Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 217

يَسْـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلشَّهْرِ ٱلْحَرَامِ قِتَالٍ فِيهِ ۖ قُلْ قِتَالٌ فِيهِ كَبِيرٌ ۖ وَصَدٌّ عَن سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَكُفْرٌۢ بِهِۦ وَٱلْمَسْجِدِ ٱلْحَرَامِ وَإِخْرَاجُ أَهْلِهِۦ مِنْهُ أَكْبَرُ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ۚ وَٱلْفِتْنَةُ أَكْبَرُ مِنَ ٱلْقَتْلِ ۗ وَلَا يَزَالُونَ يُقَٰتِلُونَكُمْ حَتَّىٰ يَرُدُّوكُمْ عَن دِينِكُمْ إِنِ ٱسْتَطَٰعُوا۟ ۚ وَمَن يَرْتَدِدْ مِنكُمْ عَن دِينِهِۦ فَيَمُتْ وَهُوَ كَافِرٌ فَأُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ حَبِطَتْ أَعْمَٰلُهُمْ فِى ٱلدُّنْيَا وَٱلْءَاخِرَةِ ۖ وَأُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ أَصْحَٰبُ ٱلنَّارِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَٰلِدُونَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
They ask you about the sacred month - about fighting therein. Say, "Fighting therein is great [sin], but preventing [people] from the way of Allāh and disbelief in Him and [preventing access to] al-Masjid al-Harām and the expulsion of its people therefrom are greater [evil] in the sight of Allāh. And fitnah is greater than killing." And they will continue to fight you until they turn you back from your religion if they are able. And whoever of you reverts from his religion [to disbelief] and dies while he is a disbeliever - for those, their deeds have become worthless in this world and the Hereafter, and those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.

Qur'an Dictionary

Click word/image to view Qur'an Dictionary
Word Arabic word
They ask you

the month
[the] sacred
(concerning) fighting


(is) a great (sin)
but hindering (people)

(the) way
(of) Allah
and disbelief

and (preventing access to) Al-Masjid
and driving out
its people

(is) greater (sin)
And [the] oppression
(is) greater

[the] killing

they will cease
(to) fight with you

they turn you away

your religion

they are able

turns away


his religion
then dies

(is) a disbeliever

became worthless
their deeds

the world
and the Hereafter

(are) companions
(of) the Fire


(will) abide forever

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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* This verse contains a valuable lesson in dealing with similar situations. That lesson is that when the opponents of Islam capitalise on certain events to put us on the defensive, our response should be to instead go on the offensive. The pagans focused on that one apparent transgression by Ibn Jahsh in a deceptively compartmental manner that completely ignored their own myriad of transgressions that served as the direct catalyst for what they were now making an uproar about. Rather than give them the pleasure of a defensive, apologetic response, Allah directed the Muslims to instead point out what the pagans had been doing to them all along, as if to say: ‘Excuse me? Who are you calling violent?! Just look at your own record!’

*  "We find ourselves today in identical circumstances. When we are faced with accusations of terrorism, violence, and the other terms you are more than familiar with, the tendency on the part of many – even those with good in-tentions – is to lapse into defensive mode, with: ‘Don’t let the actions of a few ruin the reputation of many.’ ‘We are a peace-loving people,’ ‘Islam condemns the killing of innocents,’ among other trademark slogans thrown around. While the statements may be true in and of themselves, their utterance overtly manifests the defensive and apologetic mindset that characterises Western Muslims. This is a trap set for us by opponents: they want us to react defensively and apologetically in order to provide a smokescreen for their own violent, bloody history of terrorising others. For this reason, the verse teaches us to do away with the pathetic knee-jerk reactions and instead turn the tables on our opponents by laying out their 'dirty laundry' and there is plenty."

