More on War and Islam

When considered together with other relevant verses of the Qur’an, verses 1-6 in surah 9 present significant principles concerned with the Islamic view of war. In summary:

  • The purpose of war is not to kill people. On the contrary, Islam, which attaches great value to life and regards the killing of one innocent person as being the same as killing all of humankind, and the saving the life of one person as being the same as saving the lives of all humankind, aims at the survival of humanity and at helping everyone to find truth through education.
  • Even in warfare, Islam is ready to make peace and a treaty with the opposing side.
  • A Muslim government must remain faithful to any treaty it has made until the end of its term.
  • If the opposing side betrays the agreement, the Muslim government must publicly and officially declare to the other side that the agreement is no longer valid. Even though it can declare war as soon as the agreement loses its validity, it should grant them respite so that a new evaluation of the situation can be made.
  • If the opposing side continues its hostilities and does not change its attitude, even after the end of the term granted, this means that a state of war has begun.
  • In order to force the enemy to cease hostilities or to defeat them in war, Muslims must be powerful and remain steadfast. 
  • It should be borne in mind that the expressions in surah 9, verse 5, are aimed at people who employ violence and who, as can also be inferred from the conclusion of that verse, do not recognize any rule or law and do not understand any language other than war. Like some commandments of the Islamic Penal Law, these expressions are of a deterring character. The second part of the verse, which mentions repentance and the fact that God is All-Forgiving and All-Compassionate, reveals the main purpose of the verse. In addition, this verse also aims at removing from Makkah and Madinah the violent, polytheist outlaws and, therefore, is significant with respect to the security of the center of Islam.
  • It is never the goal of Islam to kill people or conquer lands through war. Therefore, when the enemy side is inclined toward peace and making a treaty, the Muslims should also be inclined this way. They should also give asylum to those who seek it and, without harming in any way the wealth or persons of the asylum seekers, convey them to a place of safety.
  • War is a legal matter between nations. Islam is, above all else, a religion that arranges the relationship between God and humankind, and this relationship is based on sincere faith. Therefore, its main adherents are the sincere believers. However, as a part of its basic mission, Islam also orders human individual and social life. This is the legal side of Islam. In legal terms, a Muslim is one who professes the Muslim faith and attends the Muslim congregation of Prayer, and who pays the Prescribed Purifying Alms as the fulfillment of the financial duty of being a Muslim citizen.

It is possible that such a person may be not a believer, though, but a hypocrite. But one who professes faith and attends the Muslim congregation of Prayer and who pays the Prescribed Alms is nonetheless legally regarded as a Muslim. So, when an individual or a group of persons at war with Muslims profess faith, the state of war must end. No one is compelled to believe. One who professes faith and lives in a Muslim society is expected to see the truth and become a sincere believer. This is why, even if we know that one who professes faith is, in fact, a hypocrite, that person must be treated as a Muslim as long as she or he does not declare unbelief.

  • Islam will never apologize to any other religion, ideology, or system for granting such permission to fight. On the contrary, all other religions, ideologies, and systems have a debt of apology and gratitude to Islam. Islam, aiming at universal peace and accepting the reality of human history, realizes that ensuring peace sometimes requires fighting. As declared in the Qur’an, (Though killing is something you feel aversion to) disorder (rooted in rebellion against God and recognizing no laws) is worse than killing (2: 191); and disorder (coming from rebellion to God and recognizing no laws) is even more grave and more sinful than killing (2: 217), the conditions that give rise to war and disorder are more grievous than killing itself and, therefore, war, although not inherently a good thing, is permissible if it will remove these conditions.

The reality which scholars record is clear. Noted researchers, Graham Fuller and Ian Lesser (Graham E. Fuller, Ian O. Lesser, 41-42), record that the Christians killed by Muslims during fourteen centuries of Islamic history were fewer in number than the Muslims killed by Christians in the twentieth century alone. Christianity began its assaults on Islam while the latter was still a small conclave in Madinah.

In the 8th year of the Hijrah, the first generation of Muslims had to face a Byzantine army of 100,000 soldiers in Mu’tah with only 3,000 warriors. One year later, the Messenger had to muster all his power against them; this battle was recorded in history as the Tabuk Campaign and is one of the subjects of surah 9. Three years later, the Muslim and Byzantine forces once more faced off in Yarmuk, a battle which ended in the decisive defeat of the Byzantines.

As for Judaism and Christianity, both, a few quotations from the Old Testament are enough to see what position the Bible adopts concerning war:

“Then Sihon and all his people came out against us to fight at Jahaz. And the Lord our God delivered him over to us; so we defeated him, his sons, and all his people. We took all his cities at that time, and we utterly destroyed the men, women, and little ones of every city; we left none remaining. We took only the livestock as plunder for ourselves, with the spoil of the cities which we took…. So the Lord our God also delivered into our hands Og king of Bashan, with all his people, and we attacked him until he had no survivors remaining. And we took all his cities at that time; there was not a city which we did not take from them; sixty cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan…. We utterly destroyed them, as we did to Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children of every city. But all the livestock and the spoil of the cities we took as booty for ourselves.” (Deuteronomy, 2: 32–35; 3: 3–7)

As for modern times, we only want to mention some facts to clarify the point: Islam has never had the least part in tens of millions of deaths in the communist revolutions, the suppression of freedom movements in several parts of the world at the cost of millions of lives, and in the adventures in several poor countries, costing more than millions of lives during the wars and many more indirectly since. It is not Islam which caused the death of more than 70 million people, mainly civilians, and forced countless millions more to remain homeless, widowed and orphaned, during and after the two world wars. It is not Islam which gave rise to totalitarian regimes such as Communism, Fascism, and Nazism, and raised war-mongers like Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini.

Islam is not responsible for using scientific knowledge to make nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Islam was not responsible for the ex- termination of tens of millions of natives in many parts of the world, for world-wide colonialism which lasted centuries, and for the slave trade, which cost the lives of tens of millions of people. It is not Islam, nor Muslim peoples even, that are responsible for the establishment of the despotic governments that rule over some Muslim countries and for their oppression, injustice, and bloody regimes.

Nor is it Islam which is responsible for modern terrorism, mafia organizations, and for the world-wide smuggling of weapons and drugs.


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