Does the Quran really contain over a hundred verses that sanction violence?
The Quran contains at least 109 verses that speak of war with nonbelievers, usually on the basis of their status as non-Muslims. Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding. Muslims who do not join the fight are called‘hypocrites’ and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter.
Unlike nearly all of the Old Testament verses of violence, most verses of violence in the Quran are open-ended, meaning that they are not necessarily restrained by historical context contained in the surrounding text (although many Muslims choose to think of them that way). They are part of the eternal, unchanging word of Allah, and just as relevant or subject to interpretation as anything else in the Quran.
The context of violent passages is more ambiguous than might be expected of a perfect book from a loving God. Most contemporary Muslims exercise a personal choice to interpret their holy book’s call to arms according to their own moral preconceptions about justifiable violence. Islam’s apologists cater to these preferences with tenuous arguments that gloss over historical fact and generally don’t stand up to scrutiny. Still, it is important to note that the problem is not bad people, but bad ideology.
Unfortunately, there are very few verses of tolerance and peace to balance out those calling for nonbelievers to be fought and subdued until they either accept humiliation, convert to Islam, or are killed. Muhammad’s own martial legacy, along with the remarkable emphasis on violence found in the Quran, have produced a trail of blood and tears across world history.
QuranQuran (2:244) – “Then fight in the cause of Allah, and know that Allah Heareth and knoweth all things.” (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (2:216) – “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.” Not only does this verse establish that violence can be virtuous, but it also contradicts the myth that fighting is intended only in self-defense, since the audience was obviously not under attack at the time. From the Hadith, we know that this verse was narrated at a time that Muhammad was actually trying to motivate his people into raiding merchant caravans for loot. (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (3:56) – “As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.” (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (3:151) – “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority”. This speaks directly of polytheists, yet it also includes Christians, since they believe in the Trinity (ie. what Muhammad incorrectly believed to be ‘joining companions to Allah’). (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (4:74) – “Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.” The martyrs of Islam are unlike the early Christians, who were led meekly to the slaughter. These Muslims are killed in battle as they attempt to inflict death and destruction for the cause of Allah. This is the theological basis for today’s suicide bombers. (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (4:76) – “Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah…”
Quran (4:89) – “They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks.” (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (4:95) – “Not equal are those of the believers who sit (at home), except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame, etc.), and those who strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has preferred in grades those who strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives above those who sit (at home).Unto each, Allah has promised good (Paradise), but Allah has preferred those who strive hard and fight, above those who sit (at home) by a huge reward ” This passage criticizes “peaceful” Muslims who do not join in the violence, letting them know that they are less worthy in Allah’s eyes. It also demolishes the modern myth that “Jihad” doesn’t mean holy war in the Quran, but rather a spiritual struggle. Not only is this Arabic word (mujahiduna) used in this passage, but it is clearly not referring to anything spiritual, since the physically disabled are given exemption. (The Hadith reveals the context of the passage to be in response to a blind man’s protest that he is unable to engage in Jihad, which would not make sense if it meant an internal struggle). (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (4:101) – “And when you (Muslims) travel in the land, there is no sin on you if you shorten your Salat (prayer) if you fear that the disbelievers may attack you, verily, the disbelievers are ever unto you open enemies.” Mere disbelief makes one an “open” enemy of Muslims.
Quran (4:104) – “And be not weak hearted in pursuit of the enemy; if you suffer pain, then surely they (too) suffer pain as you suffer pain…” Is pursuing an injured and retreating enemy really an act of self-defense? (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (5:33) – “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement” (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (8:12) – “(Remember) when your Lord inspired the angels… “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them” No reasonable person would interpret this to mean a spiritual struggle, given that it both followed and preceded confrontations in which non-Muslims were killed by Muslims. The targets of violence are “those who disbelieve” – further defined in the next verse (13) as those who “defy and disobey Allah.” Nothing is said about self-defense. In fact, the verses in sura 8 were narrated shortly after a battle provoked by Muhammad, who had been trying to attack a lightly-armed caravan to steal goods belonging to other people. (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (8:15) – “O ye who believe! When ye meet those who disbelieve in battle, turn not your backs to them. (16)Whoso on that day turneth his back to them, unless maneuvering for battle or intent to join a company, he truly hath incurred wrath from Allah, and his habitation will be hell, a hapless journey’s end.”
