Fight jihad 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 is 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:

يُرِيدُونَ أَن يُطْفِئُوا نُورَ اللَّهِ بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَيَأْبَى اللَّهُ إِلَّا أَن يُتِمَّ نُورَهُ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ هُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَدِينِ الْحَقِّ لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ

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.

Surat at-Tawbah 9:32-33

The meaning of the verse is that the campaign of extermination led by the Quraish against the Prophet, peace and blessings be 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:

يُرِيدُونَ أَنْ يَهْلِكَ مُحَمَّدٌ وَأَصْحَابُهُ أَنْ لَا يَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ بِالْإِسْلَامِ فِي الْأَرْضِ

They intended to destroy Muhammad and his companions so that Allah would not be worshipped with Islam on earth.

Source: Tafsīr Ibn Abī Ḥātim 9:32

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:

لِيُظْهِرَ اللَّهُ نَبِيَّهُ عَلَى أَمْرِ الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ فَيُعْطِيَهُ إِيَّاهُ كُلَّهُ وَلَا يَخْفَى عَلَيْهِ مِنْهُ شَيْءٌ

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.

Source: Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī 9:33

Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse, saying:

لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ أَيْ بِالْحُجَّةِ وَالْبَرَاهِينِ وَقَدْ أَظْهَرَهُ عَلَى شَرَائِعِ الدِّينِ حَتَّى لَا يَخْفَى عَلَيْهِ شَيْءٌ مِنْهَا

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.

Source: al-Jāmi’ li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān 9:33

Al-Qurtubi also mentions that some of the early Muslims interpreted the verse as specific to the time of the Prophet:

وَقِيلَ أَرَادَ لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ فِي جَزِيرَةِ الْعَرَبِ وَقَدْ فَعَلَ

It is said that for Islam to be manifest over all religion refers to the Arabian Peninsula, and this is what has happened.

Source: al-Jāmi’ li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān 9:33

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 be upon him, prevail over their enemies.

Allah said:

قَالَ الْحَوَارِيُّونَ نَحْنُ أَنصَارُ اللَّهِ ۖ فَآمَنَت طَّائِفَةٌ مِّن بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ وَكَفَرَت طَّائِفَةٌ ۖ فَأَيَّدْنَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَىٰ عَدُوِّهِمْ فَأَصْبَحُوا ظَاهِرِينَ

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.

Surat as-Saff 61:14

Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse, saying:

وَقَالَ زَيْدُ بْنُ عَلِيٍّ وَقَتَادَةُ ظَاهِرِينَ غَالِبِينَ بِالْحُجَّةِ وَالْبُرْهَانِ

Zaid ibn Ali and Qatadah said prevailing means they had overcome them with arguments and proof.

Source: al-Jāmi’ li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān 61:14

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:

وَلَيْسَ الْمُرَادُ بِالظُّهُورِ أَلَّا يَبْقَى دِينٌ آخَرُ مِنَ الْأَدْيَانِ بَلِ الْمُرَادُ يَكُونُ أَهْلُ الْإِسْلَامِ عَالِينَ غَالِبِينَ

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.

Source: al-Jāmi’ li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān 61:9

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 be upon him, said:

مَنْ قَاتَلَ لِتَكُونَ كَلِمَةُ اللَّهِ هِيَ الْعُلْيَا فَهُوَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ

He who fights to make the word of Allah highest is fighting in the cause of Allah.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 123, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

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:

الْمُرَادُ بِكَلِمَةِ اللَّهِ دَعْوَةُ اللَّهِ إِلَى الْإِسْلَامِ وَيَحْتَمِلُ أَنْ يَكُونَ الْمُرَادُ أَنَّهُ (الجهاد) لَا يَكُونُ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ إِلَّا مَنْ كَانَ سَبَبُ قِتَالِهِ طَلَبَ إِعْلَاءِ كَلِمَةِ اللَّهِ فَقَطْ بِمَعْنَى أَنَّهُ لَوْ أَضَافَ إِلَى ذَلِكَ سَبَبًا مِنَ الْأَسْبَابِ الْمَذْكُورَةِ أَخَلَّ بِذَلِكَ

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.

Source: Fatḥ al-Bārī 6/28

In this sense, armed jihad is only a means toward this end of safety and security. It is not an end in itself.

Ibn Hajar Al-Haytami writes:

وَإِنْ جَزَمَ الزَّرْكَشِيُّ بِأَنَّ وُجُوبَهُ (الجهاد) وُجُوبُ الْوَسَائِلِ لَا الْمَقَاصِدِ إذْ الْمَقْصُودُ مِنْهُ الْهِدَايَةُ وَمِنْ ثَمَّ لَوْ أُمْكِنَتْ بِإِقَامَةِ الدَّلِيلِ كَانَتْ أَوْلَى مِنْهُ

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.

Source: Tuḥfat al-Muḥtāj 9/211

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.” (2:193) Ibn Umar said:

هَلْ تَدْرِي مَا الْفِتْنَةُ ثَكِلَتْكَ أُمُّكَ إِنَّمَا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يُقَاتِلُ الْمُشْرِكِينَ وَكَانَ الدُّخُولُ فِي دِينِهِمْ فِتْنَةً وَلَيْسَ كَقِتَالِكُمْ عَلَى الْمُلْكِ

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.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6682, Grade: Sahih

Ibn Umar rejected warfare “for the sake of ruling,” the same type of warfare justified today by Muslim extremist groups, and he refuted the marshalling of Quranic verses in support of such an ideological campaign.

The real goal of Islam and the mission of the Prophet is to advance humanity towards moral and religious progress.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّمَا بُعِثْتُ لِأُتَمِّمَ صَالِحَ الْأَخْلَاقِ

Verily, I have only been sent to perfect righteous character.

Source: Musnad Aḥmad 8729, Grade: Sahih

In another narration, the Prophet said:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ بَعَثَنِي بِتَمَامِ مكارمِ الأَخْلاقِ وَكَمَالِ مَحَاسِنِ الأَفْعَالِ

Verily, Allah has sent me to perfect noble morals and complete good deeds.

Source: al-Mu’jam al-Awsaṭ 7073, Grade: Hasan

An authentic Islamic movement arises from feelings of benevolence and good will for all humanity. It does not desire land or power or riches. Rather, the ethical and moral integrity of the Muslim community is the true measure of our strength, not the ephemeral political conditions of this worldly life.

In sum, the Muslims are only allowed to fight wars if it is necessary to repel aggression, end religious persecution, and defend the rights of innocent people. Muslims are not allowed to fight for the sake of purely political objectives. The hyper-political interpretation of Islam is a threat not only to the image of Islam in the world, but to the innocent Muslim communities being attacked in its name. The solution is to refer back to the wisdom of the Prophet and his companions, to examine their purposes and objectives, and to fully incorporate the moral and spiritual teachings of Islam that must guide any political action we have to take.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

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