THE UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES OF WAR

INTRODUCTION

The urge of taking over someone’s rank and position commonly manifests itself as neglecting the rules. This ambition which even causes domestic resentment at homes, sets nations against each other from time to time. The attempts to restrict the basic human rights of others, fed the conflicts and wars throughout the history of man. A nation, which may even be on the correct path, can be obligated to battle with an opposing side physically, based on legitimate reasons. This inevitable reality exhibits itself since the inception of worldly life. Considering the fact that a warless world is not possible to remain, being prepared for military fights and performing this duty on fields when it requires, is a fundamental responsibility of Muslims.

Although the man despises the presence of war, perhaps by means of its promises to inhibit greater problems or to create unexpected progressions, it is stated as obligatory for Muslims. God swt commands:

“Fighting has been prescribed for you as a duty even though you dislike it. Something you dislike may be good for you, and something you like may be bad for you. God knows, but you do not know” (al-Baqarah 2:216).

The Almighty Creator sets the guideline for wars from preparation to execution, and from distribution of takings to the treatment of hostages. That being said, the Quranic code of war will be presented in the following piece of study through addressing the verses of God.

WHY DOES WAR EXIST?

War is a collectively disliked circumstance. No one intends to leave their family, profession and settled accommodation and rush into jeopardizing their own lives. Nonetheless, it does not mean that an abhorred matter is automatically a false act. Likewise, we can not claim that the cures for various illnesses are incorrect to execute although they are arduous and painful. 

Islam is the religion of human nature. It is indeed the natural religion[1]. It is contrary to bare facts of nature to expect that our world will be peaceful indefinitely. Therefore, the Quran covers the truths of war as well as guiding Muslims in that sense. Criticizing the Quran through anti-war ethos is actually criticizing the very dynamics of nature. The role of the contradictions between the slogan “Islam is the religion of peace” and the verses in the Book which are commanding war at accurate times are notable in such criticisms. It is a thought-provoking example for Muslims not to develop slogans that are not Quran-based.

The Quran is the book which involves the universal true knowledge. It describes the pre-requisites of war, motivates Muslims to act accordingly and encourage them to fight the enemy. As it is a “guide” for human, this book also gives the right instructions to succeed in such stressful practice. It does not include any conflicting statement about the matter of war. God says,

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِتَالُ وَهُوَ كُرْهٌ لَّكُمْ وَعَسَى أَن تَكْرَهُواْ شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ وَعَسَى أَن تُحِبُّواْ شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ وَاللّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ

“Fighting has been prescribed for you as a duty even though you dislike it. Something you dislike may be good for you, and something you like may be bad for you. God knows, but you do not know” (al-Baqarah 2:216).

During peace-time, Islam is undoubtedly the religion of peace and the Quran is the book of peace. This Book involves the total celebration of peace, encourages Mumin to act on it and teaches us how to sustain it. A verse in the Quran is,

وَإِن جَنَحُواْ لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللّهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ. وَإِن يُرِيدُواْ أَن يَخْدَعُوكَ فَإِنَّ حَسْبَكَ اللّهُ هُوَ الَّذِيَ أَيَّدَكَ بِنَصْرِهِ وَبِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ

“But if they incline towards peace, you incline to it as well and place your trust in God. He alone is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. But if their intention is only to deceive you, then God is certainly sufficient for you. He is the One Who has supported you with His help and with the believers” (al-Anfal 8:61-62).

According to the Quran, war is an absolute must to procure the peace, order, protection of life and justice.

From this standpoint, it is an irrefutable inference to say in a warless world; fear, violence and injustice will prevail at greater capacities. God says,

وَلَوْلاَ دَفْعُ اللّهِ النَّاسَ بَعْضَهُمْ بِبَعْضٍ لَّفَسَدَتِ الأَرْضُ وَلَكِنَّ اللّهَ ذُو فَضْلٍ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ

 “(…) If God did not cause some groups of people to be repelled by other groups, then the natural order would be corrupted, but God’s favor includes all beings” (al-Baqarah 2:251).

