Oct 24, 2011

Rules and Regulation of Wars in Islam

Rules and Regulation of Wars in Islam 
This is taken from the Series of Abu Bakr 
By Imam Anwar Al Awlaki

The Theory of War in Islam 
By Dr. Sayid Mustafa Ahmed Abul-Khair
The expert in International law and International relations.
Since war is a social and a human necessity, Humanity has experienced  it over years.  Hence, in mankind's history,  years of war outnumbered  those of Peace.  Over the span of  five thousands of years, there was (14555) war that led to the death of (25) billions of people, and Over the last (3400) years of humans' life, humankind enjoyed peace for only 250 years.

In another statistic, mankind witnessed (213) years of war versus one year of peace, and there wasn't even a temporary peace during (185) generations.  Hence, ten generations only enjoyed peace.  Since the world war in the 20th century, the world witnessed nearly two hundred and fifty internal and international armed harassments  with a toll of  (170) million victims, which mean that, every five months there was an armed conflict that resulted in losses in lives, properties, and equipments (Dr : Said Geweili, the entrance to the study of International Humanitarian Law, Cairo, 2003,The Introduction p. 1).
continued @ quran-m.com

Islam and International law
Sheikh Wahbeh al-Zuhili
Volume 87 Number 858 June 2005
Islam and
international law
Sheikh Wahbeh al-Zuhili*
Dr Sheikh Wahbeh M. al-Zuhili is professor and head of the Islamic Law (  qh) and
Doctrines Depar tment of the Faculty of Shari’a, University of Damascus. He is the
author of several books and studies on major issues related in particular to Islamic
law. They  include The e  ects of war in Islamic law: A comparative study, and at-tafseer
al-muneer (Exegesis of the Holy Qur’an), dar al-  kr, Damascus, 17 vols.
This article by an Islamic scholar describes the principles governing international
law and international relations from an Islamic viewpoint. After presenting the
rules and principles governing international relations in the Islamic system,
the author emphasizes the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the
internal affairs of other States and the aspiration of Islam to peace and harmony.
He goes on to explain the relationship between Muslims and others in peacetime
or in the event of war and the classical jurisprudential division of the world into
the abode of Islam (dar al-islam) and that of war (dar al-harb). Lastly he outlines
the restrictions imposed upon warfare by Islamic Shari’a law which have attained
the status of legal rules.
 : : : : : : :
While the voices of “the clash of civilizations” are echoing loud, and the so-
called “war on terror” is influencing the fate of some communities and many
groups of individuals in various countries of the world, it is appropriate to recall
the humanitarian values that rally nations and peoples around them. From
an Islamic point of view we believe that the difference between people is one
of God’s firmly established traditions, and that it is the source of wealth and
harmony of the entire human race. There are many Islamic principles that
*     e author wishes to extend his gratitude to Dr Ameur Zemmali for his remarks during the preparation
of this article, which is solely the responsibility of the author.    e article is based on a paper presented
at the Conference on “Protection of War Victims in Islamic Shari’
a and International Humanitarian
Law”, organized by the International Islamic University, Islamabad, and the ICRC (Islamabad, Pakistan,
30 September – 2 October 2004).

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Sheikh al-Zuhili – Islam and international law
endorse this standpoint. We shall explain some of them in general, those that
apply to the relationship between Muslims and others in peacetime or in the
event of war. We shall point out that Islamic States belong to the international
community with all its organizations and instruments. We shall also take into
account the existence of armed conflicts and situations of occupation inside and
outside Islamic countries, despite the aspiration of the Islamic nations to live in
peace and harmony with all nations and races.   
Rules governing international relations in peacetime
Basic principles
It is well known that Islamic preaching, including Islamic values and ethics,
law and doctrine, has a universal tendency, for it aspires to see welfare prevail
and Muslim principles spread throughout the entire world. It does so not for
economic, material, racial, imperialist or nationalistic interests, but in order to
achieve salvation, happiness, welfare, justice and prosperity for humanity as a
whole, both in this life and the hereafter. Doctrine is based on recognition and
confirmation of the absolute oneness of God both in Divinity and Lordship,
without any blemish of atheism or paganism. Thus belief in God alone, belief in
His angels, belief in His revealed books to His messengers, the hereafter and the
acts of God are the pillars of this religion.
There is no coercion in the Islamic religion, and no compulsion at all
in the dissemination of this doctrine.  Freedom, persuasion, dialogue and toler-
ance are the foundation of the work by Islamic preachers for Almighty God.
People are equal in terms of humanity, respect for human rights and
human dignity, and no category or individual is better than others except in
piety and good deeds. Cooperation is a principle that all people are required to
observe. God says:
  “Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and
made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the
most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of
you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”1
 He  also  says:
  “Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error …”2
This is the principle of freedom of religion.
 During dissemination of the Islamic message, the principle and slogan
are: put the mind and logic into gear, and enforce justice. God mentions this in
many verses, such as this one: “Say: O People of the Book! Come to common
terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God, that we associate
no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords or patrons
1   Qur’an, (Translation by Abdullah Yussuf Ali, Dar el-liwa, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (nd), Reprint of   ird
Edition, Lahore 1938), 49/13.
2   Ibid., 2/256.

