“Fight With Them Until There Is No More Fitna [Disbelief]…?” – Quran 8:39

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Background

This verse (Q. 8:39) was revealed concerning the battle of Badr (624 AD).

Analysing Verse

Some claim that Islam is to dominate, and conduct holy war, on people of other religions until they accept Islam. Yet, the Quran clearly states that there is to be no compulsion in religion. Everyone has a free choice the religion one wants to follow.

In order for them to show layman that Islam is violent, they deceptively twist verses to mean something it has never intended to say. For example this verse:

Quran 8:39 – “And fight with them until there is no more fitna [disbelief] and religion should be only for Allah”

They prefer this translation (in brackets adding ‘disbelief’). When it is read in that way, to someone who is not familiar with Islamic text, they would believe that the Quran sanctions Muslims to fight against non-believers on account of them not being ‘Muslim’.

There is a problem with such interpretation. This passage was revealed at the battle of Badr (624 AD). This battle took place as a consequence of the continued persecution the Muslims faced by the Quraish. It was the Quraish who came to Madinah for war, not the other way around.

So for historical point, this made-up interpretation makes no sense, since the Muslims were the ones who were getting persecuted. A better translation that gives its context would be the following:

“And fight them until there is no oppression [fitna] and is the religion all of it for Allah. But if they cease, then indeed, Allah of what they do (is) All-Seer.” – Quran 8:39

Reading the above translation, it makes sense that the fighting the Muslims were involved in 624 AD was against those who persecuted the Muslims. Furthermore, we have already highlighted that the Arabic word ‘fitna’ used means, oppression and persecution (see evidence: here and here). Even the contextual context for the verse, reading the verses before and after will show that the fighting mentioned was a result of Quraysh continually fighting the Muslims:

8:38 Say to those who have disbelieved [that] if they cease [from war], what has previously occurred will be forgiven for them. But if they return [to hostility] – then the precedent of the former [rebellious] peoples has already taken place.

8:39 And fight them until there is no fitnah and [until] the religion, all of it, is for Allah. And if they cease – then indeed, Allah is Seeing of what they do.

8:40 But if they turn away [from fighting] – then know that Allah is your protector. Excellent is the protector, and Excellent is the helper.

Similarly, the following three non-Muslim Quran translations also agree that this is the true meaning for the passage. That the Muslims were ordered to fight those who persecuted them.

Non-Muslim Translations:

Arthur John Arberry Quran 8:39 Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is God’s entirely; then if they give over, surely God sees the things they do…

George Sale Quran 8:39 And fight them until there is no persecution and religion is wholly to God. But if they desist, then surely God is Watchful of what they do.

E. M. Wherry Say unto the unbelievers, that if they desist from opposing thee, what is already past shall be forgiven them; but if they return to attack thee, the exemplary punishment of the former opposers of the Prophets is already past and the like shall be inflicted on them. [1]

 

Muslim Translations:

Muhammad Asad And fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone. And if they desist-behold, God sees all that they do…

M. M. Pickthall And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah. But if they cease, then lo! Allah is Seer of what they do.

Shakir And fight with them until there is no more persecution and religion should be only for Allah; but if they desist, then surely Allah sees what they do.

Yusuf Ali (Saudi Rev. 1985) And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do.

Yusuf Ali (Orig. 1938) And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily God doth see all that they do.

Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar And fight them until there be no persecution and the way of life—all of it—be for God. Then, if they refrained themselves, then, truly, God is Seeing of what they do.

Wahiduddin Khan Fight them until there is no more [religious] persecution,[14] and religion belongs wholly to God: if they desist, then surely God is watchful of what they do,

T.B.Irving Fight them off until there is no more persecution, and Religion belongs wholly to God: yet if they do stop, then God is Observant of anything they do.

[The Monotheist Group] (2011 Edition) And fight them all until there is no more oppression, and so that the entire system is God’s. But if they cease, then God is watcher over what they do.

Abdel Haleem [Believers], fight them until there is no more persecution, and all worship is devoted to God alone: if they desist, then God sees all that they do.

Hamid S. Aziz Fight them then until there be no more oppression, and that religion may be wholly Allah´s. But if they desist, then Allah is Seer of what they do.

