War Ethics in Islam

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated that "the ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr." (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

Then those who have believed and worked righteous deeds shall be honored and made to enjoy luxurious life in a Garden of Delight" (Quran 30:15)

History does present a few examples when, in the days of peace, a powerful nation treated its weak neighbors in a graceful manner. The real test of character for such a nation, however, lies in its attitude towards a vanquished nation. Islam has left indelible imprints of its magnanimity both in conditions of war and peace.

Swayed by the electrifying effects of the conquest, conquerors usually go berserk in their behavior with the conquered. Possessed with brute authority, they unleash all sorts of atrocities in the occupied territories. Emanating much before Halaku and continuing after Hitler, this is what the war literature of the world teaches and preaches.

The Islamic approach to war and its aftermath eliminates the unjust use of force. Islam does not favor the maxim of 'might is right' prevailing in the world since Cain took the life of his younger brother Abel.

The two were the sons of Adam (AS) and had offered sacrifice to God. It was accepted from Abel - the righteous one. Puffed up with power, arrogance and jealousy, Cain threatened to kill Abel and did exactly that. The Quran recalls this first ever brazen act of terror in human history thus:

"... each offered a sacrifice (to Allah). It was accepted from one, but not from the other. The latter said, "I will surely slay you." The former said, "Verily, Allah accepts only from those who are righteous." (Al-Ma'idah: 27)

So the soul of the other (latter one) led him to the murder of his brother; he murdered him and became one of the losers." (Al-Ma'idah: 30) The self-abnegating phrase 'war for peace' is also against the temperament of Islam. Literally meaning peace and security, Islam believes that two evils do not make a good.

It exhorts its followers not to do evil in return of evil done to them, but to do what will best repel the evil. This is because Islam acknowledges that there is no equality or comparison between good and evil. It requires that evil should be repelled or destroyed with something which is better, just as an antidote is better than poison. The Quran ordains:

"Repel evil with that which is better..." (Al- Mu'minun: 96) Before Islam, the whole world was plunged into intractable wars, bloodshed, ferocity and animosity. Fighting was endemic in society with no ethical limits, no rules of conduct whatsoever.

Islam could not condone such tyrannical practices which had downgraded humanity to the level of beasts. On the contrary, it advocated that in mutual ties between nations, the basic issue was that of recognition and cooperation; not war or hatred.

Islam contends that all human beings are descended from a single pair of parents. Their tribes and nations are convenient labels by which we may know certain differing features. Before Allah, they are all one and he gets most honor who is most pious. Addressing the whole human race, Almighty Allah holds:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you..." (Al- Hujurat: 13).

Islam, as a practiced religion, does not rule out the possibility of war against a nation that is not willing to live in peace and has become a threat to the existence of the benign nation.

When there is no option and in the face of persecution, the believers are permitted to fight with vigor and full preparation, but not ruthlessly. Modern war is always followed by pillage, looting, debauchery and general massacre.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), on the other hand, issued strict orders to the commanders of Muslim armies not to kill women, children, old and infirm men, not to cut down fruit-bearing trees and crops, nor to slaughter animals whose flesh was eaten.

Places of worship, not only mosques, but also churches, synagogues and cloisters were to be protected. Mutilate or disfigurement of the corpses of enemies was prohibited. The dwellings of unresisting citizens were to be left untouched so also the means of their sustenance.

To that extent, Islam is opposed to the callous, yet oft-spoken doctrine: 'All is fair in love and war.' The Quran repudiates the propaganda that Islam was preached by force. Conversion by compulsion is not allowed. Almighty Allah proclaims: "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error..." (Al-Baqarah: 256).

The very first injunction about war (quoted below) provides that it should be waged in self-defense and that too within the permissible limits: "And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors."(Al- Baqarah: 190)

Only a war regulated by the above moral restraints is approved by Islam to prevent horror and violence against the innocent, against their freedom of thought and action and to ensure their honorable existence. No distinction of religion and creed has to be observed with regard to the safety and security of the citizens.

The Quran differentiates between a war undertaken for a genuine cause and the one waged as a transgression to create mischief in the world: "Those who believe, fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the cause of Satan..." (An-Nisa: 76)

Now, if an aggressive nation comes to terms and desists from its sinister designs, peace should be made with it and rapprochement arrived at. Rather the first nation should display categorically its desire for peace and friendship.

As such, while we must always be prepared for the just fight lest it be forced on us, even in the midst of an armed conflict, we must always be ready for peace if there is any indication for it from the other side. There is no merit merely in a fight by itself.

