A common verse quoted by the critics of Islam is a verse known as the verse of the sword, which says:
Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (9:5)
So this verse is quoted and it is then argued that this verse proves that Islam is a violent religion that commands the Muslims to go out and commit terrorism. Now indeed, when one quotes this verse on it’s own, it does seem to paint the picture that Islamophobes would like, but whenever looking at a text, it must be viewed within it’s context.
For example if we were to read the verse that comes right after it, we would see that the argument of the critic falls flat on its face. In fact it’s quite shameful that the critics who quote this verse, don’t quote the verse right after it, we’re not talking about 10, 20, or even 100 verses, but simply one verse after.
Verse 6 says the following:
And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know. (9:6)
So verse 6 goes on to say that if one of the polytheists comes to the Muslims looking for protection, the Muslims must grant him protection, and provide him to a place of safety. Hardly sounds like something terroristic or barbaric. The verse doesn’t simply tell the Muslims to leave the polytheists alone; it explicitly says to take them to a place of safety, to basically look after their well being.
Now let’s look at the context of verse 5 as a whole, because even before verse 5, the context of who is being mentioned in verse 5, is clarified. So the ones who are to be fought in verse 5, are explained in the previous, and after verses. Again, it’s quite shameful that the critic does not quote these verses, but simply quotes verse 5 alone, to paint a very false picture.
From verses 1-3, we see the polytheists that are being mentioned:
[This is a declaration of] disassociation, from Allah and His Messenger, to those with whom you had made a treaty among the polytheists. So travel freely, [O disbelievers], throughout the land [during] four months but know that you cannot cause failure to Allah and that Allah will disgrace the disbelievers. And [it is] an announcement from Allah and His Messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah is disassociated from the disbelievers, and [so is] His Messenger. So if you repent, that is best for you; but if you turn away – then know that you will not cause failure to Allah. And give tidings to those who disbelieve of a painful punishment. (9:1-3)
So verses 1-3 talk about a disbanding of a treaty agreement made by the Muslims with some polytheists, it’s these group of polytheists from verses 1-3 that are the ones referenced in verse 5. Verse 4 goes on talk about a treaty still being in place with another group of polytheists:
Excepted are those with whom you made a treaty among the polytheists and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you; so complete for them their treaty until their term [has ended]. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him]. (9:4)
Verse 4 is very important verse for the context, because it shows that verse 5 is not a mandate for Muslims to go out and fight any non-Muslim polytheist, but it’s aimed a specific group of polytheists. Verse 4 shows that the treaty made with polytheists who have not gone back on their word or against the treaty still stands. We now move to verses 7-8, which clearly make mention of the polytheists referenced in verse 5:
How can there be for the polytheists a treaty in the sight of Allah and with His Messenger, except for those with whom you made a treaty at al-Masjid al-Haram? So as long as they are upright toward you, be upright toward them. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him]. How [can there be a treaty] while, if they gain dominance over you, they do not observe concerning you any pact of kinship or covenant of protection? They satisfy you with their mouths, but their hearts refuse [compliance], and most of them are defiantly disobedient. (9:7-8)
So now the context is even clearer, as verse 7 says, the treaty with the polytheists who stay firm to the treaty, and are upright with the Muslims, meaning honest to the treaty, then the Muslims are to reciprocate and be upright with them. However so, in regards to the other group of polytheists, who are not in line with the treaty, then they are the ones to be fought as mentioned in verse 5, these are basically the group of polytheists who have broken the covenant, and so verse 5 says they are to be fought.
So verse 5 is only in regards to the polytheists who have broken the treaty, not in regards to the polytheists who have remained honest to the treaty, as mentioned in verse 4, and the start of verse 7.
Verse 10 even goes on to talk about how these group of polytheists, mentioned in verse 5, have broken and went against the treaty:
They do not observe toward a believer any pact of kinship or covenant of protection. And it is they who are the transgressors. (9:10)
So to summarize everything:
1- Verse 5 is in reference to polytheists who have broken the treaty agreement with the Muslims
2- These polytheists who have broken the treaty, are to be fought, and even though they are to be fought, if any of them come looking for protection, they are to be given protection and safety
3- The polytheists who have not broken the treaty, and have stayed true to the treaty, aren’t to be fought, and the terms of the treaty are still in place between them and the Muslims.
So this is the context of verse 9:5, the verse of the sword, as one can see, when the context is given, it hardly looks like a teaching of terrorism or barbarism, as the critics would like some to believe.