After the 2017 Manchester Attack at the Ariana Grande concert, Atif Rashid tried to combat the ensuing criticism towards Islam and Muslims. On the 31st of May 2017 he published an article in The Independent in which he tells us that no act of terrorism can be justified by Islamic scripture. In fact, if we are to believe him, ‘terrorist’ and ‘Muslim’ is an oxymoron. He opens the article in a rather provocative fashion, poisoning the well:
The anti-Islam bandwagon has resurfaced in the wake of the Manchester attack, led by extremist commentators and a whole host of Islamophobes on social media.
According to Rashid it is a “false believe [..] that murdering innocents will take you to Heaven.” This is an Islamic interpretation with which I agree. The only issue I have with that sentence is that he leaves completely ambiguous what ‘innocent’ means in Islam, and this is of no little importance! He defends his interpretation by quoting Muhammad from one of the Kutub al-Sittah (the six Hadith collections for Sunni Islam):
“a Muslim is one from whose hands and tongue people are safe.” – Sunan an-Nasa’i 4995
Later in his article he states that both ISIS and extremists take verses out of context and cherry-pick the Quran and Hadith, but I would argue that’s exactly what he’s doing. Only 4 Hadith later in the very same book (Sunan an-Nasa book 47) the text is repeated with a slight, but I’d argue utterly important change:
Abu Mussa said: “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, whose Islam is most virtuous?’ He said: ‘The one from whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe.'” – Sunan an-Nasa’i 4995
You see, ‘people’ are safe here is changed for ‘Muslims’ are safe. Again, this is of no small importance! I can find this version of the Hadith in the works of Bukhari and Muslim, too. So the two questions to be answered then are; who are considered innocent in Islam and is it justified to kill those who are not considered innocent? Well, if you have ever taken it upon yourself to read either the Bible or the Qur’an the answer will not surprise you much. Really, one Hadith which is also in the Kutub al-Sittah, highlights how very wrong the interpretation of Atif Rashid is. It is quite a long Hadith so for readability purposes I shall shorten it, but I urge you to read it whole. There is quite some nuance in there such as ‘do not kill the children’, which I would be scolded for if I do not mention it.
It has been reported from Sulaiman b. Buraida through his father that when the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) appointed anyone as leader of an army or detachment he would especially exhort him to fear Allah and to be good to the Muslims who were with him. He would say:
Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war [..] Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. Then invite them to migrate from their lands to the land of the Muhajireen [those who fear Allah (the Mulsims)][..]. If they refuse to migrate [..] they will not get any share from the spoils of war or Fai’ except when they actually fight with the Muslims (against the disbelievers). If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya [non-Muslim tax]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them. [..]” – Imam Muslim, Book 32, Hadith 3
I wish I had known about this hadith when I wrote my article explaining Jihad. But now we find, quite clearly that non-believers or polytheists are not innocent and that war against non-believers is not only permissible- it is ordered by the prophet himself. We can further support this by another famous Hadith:
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)[..]” – Sahih al-Bukhari 25, book 2, hadith 18.
However, Hadith in Islamic interpretations are considered only second to the Qur’an, so can we justify this hadith by looking at Qur’anic verses? In Surah 5 ayat 32 and 33 we read:
32: We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors. 33: Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment – Quran 5:32/33
One of the best ways to understand Qur’anic texts is through Mufassir. They are special shcolars who interpret the Qur’an. One of the best, if not the best, Mufassir is Ismail ibn Kathir. Al-Suyooti said concerning this Tafseer (interpretations): “Nothing like it has ever been written.” source: Tadhkirat al-Huffaaz, p. 534. If we read the relevant interpretations by ibn Kathir, we see that he interprets ‘mankind’ or ‘souls’ as only the Muslims. He notes:
“Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas said that Allah’s statement, “it would be as if he killed all mankind” means, “Whoever kills one soul that Allah has forbidden killing, is just like he who kills all mankind.” Sa`id bin Jubayr said, “He who allows himself to shed the blood of a Muslim, is like he who allows shedding the blood of all people. He who forbids shedding the blood of one Muslim, is like he who forbids shedding the blood of all people.’ Tafsir Ismail ibn Kathir
The website Islamiqa further details this by saying:
“The blood of the peaceful individual (one who is living under Muslim rule or who has been granted the protection of the Muslim state) is regarded as sacrosanct to such an extent that transgression against a single individual with no justification is regarded as equal to transgression against all of humanity.” – Islamqa.com
Ibn Kathir then notes:
“‘Wage war’ mentioned here means, oppose and contradict, and it includes disbelief, blocking roads and spreading fear in the fairways. Mischief in the land refers to various types of evil.” –
Tafsir ibn Kathir
To answer the question then: disbelievers are not considered innocent in Islam as we see by scholarly interpretations of the Quran, which I further defend here, and active Jihad is to be fought against the non-believers. In another blogpost I explain that Jihad does not merely mean inner struggle but also “Holy War”.