Conditional and Unconditional Verses about Jihad in Islam
Ayatullah Shaheed (Martyr) Murtaza Mutahhari
«And Fight those who have not faith in God, nor in the Hereafter, and (who) forbid not what God and His Prophet have forbidden and (who ) are not committed to the religion of truth, of those who have been brought the Book, until they pay tribute by hand, and they are the low.» (9:29)
This Quranic verse concerns the People of the Book, meaning those non-Muslims followers of one of the holy books, namely the Jews, Christians and perhaps the Zoroastrians.
The verse is one of war with the People of the Book, but at the same time, it does not tell us to fight them; it tells us to fight only those of them who have no faith in God, in the Hereafter, and who do not abide by the rule of God, allowing what He has forbidden - and who are not religious according to the religion of truth. It is these People of the Book whom we are to fight until they pay the Jezyah (tribute). That is, when they are ready to pay the Jezyah and are humble before us, we are to fight them no more.
This verse gives rise to many questions which remain to be answered through a study of those Quranic verses pertaining to jihad, which we will set apart and review.
The first question that arises is what exactly is meant by the words, «Fight those who have not faith in God» Do they mean that we are to drop everything and start fighting or is it meant that we must fight them the moment they go beyond their territory and violate ours? In the terms of the learned of Islam, the ulema, this is an unconditional verse which, if there are similar verses that are conditional, must be interpreted as being onditional.
This term is a very important one, and I wish to explain it to you, for otherwise it will be difficult for you to grasp the full meaning of the verse under discussion. Any command (even a human command) can be given in one place with no conditions, and then again in another situation with a condition attached. In such a case, we immediately realize that whoever issued that command, introduced that law, meant the same thing in both instances. Now, having realized this, what are we to do? Are we to adhere to the unconditional command and assume that the conditional was given for that special instance? Or should we interpret the unconditional as the conditional which means adhering to the conditional?
Let me cite a simple example. On two separate occasions, for instance, we are given a command by someone having the authority to do so and whose commands we respect. On one occasion, we are told that we must respect such and such person, which is an unconditional command. In another he commands us to do the same thing, saying that we must respect that person if he does such and such a thing, like taking part in our meeting. The second time the command contains an "if." The command is now conditional. The person giving the command did not simply state that such and such a person is to be respected. The first command had no condition; we were simply told to respect him, and assuming we had ears and heard this command. it would have meant to us that we were to respect that person whether he came to the meeting or whether he was too lazy to bother. But when we hear the other command, we understand that we are to respect the person provided he comes to the meeting, and, if he refrains from doing so, we are not to respect him.
The ulema say that the rule requires us to interpret the unconditional as the conditional, meaning that we must assume the aim of the unconditional to be exactly that of the conditional.
Now, among the unconditional and conditional verses of the Quran pertaining to jihad, is one which we have seen: «Fight ye those who have not faith in God, nor in the hereafter and (who) forbid not what God and His Prophet have forbidden»
In another verse, we are told: «Fight in the way of God those who fight you» (2:190).
What are the meanings of these verses? Do they mean that we must fight these people regardless of whether they are about to attack us? Is the command unconditional so that we must fight them whether they intend or not to attack us, whether they are guilty of aggression or not?
There are two possible views. One is that the command remains unconditional. "The People of the Book are not Muslims, so we are allowed to fight them. We are allowed to fight the non-Muslims until we subdue them. If they are not Muslims and not People of the Book, we should fight them until either they become Muslims or we kill them. If they are People of the Book, we should fight them until they become Muslims or, if they do not become Muslims, until they pay us tribute - such is the opinion of those who say that the verse remains unconditional.
The other view, however; holds that the unconditional must be interpreted as the conditional. Someone with this view would say that the other Quranic verses bring us the conditions for the legitimacy of jihad, we realize that the true meaning of the verses is not unconditional at all. What, then, are the conditions for the legality of jihad? Amongst them, for example, are the following:
that the other side intends to attack us; or that it creates a barrier against the call of Islam, meaning that it negates the freedom of that call and becomes an obstacle to its diffusion, while Islam says that those barriers are to be removed. Or, likewise, in the case of a people subject to the oppression and tyranny of a group from amongst themselves, Islam says that we must fight those tyrants so as to deliver the oppressed from the claws of tyranny. This has been expressed in the Quran thus: «Why is it that you do not fight in the way of God and the way of the deprived (mustazafin)?» (4:75)
Why is it that we do not fight for God and for the men, women and children who are subject to torture and tyranny?
B- Can We Fight All the People of the Book?
The second question is related to the fact that the verse does not explicitly state that we are to fight all the People of the Book, but tells us that we are to fight against those of them who believe neither in God nor in the Hereafter,... who count as permitted that which God has forbidden, and who are not at all religious in line with any religion of truth. Now what does this mean? Does it mean that the People of the Book en masse - i.e. all the Jews, the Christians and the followers of the different sects - have no faith in God, no faith in the Hereafter, no faith in God's ordinances and no faith in any religion based on truth, so that if one of them claims that he believes in God, he is a liar and does not actually believe in God? Is the Quran actually saying that all the People of the Book, however much they claim to believe in God, in reality have no such belief? Is it possible for us to argue that because the Christians claim Jesus is God or the 'son of God," they really have no belief in God? Or that, because the Jews say things about Jacob, the Jews have no more faith than the Christians? Or that those who say: «The hand of God is tied» (5:64)
cannot be believers in the true God and the same applies to the rest of the People of the Book?
Thinking in these terms will mean that we believe that the Quran does not recognize any faith in God or in the resurrection other than the faith of the Muslims. If we are asked why, we will say that the Quran states the beliefs of the People of the Book to be confused and misconceived. A Christian, even if he is a learned Christian scholar, recognizes God and even recognizes the Oneness of God, but at the same time, he may have some idea about Jesus or the angel Gabriel that pollutes his belief in the Oneness of God (Tawhid.) This is the view of some of the Quranic commentators. To them, when the Quran tells us we are to fight against the People of the Book, it means that we are to fight against all the People of the Book, that the faith in God of not one of them is a valid faith; that the faith in the resurrection and in what God has forbidden and permitted of not one of them is valid. What these commentators believe is that the word " Prophet" in this verse means the last of the prophets, Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him and his household, and that "religion of truth" means the religion which mankind of today has the duty to accept, rather than a religion which was the duty of people to accept during some particular period in the past.
A different group of commentators, however, consider that with this statement, the Quran intended to show us that the People of the Book form two categories; that not all the People of the Book are the same; that some of them really do believe in God, and resurrection, really do believe in the laws of God, and these we are to leave alone. Those of them whom we are to fight are those who are People of the Book in name only, but who in reality, have no valid belief at all, and who do not consider forbidden that which God has forbidden, even what He has forbidden in their own religion. So it is not with all the People of the Book that we are to fight, but a group from amongst them. This is another issue in itself.