War in Islam: Ethics and Rules
By: Ali Gomaa
Islam as a complete system encompasses all aspects of life and places principles and methodologies which help people to face the challenges which they encounter on a daily basis. Islam managed to connect between worldly affairs and human behavior without turning a blind eye on the hereafter and the next world.
This comprehensive understanding of world issues applies on the concept of war in Islam which is governed with restricted rules that makes it one of the noblest forms of war fares and was legislated for defending human rights, preventing injustice and oppression and preserving human rights.
Some of the results and consequences which are sought out of war from the Islamic perspective are as follow:
Disciplining the self to get accustomed to chivalry, knighthood and nobility.
Setting freedom and justice for all people regardless of their religious affiliation or creedal beliefs.
Spreading the merciful message of Islam which encompasses beauty, goodness and righteousness.
Giving priorities to public issues over personal interests.
Achieving deterrence force to secure people in their lands.
If we reviewed back Prophet Muhammad’s noble biography, we would figure out that he did not resort to the military option unless he exhausted all other peaceful means. The Prophet’s tribe of Quraysh had an aggressive assaulting stance against Islam. Quraysh chased Muslims out of their homeland and persecuted them for the mere fact of embracing Islam and believing in the Oneness of God; a fact which forced the Prophet to fight them back.
God commanded us to avoid going into wars as much as we can and seeking peace in every way possible. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Don’t wish to meet the enemy but if you meet them, be patient” (Muslim). This indicates the necessity of not being hastened in resorting to military options and favoring peace and peaceful solutions to conflicts as much as possible.
The reasons behind which Muslims resort to war are pertinent to preserving human rights and dignity. This meaning was clearly emphasized in the Quran when God described the type of war that He approves of by attaching the attribute of (fi Sabil Allah) which means for the sake of God. This means that going into wars is not performed out of personal interests or private gains but rather are conducted for human value and general interest.
Some of the reasons of going to wars in Islam are as follow:
Defending for one’s life and responding to aggression. This is a human right that applies on Muslims and non Muslims alike. The Islamic Shari’ah couldn’t have prevented Muslims from responding back to aggression and harm as the Islamic Shari’ah with all its rulings in entirety revolves around the human being and its higher objectives are all about preserving his life, religion, dignity, mind and possessions. God says in the Quran, “Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors”. 2:190 and says, “Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion – [forbids] that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” 60:9
Responding to aggression and assaulting of one Muslim group on another Muslim group. God says, “And if two factions among the believers should fight, then make settlement between the two. But if one of them oppresses the other, then fight against the one that oppresses until it returns to the ordinance of Allah . And if it returns, then make settlement between them in justice and act justly. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” 49:9
Fighting those who cut off roads and raise their weapons on Muslims and loot their money. Those muggers should be prevented in all ways even through fighting. God says, ““Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment” 5:33
Protecting homeland and assisting persecuted Muslims anywhere in the world. All Islamic countries from the Islamic perspective are but one country which should be protected. God says, “And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children who say, “Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?” 4:75
Securing the freedom of disseminating the Islamic message as Islam is an international call which Muslims are asked to invite others to. Therefore it is incumbent upon Muslims to deliver the Prophet’s message to the world and then leave people free to choose what to believe. God says, “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.” 2:193
Through this great constitution which is placed to guide war fare in Islam and commands Muslims not to start assaulting others, Muslims learn war ethics and values that are implanted in them through the Islamic Shari’ah and its restricted guidelines for conducting war fares. Islam raises Muslims to become knights and noble warriors instead of training them to be blood hungry. War ethics in Islam is an all encompassing system which includes ethics before, during and after conducting wars.
Moral ethics before going to war
Refraining from committing treachery and betrayal.
This means that if a treaty was concluded between Muslims and another country and this country performed actions which insinuate breaching the terms of the treaty, Muslims are not allowed to go into war with them unless the other country which breached the treaty is notified about annulling the treaty before going into war fare provided that sufficient time is given for them to ponder over breaching their treaty as they might retreat and ask for renewing the treaty and maintain peace. God says in the Quran, “If you [have reason to] fear from a people betrayal, throw [their treaty] back to them, [putting you] on equal terms. Indeed, Allah does not like traitors.” 8:58
Moral ethics in the start of fighting:
Knowing the enemy which Muslims are fighting against and refraining from fighting those who did not participate in fighting:
God only limited killing when it is for the purpose of benefiting people and therefore God said repetitively in the Quran, “Don’t transgress” which means that we are only allowed to fight those who fight against us without transgressing through fighting others who are not part of the combat. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) classified those that Muslims are not allowed to fight and they included women, children, old people, crippled, blind, handicapped, one whose right hand is cut off, lunatic, monks in monasteries, wanderer in mountains who is not mixed with people, people who are secluded in a house or a church worshipping in a locked door.
