Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat that include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good people were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause.
One reads in the Qur’an: “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)
“And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers.” (Qur’an 2:193)
“If they seek peace, then you seek peace. And trust in God for He is the One that hears and knows all things.” (Qur’an 8:61)
War is therefore the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law. The often misunderstood and overused term jihad literally means “struggle” and not “holy war” (a term not found anywhere in the Qur’an). Jihad, as an Islamic concept, can be on a personal level–inner struggle against evil within oneself; struggle for decency and goodness on the social level; and struggle on the battlefield, if and when necessary.
War is a Social Necessity
No doubt war is a social necessity which nations practice in order to solve their social problems which defy peaceful solution. Human communities have plunged into fights not only for the mere accomplishment of material aims but for the achievement of moral needs as well. Some historians explain that in the absence of war, progress and civilization would have been hindered in some nations.
Hegel, a pioneer of the study of historical development, for instance, says that change can take place only when there are opposing forces which struggle against one another so that a new product, stronger than the rest, issues from the clash. This view was later adopted by Marx and Engels, and the favor of the Qur’an in this regard springs from the fact that it offered this view fourteen centuries ago: “Had God not checked one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed have been full of mischief; but God is full of bounty to all the worlds” (2:251).
But Islam recognized war as a means to solve some social problems at a time when tyranny was the sole obstacle in the face of the call for justice.
After having attained a certain level of scientific and cultural progress, western countries still tend at present to solve their problems by way of war. Hence, on the human level, one cannot see why Islam should have disallowed was fourteen centuries ago, while it intended to bring about general development, both on the religious and social scene. This refutes the view of hostile people who claim that Islam is a “military religion” and that “it spread only with the might of sword” — meaning to distort the reality of Islam. In the “Encyclopedia of Islam,” McDonald says, “Spreading the teachings of Islam with the might of the sword, is the religious duty of every Muslim.” In the following I will try to refute such a false accusation.
The View of Judaism and Christianity of War
A look at the ancient religions shows that Judaism imposes war on its adherents to protect their existence and to spread their rule and conquests in the earth based on public massacres and the extermination of the people in the conquered countries. In the fifth Book of the Psalms, one reads: “When the Lord lets you into a land to rule it, after having destroyed nations before, see that you fight its people until you annihilate them all, and never make a covenant with them or feel pity for them.”
Christianity then came and made a complete prohibition of war. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ says: “I tell you: Do not resist the wicked, and if one slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other.”
Similarly, those in favor of absolute prohibition of war, rely on the words of Christ to Peter: “Return your sword to its sheath, for all those who grab the sword, shall by the sword be slain.”
Some Christians sacrificed their lives in the cause of prohibiting war, rather say the prohibition of the military profession itself. Other Christians made tremendous efforts to reconcile Biblical teachings and the necessities of the State, and their efforts resulted in a differentiation between permissible war and prohibited war. A war is fair and just, according to them, when it is declared by the prince or ruler, provided his motive is truthful without greed or cruelty. In the fourth century, that is after having established a State under the leadership of Constantine the Roman Emperor, Christianity had to use force in order to uproot paganism from the Roman Empire.
Islam’s Call For Peace
In international law, there is a set of well-established rules concerning the obligations of nations toward each other in times of war and peace. The first of these is that a country should base its relations with other countries on terms of peace so that it may exchange benefit and cooperate with others in order to promote humanity to utmost perfection. Peaceful ties like these, they say, should not be broken except in extreme urgencies that necessitate war, provided that all peaceful steps have failed in terminating the cause of dispute.
This is what Islam has always been working for, and the relations of Muslims with others are primarily based on peace and confidence. Islam refuses the killing of people merely because they embrace a different faith, nor does it allow Muslims to fight against those who disagree with them on religious questions. It urges its followers to treat such people kindly: “God forbiddeth you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them. God loveth those who are just” (60:8).
In another place, God says: “If they withdraw from you and fight you not, but (instead) send you (guarantees of) peace, then God alloweth no way for you (to war against them)” (4:90).
We also have: “If the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God” (8:61). Instructions like these pave the way for the establishment of peace, and go in harmony with the present tendency to set down principles that call for the abolishment of war.
Islam, in fact, makes of peace a special greeting which Muslims exchange whenever they meet by saying, “Peace be unto you” (Assalamu ‘Alaykum). The Muslim also utters this statement at the end of every prayer; he concludes his prayer by addressing those praying with him with the words: Peace be unto you with God’s Mercy!
Comparison between Islam and The International Law Concerning War
Islam permits war but keeps it within the limits of mercy at which the twentieth century civilization has not yet been able to arrive, not even to come near to. Islam has set down certain rules, the most merciful and considerate to people, and required people to observe them.
