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5 Misquotations Of The Quran



The recent surge in negative sentiments towards Islam and Muslims has resulted
in many attempts to depict the religion as inherently violent. This has also
resulted in absurd accusations against the Quran. What are the five most
frequently misquoted passages in the Quran? Do accusations of violence stand
up to academic scrutiny, or are the verses being distorted to suggest the
opposite of what they actually say?

Religion has always been a convenient scapegoat for violence. Genocidal


maniacs and extremists throughout history have frequently invoked religion to
grant cosmic significance to their earthly conflicts. The political conflicts, brutal
dictatorships, and warfare involving Muslim countries in recent decades have
led to the emergence of modern extremist groups attempting to justify violence
in the name of Islam. Chaos, instability and prolonged warfare create a political
vacuum where power-hungry groups vie for control. Such groups will raise
whatever banner draws support for their cause, whether it be the banner of
ethnic identity, cultural identity, nationalism, 0r a particular ideological or
religious identity.
One should immediately be skeptical of the political instrumentalization of
religion by such groups, and of the attempt to shift blame to a religion that has
been around for 1400 years and is practiced by almost two billion adherents
around the world. Nevertheless, certain verses of the Quran have been tossed
around by radicals and by islamophobes alike, alleging that there is some
Quranic support for violent activity. The slightest familiarity with the verses in
question would demonstrate that nothing could be further from the truth.
It is fairly easy to misquote a text. All one must do is cherry-pick partial
sentences and delete the surrounding context. What makes the five most
misquoted Quranic verses so interesting is that the supposed violent nature of
such verses immediately dissolves with a quick glance at the textual and
historical context. All one needs to do is simply complete the sentence, or read
the preceding or following verse, and it becomes evident that the verse in no
way preaches violence. In addition, this perspective is further substantiated
when one looks at the other passages in the Quran and statements of the
Prophet Muhammad, which are unequivocal in their condemnation of violence
and affirmation of peace. Furthermore, 1400 years of scholarly analysis of the
Quran dispels the misinterpretations of contemporary radicals and
islamophobes.

MISQUOTATION 1 Verse 2:191

The phrase kill them where you find them is by far the most frequent phrase
that is misquoted by ardent Islamophobes and radical extremists. But this
battlefield exhortation comes right after the verse which states fight against
those who fight you and it comes right before the part which states but if they
cease fighting, then let there be no hostility except against oppressors!
What is the historical context of verses 2:190-3 and who does it refer to? Ibn
Abbas, the famous companion of the Prophet and Quranic exegete, says that
this passage was revealed in reference to the Quraysh [1]. The Quraysh had
persecuted the Muslims and tortured them for thirteen years in Makkah. They
had driven Muslims out of their homes, seized their properties and wealth, and
fought battles against them after the Muslims sought refuge in Madinah. The
Muslims were apprehensive about another attack occurring during their sacred
pilgrimage when fighting was prohibited. This is why these verses were
revealed to reassure them that they would be able to defend against a Qurayshi
attack during pilgrimage. Such fighting never ended up occurring between them
and Quraysh, for a peace agreement was upheld and the pilgrimage was
permitted [2].
The phrase do not commit aggression was explained by Ibn Abbas to mean,
Do not attack women, children, elderly, or anyone who is not fighting against
you, and thus harming any non-combatants is deemed a transgression against
God Almighty [3]. The erudite Quranic exegete Ibn Ashur (d.1393H) states, If
they desist from fighting you, then do not fight them for verily God is Most
Forgiving and Most Merciful, and so it is only befitting that the believers show
mercy [4]. In this regard, this verse is very similar to 4:89 which prescribes
fighting the enemy but is immediately followed by the statement in 4:89, So if
they remove themselves from you and do not fight you but rather offer you
peace, then God has made no way for you to fight them.
Returning to 2:190-3, the word fitnah in this passage means religious
persecution (as used in 85:10) and punishing someone for their faith, and
coercing them to disbelieve or commit idolatry. The great Quranic scholar
Imam al-Kisaai (d.189) explains that fitnah here means torture (adhaab)
because the Quraysh used to torture those who accepted Islam [5]. Ibn Jarir alTabari (d.310H) explains that the phrase fitnah is worse than killing means
that to persecute a believer for his faith until he recants it and becomes an
idolater is worse and more painful to him than being slain while holding onto his
faith [6]
Therefore, the passage clearly prohibits fighting against those who are not
fighting. The particular misquoted phrase describes fighting in defence against
perpetrators of anti-religious persecution and torture.

