Quran Quote of the Day on Peace
The fourth chapter of the Quran, “Women,” addressed the early Muslim community in Medina during the 620s, at a time when they were being attacked by the powerful pagan Meccans, who were trying to wipe them out. The Quran repeatedly commands the Muslims to defend themselves from these Meccan infidels and polytheists, who worshipped star goddesses (think Venus) and refused to permit the new monotheistic teachings of Muhammad. The Quran objects on spiritual grounds to the Meccans’ polytheism, but it was only when the Meccans tried to ethnically cleanse the Muslims that it commanded them to fight back.
But there were non-Muslim, including pagan, tribes with whom the Muslims had reached peace treaties, with whom they were not at war. So the question arises– what if a new non-Muslim tribe shows up in the area? Are the Muslims to treat them as enemies or not? Remember that they are pagans, or at least non-Muslims, and entering the war zone of Western Arabia. This is what the Quran says about pursuing warfare in these ambiguous circumstances:
[4:90] Exempt those who join a people with whom you have concluded a peace treaty, and those who come to you with hearts unwilling to fight you, nor to fight their relatives. Had God willed, he could have placed them in power over you and they would have made war on you. Therefore, if they leave you alone, refrain from fighting you, and offer you peace, then God gives you no way to go against them.
(Cole translation, influenced by several existing ones, but done from the Arabic text.)
The Quran lays down in 4:90 the rules governing such a situation. Muslims are not to fight tribes under these conditions:
1. If the new tribe joins up with a tribe in the area with which the Muslims are at peace, then the Muslims are to act peacefully toward the new one.
2. If the new tribe shows up in the region and lets the Muslims know that they have no desire to attack Medinah or the Muslims, then the Muslims are to act peacefully toward it. Some of these tribes may be related to the Muslim tribes of Medina, and that may be one reason they are inclined to peace. The inclination must be returned under these circumstances.
The Quran reminds the Muslims that they benefit from peace with the peaceful. If they had to fight all the tribes in Arabia, they might well be conquered. Returning peaceful intentions in kind is a sort of “social intelligence” that allowed Muslims to focus on the real threat, the profound hatred for them of the Meccans, while living at peace with the neutral Arabs.
The default in the Quran is therefore not aggressive warfare, something the book repeatedly condemns. Warfare is permitted in self-defense. But the default is to be at peace with those who are at peace with you.