Such rules go in line with the principles of international law in many ways, but differ in that they are divine rules legalized through religion and executed through the faith of Muslims. The principle of international law lack this authority that ensures putting them into practical effect. Scholars even say that considering international rules as laws is a kind of leniency. A law is a law only when it is supported by some force that ensures its performance, and there is no such force for international law. The Muslim rules, though they aim at justice and mercy, have the faith of Muslims as an authority to ensure their being carried out.
A. International law determines that the citizens who are not regular members of an army are not considered as fighters, and hence should not be inflicted with harm; only regular soldiers (or armed men engaged in a war) are considered as fighters.
The Shariiah agrees on this point, for the Qur’an says: “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God loveth not transgressors” (2:190). It is an act of transgression to when believers fight those who do not fight them, people like their enemy’s children and wives, as well as their sick, old and clergy.
In the Raid of Mu’tah, the Prophet instructed his men, while about to set on, “Never kill a woman, a weak infant, or a debilitated old person; nor burn palms, uproot trees, or pull down houses!”
B. International law forbids killing the wounded, torturing the enemy, destroying them by treachery or deception, or using bombs, missiles or weapons which add to their torture. It also prohibits the poisoning of wells, rivers and foods; it recommends that the corpses of the dead be respected, and prohibits any severity or mayhem be inflicted on them, regardless of the nationality of dead people.
Islam applies the same principles, for when the Prophet appointed an army or troop leader he instructed him to be always God-fearing, and added: “Never transgress limits, or take your enemy by surprise or perfidy, or inflict atrocities or mutilation, or kill infants!”
Abu Bakr, the first Caliph in Islam, instructed his senior officer Oussama, saying, “Never betray, or transgress your limits, or take the enemy by surprise or perfidy, or inflict atrocities or mutilation upon them; nor kill young babies or old people or women; and never injure or burn palms or cut down a fruitful tree, or slay a sheep, a cow or a camel unless it is for your food!”
C. International law prescribes a number of principles regarding the proper treatment of captives. They should not be killed, injured, ill-treated or humiliated if they surrender or if they are deprived of their freedom.
Islam also urges on the polite treatment of captives in general, and God commends the righteous who treat such people hospitably, saying: “And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive, (saying), ‘We feed you for the sake of God alone; no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks'” (76:8-9).
The Prophet was generous to his captives, but in return fir his setting them free he asked them to teach Muslim infants writing.
The Poll Tax (Jizya)
The Jizya or poll tax is a personal tax levied on non-Muslims in a Muslim State, and as such it resembles the Zakat (Alms Tax) which is levied on Muslim citizens by the Muslim State. The poll tax is levied so that all the capable non-Muslim citizens of the State can contribute, each from his own money, to the general welfare of the State, and that in return for this, they can enjoy their rights as nationals of this State, including compensation from the Muslim Exchequer when they are in need.
Valor and mercy are not forgotten here, as the poll tax is not collected from the weak and poor. In his message to the people of Hijra, Khaled Ibn Al-Walid says, “When a person is too old to work or suffers a handicap, or when he falls into poverty, he is free from the dues of the pull tax; his sustenance is provided by the Muslim Exchequer.” In his book “Al-Kharaj,” Abu Yusuf says, “No Jizya is due on females or young infants.”
When the dues of the poll tax are paid by these people, they have to be supported, protected, granted a freedom of faith, and treated on a footing of justice and equality with Muslims. They are called “Zimmis” (the Arabic origin, “Zimma,” meaning security, protection and custody) because the said rights are guaranteed by God and His Apostle, and such was the custom the Muslim leaders followed in dealing with the Zimmins. In his book “Futooh Al-Buldan” (Conquests of Countries), Al-Balathiri comments on this saying, “Khaled Ibn Al-Walid, on entering Damascus as a conqueror, offered a guarantee of security to its people and their properties and churches, and promised that the wall of the city would not be pulled down, and none of their houses be demolished. It was a guarantee of God, he said, and of the Caliph and all believers to keep them safe and secure on condition they paid the dues of the Jizya.”
The poll tax is a small sum of money indeed when compared to the services the Muslim State offers to protect the Zimmis and support the army in charge to keep them safe from others’ assaults. In his book “Al-Kharaj,” Abu Yusuf gives the following reports: “After getting on peaceful terms with the people of Syria and collecting the dues of the Jizya and the Kharaj, news reached Abu ‘Ubeida that the Byzantine had amassed their troops to attack him. The effect of this was great on Abu ‘Ubeida and the Muslims. He sent messages to the rulers of cities with whose citizens he had made peace, asking them to return to their subjects the paid dues of the Jizya and Kharaj, with an instruction to tell these: ‘We hereby return to you the money you have paid us, because of the news of the enemy troops amassed to attack us, but, if God grants us victory against the enemy, we will keep up to the promise and covenant between us.’ When this was delivered to the Zimmis and their money returned to them, they told the Muslims: May God bring you back to us and grant you victory over them!”
