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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 5




The Principles of Peace and its Strategy

If war is justified in the situations described above, a question arises as to whether Muslims are obligated to fight in these situations, no matter what the circumstances are, or whether it is simply a matter of permissibility or choices, and hence up to the Muslim community to exercise its right to declare war in such situations? To answer this question we need to differentiate between the principle of jihad as a permanent obligation incumbent upon Muslims, and the method of jihad which is to be determined after assessing the prevailing conditions of the moment, and selecting the most appropriate method of jihad to effectively deal with these conditions. In other words, while the Muslim Ummah is obliged to uphold the principle of jihad and satisfy its requirements, the method of honoring this principle is a question of strategy. Eliminating oppression and protecting human life, defending Muslim sovereignty and upholding the Islamic law, are objectives of the Islamic Ummah. The principle of jihad obligates the Muslims to maintain and achieve these objectives. The best way to achieve these objectives, and most appropriate method of upholding the principle of jihad is, however, a question of leadership and strategy.


Throughout the Makkan period, the Muslims maintained a pacifist approach in dealing with their adversaries, despite the physical abuse and mental anguishes inflicted upon them by Quraysh. For pacifism was then the best method to effectively achieve Muslim objectives.60 Some might argue that Muslims did not resort to violence during the Makkan period because they were not permitted to fight at that time-an argument easily overturned when we realize that the absence of the principle of self-defense during the Makkan period was a temporary suspension of the principle's application, rather than its nullification or rejection. Certainly, the Qur'an unequivocally states that the principle of self-defense and military deference is an essential element of social life and a fundamental principle around which human civilization has evolved


. . . . and had it not been (the Will of) Allah that one set of people is repelled by another, certainly the earth would have been in a state of disorder. (2:251)


. . . and had it not been (the Will of) Allah that one set of people is repelled by another, certainly there would have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. (22:40)


Thus, it is up to the Muslim leadership to assess the situation and weigh the circumstances as well as the capacity of the Muslim community before deciding the appropriate type of jihad. At one stage, Muslims may find that jihad, through persuasion or peaceful resistance, is the best and most effective method to achieve just peace, as was the case during the Makkan period. At another stage, fortification and defensive tactics may be the best way to achieve these objectives, as was the case of the Battle of al Khandaq. At yet a third stage, the Muslim leadership may decide that all-out war is the most appropriate measure to bring about just peace, as was the case during the war against the Arab apostates.


The selection of the method of jihad, however, is not an arbitrary decision, but one that takes into account the general conditions of both the Muslim community and its adversaries, including the military balance between the Muslims and their enemies and the morale of the Muslim army. The Qur'an circumscribed the Muslim ability to militarily confront its adversaries by two ratios (ten-to-one and two-to-one) that sets the upper and lower limits of the Muslim forces in terms of their manpower.


O Prophet, rouse the believers to the fight. If there are twenty amongst you, patient and persevering, they will vanquish two hundred: if a hundred, they will vanquish a thousand of the unbelievers: for these are people without understanding. (8:65)


For the present, Allah hath lightened your (task), for He knows that there is a weak spot in you: but (even though), if there are a hundred of you, patient and persevering, they will vanquish two hundred, and if a thousand, they will vanquish two thousand, with the leave of Allah: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere. (8:66)


These verses vividly state that given favorable conditions and high morale, Muslims could, by virtue of their faith, win against odds of ten to one. But when their organization and equipment are weak, and their morale falls short of the optimal situation, they are obligated to tackle no more than odds of two to one. The first situation was illustrated at the Battle of Badr where the Muslim army crushed a force threefold bigger, while the second situation is demonstratable in the Battle of al Khandaq, when Muslims, confronted with a force manifold stronger than their own, elected to fortify in their city by digging a ditch around Madinah, and thus avoided military confrontation with their enemies.61



Evidently, the classical doctrine of war and peace has not been predicated on a comprehensive theory. The doctrine describes the factual conditions that historically prevailed between the Islamic state during the 'Abbasid and Byzantium, era, and thus, renders rules which respond to specific historical needs. The lack of a comprehensive theory of war and peace has led further to major errors in perceiving the role of war and the real objectives of the Islamic state vis-a-vis non-Muslim communities.


The classical doctrine mistakenly perceives war as the instrument of the Islamic state to expand the Muslim territories and dominate non-Muslim states. As it has shown in this paper, the aim of war is to assure justice and abolish oppression and tyranny. The expansion of Islam is to be achieved through persuasion and the use of peaceful means, not by force and compulsion. Only when the peaceful effort is frustrated, is the Islamic state justified in resorting to war. Yet peace in Islam does not mean the absence of war, because Islam considers that real peace can only be attained when justice prevails. Islam, therefore, justifies war against regimes that prevent people from choosing their ideas or practicing their beliefs.


Finally, although this discussion has been confined to the conception of war and peace and issues concerning the initiation of war, it can also be extended to questions concerning the   prosecution of war and the conduct of peace – e.g. , treaties,  prisoners of war, spoils of war, and so forth. Many of the rules pertaining to these issues are predicated on customs, traditions, or conceptions peculiar to the historical period in which these rules were first articulated, and have thus a historically limited application.





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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