Explanatory Note

They ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say, ‘Fighting in it is a grave offence, but to turn people away from God’s path, to disbelieve in Him and in the Sacred Mosque, and to expel its people from it — [all this] is far more grave in God’s sight.’ Religious persecution is worse than killing. They shall not cease to fight you until they force you to renounce your faith, if they can. But whoever of you renounces his faith and dies an unbeliever, his works shall come to nothing in this world and in the world to come. Such people are destined for hell, wherein they shall abide. (Verse 217)

The verse then goes on to state, in no uncertain terms, how determined the unbelievers are in pursuing their goal of destroying the Muslims’ faith, saying: “They shall not cease to fight you until they force you to renounce your faith, if they can.” (Verse 217)

This objective is common to all enemies of Islam everywhere, to whom its very existence and success seem to be a source of deep resentment and consternation. They are profoundly alarmed by Islam’s inherent strength and resilience. The clarity of its ideas and the rigour of its principles seem to evoke their displeasure and hostility because Islam represents a bedrock of resistance against falsehood, tyranny and corruption. This morbid attitude towards Islam lies behind most of the hostile and bigoted policies and designs directed against Muslim groups and communities in many parts of the world.

The methods and means of achieving this unholy goal may vary from one case to another, but the aim remains constant: to force Muslims to abandon their faith. This campaign never abates or relaxes. Fresh impetus is added at every stage, and greater resources are deployed whenever deemed necessary.

Hence, the Qur’ān urges caution and persistence, warning of dire consequences if Muslims give in to pressure or relinquish their position. It says: “But whoever of you renounces his faith and dies an unbeliever, his works shall come to nothing in this world and in the world to come. Such people are destined for hell, wherein they shall abide.” (Verse 217)

The Arabic term, ĥabiţat, used to describe the futility of the works of those who renounce their faith, conjures up an image very familiar to the Arabs. It is what happens to a camel that grazes in polluted pastures and ends up with an inflated belly, and dies. The impact of this metaphor could not have been lost on them.

It is almost inconceivable for someone who has truly experienced the faith of Islam to renounce it completely, unless that person has been irredeemably corrupted. Renouncing the faith of Islam, no matter how severe a pressure one is subjected to, can only result in total loss, both in this world as well as in the world to come. This is not to say that it is not justifiable under extreme duress, when one could feign desertion of one’s faith to save oneself from danger or death, while one continues to believe in one’s heart and conscience. Deliberate and conscious apostasy, on the other hand, is a gross and loathsome offence.

The warning given in this verse remains true for the rest of time. Muslims are exhorted never to desert their faith, no matter what difficulties they have to put up with. When they are in difficulty, they should persevere, endure and look to God for help and salvation. No matter what hardships they undergo, Muslims are guaranteed one of two ends: victory or martyrdom.

2. Linguistic Analysis

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Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *

3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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The scholars are unanimous that Surah al-Baqarah is Madani and that it was the first Surah revealed in Madinah. [Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in Fath al-Bari no. 160/8].

Despite it being the first Surah to be revealed in Madinah, it contains Ayaat from a later period also. In fact, according to Ibn Abbas [as mentioned in Ibn Kathir] the last Ayat revealed to the Prophet was Ayat no. 281 from Surah al-Baqarah and this occurred 8 days or so before his death [which corresponds to the year 11 Hijri].

8. Reasons for Revelation

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Several reports indicate that these verses were revealed in connection with an expedition of eight Muslims from the Muhājirūn [i.e. those who migrated with the Prophet to Madinah], led by `Abdullāh ibn Jaĥsh, dispatched by the Prophet Muĥammad prior to the great Battle of Badr, with sealed instructions and ordered not to open them before the company had travelled for two nights. When opened, the instructions read as follows: “When you have read this letter of mine proceed until you reach the Nakhlah valley, between Makkah and Ţā’if. Once there, monitor the movements of the Quraysh and gather news of their activities. Do not force any of your men to go with you.”

On reading those instructions, `Abdullāh ibn Jaĥsh, the group commander, said, “To hear is to obey.” He informed his Companions, giving them the choice to join him or return to Madinah. They all agreed to go ahead. They took a route through the Ĥijāz, but on the way the camel mounted by Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqāş and `Utbah ibn Ghazwān went missing and they stayed behind to look for it. The other six went on and, as they reached the valley, a small trade caravan belonging to the Quraysh, passed by. Four people, including `Amr ibn al-Ĥadramī, were travelling with it. The task force attacked it, killing `Amr ibn al-Ĥadramī and apprehending two of the other three men, while the fourth escaped. They did this thinking it was the last day of Jumādā II, whereas in fact it was the first day of Rajab, one of the months recognized as sacred by the Arabs, when no fighting may take place, and whose sanctity was endorsed by Islam.

