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War or Pacifism?

The Slippery Slope

Misconceptions about Islam and the association of 'jihad' with 'holy war' have become widespread in public consciousness. There is much confusion amongst both Muslims and non-Muslims about the real meaning of jihad, and its implications for war. The unconscionable actions of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, along with irresponsible generalisations and poor reporting by much of the media, are to blame for this confusion becoming so endemic.

However, as we have seen, jihad is not primarily used in the Qur'an to denote violence or war, but rather to underscore the centrality to Islam of the role of exerting oneself to become a better human being, and concomitantly to create better communities and societies.

There is a growing recognition amongst most scholars of Islam that there is a clear demarcation between Prophetic practice and teachings regarding jihad, including the 'Lesser Jihad' (jihad al-asghar) referring to the use of force in war, and later practices of war in Muslim empires after the Prophet. This demarcation is due to the fact that many classical rulings on jihad elaborated by scholars after the Prophet in the seventh century onwards were efforts to legitimise the political decisions of the day, rather than pure reflections of the Prophet's own implementation of Qur'anic precepts.

According to Prof. Gabriele Marranci, Director of the Study of Contemporary Muslims Lives research hub at Macquarie University and senior research fellow at Cardiff University's Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK:

"War limited to self-defence was hardly the dream of any medieval king. So, the contradiction between the eighth-century military expansion of Islam and the Islamic injunctions against unjust, unprovoked wars became visible... Muslim scholars were required by their rulers to resolve such a contradiction to allow expansionistic wars." (Jihad Beyond Islam, Berg, 2006)

Prof. Marranci documents how, starting from the age of the Ummayyad empire, some classical scholars came under pressure to generate theological concepts that would justify imperial expansion, among other things. The first tool for this was the doctrine of 'abrogation.'



In reality, the doctrine of abrogation (nashk) did not allow for Qur'anic verses to be simply rejected wholesale, but to be interpreted in context with each other, and in recognition that certain verses were revealed to address specific historical circumstances of the time, and often to qualify one another. This did not render them invalid, but required them to be understood in their mutual context in order to derive the overarching purpose of the Qur'anic message as a whole.

As Marranci shows, however, the doctrine of abrogation was used inconsistently by various classical scholars to assist the new Muslim empires including the Ottoman empire "to achieve their imperialistic goals without abjuring their Islamic commitments."

Abrogation was used to ignore the verses in the Qur'an referring to peace and self-defence, and to privilege verses that could be used to justify offensive war. Ibn Hazm of al-Andalusia, for instance, argued that the 'peaceful' verses had been abrogated and replaced by the 'verses of the sword' (discussed in more detail below).

Imam Zarkashi, in his al-Burhan fi Ulum al-Qur’an, however, argued more convincingly that nashk did not ever entail the complete annulment of a verse as assumed by later scholars, but that its usage by earlier classical sch0lars, Companions and so on was related to the non-applicability of a ruling from a verse in a particular context, and its applicability discerned from the historical context of the verse's revelation. He therefore argues: 

“The verse of the sword by no means abrogated the verses of peace – rather, each is to be implemented in its appropriate situation.”

More recently, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi of al-Azhar has taken Zarkashi's arguments up, pointing out that if the doctrine of abrogation was used in this way to nullify Qur'anic verses relating to peace and forgiveness, it would entail the nullification of up to 114 verses, if not up to 200 by some analyses.

But as Imam al-Tabari points out: 

"If there exists a dispute among the Muslim scholars as to whether a specific rule is subject to abrogation, we cannot determine that the rule is abrogated unless evidence is presented."

Those who advocate the abrogation of the Qur'an's verses of peace provide no evidence at all for their claims.

Hence, Imam Suyuti in his authoritative al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an notes that rather than abrogating the verses of 'peace', this was just a matter of differing context. While the verses of peace apply to some circumstances, the verses exhorting the use of force refer to others. 


Two abodes

A second tool was the innovation of a new "geopolitical vision of the world" dividing the earth into two distinct entities, dar al-islam (abode of Islam) and dar al-harb (abode of war). This innovation allowed Muslim empires of the time to generate justifications for engaging in offensive military confrontations with non-Muslim empires.

