The Enemies of Islam according to the Quran
by Reaz Islam
A major misconception amongst some Muslims and some non Muslims is that Islam is at war with all other religions and ways of life. I wish to challenge this misconception by studying and identifying the characteristics of the enemies of Islam as described in the Quran.
What is the nature of the enemies of Islam in the Quran? According to the Quran who did the prophet Muhammad and earlier prophets fight and for what reason? Did the prophets fight disbelievers simply because they were disbelievers or were there other reasons? What were the reasons for the war?
The Quran repeatedly describes the enemy disbelievers, not just through the events in the life of the prophet Muhammad but also through the stories of the earlier prophets. This article analyzes the characteristics of the enemies of Islam.
The enemies of Islam as described in the Quran are disbelievers, but these disbelievers do not simply deny the call of the prophets, they persecute the prophets and the believers In the events of prophet Muhammad's life as well as in the stories of the earlier prophets we repeatedly find that the disbelievers are intolerant and they persecute Muslims.
According to the Quran the enemies of Islam are those who persecute the prophets and the followers of the prophets. In the Quranic stories the mindset of the enemy is clearly intolerant. The enemies of Islam do not allow the prophets to preach a peaceful message, they threaten to expel or kill the prophets. The enemies of Islam use (or threaten to use) violent force to stop the message of the prophets. This is the true definition of enemy of Islam. The enemy of Islam is not simply disbelief but intolerance, persecution and violence used to stop a peaceful message.
This definition of enemy of Islam then raises the question whether modern democracies can be the enemy of Islam. Some modern democracies consign religion to the private sphere but all modern democracies allow freedom of speech and do not permit religious or other form of persecution. If we understand the repeated message of the Quran correctly then we must conclude that the enemy of Islam is intolerance, persecution and the threat to "drive out". As such, Liberal Democracies which have as their ideological core the concept of human rights and tolerance and non persecution, cannot be the enemy of Islam.
The story of the Quran that I am suggesting is significantly different from the commonly accepted story of the Quran. The commonly accepted version of the Quranic story is the Shariah centric view of Islam. The Shariah centric view suggests that the prophet was meant to establish a Muslim society in Medina and guide this society with the Shariah. So whether the Meccans were tolerant or not, the formation of the Muslim society and the formulation of the Shariah was the core reason of the prophet's mission. So even if Mecca was tolerant, as long as Mecca did not accept the prophet and the Shariah as the code of life the prophet would have to go to war with Mecca. The core of Islam and the core of the prophet's Mission is understood to be the Shariah and the formation of a Muslim society that lives according to the Shariah. It was imperative that the prophet become the ruler and the Shariah be institutionalized. The question of tolerance and coexistence is immaterial because the ultimate purpose of Islam is to establish the Shariah, the rule of Allah according to which all Muslims are supposed to live.
According to the Sharia centric view whether modern liberal democracies have instituted tolerance and banned persecution is immaterial. What is important is the establishment of the rule of Shariah, any system that attempts to hinder or stop the establishment of the Shariah is the enemy of Islam.
Let us examine the characteristics of the disbelievers as described in the Quran.
Beginning of the call - situation in Mecca
The pagan Quraish were antagonistic towards the prophet from the beginning of his prophet hood. Initially the prophet's family protected him from the rest of Quraish. The prophet's uncle Abu Talib was the leader of Banu Hashim and Banu Hashim was one of the sub tribes that constituted the larger tribe of Quraish. Each sub tribe had the right and responsibility to protect its members. The tribe of Banu Hashim under the leadership of the prophet's uncle Abu Talib protected the prophet. But after the death of the prophet's uncle and protector Abu Talib the pagan Quraish threatened to kill or exile the prophet.
During this period the prophet or the early Muslims were not a threat to th= e rest of Quraish society. Although the Quran threatened the pagans with hellfire in the afterlife the prophet and the early Muslims were peaceful and law (or custom) abiding citizens of Mecca. For example, although the Quran spoke very harshly against the pagan custom of female infanticide the Quran didn't urge Muslims to forcefully stop any pagan from practicing female infanticide.
The threat on the prophet's life is described in the following ayats:
Prophet Muhammad Mecca - Plotting against the Prophet
"And when those who disbelieve plot against thee (O Muhammad) to wound thee fatally, or to kill thee or to drive thee forth; they plot, but Allah (also) plotteth; and Allah is the best of plotters." - Qur'an 8:30
" And they indeed wished to scare thee from the land that they might drive thee forth from thence, and then they would have stayed (there) but a little after thee.  (Such was Our) method in the case of those whom We sent before thee (to mankind), and thou wilt not find for Our method aught of power to change." - Qur'an 17:76-77
"And how many a township stronger than thy township (O Muhammad) which hath cast thee out, have We destroyed, and they had no helper!" - Qur'an 47:13
The Quran contains stories of prophets before Muhammad. The stories of these prophets show that the earlier prophets faced opposition similar to what prophet Muhammad faced. The stories of Noah, Hud, Shueyb Salih and Lot also show that the enemies of these earlier prophets threatened to drive out or kill the prophets as well.
