| Questions to Consider
Call for Jihad
The Prophet Mohammad
Exiled from their home city of Mecca, Mohammed and the first Muslims
found sanctuary in Medina in 622. Determined to get revenge, Mohammed
and his supporters led a series of raids to disrupt caravan trade to
Mecca. These raids gradually escalated into full-scale warfare
between the two cities that ended in Muslim conquest of Mecca in 630.
Muhammad died two years later with his religion firmly established in
Arabia. The call for jihad, rather than being interpreted as "holy
war," more accurately refers to using this traditional practice of
raiding enemies to defend the new faith. The late seventh and early
eighth centuries saw tremendous expansion for Islam. Arab armies
built an incredible empire out of the ruins of the southern and
eastern Roman world and extended their boundaries farther east than
the Romans ever did. This expansion added thousands to the ranks of
Muslim faithful, but generally not through forced conversion.
Questions to Consider
According to the Qur'an, what conditions justify the use of
force to defend the faith? What restrictions apply?
How does this selection fit into a broader discussion of the
connections between religious and military expansion during the
early medieval period?
Fight in the path of God against those who fight you, but do not
transgress, for God does not love transgressors.
Kill them wherever you encounter them, and expel them from whence
they have expelled you, for dissension [fitna] is worse than killing.
But do not fight them by the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you
first, and if they do fight you, then kill them. Such is the
recompense of the unbelievers.
But if they desist, then God is forgiving and merciful.
Fight them until there is no more dissension, and religion is
God's. If they desist, there is no enmity, save against the unjust.
When you meet those who are infidels, strike their necks until you
have overwhelmed them, tighten their bonds, and then release them,
either freely or for ransom, when war lays down its burdens. Thus it
is, and if God wished, He would crush them Himself, but He tests you
against one another. Those who are killed in the path of God, He does
not let their good deeds go for nothing.
Bernard Lewis, ed., Islam: From the
Prophet Muhammed to the Capture of Constantinople (New York: Walker,