Yet both of these tools, abrogation and the new geopolitical vision of the world, were questionable from an authentic Islamic framework. During the time of the Prophet, he did not ever himself refer or attempt to apply a concept of abrogation in the way that some classical scholars did.

This is why Imam al-Ghazali, for instance, categorically rejected the prevailing use of abrogation to completely suppress certain verses as no longer applicable. Imam Sobhy as-Saleh also rejected Ibn Hazm's theory of abrogation. Most classical scholars agreed that the Qur'anic verses of peace were never abrogated at all.

As for the  geopolitical division of the world into two distinct territories, this idea cannot be found in the Qur'an or the hadith, but derived from a particular interpretation of the function of 'Shari'ah Law,' associated with a belief in the obligation to implement 'Shari'ah Law' as a comprehensive legal code administered by a centralised bureaucracy. That supposed obligation, which can be traced to a fundamental misinterpretation of the Qur'anic conception of Shari'ah and the obligation of 'promoting good and forbidding wrong', allowed some jurists to argue that the non-implementation of Shari'ah in dar al-harb entailed the obligation to invite non-Muslim political entities to Islam or, eventually, to use force to impose Islam in those territories as a matter of religious obligation.

Just as some classical scholars came to rulings and interpretations that departed fundamentally from the Prophetic practice on matters such as jihad and so on, modern jihadists extended these innovations further by building on them in the context of modern just war theory to justify new doctrines of continuous offensive war that were designed to ignore unambiguous and clear-cut Qur'anic precepts and Prophetic injunctions.

However, a close analysis of the texts demonstrates that these interpretations are unsustainable.



Firstly, it should be emphasised that numerous Qur'anic verses clarify that life is sacred, and should never be taken lightly, frivolously, or without due process. 

“If any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading corruption in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people” (5:32)

 “Take not life that God has made sacred, save by way of justice and law.” (6:151)

Here, the Qur'an's use of the term "person" applies to anyone regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim, and makes clear that unjustifiable murder of any person is equivalent to genocide. Every human life is "sacred," and life can only be taken in the pursuit of "justice" and on the basis of a sound legal rationale.



Secondly, the Qur'anic precepts on the use of force are very specific, and when read fully and in context, clearly prohibit aggressive war and targeting of non-combatants. Force is only permitted as a response of self-defence, and must be implemented with strict regard to justice and protection of civilian life.

“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for Allah loves not transgressors.” (2:190)

This verse very precisely makes clear that physical fighting (qital) is only permitted against "those who fight you."

This is an unambiguous prohibition against fighting non-combatants who are not engaged in violence. Fighting is only permitted against a person or persons initiating violence against you. Violence against non-combatants in the course of war is clearly prohibited.

Further, force is only legitimised in the context of self-defence against others who have initiated violence. The Qur'an thus sanctions defensive war against actual combatants who commit aggression, but not aggressive war, and not against civilians.

The Qur'an also makes clear that the use of force to respond to aggressive violence must be proportionate - "limits" must be respected and not transgressed, and those who "transgress limits" are denied the Love of the Divine.

In several well-known narrations, the Prophet condemned the killing of women and children in war. One such statement was made after his Companions informed him that they had found the corpse of a woman who had been killed in the battlefield.

His unequivocal condemnation of this killing has been recorded in all Sunni and Shi'a major hadith collections with reliable chains of transmission, including on the Sunni side, the collections of Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, and Ibn Maja.

Two leading classical scholars recognised as masters of hadith sciences, Imam Suyuti and Imam Kattani, have pointed out that this particular hadith has been transmitted by a wide range of by multiple, independent chains of  transmission - categorised as mutawatir, narrated so many times from so many different sources that it is historically unimpeachable, and therefore impossible to not be accurate, a category that even most Western historians accept as a benchmark of reliability in assessing hadith.

