To begin, we will take a look into the usage of terror and terrorism, and examples of terroristic tactics, within Islamic Scripture. To some people, this is a low blow. It is a bit unfair. To them, what happened in history does not matter. This is just one of the possible interpretations when it comes to scripture: historic context. To understand terrorism, you must look at scripture through the lens of certainty and absolutism just as the terrorist does. Be a literalist, a fundamentalist, a religious supremacist, for at least the duration of this article.
I will divulge into the context of the verse, but for those expecting context to reveal pacifism, you are sadly mistaken. Pacifying the verse comes down to individual interpretation. What it may say… literally… is just as important as what you want them to say or what you want them to mean. The “plain reading” interpretive approach is needed.
I must re-emphasise that this blog in no way looks to demonise Islam. There are ‘bad bits’ in every religion. What you read does not always or consistently equate what you do. With that out-of-the-way, let us begin…
Whenever I use evidence from the Holy Qur’an I am going to attempt to provide you with the best literal, word-for-word, translation, or a translation or tafsir from an authoritative, scholarly source. In the following sources I have used Yusuf Ali:
“إِذْ يُوحِي رَبُّكَ إِلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ أَنِّي مَعَكُمْ فَثَبِّتُوا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ۚ سَأُلْقِي فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا الرُّعْبَ فَاضْرِبُوا فَوْقَ الْأَعْنَاقِ وَاضْرِبُوا مِنْهُمْ كُلَّ بَنَانٍ”
“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.”
Reference: Holy Qur’an, 8:12. Yusuf Ali translation.
“وَأَعِدُّوا لَهُم مَّا اسْتَطَعْتُم مِّن قُوَّةٍ وَمِن رِّبَاطِ الْخَيْلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدُوَّ اللَّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ وَآخَرِينَ مِن دُونِهِمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَهُمُ اللَّهُ يَعْلَمُهُمْ ۚ وَمَا تُنفِقُوا مِن شَيْءٍ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ يُوَفَّ إِلَيْكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تُظْلَمُونَ”
“Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to stroke terror in [the hearts of] the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, who ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly.”
Reference: Holy Qur’an, 8:60. Yusuf Ali translation.
In the former case, الرُّعْبَ or الرعب symbolises great horror, panic, or terror against those who disbelieve. In the latter, تُرْهِبُو means to fear, to be intimidated by, or to be startled by, the power of God. In other translations ترهيب is mentioned, which, as you can probably tell, means to cast terror or to terrorise, to intimidate.
Multiple times the ‘enemy’ is mentioned: عَدُوَّ. This makes clear that Islam, as a system of belief, has prescribed enemies of God, and thus enemies of the Muslims. God and his believers will cast terror down upon them – the disbelievers – and into their hearts. Does this not resemble the dogmatism of a terrorist groups to you? See the connection?
The only Hadithic proof I will provide is by the way of authentic narrations, or sahih. If I ever use a weak variant of ahadith, it will only be to compare and contrast to the stronger, authentic, versions. To start, Sahih Bukhari:
“Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror (cast in the hearts of the enemy), and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand.” Abu Huraira added: Allah’s Apostle has left the world and now you, people, are bringing out those treasures (i.e. the Prophet did not benefit by them).”
Reference: Sahih Bukhari – Volume 52 (Fighting in the Cause of Allah (Jihaad)), Book 4, Hadith 220.
And a complementary source supporting the aforementioned story from Sahih Muslim:
“Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said:
I have been given superiority over the other prophets in six respects: I have been given words which are concise but comprehensive in meaning; I have been helped by terror (in the hearts of enemies): spoils have been made lawful to me: the earth has been made for me clean and a place of worship; I have been sent to all mankind and the line of prophets is closed with me.”
Reference: Sahih Muslim, Book 4 (The Book of Mosques and Places of Prayer), Hadith 1061.
In these ahadith terror is mentioned in regards to casting fear into the disbelievers. In the former, Muhammad proclaims that he has been made “victorious with terror.” Whereas in the latter, Muhammad has been “helped by terror.” The former is informing us that Muhammad actively utilised terror as a battlefield tactic, he was victorious with it. The latter resembles that of a passive use of terror, in that Muhammad was helped by it.
The context of these ahadith do not pacify these sayings. The deeds, in fact, reinforce the words. This speech was given at the end of the Battle of Badr, where the Muslims were made victorious through battle. Amongst the carnage, angels from God swooped down and destroyed men of the opposing Quraysh army. Violence, bloodshed, slaughter. I will offer you a further history and context lesson in the following section.
