بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
Kaleef K. Karim
Fight in God’s Cause, and know that God hears and knows all. – Qur’an 2:244
Critics point this verse out to people who have no knowledge about Islam saying, “Look – read, Muslims are to wage war unconditionally against all unbelievers”. As usual, critics cherry picking verses out of the Quran, leaving its context out. In reality, the text says opposite of what they portray of the passage. Let’s read previous verse and the verses coming after.
Quran 2:243 – 2:246
2:243 Have you not considered those who left their homes in many thousands, fearing death? God said to them, “Die”; then He restored them to life. And God is full of bounty to the people, but most of the people do not show gratitude.
2:244 And fight in the cause of God and know that God is Hearing and Knowing.
2:245 Who is it that would loan God a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is God who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned.
2:246 Have you not considered the assembly of the Children of Israel after [the time of] Moses when they said to a prophet of theirs, “Send to us a king, and we will fight in the way of God”? He said, “Would you perhaps refrain from fighting if fighting was prescribed for you?” They said, “And why should we not fight in the cause of God when we have been driven out from our homes and from our children?” But when fighting was prescribed for them, they turned away, except for a few of them. And God is Knowing of the wrongdoers.
Verse 2:244 is telling us not to transgress limits and that Allah “hears and knows all”. Also, fight in God’s cause, means to fight oppression, as shown in verse 2:246, “And why should we not fight in the cause of Allah when we have been driven out from our homes and from our children?” In that context, verse 2:244 encourages Muslims to fight oppression, persecution. The passage does not endorse killing of innocents.
Commentary on Quran 2:243 – 246
The Holy Quran Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction: Maulana Muhammad Ali
243a. Ul∂f is plural either of alf, meaning a thousand, or alif, a congregation or in a state of union (LL). The thousands referred to in this verse are the Israelites who left Egypt with Moses, the whole body of the Israelites being called a congregation in the Torah, and the clear mention of the Children of Israel after Moses in v. 246 corroborates this. Here we have a people who left their homes for fear of death, and besides the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt no incident in history answers to this description. In fact, the very word kharaj∂ (they went forth) from khur∂j (meaning exodus) contains a direct hint to the exodus of the Israelites. But in one respect, the Holy Qur’an differs from the Bible. According to the latter, the number of the Israelites was over 600,000 when they left Egypt (Num. 1:46), but the Qur’ån says they were thousands, not hundreds of thousands. There is no doubt, too, that the Israelites left Egypt for fear of death, for death would surely have been their fate if they had not emigrated. Not only were orders given by Pharaoh for their male offspring to be killed, but they were also kept in a state of bondage which would soon have brought them to a state of intellectual and moral death (compare v. 49). The next incident in the history of that nation as referred to here is the Divine commandment to them, to “die”. This is more fully stated in 5:21–26. Moses told them to enter the Holy Land “which Allah has ordained for you,” but they refused and were made to wander about in the wilderness for forty years, so that that generation perished. This is also shown by their history as given in the Old Testament: “Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness … doubtless ye shall not come into the land” (Num. 14:29, 30). This was their death. After that, we are told, Allåh gave them life. This refers to the next generation, which was made to inherit the promised land: “But your little ones … they shall know the land which ye have despised” (Num. 14:31). The whole is meant as a warning for the Muslims, who are told that if they followed the footsteps of the Israelites, death must be their fate. This warning is made clear in the next verse: And fight in the way of Allåh.
244a. See 2:190; fighting in Allåh’s way is equivalent to fighting in defence of faith.
Commenting on this verse, LL says: “It means, according to AIs, THE GRAMMARIAN, who is he who will offer unto God a good action or gift, or anything for which a requital may be sought; or, as Akh, one of the most famous grammarians says, who will do a good action by following and obeying the command of God ”; and he adds: “The Arabs say, qad aqra˙ta-nß qar˙-an √asan-an, which signifies thou hast done to me a good deed which I am bound to requite” (T, LL). According to Zj, qar˙ signifies anything done on which a reward may be expected (Rz).
245b. Allåh receives and amplifies means that Allåh receives the gift that is offered to Him and then amplifies it; in other words, any sacrifice made in the cause of Truth is amply rewarded by Allåh. Or, it is a general statement indicating that the tightening of the means of subsistence and their amplification are in the hands of Allåh, for yaqbi˙u also means he straitens.
246a. The prophet alluded to is Samuel: “Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us … that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:19, 20). In the history which follows, the Qur’ån does not show any important difference with the Bible narrative. 246b. 1 Sam. 15:33 shows that the Amalekites had killed the Children of Israel, while 1 Sam. 17:1 shows that they had taken lands which belonged to Judah. 
Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi – Tafhim al-Qur’an – The Meaning of the Qur’an
265 From here begins a new address. In it the Muslims have been exhorted to do Jihad,” i.e., to exert their utmost in the Way of Allah and make monetary sacrifices for the cause. At the same time they have been warned to guard against those weaknesses that had led to the degeneration and downfall of the children of Israel. It will help understand this address, if we keep in mind the occasion of its revelation. At that time the Muslims, who had been expelled from Makkah a year or so earlier and were living as refugees at Madinah, were asking over and over again for permission to fight with the disbelievers who had been persecuting them relentlessly for years. But, when the permission they themselves had asked was given, some of them began to lose heart (Please refer to Al-Baqarah, II : 216). That is why two important events from the history of the Israelites are being related to serve as a fore-warning to the Muslims and to stimulate their zeal and courage.
266 This refers to the exodus of the children of lsrael (for details please see Al-Ma’idah, V: 20-26), when they had left Egypt in large numbers and were wandering homeless in the deserts and wildernesses and were very anxious to find a home for themselves. But when inspired by Allah, the Prophet Moses ordered them to fight against the Canaanites and expel them from Palestine and conquer that territory, they showed cowardice and refused to march forward. Consequently Allah left them to wander in the land for forty years so that that generation should come to an end and a new one be brought up in the hardships of the desert. Then Allah gave them victory over the Canaanites. Probably “death and second life” refer to these two aspects of the exodus.
267 “Good loan” is that which is lent without any idea of personal gain or interest but is given with the sole intention to please Allah. Allah in His bounty credits the wealth thus spent in His Way as a loan on Himself. He promises that He will not only return the actual debt but increase it manifold, provided that it is a good loan in the real sense and is lent merely to please Him and for the sake of the objects He approves. 
The Message of The Quran translated and explained by Muhammad Asad
233 I.e., in a just war in self-defence against oppression or unprovoked aggression (cf. 2:190-194).
234 I.e., by sacrificing one’s life in, or devoting it to, His cause.
235 The prophet referred to here is Samuel (cf. Old Testament, I Samuel viii ff.).
236 Obviously a reference to the many invasions of their homelands by their perennial enemies, the Philistines, Amorites, Amalekites and other Semitic and non-Semitic tribes living in and – around Palestine; and, by implication, a reminder to believers of all times that “fighting in God’s cause” (as defined in the Qur’an) is an act of faith. 
 The Holy Quran Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction [Year 2002 Edition] by Maulana Muhammad Ali page 110 – 111
 Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi – Tafhim al-Qur’an – The Meaning of the Qur’an – http://www.englishtafsir.com/Quran/2/index.html#sdfootnote267anc
 The Message of The Quran translated and explained by Muhammad Asad http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/private/cmje/religious_text/The_Message_of_The_Quran__by_Muhammad_Asad.pdf