Quran (8:39) – “And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion is all for Allah” Some translations interpret “fitna” as “persecution”, but the traditional understanding of this word is not supported by the historical context (See notes for 2:193). The Meccans were simply refusing Muhammad access to their city during the pilgrimage. Other Muslims were allowed to travel there – but not as an armed group, since Muhammad had declared war on Mecca prior to his eviction. The Meccans were also acting in defense of their religion, as it was Muhammad’s intention to destroy their idols and establish Islam by force (which he later did). Hence the critical part of this verse is to fight until “religion is only for Allah”, meaning that the true justification of violence was the unbelief of the opposition. According to the Sira (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 324) Muhammad further explains that “Allah must have no rivals.”(See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (8:57) – “If thou comest on them in the war, deal with them so as to strike fear in those who are behind them, that haply they may remember.”
Quran (8:67) – “It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war until he had made a great slaughter in the land…”
Quran (8:59-60) – “And let not those who disbelieve suppose that they can outstrip (Allah’s Purpose). Lo! they cannot escape. Make ready for them all thou canst of (armed) force and of horses tethered, that thereby ye may dismay the enemy of Allah and your enemy.” As Ibn Kathir puts it in his tafsir on this passage, “Allah commands Muslims to prepare for war against disbelievers, as much as possible, according to affordability and availability.” (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (8:65) – “O Prophet, exhort the believers to fight…”
Quran (9:5) – “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.” According to this verse, the best way of staying safe from Muslim violence at the time of Muhammad was to convert to Islam: prayer (salat) and the poor tax (zakat) are among the religion’s Five Pillars. The popular claim that the Quran only inspires violence within the context of self-defense is seriously challenged by this passage as well, since the Muslims to whom it was written were obviously not under attack. Had they been, then there would have been no waiting period (earlier verses make it a duty for Muslims to fight in self-defense, even during the sacred months). The historical context is Mecca after the idolaters were subjugated by Muhammad and posed no threat. Once the Muslims had power, they violently evicted those unbelievers who would not convert. (See also: Response to Apologists)
[Note: The verse says to fight unbelievers “wherever you find them”. Even if the context is a time of battle (which it was not) the reading appears to sanction attacks against those “unbelievers” who are not on the battlefield. In 2016, the Islamic State referred to this verse in urging the faithful to commit terror attacks: Allah did not only command the ‘fighting’ of disbelievers, as if to say He only wants us to conduct frontline operations against them. Rather, He has also ordered that they be slain wherever they may be – on or off the battlefield. (source)]
Quran (9:14) – “Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands and disgrace them and give you victory over them and heal the breasts of a believing people.” Humiliating and hurting non-believers not only has the blessing of Allah, but it is ordered as a means of carrying out his punishment and even “heals” the hearts of Muslims.
Quran (9:20) – “Those who believe, and have left their homes and striven with their wealth and their lives in Allah’s way are of much greater worth in Allah’s sight. These are they who are triumphant.” The Arabic word interpreted as “striving” in this verse is the same root as “Jihad”. The context is obviously holy war.