The Quran enjoins upon believers: "But if they (the enemies) incline towards peace, incline you also to it and (put your) trust in Allah. Verily He is the All-Hearer, the All-knower." (Al-Anfal: 61)

If the war (waged for legitimate reasons) culminates into victory, the conquerors should mete out a compassionate treatment to the defeated. There are nations which raise lofty slogans of human rights and claim to be the upholders of sublime objectives of civilization, but their behavior towards the conquered nations has been found to be extremely disgraceful, and a far cry from the norms of justice and compassion.

There is no parallel in history to the dignified attitude displayed by the Holy Prophet on the occasion of the conquest of Makkah. His arch enemies of 11 excruciating years, who had crossed all limits in tormenting him and his companions, stood before him humiliated, heads down with shame, waiting for a befitting revenge.

They deserved and expected the severest punishment. Yet, the Prophet (SAW) was clement to the core. He announced that he would behave with them the way Yusuf (AS) had behaved with his cruel brothers saying:

"...This day let no reproach be (cast) on you: Allah will forgive you, And He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!" (Yusuf: 92) Islam has a comprehensive set of rules to deal with the prisoners of war.

First of all, they are to be overtaken in the actual war field. The Quran prohibits taking prisoners after the cessation of hostilities and in normal circumstances (Al-Anfal: 67 and Muhammad: 4).

As to their subsequent treatment, the Quran offers two options - ".... Thereafter, (is the time for) either generosity (i.e. freeing them without ransom) or ransom (according to what benefits Islam) until the war lays down its burdens..." (Muhammad: 4).

Seventy prisoners fell to the hands of the Muslims in the battle of Badr. Some of them were released without ransom by the clemency of the Prophet and some with ransom. Those who could not afford to pay the ransom money were required to teach 10 children each for their freedom.

History stands testimony to the bitter fact that the victorious nations let loose a reign of terror against the helpless prisoners of war. Islam strictly forbids such inhuman actions. During their captivity, the prisoners must be treated kindly. They have to be properly fed, clothed and looked after.

The lesson learnt by the Muslims from the grand victory of Makkah was not of man's glory but humility, not of power but of service, not an appeal to vanity but a realization of Allah's mercy.

Any success man achieves in his endeavors should be attributed to the blessings of Allah. The Prophet had an additional duty to perform - to pray for the forgiveness of his people in case any of them had exulted in their victory or done anything unauthorized.

Surah Al-Nasr provides complete guidance about our conduct in the wake of victory: "When comes the help of Allah (to you O Muhammad against your enemies) and the conquest (of Makkah). And you see the people enter Allah's religion (Islam) in crowds. So celebrate the praise of your Lord and ask for His forgiveness.

Verily He is the one who accepts the repentance and forgives." (Al-Nasr: 1-3)

( Source: This article was originally published in Dawn Newspaper on August 20, 2004 )

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Older Comments:
My, my, Roy, you found my comment insulting by calling you a traitor to God. Well, I'm sorry I hurt your feelings but truth usually does when it is not on your side. You say:"Yet you are a theist, and following your logic, I should despise you." I understand by categorizing me as a traitor. Think again, Roy, the process is not too hard, I am the son of a Muslim who was the son of a Muslim back to a time when my Aramaic speaking ancestor in Palestine had to be either ofr Judaic or Christian faith and before that any sort of religion that was practiced in Canaan by either the Philistines or Israelites or Canaanites. Who could tell. Anyway, my ancestors commitment to God/Allah/Yahwe/Om/Khoda/Amon/etc. was not betrayed! Could you say the same thing about the commitment of your ancestors? I don't think so, pal. Therefore, according to my logics you are a traitor to your ancestors and thus God and I am not. Your argument collapsed in this point.
About the child you completely misrepresented me, what can I expect from somebody that looks apon Islam from under the water? Of course you get a distorted image, get your head above the surface, you might like what you see. I did not say that a book would reunite a lost child with his mother. My argument went back to Romulus & Remus(the founders of Rome), they were found in the woods raised by wolves, not quite out of common in those times. Since they couldn't point to any woman and assume the responsibility that Jesus,pbuh, took and said:"Behold thy mother!" Anyway my point was, you cannot prove that God does not exist only because He apparently is not there(though He is) more than proving that a child wasn't born from a mother(when he was) only because his mother apparently wasn't existing(though she was?) YOU DIG? Certain thing are beyond our instruments and aparatuses of detection.
"I believe actions, not words. I am not a religious person, yet I do good acts. Why not cut out the middle man, Hudd?" Well, good for you, Roy

A.Khan: Please read my comment again in order to answer your first question "Have you really brought the Quran under discussion?"

"how do you know Allah does not exist?" I don't know to a degree of absolute certainty, that your particular deity, 'Allah', exists A.Khan. Occam's Razor, and the scientific method lend very, very little to your argument for your Allah, A.Khan. You shold also realize that I question the evidence that exists for every God or Gods, not just Islams. If you would like insight to my argument, please make a case for the Hindu belief system. I would be delighted to hear it!

