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Jihad as warfare

The Qur’an asserts that if the use of force would not have been allowed in curbing the evils by nations, the disruption and disorder caused by insurgent nations could have reached the extent that the places of worship would have become deserted and forsaken. As it states:

And had it not been that Allah checks one set of people with another, the monasteries and churches, the synagogues and the mosques, in which His praise is abundantly celebrated would have been utterly destroyed.

Qur'an

Javed Ahmed Ghamidi divides just warfare into two types:

  1. Against injustice and oppression
  2. Against the rejecters of truth after it has become evident to them

The first type of Jihad is generally considered eternal, but Ghamidi holds that the second is specific to people who were selected by God for delivering the truth as an obligation. They are called witnesses of the truth (Arabic:شهادة, see also Itmam al-hujjah); the implication being that they bear witness to the truth before other people in such a complete and ultimate manner that no one is left with an excuse to deny the truth.[1] There is a dispute among Islamic jurists as to whether the act of being "witness" was only for the Companions of Muhammad or whether this responsibility is still being held by modern Muslims, which may entitle them to take actions to subdue other Non-Muslim nations. Proponents of Companions of Muhammad as being "the witness" translate the following verse only for the Companions[1] while others translate it for the whole Muslim nation.[2] As in Qur'an:

And similarly [O Companions of the Prophet!] We have made you an intermediate group[3] so that you be witnesses [to this religion] before the nations, and the Messenger be such a witness before you.

Similarly, proponents of Companions of Muhammad as being "the witness" present following verse to argue that the Companions were chosen people as witnesses just as God chooses Messengers from mankind. As in Qur'an:[1]

He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the religion of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this [Qur’an]: [He chose you so that] the Messenger may be a witness [of this religion] to you, and you be witnesses of this religion to non-Muslims [of your times].

Following is the first verse of the Qur’an in which the Companions of Muhammad, who had migrated from Mecca, were given permission to fight back if they were attacked:[1]

Permission to take up arms is hereby given to those who are attacked because they have been oppressed – Allah indeed has power to grant them victory – those who have been unjustly driven from their homes, only because they said: “Our Lord is Allah”.

The reason for this directive in Medina instead of Mecca considered by most Muslim scholars is that without political authority armed offensives become tantamount to spreading disorder and anarchy in the society. As one of Islamic jurist writes:

Among Kafayah obligations, the third category is that for which the existence of a ruler is necessary e.g., Jihad and execution of punishments. Therefore, only a ruler has this prerogative. Because, indeed, no one else has the right to punish another person.
Sayyid Sabiq , Fiqhu’l-Sunnah, 2nd ed., vol. 3, (Beirut: Daru’l-Fikr, 1980), p. 30

Directive of warfare

The directive of the Jihad given to Muslims in Qur'an is:[1]

These verses told Muslims that they should not merely fight the Banu Quraish if they resist them in offering Hajj, but the Qur’an goes on to say that they should continue to fight them until persecution is uprooted and Islam prevails in the whole of Arabia. Initially Muslims were required to fulfill this responsibility even if the enemy was 10 times stronger. Afterwards, the Qur'an reduced the burden of this responsibility.[1] As in Qur'an:

Prophet! Rouse the believers to wage war. If there are twenty amongst you, patient and persevering, they will subdue two hundred: if a hundred, they will subdue a thousand of the disbelievers: for these are a people without understanding.
Qur'an[Qur'an 8:65]
[From] now, God has lightened your [task] for He knows that there is now weakness amongst you: But [ever so], if there are a hundred of you, patient and persevering, they will subdue two hundred, and if a thousand, they will subdue two thousand, with the leave of God: for God is with those who patiently persevere.
Qur'an[Qur'an 8:66]

Some interpret above verses that Jihad never becomes obligatory unless the military might of the Muslims is up to a certain level. In the times of Muhammad, when large scale conversions took place in the later phase, the Qur'an reduced the Muslim to enemy ratio to 1:2. It seems that Muslims should not only consolidate their moral character, but it is also imperative for them to build their military might if they want to wage Jihad when the need arises. The Qur’an gave a similar directive to Muslims of Muhammad times in the following words:[1]