Volume 87 Number 858 June 2005
other than God. If then they turn back, say ye, ‘Bear witness that we (at least) are
Muslims (bowing to God’s will)’, ”3  and also
 “And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better
(than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong
(and injury): But say, ‘We believe in the Revelation which has come down to
us and in that which came down to you, our God and your God is One, and
it is to Him we bow (in Islam)’.
 The principle of peace and security is a firmly established rule that
should not be violated in any way, except in the case of aggression by others and
when the enemy resorts to arms. God says:
 “Ye who believe! Enter into Islam whole-heartedly, and follow not the foot-
steps of the evil one, for he is to you an avowed enemy.”5
The rule governing the relationship between Muslims and People of
the Book (Jews, Christians and others) is the ideal, most rational and
unmistakable methodology, expressed in two verses of the Qur’an:
 “God forbids 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:
for God loveth those who are just! God only forbids you, with regard to those
who fight you for (your) faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support
(others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protec-
tion). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong.”6
 In their long history since the days of the Prophet, Muslims have been
committed to following this path. Thus the Prophet’s Message and that of his
Companions and followers was a faithful expression of the one and only mes-
sage, addressed to the world’s monarchs, princes and leaders:
 “Join Islam and you will be unharmed, otherwise you would have committed
the same sin as the common people (farmers, workers, traders and others).
O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that
we worship none but God, that we associate no partners with Him, that we
erect not, from among ourselves, lords or patrons other than God …”.7
In their diverse wars with Arabs, Persians or Romans, Muslims resorted
to combat only in defence of their existence, to repel aggression, to empower
themselves in order to raise the banner of freedom among all nations on an
equal footing, to declare the absolute truth, namely servitude and submission
to God alone, without any influence from an oppressive sultan, an unjust ruler
or a despotic leader.
The State of Islam (the Caliphate8 ) was the only system based on
the emancipation of the individual and society from the phenomenon of
3  Ibid., 3/64.
4   Ibid., 29/46.        
5   Ibid., 2/208.
6   Ibid., 60/8-9.
7 Cf. ibid., 3/64.
8     e political-religious State comprising the Muslim community and the lands and peoples under its
domination in the centuries following the death (AD 632) of the Prophet Muhammad.

Sheikh al-Zuhili – Islam and international law
“domination and subordination” that prevailed in human society. For “domina-
tion and subordination”, Islam substituted justice, consultation (shura), equality,
mercy, freedom and brotherhood, which are the most noble Islamic foundations
in the politics of government.9
In light of those fundamental values and premises, we can identify the
rules of peace and security according to the Islamic doctrine and legislation and
Muslim practices.
Rules in the Islamic system that relate to the international order
To establish the landmarks for external or international relations, the Islamic
system provides for manifold rules. The most important of them can be summed
up as follows.10
Human brotherhood
Muslims are committed to Almighty God’s guidance, as expressed in the Qur’an,
when He confirms the unity between creatures and the Creator, the unity of the
human race, and fully fledged human brotherhood. Almighty God is the Creator
and people are His creation, and His will and wisdom require that people be dis-
parate in their intellectual faculty, opinions, ideas, beliefs and doctrines. People
are free to choose what is in their best interest, in light of the divine revelation
and the messages of reformist prophets and messengers from ancient times to
the era of the Seal (the last) of the Prophets, Mohammed Ibn Abdullah, God’s
blessings and peace be upon them all. After having made their choice and put
their freedom into practice, people are responsible for the soundness of their
choice. Their obligation is to choose what is to their real benefit, in such a way as
to achieve their salvation and happiness in this life and the hereafter. Specifying
the path to salvation, which consists in following the messages of prophets and
messengers, peace be upon them, God says:
 “Mankind was one single nation, and God sent messengers with glad tidings
and warnings, and with them He sent The Book in truth, to judge between
people in matters wherein they differed, but the People of the Book, after the
clear signs came to them, did not differ among themselves, except through
selfish contumacy. God by His Grace guided the believers to the truth, con-
cerning that wherein they differed. For God guides whom He will to a path
that is straight.”11
9   Hamed Sultan, Ahkam al-qanun ad-duwali   -ash-shari`a  al-islamiyya (Rules of international law in
Islamic Shari’a),  Dar an-nahda al-`arabiyya, Cairo, 1970, p. 115.
10   Sheikh  Rachid  Ridha,  Al-wahy al-muhammadi (Muhammadan Revelation), Dar-al-manar, Cairo,
1955, p. 228, and by the same author, Tafseer al-manar (al-manar exegesis), Dar-al-manar, Cairo (nd),
Vol. 10, pp. 139-144; Mohammed Abu-Zahra, Introduction to the as-siyar al-kabir of Mohammed Ibn
al-Hassan ash-Shaybani, Cairo (nd), pp. 41-53 and Wahbeh M. al-Zuhili, Athar al-harb   -l-  qh al-islami
(  e e  ects of war in Islamic law), reprint of the 3rd ed., Dar-al-  kr, Damascus, 1998, pp. 141-147.
11   Qur’an, 2/213.