MISQUOTATION 2 Verse 9:5

The next phrase that is frequently misquoted is quite similar slay those
pagans wherever you find them, but again the slightest familiarity with the
historical and contextual context would immediately dispel this misquotation.
The verse immediately before speaks of upholding peaceful agreements with
those who are at peace and never supported enemy warriors against the Muslims
so who is verse 9:5 in reference to? Quranic exegetes al-Baydawi (d.685H)
and al-Alusi (d.1270H) explain that it refers to those pagan arabs who violated
their peace treaties by waging war against the Muslims (nakitheen) [7], and thus
Abu Bakr al-Jassas (d.370H) notes that these verses are particular to the Arab
polytheists and do not apply to anyone else [8]. These comments are
substantiated by what the Quran itself says. Verse 13 of the same chapter states,
Will you not fight against those who violated their peace treaties, plotted the
expulsion of the messenger, and initiated the fighting against you? and verse 36
states, and fight the pagans collectively who wage war against you
collectively. The textual context is abundantly clear that verse 9:5 is not a
random instruction out of the blue but relates to the pagan tribes of Arabia, who
were in a state of war with the Muslims [9]. Therefore, to interpret the passage
in any other way is to contradict the very text of the Quran.
Moreover, what is fascinating is that the very next verse (9:6) states that if any
enemy warrior suddenly demands protection, one is religiously obligated to
provide that individual with protection, explain the message of Islam to him, and
if he refuses to accept, escort him to a place of security. This instruction to
protect and escort enemy combatants to a safe haven makes it blatantly obvious
that this passage in no way, shape or form, can be construed as violent.
MISQUOTATION 3 Verse 8:60

Another favourite text to misquote is the passage that states, Prepare against
them all you can of power and steeds of war.. but again, the very next verse
reads, If they incline towards peace, then incline towards peace as well
hardly a violent passage!
Moreover, one must again ask who is being referred to in this citation? The
historical context clearly places these verses again in reference to the ongoing
war between the Muslims and the enemy forces of the Quraysh of Makkah and
their tribal allies [10]. This chapter was revealed in reference to the Battle of
Badr which took place between the Muslims who sought refuge in Madinah and
the Quraysh who had persecuted them and driven them out of their homes in
Makkah. The same chapter describes the pervasive warfare in Arabia and lack of
security suffered by the early oppressed Muslim community. And remember
when you were few and oppressed in the land, fearing that people might abduct
you, but He sheltered you, supported you with His victory, and provided you

with good things that you might be grateful. (8:26)


Note also that sometimes Islamophobic bigots cite verse 8:12 from this same
chapter strike above their necks, somehow completely missing the fact that the
verse describes what God said to the angels during the battle of Badr. The first
half of the verse reads, When your Lord inspired the angels, Verily, I am with
you, so strengthen the believers. To take a description of Gods inspiration
to angels during a historical battle against the Quraysh oppressors and somehow
distort that into a generic command for Muslims to attack non-muslims is
profoundly dishonest, to say the least.
MISQUOTATION 4 Verse 47:4

This is perhaps the most outrageous of all misquotations. A phrase in the middle
of a passage about battle is ripped out of its context and presented ludicrously
as, When you meet disbelievers, smite their necks. To even the most casual
reader who bothers to glance at the passage, the verse is talking about a meeting
in mutual battle between warriors (Ar. fil-muharabah as al-Baydawi explains
[11]) that comes to an end when the war lays down its burdens as the verse
itself states. This verse is specifically discussing mutual battle with those
disbelievers engaged in warfare as noted by Ibn Jareer al-Tabari [12]. This is
clear from the opening line of the chapter which states, Those who disbelieve
and prevent people from the path of God, which as Ibn Abbas has stated, is in
reference to the pagans of Quraysh [13], who oppressed the believers by
denying them the freedom to practice their faith and then went to war with them
to exterminate their community.
With respect to the phrase, until the war lays down its burdens, Imam Qatadah
(d.117H) explained it saying, until the enemy warriors lay down their burdens
a phrase that was echoed by many scholars throughout history, including Ibn
Qutaybah al-Daynuri (d.276H) [14]. Note also that this verse provides Muslims
with only two options for prisoners of war unconditional release, or
acceptance of ransom. The verse mentions no other option, and indeed scholars
have pointed out that this is the general rule, for the Prophet Muhammad only
punished those war criminals guilty of treachery or gross violations, but
otherwise he almost universally would pardon people even his most ardent
opponents, as he did with the war chief Thumamah ibn Uthal, Abu Sufyan ibn
Harb, Habbar ibn al-Aswad, Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl, Umayr ibn Wahb, Safwan ibn
Umayyah, Suhayl ibn Aamir, and the list goes on.
MISQUOTATION 5 Verse 9:29