As for your survey, of "the 300 of the world top scientist found that 95% of them believed God exist" I would like to see your source. Otherwise, keep your religion out of my science, and I'll keep science out of your church!

"Seems to me you are the one spewing text written by men." This debate, about your god (or gods) and their existence, is not new. Many men, smarter then I, have made much more concise arguments for the non-existence of God. Their ideas survived (even though in some cases they didn't). People still use them today. So do I. Allah does not exist A.Khan. If you would like to find out what the modern day thinkers believe, go to www.infidels.org, where you might inform yourself - and I hereby welcome you to - in Hudd's words, to this "ultra modern trend of thought".

ROY said:
Hudd: "Atheism is a treason to the message of God. I dispise traitors." Every positive has a negative, you say. Yet you are a theist, and following your logic, I should despise you. I don't. What faith makes one despise another? The kneejerk American answer would be Islam. I differ. I believe almost all of them do.

"Does that mean that he was not in the womb if he didn't remember? You dig?" Please don't confuse my point: The child can be reunited by empirical evidence, say DNA. In your worldview, the child must be reunited by reading a book. A book written by men, for men. The book may have beautiful things to say, but it is still just that. A book. In the marketplace of ideas, it is not a very original (or good) one, at that.

As far as religion being a innately humane - argument from good works? - I believe actions, not words. I am not a religious person, yet I do good acts. Why not cut out the middle man, Hudd?

My argument still stands. "Humans are corrupted by power. Give the Mullahs power, and they will be corrupted, just as Christians. In fact, Christians learned a long time ago the most corrupt people often espouse religion!"

Hudd: My friend, when reform comes in the middle east - and it will come, this true internal reform - you will be marginalized, along with your religion. The world will be better for it. But don't look so sad! Half of the population falls below the Bell Curve (Bush is one of them, ADDED: Are you, hudd?!), so you'll still have a mosque to go to!


This answer is for Kim and it disapproves with his/her statement posted. I am really for the article. Kim in order to be successful in educating you I would need to know the root cause of your ignorance. Is it young age and thus less informed and experienced in politics? .. Since I have no answers to these questions I will try to tackle your ignorant comment with the versatility of analogies and exagerated contrasts. I hope to convey the message. You said:"Many, many people in the Arab countries and in the Islamic world are one step away from being anihiliated by disease, starvation or natural disaster. It's the truth that "dare not speak it's name." We're not talking about people lacking televisions and ther material goods; we're talking basic human needs are unmet." Sooo, you are saying that Islam is to be blamed for this? Let's see, how many face the same things in the Christian world? South America, Africa and less popular Europe, people in Moldavia, Romania, Ukrane, etc. are selling their organs(kidneys, etc.) for a misserable price on the Turkish and European black markets in order not to face starvation. The government of Brazil shoot down on the streets, stray children in broad day-light. In Central America, North American tourists are killed for their shoes and clothes. This is the Christian world, is Christianity to blame? An ignorant person would say that, a Muslim would say US? If not US, then who? Let's see other realms, other religions; Hinduism, o yeah, they face starvation and dire poverty in India and other countries sharing in Hindu forms of religions, i.d., Buddhism, etc. But wait! Japan is Buddhist, how come it works here and not in India? Will we get into racism? No, my friend, US is to blame. If not US, then who? Islam is in its most fundamentalist form in Saudi Arabia! Look! People in Saudia do not starve and they live on high!

Sorry, but Roy and Laurie are right. Whie I
admire the faith that my Islamic friends have
and I understand the need to believe, the truth
is: Many, many people in the Arab countries
and in the Islamic world are one step away
from being anihiliated by disease, starvation
or natural disaster. It's the truth that "dare not
speak it's name." We're not talking about
people lacking televisions and other material
goods; we're talking basic human needs are
unmet. Who's helping the people in Sudan?
Oh sure, everyone wants to blame the U.S.,
but no Islamic countries wants to ante up the
money to help these people and stop them
from dying. It's easy to live in Europe and
North America and be Islamic where you enjoy
the same freedoms that all Americans and
Europeans enjoy (like bopping around on
these websites) Should you give up your
religion? No. BUT, reform or die, my friends.
Islam will not survive unless it embraces at
least partly, the "modern world," and joins the
world in condemning terrorism, embracing to
whatever extent possible, science and
technology that will extend and improve their
lives. Help your brothers and sisters in other
countries to see that Islam can survive with
modernity, before these people are wiped out.
Not by the U.S., but by poverty and ignorance.



