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Peace and the Limits or War PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Louay Safi   
Oct 02, 2001 at 02:00 PM
Article Index
Peace and the Limits or War
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Chapter 4




We concluded, in the foregoing discussion, that the aim of war is not to propagate or spread Islam, nor is it to expand the territory of the Islamic state or dominate, politically or militarily, non-Muslim regions. Rather, the aim of war is to establish and assure justice, and to annihilate oppression and abolish tyranny. It is true that the right to communicate the message of Islam is protected under Islamic law, and the Islamic state must, therefore, respect and defend this right. But the obligation to protect the right of Muslims, and for this matter all religious communities, to promote their belief and values should be carried out through peaceful means and in a friendly manner. The assurance of justice and destruction of tyranny are therefore the underlying objectives of war. However, since the terms "justice" and "tyranny" cover wide ground and permit broad interpretation, they need to be translated into more concrete forms. We can distinguish five situations where the violation of the principle of justice and the excessive misconduct of tyranny call the Islamic state to war and justify its use of violence against the political entity that is implicated in such practices.


1. War against oppression


It is incumbent upon Muslims to challenge any political authority that either uses its free exchange of ideas, or prevents people to freely professing or practice the religion they chose to embrace.


And fight them until there is no more persecution and religion is only for Allah . . . (2:193)


And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are oppressed - men, women, and children, whose cry is: "Our Lord, rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect; and raise for us from Thee one who will help." (4:75)


It should be made clear here that oppressiveness of a particular regime is not to be determined by comparing the values and conduct of that regime with Islamic norms and standards, but rather by its toleration of the Muslim interaction with its subjects and the communication of Islam to the general public. Corruption and mismanagement should not be considered, therefore, the criteria that classify a particular regime as oppressive, deserving, thus, to be fought, because, it may be recalled, Muslims are commanded to invite mankind to Islam through friendly means and effect social and political change using the peaceful methods of education and moral reformation. Only when their peaceful efforts are frustrated and met with violence, are they justified to use violence to subdue the aggressive party. As it was shown above, the Prophet did not resort to war against the Pagan Arabs until they persecuted the Muslims and violated their lives and properties; nor did he fight the Jews of Madinah until they betrayed the Muslims and conspired with their enemies. Similarly, the Prophet declared war against Byzantium and its Arab allies only when they killed the messengers and missionaries who were sent to peacefully summon people to Islam and introduce to them the new revelation of God.


2. War in defense of Muslim individuals and property


When wrong is inflicted on a Muslim individual by a member, or members, of another political community, whether this wrong is done to his person, by assaulting or murdering him, or to his property by robbing or unjustly confiscating it, the Islamic state is obligated to make sure the individual, or his family, is compensated for his suffering, and that his rights are upheld. Because it is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the legal procedure of this matter, it suffices to say that the Islamic state should ensure that justice has been done to the wronged Muslim, even if that take a declaration of war against the political community that tolerates such an aggression, provided that the authority of the political community has refused to amend the wrong inflicted on the Muslim individual after it has been formally notified and given reasonable time to respond.


    . . . whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury he has inflicted on you and be careful (of your duty) to Allah and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil). (2:194)


3. War against foreign aggression


The clear-cut case of foreign aggression is a military attack on the Islamic state or its allies. The Muslims, however, are not obliged to wait until the enemies launch their attack, to respond. Rather, the Islamic state can initiate war and carry out a preemptive strike if the Muslim authorities become convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the enemy is mobilizing its forces and is about to carry out an offensive, or if a state of war already exists between the Islamic state and its adversaries.


If aggression is committed against another political entity with which the Islamic state has entered into mutual alliance, or has signed a treaty that stipulates military protection, the Islamic state is also obliged to fulfill its commitment to its ally and provide the military support needed. The conquest of Makkah was precipitated by Quraysh's attack on Khuza’ah, which was an ally of the Islamic city-state of Madinah, violating thereby a provision of the Treaty of al Hudaybiyah that prohibited such an act.


4. War of law enforcement


When a proportion of the population residing within the boundaries of the Islamic state violently oppose the application of the Islamic law, or threaten the territorial integrity of the Islamic state, the Muslim authorities are justified in using armed force to subdue the rebellion. It should be emphasized, however, that what is at issue here is not just opposition to a particular public policy, but an insurrection that attempts to achieve its goals through military tactics, threatening thereby the lives and property of other members of the society. Three types of dissension, however, should be differentiated, two of which are merely causes of rebellion, which can be forcefully subdued, while the third is a case of legitimate political opposition that should be dealt with in a peaceful manner.


