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How do you compare the attitudes toward war in Islam, in other religions and in modern civilizations?

One can criticize Islam because it recognizes war and even commands it. This criticism is unjust, for first of all it is not Islam that introduced war into the human history. Islam allows war in order to put an end to the domination of injustice and tyranny, to rescue the oppressed and to establish a tolerant social-political environment.

Since Christianity brought no explicit rules for the conduct of war, wars in Christian world have been much bloodier and ruthless. It can also be said that, apart from the Crusades, Christianity was misused to provide a cover and means for the colonization of two thirds of the world by the Western powers in previous centuries. The criticism is wholly inappropriate when voiced by the Jews, for their history, is also full of wars, as the Old Testament is explicit in ordering War, and unfortunately one can find quotations similar to the following "And we utterly destroyed them, as we did to Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying every city: men, women, and children� (Deuteronomy, 3:6) The crimes that have been committed for years by modern Israel are also known to everybody in the world.

As for other religions such as those in south, east and south-eastern Asia, they lack rules to govern the collective life, and so more comparable to esoteric philosophies, and yet their followers have not refrained from waging war.

The modern secular world has caused more bloodshed and destruction in the past hundred years than during the whole of human history before. Islam has never had the least part in tens of millions of deaths in the revolutions in Soviet Union and China; and in the massacres in Afghanistan and Chechnya and in the brutal suppression of freedom movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It was secular powers of the world which caused the death of more than 60 million people, mainly civilians, and forced countless millions more to remain homeless, widowed and orphaned, during and after the two world wars. It was not Muslim countries who made nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and used them to intimidate poor and weak nations.

Islam and war, and why Islam allows war?

Islam, which declares, �Peace is what is the best,� aims at establishing peace throughout the world. However, war is a reality of human history. It is a manifestation in the social life of humankind of the inner condition of those who have not been able to attain excellence in mind, heart (spirit) and conduct. Or it is a manifestation of the war between the spirit and the carnal soul, or between Satan and the perfectibility of human nature. What is important and necessary therefore is, rather than turning away from the reality in a vainly idealistic manner, to establish rules to make war just, in respect of both its motives and purposes, and its means and conduct, so that the harm of it is contained, and the good in it may benefit the people in general. War may then be, not something in itself desirable, but capable of serving (rather than perverting) a desirable end - like disciplining and training the body to improve its strength or skill, or doing a necessary operation to save someone's health, or administering upon a criminal the due punishment for the sake of deterrence and the health of the moral environment. Precisely such disciplining of the means and ends of war is what Islam has done.

Quran does not order war, but allows it on condition that it should be in God�s cause and for defensive purposes. It also enjoins that the limits set by God must not be exceeded. Those limits are related to both the intention and the practice. For example, Islam does not permit war for motives such as conquest or plunder, or to quench a lust for revenge, or for the sake of some material advantage or satisfy racist persuasions. Islam does not seek to compel anyone to change their faith. On the contrary, it seeks an environment where all are free to accept faith freely. Islam has also set limitations on the conduct of relations before, during and after conflict; for example:

  • Do not betray any agreements you have entered into
  • Do not plunder
  • Do not commit injustices or use torture
  • Do not touch the children, the womenfolk, the elderly, or other non-combatants of the enemy
  • Do not destroy fruit-trees and tilled lands
  • Do not kill livestock
  • Treat with respect the religious persons who live in hermitages or convents and spare their edifices (Ibn al-Athir, al-Kami fi al-Tarikh, Vol.3, p.227)

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

  • Even in warfare, Islam is ready to make peace and treaty with the opposing side.
  • A Muslim government remains faithful to any treaty it has made until the end of its term.
  • If the opposing side betrays the agreement, The Muslim government must publicly and officially declare to the other side that the agreement is no longer valid. Even though it can declare war as soon as the agreement loses its validity, it should grant them a respite to make a new evaluation.
  • If the opposing side continues their hostilities and do not change their attitude even after the end of the term granted, this means that a state of war has begun.
  • In order to force the enemy to cease hostilities or to defeat them in war, the Muslims must be powerful and remain steadfast. However, the Muslims must always observe the rules of war mentioned above.
  • When the enemy side is inclined toward peace and making a treaty, the Muslims should also be inclined this way. They should also give asylum to those who seek it and, without harming in any way the wealth or persons of the asylum seekers, covey them to their place of safety.

These were the rules of war openly commanded by the Qur�an and practiced by the Muslims during history.

Islam aims at universal peace and, as a reality of human history, ensuring peace sometimes requires fighting. As declared in the Qur�an (Though killing is something you feel aversion to) disorder (rooted in rebellion against God and recognizing no laws) is worse than killing (2:191); and disorder (coming from rebellion to God and recognizing no laws) is even more grave and more sinful than killing (2:217), the conditions that give rise to war and disorder are more grievous than killing itself and therefore war, although not inherently a good thing, is permissible if it will remove these conditions.


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