Roy Newman you are mistaken and you don't even realize it ... Too sad...Obviously you are an atheist and think that you are representing some ultra modern trend of thought? Wrong my friend, atheism was concurring with faith. Atheism is as old as any religion or the original religion, let's say. Every positive has a negative. Every war has a truce. Every life bears death and death bears life. If God ordained something, there will always be those that follow and those that don't. Like in an army you have valiant combatants and traitors. Atheism is a treason to the message of God. I dispise traitors. You are right, one thing is written or said and another done: it's called corruption. If you judge any religion according to its corruption you are prone to misunderstand. War is wrong by any means of judgement and it is discouraged in the Quran. It is the last resort when an iminent disaster is about to destroy the Ummah(Islamic nation). Your philosophy around the fact that a child wouldn't know Allah when he's born is retarded since he would not know his own mother if you separeted him from her. Does that mean that he was not in the womb if he didn't remember? You dig? The nature of things is more complicated than you think and not everything that exists can be captured and measured by our primitive devices. Especially the mind is a realm of absolute freedom. Nobody can control what's going on in the head of an individual, even though you have him detained and chained, savvy? Now to say that Islam, Judaism and Christianity are man-made religions is pointless. Of course they are man-made but divinely inspired. These are religions for men/women of course they are humane and a guide to mankind. The knowledge of the one God to recorded history dates back to ancient Egypt, the supreme and only God, Amon. If you study the Sumerian civilization or Chaldean you will find that the knowledge of the one God was pre-Abrahamic and so was atheism.Peace!

Laurie, we meet again, Hi.

It seems to me u are saying no matter the opression and mayhem, no body should embark for any war. Well 'm seeing the contrary in the society u're leaving in. And if man, has the right, or can order u or ur children to embark on an ill-advice, destructive war OF OCCUPATION, 'm asking u don't u think God (the creator of all) should have more rights if not for anything, but to correct the evil of that man, in the first place( by ordering at least self defence)?

You see, if u've read the article with an open mind and u've ponder just a little bit u would'nt have made that comment.

Any way God save u, in following those that say if sombebody kicks (or sorry slaps) you, turn the other chick as the sole criteria. I for one believe there is an addition to that, the law of equal retaliation, and the choice is mine either the first or the last. In this I find some compeletion don't u agree?

Fair dinkum I am neither a Muslim or a Christian but if I were to become one I would have to lean towards Jesus and the Bible. Where in the Bible or teachings of Jesus or accounts of his life where he beckons or leads an army to war. No where is the answer. I cannot believe that God told Mohammed to raise an army against non believers, come on you lot, wake up to yourselves.

This article is Islamically correct in saying that Islam in principle does not condone violent and aggressive actions save in a manner of defense. But unfortunately people when responding tend to make this about Bush Sharon and other things in regards to politics rather stay on why this article is correct. Unfortunately the author does fail to mention that Islamic principles were not always followed and there have been Khalifa's as well as Caliphs that have done wrong in their time...

Becky and Paul peace to you. Here is a small article to start with, IF you sincerely and honestly want to learn about Islam and Muslims, ask questions and ruminate on the answers.

Dear Sir,
AsSalaam Alaikum.

The writer has very well expounded the Islamic; in fact the right, judicious and ideal approach when you are victorious.

This article is read by Muslims ( and perhaps another 2% non Muslims). The conquerers are Bushes, Sharons, Rumsfelds, Wolfowiches, Feiths, Perles and let us say all the people who hold economic, military, judicial, technological, industrial (defence production = producing weapons of efficient mass destruction) powers + Media, universities & think tanks.

We are talking to walls. Wall can not act. Muslims have no capacity to do any thing or to make any change. First thing first. To be a kind & judicious victor; we have to be victors. We are not.

Next best, at the very minimum, we have to be sufficiently strong to deny to the plunderer his desire to plunder.

Strong - How ?

By only researching Qur'an & Hadeeth ? and trying to create a system of 1400 years ago? By unlearning ( scant that we learnt) all developement that took place in every field in the past centuries? I am surely confused as are many thinkers.

There are two ways.

1.Believe in the miracle and sit on our past glory.

2.Start copying the science of success from the successful and yet follow the ethics of Islam. If we (1.3 billion of us) start today, we can see some thing changing after 50 years. If we start after 20 years then change starts to show after 70 years.

Many of us will be dead by then, but ummah would still exist. In what form? in what status?

In The Holy Qur'an, Allah (SWT) says, "We have not changed the condition of peoples untill they change it for themselves".This is not the time or occasion to be militant. It is time to lie low, prevent your energies (blood) from sapping. Concentrate on learning. How they control worl financial system; world flow of brain, world advancement of technology, world institutions that arbiterate on your nations lives, world opinion etc.

May Allah show us