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What rights do war prisoners have in Islam?

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10/31/2007

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. Caliph Abu Bakr gave the following instructions 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. Do not slay a sheep, a cow, or camel except for your food. And you will come across people who stay in hermitages for worship; leave them alone to what they devote themselves to." Justice is highly valued in Islam and no Muslim is allowed to violate it even in times of war against their bitterest enemies. From the early days of Islam, medical assistance was available to all irrespective of religion or creed and was even given to the enemies. The medical profession itself was specially honored in Islam, and it was the duty of the Muslims to offer help in this regard to all. A well-known example is that of Salahuddin Ayyubi (Saladin), who gave medical help to his opponent Richard the Lion-Hearted of England, who was seriously ill during the Crusades. He sent his own doctor and personally supervised Richard's treatment until he became well. This is in contrast with the behavior of the invading crusaders. When they entered Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, they slaughtered seventy thousand Muslims, including women, children, and the elderly: "They broke children's skulls by knocking them against the wall, threw babies from roof tops, roasted men over fires and cut open women's bellies to see if they had swallowed any gold." This description was given by Edward Gibbon, the famous historian; and in modern warfare, this example is paralleled by the atrocious behavior of the Serb army in Bosnia, to quote just one instance. For the first time in the history of warfare, it was Islam that adopted an attitude of mercy and caring for the captured enemy. Unprecedented by previous legal systems, and long before the Geneva Convention, Islam set the rule that the captive is to be sheltered by his captivity and the wounded by his injury. Islam made it obligatory to feed prisoners. Ibn Umayr, one of the captives of Muslims in the Battle of Badr recalled: "Whenever I sat with my captors for lunch or dinner, they would offer me bread and themselves [eat] the dates, in view of the Prophet's recommendation in our favor." Please note that in that desert situation, bread was a more luxurious item of food than dates. Islam clearly prohibits subjecting captives to ill treatment by denying them food, drink, or clothing. According to Islamic law, the captive belongs to the state and not to his captor. The ruler has the ultimate option, as he sees fit, to grant him freedom immediately or at a later time, as he sees fit. Sometimes enemy prisoners were exchanged for Muslim prisoners held in enemy hands. An acceptable ransom for release was for the prisoner to teach ten Muslim children to read and write. Combatants were set free upon their word of honor not to fight again; and if they broke their promise and were caught again, they might be severely dealt with. Islam never fought civilian populations, but only fought despotic rulers. Islamic war was one of liberation and not one of coercion. The liberated people had the freedom to choose their religion, and Muslims often fought to ensure this freedom. The process of active intervention to stop or remove aggression is a development that modem international law has recognized. And fourteen centuries before the establishment of the League of Nations and later the United Nations, Islam decreed such responsibility. This principle is based on the Qur'anic saying, which means: * { If two parties among the Believers fall into a quarrel, make ye peace between them: but if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other then fight ye (all) against the one that transgresses until it complies with the command of Allah; but if it complies then make peace between them with justice and be fair: for Allah loves those who are fair (and just). The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that ye may receive Mercy.}* (Al-Hujurat 49:9-10) One of the major shortcomings of modern international politics is its scant regard for moral obligation. Time and again, treaties and agreements are flouted. From the outset, Islam has emphatically prohibited breach of trust and treachery. Recent examples of signing a pact with a nation with a hidden intent to attack it are diametrically opposed to the rules of combat Islam has laid down. The Qur'an tells us what means: * {O you who believe!Fulfill your undertakings�}* (Al-Ma'idah 5:1) The Qur'an also says what means: * {Fulfill the covenant of God when you have entered into it, and break not your oaths after you have confirmed them; indeed you have made God your surety; for God knows all that you do�}* (An-Nahl 16:91) If Muslims sense the violation of an existing treaty by the enemy, they should first declare the annulment of that treaty before embarking on war again. The Qur'an clearly says what means: * {If you fear treachery from any group, throw back [their covenant] to them, [so as to be] on equal terms: for God loves not the treacherous.}* (Al-Anfal 8:58) The fact is that there are no rules of war more humane and realistic, than the rules of Islam. And Allah knows best.

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