There is thus scholarly consensus (ijma) between all Islamic schools of thought on this issue that the targeting of civilians is prohibited, as has been noted by Imam Nawawi. (See Sheikh al-Munawi's commentary on Imam Suyuti's al-Jami'al-Saghir, Fayd al-Qadir Sharh Jami'al-Saghir; Imam Kattani, Nadhm al-Mutanathir min al-Hadith al-Mutawatir; Imam Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim)

Hadith of this nature are well-known and common. The first caliph after the Prophet, Abu Bakr, told one of his commanders who led a contingent in Syria: 

“I instruct you in ten matters: Do not kill women, children, the old, or the infirm; do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy any town; do not cut the gums of sheep or camels except for the purpose of eating; do not burn date trees not submerge them; do not steal from booty and do not be cowardly.” 

The exhortion consists of a detailed list of prohibitions that must not be transgressed, and which demonstrate that Islamic injunctions on 'just war' explicitly prohibit not just the targeting of non-combatants, but also prohibit the indiscriminate targeting of civilian infrastructure. That includes both urban and rural areas, animals and livestock, trees and agricultural food supplies, and so on. (Malik ibn Anas, Muwatta, 'Kitab al-Jihad', hadith no. 958)

Crucially, Abu Bakr's injunctions came years after the revelation of the so-called 'sword verse', which modern jihadists claim was supposed to have abrogated the verses of peace and "limits." Was Abu Bakr ignorant of this abrogation? Of course not. Therefore, there was no such abrogation. This narration, considered by all as sahih, proves that the verses of peace and "limits" were never abrogated at all by the 'sword verses,' but were considered fully applicable by the most learned Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet) - showing that the 'sword verses' had a specific and limited applicability, as we shall explore below.

Such injunctions reveal that the vast majority of common practices in modern industrial warfare which involve weapons that inevitably cause large-scale destruction to civilians and civilian infrastructure, are entirely illegitimate from an Islamic perspective. 


Preference for Peace

Thirdly, the Qur'an clarifies that peace is always preferable to war. Thus, if the aggressor ceases their aggression, then we too should cease fighting and attempt to forge peace: 

"But if the enemy incline towards peace, do you (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God: for He is One that hears and knows (all things)." (8.61)

The preference for peace is rooted in a philosophical and ultimately metaphysical conception of Divine Reality. The Qur'an states generally that "reconciliation is best" (4:128), but roots this notion of action in the definition of God as Supreme Peace: “God calls to the Home of Peace” (10:25). Accordingly, Divine Guidance itself is portrayed as being equivalent to paths of peace (5:16).

This axiomatic attachment to peace is what underpins the Qur'an's insistence on only permitting the use of force in the context of self-defence against unwarranted attack:

“Permission to take up arms is hereby given to those who are attacked because they have been wronged” (22:38) 

“They were the first to attack you” (9:13)

Several other verses emphasise this preference for peace, and exhort the necessity to cease action when the other stops its aggression:

"If they leave you alone, refrain from fighting you, and offer you peace, then God gives you no excuse to fight them." (4:90)

"You shall prepare for them all the power you can muster, and all the equipment you can mobilise, that you may frighten the enemies of God, your enemies, as well as others who are not known to you; God knows them. Whatever you spend in the cause of God will be repaid to you generously, without the least injustice. If they resort to peace, so shall you, and put your trust in God. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient." (8:61)

"... do not aggress; God dislikes the aggressors.” (5:87)

Here, we have a range of very explicit verses which demonstrate that engaging in defensive force to defeat aggression is legitimate, and in so doing, should involve mobilising all means necessary to achieve victory - as long as this does not transgress the already stipulated "limits", the most important of which as verse (2:190) clarifies is to ensure that only "those who fight you" - combatants - are fought, and that non-combatants are safe.

The Qur'an thus explicitly advocates a 'just war' doctrine in which the use of force can only be justified as a limited mechanism to use proportional force to defeat illegitimate aggression. 


Just War as Self Defence

Fourthly, therefore, the purpose of war for the Qur'an is fundamentally humanitarian - to repel violent aggression, and to eliminate conditions of injustice and oppression that may have been imposed through that aggression. 

"And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the Cause of Allah, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is: 'Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help.'" (4.75)

Thus, while limiting war to self-defence against violent aggression, this verse clarifies that the rationale for permitting such defensive action is to repel violent aggression: namely, to prevent and deter oppression and persecution by those who hold power of those who are "weak".

