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The War System in Islam
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 absebce 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 favour of the Koran in this regard springs from the fact that it offered this view fourteen centuries ago: [2:251] ….. If it were not for GOD’s support of some people against others, there would be chaos on earth. But GOD showers His grace upon the people.
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 war 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 Moslem.” In the following we 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 .
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 favour 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 prefession 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 cuase of dispute.
This is what Islam has always been working for, and the relations of Moslems 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 Moslems to fight against those who disagree with them on religious questions. It urges its followers to treat such people kindly: [60:8] GOD does not enjoin you from befriending those who do not fight you because of religion, and do not evict you from your homes. You may befriend them and be equitable towards them. GOD loves the equitable.
In another place, God says: [4:90] …….. Therefore, if they leave you alone, refrain from fighting you, and offer you peace, then GOD gives you no excuse to fight them.
We also have: [8:61] If they resort to peace, so shall you, and put your trust in GOD. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient. 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 Moslems exchange whenever they meet by saying, “Peace be unto you” (Assalamu ‘Alaykum). The Moslem also utters this statement at the end of every prayer.
The Cases in Which Islam Permits Fighting
A. Fighting in Self-Defense:
The Prophet kept preaching the Message of God for years without any fight, enduring the severe harmful effects inflicted upon him by the Arabs in Mecca and the Jews in Medina. The prophet at that time had no permission from God (in the Quran) to fight back. Events then developed and polytheists used different methods to inflict harm on Moslems. Finally they decided to kill the Prophet. When the latter learned of the intention, he immigrated to Medina and was warmly welcomed by its people who pledged allegiance to him in the cause of Islam.
The atheists were not content with trying to kill the Prophet, but also provoked non-Moslem tribes against him in order to put an end to his Message. When the case reached this stage, God gave permission to Mohammed to fight.
Upon examining closely the Koranic passages in which God requests Moslems to fight, we find them clarify that war should be a means to drive away aggression and tyranny. God says: [22:39] Permission is granted to those who are being persecuted, since injustice has befallen them, and GOD is certainly able to support them. [22:40] They were evicted from their homes unjustly, for no reason other than saying, “Our Lord is GOD.” If it were not for GOD’s supporting of some people against others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and masjids – where the name of GOD is commemorated frequently – would have been destroyed. Absolutely, GOD supports those who support Him. GOD is Powerful, Almighty.
As for victorious Believers, God says: [22:41] They are those who, if we appointed them as rulers on earth, they would establish the Contact Prayers (Salat) and the obligatory charity (Zakat), and would advocate righteousness and forbid evil. GOD is the ultimate ruler.
Military victory should not lead to expansion or dominance as the case is with colonial regimes, nor should it lead to control over sources of wealth, or to arrogance in the land to raise a race above another. Victorious believers had better “establish regular prayers” to attain spiritual exaltation by worshipping God, and to purify their spirits. They “establish the obligatory charity” and thus establish social justice by supporting the right of the needy to live a decent life. They “advocate righteousness ” by spreading benevolence and right among people, and ” forbid evil” by fighting against evil and corruption and uprooting them from society.
The Prophet fought only to drive away aggression, after having received his divine orders: [2:190] You may fight in the cause of GOD against those who attack you, but do not aggress. GOD does not love the aggressors.
B. Fighting in the Cause of God:
The Islamic nation is commanded to establsih justice on earth, and this requires Moslems to stand in the face of injustice and oppression, wherever they may be, and eradicate their causes, and not to take hold of the earth, or enslave people or dominate their welfare, but establish the Word of God on earth, without doubtful intentions. In Islam, this is called the “strife in the cause of God” and the “fight in the cause of God.” The Koran commands: [2:244] You shall fight in the cause of GOD, and know that GOD is Hearer, Knower. [22:78] You shall strive for the cause of GOD as you should strive for His cause….
The cause of God is the cause of justice. Every fight in the cause and support of freedom in religion is a fight in the cause of God; and every fight to drive away oppression and support the oppressed against the oppressor, or to support right and justice, is a fight in the cause of God. Every effort done to attain or protect justice, is also done in the cause of God.
The Koran demands believers to fight in the cause of God, without any worldly intentions. The following verses, sent down to the Prophet in Medina, clarify the aims of war: [4:74-75] Those who readily fight in the cause of GOD are those who forsake this world in favor of the Hereafter. Whoever fights in the cause of GOD, then gets killed, or attains victory, we will surely grant him a great recompense. Why should you not fight in the cause of GOD when weak men, women, and children are imploring: “Our Lord, deliver us from this community whose people are oppressive, and be You our Lord and Master.”
A hint is made here that, in Islam, war is not for oppressing or enslaving people; it is waged for the cause of God and weak people, like those in Mecca who were persecuted and oppressed by the Meccan atheists. It is the duty of every believer to support people like these and relieve them from oppression, people who no longer have any supporter and thus turn to God for refuge.
Then God says: [4:76] Those who believe are fighting for the cause of GOD, while those who disbelieve are fighting for the cause of tyranny. Therefore, you shall fight the devil’s allies; the devil’s power is nil.
Evil means transgression of limits. Thus when one transgresses limits. behaves arrogantly in the land, enslaves others and deprives them of their rights or of having a share in the riches of the earth, he is said to be fighting “in the cause of Evil” which God criticizes severely and considers as the motto of atheists. The aim of fighting in the cause of God is to spread Divine Law (which calls for justice and freedom of religion) in the world without there being any selfish intent or arrogance in the land, as God wants the case to be: [28:83] We reserve the abode of the Hereafter for those who do not seek exaltation on earth, nor corruption. The ultimate victory belongs to the righteous.
