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Rights of enemies at war

After dealing with the rights of the citizens of an Islamic State, I

would like to briefly discuss the rights which Islam has conferred on its

enemies. In the days when Islam came into focus 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 through

the works of the seventeenth century thinker, Grotius. But the actual

codification of the 'international law' in war began in the middle of the

nineteenth century. 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, let alone respected. The laws which were framed in this

field during the nineteenth century or over the following period up to

the present day, cannot be called 'laws' in the real sense of the word.

They are only in the nature of conventions and agreements and calling

them 'international law' is actually a kind of misnomer, because no

nation regards them binding when they are at war, unless, of course,

when the adversaries also agree to abide by them. In other words, these

civilized laws imply that if our enemies respect them then we shall also

abide by them, and if they ignore these human conventions and take

recourse to barbaric and cruel ways of waging war, then we shall also

adopt the same or similar techniques. It is obvious that such a course

which depends on mutual acceptance and agreement cannot be called

'law'. And this is the reason why the provisions of this so-called 'inter-

national law' have been flouted and ignored in every way, and every

time they have been revised, additions or deletions have been made in


Law of War and Peace in Islam:

The rules which have been framed by Islam to make war civilized

and humane, are in the nature of law, because they are the injunctions

of God and His Prophet which are followed by Muslims in all circum-

stances, irrespective of the behaviour of the enemy. It is now for the

scholars to find out how far the West has availed of the laws of war

given by Islam thirteen hundred years ago; and even after the adapta-

tion of some of the laws of Islam how far the West attained those

heights of civilized and humane methods of warfare which Muslims

reached through the blessings of Islam. Western writers have often

asserted that the Prophet had borrowed everything in his teachings

from the Jews and the Christians. Instead of saying anything in its

refutation I will only recommend the reader to refer to the Bible6 so

that he can see which methods of war are recommended by the sacred

Book of these Western claimants to civilization and culture.

We have examined in some detail the basic human rights that Islam

has conferred on man. Let us now find out what rights and obligations

Islam recognizes for an enemy.

The Rights of the Non-Combatants:

Islam has first drawn a clear line of distinction between the

combatants and the non-combatants of the enemy country. As far as

the non-combatant population is concerned such as women, children,

the old and the infirm, etc., the instructions of the Prophet are as

follows: "Do not kill any old person, any child or any woman" (Abu

Dawud). "Do not kill the monks in monasteries" or "Do not kill the

people who are sitting in places of worship" (Musnad of Ibn Hanbal).

During a war, the Prophet saw the corpse of a woman lying on the

ground and observed: "She was not fighting. How then she came to be

killed?" From this statement of the Prophet the exegetists and jurists

have drawn the principle that those who are non-combatants should not

be killed during or after the war.

The Rights of the Combatants:

Now let us see what rights Islam has conferred on the combatants.

1. Torture with Fire

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). The injunction deduced from this saying is that the adversary

should not be burnt alive.

2. Protection of the Wounded

"Do not attack a wounded person"-thus said the Prophet. This

means that the wounded soldiers who are not fit to fight, nor actually

fighting, should not be attacked.

3. The Prisoner of War Should not be Slain

"No prisoner should be put to the sword"-a very clear and

unequivocal instruction given by the Prophet (S).

4. No one Should be Tied to be Killed

"The Prophet has prohibited the killing of anyone who is tied or

is in captivity."

5. No Looting and Destruction in the Enemy's Country

Muslims have also been instructed by the Prophet that if they

should enter the enemy's territory, they should not indulge in pillage or

plunder nor destroy the residential areas, nor touch the property of

anyone except those who are fighting with them. It has been narrated

in the hadith: "The Prophet has prohibited the believers from loot and

plunder" (al-Bukhari; Abu Dawud). His injunction is: "The loot is no

more lawful than the carrion" (Abu Dawud). Abu Bakr al-Siddiq used

to instruct the soldiers while sending them to war, "Do not destroy the

villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and

do not slaughter the cattle." The booty of war which is acquired from

the battleground is altogether different from this. It consists of the

wealth, provisions and equipment captured only from the camps and

military headquarters of the combatant armies.

