What are the ethics of war in Islam?

War has always been a complex subject for objective study or analysis. Given the nature of man, one cannot imagine a world without wars. The best we can strive for is to have a code of rules for war. It is the merit of Islam that it does provide such rules, which remain ever nobler and more realistic than any other code existing for the conduct of war. Concerning the rules of combat as outlined in Islam, the following points are important to note: In war as in peace, the injunctions of Islam are to be strictly observed. Worship does not cease during times of war. Islamic jurisprudence maintains that whatever is prohibited during peace is also prohibited during war. Allah says in the Qur'an what means: * {Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities.Lo! Allah loves not, aggressors.}* (Al-Baqarah 2:190) The above permission to fight clearly lays down the following conditions: (1) Never commit aggression; fighting is allowed only for self-defense. (2) Fighting must never be against non-combatants or non-fighting personnel. The Prophet used to instruct his followers during battles and tell them not to be embittered or inclined to commit treachery. He asked them to spare non-combatants, particularly children and hermits. The Prophet Muhammad gave the following instructions during all wars; they were echoed by Caliph Abubakar to the commander who led the campaign to Syria: "Do not betray, be treacherous or vindictive. Do not mutilate. Do not kill children, the aged or women. Do not cut or burn palm trees or fruit trees or any green tree. Do not slay a sheep, a cow, or camel except for your food. And you will come across people who take refuge in places of worship (synagogues and churches); leave them alone to what they devote themselves to." == ==

Individuals are encouraged to read passages from the Quran in context; reading a chapter in its entirety, along with the explanatory commentary, provides the most accurate picture of what took place.

There are passages which require fighting, even killing, by the Muslims because of the oppression, torture and murder conducted by cruel people. When read in context, it is clear that the Muslims were commanded by God to have the utmost restraint, and the greatest compassion and forgiveness. But there were times when the enemy had gone too far and had to be dealt with harshly.

In the early days of Islam, Muslims were harassed, tortured and abused, sometimes until death, as in the case of Sumayah bint Khayyat, an elderly woman who was the first Muslim stabbed to death. The Muslims were commanded to turn the other cheek despite this abuse. Later on the Muslims were given permission to fight in self-defense:

"Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits: For Allah loveth not transgressors. And slay them wherever ye find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for persecution is worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they first fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who reject faith. " 2:190-191.

But note there is no permission to attack someone who ceases to attack you:

"But if they cease [attacking you], Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful." 2:192

The faithful do not wish to hurt people; they want peace, not war. However, God tells us it is a high form of charity to fight in the cause of truth, against cruelty and oppression:

"Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you. " 2:216

Muslims are taught not to be afraid in a righteous battle, that they must defend the weak and the poor (not to just look out for their own interests):

"Fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoever fights in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward. And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and (in the cause) 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 will protect; and raise for us from Thee One who will help!" " 4:74-75

Muslims are taught to fight against evil:

"Those who believe do battle for the cause of Allah; and those who reject faith do battle for the cause of Evil. So fight ye against the friends of Satan; feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan." 4:76

Muslims are allowed to fight against traitors, hypocrites who pretend to be friends with the Muslims, such as those who deserted the Muslims at the last moment when facing a fierce battle at Mt. Uhud and which nearly caused a disaster for the Muslims. Such traitors are to be treated as enemies, just as they are by all nations at war:

"They [the unfaithful] long that ye should reject Faith, as they do, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them." 4:89

Note the limiting condition "IF" they turn back to their evil ways ...

For the most dangerous amongst the traitorous hypocrites, they must be treated as open enemies to prevent them attacking the Muslims again: "If they do not withdraw from you and they do not give you guarantees of peace besides restraining their hands, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them: in their case we have provided you with a clear argument against them." 4:91

(Note that even though these are the most dangerous of traitors, the permission begins with "IF". So were such an enemy traitor to withdraw and guarantee peace, there is no authority for the Muslims to harm them.)

Punishments for treason against the State, and overt crimes such as murder, were very serious, and were the criminal law of the land:

"The punishment of those who wage war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom." 5:33

Note that other tortures such as "hanging, drawing, and quartering" in English Law, and piercing of eyes and leaving the victim exposed to the desert sun, which was the practice in Arabia at the time, were abolished.

Either way, sincere repentance was a ground for mercy.