In his book, “The Spirit of Laws,” on dealing with the taxes levied by the government, Montesqieu says, “Such levied taxes were one reason for the strange facility which the Muslims faced during conquests. People, then, preferred — instead of being subjected to an endless series of fines which entered the rich imagination of greedy rulers — to submit to the payment of a minimal tax which can be fulfilled and paid with ease.”
Those who Seek Protection
Among the principles of Islam which reveal tolerance toward the enemy in the time of war, is that it allows individuals and groups of the enemy who actively fight against Islam, to get in touch with Muslims and to reside in Muslim lands under the protection of a law which is known in the Muslim Shariiah as the “Law of Protection.” Islam ensures the protection of such people and requires Muslims to protect them with all they can afford as long as they are in Muslim territories. It even offers them certain privileges and releases them from certain obligations which Muslims have to observe.
The purpose of this Law of Protection is to give these people a chance to learn the truth about Islam. In this way, Muslims could effectively spread the message of their faith. The origin of this lies in God’s words: “If one of the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the Word of God; and then escort him to where he can be secure” (9:6). One may add with a scholar that “if they accept the Word, they become Muslims and brethren, and no further question arises. If they do not see their way to accept Islam, they will require double protection: (1) from the Islamic forces openly fighting against their people, and (2) from their own people, as they detached themselves from them. Both kinds of protection should be ensured for them, and they should be safely escorted to a place where they can be safe.”
Islam deals with this point at length and permits the Muslim individuals to protect and settle a covenant with one or a group of non-Muslims. This measure of protection and guarantee on his part is to be respected, for the Prophet says: “The guarantee of all Muslims is one, and it may be fulfilled by the weakest of them.” Islam also confirms guarantees reached by women, who typically do not do the fighting, for the Prophet once addressed Um Hani’ saying: “We will protect all those to whom you offer your protection!”
Islam does not make specific demands regarding such measures, except that which ensures safety to Muslims, like making certain that those under protection have no force or resistance of their own, and that there is no likelihood of a tendency on their part to spread intrigue or spy on Muslims. To this effect, Islam confirms the right of the Leader to annul an individual’s right for protection if this annulment be for the general good of Muslims.
Covenants in Islam
Treaties have always been an important means to strengthen relations and settle disputes peacefully. They are based on mutual confidence between parties, without which peace collapses.
Islam reserves special respect to treaties and allots to them all possible guarantees, so that Muslims may rise with such treaties above personal desires and passions. In the view of Islam, it is not necessary that, if situations arouse dispute between Muslims and their opponents, it should only leave to them a choice between embracing Islam, paying the poll tax, or joining in a war.
This is why, in many Qur’anic verses, Islam requires Muslims to abide by their covenants: “Fulfill (every) engagement, for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning)” (17:34).
In describing the qualities of truthful believers, God says that they are “those who faithfully observe their trusts and their covenants”(23:8).
In the view of Qur’an, refusal to keep up trusts is like rejecting the virtues of humanity: “The worst of beasts in the sight of God are those who reject Him and will not believe. They are those with whom thou didst make a covenant, but they break their covenant every time, and they have not the fear (of God)” (8:55-56).
By honoring covenants with others, Islam does not mean to gain colonial authority or make stratagems to cheat people so as to attain strength over other nations — but to establish peace: “Fulfill the Covenant of God when ye have entered into it, and break not your oaths after ye have confirmed them and after ye have amde God your surety; for God knoweth all that ye do. And be not like a woman who unravelleth the yarn which she hath spun, after it hath become strong. Nor take your oaths to practise deception between yourselves because of a nation being more numerous than another” (16:91-92).
The Qur’an charges Muslims to keep up their covenants, even if it might prevent them from rushing to the dupport of their brethren who live in a non-Muslim Statewith whom they have a treaty of mutual alliance, though also the Qur’an considers that Muslims, in spite of their different races and nationalities, constitute one Nation, and that every aggression inflicted on one Muslim community is an aggression against the Islamic Nation as a whole. God says: “But if they seek your aid in religion, it is your duty to help them except against a people with whom ye have a treaty of mutual alliance. And (remember) God seeth all that ye do” (8:72).
However, if such people violate the terms of the treaty, the Muslims are allowed to fight them: “But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and taunt you for your Faith, then fight ye the chiefs of Disbelief — for their oaths are nothing to them — that thus they may be restrained” (9:12).
Testimony of Some Western Scholars on the Muslim Conquest
In his book “Civilization of the Arabs,” Dr. Gustav LeBon says, “The reader will find, in my treatment of the Arabs’ conquests and the reason of their victories, that force was never a factor in the spread of the Qur’anic teachings, and that the Arabs left those they had subdued free to exercise their religious beliefs. If it happened that some Christian peoples embraced Islam and adopted Arabic as their language, it was mainly due to the various kinds of justice on the part of the Arab victors, with the like of which the non-Muslims were not acquainted. It was also due to the tolerance and leniency of Islam, which was unknown to the other religions.”