When the expedition returned to Madinah, the Prophet said to them, “I never ordered you to fight during the sacred month,” and refused to accept the caravan or the two prisoners. Members of the expedition were reproached by their fellow Muslims and they were in despair, while the Quraysh accused the Prophet and his followers of violating a sacred month by killing one man, abducting two others, and seizing the caravan. Some Jews in Madinah saw the incident as an omen of impending war between the Muslims and the Quraysh.

The atmosphere became charged with intrigue and propaganda. The Muslims were depicted as self-serving renegades who would not hesitate to violate age-old sanctities. It was at that point that the revelations were received confirming the sanctity of the sacred months and condemning all acts of killing during them, but putting the whole episode involving the expedition in the right perspective.
It was the unbelievers who had declared war against the Muslims, rather than the other way round. They obstructed the spread of Islam, and spared no effort in turning people away from it, resorting to oppression and persecution. They refused to believe in God or respect the Sacred Mosque. Over a period of thirteen long years, they repeatedly violated the sanctity of Makkah by their relentless and violent opposition to Islam and by persecuting Muslim converts whom they had eventually driven out of their homes and families.

These vile and shameless acts the pagan Arabs had perpetrated against Islam and the Muslims were far more grievous violations of the sanctity of the Sacred Mosque and the sacred months. They persecuted people in order to force them to renounce their faith. That is a much more grievous crime. The smoke screen had fallen down, and the pagan Arabs could no longer hide behind a wall of false piety, putting the Muslims on the defensive and accusing them of the very aggressions they themselves had committed.

Islam is a practical and realistic way of life which is not based on rigid idealistic dogma. It takes life as it is and deals with the realities of problems and situations as and when they arise, and provides practical, effective and realistic solutions.

In this instance, the idolater Arabs were the aggressors, who were seen to treat sanctities of religion and tradition with utter contempt.

They stood in active opposition to Islam, using all forms of intimidation and enticement to disconcert the Muslims, break up their ranks, drive them out of their homes and bar them from their land. At the same time, they falsely claimed the higher moral ground, protesting in the name of religion and accusing Muĥammad and his followers of breaching the sanctity of the sacred months.

How should Islam deal with such people? Should it recommend a utopian approach? It could not possibly advise its followers to stand idle while their opponents were using every available means to stifle them. Islam aims to stamp out oppression and evil, and curtail the powers of aggression and injustice, to allow the good and righteous to prevail and prevent religious sanctities being used as a shield for the perpetration of tyranny and corruption.

Islam assiduously respects those who honour religious sanctities, but it would not allow such sanctities to be used as a pretext for the persecution or suppression of the believers, or to deprive them of their legitimate rights. It further affirms that such acts should not go unpunished.

By the same token, Islam forbids backbiting, slander and injustice, for instance, but makes it clear that this does not apply in cases of people who are known for their corruption or bad reputation, or who commit an injustice. To protect such behaviour is liable to be misconstrued as weakness, and could only encourage further corruption and injustice.

Nevertheless, Islam maintains its own high moral principles and does not recommend resort to the same obscene methods used by its detractors. It simply directs the Muslims to stand up to those who offend against them, and reserves for them the right to appropriately and publicly punish them. It is only when justice is established and wrongdoing is contained that sanctities can be protected and preserved.

Islam is utterly unequivocal on this point. It makes no excuses, nor allows anyone to take advantage of its lenient and tolerant attitude. The Qur’ān, in this instance, provides the Muslim community with the solid ground on which to stand in its fight against evil and corruption. It gives Muslims clear and definite principles to allow them to forge ahead with their mission with certainty, self-assurance and total peace of conscience.

9. Relevant Hadith

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  • Allah's Messenger 'I have not commanded you to conduct warfare during the Sacred Month' [Ibn Kathir]


  • The Quraysh offered to ransom the two prisoners, `Uthman bin `Abdullah and Hakam bin Kaysan. Allah's Messenger said 'We will not accept your ransom until our two companions return safely.' [Ibn Kathir]

10. Wiki Forum

Comments in this section are statements made by general users – these are not necessarily explanations of the Ayah – rather a place to share personal thoughts and stories…

11. Tafsir Zone


12. External Links

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