Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 1 of 7
THE EVOLUTION OF A PROPHET: FROM MECCA TO MEDINA
According to Islamic scholars, 86 of the suras revealed to Muhammad were given to him in Mecca while 28 were given to him in Medina (though it seems portions of some suras were recited in both places).(1) What is interesting is that the content and timing of these Meccan and Medinian suras seem to correspond exactly with the content and timing of Muhammad’s prophetic career. In other words, as Muhammad’s status evolves from that of an unknown preacher in Mecca to a strong political, religious, and military figure in the Arabian Peninsula, the content of his message changes as well from one of tolerance and acceptance to violence and oppression. For example, when Muhammad first began to preach his religion of Islam in the city of Mecca he was not well accepted. The Meccans of the time were heavily involved in polytheism and did not receive the version of monotheism proclaimed by Muhammad. It is during this time that Muhammad received revelations such as Sura 2:256 which reads, “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error.” This aya(2) seems to show Muhammad refraining from forcing his religion on anyone but content in simply declaring it to be true. It makes sense that Muhammad would take a more charitable attitude during this time given the fact that he was heavily outnumbered and suffering persecution in Mecca. Looking at a verse such as this gives the impression that the Qur’an encourages tolerance and that Muslims are to be at peace with neighboring faiths. However, in 622 A.D. Muhammad and a group of approximately 150 followers fled to Medina. This emigration, known as the Hijra, was the monumental turning point in the prophetic career of Muhammad, and for Islam itself.
It is significant that just prior to leaving for Medina, Ibn Ishaq tells us that Muhammad received his first revelation allowing him to fight the Meccans.(3) Sura 22:39-41 reads, “To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged…(They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right—(for no cause) except that they say, ‘Our Lord is Allah.’” These revelations seem very convenient as Muhammad enters Medina and establishes his power base. Once Muhammad gained political and military power in Medina the revelations he received became increasingly intolerant and violent. After the Battle of Badr, a very important military victory for Muhammad in which 300 of his men defeated approximately 1000 Quraysh, Ibn Ishaq tells us that Allah revealed Sura 8 to Muhammad.(4) Sura 8:12, 39 reads, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: Smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger tips off them…And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevails justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere.” It is during this time in Medina that Muhammad received many of his revelations concerning Jihad, or Holy War.
THE SWORD VERSES
These verses dealing with Jihad are sometimes referred to as the “sword verses.” There are approximately 164 clear and direct sword verses within the Qur’an which deal specifically with military expedition, fighting, or distributing war spoils.(5) This figure does not include numerous other verses in which Muhammad speaks of further aspects of Jihad such as his poor opinion of those who do not go on Jihad and the heavenly rewards which Jihadists can expect when they die and enter paradise. One such well known verse commanding Jihad is Sura 9:5 which says, “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war).” Sura 47:4 reads, “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).” That Muhammad understood these verses to be applicable to Muslim life is found in the fact that he personally was involved in 29 battles and planned 39 others.(6) This means that during the last ten years of Muhammad’s life he was either directly involved in, or commissioned others to participate in, 68 battles (almost seven battles a year). This warfare mentality was carried on by Muhammad’s successors and confirms the idea that to be a Muslim during the first 100 years of Islam was to be a soldier fighting for the cause of Allah.
(1) Lingel, Course Pack.
(2) Aya means "miracle" in Arabic and refers to the individual verses in suras.
(3) Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, Trans. A. Guillaume (London: Oxford, 1955), 213.
(4) Ibn Ishaq, 321.
(5) See www.answering-islam.org/Quran/Themes/jihad_passages.html.
(6) Lingel, Course Pack.