Quran (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.” “People of the Book” refers to Christians and Jews. According to this verse, they are to be violently subjugated, with the sole justification being their religious status. Verse 9:33 tells Muslims that Allah has instructed them to make Islam “superior over all religions.” This chapter was one of the final “revelations” from Allah and it set in motion the tenacious military expansion, in which Muhammad’s companions managed to conquer two-thirds of the Christian world in the next 100 years. Islam is intended to dominate all other people and faiths. (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (9:30) – “And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!” (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (9:38-39) – “O ye who believe! what is the matter with you, that, when ye are asked to go forth in the cause of Allah, ye cling heavily to the earth? Do ye prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? But little is the comfort of this life, as compared with the Hereafter. Unless ye go forth, He will punish you with a grievous penalty, and put others in your place.” This is a warning to those who refuse to fight, that they will be punished with Hell. The verse also links physical fighting to the “cause of Allah” (or “way of Allah”). (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (9:41) – “Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! That is best for you if ye but knew.” See also the verse that follows (9:42) – “If there had been immediate gain (in sight), and the journey easy, they would (all) without doubt have followed thee, but the distance was long, (and weighed) on them” This contradicts the myth that Muslims are to fight only in self-defense, since the wording implies that battle will be waged a long distance from home (in another country and – in this case – on Christian soil, according to the historians). (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (9:73) – “O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.” Dehumanizing those who reject Islam, by reminding Muslims that unbelievers are merely firewood for Hell, makes it easier to justify slaughter. It explains why today’s devout Muslims generally have little regard for those outside the faith. The inclusion of “hypocrites” (non-practicing) within the verse also contradicts the apologist’s defense that the targets of hate and hostility are wartime foes, since there was never an opposing army made up of non-religious Muslims in Muhammad’s time. (See also Games Muslims Play: Terrorists Can’t Be Muslim Because They Kill Muslims for the role this verse plays in Islam’s perpetual internal conflicts). (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (9:88) – “But the Messenger, and those who believe with him, strive and fight with their wealth and their persons: for them are (all) good things: and it is they who will prosper.” (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (9:111) – “Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Quran: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme.” How does the Quran define a true believer? (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (9:123) – “O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness.” (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (17:16) – “And when We wish to destroy a town, We send Our commandment to the people of it who lead easy lives, but they transgress therein; thus the word proves true against it, so We destroy it with utter destruction.” Note that the crime is moral transgression, and the punishment is “utter destruction.” (Before ordering the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden first issued Americans an invitation to Islam).
Quran (18:65-81) – This parable lays the theological groundwork for honor killings, in which a family member is murdered because they brought shame to the family, either through apostasy or perceived moral indiscretion. The story (which is not found in any Jewish or Christian source) tells of Moses encountering a man with “special knowledge” who does things which don’t seem to make sense on the surface, but are then justified according to later explanation. One such action is to murder a youth for no apparent reason (v.74). However, the wise man later explains that it was feared that the boy would “grieve” his parents by “disobedience and ingratitude.” He was killed so that Allah could provide them a ‘better’ son. [Note: This parable along with verse 58:22 is a major reason that honor killing is sanctioned by Sharia. Reliance of the Traveler (Umdat al-Saliq) says that punishment for murder is not applicable when a parent or grandparent kills their offspring (o.1.12).] (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (21:44) – “…See they not that We gradually reduce the land (in their control) from its outlying borders? Is it then they who will win?”
Quran (25:52) – “Therefore listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness with it.” – The root for Jihad is used twice in this verse – although it may not have been referring to Holy War when narrated, since it was prior to the hijra at Mecca. The “it” at the end is thought to mean the Quran. Thus the verse may have originally meant a non-violent resistance to the ‘unbelievers.’ Obviously, this changed with the hijra. ‘Jihad’ after this is almost exclusively within a violent context. The enemy is always defined as people, rather than ideas.
Quran (33:60-62) – “If the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease (evil desire for adultery, etc.), and those who spread false news among the people in Al-Madinah, cease not, We shall certainly let you overpower them, then they will not be able to stay in it as your neighbors but a little while Accursed, wherever found, they shall be seized and killed with a (terrible) slaughter.” This passage sanctions slaughter (rendered as “merciless” and “horrible murder” in other translations) against three groups: hypocrites (Muslims who refuse to “fight in the way of Allah” (3:167) and hence don’t act as Muslims should), those with “diseased hearts” (which include Jews and Christians 5:51-52), and “alarmists” or “agitators – those who speak out against Islam. It is worth noting that the victims are to be sought out, which is what today’s terrorists do.