Volume 87 Number 858 June 2005
Warfare is only for defence, to prevent injustice and fend off aggres-
sion. Persons should not be maimed, nor should they be starved, made to suffer
thirst, tortured, severely abused, assaulted or their property plundered, in viola-
tion of the sanctity of human brotherhood, except when necessity so requires
and to ward off aggression.
Honouring the human being and preserving human rights
To honour the human being, to protect each person’s existence and to preserve
their rights, regardless of their attitude or behaviour, are considered by the Holy
Qur’an as basic elements in the perception of humankind. God says “We have
honoured the sons of Adam, provided them with transport on land and sea,
given them for sustenance things good and pure, and conferred on them special
favours, above a great part of Our Creation.”12
The rights of the human being, whom God created and for whom He
ensured a basic and permanent livelihood, namely the right to life, freedom,
equality, justice, consultation and ethical conduct, are the essential and funda-
mental principles that should be preserved. Relations with other human beings
should be governed by those principles, under all circumstances, in dialogue
and debate, in peaceful coexistence, in peace and in war.
Thus, in God’s legislation and religion it is prohibited to harm or inflict
injury on any human being because of their religion. Nor should they be coerced
into changing their religion. Their dignity should be inviolable, they should not
be tortured in a way that offends their dignity. Their honour should not be
attacked, nor should their modesty be violated. They should not be oppressed,
nor should they be subjected to any practices that contravene morality and codes
of ethics. These are the fundamental principles to which Muslims or pious peo-
ple of any religion are committed.
Commitment to the rules of ethics and morality
Ethics are the container of religion, the pillar of civilization, setting the basis
and standards for dealings and relations between individuals and States alike:
no human being, nation or State should be treated in a way that transgresses
the values of ethics and morals, especially the criteria of virtue and nobility
of spirit. It follows that enslavement, degradation, oppression and coercion for
any reason whatsoever are prohibited. Demolition, destruction, the expulsion
of human beings from their homes, houses or land are also forbidden, as is
violation of the sanctity of honour and cherished values, even if the enemy’s
behaviour is deemed excessive, base or dishonourable. He should not be treated
in like manner, on the basis of reciprocity, because honour is one of God’s sac-
rosanct values on earth. It is inviolable and untouchable, regardless of whether
the person is an ally or an enemy, and irrespective of that person’s sex, reli-
gion, belief or doctrine. Any offence or sin is a prohibited act and incurs guilt,
whether it is committed by friend or foe.
12   Ibid., 17/70.