To this effect, Mohammed sent his delegates to eight neighbouring rulers with messages calling them to embrace Islam. The appeal was rejected. Some of them even killed the Prophet’s delegates, and some tore the message and threatened the delegates who had brought it. The rulers of the time were a clear obstacle in front of the individuals’ freedom and their right to live in justice and to choose their religion freely. Islam was the civilized step in the development of humankind that the despots of the time were a barrier to. Islam declared war against an obsolete form of tyrannical governing. If Islam used force, then only to enforce justice that resulted in fascinating civilizations in every area where Islam entered.
In his book “Esquisse de l’Historie Universelle,” Dr. Najib Armanazi says, “When the Arabs made ready to fight the Persians and Romans, these had already … [had] a history of oppression and tyranny which exterminates citizens, inflicts unfair burdens on them, and kills their patriotic feelings and loyalty to rulers. … Mazdaism and Christianity .. branched into a number of major schools which inherited only hostility and hatred, and inflicted suffering on each other…. Thus Islam faced no public resistance during its spread … The Arabs were definitely more truthful, just and merciful.”
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 Moslems. 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 Moslem rules, though they aim at justice and mercy, have the faith of Moslems 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.
Islam (submission in English) agrees on this point, for the Koran says: [2:190] You may fight in the cause of GOD against those who attack you, but do not aggress. GOD does not love the aggressors. 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.
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 follow the Quranic laws closely, not to be the aggressor or transgress the limits.
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: [76:8-9] They donate their favorite food to the poor, the orphan, and the captive. “We feed you for the sake of GOD; we expect no reward from you, nor thanks.
The Poll Tax (Jizya)
The Jizya or poll tax is a personal tax levied on non-Moslems in a Moslem State, and as such it resembles the Zakat (Alms Tax) which is levied on Moslem citizens by the Moslem State. The poll tax is levied so that all the capable non-Moslem 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 Moslem Exchecquer when they are in need.
Valour 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 Hira, 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 Moslem 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 Moslems. 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 Moslem leaders followed in dealing with the Zimmins. In his book “Futooh Al-Buldan” (Conquests of Countries), Al-Balathiricomments 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 Moslem 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 Byzantines had amassed their troops to attack him. The effect of this was great on Abu ‘Ubeida and the Moslesm. 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 Moslems: 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 Moslems 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 pricniples 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 Moslems and to reside in Moslem lands under the protection of the Islamic law which is known as the “Law of Protection.” Islam ensures the protection of such people and requires Moslems to protect them with all they can afford as long as they are in Moslem territories. It even offers them certain privileges and releases them from certain obligations which Moslems 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, Moslems could effectively spread the message of their faith. The origin of this lies in God’s words: [9:6] If one of the idol worshipers sought safe passage with you, you shall grant him safe passage, so that he can hear the word of GOD, then send him back to his place of security. That is because they are people who do not know.
One may add with a scholar that “if they accept the Word, they become Moslems and brethern, 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 Moslem individuals to protect and settle a covenant with one or a group of non-Moslems. This measure of protection and guarantee on his part is to be respected.
Islam does not make specific demands regarding such measures, except that which ensures safety to Moslems, 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 Moslems. 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 Moslems.
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 Moslems 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 Moslems 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 Koranic verses, Islam requires Moslems to abide by their covenants: [17:34] You shall fulfill your covenants, for a covenant is a great responsibility.
In describing the qualities of truthful believers, God says that : [23:8] When it comes to deposits entrusted to them, as well as any agreements (covenant) they make, they are trustworthy.
In the view of Koran, refusal to keep up trusts is like rejecting the virtues of humanity: [8:55-56] The worst creatures in the sight of GOD are those who disbelieved; they cannot believe.You reach agreements with them, but they violate their agreements every time; they are not righteous
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: [16:91-92] You shall fulfill your covenant with GOD when you make such a covenant. You shall not violate the oaths after swearing (by God) to carry them out, for you have made GOD a guarantor for you. GOD knows everything you do. Do not be like the knitter who unravels her strong knitting into piles of flimsy yarn. This is your example if you abuse the oaths to take advantage of one another. Whether one group is larger than the other, GOD thus puts you to the test. He will surely show you on the Day of Resurrection everything you had disputed.
The Koran charges Moslems to keep up their covenants, even if it might prevent them from rushing to the support of their brethren who live in a non-Moslem State with whom they have a treaty of mutual alliance, though also the Koran considers that Moslems, in spite of their different races and nationalities, constitute one Nation, and that every aggression inflicted on one Moslem community is an aggression against the Islamic Nation as a whole. God says: [8:72] ….. However, if they need your help, as brethren in faith, you shall help them, except against people with whom you have signed a peace treaty. GOD is Seer of everything you do.
However, if such people violate the terms of the treaty, the Moslems are allowed to fight them: [9:12] If they violate their oaths after pledging to keep their covenants, and attack your religion, you may fight the leaders of paganism – you are no longer bound by your covenant with them – that they may refrain.
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 Koranic 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-Moslems 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 practise their 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 becamse 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 Byzantines — 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 Moslems 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 Moslems 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 Koran, and people received enlightenment through the True Religion, the Moslems appeared with a new show to the peoples of the earth, with conciliation and treatment on basis of free thinking and belief. The Koranic 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 succeeded 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. The Koran 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…
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.”