Forbidding soldiers from destruction and demolishing properties:
The Muslim combatant is committed to preserve souls and money of the weak, the innocent, the unarmed, the non combatant and is warned against destroying civilizations and infrastructure of the place they are fighting in. Therefore Muslims are not allowed to sabotage or destroy anything during the fight as this is considered as corruption in land and God does not like corruption. Therefore Muslims do not demolish lands of the combatants of the other army, or burn their harvest, or slaughter their animals without a necessity, even burning or drowning beehives is not allowed.
Forbidding mutilation of corpse and burning people alive
God commanded us in fighting to treat the other party with an equal treatment similar to that with which they treat us. God says in the Quran “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.” 2:195
So Muslims are not allowed to violate human sanctity and transgress against ethical values. Therefore, if the enemy found it eligible to violate the sanctity of women or mutilate the bodies of the dead, we are not allowed to conform with or respond back with equal brutality which reveals nothing but warped minds and corrupted hearts. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advised war leaders saying, “Don’t exaggerate, or betray or mutilate” and in another hadith the Prophet said, “Don’t torture people”.
Protecting the right of civilians and those which Muslims vowed to protect:
When a war fare is waged between Muslims and another country, the citizens of our adversaries who reside in our lands should be protected and their rights should be intact. This means that Muslims are not allowed to transgress against them once the war starts or confiscate their money or subject them to any kind of harm. They should be rather guaranteed safe arrival to their homelands. God says, “And if anyone of the Mushrikun (polytheists, idolaters, pagans, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) seeks your protection then grant him protection, so that he may hear the Word of Allah (the Qur’an), and then escort him to where he can be secure, that is because they are men who know not.”(9:6)
Hastening in accepting invitations for peace once the enemy leans towards it:
God says in the Quran, “But if they incline to peace, you also incline to it, and (put your) trust in Allah. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower.”(8:61)
This means that if the enemy leaned towards making peace then Muslims are commanded to follow suit and this meaning is reiterated when God says, “And fight them until there is no more dissension and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (Alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)” (2:193)
Moral ethics after the cessation of fighting
Prevention of plundering or brutal and barbaric acts:
It was narrated that the Prophet was once travelling with his companions and they suffered from extreme exhaustion and hardship so they found a herd of goats so they took it and their pots were boiling when the Prophet came leaning against his bow and extinguished the fire of the pots with his bow and threw dust on meat saying “plundering is not less prohibited than eating the meat of dead animals” (Abu Dawud).
God says in the Quran, “And fulfill the Covenant of Allah (Bai’a: pledge for Islam) when you have covenanted, and break not the oaths after you have confirmed them, and indeed you have appointed Allah your surety. Verily! Allah knows what you do.(16:91) and also says, “…And fulfil (every) covenant. Verily! the covenant, will be questioned about.” (17:34)
The Prophet said, “Whoever has a covenant with a group of people should not pull the knot or untie it unless the due date of the covenant comes up…” (Abu Dawud)
Mercy in treating war captives and forbidding any assaults on them:
Muslims should treat war captives with mercy and respect. God says, “And they give food, inspite of their love for it (or for the love of Him), to Miskin (poor), the orphan, and the captive, (Saying): “We feed you seeking Allah’s Countenance only. We wish for no reward, nor thanks from you.” (76:8-9)
It was reported through Abu ‘Aziz ibn ‘Umayr, the brother of Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr, that he said, “I was among the war captives in the day of the battle of Badr so the Prophet said, “Be good to the captives” and then Abu ‘Aziz continue narrating that he was held captive and remained with a group of the Ansar and whenever the time of lunch or dinner comes, they would serve him dates while they ate wheat in compliance with the Prophet’s advise of treating the captives with goodness.
Jihad does not cease once the battle is over or the Muslim army is given latitude to return back to relaxation and sitting back because the truth of the matter is that fighting in battles is merely the lesser jihad and once they are done with it, they return back to the bigger jihad which is jihad against one’s lower self to prevent it from going back to laziness and indolence. It is rather incumbent upon Muslims to preserve human life whether in war or peace. Therefore it is necessary for the Islamic army during the time of peace to perform its effective social duty through which it can contribute in developing the society and enriching its resources.