Muster against them all the men and cavalry at your disposal so that you can strike terror into the enemies of Allah and of the believers and others beside them who may be unknown to you, though Allah knows them. And remember whatever you spend for the cause of Allah shall be repaid to you. You shall not be wronged.
Qur'an , [Qur'an 8:60]

While other scholars consider the later command of ratio 1:2 only for a particular time.[4]

A policy was adopted regarding the extent of requirement that arose in wars that the Muslims had to fight. In the battles of Badr, Uhud and Tabuk, the responsibility was much more and each Muslim was required to present his services as a combatant.[1] As in Qur'an:

Not equal are those of the believers who sit [at home] without any [genuine] excuse and those who strive hard and fight in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has given preference by a degree to those who strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives above those who sit [at home]. [In reality], for each, Allah has made a good promise and [in reality] Allah has preferred those who strive hard and fight above those who sit [at home] by a huge reward. Degrees of [higher] grades from Him and forgiveness and mercy. And Allah is Ever Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Qur'an[Qur'an 4:95]

Qur'an also states that turning backs in the battle field, except for tactical purposes, is a big sin and will bring wrath of God.[5] As in Qur'an:

O you who believe! when you meet those who disbelieve marching for war, then turn not your backs to them. And whoever shall turn his back to them on that day-- unless he turn aside for the sake of fighting or withdraws to a company-- then he, indeed, becomes deserving of Allah's wrath, and his abode is hell; and an evil destination shall it be.
Qur'an[Qur'an 8:15]

The driving force

Islamic scholars agree that Jihad should not be undertaken to gratify one’s whims nor to obtain wealth and riches. Many also consider that it must also not be undertaken to conquer territories and rule them or to acquire fame or to appease the emotions of communal support, partisanship and animosity. On the contrary, it should be undertaken only and only for the cause of Allah as is evident from the words.[1] As in Qur'an:

Those who believe, fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Satan. So fight you against the friends of Satan. Ever feeble indeed is the plot of Satan.
Qur'an[Qur'an 4:76]

Prophet Muhammad, at various instances, also explained very forcefully this purport of the Qur’an:

  • Abu Musa Ash‘ari (rta) narrates that once a person came to the Prophet (sws) and said that some people fight for the spoils of war, some for fame and some to show off their valor; he then asked the Prophet (sws): “Which one of them fights in the way of Allah”. The Prophet (sws) replied: “Only that person fights in the way of Allah who sets foot in the battlefield to raise high the name of Allah”. Sahih Bukhari 2810
  • Abu Hurayrah (rta) narrates from the Prophet (sws): “I swear by the Almighty that a person who is wounded in the way of Allah – and Allah knows full well who is actually wounded in His way – he would be raised on the Day of Judgement such that his colour be the colour of blood with the fragrance of musk around him”. Sahih Bukhari 2803
  • Ibn Jabr narrates from the Prophet (sws): “A person whose feet become dust ridden because of [striving] in the way of Allah will never be touched by the flames of Hell”. Sahih Bukhari 2811
  • Sahal Ibn Sa‘ad says that the Prophet (sws) once said: “To reside in a border area for a day to protect [people] against an enemy [invasion] is better than this world and everything it has”. Sahih Bukhari 2892.

Similarly as a reward for participation in such a strive, the Qur'an states:

Consider not those who are killed in the way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive with their Lord, and they will be provided for. They rejoice in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounty and rejoice for the sake of those who have not yet joined them, but are left behind [not yet martyred] that on them too no fear shall come, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice in a grace and a bounty from Allah, and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers..

Ethical limits

Islamic Law, based upon the Quran and practices of Muhammad has set down a set of laws to be observed during the lesser Jihad.

Qur'an forbids fighting in sacred month and similarly within the boundaries of Haram. But if non-Muslims disregard these sanctities, Muslims are asked to retaliate in equal measure.[6] It is stated in Qur'an:

A sacred month for a sacred month; [similarly] other sacred things too are subject to retaliation. So if any one transgresses against you, you should also pay back in equal coins. Have fear of Allah and [keep in mind that] Allah is with those who remain within the bounds [stipulated by religion].

