As this journey continued, I had seen a large number of YouTube videos that began to shake my belief that Islam was a Religion of peace. I cannot name all of them because I do not remember them all, but one of them was called “Muslim Leader Admits Islam Not a Religion of Peace” and it featured Anjem Choudary, a notorious Islamic extremist and hate preacher, who asserted that Islam cannot be a Religion of peace because “You can’t say that Islam is a religion of peace because Islam– it does not mean peace. Islam is– Islam means submission, so the Muslim is one who submits. You know there is a place for violence in Islam, there is a place for Jihad in Islam” and that “The Quran is full of, you know, Jihad is the most talked about duty in the Quran after than Tawheed, belief. Nothing else is mentioned more than the topic of fighting.”
I felt so upset when I saw this video because it received so many views and I felt like Anjem Choudary was misrepresenting Islam and giving it a bad name. I also came across an 18 minute documentary called “Rescuing Ex-Muslims: Leaving Islam” by Vice News. When I watched that documentary, I learned about the experiences of former Muslims who got persecuted for leaving Islam. When I watched the entire documentary, I was shocked. I felt so sorry for those apostates because they were persecuted by their families and communities. But what also shocked me was the thought that people actually leave Islam, I didn’t understand the reasoning behind people’s decisions to leave Islam. I thought to myself, “Islam is perfect, Muslims are not. Sure, there are bad Muslims that commit atrocities, but that has nothing to do with Islam” because I loved Islam so much. Islam was such a beautiful religion to me that I couldn’t even entertain the notion that Islam is flawed and imperfect, so I assumed that people left Islam because they wanted to pursue worldly pleasures and materialism. This also was the first time I had learned about the existence of ex-Muslims, and I just couldn’t fathom their existence because the idea of leaving Islam was unthinkable to me, due to fear of Allah and eternal hellfire. I came across more videos of ex-Muslims like Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider, who appeared on a YouTube channel called TheThinkingAtheist. They left Islam and became Atheists. I hadn’t even heard of the ex-Muslim label until I came across the Vice News documentary, but the label itself just confused me so much because I couldn’t fathom why people who left Islam would call themselves ex-Muslims. The label didn’t sit well with me at all. I also came across a guy on YouTube called The Masked Arab, who left Islam and became an Atheist. He had so many videos of his own criticisms of Islam. Some of his videos were even on the topic of correlations between ISIS and Islam. He had a series of 15 videos that delved into ISIS and what Islamic texts have inspired and influenced their actions. I didn’t watch all of these videos in their entirety because some were very long and the idea that the actions of ISIS having anything to do with Islam was just so upsetting that I couldn’t stomach watching the Masked Arab’s videos in their entirety.
“Terrorism had no Religion” was a saying that I and many of my Muslim brothers and sisters used to say and repeat on social media, but even after seeing only parts of the Masked Arab’s videos on ISIS and Islam, the phrase began to lose its meaning. Looking back on this moment, this was the point where I should have admitted that assuming that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam is just wishful thinking, but my cognitive dissonance and emotional attachment to Islam delayed that conclusion.
I had gotten a better idea on just how much controversial Islam was. I was always aware that in some ways, Islam had a controversial public image, but not to the extent that I discovered in my journey, so I found myself under a lot of pressure. I came to the conclusion that I should stay away from debates with critics of Islam and that I should focus on understanding the radical Muslims and extremists because I percieved them as a much bigger problem than critics of Islam. While I continued doing this, I continued to find Quran verses and Hadiths that seemed to have promoted violence and hatred towards non-Muslims, such as these:
“O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliya’ (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but Auliya’ to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as Auliya’, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers and unjust).” ― Quran 5:51 (Muhsin Khan translation).
“Then when the Sacred Months (the Ist, 7th, 11th, and 12th months of the Islamic calendar) have passed, then kill the Mushrikun (see V.2:105) wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. But if they repent and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), and give Zakat, then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” ― Quran 9:5 (Muhsin Khan translation).
“O you who believe! Take not for Auliya’ (supporters and helpers) your fathers and your brothers if they prefer disbelief to Belief. And whoever of you does so, then he is one of the Zalimun (wrong-doers, etc.).” ― Quran 9:23 (Muhsin Khan translation).
“Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” ― Quran 9:29 (Muhsin Khan translation).
“Verily, Allah has purchased of the believers their lives and their properties; for the price that theirs shall be the Paradise. They fight in Allah’s Cause, so they kill (others) and are killed. It is a promise in truth which is binding on Him in the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel) and the Quran. And who is truer to his covenant than Allah? Then rejoice in the bargain which you have concluded. That is the supreme success.” ― Quran 9:111 (Muhsin Khan translation).
“O you who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are close to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who are the Al-Muttaqun.” ― Quran 9:123 (Muhsin Khan translation).