Shabbir Ahmed Fight and subdue those who persist in aggression until persecution is no more, and absolute freedom of religion is established. People must be able to adopt a religion only for God’s Approval, and as free choice (2:193), (12:108). If they cease from aggression, Allah is the Seer of their actions, and therefore you shall leave them alone.

Syed Vickar Ahamed And keep on fighting them till there is no more unrest (commotion) or injustice (cruelty), and there exists justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; But if they stop, surely, Allah sees all that they do.

Dr. Munir Munshey (Oh believers)! Fight against them until the mischief and oppression are no more, and faith becomes the domain of Allah exclusively. If they cease, then (remember): Allah watches (vigilantly) over everything they do.

Dr. Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri And, (O people of truth,) continue your fight against these (chieftains of oppression and terrorism for the establishment of enduring peace), until there does not (remain) any disruption and Din (the system of compliance with law) is devoted to Allah alone. And if they desist, then Allah surely sees well (the action) that they are accomplishing.

Talal A. Itani (new translation) Fight them until there is no more persecution, and religion becomes exclusively for God. But if they desist—God is Seeing of what they do.

Bilal Muhammad (2013 Edition) And fight them until there is no more oppression, and there prevails justice and faith in God, altogether and everywhere. But if they cease, indeed God sees all that they do.

[The Monotheist Group] (2013 Edition) And fight them all until there is no more oppression, and the entire system is for God. But if they cease, then God is Seer over what they do.

Bijan Moeinian Fight with the disbelievers till they give up the persecution and a God pleasing “way of life” is established. God sees what they do [and, therefore, knows whether or not they are sincere in their “cease fire.”]

Hasan Al-Fatih Qaribullah Fight them until persecution is no more and the Religion of Allah reigns supreme. If they desist, Allah sees the things they do.

Maulana Muhammad Ali And fight with them until there is no more persecution, and all religions are for Allah. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Seer of what they do.

Sher Ali And fight them until there is no persecution and religion is wholly to ALLAH. But if they desist, then surely ALLAH is Watchful of what they do.

Rashad Khalifa You shall fight them to ward off oppression, and to practice your religion devoted to GOD alone. If they refrain from aggression, then GOD is fully Seer of everything they do.

Amatul Rahman Omar And (O Muslims!) fight them until there is no more persecution (in the name of religion) and adopting a (certain) religion is wholly for the sake of Allah, but if they desist, then surely Allah is Watchful of what they do (and they will not be done injustice to).

Sayyid Qutb Fight them until there is no more oppression, and all submission is made to God alone. If they desist, God is certainly aware of all they do.

Mir Aneesuddin And fight with them until there is no persecution and religion is (established) wholly for Allah, but if they desist then Allah is certainly a Seer of what they do,

Commentaries

 

Tafsir Ibn Kathir:

“…Muhammad bin Ishaq said that he was informed from Az-Zuhri, from `Urwah bin Az-Zubayr and other scholars that (until there is no more Fitnah) the Fitnah mentioned here means, until no Muslim is persecuted so that he abandons his religion.” [2]

 

Reverend E. M. Wherry:

“(39) ‘If they return’. This probably refers to the declaration of the Quraish that they would return to avenge the defeat of Badr. The exemplary punishment, & c. Abdul Qadir translates, ‘The custom of the former (peoples) has passed before them.’ There is in the saying a subtle allusion to the defeat of the Quraish at Badr, in accordance with the doom of disbelievers in former times.” [3]

 

The Qur’an – A New Translation – Professor of Islamic Studies, M. A. S. Abdel Haleem:

“Equally misinterpreted and taken out of context is what has become labelled as ‘sword verse’ (9:5) although the word ‘sword’ does not appear in the Qur’an: ‘When the [four] forbidden months are over, wherever you find the polytheists, kill them, seize them, besiege them, ambush them’. The hostility and ‘bitter enmity’ of the polytheists and their fitna ( persecution: 2:193; 8:39) of the Muslims during the time of the Prophet became so great that the disbelievers were determined to convert the Muslims back to paganism or finish them off: ‘They will not stop fighting you [believers] until they make you revoke your faith, if they can’ (2:217).
It was these hardened polytheists in Arabia, who would accept nothing other than the expulsion of the Muslims or their reversion to paganism, and who repeatedly broke their treaties, that the Muslims were ordered to treat in the same way – either to expel them or to accept nothing from them except Islam. But, even then, the Prophet and the Muslims were not simply to pounce on such enemies, reciprocating by breaking the treaty themselves: an ultimatum was issued, giving the enemy notice that, after the four sacred months mentioned in 9:5 above, the Muslims would wage war on them. Yet the main clause of the sentence – ‘kill the polytheists’ – is singled out by non-Muslims as representing the Islamic attitude to war; even some Muslims take this view and allege that this verse abrogated many other verse, including ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ (2:256) and even, according to one solitary extremist, ‘God is forgiving and merciful’. This far-fetched interpretation isolates and decontextualizes a small part of a sentence and of a passage, 9:1-15, which gives many reasons for the order to fight such polytheists: they continually broke their agreements and aided others against the Muslims, they started hostilities against the Muslims, barred others from becoming Muslims, expelled them from the Holy Mosque and even from their own homes. At least eight times the passage mentions the misdeeds of these people against the Muslims. Moreover, consistent with restrictions on war elsewhere in the Qur’an, the immediate context of this ‘sword verse’ exempts such polytheists as do not break their agreements and who keep peace with the Muslims (9:7); it orders that those enemies seeking safe conduct should be protected and delivered to the place of safety they seek (9:6).
The whole of this context to verse 5, with all its restrictions, is ignored by those who simply isolate one part of a sentence to build on it their theory of war and violence in Islam. [4]

 

Maulana Muhammad Ali:

“WHY FIGHTING WAS ALLOWED
The Muslims were allowed to fight indeed, but the object was not to compel the unbelievers to accept Islam, for it was against all the broad principles in which they had hitherto been brought up. It was to establish religious freedom, to stop all religious persecution, to protect the houses of worship of all religions, mosques among them. To quote again from the Quran:
‘And fight them until there is no more persecution, and all religions are for all.’ – 8:39
‘And if Allah did not repel some people by others, surely cloisters and churches and synagogues, and mosques in which God’s name is much remembered, would have been pulled down.’ – 22:44
The Holy Prophet and his companions were subjected to the severest persecution, as Islam began to gain found in Makkah; over a hundred of them fled to Abyssinia, but persecution grew still more relentless. Ultimately, the Muslims had to take refuge in Madinah, but they were not left alone even there, and the sword was taken up by the enemy to annihilate Islam and Muslims.” [5]

 

Dr. Abubakr Asadulla:

“Mohammad and the Quran have only one criterion for war: the guarantee of freedom of religion. And thought against transgressors. Any other wars are considered evil. We should heed the spirit of Islam: ‘If one takes a life, it is as if one has taken life of humanity. If one saves a life, it is if he has saved the life of humanity’ (5:32).
Nevertheless, Islam the peaceful religion is not a pacifist religion. The Quran states, ‘Defend yourself against your enemy, but attack them not first, for God does not like transgressors’ (Quran 2:190). Be patient and let peace prevail until you are attacked, then you are permitted to defend yourself. As the Quran states,
‘And fight them until persecution has stopped and religion has become God’s. But if they cease, verily God doth see all that they do’ (Quran 8:39).
In other words, if they cease to persecute they should not be met with further hostility.” [6]

 

Reconstructing Jihad Amid Competing International Norms – Halim Rane:

“God did not permit fighting prior to the hijra, while the Prophet still lived among the Quraysh, nor while there was the possibility for the Quraysh to seek forgiveness. More explicitly, verse 29 commands the Muslims to ‘fight against them until there no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone’ (Quran, 8:39). Commenting on this particular verse, Asad (1980) explains that the statement ‘until all worship is devoted to God alone’ means ‘until man is free to worship God,’ and that, like verse 2:193 of the Quran, the stress of the verse is ‘self-defense’ ‘as the only justification of war’ (p. 244).” [7]

Addendum:

Scholar Abdel Haleem’s (A-H) take on the Arabic word ‘Fitna’.

