The arrest of Daniel Patrick Boyd – on charges that he plotted to support Palestinians by attacking Israel – has renewed a debate among some American Muslims: If Muslims overseas are oppressed by people of other faiths, what religious responsibility do American Muslims have to assist those Muslims?

The Recitation (or Qur’an) instructs Muslims to protect other Muslims who are oppressed. “And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? Men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!’” (4:75)

Some American Muslims believe that this verse is applicable to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians (and to other situations in various parts of the world). Boyd’s apparent willingness to fight the Israelis has won him quiet sympathy from some American Muslims.

However, some American Muslims argue that there are time limitations to the above-mentioned verse. They argue that verses authorizing the use of force applied only to the time of the Prophet. Other Muslims respond that Islam is universal, and God intended for the Recitation to apply in all places and at all times.

Some American Muslims argue that there are geographical limitations to the above-mentioned verse. They argue that the responsibility to fight oppression is local; in other words, Palestinians should stand up against Israeli soldiers and settlers, but American Muslims have no religious obligation to help the Palestinians. (This “geographical limitation” did not come up during the life of Prophet Muhammad, because all Muslims lived in one geographic region at that time.)

The religious analysis is further complicated by the fact that the U.S. government provides Israel with weapons to take on the Palestinians. Does that sufficiently “localize” the conflict to religiously justify the involvement of American Muslims on the side of Palestinians against Israeli soldiers and settlers?

Taking it one step further, does American involvement on the side of Israel justify attacks by American Muslims on American targets? That’s Al Qaeda’s argument, but it’s not clear if Daniel Patrick Boyd reached that conclusion. There are conflicting reports on that in the press. According to The New York Times, “Federal officials in Washington said that the men charged on Monday were not seen as serious terrorist threats to the United States or American interests abroad, and that there were no indications of ties to Al Qaeda or other militant groups.” Later, however, The New York Times reported, “Prosecutors identified Mr. Boyd as the man on the tape making remarks like, ‘We should take them out right now, they are over there killing our brothers,’ apparently in reference to the American military, and saying that jihad was the only defense his group had ‘for getting our wealth back and stopping the rape of Muslim women.'”

It’s also religiously significant that American law prohibits Americans from attacking Israel. Some American Muslims believe they have a religious obligation to follow the laws of the country where they live. They believe that Prophet Muhammad said, “It is necessary upon a Muslim to listen to and obey the ruler, as long as one is not ordered to carry out a sin. If he is commanded to commit a sin, then there is no adherence and obedience.” That takes us back to the above-mentioned verse from the Recitation; if an American Muslim is commanded to not help Muslims who are oppressed, is he “commanded to commit a sin”?

Regardless of how they resolve these religious issues, the fear of prosecution leads most American Muslims to sit on the sidelines, and Boyd’s arrest will reinforce that fear.

Meanwhile, some American Muslims quietly fume at what they believe to be a double-standard: the U.S. government would never prosecute an American Jew who travels to Israel to shoot at Palestinians. Nor would the U.S. government prosecute an American Jew who raises funds to support Israeli soldiers or settlers who shoot at Palestinians.

It must be noted that there is also a double-standard at work among American Muslims. When people of other faiths (like Israeli soldiers and settlers) oppress Muslims, American Muslims tend to get pretty riled up. When Muslims (like dictators in various Muslim countries, or sectarian militias) oppress Muslims, American Muslims tend to look the other way. That tribalism hurts the credibility of American Muslims when they complain about human rights violations by people of other faiths.

NOTE: The Raleigh News & Observer has provided links to audiotapes (played in court) of Daniel Patrick Boyd explaining his views of when Muslims are required to fight and against whom. There are several clips of varying audio quality, but the two longest clips are good quality audio.


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7 Responses to Did Daniel Patrick Boyd Have A Religious Obligation To Fight Israeli Soldiers And Settlers?
  1. Mirakmal Niyazmat August 7, 2009 at 11:13 am Reply

    Two observations:
    [a] Qur’an 4:75 is one of the most cited verses (and frequently misinterpreted) from Qur’an in the media along with 2:191, 2:216, 4:89, 47:4, etc. To refresh my memory about content and commentary to 4:75, I looked at the translation and commentary to Qur’an by Yusuf Ali, Ali Unal, and Muhammad Asad. Interestingly, none explicitly mention that there are “geographical limitations” to this verse. Their commentary can be summarized as “It is a duty upon all Muslims to fight against oppressors to establish justice and security in the land.” The authors do not clarify if this duty is only on those who were directly affected by oppression or general duty upon all Muslims. Thus, if someone knows any notable Islamic scholar elaborating on the geographical scope of 4:75, I would be interested to know.

    [b] A quick search in reputable Islamic websites such as and support geographical limitation interpretation. To the question of “What can we do to help Palestinians?,” scholars generally replied: pray for them, raise awareness about atrocities committed by Israel, extend financial aid, urge your governments to take action, boycott the products/businesses that invest/assist Israeli government/economy, etc. None of them stated that every Muslim has a responsibility to fight for the rights of Palestinians in military sense, i.e. go to Palestine and join the military resistance.