In a further verse, the Qur'an singles out a particular type of persecution involving the violation of the right to practice one's religious faith freely, including being forced from the safety of one's own home: 

"Permission (to fight) is granted to those who are being persecuted, since injustice has befallen them, and God is certainly able to support them. They were evicted from their homes unjustly, for no reason other than saying, 'Our Lord is God.' If it were not for God's supporting of some people against others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and masjids - where the name of God is commemorated frequently - would have been destroyed. Absolutely, God supports those who support Him. God is Powerful, Almighty." (22:39-40)

These verses make clear that those who are "persecuted" are defined as people who are, in effect, being violently 'ethnically cleansed' due to their religious or cultural beliefs or practices. The verses show, further, that jihad is seen as a means of defending such people, no matter their religious belief. The Qur'an refers specifically to defending those who worship in "monasteries, churches, synagogues, and masjids (mosques)."

Far from promoting a concern for Muslim-centric religious exclusivism, then, the Qur'an promotes a humanist concern for the freedom of people of all faith to live and practice their faith in peace and co-existence.


Suicide attacks

On the question of suicide bombings, the Qur'an is unequivocally clear without qualification that suicide is prohibited, under all circumstances. Put simply, a Muslim is not permitted to deliberately kill themselves. 

“You shall spend in the cause of God; do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction. You shall be charitable; God loves the charitable.” (2:195)

“O you who believe, do not consume each others' properties illicitly - only mutually acceptable transactions are permitted. You shall not kill yourselves. God is Merciful towards you. Anyone who commits these transgressions, maliciously and deliberately, we will condemn him to Hell. This is easy for God to do.” (4:29-30)

These verses do not permit any sort of qualification to the prohibition on suicide. There is not a single verse in the Qur'an which states that suicide is permitted if perpetrated in the context of war.


Restoring Peace and Freedom

Verses that directly address the legitimacy of the use of force, often referred to as 'sword verses', are often cited selectively and disparately in order to decontextualise them from the wider principles of the Qur'an. This allows them to be misinterpreted to justify indiscriminate, aggressive violence.

In particular, for instance, we read:

"And slay them whosesoever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out." (2:191)

Sometimes, another line follows:

"And fight them until there is no more fitna and religion becomes God’s (wayakun al-din li’llah) (2:193)

Another such verse is:

“And fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone." (8:39)

In all these cases, though, the verses are usually dislocated selectively, and even mistranslated in subtle but misleading ways. In the last verse above, for instance, the full verse reads:

“And fight against them until there is no more oppression and all religion (Din) is for God alone. And if they desist—behold, God sees all that they do.” (8:39)

The phrase "all religion is for God alone" is often assumed to mean the imposition of 'Islam' on non-Muslims - that is, that non-Muslims can be forced to convert to Islam. The actual text does not, however, say this. In reality, it simply means that the aggressors should be fought until God can be worshipped without fear of persecution, and no one is forced to bow down or submit to the authority of another person (see also 22:40).

In other words, the verse implies that fighting against aggressors is permitted until religion can be left to God alone to arbitrate over, not human beings. This is clear from verse 22:40, discussed above, which notes that "permission" to fight is granted to stop aggressive violence initiated to destroy "monasteries, churches, synagogues, and masjids."

Similarly, the preceding verses from the second chapter have been grossly decontextualised by simply ignoring the clear text of related verses in the same chapter, let alone elsewhere in the Qur'an. This can be seen by reviewing the verses in their chronological order in context with preceding, interceding, and following verses:

"And fight in the way of God with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.

"And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.

 "But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

 "And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion is only for God, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors.

"The Sacred month for the sacred month and all sacred things are (under the law of) retaliation; whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury he has inflicted on you and be careful (of your duty) to Allah and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).

"And spend in the way of Allah and cast not yourselves to perdition with your own hands, and do good (to others); surely Allah loves the doers of good." (2:190-195)

When the five verses are read together, their meaning is obvious. Force is permitted only against combatants, and within clear limits, specified as restricting the use of force against combatants. Combatants can be killed where they are found and driven out from where they used force to drive you out - but if they stop, then God forgives. Therefore, force is legitimate to protect the right of believers to worship God without fear of persecution, and if those who are attacking "desist", then "hostility" against them must stop.

