers. However, this is not what the next part of the verse implies, which explains this “just cause”, by stating in 17:34 “…And whoso is killed wrongfully, We have surely given his heir authority to demand retaliation…”. This is speaking of retaliation in murder, which is not the case in war. Thus, this verse is speaking only about murder, not a wartime situation or a perpetual war against infidels as the allegation implies. In the war between the Muslims and disbelievers, there is military law, while in times of peace, or in civil society, there is civil law. This verse falls under civil law. In war, the heir does not retaliate for the killing of a family member. Therefore, the allegation raised against this verse does not even apply to it. “Murder” is not applied to the killing of individuals during war-time on the battlefield.

 

Furthermore, senselessly killing innocent people is not allowed according to this verse, since that violates the injunction “…but let him not exceed the prescribed bounds in slaying”. How does this verse allow the killing of disbelievers in peace time who have done no wrong? The only way in which an heir can even demand retaliation is for there to be a wrongful killing. If a person did not commit the crime of murder, then this verse does not allow the killing of that innocent person. Therefore the statement “save for just cause” means that in an Islamic society, there is a concept of capital punishment and that is to be administered solely by legal means, and not in the hands of any individual.

 

The word Wali (heir) is applied to any person who is entitled to inherit another man’s property after the latter’s death. But one may nominate a person other than his legal heir as his Wali. If a person is murdered, his Wali (heir) has the right to demand satisfaction. But after the murderer is convicted by a properly constituted court, the heir of the murdered person has the right either to have the murderer legally executed or accept the blood-money in lieu of the death of the murdered person. If, however, it is considered against the interests of public peace or morality to allow blood money to the heir or if the demand of the heir be found to be not bonafide, the court may refuse to accept the option of the heir and order the murderer’s execution. The final decision always rests in the hands of the court, not people or the individual.

 

In fact, the heir has the right to express his want from the loss that he has faced, but the State itself decides whether or not such want is a deterrent for further crime or will it permit more evil in society. This right of the State in regard to the punishment of the guilty person covers all matters to which the injunction of Qisas (retaliation) applies. The Caliph Ali(ra) is reported to have punished a guilty person whom the aggrieved party had pardoned in the plea that the dictates of public peace demanded his punishment. Ali was convinced that the fear of being harmed by the offender had made the aggrieved person pardon him. See also 2:179.

 

Whereas in the earlier part of the verse the rights of the party offended against have been safeguarded, the words, let him not exceed the prescribed bounds in slaying, safeguards the interests of the offender. They mean to say that the aggrieved party should not exceed legitimate bounds by adopting vigilante form of retaliation or a cruel method of killing. In fact, these words imply a recommendation in favor of the murderer. They also show that although “life for life” is the general rule, the heirs of the murdered person may not always act upon this rule. The murderer is to suffer the extreme penalty of the law only when the dictates of equity, retaliation, public peace and morality absolutely demand it. His life should be spared if this act of grace is calculated to lead to his moral reformation. In the words, for therein he is helped by law, the aggrieved person is reminded of his responsibilities. He is told that he, too, is responsible for the maintenance of peace. As God has safeguarded his rights, he should have regard for the rights of others – he should not always insist upon his “pound of flesh.”
(Five Volume commentary on verse 17:34 by Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Fourth Caliph of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community)

 

These verses are known by the early Muslims to have been a refutation to the crime of infanticide and murder due to tribal feudalism. Thus, when it is known to have disallowed these barbaric customs, how does it give rise to senseless murder once again after it is clear that it forbade it?

 

Below are several verses of the Holy Quran that support and consolidate the teachings of a civil and moral discourse in society particularly with regards to murder, infanticide and adultery.

