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.

We have established in many previous articles that Islam is the religion of justice; not a religion of peace, not a religion of war. As with Western “just war” doctrines, Islam proclaims if war is required to achieve justice, then war it is! However, peace is the default and of course, preferred, status in Islam. When such necessary wars happen, enemies may fall into captivity if they surrender and drop their arms, thus Islam being an inclusive religion has laid out answers to handling these situations as well.

In Islam, it is not preferable to extend killing in wars, for war, when it is a necessary procedure, the necessities are estimated accordingly. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“Therefore, when you meet the unbelievers smite their necks, then, when you have killed many of them, tie the bonds. Then, either free them by grace or ransom until war shall lay down its loads, in this way, it shall be. Had Allah willed, He would have been victorious over them; except that He might test you, the one by the means of others. As for those who are killed in the Way of Allah, He will not let their works to go astray” (Surah 47, ayah 4). Thus, as the previous ayah tells us, some will necessarily be killed in war, but for those taken captive, there are only two options to deal with them; to free them, or to take ransom instead. This ransom might be Muslim prisoners in the hands of the enemy, money to repay for the damage of war, or any other thing, which the victorious leader finds useful. Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him who was always promoting loving kindness, mercy and forgiveness above all other virtues instructed Muslims: “”Free the captives, feed the hungry and pay a visit to the sick.” (Al-Bukhari, book 56, hadith 252). Abdullah Bin Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated: “There were captives in the war of Badr who had no ransom, so, the messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, made their ransom a form of non monetary payment. They were made to teach the children of the Ansar (the supporters of Islam who were living in Medina) reading and writing”. (Musnad Ahmed, 2162).

Captives or as we call them today “prisoners of war” are treated respectfully and have special treatment in Islam. Feeding them is one of the best deeds, which will be rewarded in the afterlife, as Allah says in the Qur’an:

“But the righteous shall drink of a goblet mixed with camphor, a fountain at which the worshipers of Allah drink and make it gush forth abundantly. They who keep their vows and fear a Day whose evil is spread. Who give food, for the love of Him to the needy, the orphan, and the captive, (saying): ‘we feed you only desirous of the Face of Allah; we seek of you neither recompense nor thanks for we fear from our Lord a stern, frownful Day.  So Allah will save them from the evil of that Day and has secured for them radiance and joyfulness, and recompense them for their patience with a Garden, and robes of silk” (Surah 76, ayah 5-12).

Now let us deal with the Muslim prisoners in the hands of the enemy. They too have duties, which are mainly to stick to their true faith. If the enemy captured a Muslim, he is still required to continue perform all the duties in Islam, such as prayer and fasting as long as it is possible. If he did not find water to perform ablution, then he has to perform tayammum, which is the alternative of ablution when water is absent; rubbing his palms with sand and wiping his face clean with it, then repeating with his palms and wiping his arms as well to the elbows. He is not allowed to shorten the prayer (qasr) unless he carried off as a prisoner far from from home, a distance of at least 80 klm.  According to the Qu’ran a Muslim can collaborate with his captors and even confess if it is to save himself from torture, but he cannot tell lies about other prisoners or harm others purposefully except to save himself

Interestingly, the extremist groups like Qaeda, ISIS and al Shabaab proclaim that a Muslim’s highest duties is to fight jihad and in doing so to expect to be imprisoned—that to be a prisoner for the sake of Allah is one of the highest honors.  While doing anything for the sake of Allah is indeed an honor we have written elsewhere when Muslims are called to war and when they are not, that jihad is not an individual obligation on every Muslim, particularly when war is far away from one’s home and made clear that these groups are wrong in saying that being imprisoned for wrongful wars is any honor at all. In fact it may be that their members are imprisoned for during real and horrible harms to civilians and others and for acts the Qu’ran expressly forbids.

Likewise, the extremist groups, like Qaeda and ISIS, say that all the rulers in the Muslim world today are unbelievers, and calls them taghut (unjust tyrants), saying they are the enemies of true believers in Islam. Therefore, if anyone was captured, whether in war or after a successful raid, then he is regarded as a prisoner of war, not a normal prisoner and the state holding him is illegitimate with taghut leaders. ISIS, for example, said that the only real Caliphate is theirs, and all Muslims in the world have to migrate to their so-called Caliphate to establish a real Islamic State. This however was a very false claim as we have written elsewhere—their Caliphate met few of the conditions for a real one. They also claimed that anyone that fought them in order to stop terrorist attacks were not true Muslims when in fact those who fought them brought a stop to their killing of thousands of innocents. Tragically, both sides in these battles also killed many civilians as well.

ISIS and other extremist groups allege that all the rulers in the Muslim world are infidels because they do not practice Islamic rules, such as capital punishments and since they have the capacity and the ability to carry out Islamic rules, therefore they do not have any excuse for instead following non-Islamic laws.

These falsities may pass into normal people, and they had passed, for we saw many Muslims in the world left their home countries because ISIS media and recruiters misled them. Many of those poor Muslims did not even know what authentic Muslim scholars say about the issues brought up by those recruiters.

The question now is why ISIS and other extremist groups say that the rulers of the Muslim world are infidels, and what is their evidence to say that?