Earlier prophets Noah, Hud, Shuyeb, Salih and Lot
Prophet Noah's tribe denied him and his call to ward off evil. Noah declared himself to be the messenger of Allah and a plain warner. Noah's tribe threatened him "If you cease not, Noah, you will surely be among those stoned to death."
" Noah's folk denied the messengers (of Allah),  When their brother Noah said unto them: Will ye not ward off (evil)?  Lo! I am a faithful messenger unto you,  So keep your duty to Allah, and obey me. [...]  I am only a plain warner.  They said: If thou cease not, O Noah, thou wilt surely be among those stoned (to death)." - Qur'an 26:105-116
Prophet Shu'eyb called to his people in Midian. Shu'eyb called his tribe to serve Allah alone, to not defraud people. But his tribe denied him and his message to believe in Allah and to not commit fraud. At one point the leaders of his tribe threaten him "Surely we will drive you out, Shueyb, and those who believe with you, from our town, unless you return to our religion."
" Midian (We sent) their brother, Shu'eyb. He said: O my people! Serve Allah. Ye have no other God save Him. Lo! a clear proof hath come unto you from your Lord; so give full measure and full weight and wrong not mankind in their goods, and work not confusion in the earth after the fair ordering thereof. That will be better for you, if ye are believers.  Lurk not on every road to threaten (wayfarers), and to turn away from Allah's path him who believeth in Him, and to seek to make it crooked. And remember, when ye were but few, how He did multiply you. And see the nature of the consequence for the corrupters!  And if there is a party of you which believeth in that wherewith I have been sent, and there is a party which believeth not, then have patience until Allah judge between us. He is the Best of all who deal in judgment.  The chieftains of his people, who were scornful, said: Surely we will drive thee out, O Shu'eyb, and those who believe with thee, from our township, unless ye return to our religion. He said: Even though we hate it?" - Qur'an 7:85-88
Allah sent Salih to his tribe Thamud. Salih called his people to worship Allah. His tribe denied the call of the prophet. Later a group of nine persons swore to attack him and his family by night.
" And We verily sent unto Thamud their brother Salih, saying: Worship Allah. And lo! they (then became two parties quarrelling.  He said: O my people! Why will ye hasten on the evil rather than the good ? Why will ye not ask pardon of Allah, that ye may receive mercy.  They said: We augur evil of thee and those with thee. He said: Your evil augury is with Allah. Nay, but ye are folk that are being tested.  And there were in the city nine persons who made mischief in the land and reformed not.  They said: Swear one to another by Allah that we verily will attack him and his household by night, and afterward we will surely say unto his friend: We witnessed not the destruction of his household. And lo! we are truthtellers.  So they plotted a plot: and We plotted a plot, while they perceived not.  Then see the nature of the consequence of their plotting, for lo! We destroyed them and their people, every one." - Qur'an 27:45-51
Lot called on his people to give up their perverse sexual practice. His people denied the prophet and threatened to "Turn them out of your township".
" And Lot! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Will ye commit abomination such as no creature ever did before you ?  Lo! ye come with lust unto men instead of women. Nay, but ye are wanton folk.  And the answer of his people was only that they said (one to another): Turn them out of your township. They are folk, forsooth, who keep pure.  And We rescued him and his household, save his wife, who was of those who stayed behind.  And We rained a rain upon them. See now the nature of the consequence of evil-doers!" - Qur'an 7:80-84
Sura 14 ayat 11 to 13 describes an often repeated pattern of behavior described in the Quran. All prophets call peacefully to their to believe in Allah but the tribe becomes intolerant, they threaten to drive out the prophet unless they return to the religion of the tribe.