    Thanks for raising another important topic!

  2. Abdullah bani adam August 11, 2009 at 7:39 am Reply

    Islam and Jihad in context of international treaties and citizenship of a Non-Muslim majority state.
    Islam insists that Muslims should abide by the pacts and treaties that they have entered into with others. The Quran repeatedly insists on this. In one place, it says, ‘[A] nd keep the covenant. Lo! of the covenant it will be asked’(17:34). A hadith report claims that the Prophet once remarked, ‘A person lacks faith if he is not trustworthy and he who breaks his agreements has no religion.’

    From the Quran and the Sunnah it emerges that for the Prophet the treaty that deserved the highest respect and the strictest compliance was the political pact between two states or between an individual and a state to ensure peace and security of life and property. The insistence on abiding by pacts entered into with others is a central Islamic teaching, and those who break their treaties are warned of punishment in Hell. The Islamic doctrine of jihad in the path of God must be understood in this light. The Prophet Muhammad is said to have remarked:

    ‘On the Day of Judgment, when all of humankind shall assemble before God, every oath-breaker shall be given in his hand a flag announcing that he is a traitor, on which shall be written that he, son of his father, is a traitor.’

    Muslims have no need to adopt any apologetic or defensive stance on the issue of jihad. The doctrine of jihad is one of the clear proofs of the truth of Islam. It is a necessary means for fulfilling the higher purposes of humanity, if and when the need so arises. It is also a means to secure God’s blessings. A true jihad has nothing whatsoever to do with strife and conflict that is a central aspect of the Western-inspired present international system, under which states continue to maintain elations with each other and formally abide by their treaties but surreptitiously engage in proxy wars to destabilize each other.

    Lamentably, today, some elements are exhorting impressionable Muslim youth with to renege on their commitments and pacts in the name of jihad. In this way they are seeking to instigate them to violate the commandments of the shariah and the limits set by God, while also causing grave damage to the cause of Islam and its followers. These stupid people are not friends of Islam. Many of them, in fact, have been nurtured and are being used by the enemies of Islam. In this regard I can cite two notable instances—Abu Hamza al-Misri and Omar al-Bakri—both of who are based in England and are engaged in provoking young Muslims to take to violence while themselves enjoying the protection of the British Government.

    With regard to such foolish people, let me say that the moment a Muslim applies for a visa to visit or stay in a non-Muslim country he enters into what, in effect, is an agreement with the government of that state, promising it that he will not pose any threat to the lives and property of the people of that country and that he will abide by the country’s laws. He reiterates this promise numerous times while travelling to that country and also when he enters it. Even if that country is vociferously anti-Muslim and anti-Islam, it is incumbent on that person to abide by this agreement and respect the lives and properties of that country’s inhabitants. This is because he has consciously entered into an agreement with that country’s government and has assured it that he will respect its laws and the lives and properties of its citizens. Therefore, he has absolutely no excuse for misusing the name of Islam to revolt against that state or to violate the agreement that he has entered into with it. If he violates this agreement and commits an act of aggression in that country, even with a good intention, he commits a crime in the eyes both of the law and of Islam. For, as a hadith report claims the Prophet once declared, ‘If a person assures someone else of protection from his side but then slays him, he will be made to hold the flag of treason in his hand’ (Masnad Ahmad: 21441). The same hadith is mentioned, along with a correct chain of transmitters, in the Sahih Ibn Haban (5982), with the addition of the phrase ‘even if the slain person is a non-Muslim’.

    Another form of treaty or agreement is that relating to citizenship. Muslim citizens of a modern non-Muslim state have, in effect, entered into an agreement with that state and its other citizens. This agreement is more important than other ordinary agreements in that other agreements are generally valid only for a specified time period, while the agreement related to one’s citizenship lasts as long as a person retains citizenship of a given country. Citizenship has always been understood as an agreement between an individual citizen and the state of a country whose citizen he is. The state and its citizens have clearly specified responsibilities vis-à-vis each other, as do the citizens of the country among themselves. They all agree to protect, and not to harm, the lives and properties of the citizens of the country. If someone declares that he does not regard it his duty to respect the life of his fellow citizens and that he is free to take their lives and property, the state of which he is a citizen will, naturally, at once declare him to be guilty of treason.

    In today’s world, citizenship has assumed the form of an agreement that is very wide in scope. Both the duties and responsibilities of the state as well as the commitments of its citizens have greatly expanded. In this regard, it is clear that it is not permissible for a Muslim citizen of a state wherein Muslims might even be badly oppressed and have numerous complaints of mistreatment and discrimination to engage in any sort of violence against that country or its ordinary citizens as long as he remains a citizen of that country. At the most, he can retaliate against a particular oppressor if he is being oppressed. Of course, it is a different matter if he renounces citizenship of that country and shifts to another country, where the duties binding on a citizen of his former country do not apply to him.