In another place of his book, Dr. LeBon adds, “The early Arab conquests might have blurred their common sense and made them commit the sorts of oppression which conquerors usually commit, and thus ill-treat the subdued and compel them to embrace the Faith they wanted to spread all over the globe. Had they done so, all nations, which were still not under their control, might have turned against them, and they might have suffered what had befallen the Crusaders in their conquest of Syria lately. However, the early Caliphs, who enjoyed a rare ingenuity which was unavailable to the propagandists of new faiths, realized that laws and religion cannot be imposed by force. Hence they were remarkably kind in the way they treated the peoples of Syria, Egypt, Spain and every other country they subdued, leaving them to practisetheir laws and regulations and beliefs and imposing only a small Jizya in return for their protection and keeping peace among them. In truth, nations have never known merciful and tolerant conquerors like the Arabs.”
He further explains, “The mercy and tolerance of the conquerors were among the reasons for the spread of their conquests and for the nations’ adoptions of their Faith and regulations and language, which became deeply rooted, resisted all sorts of attack and remained even after the disappearance of the Arabs’ control on the world stage, though historians deny the fact. Egypt is the most evident proof of this. It adopted what the Arabs had brought over, and reserved it. Conquerors before the Arabs — the Persians, Greeks and Byzantine — could not overthrow the ancient Pharaoh civilization and impose what they had brought instead.”
Then in another place he adds, “A few impartial European scholars, who are well-versed in the history of the Arabs, do confirm this tolerance. Robertson, in his book “Biography of Charlequin,” says that the Muslims alone were the ones who joined between Jihad and tolerance toward the followers of other faiths whom they had subdued, leaving to them the freedom to perform their religious rites.”
In his book “History of the Crusades,” Michel Michaud says, “Islam, besides calling for Jihad, reveals tolerance toward the followers of other religions. It released the patriarchs, priests and their servants from the obligations of taxes. It prohibited, in special, the killing of priests for their performance of worship, and Omar Ibn Al-Khattab did not inflict harm on the Christians when he entered Jerusalem as a conqueror. The Crusades, however, did slay Muslims and burn the Jews when they entered the city.”
In his book, “Islam: Impressions and Studies,” Count de Castri says, “After the Arabs yielded to, and believed in the Qur’an, and people received enlightenment through the True Religion, the Muslims appeared with a new show to the peoples of the earth, with conciliation and treatment on basis of free thinking and belief. The Qur’anic verses then succeeded one another, calling on kind treatment, after those verses in which warnings had been addressed to the heretic tribes… Such were the instructions of the Apostle after the Arabs had embraced Islam, and the Caliphs who seuueeded Mohammed followed his example. This makes me say with Robertson that the people of Mohammed were the only ones who combined kindness to others and the pleasure of seeing their Faith spread. It was this affection that pushed the Arabs on the way of conquest, a boubtkess reason. The Qur’an spread its wings behind its victorious troops that invaded Syria and moved on like a thunderbolt to North Africa, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic, without leaving a trace of tyranny on the way, except what is inescapable in every war, and never did they massacre a nation who rejected Islam…
“The spread of Islam and the submission to its authority seem to have another reason in the continents of Asia and North Africa. It was the despotism of Constantinpole which exercised extreme tyranny, and the injustice of rulers was too much for people to bear…
“Islam was never imposed by sword or by force, but it got into the hearts of people out of longing and free will, due to the talents of stimulation and captivation of people’s hearts, lodged in the Qur’an.”
Many historians admit that the spread of Islam among the Christians of the Eastern Churches, was mainly due to a feeling of dissatisfaction that arose from the doctrinal sophistry which the Hellenistic spirit brought over to Christian theology. It was also due to the abundance of good that such Eastern Christians found in Islam, and due to its ability to rescue them from the disorder they were struggling in. In Caetani, for instance, one reads, “Known for its preference of simple and plain views, the East suffered, religiously, a great deal from the evil consequences of the Hellenistic culture which turned the refined teachings of Christ into an ideology rampant with complicated doctrines and doubts. This led to the rise of a feeling of despair, and even shook the very foundations of religious belief. When, at last, news suddenly came from the desert of the New Revelation, such Eastern Christianity, being torn by inner splits, was shattered… Its foundations were shaken, and, due to such doubts, the clergy of the church were taken by despair. Christianity was incapable, after this, of resisting the appeals of the New Faith which eliminated, with a mighty blow, all the trivial doubts and offered graceful, positive qualities in addition to its doubtless, simple and plain principles. It was then that the East forsake Christ and threw itself into the lap of the Prophet of Arabs.”