Quran (47:3-4) – “Those who disbelieve follow falsehood, while those who believe follow the truth from their Lord… So, when you meet (fighting Jihad in Allah’s Cause), those who disbelieve smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly (on them, i.e. take them as captives)… If it had been Allah’s Will, He Himself could certainly have punished them (without you). But (He lets you fight), in order to test you, some with others. But those who are killed in the Way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost.” Holy war is to be pursued against those who reject Allah. The unbelievers are to be killed and wounded. Survivors are to be held captive for ransom. The only reason Allah doesn’t do the dirty work himself is to to test the faithfulness of Muslims. Those who kill pass the test. (See also: 47:4 for more context) (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (47:35) – “Be not weary and faint-hearted, crying for peace, when ye should be uppermost (Shakir: “have the upper hand”) for Allah is with you,” (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (48:17) – “There is no blame for the blind, nor is there blame for the lame, nor is there blame for the sick (that they go not forth to war). And whoso obeyeth Allah and His messenger, He will make him enter Gardens underneath which rivers flow; and whoso turneth back, him will He punish with a painful doom.” Contemporary apologists sometimes claim that Jihad means ‘spiritual struggle.’ If so, then why are the blind, lame and sick exempted? This verse also says that those who do not fight will suffer torment in hell.
Quran (48:29) – “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard (ruthless) against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves” Islam is not about treating everyone equally. This verse tells Muslims that two very distinct standards are applied based on religious status. Also the word used for ‘hard’ or ‘ruthless’ in this verse shares the same root as the word translated as ‘painful’ or severe’ to describe Hell in over 25 other verses including 65:10, 40:46and 50:26..
Quran (61:4) – “Surely Allah loves those who fight in His cause” Religion of Peace, indeed! The verse explicitly refers to “rows” or “battle array,” meaning that it is speaking of physical conflict. This is followed by (61:9), which defines the “cause”: “He it is who has sent His Messenger (Mohammed) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam) to make it victorious over all religions even though the infidels may resist.” (See next verse, below). Infidels who resist Islamic rule are to be fought. (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (61:10-12) – “O You who believe! Shall I guide you to a commerce that will save you from a painful torment. That you believe in Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad), and that you strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives, that will be better for you, if you but know! (If you do so) He will forgive you your sins, and admit you into Gardens under which rivers flow, and pleasant dwelling in Gardens of’Adn- Eternity [‘Adn(Edn) Paradise], that is indeed the great success.” This verse refers to physical battle waged to make Islam victorious over other religions (see verse 9). It uses the Arabic root for the word Jihad.
Quran (66:9) – “O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be stern with them. Hell will be their home, a hapless journey’s end.” The root word of “Jihad” is used again here. The context is clearly holy war, and the scope of violence is broadened to include “hypocrites” – those who call themselves Muslims but do not act as such. (See also: Response to Apologists)
Quran (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing… but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone. But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun(the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)”(Translation is from the Noble Quran) The verse prior to this (190) refers to “fighting for the cause of Allah those who fight you” leading some to claim that the entire passage refers to a defensive war in which Muslims are defending their homes and families. The historical context of this passage is not defensive warfare, however, since Muhammad and his Muslims had just relocated to Medina and were not under attack by their Meccan adversaries. In fact, the verses urge offensive warfare, in that Muslims are to drive Meccans out of their own city (which they later did). Verse 190 thus means to fight those who offer resistance to Allah’s rule (ie. Muslim conquest). The use of the word “persecution” by some Muslim translators is disingenuous – the actual Arabic words for persecution (idtihad) – and oppression are not used instead of fitna. Fitna can mean disbelief, or the disorder that results from unbelief or temptation. A strict translation is ‘sedition,’ meaning rebellion against authority (the authority being Allah). This is certainly what is meant in this context since the violence is explicitly commissioned “until religion is for Allah” – ie. unbelievers desist in their unbelief. [Editor’s note: these notes have been modified slightly after a critic misinterpreted our language. Verse 193 plainly says that ‘fighting’ is sanctioned even if the fitna ‘ceases’. This is about religious order, not real persecution.] (See also: Response to Apologists)
Other verses calling Muslims to Jihad can be found here at AnsweringIslam.org