The Divine Tradition of Self-Defense

Violence against Muslims seems ubiquitous. Islamophobic violence, wherever it takes place, feels like a gut punch every time it happens. In countries like Afghanistan, China, Palestine, Kashmir, France, and others, we see that oppression and injustice are increasingly harming our people. A few weeks ago, in Canada, we saw a family murdered by an Islamophobic terrorist. It seems that every day the world gets darker. But, what I find most troubling are the people who feel helpless against injustice. As Muslims, we are taught in the Quran about a divine tradition of self-defense.

Throughout the Islamic tradition, we have seen examples of action needed to be taken to achieve the necessary result they are looking for. The parable of Prophet Musa tells of him freeing his people from the oppression of the Pharaoh. When they reached the sea, and the army of Pharaoh was behind them, Prophet Musa was required to hit the water with his staff. And we know that through that action, God split the sea and granted salvation to Bani Israel, and destroyed the army of their oppressors.

In the story of Talut, a king of Bani Israel was tasked with uniting his people and fighting their oppressors. The task of uniting his people was so arduous that once they reached the battlefield, their enemy dwarfed their size. At this moment, his troops felt a sense of dread and expressed their discomfort for their situation. From them rose a group that enthusiastically met the challenge and knew that as long as they had God on their side, they would be victorious. And when the battle started, Prophet Dawud was able to defeat Goliath. This parable given to us in the Quran highlights the divine tradition of self-defense.

"وَلَوۡلَا دَفۡعُ اللّٰهِ النَّاسَ بَعۡضَهُمۡ بِبَعۡضٍ لَّفَسَدَتِ الۡاَرۡضُ وَلٰـکِنَّ اللّٰهَ ذُوۡ فَضۡلٍ عَلَى الۡعٰلَمِيۡ"

“Had Allah not repelled a group of people by ˹the might of˺ another, corruption would have dominated the earth, but Allah is Gracious to all.” (2: 251).

God tells us in this verse that we are required to work for justice. This verse also tells us that, if people are unwilling to work for justice, oppression and injustice will be rampant. God will put us into situations that require us to take action to stop oppression and achieve freedom and liberation. And when we look at the stories of our prophets, many highlight this tradition of self-defense and action.

In the holy Quran Allah states,

اۨلَّذِيۡنَ اُخۡرِجُوۡا مِنۡ دِيَارِهِمۡ بِغَيۡرِ حَقٍّ اِلَّاۤ اَنۡ يَّقُوۡلُوۡا رَبُّنَا اللّٰهُ​ ؕ وَلَوۡلَا دَ فۡعُ اللّٰهِ النَّاسَ بَعۡضَهُمۡ بِبَـعۡضٍ لَّهُدِّمَتۡ صَوَامِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَّصَلٰوتٌ وَّمَسٰجِدُ يُذۡكَرُ فِيۡهَا اسۡمُ اللّٰهِ كَثِيۡرًا​ ؕ وَلَيَنۡصُرَنَّ اللّٰهُ مَنۡ يَّنۡصُرُهٗ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَقَوِىٌّ عَزِيۡزٌ‏ (22:40)

those who have been expelled from their homes for no reason other than proclaiming: “Our Lord is Allah.” Had Allah not repelled ˹the aggression of˺ some people by means of others, destruction would have surely claimed monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which Allah’s Name is often mentioned. Allah will certainly help those who stand up for Him. Allah is truly All-Powerful, Almighty. (22:40)

This verse starts off discussing the issues that led the early companions to make pilgrimage to Medina in 622 fleeing from religious persecution. These companions were from Makkah, and their families and lives were all there. The verse then goes into the divine sunnah, saying that God will repel people by using those who stand for justice to stop them from committing atrocities, including the desecration of places of worship. This verse also highlights for us the importance of intersectionality. It is not enough for us to just care when people of the same tradition or identities as us are under threat, we must care about everyone.

It’s important to highlight that more people than ever before are standing up for truth and justice all over. More people are talking about justice for black people in America, Islamophobia, anti-Asian discrimination, and so many other problems that are going on in the world. And the best example of that is the response people around the world had when the apartheid state of Israel escalated ethnic cleansing campaigns in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan which led to the bombing of Gaza and desecration of the Holy Masjid Al Aqsa.

Hate and prejudice have always existed. But just as they exist, so will justice and truth. Therefore, we must always be willing to stand against what is wrong no matter where it is as prescribed in this divine tradition. The first step to change is action, and we must be committed to working for the greater good. And we must be at the forefront of working for justice and truth. Just as our pious predecessors stated when they faced Goliath and his army, “through the will of Allah, everything is possible.”

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