a) Apostasy: When a group of Muslim individuals fortify themselves in an area of the Muslim territory and refuse to permit the application of certain fundamental Islamic principles or laws, such as the establishment of public prayer (salah al jama'ah), the payment of zakah, and the like, it is a case of apostasy, for which, the group is to be fought until its members cease their rebellion with respect to the law. It should be clear that apostates are to be fought not because they refuse to profess or practice Islam, but because they disobey the Islamic law. Therefore, nobody should be questioned or prosecuted for not fulfilling his personal duties toward Allah – for he is answerable to Allah, not to the Muslim community, insofar as his personal duties are concerned-as long as he fulfills his public duty. For example, the individual who privately neglects prayer is not subject to any punitive measures, so long as he does not publicly denounce prayer. Nor can he be forced to attend public prayers because attending congregations is a voluntary duty and matter of personal choice. He can, however, be forced to pay zakah, and can be punished for refusing to render his share to the Muslim authority because zakah is not only a personal duty, but a public obligation as well.


b) Insurrection: When a group of Muslim individuals fortify themselves in area of the Muslim territory, refuse to implement a public policy formulated by just authority and through due procedure, and use the force of arms to prevent the authorities from taking custody and prosecuting those who do not comply with public policy, it is a case of insurrection which justifies the use of armed force by the Muslim authority to subdue the rebellion.


c) Political Opposition: When a group of Muslim individuals peacefully opposes a public policy, uses a public forum to object to its application, and attempt to persuade the rest of the population to adopt their view regarding this policy, it is a case of political opposition which does not justify the use of force by the authority to circumscribe the influence of the opposition or to destroy it. The authority can, if it perceives that the opposition constitutes a threat to the general welfare, respond by initiating legal proceedings through the courts or by inducing sanctions through the institution of al Shura (consultation), or by using any other peaceful measures that the general law of the Islamic state permits.


Peace and the State of War

Peace in Islam does not mean the absence of war, but the absence of oppression and tyranny. Islam considers that real peace can only be attained when justice prevails. Islam, therefore justifies war against regimes that prevent people from choosing their ideals and practicing their beliefs. It does not, however, justify war against non-Muslim entities that neither prevent the preaching of Islam nor inflict wrong upon Muslims. The Islamic state should thus maintain peace with those who show goodwill to Muslims. The Islamic state is justified, on the other hand, in declaring war against those who commit aggression against it or its mission. "This movement," Sayyid Qutb wrote, "uses the methods of preaching and persuasion for reforming ideas and belief, and uses physical power and jihad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the jahili system which prevents people from reforming their ideas and beliefs. . "


The classical jurists, who devised the doctrine of two divisions, dar al Islam and dar al Barb, indiscriminately classify all non-Muslim communities under one category and advocate a permanent state of war against them, insisting that Muslims should not establish peaceful relations unless they are forced to. Clearly, this doctrine, which reflects the factual relationship between the Islamic and non-Islamic states during the 'Abbasid era, fails to take into account the total principles as well as the real objectives of the Islamic Ummah. As Ibn Taymiyah points out in his book Al Syiasah al Shar'iyah, fighting against non-Muslims is, not the aim of the Islamic state, but fighting can be employed against those who deny Muslims the right to carry out their mission – the propagation of Islam.


Fighting has been permitted so that the object of making the religion only for Allah and making the word of Allah supreme can be advanced. It has been agreed that whoever prevents (the Muslims from carrying out) this (mission) is to be fought. But those who do not fight (against the Muslims), such as women, children, monks, elderly, the blind and the crippled, and the like, except when they fight by words or by actions, should not be killed, according to the majority of scholars. Some (scholars), however, argue that all (unbelievers) should be killed because of their blasphemy-except women and children, because they are Muslim property. Only the first argument, however, is correct, because fighting is (permitted) against those who fight us to prevent us from calling (people) to the religion of Allah. As the Almighty said: "And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, but commit no aggression, for Allah does not love aggressors."(2:190). As Ibn Taymiyah states, because Allah has permitted taking the life only insofar as it is necessary to promote righteousness (and good behavior) ". . . Therefore, any (unbeliever) who does not prevent Muslims from practicing the Religion of Allah, he hurts by his disbelief no one but his own soul".


The categorization of all non-Muslims under one category and declaring a permanent state of war against them all is unjustified and completely wrong. It is true that a state of war may exist between the Islamic state and a hostile power, but hostility should be evident first before the state of war is declared. The Muslims, therefore, should distinguish between the peaceful and the hostile and treat each accordingly. This distinction has been made by the Qur'an; and subsequently by Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) and his companions, long before the doctrine of the two territorial division was articulated. Surah al Mumtahinah (Ayat 8-9) make it quite clear that non-Muslims are not one category but two, and state that they should be dealt with differently.


Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) faith, nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them. For Allah loves those who are just. (60:8)


Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances) that do wrong. (60:9)





The Qur'anic Narrative
The Qur'anic Narrative

Leading with Compassion
Leading with Compassion


Tensions and Transitions
in the Muslim World

Peace and the Limits of War

The Challenge of Modernity 


Blaming Islam

Foundation of Knowledge

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