The concept of war is as old as mankind. It has been a part of every culture, civilization, and religion. On a political level, according to Clausewitz, war is itself a way of conducting politics. From the perspective of different religions like Judaism, it is a holy act sanctioned by God (Cohen). From an economic viewpoint, it is a means to pursue financial goals. Regardless of the cause, human losses, destruction, and suffering have always been the products of war. The question of what makes a war just, and what the moral way of conducting war is, has always been able to attract the attention of philosophers. Our world today is suffering from the horrors of terrorism. Muslim extremist organizations that claim to be waging holy war are responsible for the suffering of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. With increasing terror, misconceptions about Islam, Jihad, and concept of war in Islam are also spreading like a wild fire. It is believed that terrorists are rightly following the teachings of Qur’an and Sharia Law
and that the blame for their actions lies with their religion. However, terrorists barely make up 0.01% of the total 1.57 billion believers of Islam. They have waged these wars out of “love of adventure, hope of plunder, desire for territorial expansion, and religious hatred” (Song 131). They propagate their political pursuits as holy wars by misinterpreting the meaning of Jihad as a struggle against non-Muslims. In reality, Islam conveys a totally different message to its adherents. The purpose of an Islamic government is to establish a just order in Islamic communities in order to provide freedom and protection of religion and life along with other basic rights.
Allah has commanded Muslims to maintain peace with other communities through treaties. In Qur’an, Allah says “And if they incline to peace, incline unto it, and trust in God. Lo! He, even He, is the Hearer, the Knower” (Qur’an 8:61). There are numerous examples in the life of the Prophet Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH) when he made concessions in truces for the greater good that were at times seen as degrading even by companions. Islam, however, recognizes the fact that at times, the use of force is the only viable solution to eradicate chaos. For this reason, Islam allows the state to use force in order to ensure survival, equality and freedom. War is therefore the last resort for Muslims. As a matter of fact, almost every war during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) was preceded by a violation of a peace treaty by either the Quraysh (a tribe in Mecca) or their allies.
The first thing that comes to mind when talking about war in Islam is Jihad. Jihad is probably the most recognizable but misinterpreted Islamic term in modern times. Due to Islamic extremists’ terrorist activities around the world, Jihad today is “translated flatly, and inaccurately, as holy war” (Amjad-Ali 243). This misconception is not only a source of humiliation and frustration for Muslims, but also serves the purpose of extremists. The so-called “Muslim Jihadists” propagate Jihad as a sacred war against non-Muslims in order to recruit poorly educated and radicalized individuals from around the world. The word Jihad is derived from “root j.h.d., the meaning of which is to strive” (Amjad-Ali 243). In a religious context, it is a struggle against sinful inclinations for the moral development of individuals and their society. Despite the way in which the word is commonly portrayed, the meaning is not limited to war against infidels. At the time of Prophet (PBUH), “Muslims were not [even] allowed to retaliate in Mecca” (Haleem 149), but they had been ordered to conduct Jihad. They were ordered to strive for a more moral version of themselves so as to better serve as a role model for the people around them.
Jihad is no doubt a highly emphasized term in Islam. It has been repeated 29 times in Qur’an, and each time in a context more complex than solely military action. One of the most fundamental verses of Jihad says: “Strive hard in His way that you may be successful” (Qur’an 5:35). Jihad is a duty that every Muslim is obliged to fulfill in all walks of life. It is a never- ending struggle and an essential pillar of morality that motivates man to improve with every passing minute. Islam divides Jihad into two basic types: greater and lesser Jihad (Amjad-Ali). Greater Jihad refers to struggle against the self and is further divided into Jihad of heart, tongue and knowledge. Jihad of heart calls for self-control against evil desires. Jihad of tongue, in a broad sense, is the struggle to not lie, curse or spread rumors. Similarly, Jihad of knowledge is one’s efforts to use knowledge for the benefit of the humanity. Lesser Jihad in Islam is the armed struggle. The word Jihad itself has not been used in Qur’an for the purposes of war and conflicts.
For the purposes of war and conflicts, the root word q.t.l, the specific term for lesser Jihad, has been used in the Holy book. Allah has used the term Qitaal Fi Sabeel-e-Allah in Qur’an, meaning a battle not for any personal gains but “for the nobler cause of establishing a just and equitable order” (Shah 530). The conceptions of “war, battle, and conduct of war… are central to the formation of Islamic theology, jurisprudence, and ethics, because they happened during the life of Prophet and during the process of revelation itself” (Amjad-Ali 240). Muslims did not have to doctrinally justify war after over 300 years of faith. In fact, works of Plato and Aristotle on war “were brought back into Western Christianity through Islamic resources” (Amjad-Ali 239). Military Jihad was permitted for Muslims after their migration to Medina.
