Is it allowed for a Muslim to kill the civilians of the enemy?

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and the most honorable prayer and peace be upon the master of the first and the last, our master, Muhammad, the chosen, the trustworthy, and upon his pious and pure family, his faithful companions, and those who followed them in goodness until the Day of Judgment, may Allah Almighty be pleased with them all.

In a video of Anwar al Awlaki, the interviewer asks him the following question: “Do you support such operations, although the targets, as the media say, are civilians …etc.” Awlaki answered: “as for the issue of civilians, this term is widely used now, but we prefer to use the terms used by our jurisprudence scholars, as they say ‘combatants and non-combatants’. As for the combatant, he is the one who carried the weapon even if it was a woman, and the non-combatant is he who has no contribution in the war. As for the American people, for the most part, they are contributors, as they elected this administration and they finance this war. In this last election and the previous one there were other choices available for the American people, which is to elect candidates who don’t want war, despite the fact that those candidates did not have but few votes. Moreover, when we talk about an issue we look at it from a religious perspective, which is what settles the issue if it is allowed or not. If it was possible for the mujahid brother, the hero Omar al-Faruq to target hundreds of military that would be terrific, but we are talking about the status of a battle. The Prophet, peace be upon him, if he was able to fight in the day only he would do, but there were occasions in which he sent squads at night, these squads which Prophet Muhammed sent at night, due to darkness they killed women and children. The companions went back to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and asked about this issue, and the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘They are part of them’, which means that the verdict of those –women and children- is the same verdict of their fathers, so Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him allowed this!

This is just a portion of what Awlaki talked about in the interview, but this issue, mainly targeting and killing civilians, is one of the most dangerous issues, and I have to talk about it in detail. First of all we have to check the hadith, on which Awlaki based his understanding. The hadith is in Bukhari and Muslims shahih books. This is the narration of the hadith: ‘The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, was asked about the polytheists whose land was attacked at night with the probability that some of their women and offspring were killed or hurt.’ He said: “They are from among them”. Ibn Hajar al-Askalani, one of the prominent Muslim scholars explained the whole Bukhari book in a book called “Fatthulbari fi sharh sahih al Bukhari” and when he explained this particular hadith he said: ‘when he said: ‘they are from among them’, it means the verdict in that case, not that it is allowed to kill them intentionally, but the meaning is: if it was impossible to reach the fathers except by hitting their children, thus if they were hit because they are mixed with them, then it is allowed to kill them’.  It is interesting because this is actually the same argument that is made by western nations when they target who they say are combatants and terrorists but also end up killing their family members or innocent civilians with whom they are living among.  Western nations refer to this as “collateral damage”.

Ibn Hajar continues in his explanation, declaring: ‘when al-Zuhri, who is the main narrator of that hadith, was narrating this hadith he would say: ‘and I was narrated by Ibn Ka’b bin Malik narrated from his uncle that when the Messenger of Allah sent to Ibn Abi al-Hukaik he forbade killing women and children. It seems, Ibn Hajar continues, that al-Zuhri is referring to the abrogation of the first hadith. However, Malik and Awza’I said: ‘it is not allowed to kill women and children in any case, even if they were put as human shields by the combatants, or the combatants were in a fortress or a ship and put women and children with them, it would be forbidden to bombard or to burn them. Sufian, one of the narrators, said that al-Zuhri said: ‘then after that the Messenger of Allah forbade killing women and children’. What supports that is that the proscription was in the foray of Hunain[1] the following hadith of Riyah bin al-Rabi’, as the Messenger of Allah told one of the companions “Follow Khalid and tell him not to kill children or employees’. Ibn Hajar conclude his explanation saying: ‘all of them, as Ibn Battal and others narrated, agreed to forbid killing women and children intentionally’ (fatthulbari, vol:6, 169). Al-Zuhri seems to be concerned about this hadith, as he was narrating this hadith along with another hadith which proscribes killing women and children, so that no one should misunderstand it.  The only exception was for unintentional killings, i.e. collateral damage. It might be ironic that this book containing this very explanation was just behind Awlaki in this video, so if he had just read that book carefully he would not have said these dangerous words.

The same hadith is in sahih Muslim, and this book was explained by another prominent scholar, whose name is al-Nawawi. In that book, al-Nawawi put a title that indicates the hadith he is going to explain. The title is ‘a chapter of allowing to kill women and children unintentionally’. He continues to say: ‘the explanation is that the Prophet , peace be upon him, was asked about the verdict pertaining the idolaters’  against whom a night raid was conducted when some of their women and children were killed, and he said that they are from among their fathers’, and he continues saying: ‘what is meant is that if they did not intend to kill them, but when necessary unintentional killings occur, as for the previous hadith in forbidding the killing of women and children, it means if and when they were separated from the targeted combatants’. (Sharh al-Nawawi ala sahih Muslim, vol: 12, 49).

Let us now analyze what Awlaki did. He misunderstood or intentionally twisted the hadith, a thing which al-Zuhri, the narrator of the hadith was really concerned about, and tried to utilize syllogism to conclude that all the American people are combatants and can be killed. Syllogism happens when you have a basic verdict on certain issue or idea, and you bring a similar issue and try to apply the same verdict on it. In jurisprudence principles, which is the discipline specialized in deriving verdicts to modern issues, there are conditions to apply syllogism. One of the most important conditions is the similarity between the first and the second premises. Now let us explain this syllogism, the first premise is: Targeting combatants when women and children are killed unintentionally because they are mixed with them in the battle. This is unfortunate, collateral damage, but allowed. The second premise is: Targeting civilians and women and children are killed intentionally. These two premises are very different. Awlaki’s mistake is his conclusion that it is allowed to intentionally target all civilians based on the first premise in the hadith, which is allowing targeting combatants and killing civilians unintentionally because they are mixed with them. This is an invalid syllogism.

This is just an instance of how wrong methodology produces catastrophes, which put Islam, Muslims, and innocent non-Muslim civilians in grave danger. We, as Muslims, need to ponder and reflect on Qur’anic verses such as: “Do not follow what you do not know. The hearing, sight and heart about all these you shall be questioned” (Surah 17, ayah 36). Personal responsibility is always there and Allah will basically judge you according to it. The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “Verily, I am only a human and the claimants bring to me (their disputes); perhaps some of them are more eloquent than others. I judge according to what I hear from them. So, he whom I, by my judgment, (give the undue share) out of the right of a Muslim, I in fact give him a portion of (Hell) Fire” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Sheikh Ali

[1] Hunain was the last foray of the Messenger of Allah, and what was said in that foray cannot be abrogated (Ali)


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