Does Islam Call for Ongoing War against Non-Muslims?
Some Orientalists as well as some radical interpreters of Islam, assert that Islām condones an ongoing combative Jihād, that it means a continual war upon the non-Muslims until they repent and accept Islam or else pay the polltax. However the majority of Muslims scholars reject this view, citing as evidence:
وَإِنْ أَحَدٌ مِّنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ اسْتَجَارَكَ فَأَجِرْهُ حَتَّى يَسْمَعَ كَلاَمَ اللّهِ ثُمَّ أَبْلِغْهُ مَأْمَنَهُ ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَوْمٌ لاَّ يَعْلَمُونَ
…and if anyone of the polytheists seeks your protection then grant him protection, so that he may hear the Word of Allah, and then escort him to where he can be secure, that is because they are men who know not.
The Imāms argued from this that as long as the condition that they are submissive and willing to live peacefully among the believers our divine obligation is to treat them peacefully, despite their denial of Islam. The succeeding verse:
فَمَا اسْتَقَامُواْ لَكُمْ فَاسْتَقِيمُواْ لَهُمْ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَّقِينَ
So long as they are true to you, stand you true to them. Verily! Allah loved those who fear Allah.
This verse instructs the Muslims to observe treaty obligations with meticulous care, and not to break them unless the other side breaks them first.
Based on the clear arguments of the scholars from Qur’ān and hadith, the majority concluded that physical fighting is not a permanent condition against unbelievers, but only when treaties are broken or aggression has been made against Muslim territory (dār al-Islām) by unbelievers.
On the other hand, Educating non-Muslims about Islam is a continuous Jihād, per the agreed-upon, mass-transmitted hadith:
عن ابي هريرة، عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: "امرت ان اقاتل الناس حتى يشهدوا ان لا اله الا الله...
The Messenger of Allah said, “I have been ordered to fight the people until they declare that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, establish prayers, and pay poor-due...”
In his book al-Jihād fīl-Islām, Dr. Sa'īd Ramaļān Būţi explains this hadith in detail based on the understanding of the majority of jurists, showing that linguistically the word “fight” here and in many other places does not refer to combat, rather to struggle, including in its scope da'wah, preaching, exhortation and establishment of the state apparatus whereby Islamic preaching is protected. It does not mean forcing anyone to become Muslim at the point of a sword, and numerous examples can be cited from the life history of the Prophet showing he never forced conversion, nor did his Successors.
Dr. Būţi explains that the linguistic scholars of hadith showed that the word uqātil أقاتل used by the Prophet in fact means “fight” and not aqtul أقتل “kill”. In Arabic, this word is used in terms of defending against an attacker or an oppressor, it is not used to mean attack or assail.
In light of this, Dr. Būţī shows that this hadith connotes:
I have been ordered by Allah to fulfill the task of calling people [peacefully] to believe that God is One and to defend any aggression against this divine task, even though this defense requires fighting aggressors or enemies.
Dr. Būţī explains that this hadith is reminiscent of a saying by the Prophet on the occasion of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah:
وإن هم أبوا فوالذي نفسي بيده لأقاتلنهم على أمري هذا حتى تنفرد سالفتي ولينفذن الله أمره
where he told his mediator, Badil ibn Warqa, “But if they do not accept this truce, by Allah in whose Hands my life is, I will fight with them, defending my Cause till I get killed.”
By these words, Badil ibn Warqa was tasked with inviting the Quraysh to peace, and simultaneously, warning of the ongoing war which had already exhausted them. Dr. Būţī remarks:
The Prophet’s words “I will fight with them defending my Cause,” in this context certainly means that he, while inclining to peace with the enemy, would react to their combative aggression in the same way, if they had insisted on their aggression.
Note also that in the years after the Treaty was signed, it was the Quraysh who violated the treaty. Near the end of the seventh year after migration, the Quraysh along with the allied Banī Bakr tribe, attacked the Banī Khuza'ah tribe, who were allies of the Muslims. The Banī Khuza'ah appealed to the Prophet for help and protection.
The Banī Khuza'ah sent a delegation to the Prophet requesting his support. Despite this provocation and clear violation of the treaty, the Prophet avoided acting in haste to renew hostilities. Instead he sent a letter to the Quraysh demanding payment of blood money for those killed, and a disbandment of their alliance with the Banī Bakr. Otherwise, the Prophet said, the treaty would be declared null and void.
Quraysh then sent an envoy to Medina to announce that they considered the Treaty of Hudaybīyyah null and void. However they immediately regretted this step—and therefore the leader of Quraysh Abū Sufyān, himself traveled to Madīnah to renew the contract. Despite having been the greatest enemy of the Muslims, and despite the Quraysh already being in violation of the pact they had solemnly entered into, no hand was laid on this Qurayshi chief—someone who infamous for his persecution and harm to Muslims in Makkah. He was even permitted to enter the Prophet’s mosque and announce his desire to reinstate the treaty.
From this, one can argue that if the state of unbelief were sufficient pretext for war, then the Prophet would have been warranted in seizing Abū Sufyān and initiating hostilities against the Quraysh then and there. However, on the contrary, Abū Sufyān came and went from Madīnah freely and only after some time were the hostilities renewed based on the Makkans aggressive violation of the pact.
...وَقَاتِلُواْ الْمُشْرِكِينَ كَآفَّةً كَمَا يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ كَآفَّةً وَاعْلَمُواْ أَنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ
...and fight the mushrikūn, [polytheists Pagans] all together as they fight you all together. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.
Here we understand “fight the unbelievers collectively as they fight you collectively” means “treat them in the same way as they treat you.” Commenting on this, Dr. Būţī says, “You should deal with the unbelievers kindly and equitably, unless they are rampant and out to destroy us and our faith. Hence the motive for [combative] Jihād becomes self-defense.”
Finally Allah says:
فَإِنِ اعْتَزَلُوكُمْ فَلَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ وَأَلْقَوْاْ إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَمَ فَمَا جَعَلَ اللّهُ لَكُمْ عَلَيْهِمْ سَبِيلاً
So, if they hold aloof from you and wage not war against you and offer you peace, Allah alloweth you no way against them.
This verse is referring to the people who were not among those people involved in fighting the Muslims and they stayed away from the battle between the two groups and this is what Islām calls for. We see here an explicit statement from Allah, that it is not permitted to fight with those who are not engaged in belligerency, despite their being non-believers in Islam.