Prophets in general
" Their messengers said unto them: We are but mortals like you, but Allah giveth grace unto whom He will of His slaves. It is not ours to bring you a warrant unless by the permission of Allah. In Allah let believers put their trust!  How should we not put our trust in Allah when He hath shown us our ways ? We surely will endure the hurt ye do us. In Allah let the trusting put their trust.  And those who disbelieved said unto their messengers: Verily we will drive you out from our land, unless ye return to our religion. Then their Lord inspired them, (saying): Verily we shall destroy the wrong-doers, [...]" - Qur'an 14:11-13
Saul, David and the Children of Israel - "Why should we not fight ... when we have been driven from our dwellings"
In the story of Saul, David and the Children of Israel we find a change in the often repeated Quran story. In the story of Saul, David and the Children of Israel we find that the Children of Israel have been driven out of their homes by Goliath. In the stories of Noah, Hud, Shueyb, Salih and Lot Allah intervenes and destroys the persecutors, but in the story of Saul, David and the Children of Israel, the persecuted Israelites fight back against the persecutor Goliath. The justification for war pronounced by the Children of Israel is "Why should we not fight in Allah's way when we have been driven from our dwellings ...?" Under the leadership of David the Children of Israel defeat Goliath. (these verses also show that the Jews are not the enemy of Islam, but more on this later)
Saul, David and the Children of Israel
" Bethink thee of the leaders of the Children of Israel after Moses, how they said unto a prophet whom they had: Set up for us a king and we wil= l fight in Allah's way. He said: Would ye then refrain from fighting if fighting were prescribed for you ? They said: Why should we not fight in Allah's way when we have been driven from our dwellings with our children? Yet, when fighting was prescribed for them, they turned away, all save a few of them. Allah is aware of evil-doers. [...]  And when they went into the field against Goliath and his hosts they said: Our Lord! Bestow on us endurance, make our foothold sure, and give us help against the disbelieving folk.  So they routed them by Allah's leave and David slew Goliath; and Allah gave him the kingdom and wisdom, and taught him of that which He willeth. And if Allah had not repelled some men by others the earth would have been corrupted. But Allah is a Lord of Kindness to (His) creatures." - Qur'an 2:246-251
Justification for war against the Meccans
In Medinan verses the reason for the war against the Meccan Quraish echoes the call of the Children of Israel "Why should we not fight in Allah's way when we have been driven from our dwellings". As shown below almost all verses that urge Muslims to fight and kill disbelievers also refers to how the Muslims were driven out of Mecca. The reason for the war with the Meccans is not disbelief but intolerance, persecution and "driving out".
Ayats like the one below is very easy to misunderstand. The very first phrase "slay them wherever ye find them" and the last phrase "such is the reward of disbelievers" give the impression that the Quran is advocating the killing of all disbelievers. But the second phrase "drive them out of the places whence they drove you out" clearly supports the argument that the prophet and the Muslims fought the enemy disbelievers because they had driven the prophet out of Mecca. The third phrase "for persecution is worse than slaughter" points out that the Muslims fought back because they had been persecuted. Most likely "driving out" is the "persecution" that the ayat refers to. The later parts of the ayat "And fight not with them in the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them" - this shows that the Muslims abided by the pagan Arab and Muslim norm of non violence in the precinct of the Kaba. But that if the enemy disbelievers attacked Muslims here then the Muslims are asked to fight back as they had been attacked.
"And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers." - Qur'an 2:191
In the below ayat one of the reasons for "warfare in the sacred month" is to fight those who "expel His people from thence" meaning expelling the Muslims from Mecca and the Kaaba. There are other reasons as well, the first phrase "to turn (men) from the way of Allah" - this may be related to the attempts of the enemy disbelievers to force Muslims to recant their faith. The second phrase "to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship" (Masjid ul Haram - Kaba) - this suggests that the war with the enemy disbelievers= is because of their lack of faith, but as I have shown through the discussion on Sirat Rasul Allah, the war could not have been due to lack of faith alone. The third phrase "for persecution is worse than killing" this phrase points out that Muslims fought back because they had been persecuted. The fourth phrase "they will not cease fighting against you till they have made you renegades from your religion, if they can" - this points to the intolerance of the enemy disbelievers towards Islam. According to the Quran the primary reason for the enemy disbelievers fighting was not to gain wealth, power, material goods or even security, they were fighting to force Muslims from Islam and thereby bring an end to Islam.
