In today’s short section we come to another passage that some could interpret as violent, though I will argue that to do so is to ignore the context and misinterpret. 

God will defend the believers; God does not love the unfaithful and ungrateful.  Those who have been attacked are permitted to take up arms because they have been wronged — God has the power to help them — those who have been driven unjustly from their homes only for saying, “Our Lord is God.”  If God did not repel some people by means of others, many monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where God’s name is much invoked, would have been destroyed.  God is sure to help those who help His cause — God is strong and mighty. (22:38-40)

Note that it has been quite some time since we have seen a passage that could be taken as authorizing violence (see all past posts on this topic here).  Some modern Muslims’ version of Islam may in fact be aggressively violent, but I am not seeing that impulse in the Qur’an.  Certainly, it is not the pacifism of Jesus, but once again today we come to what I would call “justifiable self-defense,” not a mandate for armed jihad. 

Remember the context of this passage:

As for those who disbelieve and bar others from God’s path and from the Sacred Mosque. (22:25)

This is a Medinan surah.  Nascent Islam has been forced to move to Medina due to the persecution of the idolatrous Meccans.  Those Meccans are now barring the Muslims access to the most sacred of Mosques, the Ka’ba, in Mecca.  Now it seems that situation has escalated to the point where some pilgrims are being harassed and attacked. 

This passage does authorize violent response (22:39) in situations where the victim is being persecuted for his religion (22:40).  The victim’s response is to be measured and not exceed the level of aggression shown him (22:60).  The mention of “churches” and “synagogues” (22:40) also anchors this firmly in the immediate context of polytheism versus monotheism and precludes this passage from being applied to disputes between the Abrahamic religions. 

Ayah 40 makes clear the rationale for armed self-defense: if God’s people (in this passage defined as Jews, Christians, and Muslims) don’t defend themselves against aggression, the worship of God and the renown of His name would be lost.  Many of us take for granted the free exercise of religion.  This passage is about the of that privilege.  Notice that in this passage there is a context, premeditation, and aggressors.