One of the most interesting citations is 9:29, along with the claim that it instructs
Muslims to fight people of the Book until they pay the jizya and feel subdued.
But this verse as well has a historical context that is neglected. The very early
exegete, Mujahid ibn Jabr al-Makhzumi (d.104H) explained that this

fighting was revealed in reference to the Prophet Muhammads campaign


against the Byzantine empire [15]. The Prophet Muhammad sent al-Harith ibn
Umayr al-Azdi as an emissary to the Byzantine vassal state of the Ghassanids,
but the chieftain Shurahbeel committing the shocking crime of tying up the
emissary, torturing him, and murdering him [16]. When an army was dispatched
to confront the Ghassanids for their crime, the Vicarius Theodorus summoned a
large force of Roman soldiers to engage in war against the Muslims in the Battle
of Mutah.
Thus, this verse was revealed in regards to fighting within an existing war
against an enemy political entity, namely the Byzantine empire, which lead to
preparations for the expedition of Tabuk. The hostility of the group in question
is mentioned in the this very Quranic passage itself, which goes on to state
(9:32) that this instruction refers to those who attempt to extinguish the light of
Islam with their mouths, which al-Dahhak (d.105H) stated meant they wish to
destroy Muhammad and his companions. [17]
As history went on, imperial conflicts continued between the Byzantine empire
and the subsequent Muslim empire of the Umayyads. Many writing within the
historical setting of imperial conflict assumed that this verse characterized a
generic state of perpetual warfare with opponent political entities. However, as
noted in Tafsir al-Maraghi, all of the Quranic conditions of warfare mentioned
earlier still apply to this verse. Thus, the verse means, fight those mentioned
when the conditions which necessitate fighting are present, namely, aggression
against you or your country, oppression and persecution against you on account
of your faith, or threatening your safety and security, as was committed against
you by the Byzantines, which was what lead to Tabuk. [18]

CONCLUSION

The Quran is a message to humanity that repeats 114 times, In the Name of
God the Most Compassionate the Most Merciful. The Quran instructs Muslims
to show goodness to those who do evil (41:34), to speak words of peace to those
who are hostile (25:63), to call to the way of God with wisdom and beautiful
preaching (16:125), to treat peaceful non-muslims with the utmost kindness and
justice (60:8), to be the best of people towards other people (3:110), and to
respect freedom of religion (2:256, 10:99). There is simply no plausible way to
understand the Quran in a manner bereft of mercy, compassion or peace. Any
sincere and reasonable person looking at these passages must necessarily
recognize that the Quran stands for mercy, not for destruction and violence.
Attempts to portray the Quranic text as preaching violence do not stand up to
academic scrutiny, and in fact, can be dispelled by simply reading the entire
sentence and the immediate context. Dishonesty abounds in the selective
chopping of sentences by both Islamophobes and radicals alike. Knowledge of
the historical context of these verses clearly demonstrates that all of these

passages without exception relate to fighting against those engaged in warfare.


A careful examination of the scholarly analysis of these passages provides
abundant statements clarifying the meaning of these verses.
At this point, it should be obvious that one of the best ways to combat misuse of
scripture is by propagating the voluminous evidences which necessitate an
understanding of scripture that is peaceful, merciful, and tolerant, and
empowering those who advance this understanding. To insist on characterizing
the religion as inherently violent is to play right into the hands of extremists on
both sides who wish to incite hatred and perpetuate war.

1 See Asbab al-Nuzl by Al-Wahidi (d.468H)


2 Ibn Abbas explains that when the Muslims went to Makkah in 6 AH intending
to perform pilgrimage, they were prevented from doing so by the Quraysh
and agreed to turn around and go home after a peace treaty was made
permitting them to return the following year. However, they were
apprehensive to return again, fearing that they would be slaughtered while
in a state of pilgrimage as the Quraysh had plotted to attack them at that
time. These verses were revealed to assure them they would be able to
defend themselves from such an act of aggression in the sacred precincts
of Makkah. In the end, no such fighting took place at all and the Muslims
were able to perform their pilgrimage in peace (al-Wahidi, al-Samarqandi,
al-Tabari).
3 See Tafsir of Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d.310H) and al-Thalabi (d.427H). Also, the
famous early Muslim scholars Abul-Aliyah, Said ibn Jubayr, and Ibn
Zayd all explained that aggression here means fighting anyone who is
not fighting you. The famous Umayyad caliph and religious scholar
Umar ibn Abdul-Aziz was asked about this verse and he stated that it
prohibited any fighting against those not engaged in warfare. This has
been taken as a legal maxim by Muslim scholars prohibiting harming any
non-combatants.
4 Tahrir wal-Tanwir 2:192. Multiple early exegetical sources explain that the
phrase if they desist, then verily God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful
means if they cease fighting you and desist from their warfare against
you, including Tafsir Muqatil b. Sulayman (d.150H), Tafsir alSamarqandi (d.375H) and Tafsir al-Thalabi (d.427H).
5 Reported by al-Thalabi and al-Tabarani (d.360H). Some may wonder if
scholars like Imam al-Kisaai were contradicted by the statement of
some later Quranic commentators who said that fitnah means disbelief or
idolatry. However, Ibn Jareer al-Tabari (d.310H) and others demonstrate
that there is no contradiction as coercing Muslims to commit
disbelief/idolatry is also intended by the verse as a form of persecution