Sheikh al-Zuhili – Islam and international law
 In one of his messages to the leader of his armies, Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqas,
Omar Ibn Al-Khattab1 3  (may God be pleased with them) said: “I order you and
those accompanying you to be most careful about committing o  ences  against
your enemies, as the sins of the army are more fear ful than their enemy. Muslims
win because of their foe’s disobedience to God, had it not been for this, we
wouldn’t have power over them, because their numbers surpass ours, they are
better equipped than we are. Hence, if we are equal in wrongdoing, they would be
superior to us. Unless we prevail because of our values and good deeds, we will
never overcome them with our force. (…) Never say: Our enemies are worse than
us, thus they will never empower us even if we commit an o  ence, for many a
people have been targeted and subjugated by people worse than they are.”1 4 
Justice and equality in rights and duties
Justice in dealing with others is a natural right; it is also the basis for the survival
of the governmental system. Oppression is a harbinger of the destruction of
civilizations and prosperity, and of the collapse of the system. Hence, Almighty
God says: “God commands justice, the doing of good …”,15 whereby the doing of
good is added to justice to eradicate any rancour from people’s minds and foster
friendship among them. God also says:
 “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and
let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from
justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted
with all that ye do.”16
The Divine Saying related by the Prophet enjoins: “O My subjects! I
forbade injustice to Myself, and forbade it among yourselves. Do not do others
injustice”.17 There is also a very famous and timeless saying by Caliph Omar,
“Since when did you enslave people who were born free?”
The right to equality in rights and duties and to litigation are natural
rights, and the latter is complementary to and expressive of the right to justice.
Hence no group or person, not even a monarch, should be treated with favour-
itism, with discrimination over others. The Prophet (peace be upon him) says:
“People are equal like the teeth of a comb”,18 and in another saying, “If Fatima,
daughter of Mohammed [my daughter], stole, I would cut off her hand.”19
One of the rare examples of justice in dealing with other nations is the story
of the Samarkand people, who complained to the Omayyad Caliph Omar Ibn Abdul
Aziz (717-720) about the Muslim commander Qutayba’s injustice and discrimina-
tion when he conquered their country without any prior warning. Omar sent his
13   Omar I, Second Caliph of Islam (634-644).
14   Jamal Ayyad,  Nuzum al-harb   -l-Islam (Statutes of war in Islam), Maktabat al-Khangi, Cairo, 1951, p. 43.
15   Qur’an, 16/90.
16   Ibid., 5/8.
17   Related by Muslim Ibn al-Hajjaj (according to Abi Dhar al-Gha  ary), in his Sahih (  e Genuine).
18   Related by Abu Hatem-ar-Razi, in his ‘Ilal al Hadith, and others.
19   Related by the authors of the six books of Hadith, except for Ibn Majah.

Volume 87 Number 858 June 2005
judge to settle the matter. His decision was that Arabs had to withdraw from the
conquered territory and to go back to their camps, unless a new conciliation pact
was concluded or the conquest had taken place a  er due warning.
Mercy in peace and war
The ethics and main principles of Islam prescribe tolerance, mercy and the grant-
ing of amnesty when dealing with harsh situations, and demand that strictness,
intransigence or cruelty in excess of the normal limits be avoided, in accordance
with the nature of the Islamic Message as described by Almighty God addressing
the Prophet in these words: “We sent thee not, but as a mercy for all creatures.”
In other words, human beings, animals, jinn and inanimate beings, and indeed
all things, must be treated as thus prescribed. After the conquest of Mecca, the
Prophet, peace be upon him, was tolerant towards the Quraysh, the former rul-
ing tribe there, who had excessively injured him. He told them: “Today, there is
no blame on you, go, you are set free.”
Honouring covenants and commitments, as long as the other party is faithful to
its own pledges (pacta sunt servanda)
This is the basis for building up trust, esteem and respect. Islam therefore pro-
hibited perfidy and treason in all circumstances. Many Qur’anic verses made
the fulfilment of covenants, contractual obligations or promises mandatory.
For example, Almighty God says: “Ye who believe! Fulfil (all) obligations”20 and
“Fulfil the Covenant of God when ye have entered into it, and break not your
oaths after ye have confirmed them, indeed ye have made God your surety, for
God Knoweth all that ye do.”21
It is forbidden to assist depressed groups seeking aid from the Muslim
community, if to do so would contravene agreements. 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 (…).”22
Reciprocity, unless contrary to the fundamental principles of virtue and ethics
Although the principle of reciprocity is an ancient one, Islam embraced it in
dealing with others in time of peace and war alike to make justice reign, estab-
lish standards of fairness and impartiality, and ensure that the enemy would
not overstep limits in its deeds and conduct. However, if the fundamental ethi-
cal and moral principles are breached, Muslims should not do the same. For
instance, Islam proscribes the mutilation of bodies in war, or disfigurement by
amputating the nose, cutting off the ear or lips, or slicing the belly open, even
if the enemy practises such acts. In a clear and brief hadith, the Prophet (peace
be upon him) says: “do not mutilate”. At least one fundamental verse should
be mentioned: “And if ye punish, let your punishment be proportionate to the
20   Qur’an, 5/1.
21   Ibid., 16/91.
22   Ibid., 8/72.

