War, Islam, and the Sanctity of Life: Non-Aggression in the Islamic Code of Combat
Published: October 3, 2017 • Updated: October 21, 2020
Author: Hassan Shibly
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
The Principle of Non-Aggression
Justice in War (Jus in Bello)
You will find a people who claim to have totally given themselves to God. Leave them to what they claim to have given themselves… Do not kill women or children or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place. Do not slaughter sheep or camels except for food. Do not burn bees and do not scatter them. Do not steal from the spoils, and do not be cowardly.
a) In the event of the use of force and in case of armed conflict, it is not permissible to kill non-belligerents such as old men, women and children. The wounded and the sick shall have the right to medical treatment; and prisoners of war shall have the right to be fed, sheltered, and clothed. It is prohibited to mutilate dead bodies. It is a duty to exchange prisoners of war and to arrange visits or reunions of the families separated by the circumstances of war.
b) It is prohibited to fell trees, to damage crops or livestock, and to destroy the enemy’s civilian buildings and installations by shelling, blasting or any other means.
On account of [his deed], We decreed to the Children of Israel that if anyone kills a person—unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land—it is as if he kills all mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind.
But if they stop, then God is most forgiving and merciful. Fight them until there is no more persecution, and worship is devoted to God. If they cease hostilities, there can be no [further] hostility, except towards aggressors. A sacred month for a sacred month: violation of sanctity [calls for] fair retribution. So if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him as he attacked you, but be mindful of God, and know that He is with those who are mindful of Him.
- War is allowed only to end aggression or persecution.
- Peace offerings should be accepted on their face.
- Enemy soldiers who surrender should not be harmed.
Prisoners of War (POWs)
A soldier who surrenders enters into an agreement with his captors: he will stop fighting if they will accord him what the legal handbooks call “benevolent quarantine”… Prisoners of war have the right to try to escape—they cannot be punished for the attempt—but if they kill a guard in order to escape, the killing is not an act of war; it is murder. For they committed themselves to stop fighting, gave up their right to kill, when they surrendered.
They are your brothers and sisters. God has placed them in your hands. Whoever has his brother under him should feed him with the same food he eats, clothe him with the same clothes he wears, and not burden him beyond his ability. If you burden him, then help him.
[I]t is permissible to perform an act likely to have evil consequences (like the killing of noncombatants) provided the following four conditions hold: 1) The act is good in itself or at least indifferent, which means, for our purposes that it is a legitimate act of war. 2) The direct effect is morally acceptable—the destruction of military supplies, for example, or the killing of enemy soldiers. 3) The intention of the actor is good, that is, he aims only at the acceptable effect; the evil effect is not one of his ends, nor is it a means to his ends. 4) The good effect is sufficiently good to compensate for allowing the evil effect; it must be justifiable under Sidgwick’s proportionality rule.
The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions… Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective.
But such movements are not simply the creation of warped, irrational minds. Terrorist rage, no matter how ineffective, often arises from totally comprehensible political grievances. To treat Al-Qaeda as an irrationalist cult of slaughter is to ignore the potential rational logic behind its attack on the World Trade Center, a logic that the United States played into by subsequently attacking Afghanistan.
1 Ibn Mājah. Sunan Ibn Mājah. (Bayrūt: Dār Iḥyā’ al-Turāth al-’Arabī, 1975) 2:784 #2340.
2 Suyūṭī, Jalāl al-Dīn. Al-Ashbah Wal-Naza’ir Fi Qawa’id Wa Furu’ Fiqh Al-Shafi’iyah. (Bayrūt: Dar al-Kutub al-’Ilmiyah, 1990) 1:7-8.
3 Ḥaydar, ’Alī. Durar Al-Ḥukkām Sharḥ Majallat Al-Aḥkām. (Bayrūt: Dār al-Jīl, 1991) 1:40.
4 Surat al-Baqarah 2:217; Abdel Haleem, M. A. The Qur’an : English Translation with Parallel Arabic Text. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 35.