The answer is simply that they are regarded as infidels because they did not rule by Allah’s revelation, mainly the Qur’an and Sunna. Their evidence is generally related to three ayah’s of the Qur’an:

  • Those who do not judge with what Allah has sent down are the unbelievers (Surah 5, ayah 44).
  • Whoever does not judge according to what Allah has sent down are the harm doers (Surah 5, ayah 45).
  • Those who do not judge according to that which Allah has sent down are the evildoers (Surah 5, ayah 47).

Needless to say that all of the above-mentioned ayahs are cut out of their context. If we read the whole context the image should be clear. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“We have sent down the Torah in which there is guidance and light by which the submissive prophets judged the Jews, as did the rabbis and those of their Lord, guarding what they were required to of the Book of Allah, and for which they were witness. Do not fear people, but fear Me. And, do not take a small price for My verses. Those who do not judge with what Allah has sent down are the unbelievers. We have written for them a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds equal retaliation, but whosoever forgoes it as a freewill offering, it will be an expiation for him. Whoever does not judge according to what Allah has sent down are the harm doers. And We sent, following in their footsteps (Prophet) Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which was before him in the Torah, and gave him the Gospel, in which there is guidance and light, confirming that which was before him in the Torah, a guide and an admonition to the cautious. Therefore, let the people of Gospel judge in accordance with that which Allah has sent in it. Those who do not judge according to that which Allah has sent down are the evildoers” (Surah 5, ayahs 44-47).

The context is clear, it is related to the People of the Book, i.e. the Jews and Christians. Many Muslim scholars have this opinion like al-Tabari, who is called the sheikh of exegeses, and he quoted many scholars who have the same opinion as his. He narrated four opinions related to these ayahs:

  • Allah meant the Jews who distorted the Book of God –the Torah- and changed its rulings. This opinion is based on Prophetic hadiths and sayings of the Prophet’s companions.
  • Allah meant a lesser infidelity, a lesser harm doing and a lesser evildoing, not the type that casts a person out of Islam.
  • Infidelity is meant for those who deny the Islamic ruling after acknowledging that Allah revealed these rulings.
  • Others said: Rather, these verses are talking about the People of the Book, and they are intended for all people, Muslims and infidels.
  • One of the scholars, al-Sha’bi, said: He meant by “unbelievers” the people of Islam, and by “the harm doers” the Jews, and by “the evildoers” the Christians.

After narrating the previous opinions, al-Tabari said: “And the best of these sayings in my opinion to be correct is the opinion of those who said: These verses were revealed about the infidels of the People of the Book, because the verses before and after them are revealed about them, and they are the ones concerned with them. These verses are the context of their news, so being related to them is best.” (Tafsir al-Tabari, vol. 6, 342).

It is so weird that ISIS avoided all the opinions and adopted just an opinion which only one scholar said! Nevertheless, they can do that with one condition, which is to narrate other opinions. Since this issue has more than one opinion, then no one can deny or refuse any opinion of authentic scholars. This issue is well established, and this might be the reason why ISIS and other extremist groups tend to conceal all the opinions that go against the one they adopted.

An easy way to counter this extremism is to ask: has this issue been recognized and acknowledged by all scholars unanimously? If the answer is yes, then no one can deny or refuse that, like the prayers five times a day and fasting the month of Ramadan. If it was no, then the issue is controversial and no one has the authority to deny or refuse what others choose, since all the choices are based upon authentic scholars, like this issue of not judging by what Allah has revealed.

Another important issue is that infidelity has two types, the belief and the practical. The belief infidelity is the one that casts the person out of Islam, and there is no way for others to know and judge that except by the person himself admitting having given up belief. The other one, mainly the practical infidelity is the one that many Muslims do every day, like stealing, usury, cheating, fornication …etc. No one of the authentic scholars said that these deeds cast the doer out of Islam. Therefore, calling all rulers in the Muslim world as infidels is wrong, as no one of them admitted his infidelity, and we are not ordered to think we can discern other people’s hearts. Usamah bin Zaid (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: “the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) sent us to Huraqat, a tribe of Juhainah. We attacked that tribe early in the morning and defeated them, (then) a man from the Ansar and I caught hold of a man (of the defeated tribe). When we overcame him, he said: ‘La ilaha illallah (There is no true god except Allah).’ At that moment, the Ansari spared him, but I attacked him with my spear and killed him. By the time we went back to Al-Madinah, news had already reached Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). He said to me, “O Usamah, did you kill him after he professed La ilaha illallah (There is no true god except Allah)?” I said, “O Messenger of Allah! He professed it only to save his life.” Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) repeated, “Did you kill him after he had professed La ilaha illallah?” He went on repeating this to me until I wished I had not embraced Islam before that day (so that I would have not committed this sin)” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim). Another narration is: Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Did you kill him in spite of his professing La ilaha illallah?” I said, “O Messenger of Allah! He said out of fear of our arms.” He (peace be upon him) said, “Why did you not cut his heart open to find out whether he had done so sincerely or not?” He continued repeating it until I wished that I had embraced Islam only that day.  Clearly, the Prophet, Peace be Upon Him, was telling Usamah that he had been wrong to judge his victim’s belief even when he uttered it at a time which may have been only out of practicality and not sincerity. None of us has the right, according to the Prophet, Peace be Upon Him, to judge another’s heart.

The only sect that called people infidels because of the practical infidelity, that is carrying out the sins name above, is the Khawarij. Referring to them, the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) labelled the Khawarij as the ‘Hounds of Hell’! You may go to my article “The Khawarij” for more information on them.


Sheikh Ali



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