“When you [believers] are travelling in the land, you will not be blamed for shortening your prayers, if you fear the disbelievers may harm you: they are your sworn enemies.”
وَإِذَا ضَرَبْتُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْكُمْ جُنَاحٌ أَن تَقْصُرُوا مِنَ الصَّلَاةِ إِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَن يَفْتِنَكُمُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا ۚ إِنَّ الْكَافِرِينَ كَانُوا لَكُمْ عَدُوًّا مُّبِينًا
Qur’an 4:101

A-H renders “يَفْتِنَكُمُ” yaftinakum as “harm you”

“But no one believed in Moses except a few of his own people, for fear that Pharaoh and their leaders would persecute them: Pharaoh was domineering in the land and prone to excess.”
فَمَا آمَنَ لِمُوسَىٰ إِلَّا ذُرِّيَّةٌ مِّن قَوْمِهِ عَلَىٰ خَوْفٍ مِّن فِرْعَوْنَ وَمَلَئِهِمْ أَن يَفْتِنَهُمْ ۚ وَإِنَّ فِرْعَوْنَ لَعَالٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَإِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الْمُسْرِفِينَ
Qur’an 10:83

A-H renders “يَفْتِنَهُمْ” yaftinahum as “persecute them”

“But your Lord will be most forgiving and most merciful to those who leave their homes after persecution, then strive and remain steadfast.”
ثُمَّ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ لِلَّذِينَ هَاجَرُوا مِن بَعْدِ مَا فُتِنُوا ثُمَّ جَاهَدُوا وَصَبَرُوا إِنَّ رَبَّكَ مِن بَعْدِهَا لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ Qur’an 16:110

A-H renders “فُتِنُوا” futinu as “persecution” A-H renders “الْفِتْنَةَ” al-fitnah as “discord”

“There are some people who say, ‘We believe in God,’ but, when they suffer for His cause, they think that human persecution is as severe as God’s punishment — yet, if any help comes to you [Prophet] from your Lord, they will say, ‘We have always been with you’. Does God not know best what is in everyone’s hearts?
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ فَإِذَا أُوذِيَ فِي اللَّهِ جَعَلَ فِتْنَةَ النَّاسِ كَعَذَابِ اللَّهِ وَلَئِن جَاءَ نَصْرٌ مِّن رَّبِّكَ لَيَقُولُنَّ إِنَّا كُنَّا مَعَكُمْ ۚ أَوَلَيْسَ اللَّهُ بِأَعْلَمَ بِمَا فِي صُدُورِ الْعَالَمِينَ Qur’an 29:10

A-H renders “فِتْنَةَ” fitnata as “persecution”

“For those who persecute believing men and women, and do not repent afterwards, there will be the torment of Hell and burning.”
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَتَنُوا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَتُوبُوا فَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ جَهَنَّمَ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ الْحَرِيقِ Qur’an 85:10

A-H renders “فَتَنُوا” fatanu as “persecute”.

Related article:

Shirk Or Persecution – What does The Word Fitna Mean?

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References:

[1] A Comprehensive commentary on The Quran, [London: Trubner & Co., Ludgate III] By Reverend E. M. Wherry, volume 2, page 260
[2] Tafsir Ibn Kathir http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1543&Itemid=63
[3] A Comprehensive commentary on The Quran, [London: Trubner & Co., Ludgate III] By Reverend E. M. Wherry, volume 2, page 260
[4] The Qur’an – A New Translation [Oxford World’s Classics, 2005] By M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, Page 23 – 24 [XXIII – XXIV]
[5] English Translation of the Holy Quran: With Explanatory Notes: [Revised 2010 edition] From the English Translation and Commentary of Maulana Muhammad Ali, Page 44 – 45
[6] Islam vs. West: Fact or Fiction?: A brief historical, political, theological, philosophical, and psychological perspective, by Dr. Abubakr Asadulla, page 213
[7] Reconstructing Jihad Amid Competing International Norms [Palgrave Macmillan – United States, 2009] By Halim Rane, page 185

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4 Responses »

  1. Quite informative. Thank you brother.

  2. You missed this Islamophobe-crushing quote from your footnote #2 link:

    And fight them until there is no more Fitnah…).” Ibn `Umar said, “We did that during the time of the Messenger of Allah, WHEN ISLAM WAS WEAK and the man would be tried in religion, either tormented to death or being imprisoned. WHEN ISLAM BECAME STRONGER and widespread, there was no more Fitnah.”

    This proves unequivocally that fitnah requires physical persecution and oppression against Muslims before any fight can occur. It also proves that it is a fight by the weak against the oppressor and NEVER a fight by the one in power to impose Islam on others. Please update your article accordingly, since this will completely close this bizarre Islamophobe-argued loophole that I continue to hear online.

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