Islam and war
Islam sets down clear guidelines as to when war is ethically right, and clear guidelines as to how such a war should be conducted.
In brief, war is permitted:
- in self defence
- when other nations have attacked an Islamic state
- if another state is oppressing its own Muslims
War should be conducted:
- in a disciplined way
- so as to avoid injuring non-combatants
- with the minimum necessary force
- without anger
- with humane treatment towards prisoners of war
Muslims must only wage war according to the principles of Allah's justice.
Those who believe fight in the way of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the way of the Shaitan.Qur'an 4:76
Islam allows war in self-defence (Qur'an 22:39), to defend Islam (rather than to spread it), to protect those who have been removed from their homes by force because they are Muslims (Qur'an 22:40), and to protect the innocent who are being oppressed (Qur'an 4:75).
But some Muslim thinkers in the past, and some more radical Muslim thinkers today, take a different view. They say that other verses in the Qur'an, the so-called 'sword verses', have "abrogated" (revoked or anulled) the verses that permit warfare only in defence. They used these 'sword verses' to justify war against unbelievers as a tool of spreading Islam (Qur'an 9:5, 9:29).
Others take this further and regard non-Muslims, and Muslims who don't conform rigorously to the Islamic code, as non-believers and thus as "enemies of God" against whom it is legitimate to use violence.
But the idea of a total and unrestricted conflict is completely unIslamic.
Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors.Qur'an 2:190
Islam is in favour of peace and against violence. Murdering the innocent leads to punishment in Hell:
If anyone killed a person - unless it was for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed the whole peopleQur'an 5:32
The aims of war
The Qur'an emphasises that war should be fought only for noble motives without seeking any earthly reward:
Those who readily fight in the cause of God are those who forsake this world in favor of the Hereafter. Whoever fights in the cause of God, then gets killed, or attains victory, we will surely grant him a great recompense.Qur'an 4:74
The conduct of war
Islam bans the killing of non-combatants (Qur'an 2:190, above), or of a combatant who has been captured.
Muslims are forbidden from attacking wounded soldiers (unless the wounded person is still fighting).
The Prophet's view of non-combatants is shown by a hadith in which Muhammad sees a woman killed in the battlefield and condemns the action.
When an enemy is defeated he should be made prisoner rather than be killed:
So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates.Qur'an 47:4
Abu Bakr (the First Caliph) gave these rules to an army he was sending to battle:
Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path.You must not mutilate dead bodies.Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man.Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful.Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food.You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them aloneAbu Bakr
A noble example of ideal Muslim conduct of war is the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187. Although a number of holy Muslim places had been violated by Christians, Saladin prohibited acts of vengeance, and his army was so disciplined that there were no deaths or violence after the city surrendered. The residents were taken prisoner, but their ransom was set at a token amount.