AND FIGHT in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression - for, verily, God does not love aggressors.167 (2:191) And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away from wherever they drove you away - for oppression is even worse than killing.168 And fight not against them near the Inviolable House of Worship unless they fight against you there first;169 but if they fight against you, slay them:such shall be the recompense of those who deny the truth
But if they desist - behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
Hence, fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone;170 but if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, save against those who [wilfully] do wrong.
Fight during the sacred months if you are attacked:171 for a violation of sanctity is [subject to the law of] just retribution. Thus, if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him just as he has attacked you - but remain conscious of God, and know that God is with those who are conscious of Him.172
167 This and the following verses lay down unequivocally that only self-defence (in the widest sense of the word) makes war permissible for Muslims. Most of the commentators agree in that the expression la ta’tadu signifies, in this context, “do not commit aggression”; while by al-mu’tadin “those who commit aggression” are meant. The defensive character of a fight “in God’s cause” - that is, in the cause of the ethical principles ordained by God - is, moreover, self-evident in the reference to “those who wage war against you”, and has been still further clarified in 22:39 - “permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged” - which, according to all available Traditions, constitutes the earliest (and therefore fundamental) Qur’anic reference to the question of jihad, or holy war (see Tabari and Ibn Kathir in their commentaries on 22:39). That this early, fundamental principle of self-defence as the only possible justification of war has been maintained throughout the Qur’an is evident from 60:8, as well as from the concluding sentence of 4:91, both of which belong to a later period than the above verse.
168 In view of the preceding ordinance, the injunction “slay them wherever you may come upon them” is valid only within the context of hostilities already in progress (Razi), on the understanding that “those who wage war against you” are the aggressors or oppressors (a war of liberation being a war “in God’s cause”). The translation, in this context, of fitnah as “oppression” is justified by the application of this term to any affliction which may cause man to go astray and to lose his faith in spiritual values (cf. Lisan al-'Arab).
169 This reference to warfare in the vicinity of Mecca is due to the fact that at the time of the revelation of this verse the Holy City was still in the possession of the pagan Quraysh, who were hostile to the Muslims. However - as is always the case with historical references in the Qur’an - the above injunction has a general import, and is valid for all times and circumstances
170 Lit., “and religion belongs to God [alone]” - i.e., until God can be worshipped without fear of persecution, and none is compelled to bow down in awe before another human being. (See also 22:40.) The term din is in this context more suitably translated as “worship” inasmuch as it comprises here both the doctrinal and the moral aspects of religion: that is to say, man’s faith as well as the obligations arising from that faith.
171 This is a free rendering of the phrase “the sacred month for the sacred month”, which is interpreted by all commentators in the sense given above. The “sacred months” during which, according to ancient Arab custom, all fighting was deemed utterly wrong, were the first, seventh, eleventh and twelfth months of the lunar calendar.
172 Thus, although the believers are enjoined to fight back whenever they are attacked, the concluding words of the above verse make it clear that they must, when fighting, abstain from all atrocities, including the killing of non-combatants.