The Holy verse says:
"And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al-Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. " (2:191)
As usual, the verse was taken out of context. Let us first put it in its right context. The Holy Quran says:
"Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al-Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah. But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors. [Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him." (2:190-194)
Fighting against aggressors was prohibited during the first thirteen years of the Prophet’s mission. After Muslims migrated to Madina , the verses above were revealed to enable the community to fight in self-defense. when Muslims of Madinah were under constant attack from the Makkans, they emigrated to Medinah to escape the torture and prosecution they were subjected to in Mecca. Meccans confiscated their homes and properties.
So What's wrong with the above verses?
actually the above verse (2:191) face two famous accusations. Now that we have placed the verse in its right context let us discuss these false accusations.
Claim1: The verses give Muslims permission to wage offensive war
Please notice the following:
1- The verse just before 2:191 clearly states: "Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress " which means Muslims MUST NOT initiate war. Fighting is allowed ONLY IF they are attacked and even then the Muslim army has to comply to the general rules of war in Islam the golden rule of which "DO NOT TRANSGRESS".
"Jihad" can never be fought for worldly gain, for conquest, or even for revenge. Muslims must only fight to protect the lives, property, and freedoms of people, especially their freedom to worship Allah when that freedom is forcibly attacked.
2- The verse clearly states: " expel them from wherever they have expelled you," which again reminds Muslims that the punishment is compatible with the crime and supports the idea that war is done ONLY against those who attacked Muslims.
3- Even after Muslims are attacked and were hence obliged to fight back, they have to comply to the second rule of war in Islam which is " And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful."
4- The verse clearly states : " And do not fight them at al-Masjid al-Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them." Meaning that fighting at " al-Masjid al-Haram" which means at "the grand Mosque at Mecca" is strictly forbidden unless the enemy ATTACKS there then Muslims have the right to fight back. This is again another proof that the war was not offensive but defensive since the enemy chose the battle field NOT the Muslims.
5- The verse 2:194 states: "[Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him." which gives again another proof that Muslims were waging a defensive war since according to Islam Muslims are NOT allowed to fight during the sacred months, this fact was used by their enemies to attack them during the sacred months hoping Muslims would not be allowed to fight back, but this verse gave Muslims permission to defend themselves that's why the verse states clearly : "So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you." How can anyone be blind enough not to understand these very clear words that prove that the subject of the whole group of verses (2:190-194) is DEFENSIVE war.
6- Many verses in the Holy Quran reflect the same meaning such as: "Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory." (22:39)
Claim2: The verses give Muslims permission to wage war to impose Islam on people
Some people, out of ignorance or malignancy, claim that "Fitnah" means:" disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah" and they go more to saying that the war Muslims are allowed to wage is for the sole cause of imposing Islam on people. I will assume that their only excuse is ignorance and try to explain to them what they do not understand. This claim is actually naively funny. The answer has two main categories namely linguistic explanation of the ARABIC word "Fitnah" as well as some historical examples.
Al-Azhari said: “The Arabic word fitnah includes meanings of testing and trial. The root is taken from the phrase fatantu al-fiddah wa’l-dhahab (I assayed (tested the quality of) the silver and gold), meaning I melted the metals to separate the bad from the good. Like in the verse: "Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?" (29:2)
In the above verse "Fitnah" means Muslims are tested for how loyal they are to their faith by going through wars to defend their faith. War means the probability to be killed, if you truly believe then you will fight willingly, though God understands this is hateful, to defend your faith.
2- "[until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah "
In the Holy Quran we have verses that clearly and strictly forbids compulsion in religion like: "There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing." (2:256)
also:"And say, "The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve." (18:29)
and also: "And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?" (10:99)
If such is the case how can we possibly explain the above verse and the verse "[until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah" because they may seem contradicting, but as Muslims we know for sure no 2 verses can contradict so how can the Quran says in one verse: "there shall be no compulsion in the religion" and in another "[until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah ".
The explanation is actually simple. Muslims are obliged to make the message of Islam reach all the world because Islam is not for Arabs only, it is actually a message to the whole world and Muslims are supposed to honestly deliver this message and guarantee it is correctly understood and then ensure free choice of religion whether those to whom the message was delivered choose Islam or not, it is their right to choose freely and it is the duty of Muslims to ensure that the choice is based on free will not on obligation or intimidation.
This is in fact one of the cases when Muslims are allowed to fight, when someone tries to stop the message of Islam from reaching other people. Fighting here is not to enforce Islam but to ensure freedom of choice.
That is why for example Muslims conquered a country like Egypt in the era of Omar Ibn El-Khattab, the second righteous caliph. Egypt was part of the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire. To explain the conditions of Egyptians at that era I took an excerpt from the website Country Studies: Egypt under Rome and Byzantium, 30 B.C.-A.D. 640
"For nearly two centuries, Monophysitism in Egypt became the symbol of national and religious resistance to Byzantium's political and religious authority. The Egyptian Church was severely persecuted by Byzantium. Churches were closed, and Coptic Christians were killed, tortured, and exiled in an effort to force the Egyptian Church to accept Byzantine orthodoxy. The Coptic Church continued to appoint its own patriarchs, refusing to accept those chosen by Constantinople and attempting to depose them. The break with Catholicism in the fifth century converted the Coptic Church to a national church with deeply rooted traditions that have remained unchanged to this day.
By the seventh century, the religious persecutions and the growing pressure of taxation had engendered great hatred of the Byzantines. As a result, the Egyptians offered little resistance to the conquering armies of Islam."
That was the conditions of Christian Egyptians then, if you went a bit deeper in the history of Romans in Egypt you will read wonders about how Romans fought the spread of Christianity in Egypt. They prosecuted, tortured and killed Christians in what is known as "the age of martyrs" to the extent that made the Coptic church choose Coptic years to start from 284, the year Diocletian became Roman Emperor, whose reign was marked by tortures and mass executions of Christians, especially in Egypt. Hence, the Coptic year is identified by the abbreviation A.M. (for Anno Martyrum or "Year of the Martyrs"). Wikipedia: Coptic Calendar
Muslims fought the Byzantines and freed Egyptians from their hateful occupation, then what did the leader of the Muslim army do? did he kill or prosecute Christians of Egypt? No, on the contrary. I'll take a simple excerpt from Wikipedia: Stance of the Egyptians towards the invading Muslims
"Amr ibn al-Aas had popular support in Egypt amongst the Coptic Christian population. In the book "The Great Arab Conquests" Hugh Kennedy writes that Cyrus the Roman governor had expelled the Coptic patriarch Benjamin into exile. When Amr occupied Alexandria, a Coptic nobleman (duqs) called Sanutius persuaded him to send out a proclamation of safe conduct for Benjamin and an invitation to return to Alexandria. When he arrived, after thirteen years in concealment, Amr treated him with respect. He was then instructed by the governor to resume control over the Coptic Church. He arranged for the restoration of the monasteries in the Wadi Natrun that had been ruined by the Chalcedonian Christians, which still exists as a functioning monastery in the present day. "
A similar case you can easily read about in Andalusia, where the prosecuted Jews were saved by Muslims and by the advent of Islam and Muslims taking over Andalusia started what the Jews call "Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain".
So the mere attempt of claiming Muslims conquer to enforce Islam reflect nothing but total ignorance or total prejudice.