Muslims were told God sent messages to the angels about those who reject faith and attack the believers:

"Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers. I will instill terror into the hearts of those who reject faith. Smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them." 8:12

Those in battle are taught to meet their enemy fairly and squarely, not rashly, but after due preparation, with no room for cowardice when fighting a just cause: "When ye meet those who disbelieve in battle, turn not your backs to them. Whoso on that day turneth his back to them, unless maneuvering for battle or intent to join a company, he truly hath incurred wrath from Allah, and his habitation will be hell, a hapless journey's end." 8:15-16

Muslims are taught to continuously remember that all things come from God, including the destruction of an enemy:

"Ye (Muslims) slew them not, but Allah slew them. And thou (Muhammad) threwest not [the handful of dust which struck the eyes of the enemy] when thou didst throw, but Allah threw." 8:17

Muslims are reminded, yet again, that God is in control of every outcome:

"And let not those who disbelieve suppose that they can outstrip (Allah's Purpose). Lo! they cannot escape. Make ready for them all thou canst of (armed) force and of horses tethered, that thereby ye may dismay the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others beside them whom ye know not. Allah knoweth them." 8:59-60

The Prophet Muhammad was told to encourage the Muslims to have faith in God and not fear the battle with the enemy during wartime:

"Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred (steadfast) they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because those who reject Faith are a folk without intelligence." 8:65

Muslims are reminded that in fighting for God against oppression and evil, there is no glory for worldly goods gained. The goal, and the glory, is to stop all the oppression and evil throughout the land BEFORE considering taking captives (which were then traded to the enemy for a ransom).

"It is not for any prophet to have captives until he hath subdued the land." 8:67

Over the years, Pagans were continuously violating the treaties they had with the Muslims. The Muslims eventually made a Declaration that the treaties were dissolved, and they gave the Pagans a 4 month "grace period" before going after the Pagans for their violations. Once the war had begun, the Muslims were told to prosecute the war completely. However, there were still limitations if the Pagans repented.

"But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay those Pagans wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent, and establish regular prayers, and pay charity, then open the way for them: For Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful." 9:5

If enemies repent, Muslims must accept them as their brothers in Faith:

"But even so, if they repent, establish regular prayers, and pay charity, they are your brethren in Faith: Thus do We explain the signs in detail, for those who understand." 9:11

Some of the enemies repented and were forgiven, but went against their oaths yet again. The Muslims are given permission to stop the enemies, while reminding them that God is ultimately the One in control:

"But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and attack your Faith, then fight the Chiefs of the unfaithful. For their oaths are nothing to them, so they must be restrained. Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and attacked you first? Do ye fear them? Nay it is Allah whom ye should more justly fear, if ye have faith! Fight them, and Allah will punish them by your hands, and disgrace them, help you (to victory) over them, heal the breasts of the Believers. "9:12-14

Some hypocrites, who pretended to accept Islam, were devising a plot to murder the Prophet. Some of these people were merchants who were thriving under the peace and prosperity of the Muslim government in Madinah with the Prophet as the leader. Even though they were prosperous in the Muslim community, they were still plotting revenge against the Muslims. God tells the Prophet to be harsh with those trying to kill him, and reminds the Muslims, and the unfaithful, that God is aware of everything:

"O Prophet! Strive hard against the unfaithful and the hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, an evil refuge indeed." 9:73

"They swear by Allah that they said nothing evil, but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they uttered it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was their only return for the bounty with which Allah and His Messenger had enriched! If they repent, it will be best for them. But if they turn back to their evil ways,, Allah will punish them with a grievous chastisement in this life and in the Hereafter: They shall have none on earth to protect of help them. 9:74

God reminds us that our life belongs to Him, and in return the faithful will have heaven as their reward, that God will hold true to his promise:

"Allah hath purchased of the Believers their persons and their goods; For theirs in return is the Garden of Paradise. They fight in the way of Allah and slay and are slain. A promise which is binding on Him in Truth, through the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur'an. And who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded, that is the achievement supreme." 9:111

When fighting against oppression and evil, there is no room for compromise:

"O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you. " 9:123

And in the midst of a righteous battle, Muslims are reminded to subdue the enemy completely before deciding on mercy or ransom. They are also reminded that everything is up to God, some things are tests, and the good deeds of the faithful will be remembered.

"Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necks. At length, when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind the captives firmly, then is the time for generosity or ransom, until the war lays down its burdens. Thus are ye commanded, but if it had been Allah's will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them Himself; but he lets you fight, in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost." 47:4