Sheikh al-Zuhili – Islam and international law
wrong that has been done to you; but if ye show patience, that is indeed the best
(course) for those who are patient.”23
Recognition of the international personality of other States
The rise of the concept of statehood went hand in hand with recognition of the
international personality of States, which was consolidated by the principle of
“equal sovereignty among all members of the international community.” This
is an acceptable principle from the Islamic point of view, for its purpose is to
enable every State to live in freedom, security and peace, and be dedicated to
fulfilling its obligations toward its people.
No State has the right to infringe upon the sovereignty of another State,
nor is it entitled to invade it or control its destiny and its wealth, as otherwise
its sovereignty will be impaired. Furthermore, no State is entitled to interfere in
the affairs of other States. The evidence that Islam respects this principle lies in
its recognition of the principle of international peace and security for all States.
The long history of Islam shows that the Muslim States have been faithful to a
policy of peace with other nations and peoples.24
The Qur’an unequivocally provided that other States and peoples should
be recognized:
“And be not like a woman who breaks into untwisted strands the yarn which
she has spun, a  er it has become strong. Nor take your oaths to practise deception
between yourselves, lest one party should be more numerous than another …”25 In
other words, beware of breaking your oaths like the unwis e woman who broke her
yarn a   er having spun it with precision and perfection, thus letting it unravel  into
strands. When you use your oaths or pledges to deceive others and expose them to
danger, you pretend to respect the oath while concealing your intention to break
it and incline toward others, who are more powerful and wealthier.   e words
“more numerous than another”, are an unambiguous recognition of the diversity
and multiplicity of nations, peoples and States.
It is also prohibited to interfere in other nations’ affairs or attempt to
weaken the structure of another State, as Muslims have no right to act in this
manner. Consequently, this is a recognition or acknowledgement of the exis-
tence of other nations and a prohibition of any attempts to eradicate them or the
standards they have set for their guidance.
Precedence given to the principles of peace, human brotherhood
and international cooperation
Islam is keen to reach solutions with other nations on the basis of peace and secu-
rity, the recognition of partnership in shared interests, and respect for the bond
23   Ibid., 16/126.
24   See H. Sultan, op. cit. (note 9), p. 118.
25   Qur’an, 16/92.

Volume 87 Number 858 June 2005
of human brotherhood, since all creatures exist by divine order and divine will.
Hence, it is prohibited to kill any human being except for a legal reason, otherwise
it would be considered an aggression against the Creator’s own creation.
A group of Muslim legal scholars have decided that the basis (general
rule) of the relationship between Muslims and others is peace and not war, for
God mentions this in many verses, including:
– “Ye who believe! Enter into peace whole-heartedly, and follow not the foot-
steps of the evil one, for he is to you an avowed enemy;”26
– “O believers! When ye go forth to the fight for the cause of God, be discern-
ing, and say not to everyone who meeteth you with a greeting, ‘Thou art not
a believer’ in your greed after the chance good things of this present life!”27
– “Therefore, if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send
you (guarantees of) peace, then God hath opened no way for you (to war
against them);”28
– “But if they (the enemy) incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline
towards peace, and trust in God: for He is the One that heareth and knoweth
(all things).”2 9
Accordingly, those legal scholars decided that the reason for combat
in Islam is to fight those who are outside the law or to fend off aggression, and
not atheism or religious difference. The evidence is that the killing of civil-
ians or non-combatants is prohibited, and dhimma (covenant) agreements are
concluded with non-Muslims who live in the abode of Islam in peace and with-
out complaints. Furthermore, Islam encourages new venues for interaction and
trade with other nations, in order to establish good relations between Muslims
and others.
The legal scholar Ibn as-Salah says: “the original opinion is to keep the
atheists and settle them down, because Almighty God does not wish to exter-
minate the creatures, nor did He create them to be killed. However, they may
be killed because they inflict injury and not as a punishment for their atheism.
Life on earth is not for punishment, but punishment is in the hereafter … If the
matter is as such, then it is not allowed to say: killing them is the rule.”30
Advocates of the opposing view hold that the rule in the relationship
between Muslims and others is war, not peace. This is a confirmation, or rather
a description, of bad relations that prevailed in the past because of continuous
attacks on Muslims and recurrent wars between Muslims and others. The aim of
that counter-trend was perhaps to boost the morale of combatants so that they
would not lay down their arms, relax and rest, but would be ready for combat,
determined to persevere against adversaries who were surrounding Muslims on
all sides. Its supporters argue that in the large-scale wars (maghazi, expeditions
26   Ibid., 2/208.
27   Ibid., 4/94.
28  Ibid., 4/90
29  Ibid., 8/61.
30  Makhtut (manuscript) fatawa Ibn as-Salah, Dar al-kutub of Cairo, No. 337, p. 224.

