In the previous article we looked at the importance of Muhammad’s example in shaping Muslim beliefs and practices. The record of his conduct is perhaps nowhere more troubling than when it comes to exhortations to conflict and warfare.
When studying the Qur’an and hadiths, a consistent pattern emerges. Muhammad made it clear on several occasions that engaging in warfare for the sake of Allah is one of the greatest things that a Muslim can do. Here are just some examples of this being made explicit by Muhammad (or supposedly said to Muhammad by Allah in the Qur’an):
- “Not equal are those believers remaining [at home] – other than the disabled – and the mujahideen, [who strive and fight] in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has preferred the mujahideen through their wealth and their lives over those who remain [behind], by degrees. And to both Allah has promised the best [reward]. But Allah has preferred the mujahideen over those who remain [behind] with a great reward” (Qur’an 4:95). It was narrated that Amr bin Abasah said: “I came to the Prophet and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, which Jihad is best?’ He said: ‘[That of a man] whose blood is shed and his horse is wounded’” (Sunan Ibn Majah Book 24 Hadith 2794).
- “Allah’s Apostle was asked, ‘What is the best deed?’ He replied, ‘To believe in Allah and His Apostle (Muhammad).’ The question- er then asked, “What is the next [in goodness]?’ He replied, ‘To participate in Jihad [religious fighting] in Allah’s Cause’” (Sahih Bukhari Book 1 Volume 2 Hadith 26).
- “It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Sa’id Khudri that the Messenger of Allah [may peace be upon him] said [to him]: ‘Abu Sa’id, whoever cheerfully accepts Allah as his Lord, Islam as his religion and Muhammad as his Apostle is necessarily entitled to enter Paradise.’ He [Abu Sa’id] wondered at it and said: ‘Messenger of Allah, repeat it for me.’ He [the Messenger of Allah] did that and said: ‘There is another act which elevates the position of a man in Paradise to a grade one hundred [higher], and the elevation between one grade and the other is equal to the height of the heaven from the earth.’ He [Abu Sa’id] said: ‘What is that act?’ He replied: ‘Jihad in the Way of Allah! Jihad in the Way of Allah!’” (Sahih Muslim Book 20 Hadith 4645).
- “It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah [may peace be upon him] said: ‘One who died but did not fight in the way of Allah nor did he express any desire [or determination] for Jihad died the death of a hypocrite’” (Sahih Muslim Book 20 Hadith 4696).
It should be noted that the term “Jihad in the Way of Allah” always refers to warfare as the context of these verses makes abundantly clear. Muhammad’s emphasis on the fact that committing acts of violence in the name of Allah is a primary form of obedience to the message of Islam means that the many incidents of violence that he was directly involved in cannot be seen as aberrations.
They were, instead, entirely consistent with one of Muhammad’s core convictions – namely that the reign of Allah can, and should, be established through warfare. Muhammad followed through on this commitment by participating in raids and other violent actions for the sake of the spread of Islam. This aspect of the teachings and example of Muhammad has very troubling implications for those who want to maintain that Muhammad was essentially a man of peace. His record and his teachings point in the exact opposite direction.
In the next article we will turn our attention to Muhammad’s teachings on how to treat defeated enemies.
For much more on the links between Islamic teaching and violence, see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot‘