The verses do not say that hostility should continue until they are forced to accept Islam. The final verses in this section exhort to proportionate force, being conscious of one's moral responsibilities to God, avoiding unethical actions, and doing good to receive God's Love.

As Imam al-Tabari has noted, further, these verses were revealed specifically when the Muslim community was being attacked and persecuted by a very particular group of mushrikeen (idolators) from the tribe of Qur'aish, who had broken their peace treaties with the Prophet and initiated hostilities against Muslims. This context is what therefore legitimised defensive war. 

The vast majority of classical Qur'anic commentators agree with al-Tabari that the verses cannot be interpreted out of this context to justify perpetual warfare against non-Muslims. (e.g. Imam Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb; Imam Jamal, Hashiyat al-Jalalayn; Imam Zamakhshari, Kashshaf; Imam Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil; Imam Nasafi, Madarik al-Tanzil; Imam Biqa'i, Nadhm al-Durar)

Al-Tabari further justifies his reading by referring to the commentary of Ibn Abbas, the Prophet's cousin, who said of verse 2:190 that it means, very simply:

"Do not kill women, or children, or the old, or the one who greets you with peace, or [who] restrains his hand [from attacking you], and if you do this then you have transgressed."

Other 'sword verses' often quoted devoid of context include:

“Slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush.” (9:5)

"Fight those who despite receiving revelation before believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, [even if they are] of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the Jizyah [tax against People of the Book] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." (9:29)

Modern jihadists and far-right extremists extract these verses from the Qur'an and cite them without acknowledging the crucial verses described above that unambiguously stipulate that fighting is only permitted as a defensive reaction against another's aggression. In that wider Qur'anic context, the verses cannot be used to justify generic aggressive warfare to subjugate Jewish and Christian populations and force them into paying tax.

Indeed, elsewhere the Qur'an says:

"Therefore if they (disbelievers - those who reject the truth when it comes to them) do not trouble you and cease their hostility towards you and offer you peace, God gives you no authority [amr] over them" (4:90).

This verse shows that Muslims have no political authority over non-Muslims if they are not engaged in hostility and offer them "peace." It is, in other words, only in the context of aggression that Muslims are permitted to respond with defensive action to contain and deter the aggression, and therefore to exert the authority that would require them to be treated as tax-paying citizens. 

In fact, the clues are within the very texts that surround these verses. Verse 9.5 was revealed specifically in relation to the breach of a peace treaty between polytheists and the Prophet, in which the polytheists began openly attacking the Muslim community. This is stated quite plainly seven verses down:

"And if they break their oaths after their treaty and defame your religion, then fight the leaders of disbelief, for indeed, there are no oaths [sacred] to them; [fight them that] they might cease. Would you not fight a people who broke their oaths and determined to expel the Messenger, and they had begun the attack upon you the first time? Do you fear them? But Allah has more right that you should fear Him, if you are [truly] believers." (9:12-13)

Here, the objective of fighting is specified: to cease the aggression of the attacking party. The reasons are also set-out threefold: violations of the treaty, attempting to expel the Prophet, and attacking the Muslim community. The bar for war has, therefore, been set quite high.

The verse before 9.5 also establishes some caveats:

"Excepted are those with whom you made a treaty among the polytheists and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you; so complete for them their treaty until their term [has ended]. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him]." (9:4)

So the verse does not at all permit all-out war against all polytheists, because they are polytheists, but only against those who violated the treaty and supported those undertaking attacks against the Muslims. 

As for 9.5 itself, it should be read seamlessly with the verses that follow and clarify its intent:

"And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and pay the poor-rate, let them free on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

"And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.

"How can there be for the polytheists a treaty in the sight of Allah and with His Messenger, except for those with whom you made a treaty at al-Masjid al-Haram? So as long as they are upright toward you, be upright toward them. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous." (9:5-7)

The verses here do not state that the polytheists must be forced to convert to Islam, which is elsewhere explicitly prohibited and described as impossible in the Qur'an, but instead encourages that those who do not wish to fight should be protected, which may give them an opportunity to have God's word explained to them. The Qur'an then stipulates again that as long as the polytheists are "upright" toward the Muslims - meaning they honour and respect the treaty which they have already agreed - Muslims are obliged to do the same.