6. Sanctity of Property

The Muslims have also been prohibited from taking anything from

the general public of a conquered country without paying for it. If in a

war the Muslim army occupies an area of the enemy country, and is

encamped there, it does not have the right to use the things belonging

to the people without their consent. If they need anything, they should

purchase it from the local population or should obtain permission from

the owners. Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, while instructing the Muslim armies

being despatched to the battlefront would go to the extent of saying

that Muslim soldiers should not even use the milk of the milch cattle

without the permission of their owners.

7. Sanctity of a Dead Body

Islam has categorically prohibited its followers from disgracing or

mutilating the corpses of their enemies as was practised in Arabia

before the advent of Islam. It has been said in the hadith: "The Prophet

has prohibited us from mutilating the corpses of the enemies" (al-

Bukhari; AbC Dawud). The occasion on which this order was given is

highly instructive. In the Battle of Uhud the disbelievers mutilated the

bodies of the Muslims, who had fallen on the battlefield and sacrificed

their lives for the sake of Islam, by cutting off their ears and noses, and

threading them together to put round their necks as trophies of war.

The abdomen of Hamzah, the uncle of the Prophet, was ripped open by

Quraysh, his liver was taken out and chewed by Hind, the wife of Abu

Sufyan, the leader of the Meccan army. The Muslims were naturally

enraged by this horrible sight. But the Prophet asked his followers not

to mete out similar treatment to the dead bodies of the enemies. This

great example of forbearance and restraint is sufficient to convince any

reasonable man who is not blinded by prejudice or bias, that Islam is

really the religion sent down by the Creator of the universe, and that if

human emotions had any admission in Islam, then this horrible sight on

the battlefield of Uhud would have provoked the Prophet to order his

followers to mutilate the bodies of their enemy in the same manner.

8. Return of Corpses of the Enemy

In 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 Medina. The unbelievers presented

ten thousand dinars to the Prophet and requested that the dead body of

their fallen warrior may be handed over to them. The Prophet replied

"I do not sell dead bodies. You can take away the corpse of your fallen


9. Prohibition of Breach of Treaties

Islam has strictly prohibited treachery. One of the instructions

that the Prophet used to give to the Muslim warriors while sending

them to the battlefront was: "Do not be guilty of breach of faith."

This order has been repeated in the Holy Quran and the hadith again

and again, that if the enemy acts treacherously let him do so, you

should never go back on your promise. 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 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." The entire Muslim army was deeply touched

and grieved at the sad plight of Abu Jandal and many of them were

moved to tears. But when the Prophet declared that "We cannot break

the agreement", not even a single person came forward to help the

unfortunate prisoner, so the unbelievers forcibly dragged him back to

Makkah. This is an unparalleled example of the observance of the terms

of agreement by the Muslims, and Islamic history can show many

examples of a similar nature.

10. Rules A bout Declaration of War

It has been laid down in the Holy Quran: "If you apprehend

breach of treaty from a people, then openly throw the treaty at their

faces" (8:58). In this verse, Muslims have been prohibited from opening

hostilities against their enemies without properly declaring war against

them, unless of course, the adversary has already started aggression

against them. Otherwise the Quran has clearly given the injunction to

Muslims that they should intimate to their enemies that no treaty exists

between them, and they are at war with them. The present day 'inter-

national law' has also laid down that hostilities should not be started

without declaration of war, but since it is a man-made rule, they are

free to violate it whenever it is convenient. On the other hand, the laws

for Muslims have been framed by God, hence they cannot be violated.


This is a brief sketch of those rights which fourteen hundred years

ago Islam gave to man, to those who were at war with each other and to

the citizens of its state, which every believer regards as sacred as law.

On the one hand, it refreshes and strengthens our faith in Islam when

we realize that even in this modern age which makes such loud claims

of progress and enlightenment, the world has not been able to produce

juster and more equitable laws than those given 1400 years ago. On the

other hand it hurts one's feelings that Muslims are in possession of such

a splendid and comprehensive system of law and yet they look forward

for guidance to those leaders of the West who could not have dreamed

of attaining those heights of truth and justice which was achieved a long

time ago. Even more painful than this is the realization that throughout

the world the rulers who claim to be Muslims have made disobedience

to their God and the Prophet as the basis and foundation of their

government. May God have mercy on them and give them the true


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