Sheikh al-Zuhili – Islam and international law
or campaigns), of which 27 were campaigns against Arabs at the time of the
Prophet, Muslims were victims of aggression. The same applies to wars against
other adversaries such as the Crusaders, Tartars or Mongols.
Unfortunately wars of aggression are not confined to those examples,
but are frequent in the history of nations in both ancient and modern times.
Nonetheless, the conduct of war must be subject to legal rules. In the following
section light will therefore be shed on some relevant Islamic principles.
International relations in the event of war
War obviously has an impact on relations between the belligerents. Each party or
group perceives the other as the adversary, is keen to defeat him and to achieve
victory and supremacy. The desire to win and defeat the enemy might induce
the parties to commit even the gravest offences and crimes. It was therefore
necessary to impose restrictions on warfare to regulate both the start and the
conduct of hostilities. There are also rules relating to the end of hostilities. Four
main points are emphasized below.
The purpose of the classical jurisprudential division of the world
into two or three abodes
It is common among Muslim legal scholars to divide the world into two abodes: the
abode of Islam (dar al-islam) and that of war (dar al-harb); some scholars add a third
one, the abode of covenant (dar al-`ahd or dar as-sulh).    e abode of Islam consists
of countries where the power lies with Muslims, where the rules of Islam are imple-
mented and Islamic rituals are performed. People of that abode are Muslims and
people of the covenant (non-Muslims who live in Islamic territor y according to a
convenant).    e abode of war comprises countries which are outside the scope of
Islamic sovereignty and where the religious and political rules of Islam are conse-
quently not implemented; its people are belligerents.    e abode of covenant consists
of those regions that have concluded peaceful trade pacts, a conciliation agreement
or a long-term truce with Muslims. In addition, Islamic histor y gives examples of
neutrals such as the Abyssinians, the Nubians and the Cypriots.
In fact, this division has no textual support, for no provision is made
for it either in the Qur’an or in the Hadith. It is instead a transient description
of what happens when war flares up between Muslims and others. It is a narra-
tion of facts, similar to those confirmed by scholars of international law, namely
that war splits the international community into two parties: belligerents, in
particular the States involved in war; and non-belligerents and neutrals, which
comprise the remaining members of the international community.
In reality, in Islamic jurisprudence, as asserted by Imam Al-Sha  `i (767-820),
and in contemporary international law, the world is one abode.31 If there is no
31   Ad-Dabboussi, Ta’sis an-nazar, al-matba`a al-adabiyya, Cairo (nd) , p. 58.

Volume 87 Number 858 June 2005
security and war prevails instead of peace, there will be two zones: one peaceful
and the other belligerent. The opinion advocated by some Orientalists and other
writers, who claim that the abode of war is waged in permanent antagonism
against the abode of Islam, is not acceptable. We consider that the antagonism
is temporary and limited to the actual areas of combat or armed conflict.
War as a necessity in Islamic Shari’a
In international law, war is an armed con   ict between two or more States; relations
between the belligerents and between belligerents and neutrals are determined by
international law.    ere are numerous, renewed and complex causes of war.3 2
In the Arabic language, war, jihad and conquest can have the same mean-
ing, namely to   ght against the enemy. However, the term “jihad” has become
widespread in Islamic jurisprudence. Al Raghib al-Asfahani said in his Mufradat
al-Qur’an that “jihad and mujahada, or militant struggle, mean exerting the utmost
e  ort in fending o   the enemy”. One of the classical Sunni jurists of the Maliki
school, Ibn ‘Arafa, also de  ned jihad as “warfare waged by a Muslim against a dis-
believer, with whom he has no oath, to raise the word of God Almighty, or against
his presence in or penetration into the [Muslim] terr itory.”3 3  
Jihad is lawful in Islam as a necessity to suppress aggression. It was pre-
scribed in the second year of the Hegira,34 after Muslims had patiently borne for
fourteen years the harm done to them by the pagans. The proof can be found in
God Almighty’s words:
“To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight),
because they are wronged, and verily, God is Most Powerful for their aid. (They
are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right, (for no
cause) except that they say, ‘Our Lord is God’
.”35 The divine words, “they were
wronged”, and “those who have been expelled from their homes” illustrate the
reason for the legality of war, namely that Muslims are oppressed by others (the
unbelievers). Whereas God had forbidden warfare in more than seventy verses,36
this was the first verse that prescribed it, as confirmed by another verse:
“Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye
dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for
you. But God knoweth. And ye know not.”37
Nevertheless, religion was not the motive for warfare in jihad, nor was
its purpose to subordinate others and compel them to convert to Islam. Jiha d
32   See H. Sultan, op. cit. (note 9), p. 245.
33   Ibn  Rushd,  al-muqaddimat al-mumahhidat, as-sa ’ada Press, Cairo, 1905, Vol. I, p.258; al-Khirashi
(the First Sheikh of al-Azhar), fath al-Jalil ’ala mukhtasar al-’Allama Khalil, Boulaq Press, Cairo, 1880,
Vol. III, p. 107.
34     e Hegira (Hijra) is the emigration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina in AD 622 (= year 1 of the
Hegira, the   rst year of the Muslim Era).
35   Qur’an, 22/39-40.
36   Related also by Abdul Razzaq and Ibn al-Mundhir from az-Zuhry in al-Alussi’s tafsir, Idarat at-tiba ‘a al-
amiriyya, Cairo, 1853, vol. XVII, p. 162.
37   Qur’an, 2/216.