 
Say, ‘Come, I will rehearse to you what your Lord has forbidden: that you associate not anything as partner with Him and that you do good to parents, and that you kill not your children for fear of poverty — it is We Who provide for you and for them — and that you approach not foul deeds, whether open or secret; and that you kill not the life which Allah has made sacred, save by right. That is what He has enjoined upon you, that you may understand. (6:152)

 

And those who call not on any other God along with Allah, nor kill a person that Allah has forbidden except for just cause, nor commit adultery (or fornication), and he who does that shall meet with the punishment of sin. (25:69)

 

O ye who believe! equitable retaliation in the matter of the slain is prescribed for you: the free man for the free man, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But if one is granted any remission by one’s brother, then pursuing the matter for the realization of the blood money shall be done with fairness and the murderer shall pay him the blood money in a handsome manner. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. And whoso transgresses thereafter, for him there shall be a grievous punishment. (2:179)


Fundamental Teachings of Islam

The following verses of the Holy Quran clearly state that fighting is only permitted as a defensive recourse against oppression and that fundamental freedom of religion and conscience must be maintained at all times.

 

1) Conditions on permission to fight– must be defensive and to protect universal freedom of conscience

Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them. Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’. And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty. (22:40-41)

 

The fundamental verses of the Quran (22:40-41) that permit Muslims to undertake military engagement clearly outline conditions which are defensive and where Muslims were being attacked and persecuted on the basis of their beliefs. Further, the verses clearly state that such undertaking must extend to a universal freedom of conscience where churches, cloisters and synagogues must be protected. This is also further validated by Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (on whom be peace) covenants with the Christians instructing Muslims to never attack Christians on the basis of religion and beliefs.

 

And fight them until there is no persecution and religion is wholly for Allah. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Watchful of what they do. (8:40)

 

Verse 8:40 above further endorses the principle that taking up an armed conflict must only be in context of protecting freedom of religion, and if the enemy desists then one should cease hostilities.

 

Some allegation narratives consider that ‘religion being wholly for Allah’ in this verse means that only Islam is to be enforced as a religion. However this allegation is negated by 22:40-41 above which clarifies that the principle of the Quran is freedom of religion and fighting is not permitted to enforce any one religion.

 

2) Peace and reconciliation with the enemy must be sought at all times

The Quran states that during wartime, seeking peace and reconciliation is a duty. This is emphasized to such a great degree that even if one fears that the enemy is seeking peace out of deception (as a strategy of war) one should still incline to it and put their trust in Allah (see 8:62-63 below).

 

And if they incline towards peace, incline thou also towards it, and put thy trust in Allah. Surely, it is He Who is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. And if they intend to deceive thee, then surely Allah is sufficient for thee. He it is Who has strengthened thee with His help and with the believers. (8:62-63)

 

And if two parties of believers fight against each other, make peace between them; then if after that one of them transgresses against the other, fight the party that transgresses until it returns to the command of Allah. Then if it returns, make peace between them with equity, and act justly. Verily, Allah loves the just. (49:10)

 

And fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is freely professed for Allah. But if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors. (2:194)

 

3) Peace as a fundamental desired state of affairs in Quran

The term ‘Islam’ itself is derived from the root ‘Salema’ which means peace. The traditional greeting used by Muslims translated to ‘peace be with you’. Peace is a prominent theme in the Holy Quran and a fundamental desired state of affairs. Following are a few verses from the Holy Quran that illustrate the fundamental value of peace.

Peace on you-- a word of greeting from the Merciful Lord. (36:59)

And make not Allah a target for your oaths that you may thereby abstain from doing good and acting righteously and making peace between men. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (2:225)

Thereby does Allah guide those who seek His pleasure on the paths of peace, and leads them out of every kind of darkness into light by His will, and guides them to the right path. (5:17)

And Allah calls to the abode of peace, and guides whom He pleases to the straight path. (10:26)

And the servants of the Gracious God are those who walk on the earth in a dignified manner, and when the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace!’ (25:64)

He is Allah, and there is no God beside Him, the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace, the Bestower of Security, the Protector, the Mighty, the Subduer, the Exalted. Holy is Allah far above that which they associate with Him. (59:24)

 

4) There can be no compulsion in religion

The Holy Quran declares in 2:257 that there can be no compulsion in religion. The meaning of any given verse of the Holy Quran must comply with this rule. Therefore, any given verse of The Holy Quran addressing armed engagement cannot be taken to mean waging war on disbelievers or infidels on account of their beliefs. This negates the assertion that Quran sanctions violence against disbelievers.