The Struggle in Self-defense and for Self-preservation


Al-Azhar Magazine – January 1974

An impartial study of the principal directions of Quran on which the laws of war are to founded show the wisdom and humanity which animated the Islamic system. It will also be to give us clear idea about the Islamic point of view about war and peace, and violence and tolerance. The spirit of Islam is based on peace and tolerance. By the laws it guaranteed liberty of conscience and freedom of worship to the followers of every other creed under the Muslim dominion. The Holy Quran testifies to the principle of tolerance and liberty inculcated by Islam as follows:

لَآ إِكۡرَاهَ فِى ٱلدِّينِ‌ۖ

(Let there be no compulsion in religion) (2:256)

وَلَوۡ شَآءَ رَبُّكَ لَأَمَنَ مَن فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ ڪُلُّهُمۡ جَمِيعًا‌ۚ أَفَأَنتَ تُكۡرِهُ ٱلنَّاسَ حَتَّىٰ يَكُونُواْ مُؤۡمِنِينَ ( ٩٩ ) وَمَا كَانَ لِنَفۡسٍ أَن

تُؤۡمِنَ إِلَّا بِإِذۡنِ ٱللَّهِ‌ۚ وَيَجۡعَلُ ٱلرِّجۡسَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعۡقِلُونَ

(And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers? It is not for any soul to believe save by the permission of Allah. He hath set uncleanness upon those who have no sense) (10 : 99-100)

In turning to the legality of war for self defence the Holy Quran says :

وَقَـٰتِلُواْ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّذِينَ يُقَـٰتِلُونَكُمۡ وَلَا تَعۡتَدُوٓاْ‌ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلۡمُعۡتَدِينَ ( ١٩٠ ) وَٱقۡتُلُوهُمۡ حَيۡثُ ثَقِفۡتُمُوهُمۡ

وَأَخۡرِجُوهُم مِّنۡ حَيۡثُ أَخۡرَجُوكُمۡ‌ۚ وَٱلۡفِتۡنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ ٱلۡقَتۡلِ‌ۚ وَلَا تُقَـٰتِلُوهُمۡ عِندَ ٱلۡمَسۡجِدِ ٱلۡحَرَامِ حَتَّىٰ يُقَـٰتِلُوكُمۡ فِيهِ‌ۖ فَإِن قَـٰتَلُوكُمۡ

فَٱقۡتُلُوهُمۡ‌ۗ كَذَٲلِكَ جَزَآءُ ٱلۡكَـٰفِرِينَ

(Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors. And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.) (2: 190 -191)

وَقَـٰتِلُوهُمۡ حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتۡنَةٌ۬ وَيَكُونَ ٱلدِّينُ لِلَّهِ‌ۖ فَإِنِ ٱنتَہَوۡاْ فَلَا عُدۡوَٲنَ إِلَّا عَلَى ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ

(And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers) (2: 193)

Islam never interfered with the dogmas of any moral faith, never persecuted and never established an inquisition. But it opposed to isolation and exclusiveness. In a comparative rude age, when the world was immersed in darkness morally and socially the Prophet Muhammad ( peace be upon him ) preached those principles of equality and promulgated the laws of freedom and human rights.

The extraordinary success and marvellous effect of the teachings of the Prophet upon the minds of the People have given rise to the charge, by some people, that Islam was propagated by sword and upheld by the sword. A careful examination of the circumstances and facts connected with the rise of Islam, and the wars of the Prophet will show clearly that the various conflicts were occasioned by the aggressive and unrelenting hostility of the idolaters and were necessary for self defence and self preservation.

When the Prophet migrated to Madina from Mecca, and the two tribes of Aus and Khazraj ended their strife by the Islamic fraternity, the elements of danger became apparent. The surrounding tribes, among whom the influence of the Quraish was supreme, were grouped against Madinah. The Meccan disciples who had braved death, and now faced poverty and exile. While the Madinite followers were not many. The Jew, compact and united jealously and relentlessly, opposed the Prophet in every direction, with poison, with treachery and with conspiracies.

But the heart, which did not fail when the Quraish threatened with death, was not frightened when the existence of others depended on him. He set himself to the task of organising into a social entity the varied elements which had gathered around him as the Messenger of God. He abolished the distinction between the waring tribes; he also comprehended the Jews and Christians in his little state and established basis of cordial relations among all believers.

While the Prophet was engaged in this divine and noble work of humanising his people, raising them from the abyss of degradation, he was attacked by his enemies from all sides, ruthlessly and uniting. They had sworn his death and the extermination of that community who had forsaken home and wealth for the sake of Almighty God and His worship, and so insistent in the common duties of love, charity, fraternity and equality based on purity of thought and deed.

So the destruction of the Prophet mean the destruction of the entire body of people who had gathered round the messenger of God. From the moment of his entry into Madina, the Prophet’s destiny had become intertwined with that of his people and of those who invited and welcomed him to their midst. To the muslimsself defence had become a question of self preservation. They must either submit to be massacred or fight when they were attacked. They had to choose the latter alternative. It was essentially necessary for the safety of the weak and small community.

A single city had to make head against the combined attacks of the multitudionous tribes of Arabia. Under these circumstances, an unsleeping vigilance on the part off the muslims was required, and energetic measures were often necessary to sustain the existence of the Muslim community. The same instinct of self preservation is the criteria of the legality of war in Islam, as the Holy Quran has clearly directed.

Islam forbids all kinds of wars it is not waged for a just cause. Such wars can be referred to only three kinds, namely defensive, punitive or preventive. The prophet proposed, in his well known correspondence with the Byzantium Emperor Heraclius, in connection with the assassination of a Muslim envoy in his territory, three alternatives : embrace Islam, if not, pay the Jizya, if not , do not interfere between your subjects and Islam if they desire to embrace it.

The establishment of liberty of conscience in the world was the aim and object of the struggle of the Prophet. He did not undertake any war for the purpose of conversion, conquer territory or with expansionist intentions. All war is illegal in Islam except to make the justice to prevail and to remove the consequences of suppression and aggression.

When we turn from the concepts of war in Islam to the conduct of war we see the following facts:

According to the expressed instructions of the Prophet and his companions, it is obvious that the objective of fighting should always be upholding of high ideals, not the material gain.

It was strictly forbidden to kill women, weak, children, old people, monks and priests.

These teaching were actually put into practice by the Caliphs. This is a clear and distinctive difference between the aggressive and extirpative wars and the struggles of self defence and self preservation.

The Holy Quran declares:

لَّا يَنۡهَٮٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ لَمۡ يُقَـٰتِلُوكُمۡ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَلَمۡ يُخۡرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَـٰرِكُمۡ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمۡ وَتُقۡسِطُوٓاْ إِلَيۡہِمۡ‌ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ

ٱلۡمُقۡسِطِينَ ( ٨ ) إِنَّمَا يَنۡہَٮٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ قَـٰتَلُوكُمۡ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَأَخۡرَجُوڪُم مِّن دِيَـٰرِكُمۡ وَظَـٰهَرُواْ عَلَىٰٓ إِخۡرَاجِكُمۡ أَن

تَوَلَّوۡهُمۡ‌ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَلَّهُمۡ فَأُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ ٱلظَّـٰلِمُونَ

Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers. Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them. Whosoever maketh friends of them – (All) such are wrong-doers.

(60 : 8-9)