Prophetic Biography Evidence
Two biographies I will offer are the Sirat Rasul-Allah and the Sealed Nectar. These biographies are not meant as confirmatory religious sources but to guide you, as the reader, towards the context of the verse. Take your time reading the following:
“Concerning the affair of Badr, Allah revealed a whole Sura, The Spoils. ‘Say “The
spoils belong to Allah and to His apostle… Allah promised that one of the two
parties [the caravan, or the Quraysh army] would fall to you, and some hoped that it
might be the weaker one [the caravan]; but Allah proposed to establish the truth of
His word, and to cut down the uttermost part of the Unbelievers. When you prayed
for assistance from your Lord, beholding the multitude of your enemies, Allah said, ‘I
shall aid you with a thousand angels in serried ranks.’… And Allah instructed His
angels, ‘I shall throw terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike
off their heads and strike off their fingers, because they have resisted Allah and His
apostle and Allah is severe in His punishment.‘
[…] When you meet an army in battle, stand firm and remember Allah, that you may
prosper; and do not quarrel, lest My cause should suffer. Be not like those who make
parade of their deeds in pursuit of the approbation of men, but act purely for the sake
of Allah and for His reward in giving your religion victory; work only for this, and
covet nothing else… Prepare against the infidels what force you are able, that you
may strike terror into your enemy and that of Allah. And whatever you shall expend
for the religion of Allah, it shall be repaid unto you, and you shall not be without
reward. But if they incline to peace, do you also incline to peace; and trust in Allah,
for He heareth and knoweth all things.”
Reference: Sirat Rasul-Allah: An Abridged Version – Page 68.
“Meanwhile, certain persons of Medina who were not Believers sent a message to the Banu al-Nadir, saying, ‘Hold out, and defend yourselves; we shall not surrender you to Muhammad. If you are attacked we shall fight with you and if you are sent away we shall go with you.’ But they were in truth unwilling to fight on behalf of the al-Nadir, for Allah had filled their hearts with terror. Then the Jewish tribe asked that the apostle of Allah should not shed their blood, but permit them to carry away as much of their property as their camels could bear. He consented and they loaded as many of their possessions as they could on their camels, even demolishing their houses that they might take away the thresholds. Then they left, with their wives, children, and household goods, and accompanied by their drums, flutes and singers. The rest they left to the apostle of Allah.”
Reference: Sirat Rasul-Allah: An Abridged Version – Page 76.
“That was the second attempt made by the Quraish to sow the seeds of discord among people of faith. This revealed the great terror that was cast in the hearts of the Quraish in spite of their supremacy in number and weaponry.”
Reference: Sealed Nectar – Location 5084-5085 (Kindle Edition).
“Then Allah cast terror and depression in their hearts in such a way that they gave up the idea of fighting and thought that the delegation should go back to the Prophet and announce their acceptance of the conditions. It was then that the group of delegates told them the truth and revealed the terms of their peace-talk with the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), consequently the people of Thaqif embraced Islam.”
Reference: Sealed Nectar – Location 8719-8722 (Kindle Edition).
There are a variety of examples listed above which play into the narrative of terrorism. The stories from the Prophetic Biographies suggest that fear will be cast down on the “infidel” who is met in battle, who fights against the Cause. Yet the next evidenced story shows fearing used in a deterrent way, away from fighting and physical force. Is this because the Muslim expedition in the latter was weak? Is it because new revelations were made? Is it because offering submission to God’s Will comes before the battle? Well, all three.
In the first story, we are already in the midst of battle. The Apostle, Muhammad, is commanded towards it to “establish the truth” (of monotheistic Islam). His intended target is “those who disbelieve” – the “infidels.” They are the “enemies of God.” For me, personally, this is very concerning. This message cannot be disconnected through history. The mere passage of time does not contextualise the sworn enemies of God.
This story takes part during and after the Battle of Badr. An amassed Army of at least a thousand warriors. The second story is of an expedition, a scouting and raiding force, which could number one-tenth or less of that of an Army. And indeed, new revelations were cast down, in the form of Surah 8 casting the sword and taking war booty. The Surah 8 had been used in evidence here. And, finally, an offering was usually given prior to an Invasion or battle as found in al-Tabari Volume 9, Page 82. Sometimes a three-day period was given before heeding on the advance into a fight. Like the modern-day ISIS.
