Do Muslims Fight to Impose a Political System?

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

It is claimed by both Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists that Islam commands Muslims to wage war against non-Muslims until the “political system” of Islam are enforced over all of humanity. This explicitly political interpretation of Islam is a dangerously erroneous misreading of the Quran and its teachings.

One cannot find any evidence in the Quran for such a claim, except to misunderstand a few key verses. Among them is the verse in which Allah states that the religion of Islam will prevail over other religions.Allah said,They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light, although the unbelievers hate it.

It is He who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all religion, although the idolaters hate it.The meaning of the verse is that the campaign of extermination led by the Quraish against the Prophet, peace and blessings are upon him, and his companions would fail and that the religion of Islam would spread throughout the world on the strength of its rational proof and spiritual appeal.

The classical commentators did not derive from this verse the idea that the purpose of warfare in Islam is to seize political power. Rather, the purpose of warfare in Islam was always to protect Muslims from such hostile campaigns and to defend the rights of the innocent.The phrase that “they want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths” refers to the intention of the Meccan idolaters to kill the Prophet and his companions and to annihilate the entire religion of Islam.

Ad-Dahhak comments on this verse, saying:They intended to destroy Muhammad and his companions so that Allah would not be worshipped with Islam on earth.In response to this aggression, Allah revealed the verse promising the believers that their efforts to practice and spread the religion would succeed by virtue of logical arguments, evidence, and the attractiveness of Islam’s unique way of life.

Access to the religion of Islam would advance to the point that nothing about Islam would be hidden from humanity.Ibn Abbas comments on this verse, saying:It is for Allah to make His Prophet Manifest in the matter of religion entirely, and it was granted to him entirely, as there is nothing from it that is hidden.Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse, saying.To make it manifest over all religion, meaning with arguments and proof.

He has already made it manifest over paths of religion such that nothing has been hidden from it.Al-Qurtubi also mentions that some of the early Muslims interpreted the verse as specific to the time of the Prophet:It is said that for Islam to be manifest over all religion refers to the Arabian Peninsula, and this is what has happened.

The method of preaching by appealing to reason and spiritual truth is the same way that Allah made the disciples of Jesus, peace and blessings are upon him, prevail over their enemies.Allah said,The disciples said: We are the supporters of Allah. Thus, a faction of the children of Israel believed and a faction disbelieved, and we supported those who believed over their enemies until they prevailed.

Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse, saying:Zaid ibn Ali and Qatadah said prevailing means they had overcome them with arguments and proof.Just as the disciples of Jesus prevailed by their reasoned arguments, so were the Muslims promised that they too would prevail if they followed the same path.Moreover, the verse does not mean that Islam will wipe out or annihilate the other religions.

As the Prophet and his companions had clearly established civil protections for non-Muslims and religious minorities.Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse, saying:The meaning of manifest is not that none of the other religions will remain. Rather, the meaning is that Islam will be the highest and prevail over them.Rules of warfare were legislated in Islam since violent conflict is an inevitable part of the human condition.

The primary purpose of armed jihad in Islam, executed under a strict just war theory, is to make it safe for Muslims to practice Islam and to put an end to religious persecution.Abu Musa reported: A man asked the Prophet, “A man may fight to be courageous, and another may fight for zeal, and another may fight to show off. Which of these is fighting in the cause of Allah?” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings are upon him, said:

He who fights to make the word of Allah highest is fighting in the cause of Allah.To make the word of Allah the highest means to advance the peaceful invitation to Islam for all humanity in the face of violent opposition.Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani comments on this tradition, saying:The meaning of the ‘word of Allah’ is the invitation to Islam. It is interpreted to mean that jihad would not be in the cause of Allah unless the purpose is only to raise the word of Allah, such that if anyone were to add another reason to it that would violate it.

In this sense, armed jihad is only a means toward this end of safety and security. It is not an end in itself.Az-Zamakshari asserted that the obligation of jihad is a necessary means but not an end in itself, as the purpose of it is to preach guidance. Hence, if it were possible to provide guidance otherwise, then that would be more appropriate.In reality, the Prophet’s companions understood this better than anyone else, even as they took part in the early wars to liberate Egypt and Persia from their oppressive rulers.

Many of them refused to participate in the conflicts that arose much later due to their explicitly political nature.Sa’eed ibn Jubair reported: A man approached Ibn Umar and he said, “O Abu Abdur Rahman, tell us about fighting during times of persecution as Allah said: And fight until there is no more persecution.Do you know what persecution is? May your mother be bereaved of you! Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, only fought the idolaters as there was persecution for practicing their religion. It was not like your fighting for the sake of ruling.

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