Islamic scholars give various reasons for why Muslims were not allowed to use force in Mecca. According to one of the explanations, in Mecca, Muslims were living in the same community as non-Muslims, and were therefore not allowed to physically retaliate in order to maintain the harmony of the society. Another reason is that according to the Islamic teachings, lesser Jihad is a matter of state. Because Muslims were a minority in Mecca, they were not allowed to conduct it until their migration to Medina, where they established the first Islamic state.
Whether the topic is treatment of family or ethics of war, Islam has provided guidance for its followers on every issue. Sharia law aims to protect five basic rights of humanity: religion, life, mind, honor and property (Jihad and the Islamic Law of War 11). The right to religion protects religious freedom for all people of the state. The right to mind includes factors that obstruct human objectivity, including intoxication and lying. The right of honor upholds a culture of respect and human dignity. Jihad is not an exception to it. Qur’an justifies the possibility of armed conflict by saying that “those who are attacked are permitted to take up arms because they have been wronged” (Qur’an 22:39). It also permits defending places of worship, including, but not limited to, mosques, which “in fact…come last on the list [of places to protect]” (Haleem 150). Islam, therefore, allows physical measures to be taken in self-defense and for the protection of religious freedom for all religions of the state. It does not allow any sort of armed conflict for worldly gains, whether political, economic or geographic. It encourages its disciples to mutually prosper without the distinction of religion, class, color or creed. There are, however, a few examples in Islamic history when Muslims initiated a conflict under the command of the Prophet (PBUH). One example is the surprise attack against the Jews in battle of Khyber. Muslims found that Banu Khyber signed a secret pact with Banu Ghatafan to aid them in war against Muslims, and launched a preemptive attack in self-defense. Such measures were taken because had the two tribes fought, Muslims would have suffered unbearable human losses.
The Islamic code of war is a subset of Sharia law and therefore adheres to the same principles. As a matter of fact, the concept of just war in Islam is very similar to the internationally agreed upon principles of Just War Theory. According to the teachings of Qur’an, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors… And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they attack you there… But if they desist, then lo! God is Forgiving, Merciful… And fight them until tribulation is no more… Observe your duty to God, and know that God is with the pious” (Qur’an 2:190- 194).
Muslims are allowed to fight when they are being oppressed. The goal of war is only to ensure their survival and the protection of their rights. These verses also hint at the rules of engagement for followers. The war must not be out of aggression, but rather in self-defense. Muslims cannot target religious places during the war unless the enemy has converted their centers of religion in military strongholds. The Islamic state is also supposed to halt the war as soon as the enemy accepts defeat.
The religion also provides rules of engagement during a war. During the times of war, the Prophet (PBUH) always sent his army into battle with specific instructions. He used to say, “Go in the name of the God. Fight in the way of God… Do not act brutally. Do not exceed the proper bounds. Do not mutilate” (Bukhari 3052) and “Do not kill weak old men, small children, or women” (The Sunan of Abu Dawud). The first Caliph Abu Bakar al-Siddiq used to give the following instructions to the Muslim army: “I instruct you in ten matters: Do not kill women, children, the old, or the infirm; do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy any town; do not kill sheep or camels except for the purpose of eating; do not burn date-trees or submerge them; do not steal from the booty and do not be cowardly” (Ibn Anas).
Similarly, in Qur’an, “taking personal revenge” (Qur’an 2:294), “exceeding limits beyond corrective measures” (Qur’an 2:190), dishonoring the “chastity of women” (Qur’an 24:19) and destruction of “places of worship of any religion” (Qur’an 22:40) have been declared haram (forbidden by Islamic law). Death by torture, especially by burning, is also forbidden in Islam. Prisoners of war have the right to be treated with respect and dignity. After the Battle of Badar, by the order of Prophet (PBUH), any prisoner who taught young Muslims reading and writing, or any other useful skill, was set free.
The international laws of war laid out in the Kellogg-Briand pact, the Nuremberg principles, the Charter of the United Nations, and the Geneva conventions were created as a result of the horror and destruction of the World Wars. While the world agreed upon such treaties in the 20th century after learning their lesson the hard way, Islam initiated its own efforts long before that. “Islamic law deals in great detail with matters of opening, concluding or resuming military endeavors and treatment of prisoners” (Cohen 686). The foremost objective of an Islamic state is to put an end to lawlessness in order to establish “a just Socio-moral order” (Shah 543). Islam orders the Islamic state to provide an equal level of protection to all religious communities under its rule.