Sheikh al-Zuhili – Islam and international law
was intended instead to ward off injustice, champion the cause of the weak
and drive back the enemy. As pointed out by a European Orientalist, Thomas
Arnold, those great conquests that laid the foundation of the Arab Empire were
not the outcome of a religious war to spread Islam. On the contrary, they were
followed by a widespread apostasy movement away from Christianity, so much
so that Christianity itself was thought to be the Arabs’ target. From then on,
Christians perceived the sword as a tool of Islamic preaching.38
Islam did not acknowledge war as a national policy, a method of con-
flict resolution or a means to satisfy a desire for hegemony or to gain spoils.
As already explained above, war is not deemed lawful except when an absolute
necessity calls for it. Muslims do not desire it, nor do they thirst to shed the
blood of other human beings. Thus, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Do
not wish to meet the enemy. Ask God for protection from evil. But if you meet
the enemy, be firm and mention God a lot.”39
Before the declaration of either war or jihad, the enemy should be made
to choose one of three options: Islam, as a token of peacefulness; reconciliation
or a peace treaty with Muslims; or finally war, if the enemy insists on waging
war. It is evident that giving the choice between three options excludes the char-
acter of compulsion.
There is conclusive evidence that Islam was not spread by the sword,
and that there is a clear difference between propagating Islam through wisdom
and good advice and declaring jihad to confront aggression. This evidence and
other arguments show that compulsory conversion to Islam did not occur in the
history of Islamic preaching, as underscored by God’s words “Let there be no
compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error …”4 0
The Islamic perception of the motive for warfare
The motive for warfare in Islam is not the difference in religion or an attempt
to impose the Islamic doctrine or a racist, social class on others, nor does it
stem from a nationalistic tendency or material or economic interests. Omayyad
Caliph Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz said to one of the rulers in the Caliphate who
complained about the shortage of kharaj (land tax) resources because of the
conversion of many people to Islam, “God sent Muhammad with the Truth as a
guide and not as a tax collector.”
According to the majority of Muslim jurists, the motive for warfare is to
respond to an attack and aggression. No human being is to be killed for merely
contravening Islam, but to ward off aggression by him. Because they are not
engaged in warfare, civilians or non-combatants clearly may not be either killed
or attacked. The Prophet (peace be upon him) prohibited the killing of women,
38    omas Arnold, ad-da’wa ila-l-islam (   e Islamic Preaching), (Arabic translation), Cairo, 1957, 2nd ed., p. 47.
39   Related by al-Bukhari and Muslim in their Sahih, from Abi Hurayra in other words: “If you meet them,
be patient”.
40   Qura’an, 2/256.

Volume 87 Number 858 June 2005
children and priests. If non-Muslims choose to conclude peace and concilia-
tion pacts, they may do so. They are not compelled to do anything else. God
Almighty says: “But if they (the enemy) incline towards peace, do thou (also)
incline towards peace …”41 and “And say not to any one who offers you a saluta-
tion: ‘Thou art none of a believer!’ …”42
There are three kinds of circumstances that legitimize warfare in Islam,
a) aggression against Muslims, either individually or collectively, as preach-
ers for Islam, or attempts to make Muslims apostates or the launching of
war against Muslims. God the Almighty says: “To those against whom war
is made, permission is given (to fight), because they were wronged …”44
and “And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from
where they have turned you out, for tumult and oppression are worse
than slaughter, …”45
b) assistance for the victims of injustice, whether individuals or groups. God
the Almighty says: “And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and
those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? Men, women and
children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people
are oppressors …’ ”46
c)  self-defence and to ward off attacks on one’s homeland. God the Almighty
says: “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress
limits, for God loveth not transgressors.”47
Some verses urge Muslims to fight only when battles have already
started, not before. Preparation for warfare is necessary to prevent the adver-
saries of Muslims from gaining the advantage over them. God the Almighty says:
“Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power …”48
Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) said that “the Prophet’s (peace be upon him)
conduct was that he did not wage war against any disbelievers who made truce
with him. He never began the fighting against any of the disbelievers, and had
God ordered him to kill every disbeliever, he would have begun with killing and
He also said that “permission of warfare for Muslims is based on the
fact that the others have the permission of warfare.” Ibn Taymiyya’s disciple,
Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1350) says that “the prescription of warfare for
Muslims is against those who wage war against them, not those who do not”. As
mentioned above, God the Almighty says: “Fight in the cause of God those who
41   Ibid., 8/61.
42   Ibid., 4/94.
43   W. al-Zuhili, op. cit. (note 10), pp. 93–94.
44   Qur’ an, 22/39.
45   Ibid., 2/191.
46   Ibid., 4/75.
47   Ibid., 2/190.
48   Ibid., 8/60.
49   Ibn Taymiyya, risalat al-qital, p. 125.

