Question: Could you please explain the verse of the Qur’an, “slay the polytheists wherever you find them” [9:5] What are the implications of this verse and why/when was it revealed?
From Seekers Guidance by Sidi Faraz Khan
InshaAllah you are well.
The key to understanding the verse in question is to understand its context and the circumstances in which it was revealed.
What the Scholars of Qur’anic Exegesis Said
As mentioned by scholars of Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), these verses were revealed specifically with regards to particular groups of polytheists that breached their peace treaties with the Muslim polity. This is clear in the very first verse, as it mentions that the proclamation is given out specifically to “those polytheists with whom you had made covenants.”
Imam Razi, Imam Jamal, and others clarify in their tafsirs that this proclamation of fighting the polytheists “applies only to those that broke their covenants.” This is also why an exception to the proclamation is made in verse 4 which, as Imam Razi and others clarify, refers to “those who did not break their covenants,” i.e., they were not to be fought.
Hence, the oft-misunderstood fifth verse of “killing the polytheists wherever you find them” refers only to those that previously broke their covenants and, moreover, after they had four months to reflect on the situation and decide if they wanted to continue with their violation or not. If they decided to continue with their violation, then they would effectively be re-declaring war on the Muslim polity, in which case the verse ordered the polity to defend itself against the transgression. Even in that case, the next verse (verse 6) ordered the Muslims to provide safe passage and protection to any opposing soldier that sought asylum during combat.
Perhaps the following verse (verse 7) best summarizes the context of this discussion, as it states (with commentary from Tafsir al-Razi and Tafsir al-Jalalayn in brackets):
“How can polytheists [that were treacherous and violated their treaties] have a covenant with Allah and His Messenger? Except for those with whom you entered covenants [i.e., the polytheists who did not break them and hence were not treacherous] in the Sacred Mosque. So as long as they are true to you [with their covenants and do not breach them] then be true to them [by also fulfilling your covenants]; verily, Allah loves those who fear Him [i.e., He loves those who fulfill covenants, since whoever fears Allah will fulfill his covenants, and the Prophet kept his word and upheld his side of the treaty until his enemies broke theirs].”
[Razi, Tafsir; Jamal, Hashiyat `ala Jalalayn]
Summarizing the Issue
So to summarize, these verses have a clear historical context and cannot be used to justify acts of violence or terrorism committed against innocent civilians.
Furthermore, by Islamic law, a Muslim government must uphold its treaties and covenants with other nations, regardless of the faith of those nations. It is unlawful to break a peace treaty with any other nation. This also applies to any Non-Muslim that is a citizen of a Muslim nation or that peacefully enters one. This is because citizenship and visitor’s visas are legally considered covenants that cannot be violated. They ensure security and protection for the citizen/visitor, and require that the citizen/visitor not break any of the nation’s laws.
The same, of course, applies to a Muslim citizen of a Non-Muslim nation or a Muslim that enters a Non-Muslim nation with a visitor’s visa or the like, which again serve as covenants of mutual peace and protection. It would be unlawful for a Muslim to break such a covenant. This is also in accordance with contemporary international law and is absolutely binding. And Allah knows best. [Marghinani, al-Hidaya; Kuwaiti Fiqh Encyclopedia