Sadly, the self-proclaimed Muslim warriors, better known as terrorists, have never failed to present Islam in a different and highly inaccurate light. Thousands of suicide bombings have cost the lives of innocent men, women and children. Many of these terrorist attacks specifically target schools and youth centers. The perpetrators burn down cities and torture their prisoners to death in order to create fear in hearts and minds of the public. They manipulate Qur’anic teachings and rules in order to legitimize their cause in eyes of the ignorant masses. For example, the Lesser Jihad is a matter of state according to Islamic teachings. It cannot be justified otherwise by a group or an organization. The ISIS, therefore, declared itself a state in order to legitimize their military Jihad. Muslim extremist organizations also use Qur’anic verses out of context in order to prove the holiness of their cause. The sword verse is probably the most misinterpreted Qur’anic teaching. According to the verse: “When the sacred months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush. But if they repent, and perform the Prayer and give Alms, then let them alone. Indeed God is forgiving, merciful” (Qur’an 9:5).
If taken out of context, this verse not only orders Muslims to kill non-believers, but uses religion to justify the massacre. In reality, Muslims are not allowed to wage a war against any religion but as a self-defense against oppression and crimes of the enemy that deny the Muslim community their basic rights according to Sharia Law. In order to mold the meaning for selfish gains, extremists neglect Qur’anic methods of narration and the context of the text. Almost every instruction in Qur’an is self-negated first and then explained later. For instance, the very fundamental verse of Islamic faith says, there is no God, and then later says, but God. By using only the first half of the verse, it could be argued that Islam negates the existence of any God, a complete misinterpretation of its true meaning. Similarly, the verse following the sword verse says that, “If any of the polytheists seeks asylum from you, grant him asylum until he hears the Word of God. Then convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are the people who do not know” (Qur’an 9:6). This verse explains how Muslims were supposed to treat polytheists if they were loyal to the state. Although they were ordered to spread the word of Islam, they were not allowed to force religion onto anyone. Muslims were, in fact, ordered to protect religious minorities in order to ensure their safety.
Qur’anic revelations must be seen in the context of what Muslims were going through at the time. When Muslims migrated to Medina and established an Islamic state, there were a lot of polytheists living under the rule of the newly formed government. Due to their hatred for Islam, they used to conspire against Muslims in order to obstruct the matters of state. The sword verse was intended to address the issue of how to deal with traitors who happened to be polytheists.
Their religious identity has been used to help convey the message that their treacherous acts were the product of their ideological hatred of Islam.
Similarly, the concept of Dar-al-Harb and Dar-al-Islam is also wrongly used. It is a commonly held misconception that Muslims consider themselves in a constant state of war against non-Muslims. This misunderstanding stems from confusion over the idea of Dar-al- Harb. Dar-al-Harb, Adobe of War, was a term coined by the Islamic government at the time of Caliphate. During the time of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Caliphates, the default state amongst Arab tribes was one of war. There were no international treaties, and truces of peace existed only between individual states and tribes on a case by case basis. Muslims had coined several terminologies at the time in order to label their relations with other states. The Muslim state itself was referred to as Dar-al-Islam: Adobe of Islam. Dar-al-Sulh represented the Adobe of reconciliation and Dar-al-‘Ahd (Adobe of treaty) characterized allied states. It is wrongly believed that Muslims consider all Islamic governments as Dar-al-Islam (Adobe of Islam) and every other nation as Dar-al-Harb. In reality, these were just the political terms coined by the government in order to define relations with other states and Arab tribes.
Islam morally justifies war by making it a state right for self-defense and religious freedom. However, Jihad, terrorism and holy war are totally different terminologies that are widely misused and confused today. Jihad is a struggle for moral development on a personal and community level. Holy war is an armed conflict in support of a religious cause. Terrorism, according to Oxford dictionary, is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Jihad does not mean holy war. Qur’an does not command Muslims to fight against non- Muslims in order to establish a global Islamic government. Killing of non-combatants and torturing prisoners of war is highly condemned by the Sharia Law.
Muslims need to take a more active role in representing the true image of Islam and promoting education in order to minimize ignorance in both the Islamic world and the West. The concept of Jihad needs to be better addressed by Muslim authorities on a global level. It needs to be brought up in a convincing manner that morality is one of the most important aspects of the religion. Armed conflict is a part of Islamic theology and has been addressed accordingly in light of moral standards of the religion. It should, therefore, be presented as such rather than being left in the hands of terrorists to exploit for the fulfillment of selfish objectives.
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