I am a bit of a “Lost” fan.  Not as much as some who read this blog, but the summer my wife and I watched the first four seasons all at once was a fun one.  I was always impressed with the depth of the show and the religious themes and imagery that wove their way through this immensely popular television show.  For whatever reason, the “Others” theme was especially intriguing.  If you are not familiar with the storyline at all (no spoilers, don’t worry), the series started with a plane bound from Australia to America going down just offshore of a mysterious, uncharted island.  Total strangers are brought together as one, especially once they realize they are not alone on the island.  Simply put, anyone on the island who was not from the plane is branded an “Other.”  The question that floats in the tropical air of the show — and its the same question we ask ourselves in so many different situations — is how should they relate to the “Others?”  Are they to be trusted, feared, or killed?  It takes a couple of seasons but slowly we realize there are some “Others” that should be feared and some that could become allies.

The same question faces the early Muslims in today’s section, except the “Others” are called “hypocrites” (4:88).  Commentator Abdullah Yusuf Ali asserts that these are the Muslims who deserted their brothers during the fateful Battle of Uhud.  It would appear they are no longer part of the Muslims, so how should they be treated? 

God lays out three different responses that could be given based upon how the “hypocrites” present themselves: 

  1. Take them back as allies if they are willing to migrate (hijra) back to Medina and live with the Muslims as brothers again.
  2. Leave them alone if they have fled to people with whom the Muslims have treaties.  These people will keep them in line. 
  3. But if they should “turn on you in aggression” and try to oppose you, feel free to kill them.  They are a true threat to the entire community. 

In the middle of this discussion we come upon another often-quoted ayah, usually with no regard for context:

Seize and kill them wherever you encounter them. (4:89, 91)

Let’s pay attention to the context.  This is once again a situation-specific direction given about a particular people who were a threat to the first Muslims.  Again, this is a case of self-defense.  Additionally, killing is only the last resort if more amenable options are not possible.  (See this post on a similar passage.) 

Still, it’s there.  Twice.  Maybe it is deemed a necessary evil.  Better safe than sorry.  A political expediency.  A “hypocrite” could easily avoid possible death by moving to Medina if money allowed (4:97-100).  And the very next paragraph is crystal clear that Muslims are not to kill other Muslims — a death penalty is placed on premeditated murder (4:92-93). 

Nonetheless, all this killing business remains prickly, in my mind.