Islam's pioneering role

December 2, 2005 Friday Shawwal 29, 1426

Islam's pioneering role

By Bilal Ahmed Malik

DESPITE efforts to achieve world peace in the wake of two world wars, armed conflicts remain a prominent feature of our human landscape. Even in the 21st century, the resort to arms by nations, people and ethnic groups continues, with the accompanying high toll of death and suffering. It is very ironic that the West is trying to achieve world peace through wars. In such a situation, there is a dire need to preserve a measure of humanity in the midst of war. Even in war there are limits.

In the days when Islam came into existence the world was completely unaware of the concept of humane and decent rules of war. The West became conscious of this concept for the first time in the 17th century. But the actual codification of the laws of war began in the middle of the 20th century when the West drafted the four Geneva Conventions and afterwards their two additional protocols. Prior to this, no concept of civilized behaviour in war was found in the West. All forms of barbarity and savagery were perpetrated in war, and the rights of those at war were not even recognized.

Islam made these rules centuries ago. The rules which have been framed by Islam to make war civilized and humane are the injunctions of God and His Prophet (PBUH) which are to be followed by Muslims in all circumstances, irrespective of the behaviour of the enemy. Let us now examine what rights and obligations Islam recognizes for an enemy in the war field.

Islam first distinguished between combatants and the non-combatants. Islam considered women, children, the old and the infirm, etc, to be non-combatants. The Prophet (PBUH) said: Do not kill any old person, any child or any woman (Abu Dawud). Do not kill the monks in monasteries and Do not kill the people who are sitting in places of worship (Ibn Hanbal). Wounded soldiers who are not fit to fight nor actually fighting should not be attacked. Islam grants them complete protection and full medical assistance. The Prophet (PBUH) said: Do not attack a wounded person. (Abu Dawud).

Islam guaranteed full protection of the prisoners of war. Muslims are ordered to behave with such prisoners in a humane way. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: No prisoner should be put to the sword. (Ibn Maja). He prohibited the killing of anyone who was tied or in captivity. In the Hadith there is a saying of the Prophet that: Punishment by fire does not behove anyone except the Master of the Fire (Abu Dawud). So it is prohibited to torture the enemy with fire.

Regarding loot and plunder,The Prophet (PBUH) has prohibited the believers from loot and plunder (Bukhari; Abu Dawud). The first caliph Hazrat Abu Bakr al-Siddiq used to instruct the soldiers while sending them to war, Do not destroy villages and towns, do not spoil cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter cattle.

Muslims are not allowed to take anything from the general public of a conquered land without paying for it. They have no right to use things belonging to the people without their consent. If they need anything, they should purchase it from the local population or obtain permission from the owners. Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, while instructing the Muslim armies being dispatched to the battlefront would go to the extent of saying that Muslim soldiers should not even use the milk of the cattle without the permission of their owners.

Islam clearly prohibited the destruction and dishonouring of religious places. The Prophet (PBUH) said: Do not kill the monks in monasteries or Do not kill the people who are sitting in places of worship (Ibn Hanbal). Islam prohibits the disgracing or mutilating of the corpses of enemies. It has been said in the Hadith: The Prophet (PBUH) has prohibited mutilating the corpses of the enemies (Bukhari; Abu Dawud).

The abdomen of Hazrat Hamzah, the uncle of the Prophet (PBUH), was ripped open by the Quraish; his liver was taken out and chewed by Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, the leader of the Makkan army. The Muslims were naturally enraged by this horrible sight. But the Prophet (PBUH) asked his followers not to mete out similar treatment to the dead bodies of the enemies.

In another event, at the Battle of Ahzab a very renowned and redoubtable warrior of the enemy was killed and his body fell down in the trench which the Muslims had dug for the defence of Madina. The unbelievers presented ten thousand dinars to the Prophet (PBUH) and requested that the dead body of their fallen warrior may be handed over to them. The Prophet (PBUH) replied: I do not sell dead bodies. You can take away the corpse of your fallen comrade.

Islam has strictly prohibited treachery. One of the instructions that the Prophet (PBUH) used to give to the Muslim warriors while sending them to the battlefront was: Do not be guilty of breach of faith.

There is a famous incident in the peace treaty of Hudaybiyyah, when after the settlement of the terms of the treaty, Abu Jandal, the son of the emissary of the unbelievers who had negotiated this treaty with the Muslims, came, fettered and blood-stained, rushing to the Muslim camp and crying for help. The Prophet (PBUH) told him Since the terms of the treaty have been settled, we are not in a position to help you out. You should go back with your father. God will provide you with some other opportunity to escape this persecution.

These are the laws and rights which fourteen hundred years ago Islam gave to man as war laws. It strengthens our faith in Islam and makes us proud when we realize that Muslims are in possession of such a splendid and comprehensive system of laws. Even in this modern age which is of progress and enlightenment, the world has not been able to produce more equitable laws than those given by Islam to mankind some 1400 years ago.

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