Observance of treaties and pacts is stressed in Qur'an. When some Muslims were still in Mecca, and they couldn't migrate to Medina, the Qur'an stated:

And to those who accepted faith but did not migrate [to Madinah], you owe no duty of protection to them until they migrate; but if they seek your help in religion, it is your duty to help them except against a people with whom you have a treaty of mutual alliance; and Allah is the All-Seer of what you do.
Qur'an , [Qur'an 8:72]

Similar reports are attributed to Muhammad:

  • Abu Sa‘id (rta) narrates from the Prophet (sws): “On the Day of Judgment, to proclaim the traitorship of a traitor and the betrayal of a person who betrayed his words, a flag shall be hoisted which would be as high as [the extent of his] traitorship”, and [the Prophet (sws) also said]: “Remember that no traitor and betrayer of promises is greater than the one who is the leader and ruler of people”. Sahih Muslim 1738

The basic principle in fighting in the Quran is that other communities should be treated as one's own. Fighting is justified for legitimate self-defense, to aid other Muslims and after a violation in the terms of a treaty, but should be stopped if these circumstances cease to exist.[7][8][9][10] The principle of forgiveness is reiterated in between the assertions of the right to self-defence.[7]

During his life, Muhammad gave various injunctions to his forces and adopted practices toward the conduct of war. The most important of these were summarized by Muhammad's companion, Abu Bakr, in the form of ten rules for the Muslim army:[11]

Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.

These injunctions were honored by the second Caliph, Umar, during whose reign (634–644) important Muslim conquests took place.[12] These principles were also honoured during the Crusades, as exemplified by sultans such as Saladin and al-Kamil. For example, after al-Kamil defeated the Franks during the Crusades, Oliverus Scholasticus praised the Islamic laws of war, commenting on how al-Kamil supplied the defeated Frankish army with food:[13]

"Who could doubt that such goodness, friendship and charity come from God? Men whose parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, had died in agony at our hands, whose lands we took, whom we drove naked from their homes, revived us with their own food when we were dying of hunger and showered us with kindness even when we were in their power."[14]

During the Battle of Siffin, the Caliph Ali stated that Islam does not permit Muslims to stop the supply of water to their enemy.[15] In addition to the Rashidun Caliphs, hadiths attributed to Muhammad himself suggest that he stated the following regarding the Muslim conquest of Egypt:[16]

"You are going to enter Egypt a land where qirat (money unit) is used. Be extremely good to them as they have with us close ties and marriage relationships. When you enter Egypt after my death, recruit many soldiers from among the Egyptians because they are the best soldiers on earth, as they and their wives are permanently on duty until the Day of Resurrection. Be good to the Copts of Egypt; you shall take them over, but they shall be your instrument and help. Be Righteous to God about the Copts."

The early Islamic treatises on international law from the 9th century onwards covered the application of Islamic economic jurisprudence, ethics and military jurisprudence to international law,[17] and were concerned with a number of modern international law topics, including the law of treaties; the treatment of diplomats, hostages, refugees and prisoners of war; the right of asylum; conduct on the battlefield; protection of women, children and non-combatant civilians; contracts across the lines of battle; the use of poisonous weapons; and devastation of enemy territory.[13]

Objectives of warfare

According to verses [Qur'an 8:39], the Qur'an implies two objectives:[1]

  1. Uproot fitnah (فتنة) or persecution
  2. Establish supremacy of God, through Islam, in the Arabian Peninsula

Against persecution

Directives for action against persecution and unbelief:

And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do.
Qur'an , [Qur'an 8:39]

Also:

And what has come over you that you fight not in the cause of Allah, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors, and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help. [You should know that] those who believe fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Satan. So fight you against the friends of Satan. Ever feeble indeed is the plot of Satan.
Qur'an , [Qur'an 4:75]

Most Muslim scholars consider it an eternal directive and believe that all types of oppression should be considered under this directive.[1][18] Similarly, if a group of Muslims commit unwarranted aggression against some of their brothers and does not desist from it even after all attempts of reconciliation, such a group according to the Qur’an should be fought with:

And if two parties or groups among the believers start fighting, then make peace between them both. But if one of them outrages against the other, then fight you against the one which outrages till it complies with the command of Allah. Then if it complies, make reconciliation between them justly, and be equitable. Verily! Allah loves those who are the equitable. The believers are brothers to one another. So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah that you may receive mercy.
Qur'an[Qur'an 49:9]

When asked what to do in the event that Muslims did not have a state, Muhammad directed Muslims to dissociate themselves from all other groups:

I asked: If there is no state or ruler of the Muslims? He replied: In this situation, dissociate yourself from all groups, even if you have to chew the roots of a tree at the time of your death. Sahih Bukhari 7084

Supremacy of Islam in the Arabian peninsula

It is stated in Qur'an:

Indeed those who are opposing Allah and His Messenger are bound to be humiliated. The Almighty has ordained: ‘‘I and My Messengers shall always prevail’’. Indeed Allah is Mighty and Powerful.

After Itmam al-hujjah (clarification of religion to the addressees in its ultimate form), Jews were subdued first, and had been granted amnesty because of various pacts. Those among them who violated these pacts were given the punishment of denying a Messenger of God.[1] Muhammad exiled the tribe of Banu Qaynuqa to Khyber and that of Banu Nadir to Syria.[19] The power they wielded at Khyber was crushed by an attack at their strongholds.[20] Prior to this, Abu al-Rafi and Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf were put to death in their houses.[21] The tribe of Banu Qurayza was guilty of treachery and disloyalty in the battle of the Ahzab.[22] When the clouds of war dispersed and the chances of an external attack no longer remained, Muhammad laid siege around them. When no hope remained, they asked Muhammad to appoint Sa'd ibn Mua'dh as an arbitrator to decide their fate. Their request was accepted. Since, at that time, no specific punishment had been revealed in the Qur’an about the fate of the Jews, Sa'd ibn Mua'dh announced his verdict in accordance with the Torah. As per the Torah, the punishment in such situations was that all men should be put to death; the women and children should be made slaves and the wealth of the whole nation should be distributed among the conquerors.[23][24] In accordance with this verdict pronounced, all men were executed.[25] John Esposito writes that Muhammad's use of warfare in general was alien neither to Arab custom nor to that of the Hebrew prophets, as both believed that God had sanctioned battle with the enemies of the Lord.[26]

No other incident of note took place regarding the Jews until the revelation of At-Tawba, the final judgement, was declared against them:[1]

Fight those who believe not in Allah or the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission and are subdued.
Qur'an[Qur'an 9:29]

This directive related to both the Jews and the Christians. The punishment mentioned in these verses is a show of lenience to them because they were originally adherents to monotheism. The story holds that they did not benefit from this lenience because, after Muhammad's death, they once again resorted to fraud and treachery.[27][28][29][30] Consequently, the Jews of Khyber and the Christians of Najran were exiled once and for all from the Arabian peninsula by Umar. This exile actually fulfilled the following declaration of the Qur’an about them:[1]

And had it not been that Allah had decreed exile for them, He would certainly have punished them in this world; and in the Hereafter theirs shall be the torment of the Fire.
Qur'an[Qur'an 59:3]

When the polytheists of Arabia had been similarly subdued, it was proclaimed in At-Tawba that in future no pact would be made with them. They would be given a final respite of four months and then they would be humiliated in retribution of their deeds and would in no way be able to escape from this punishment. After this time limit, the declaration is made in the Qur’an:[1]

And a declaration should be made from Allah and His Messenger to these people on the day of the great Hajj that Allah is free from [all] obligations to these Idolaters and so is His Messenger. So if you [O Idolaters!] repent, it is better for you, but if you turn away, then know that you cannot escape from the grasp of Allah. And give tidings [O Muhammad (sws)] of a painful torment to these disbelievers. Except those of these Idolaters with whom you have a treaty, and who have not shown treachery in it nor have supported anyone against you. So fulfill their treaty to the end of their term. Indeed, Allah loves those who abide by the limits. Then when the sacred months [after the Hajj] have passed, kill these Idolaters wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush. But if they repent and establish the prayer, and give Zakah, then leave them alone. Indeed, Allah is Ever Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Qur'an[Qur'an 9:3]