    As long as the Prophet and his companions remained in Mecca, they remained as citizens, to use a modern term, of the Meccan state. Despite the cruel oppression that they were subjected to, they lived in such a way that ordinary Meccans felt no threat from them at all. Although there were a few minor conflicts between some Muslims and some Meccan polytheists at this time, these were individual disputes, such as those that can take place in any country between fellow citizens. These were, in any case, disputes between polytheists and Muslim individuals whom they persecuted, and to take steps in the face of oppression is not a crime. But, then, when the Prophet left Mecca his agreement with the Meccan polytheists effectively ended. The Meccan polytheists now longer enjoyed legal protection from the Muhajirs or Muslims who had shifted to Medina, and vice versa.

    Lamentably, we rarely, if ever, consider these limits, rules and principles regarding citizenship as laid down in the shariah, which are specified in the Quran and expressed in the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet. This is why we have been unable to apply them to our contemporary context. In this regard, many Muslims hold extremist views that are tantamount to a gross violation of the shariah. It would not have been a matter of great surprise if these were restricted only to some Muslim youths, reacting in this manner in the face of the oppression. But, when what are thought of as serious intellectual Muslim journals and magazines also begin to toe this line, it is not just surprising and shocking, but grossly lamentable and troubling.

    Let me clarify this issue by citing the response of some Muslim magazines in the wake of a recent controversy over the publishing of some cartoons derogatory of the Prophet in Denmark. These Muslim magazines referred to numerous instances in the past when inflamed and emotionally- driven Muslims had killed people who had mocked the Prophet. They presented them as heroic examples that Muslims must emulate whenever the image of the Prophet is derided. They argued that this is precisely what was commanded by the shariah.

    It is true that those who deride the Prophet should deserve to be punished by law. But, it is also true that it is only for the courts and the state to decide the punishment and inflict it in such cases, and not for individual Muslims. If a Muslim takes the law in his hand and kills a person for mocking the Prophet, he has committed a criminal offence. This is because, in the Islamic shariah, the imposition or execution of such a punishment can only be done by an established legal authority. This prerogative has not been given to any individual person.

    The emotionally- driven rhetoric of some Muslim magazines exhorting Muslims to murder traducers of the Prophet reflected faulty knowledge of Islam and proved to be gravely damaging to Islam and its adherents. In the early years of Islam, no mufti ever gave a fatwa sanctioning this sort of punishment without the consent of the state and the courts.

  3. I will not address the individual in North Carolina who was arrested along with his wife in a bizzare fashion which may have violated due process.

    I will, however, address the issue of being a Muslim.

    Does being a Muslim mean that you have an OBLIGATION to physically fight on behalf of other Muslims who are being assaulted.
    Yes and No.

    If you can fight, then you should fight with the way of Islam and the way of Justice.
    You should not transgress limitations: As an American citizen you cannot expect to be able to wage war on behalf of a people whom the USA does not recognize as being worthy of defending then you cannot expect to maintain your citizenship to take up arms in defense of them.
    So choose.
    Be an American Citizen or Fight against oppression that the US doesn’t recognize. You can’t have it both ways.

    If you choose to maintain your citizenship then use the freedoms given you to speak out against what you hate, demonstrate against it, enlighten others about the evil that you are forbidding.

    If you can take action, take action; if you can speak out, speak out, if you cannot do any then hate it in your heart and may Allah reward us all for our deeds AND our intentions.

  4. Mirakmal Niyazmat August 12, 2009 at 9:52 pm Reply

    Interesting insights…

    But would the “obligation to fight Israeli settlers and soldiers” change if the X government DOES recognize that Palestinians are oppressed by Israeli settlers and soldiers BUT does not directly call upon its citizens to go to Israel and fight against settlers and soldiers? For the sake of the discussion, let’s assume that X government’s criminal law does not criminalize this action as such. Would this situation change the scope of the “obligation?”

  5. Not a Dum Arse like most here August 17, 2009 at 4:35 am Reply

    Firstly, all of you idiots just took quotes from Quran and interpreted it as you saw fit. That is the problem today. Everyone thinks they experts on Islam. All of you heavy accent people think being American means showing America is right. This will not make you look good but a traitor only. Say what is right! Else, shut up.

  6. I have a heavy accent.. I’m a southerner.

    Being American means being an American citizen… see that’s the wonderful thing about America is that according to our foundations you can be any religion, ethnicity or political affiliation.

    What you can NOT do, according to the law, is wage war against the USA or it’s allies and retain your citizenship.

    This is a black and white issue with the LAW.

    Within Islam there are shades of gray.

    Fight in the way of justice and in the best ways of warfare, using all the tactics and methods of warfare.
    This is the instruction of the Qur’an.

    What better tactic of warfare can there be than educating people about the realities of the conflict, shattering stereotypes and using truth to destroy falsehood?

    Turn enemies into allies, then slowly Israel the protected will be revealed for the serpent it truly is.

    Zionazi fascism will fall; but not as long as Muslims keep allowing themselves to feed into the stereotypes.

    Fight if you must.. but better to speak out and to fight with words instead of bullets.

  7. the only oppressors are you stinking heathen ragheads who have no claim to the holy land.


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