All praise be to Allah the Lord of all creations, and peace and blessings of Allah on his noble messenger, Muhammed, and all his relatives and companions.
To answer this question we must look at the word of Allah given to us in the Quran and the Sunna, i.e. the Hadiths which have been given to us and are judged to be authentic. There we find, Islam is neither the religion of swords nor the religion of flowers. It is neither the religion of peace nor the religion of war. Islam is the religion of equity and justice, whether they are achieved by war or by peace procedures. War and peace are found in Islam to simply be the means to achieve justice. Thus, there shouldn’t be any abstract ethical judgement on these means, as the judgement should consider the circumstances and environments in which they occurred. Likewise, the Muslim shouldn’t tend to be apologetic about his religion, as we see these days. All wars and battles are performed on Islamic lands and Islam is too often put behind the bars, and the Muslims are forced to bring justifications and apologies to defend it. When I say Islam, I refer mainly to the two basic sources of Islam, mainly the Quran and Sunna, the tradition of the Prophet Muhammed, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.
Unlike other religions, including the monotheistic religions, Islam is universal. Its message is comprehensive, which means it deals with all aspects of life, and it is applicable at all times. The other religions are partial and periodic. In Christianity, for example, Jesus (peace be upon him) was sent to a society within an existing state which had a law, mainly the Roman law. So there was no need for Jesus, in these circumstances, to bring a new law or to establish a separate state. In Islam, on the other hand, Muhammed was sent into an entirely different environment. He was sent to a stateless, and lawless society. He was entitled to establish a state, and enact legislations. Jihad, or fighting and war, was one of the means, as it is the case in every state.
Now let us put our critical lenses on this subject of, fighting or jihad, being a means to perform justice. As peace, we hope, is the default status among human beings and all the practices happening therein are due to voluntary and beneficial aspects, Islam has general rules which regulate these voluntary practices, because it is universal, as we stated previously. Indeed, even less universal religions offer many rules and guidelines for enhancing living in peace with one’s neighbor. Fighting, or jihad has two types, as they are made clear by the Quran and Sunna:
- The defensive Jihad: This type is obligatory on each Muslim who is able to carry a weapon, because it deals with a case in which the enemy has entered our country and will most probably kill people, control the country and/or take all its resources. We have seen this happen in many Muslim lands in the past decades where occupying forces have invaded and Muslims have been killed.
- The offensive jihad: This type between a Muslims state and another state, group or entity with whom we have no peace treaty or any other type of peace contract, and they refuse to honor all the international peace contracts which we offer them, thus it is likely that that the state, group or entity is going to attack us sooner or later, according to the information we have. Thus, they are considered as a potential and imminent enemy. Nowadays attacking such a state would be labelled “preemptive war” which we have seen carried out by Western nations as well who claim it necessary to do so in order to defend themselves in advance. Similarly, in Islam, under these conditions, it is permissible that we start the fight before such an opposing state, group or entity attacks us. This type has certain conditions:
- It must be performed against a potential enemy who is going to attack us sooner or later.
- The enemy refuses any peace treaty.
- It has to be performed by the permission of the leader, being a caliph, a president, a king, a congress or any other type of government, using the official army, because it is a declaration of war, and has to be declared officially.
Bearing all the previous information in mind, is it sound to judge the wars which happened 1400 years ago according to the situations, circumstances and environments of our age now? It would be unfair to attempt such a thing. We just have to consider one thing in those ancient times, mainly the natural empire’s laws concerning territorial dominance. The natural process for empires at that time was to occupy and take over territories, controlling their resources and establish fortresses to be starting points to take over even more adjacent territories until facing a stronger enemy who would most likely do the same to that empire or state. The Roman Empire, for instance, was carrying many slogans, one of which is: “You have to eradicate every strong state neighboring you”. Islam came within an environment in which there were two main empires, mainly the Persian and the Roman, a world which had no international law or any other ethical code but “Survival of the strongest”. The same may be applied to the nature of the tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, as they were following the same principles of the Roman and the Persian empires. They were raiding one another on a daily bases and it was the strongest that dominated. When Islam came, Muhammed (PBUH) for the first time ever united the Arabian tribes under the banner of Islam, and those who did not accept to unite or to be in a peace treaty were of course considered potential enemies, as they would raid the Muslims sooner or later. Thus many battles which Muhammed (PBUH) waged were preemptive wars, just like what most states nowadays also do with their potential enemies. In fact, the U.S. is a perfect example of that concept, in its invasion of Iraq for example when it claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
This is only a short article about a concept which takes a whole book to explain, but one thing is clear. Our religion offers us enduring principles to follow, while at the same time the world has changed so when we apply these principles we need to ask ourselves important questions about who is claiming to rule, on what basis and about the legitimacy of their claims. These words here are but some glimpses which might be useful for ‘those who listen to the word, and follow the best (meaning) in it’ Qur’an, Surah 39. Ayah 18. As you read on to other articles here, please recall this Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH): “O Allah, guide us to the best deeds and the best manners, for none can guide to the best of them but You”. All praise is due to Allah the Lord of all creatures.