In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Terrorism can be defined as:
Any act of violence or threat perpetrated to carry out a criminal plan with the aim of terrorizing people or threatening to harm them or imperiling their lives, honor, freedom, security, or rights.Source: OIC Convention to Combat Terrorism 1999CE/1420H
This includes the unlawful killing of women, children, and non-combatants. Such acts are forbidden and condemned by Islam. Muslims are only allowed to fight hostile forces who initiate aggression against innocent people.
وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَFight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Verily, Allah does not love transgressors.Surah Al-Baqarah 2:190
“Do not transgress,” means do not kill women, children, or non-combatants.
At-Tabari reported: Ibn Abbas explained the verse saying:
لَا تَقْتُلُوا النِّسَاءَ وَلَا الصِّبْيَانَ وَلَا الشَّيْخَ الْكَبِيرَ وَلَا مَنْ أَلْقَى إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَمَ وَكَفَ يَدَهُ فَإِنْ فَعَلْتُمْ هَذَا فَقَدَ اعْتَدَيْتُمْDo not kill women, or children, or old men, or whoever comes to you with peace and he restrains his hand from fighting; for if you did that, you would certainly have transgressed.Source: Tafseer At-Tabari 2:190
The killing of women, children, and non-combatants was explicitly prohibited by the Prophet.
Abdullah ibn Umar reported:
أَنَّ امْرَأَةً وُجِدَتْ فِي بَعْضِ مَغَازِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَقْتُولَةً فَأَنْكَرَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَتْلَ النِّسَاءِ وَالصِّبْيَانِA woman was found killed in one of the battles of the Messenger of Allah, so he condemned the killing of women and children.Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 2668 Grade: Sahih
Hanzala Al-Katib reported: We went on an expedition with the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and we passed by a woman who had been killed and the people were gathered around her. They dispersed and he said:
مَا كَانَتْ هَذِهِ تُقَاتِلُ فِيمَنْ يُقَاتِلُShe was not one of those who were fighting.
Then he told a man to return to Khalid ibn Al-Waleed and say to him:
إِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَأْمُرُكَ يَقُولُ لَا تَقْتُلَنَّ ذُرِّيَّةً وَلَا عَسِيفًاVerily, the Messenger of Allah has commanded you, saying: Do not kill children or workers.Source: Sunan ibn Majah 2842 Grade: Hasan
The Quran mentions that unlawful killing, kidnapping, terrorizing people, and evicting them from their homes are all crimes forbidden for the Israelites, and likewise for the Muslims.
ثُمَّ أَنتُمْ هَٰؤُلَاءِ تَقْتُلُونَ أَنفُسَكُمْ وَتُخْرِجُونَ فَرِيقًا مِّنكُم مِّن دِيَارِهِمْ تَظَاهَرُونَ عَلَيْهِم بِالْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ وَإِن يَأْتُوكُمْ أُسَارَىٰ تُفَادُوهُمْ وَهُوَ مُحَرَّمٌ عَلَيْكُمْ إِخْرَاجُهُمْ أَفَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِبَعْضِ الْكِتَابِ وَتَكْفُرُونَ بِبَعْضٍYou are those same ones who are killing one another and evicting a party of your people from their homes, cooperating against them in sin and aggression. If they come to you as captives, you sell them for ransom, although their eviction was forbidden to you. So do you believe in part of the Scripture and disbelieve in the rest?Surah Al-Baqarah 2:85
For this reason, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation at the United Nations issued the following statement:
The tenets of the tolerant Islamic Law rejects all forms of violence and terrorism, and in particular especially those based on extremism, and it calls for protection of human rights, whose provisions are paralleled by the principles and rules of international law founded on cooperation between peoples for the establishment of peace.Source: OIC Convention to Combat Terrorism 1999CE/1420H
Even Orientalist scholars with less-than-favorable views of Muslims will admit that Islam does not allow terrorism. Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton University cannot be described as an Islamic apologist. His writings are often critical of Muslim societies, yet this careful academic states in his book:
Muslim fighters are commanded not to kill women, children, or the aged unless they attack first; not to torture or otherwise ill-treat prisoners; to give fair warning of the opening of hostilities or their resumption after a truce; and to honor agreements… At no time did the classical jurists offer any approval or legitimacy to what we nowadays call terrorism. Nor indeed is there any evidence of the use of terrorism as it is practiced nowadays.Source: Islam: The Religion and the People, p. 151
And he also says:
At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder. At no point – as far as I am aware – do they even consider the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders.Source: The Crisis of Islam, p. 39
Professor Lewis’ writings are subject to peer-reviewed scrutiny by scholars of competing University presses, and no one has been able to challenge him on this point because it is simply the truth.
Regarding the verse you have cited, it refers to Allah and the angels casting fear into the hearts of the unbelievers, who at the time were waging a war of aggression against the Muslim community.
إِذْ يُوحِي رَبُّكَ إِلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ أَنِّي مَعَكُمْ فَثَبِّتُوا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ۚ سَأُلْقِي فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا الرُّعْبَ فَاضْرِبُوا فَوْقَ الْأَعْنَاقِ وَاضْرِبُوا مِنْهُمْ كُلَّ بَنَانٍRemember when your Lord inspired to the angels, saying: I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike them upon their necks and strike from them every fingertip.Surah Al-Anfal 8:12
Ibn Kathir explains the meaning of this verse, saying:
ثَبِّتُوا أَنْتُمُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَقَوُّوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ عَلَى أَعْدَائِهِمْ عَنْ أَمْرِي لَكُمْ بِذَلِكَ سَأُلْقِي الرُّعْبَ وَالْمَذَلَّةَ وَالصَّغَارَ عَلَى مَنْ خَالَفَ أَمْرِي وَكَذَّبَ رَسُولِيYou – angels – support the Muslims and strengthen their resolve against their enemies, thus implementing my command. I – Allah – will cast terror, disgrace, and humiliation upon whoever defies my command and rejects my messenger.Source: Tafseer Ibn Kathir, verse 8:12
Ar-Rabi’ ibn Anas said:
كَانَ النَّاسُ يَوْمَ بَدْرٍ يَعْرِفُونَ قَتْلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ مِمَّنْ قَتَلُوا هُمْ بِضَرْبٍ فَوْقَ الْأَعْنَاقِ وَعَلَى الْبَنَانِ مِثْلَ سِمَةِ النَّارِ قَدِ أُحْرِقَ بِهِIn the aftermath of the battle of Badr, the people used to recognize whomever the angels killed by the wounds over their necks, fingers and toes, because those parts had a mark as if they were branded by fire.
Therefore, the verse refers to the act of Allah sending his angels to support the Muslims who at the time were defending their city from aggression. The terror thrown into their hearts was upon their realization that Allah was supporting the Muslims with angels. It does not mean Muslims have been commanded to spread terror as a means of political change.
In conclusion, terrorism and political violence is forbidden in Islam. Killing women, children, and non-combatants is a major sin. Rather, the Prophet only fought in self-defense to repel aggression against the Muslim community.