“O you who believe! Take not as friends the people who incurred the Wrath of Allah (i.e. the Jews). Surely, they have been in despair to receive any good in the Hereafter, just as the disbelievers have been in despair about those (buried) in graves (that they will not be resurrected on the Day of Resurrection).” ― Quran 60:13 (Muhsin Khan translation).
“Verily, Allah loves those who fight in His Cause in rows (ranks) as if they were a solid structure.” — Quran 61:4 (Muhsin Khan translation).
Sidenote: Check out this fatwa for more information about whether it is OK for Muslims to befriend non-Muslims: https://islamqa.info/en/answers/21530/can-a-muslim-be-a-sincere-friend-to-a-kaafir
I also noticed that the Quran is often very polemical and hostile to non-Muslims by harshly chiding them for their disbelief. The Quran literally says that non-Muslims are literally the worst of creatures because they refuse to believe in Islam:
“Verily, The worst of moving (living) creatures before Allah are those who disbelieve, so they shall not believe.“ — Quran 8:55 (Muhsin Khan translation).
In another chapter, the Quran even says that Jews, Christians and Polytheists who rejected Islam are the worst of creatures:
“Verily, those who disbelieve (in the religion of Islam, the Quran and Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) from among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) and Al-Mushrikun will abide in the Fire of Hell. They are the worst of creatures.” — Quran 98:6 (Muhsin Khan translation).
When I first read these verses, they really confused me. Sure, it’s reasonable to say that there were certain non-Muslims that weren’t great people because they gave Muhammad and his companions a hard time, but to say that these non-Muslims are the worst of creatures is quite extreme because that means they are worst then murderers, thieves, rapists, pigs, bacteria and even disease.
There are a lot more Quran verses and Hadiths like this, but what I’ve quoted so far should suffice. At the time, I just assumed that aggressive verses in the Quran about fighting non-Muslims and not taking non-Muslims as friends were simply just advocating for defensive warfare against oppressors that persecuted the Muslim community and that they were only meant for that time. I also believed that the motivation behind the Quran’s commands to Muslims to not take non-Muslims as friends was to keep Muslims out of unnecessary danger from the hostile non-Muslims who were persecuting Muslims at the time. I was always aware that Muhammad participated in military expeditions because I heard about them in the Mosque, but I was taught that they happened because the Muslims were being persecuted and tortured, and Muhammad was just trying to defend his community. So I had the impression that these Quran verses were revealed in the context of war and that Muhammad and his community participated in war out of self defense, and they were only meant for those specific situations, so that’s how I understood those Quran verses, and I would believe any argument that online Muslim apologists would make them being exclusively defensive. My basis for this were these Quranic verses:
“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah. But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.” ― Quran 2:190-193 (Sahih International translation).
And also this Quran verse:
“Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” ― Quran 60:8 (Sahih International translation).
But then I saw Hadiths like these:
“It was narrated that Abu Hurairah said: “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘I have been commanded to fight the people until they testify to La ilaha ill-allah (none has the right to be worshipped but Allah) and that I am the Messenger of Allah, and establish regular prayers and pay Zakat.” ― Sunan Ibn Majah Hadith Hadith 71.
“It was narrated that Mu’adh bin Jabal said: “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘I have been commanded to fight the people until they testify to La ilaha ill-allah (none has the right to be worshipped but Allah) and that I am the Messenger of Allah, and establish regular prayers and pay Zakat.” ― Sunan Ibn Majah Hadith 72.
“Abu Hurairah narrated that: The Messenger of Allah [SAW] said: “I have been commanded to fight the people until they say La ilaha illallah (there is none worthy of worship but Allah). Whoever says La ilaha illallah, his wealth and his life are safe from me except for a right that is due, and his reckoning will be with Allah.” ― Sunan an-Nasa’i Hadith 3972.
These Hadiths surprised me so much because they looked more like a declaration of offensive warfare than defensive warfare. Muhammad literally says that he is going to fight people and will only stop fighting people until they convert to Islam. This wasn’t the Muhammad that I knew growing up, I was in denial about Islam being a violent Religion, but I would make the same assumptions about them occurrinh out of self defense. This was my way of trying to avoid coming to the conclusion that Islam was a not a religion of peace, so I focused on the more peaceful passages taught peace because I thought they were what Islam really wanted to teach. I thought the peaceful Quran verses were what Islam was ultimately about, but I was unaware of the context behind those passages, which was that they were revealed when Muhammad was in Makkah. Muhammad had very little power in Makkah. I struggled to find more passages that taught peace, I could only find the opposite, and they didn’t just come from the Quran, they also came from hadith collections. I found more Islamic texts that went out of their way to emphasise the importance of a Muslim to wage Jihad, which is that it is the best deed, or at least the third best deed:
“Narrated ‘Abdullah: I asked the Prophet “Which deed is the dearest to Allah?” He replied, “To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times.” I asked, “What is the next (in goodness)?” He replied, “To be good and dutiful to your parents” I again asked, “What is the next (in goodness)?” He replied, ‘To participate in Jihad (religious fighting) in Allah’s cause.” ‘Abdullah added, “I asked only that much and if I had asked more, the Prophet would have told me more.” — Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 527.