"They question thee (O Muhammad) with regard to warfare in the sacred month. Say: Warfare therein is a great (transgression), but to turn (men) from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel His people thence, is a greater with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing. And they will not cease from fighting against you till they have made you renegades from your religion, if they can. And whoso becometh a renegade and dieth in his disbelief: such are they whose works have fallen both in the world and the Hereafter. Such are rightful owners of the Fire: they will abide therein." - Qur'an 2:217
The ayat below challenges the Muslims to fight "Will ye not fight a folk who broke their solemn pledges, and purposed to drive out the messenger and did attack you first?" The justifications for war as follows: The first phrase "broke their solemn pledges" this may refer to the pledge of the tribe to protect its members. The greater Quraysh tribe reneged on its pledge to protect the prophet. The second phrase "purposed to drive out the messenger" this clearly refers to the enemy disbelievers forcing the prophet to leave Mecca. The third phrase "and did attack you first" I am not certain how and where but according to this ayat the Meccans first attacked the Muslims
"Will ye not fight a folk who broke their solemn pledges, and purposed to drive out the messenger and did attack you first ? What ! Fear ye them ? Now Allah hath more right that ye should fear Him, if ye are believers" - Qur'an 9:13
Here the Muslims are urged to fight and help the prophet in his battles against the Quraysh. "Allah helped him when those who disbelieve drove him forth, the second of two; when they two were in the cave, when he said unto his comrade: Grieve not. Lo! Allah is with us." - This ayat discusses the prophet fleeing from Mecca with Abu Bakr and hiding in the cave to escape the Meccans. This ayat clearly states "when those who disbelieve drove him forth" meaning that the prophet and Muslims were forced to migrate.
" O ye who believe! What aileth you that when it is said unto you: Go forth in the way of Allah, ye are bowed down to the ground with heaviness. Take ye pleasure in the life of the world rather than in the Hereafter ? The comfort of the life of the world is but little in the Hereafter. [...]  If ye help him not, still Allah helped him when those who disbelieve drove him forth, the second of two; when they two were in the cave, when he said unto his comrade: Grieve not. Lo! Allah is with us. Then Allah caused His peace of reassurance to descend upon him and supported him with hosts ye cannot see, and made the word of those who disbelieved the nethermost, whil= e Allah's Word it was that became the uppermost. Allah is Mighty, Wise." - Qur'an 9:38-40
In the below ayats Allah declares, "Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged" clearly, the reason for war is not disbelief but the wrong committed by the enemy disbelievers. Fighting is justified for those who "have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is Allah" - this clearly defines the "wrong" mentioned earlier, and, that is the Muslims were driven from their homes unjustly.
"  Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; and Allah is indeed Able to give them victory;  Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is Allah - For had it not been for Allah's repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down. Verily Allah helpeth one who helpeth Him. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty" - Qur'an 22:39-40
Below Muslims are warned not to choose enemy disbeliever for allies. The reason is the enemy disbeliever "driving out the messenger and you because ye believe in Allah". Often the ayats of the Quran will include two reasons together - "Do ye give them friendship when they disbelieve in that truth which hath come unto you, driving out the messenger and you because ye believe in Allah" - here the justification for war may be thought to be (1) "disbelieve in that truth which hath come unto you" and (2) "driving out the messenger and you because ye believe in Allah" - I would like to argue peaceful and tolerant disbelieve is not the reason for the fighting. The second ayat also describes the state of mind of the enemy disbelievers "If they have the upper hand of you, they will be your foes, and will stretch out their hands and their tongues toward you with evil (intent), and they long for you to disbelieve."
" O ye who believe! Choose not My enemy and your enemy for allies. Do ye give them friendship when they disbelieve in that truth which hath come unto you, driving out the messenger and you because ye believe in Allah, your Lord ? If ye have come forth to strive in My way and seeking My good pleasure, (show them not friendship). Do ye show friendship unto them in secret, when I am Best Aware of what ye hide and what ye proclaim ? And whosoever doeth it among you, he verily hath strayed from the right way.  If they have the upper hand of you, they will be your foes, and will stretch out their hands and their tongues toward you with evil (intent), and they long for you to disbelieve." - Qur'an 6:1-2
The below ayat clearly makes a distinction between "those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes" and the ayat clearly states "Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them". So the reason for the enmity is very clear and in this ayat the Quran makes the distinction between enemy disbelievers and neutral disbelievers.
" Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on accoun= t of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers.  Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them. Whosoever maketh friends of them - (All) such are wrong-doers." - Qur'an 6:8-9
The Quran is very careful about giving the reasons for war with the disbelievers in most places where war is mentioned.
Realizing the true definition of "enemy of Islam" that the Quran provides is essential for today's Muslim world. The combination of disbelief, intolerance, persecution and violence is not the dominant mode of thought in today's world. Western Democracies have learned from their own history the ills of intolerance and persecution and Democracies have built safeguards against intolerance and persecution deep into the foundation of their system of government.
These questions are specially relevant in today's world. In today's world the intolerance of the disbelieving Quraysh is no longer the dominant mode of thought. Liberal democracies are tolerant, within liberal democracies many different religions and world views coexist peacefully. Under this circumstance it does not make sense that Islam should continue to see the Islam and liberal democracies as warring forces.
Mr Reaz Islam is an IT professional from Dhaka, Bangladesh.