Sheikh al-Zuhili – Islam and international law
fight you, but do not transgress your limits, for God loveth not transgressors.”50
This short verse is relevant both for jus ad bellum (in particular as regards
self-defence/no aggression), and for jus in bello (in particular the distinction
between combatants and non-combatants). To sum up, legitimate war in Islam
is fair war, namely that those who wage war against Muslims are to be fought.
Legal restrictions in war
If war does take place, it is subject to clear regulations under Islamic Shari’a.
Religious teachings had an evident effect on the emergence of the rules of war,
which attained the status of legal rules based on three fundamental require-
ments: necessity, humanity and chivalry. The following principles have accord-
ingly been prescribed since the early days of Islam:
–  a non-combatant who is not taking part in warfare, either by action, opinion,
planning or supplies, must not be attacked;
–  the destruction of property is prohibited, except when it is a military neces-
sity to do so, for example for the army to penetrate barricades, or when that
property makes a direct contribution to war, such as castles and fortresses;
–  principles of humanity and virtue should be respected during and after war;
–  it is permitted to guarantee public or private safety on the battlefield, to pre-
vent as far as possible the continuation of warfare.
The conduct of hostilities is strictly regulated by the Holy Qur’an, the
words of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the commands of Abu Bakr
as-Siddiq (632-634), the First Caliph of Islam, as well as those of other Muslim
commanders, as can be seen from the basic texts.
One of the best known hadiths is “Move forward in the Name of God,
by God, and on the religion of God’s Prophet. Do not kill an elderly, or a child,
or a woman, do not misappropriate booty, gather your spoils, do good for God
loves good doers.”51
Abu Bakr reiterated several commandments, inspired by Prophetic
guidance, to his commander Yazid Ibn Abi Sufyan. This is the text of his famous
decree: “I prescribe ten commandments to you: do not kill a woman, a child,
or an old man, do not cut down fruitful trees, do not destroy inhabited areas,
do not slaughter any sheep, cow or camel except for food, do not burn date
palms, nor inundate them, do not embezzle (commit ghulul),52 nor be guilty of
Omayyad Caliph Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz wrote to one of the rulers in the
Caliphate, “We have been informed that when the Prophet of Allah, (peace be
upon him) sent any military company, he used to tell them: ‘Proceed with your
50   Qur’an, 2/190.
51   Related by al-Bayhaqi (according to Malik ibn Anas).
52   Ghulul means misappropriation of booty or spoils of war.
53   Related by Imam Malik. See Jalal-u-din al-Sayuti, tanweer al-hawalik, sharh a’la muwatta’ Malik, al-Halabi
Press, Cairo (nd), Vol. II, p. 6.

Volume 87 Number 858 June 2005
expedition in the Name of Allah, and for the sake of Allah, wage war against
the disbelievers.54 Do not be deserters, nor commit perfidy, nor mutilate (your
enemy). Do not kill a newborn. Repeat this to your armies and companies, it’s
God’s will, Peace be upon you’ . ”55
Those two sets of instructions and similar codes of conduct constitute
both mandatory injunctions and prohibitions. No Muslim is allowed to overstep
or violate them unless absolute military necessity so requires, for instance by
uprooting a tree or demolishing a wall used by the enemy to prevent the Muslim
army from advancing. Yet let us compare these nascent religious commitments
and their nobility of spirit with what is being done today, unnecessarily and
unjustifiably, in many armed conflicts and situations of military occupation.
Since captivity as a result of war is an important issue in every conflict,
we would like to conclude this paper by recalling the principle of humane treat-
ment applicable to that categ ory of victims. Islam recommends  that prisoners of
war (captives) be treated kindly, as God the Almighty says: “And they feed, for
the love of God, the indigent, the orphan and the captive.”56 The Prophet (peace
be upon him) says: “I command you to treat captives well.”57  They are often
either released through “grace bestowed on them without any return”, or are
exchanged for money or in return for other captives. The sick and the wounded
should be given medical treatment, and the dead should be buried to preserve
their dignity.

54   i.e. those who have overstepped the limits in atheism and have attacked Muslims.
55   Related by Malik, tanweer al-hawalik, op. cit. (note 53), p. 7.
56   Qur’an, 76/8.
57  Related by al-Tabarani (according to Abu Âziz al-Jumahi), as-sunan al-kubra, da’irat al-ma`arif
al-usmaniyya, Hyderabad, 1st ed., 1935.

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