of Muslims. As the eminent early Quranic scholar, Makki ibn Abi Talib
(d.437H) notes, Fitnah linguistically means a trial, so a trial that causes
one to lose faith is worse than being slain. Ibn Jareer al-Tabari states the
same (see next footnote). Moreover, we have the irrefutable evidence of
the companion Abdullah ibn Umar related in Sahih Bukhari. Ibn Umar
was asked to justify his pacifism during the war in the time of Caliph Ali,
especially when the Quran states Fight them until there is no more
fitnah. Ibn Umar replied that when the persecution of Muslims for their
faith has ceased and the tortures and killing had subsided, there was no
longer any fitnah (


).
6 Jami al-Bayan an Tawil ay al-Quran (2:190-193) of Imam al-Tabari states:

:


7 Anwar al-Tanzeel wa Asrar al-Taweel (9:5) of Imam al-Baydawi and Rooh
al-Maani (9:5) of Imam al-Alusi. Such statements by exegetes are given
authority because the are in agreement with the text of the Quran itself.
When reading the comments of various classical figures, it is important to
note the historical context of their comments. Many exegetes lived in the
era of rival empires vying for control against each other. Often, people in
those times saw imperial conquest and political expansion as the only
means of conveying the message of truth to other communities who lived
under hostile political entities, and so some of them attempted to
reinterpret such passages in order to permit a broader scope of
application. However, such interpretations are refuted by the textual and
historical context of the Quran. Moreover, those figures themselves
stated that the ultimate goal was to establish the security of the Muslim
lands (see Bidayatul-Mujtahid of Ibn Rushd) or communicate the message
of the faith to other people, and thus by the principles of Islamic law
political expansion as a means of propagation becomes irrelevant in the
digital age of mass communication and globalization.
}
8 Abu Bakr al-Jassas states, : {

.
9 Note also that verses 9:8 and 9:10 characterize the referents of these verses
further by stating that those intended are the ones who observe neither
pact nor kinship in their dealings with believers. The importance of
understanding the general state of tribal Arabia cannot be understated.
Today, a person can walk down the street fairly confident of not being
mugged for their personal possessions, and can simply call the police

should they feel their security threatened. But in seventh century Arabia,
there was no police, no law, no order, only tribal protections. And these
tribes were in a state of constant warfare with each other and would
conduct perpetual raids. The Quran itself alludes to this environment,
saying Do they not then see that We have made Makkah a sanctuary
secure, while men are being snatched away and ravaged from all around
them? (29:67). Wandering in the desert was a certain guarantee that one
would be either killed and robbed, or worse sold into slavery. In fact,
that is precisely what happened to several of the individuals who became
companions of the Prophet, including Suhaib al-Rumi, Salman al-Farisi
and Zaid ibn Harithah. It is impossible to read chapter 9 without
understanding this background context to appreciate the consolidation of
order and rule of law that was being established in war-torn Arabia.
10
Zad al-Masir (8:60) of Ibn al-Jawzi (d.597H) and Nadhm al-Durar (8:60)
of al-Biqai (d.885H).
11
Anwar al-Tanzeel wa Asrar al-Taweel (9:5) of Imam al-Baydawi
(d.685H).
12
Jami al-Bayan an Tawil ay al-Quran (47:4) of Imam al-Tabari
(d.310H).
13
Maalim al-Tanzeel of Imam al-Baghawi (d.516H). Likewise, the same is
stated by Ibn al-Jawzi:
}

Zad al-Masir (47:4) of Ibn al-Jawzi (d.597H).
14
as cited in Tafsir al-Samarqandi
(47:4).
15
Jami al-Bayan an Tawil ay al-Quran (9:29) of Imam al-Tabari,
also al-Kashf wal-Bayan (9:29) of Imam al-Thalabi.
16
Kitab al-Tarikh wal-Maghazi of Imam al-Waqidi (d.207H), p. 755.
17
Recorded by Ibn Abi Hatim (d.327H), as cited in Fath al-Qadeer (9:32)
of Imam al-Shawkani (d.1250H).
18
Tafsir al-Maraghi vol. 10, p.95 of Sh. Ahmad Mustafa alMaraghi:


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