The Violent Verses of the Qur’an in Comparison between the Classical and Modern Interpretations

Aziz Anwar Fachrudin | CRCS | Article
Al-Qur'anAmong the challenges Muslims face when they are engaged in the recently overwhelming debate on whether Islam is a religion of violence/peace is the fact that the Quran contains many verses which, at least when seen at a glance, promote violence. Indeed, there are verses in the Quran that even encourage fighting and killing, addressed to those considered unbelievers/infidels (kuffar) and/or polytheists (mushrikin); and when they are read and interpreted literally, they can be seen as preaching hatred toward non-Muslims. Moreover, some of those verses have been picked by the Islamic State (of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS) to justify its atrocities toward those having different beliefs. On the other hand, those “violent verses” are often cited by many involved in the debate, particularly by Islamophobias in the West, to discredit Islam and to show that Islam is a religion of violence, instead of peace.

This paper is going to examine those “violent verses’; not all, but some of them that have similar redaction. That is, those verses which read, more or less, “kill them wherever you find them”. There are three verses which are like that: (1) QS. al-Baqarah [2]:191; (2) QS. al-Nisa’ [4]:89; and (3) QS. al-Tawbah [9]:5. It is to examine both the classical and the modern interpretations of those three verses. By classical interpretations I mean the interpretations and commentaries of those verses as in classical books of tafsir written by medieval, pre-modern Muslim scholars of exegesis, to which very often many Muslims today still refer. By modern interpretations I mean the interpretations and commentaries that are written by modern Muslim exegetes. Along this line of elaboration, I shall compare both in order to know to what extent there has been a change in interpretations of the abovementioned verses.

This paper shall therefore be intended to convey three things. First is to show both classical and modern interpretations of those verses. Second is to point out what we will get when we compare those two types of interpretations and how the verses have been interpreted differently. Third, this paper shall be finished by some hermeneutical reflections resulting from the examination of both the classical and the modern interpretations. As for the classical interpretations, the books of tafsir that shall be mostly referred to in this paper are that of al-Tabari (839-923), Al-Razi (1149-1209), al-Qurtubi (1214-1273), and Ibn Kathir (1301-1373). While for the modern interpretations, the books of tafsir that shall be referred to are that of Rashid Rida (1865-1935), al-Sha‘rawi (1911-1998), Al-Zuhayli (1932-2015), and Quraish Shihab (1944-…). All these books of tafsir contains exegeses that are elaborated in chronological, chapter-based way, or verse by verse conforming to the way the verses are serially organized in the Quran. (This way is technically known as al-tafsir al-tajzi‘i or tafsir based on chapters or partitions of the Quran, as compared to al-tafsir al-mawdu‘i or tafsir based on themes/topics.) In this paper, when I mention a name of a mufassir (exegete) of them, it means I refer to his interpretations/commentaries that come after the verse being discussed. Read more in

*Aziz Anwar Fachrudin is CRCS Student batch 2014




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