After the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Muhammad himself singled out nations by writing letters to them. In all, they were written to the heads of eight countries.[31] Consequently, after consolidating their rule in the Arabian peninsula, the Companions launched attacks against these countries giving them two options if they wanted to remain alive: to accept faith or to accept a life of subjugation by paying Jizya. None of these nations were considered to be adherents to polytheism, otherwise they would have been treated in the same way as the Idolaters of Arabia.[1]


  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named jihad
  2. Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur'an (tafsir), commentary on verse 2:143.[1]
  3. This means that this group stands between Muhammad and the rest of the world who were able to observe the whole process of witnessing
  4. Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. Tafhim al-Qur'an. Verse 8:66
  5. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 3, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), pp. 450-1
  6. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 3, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), pp. 479-80
  7. 7.0 7.1 Patricia Crone, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, War article, p.456. Brill Publishers
  8. Micheline R. Ishay, The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era, University of California Press, p.45
  9. Sohail H. Hashmi, David Miller, Boundaries and Justice: diverse ethical perspectives, Princeton University Press, p.197
  10. Douglas M. Johnston, Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik, Oxford University Press, p.48
  11. Aboul-Enein and Zuhur, p. 22
  12. Nadvi(2000), pg. 519
  13. 13.0 13.1 Judge Weeramantry, Christopher G. (1997), Justice Without Frontiers, Brill Publishers, p. 136, ISBN 9041102418 
  14. Judge Weeramantry, Christopher G. (1997), Justice Without Frontiers, Brill Publishers, pp. 136–7, ISBN 9041102418 
  15. Encyclopaedia of Islam (2005), p.204
  16. El Daly, Okasha (2004), Egyptology: The Missing Millennium : Ancient Egypt in Medieval Arabic Writings, Routledge, p. 18, ISBN 1844720632 
  17. Kelsay, J. (March 2003), "Al-Shaybani and the Islamic Law of War", Journal of Military Ethics (Routledge) 2 (1): 63–75, doi:10.1080/15027570310000027 
  18. Concept of Dar Al-Islam and Dar Al-Harb, Islamonline.net.[2]
  19. Ibn Hisham, al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, 2nd ed., vol. 3, (Beirut: Daru’l-Khayr, 1995), pp. 40-2 / Ibid. vol. 3, pp. 151-160
  20. Ibid., pp. 40-2 / Ibid., pp. 151-160
  21. Ibid., pp. 43-8 / Ibn Sa‘ad, al-Tabaqatu’l-Kubra, vol. 2, (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1960), p. 28
  22. Ibn Hisham, al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, 2nd ed., vol. 3, (Beirut: Daru’l-Khayr, 1995), pp. 180-2
  23. Deuteronomy, 20:10-14
  24. Caesar E. Farah. Islam: Beliefs and Observances, pp.52
  25. Ibn Hisham, al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, 2nd ed., vol. 3, (Beirut: Daru’l-Khayr, 1995), pp. 188-9
  26. John Esposito(2005), Islam: The Straight Path, p.15
  27. Sahih Bukhari, 2730
  28. Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-kharaj, Fasl fi’l-Fay wa al-Khiraj, (1302 AH), p. 42
  29. Ahmad Ibn Yahya al-Baladhuri, Futuhu’l-Buldan, (Qumm: Manshurat al-Arummiyyah, 1404 AH), p. 73
  30. Ibn Athir, Al-Kamil fi’l-Tarikh, 1st ed., vol. 2, (Beirut: Dar Beirut, 1965), p. 112
  31. The names of these heads of state are: 1. Negus of Abyssinia, 2. Maqawqas of Egypt, 3. Khusro Parvez of Persia, 4. Qaysar of Rome, 5. Mundhar Ibn Sawi of Bahrain, 6. Hudhah Ibn ‘Ali of Yamamah, 7. Harith Ibn Abi Shamr of Damascus, 8. Jayfar of Amman, see Muhammad as a diplomat

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