“Narrated Abu Huraira: A man came to Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and said, “Instruct me as to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).” He replied, “I do not find such a deed.” Then he added, “Can you, while the Muslim fighter is in the battle-field, enter your mosque to perform prayers without cease and fast and never break your fast?” The man said, “But who can do that?” Abu- Huraira added, “The Mujahid (i.e. Muslim fighter) is rewarded even for the footsteps of his horse while it wanders bout (for grazing) tied in a long rope.” — Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 2785.
“Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah was asked about the best of deeds. He observed: Belief in Allah. He (the inquirer) said: What next? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: Jihad (struggle to the utmost) in the cause of Allah. He (the inquirer) again said: What next? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: Pilgrimage accepted into the grace of the Lord. In the. tradition narrated on the authority of Muhammad b. Ja’far (the words are) that he (the Holy Prophet) said: Belief in Allah and His Messenger. Muhammad b. Rafi and ‘Abd b. Humaid, ‘Abdur-Razzaq and Ma’mar and Zuhri have narrated a hadith like this on the authority of the same chain of transmitters.” — Sahih Muslim Hadith 83.
“Abu Dharr reported: I said: Messenger of Allah, which of the deeds is the best? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: Belief in Allah and Jihad in His cause. I again asked: Who is the slave whose emancipation is the best? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: One who is valuable for his master and whose price is high. I said: If I can’t afford to do it? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: Help an artisan or make anything for the unskilled (labourer). I (Abu Dharr) said: Messenger of Allah, you see that I am helpless in doing some of these deeds. He (the Holy Prophet) replied: Desist from doing mischief to the people. That is the charity of your person on your behalf.” — Sahih Muslim Hadith 84a.
“It is narrated on the authority of ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud that he observed. I asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) which deed was the best. He (the Holy Prophet) replied: Prayer at its appointed hour. I (again) said: Then what? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: Kindness to the parents. I (again) said: Then what? He replied: Earnest endeavour (Jihad) in the cause of Allah. And I would have not ceased asking more questions but out of regard (for his feelings).” — Sahih Muslim Hadith 85a.
‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud reported: I said: Messenger of Allah, which of the deeds (takes one) nearer to Paradise? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: Prayer at its proper time, I said: What next, Messenger of Allah? He replied: Kindness to the parents. I said: What next? He replied: Jihad in the cause of Allah.” — Sahih Muslim Hadith 85b.
“It was heard from Abu ‘Amr Shaibani that, pointing towards the house of Abdullah, he said: The owner of this house told me that he asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ): Which of the deeds are liked by Allah? He (the Holy Prophet) observed: Prayer at its proper time. I (again) said: What next? He replied: Then goodness to the parents. I (again) said: What then? He replied: Then Jihad in the cause of Allah. He (‘Abdullah) said: This is what I was told (by the Holy Prophet). Had I questioned further, he would have made additions for me.” — Sahih Muslim Hadith 85c.
There are contradictory Hadiths on this matter, but they still indicate that Jihad is at least in
the top 3 best deeds. Even if Jihad is only the 3rd best deed, that speaks volumes about how praise worthy it is. There are also Hadiths also taught that any Muslim who refuses to wage Jihad or lacks the desire to fight in Jihad are identified as being a munafiq (a hypocrite):
“It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) 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. ‘Abdullah b. Mubarak said: We think the hadith pertained to the time of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).” ― Sahih Muslim Hadith 1910.
“Abu Hurairah reported the Prophet (ﷺ) as saying “He who dies without having fought or having felt fighting (against the infidels) to be his duty will die guilty of a kind of hypocrisy.” ― Sunan Abu Dawud Hadith 2502.
“It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Whoever dies without having fought or thought of fighting, he dies on one of the branches of hypocrisy.” ― Sunan an-Nas’i Hadith 3097.
“Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “He who dies without having fought in the Cause of Allah or without having thought of doing so, will die with one characteristic of hypocrisy in him.” ― Riyad as-Salihin Hadith 1341.
There’s also a Hadith that says that Allah will strike people with a calamity if they doesn’t fight in Jihad, equip someone else for Jihad or stay behind to look after a Jihad fighter’s family:
“It was narrated from Abu Umamah that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Whoever does not fight, or equip a fighter, or stay behind to look after a fighter’s family, Allah will strike him with a calamity before the Day of Resurrection.” ― Sunan Ibn Majah Hadith 2762.
This shocked me because the thought of participating in holy war never came to my mind, and I felt a lot of pressure because these Hadiths basically say that Allah will be very angry with Muslims that don’t contribute anything to the cause of Jihad to the point he will even strike them with a calamity.