Overall, it reaffirms religious supremacy and leanings of violence-come-terrorism.
Note the third story encapsulates the spirit of the mujahideen. A “person of faith” who stands their ground against “disbelievers,” in which God casts a “great terror” to allow them to win over disbelief, despite the enemies superior “number and weaponry.” This is the euphoric victory that the mujahideen in Afghanistan came to taste after fighting off the Soviet Army. In fact, Bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam saw it as divine intervention. And now as NATO and America downscale in Afghanistan, the mujahideen will taste that again, against a second superpower. This must feed and reinforce the psyche of the terrorist, the holy warrior, the martyr.
It must be noted that the final narrative is not in the way of fighting, or even willing to fight, but to create peace with one tribe of the Arabian Peninsula. This contrasts well with the ayah 8:16 which states: “But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah: for He is the One that heareth and knoweth (all things).” Of course, in our current times of war, inclinations towards peace is absent.
“وَإِن جَنَحُوا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ”
This peace-contract also has conditions in the following ayat including: not contending with Allah (or polytheism, shirk), not intending to deceive, refusing Allah (his Will or Message), disbelieving in the signs of Allah and committing sins, all of which is rather subjective. All are open to interpretative approaches that lead to and are heavily support violence. This is not mutual peace. It is a covenant to submission, to be dominated. It is almost impossible to ‘break’ this pledge whilst living a non-religious, secular life, thus forcing you to kowtow to religious supremacism, customs, and dogma.
The most contentious condition is that the Muslim fights until there is no more tumult or oppression, and justice and faith in Allah prevails. The word tumult in relation to justice (towards God’s servants) and faith in Allah (monotheism) suggests that disbelief is still seen as an oppression of God’s Will. Yusuf Ali translates that a Muslim must fight until there is no more fitnah or shirk. This has serious and deadly repercussions for people of other faiths and belief systems (or lack of said belief systems) around the world.
The scenario which fits most with the that comes to mind with above is that of the Chechen mujahideen. The Chechen’s fought a long and bloody war against Russia – twice. They caused Russia to withdraw both times. Two times, and the Russian politicians did not insist to surrender or peace. This gave scriptural authority for the mujahideen. In fact, the way they saw it, if it was not their use for terrorist tactics, Russia may have stayed longer. The way one terrorist in particular saw it lead to disastrous loss of life. His name? Shamil Basayev. I will be making an article on him, and the Chechen mujahideen, in a later series.
This linked video should solidify the terrorists understanding of his or her own religion in regards to the aforementioned Chechen mujahideen. What else clarifies this further?
In another ayat, tafsir Ibn Kathir goes further by suggesting that hindering any Muslim in the path of God or to “embrace the kufr” is a greater crime than killing. It must be subdued. And tafsir al-Jalalayn solidifies this uncompromising sternness in regards to another ayat. This continues to spiral into the world of violence, fighting against disbelief or apostasy, directly supporting terror activities for otherwise non-violent, yet capital, thought crimes. Submit or die. How very authoritarian. How very, very totalitarian.
This does not look good from the scriptural perspective. It seems to support universal terror and violence. In fact, it urges them to battle in the face of such “criminalities.” Against a people who do not “understand.” It leaves me with an unanswered questions: is it the radical who is the supremacist or is it the religion? Is it the extremist who commands violence from his followers or is it God Himself? Or a bit of both? The only barrier between violence and non-violence seems to be reliance on interpretation. Unidimensional thinking.
Collectively, this insinuates that the religion of Islam, from doctrine, is so supremacist, that it has adopted an Imperialist-like expansionist trend. Violent when required and one that asks for complete submission before it, peace only at the highest cost: your freedom…
In conclusion, it is evidenced and apparent that some elements of Islamic theology support the narratives and dispositions towards violence and religious supremacism to that of religious terror organisations. Whilst other elements lean towards peace-creation. As always, just because it is written does not mean it is enacted. There is a casual facilitative link between the evidenced theology and terroristic violence.
There is at least enough interpretative room for religious justification of religious or political violence on behalf of God but this would require a dogmatic and absolutist view of scripture. It is a mixed-bag of narratives and counter-narratives. The theoretical link between Islamic theology and terror has been observably met. In further articles I will show you where the theory meets practice in much more detail than described here. I will also dive deeper into scripture and Islamic history, analysing specific stories such as the campaign against the Banu Qurayza.
Special thanks to my unnamed friend for accurate translations.
Thank you for reading.