5 Al-Dhahabī. Siyar A’lām Al-Nubalā’. (al-Qāhirah: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 2006) 14:85.
6 Surat al-Baqarah 2:190; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 30.
7 Al-Baydạ̄wī. Anwār Al-Tanzīl Wa Asrār Al-Ta’wīl. (Bayrūt: Dār Ihỵāʼ al-Turāth al-’Arabī, 1998) 1:270.
8 Ibn Taymīyah. Kitāb Al-Nubūwāt. (al-Riyāḍ: Aḍwāʼ al-Salaf, 2000) 1:570.
9 Ibn Taymīyah. Majmū’ Al-Fatāwà. (al-Madīnah al-Munawwarah: Majmaʻ al-Malik Fahd li-Ṭibāʻat al-Muṣḥaf al-Sharīf, 1995) 28:354.
10 Surat al-Baqarah 2:190; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 30.
11 Muḥammad, Shafī’ and Muḥammad T. ‘Us̲mānī. Maʻariful-Quran. (Karachi: Maktaba-e-Darul-Uloom, 1996) 1:482.
12 Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. (New York: BasicBooks, 2006) 38.
13 Shafī’ and ‘Us̲mānī, Maʻariful-Quran, 1:483.
14 Mālik ibn Anas, and Abū Muṣ’ab Al-Zuhri. Muwaṭṭa’ Al-Imām Mālik. (Bayrūt: Mu’assasat al-Risālah, 1993) 1:357 #918.
15 Al-Bukhārī. Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī. (Bayrūt: Dār Ṭawq al-Najjāh, 2002) 4:61 #3014.
16 Abū Dāwūd. Sunan Abī Dāwūd. (Ṣaydā, Lubnān: al-Maktabah al-Aṣrīyah, 1980) 3:53 #2669.
17 Al-Bayhaqī. Al-Sunan Al-Kubrá. (Bayrūt: Dār al-Kutub al-ʻIlmīyah, 2003) 8:49 #15896.
18 “Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam,” University of Minnesota Human Rights Library; hrlibrary.umn.edu/instree/cairodeclaration.html
19 Surat al-Ma’idah 5:32; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 114.
20 Ibn Ḥanbal, Aḥmad. Musnad Al-Imām Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal. (Bayrūt: Mu’assasat al-Risālah, 2001) 6:274 #3728.
21 Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 138, 142.
22 Surat al-Baqarah 2:191; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 30.
23 Ramadan, Tariq. In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 178.
24 Surat al-Baqarah 2:192-194; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 30.
25 Surat al-Anfal 8:61; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 185.
26 Surat al-Tawbah 9:6; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 188.
27 Surat al-Insan 76:8; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 580.
28 Al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʻ Al-Bayān 'an Ta'wīl Al-Qur’ān. (Bayrūt: Mu’assasat al-Risālah, 2000) 24:97.
29 Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 46.
30 Surat al-Nur 24:33; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 355.
31 Al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, 1:15 #30.
32 Surat al-Balad 90:13; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 595.
33 Al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī, 7:67 5373.
34 Muslim. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. ([Bayrūt]: Dār Iḥyāʼ al-Kutub al-ʻArabīyah, 1955) 3:1278 #1657.
36 Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 153.
37 Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 3:1364 #1745.
38 Surat al-Hashr 59:5; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 547.
39 Shafī’ and ‘Us̲mānī, Maʻariful-Quran, 8:339.
40 Oxford English Dictionary online; en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/terrorism.
41 Surat al-Anfal 8:60; Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, 185.
42 Zagare, Frank C., and D. M. Kilgour. Perfect Deterrence. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000) 296.
43 Lewis, Bernard. The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. (New York: Modern Library, 2003) 39.
44 Pape, Robert. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006) 4.
45 Ibid. 3.
46 Schwartz, Joseph M. "Misreading Islamist Terrorism: the “War against Terrorism” and Just-War Theory." Metaphilosophy. 35.3 (2004): 273-302, 284.