Similarly, verse 9.29 applies specifically to a situation in which aggression has been initiated by groups among People of the Book who reject their own religious beliefs. In fact, historians note that the context of the verse was the imminent threat of an attack from the Roman Byzantine empire, which led the Prophet to mobilise a contingent to Tabuk. (Alexander Mikaberidze, Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia, 2011, Vol. 1, ABC-CLIO pp. 929 – 930)

Thus, 4.90 makes clear that there is no universal right to initiate hostilities against Jews and Christians to conquer them and force them to pay jizya - rather 9.29 identifies a course of responding defensively to hostilities, and was specifically revealed in relation to those who were preparing to attack the fledgling Muslim community at the time. 

As Professor John Morrow writes, "the early Muslims had to fend of all sorts of aggressive assaults of the unbelievers from the Quraysh and their allies among the bedioun and Jewish tribes, in such well-known Battles as those of Uhud, Al-Khandaq, Mu’tah and Tabuk." (John Andrew Morrow, Islamic Images and Ideas: Essays on Sacred Symbolism, McFarland & Co., 2013, p. 31)


Fighting Muslim Aggression

The Qur’an also allows the use of force against other Muslims in certain circumstances if they initiate aggression, and efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully fail:

"If two groups of the believers fight each other, seek reconciliation between them. And if one of them commits aggression against the other, fight the one that commits aggression until it comes back to Allah’s command. So if it comes back, seek reconciliation between them with fairness, and maintain justice." (49:9)

Once again, the use of force is only permitted here in the context of seeking to protect justice by defeating the aggression of the perpetrating Muslim party. 

This is further evidence that the Qur'an does not advocate war as a mechanism of Muslim religious domination, but purely as a means of last resort to defend oneself against aggression or to defend another party against aggression. That is why using force to repel aggressive violence by Muslims is also legitimate.



It is critical, of course, to recall that the Qur'an's recognition of the legitimacy of force in some circumstances as a means of defence is not a carte blanche for military violence, but must remain within limits of proportionality defined by the original act of aggression, while also not violating the Qur'an's own explicit injunctions.

"And if you were to harm in retaliation, harm them to the measure you were harmed. And if you opt for patience, it is definitely much better for those who are patient." (16:126)

Here, the Qur'an recognises the right to respond to aggression with a proportionate degree of force. This, of course, must be seen in relationship with the verses discussed above which unequivocally prohibit the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

The verse also recommends avoiding equal retaliatory action by opting for patience. A similar exhoration follows here:

"The recompense of evil is evil like it. Then the one who forgives and opts for compromise has his reward undertaken by Allah. Surely, He does not like the unjust." (42:40)

In other words, forgiveness, compromise and justice are pre-eminent values of the Qur'an, and should be at the forefront of any defensive military action.

Modern jihadists have argued that such verses permit Muslims to respond to the destruction of Muslim civilian life by retaliating with similar indiscriminate measures ("harm them to the measure you were harmed"), thus permitting acts of terrorism against Western targets. This, however, is a clear contradiction to the numerous preceding verses that repeatedly stipulate the obligation to not "transgress the limits" ordained by God, the most critical of which is to only "fight those who fight you" - an injunction that unequivocally forbids targeting non-combatants.

Taken together, the verses show that the Qur'an permits a proportionate response to aggression, with a view not to seek revenge for its own sake, but to defeat the aggression and restore peace, while upholding the freedom of different communities to live and practice their beliefs without interference - as long as the laws of war as detailed, for instance, by the first Caliph Abu Bakr, are complied with.

Overall, this analysis demonstrates that Islamic precepts advocate a limited 'just war' doctrine that concords with the goals of international law such as the Geneva Conventions, and in some respects goes further by strictly prohibiting all forms of indiscriminate violence that result in the destruction of civilian areas and infrastructure. While showing that it is legitimate to respond to force with a proportionate use of force required to put an end to hostilities, such force must still remain strictly bound by the "limits" set out by God with respect to avoiding harm to non-combatants.