As a consideration of this verse, if the brave ones who confront the tyrants and terrorists did not exist, human freedom might have been annihilated completely and the pressure of power might have transformed people into slaves. It would not have been possible to live as we believe. The verse which indicates this truth,

وَلَوْلَا دَفْعُ اللَّهِ النَّاسَ بَعْضَهُم بِبَعْضٍ لَّهُدِّمَتْ صَوَامِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَصَلَوَاتٌ وَمَسَاجِدُ يُذْكَرُ فِيهَا اسْمُ اللَّهِ كَثِيرًا وَلَيَنصُرَنَّ اللَّهُ مَن يَنصُرُهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَقَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ

 “(…) If it were not because God repels some men by means of others, cloisters, churches, synagogues and mosques where God´s name is mentioned frequently would have been demolished. God supports anyone who supports Him-God is Strong, Powerful” (al-Hajj 22:40).

The Quran commands war, as the consequences of not battling for peace will be more destructive.

فَقَاتِلْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ لاَ تُكَلَّفُ إِلاَّ نَفْسَكَ وَحَرِّضِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عَسَى اللّهُ أَن يَكُفَّ بَأْسَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ وَاللّهُ أَشَدُّ بَأْسًا وَأَشَدُّ تَنكِيلاً

“Fight, then, for God’s cause. You will be held responsible for none but yourself, and exhort the believers. By doing so, God will prevent the pressure of those who neglect the Truth. God’s pressure is much stronger, and His deterrence is more compelling ” (an-Nisa 4:84).

During war, the militants clash, die or get wounded. However, during an incursion; civilians, women, and children can be exposed to violence or may even be murdered. Thus, avoiding attending the war when necessary can certainly cause greater tragedies.

The central reason for participating the war is to eliminate the depravement, corruption, and disorder and ameliorate such atmosphere. God swt decrees,

وَإِن طَائِفَتَانِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ اقْتَتَلُوا فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا فَإِن بَغَتْ إِحْدَاهُمَا عَلَى الْأُخْرَى فَقَاتِلُوا الَّتِي تَبْغِي حَتَّى تَفِيءَ إِلَى أَمْرِ اللَّهِ فَإِن فَاءتْ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا بِالْعَدْلِ وَأَقْسِطُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ

“If two parties of believers fight against each other, reconcile them; then if after that one of them transgresses against the other, fight the party that transgresses until it submits to the command of God. Then if it complies, reconcile them with equity, and act justly. Truly, God loves the just” (al-Hujurat 49:9).

Upon closer examination, it can be seen that the main purpose of battling with others is not to take people’s lives, but inversely to maintain their worldly existence. You try to kill the opposing sides gun-carrier militants on war field but also knowing that not fighting back will risk the civilian lives. According to the Quran, human life is a must-preserved value[2]. To state more specifically through an example, God delays a major conquest to not the risk of several innocent lives:

هُمُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَصَدُّوكُمْ عَنِ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَالْهَدْيَ مَعْكُوفًا أَن يَبْلُغَ مَحِلَّهُ وَلَوْلَا رِجَالٌ مُّؤْمِنُونَ وَنِسَاء مُّؤْمِنَاتٌ لَّمْ تَعْلَمُوهُمْ أَن تَطَؤُوهُمْ فَتُصِيبَكُم مِّنْهُم مَّعَرَّةٌ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ لِيُدْخِلَ اللَّهُ فِي رَحْمَتِهِ مَن يَشَاء لَوْ تَزَيَّلُوا لَعَذَّبْنَا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْهُمْ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا

“They are the ones who ignored the verses and barred you from the Masjid al-Haram  (the Sacred Mosque), and barred your donations from reaching their destination. And had it not been for the believing men and believing women (in Mecca), whom you might have unwittingly trampled underfoot, and on whose account you might have become guilty of a grievous wrong, without knowing it, (you would conquer Mecca).  God will admit into His mercy whomever He wills. Had they become separated, We would then have punished those of them who ignored the truth with a painful punishment” (al-Fath 48:25).

To complete this section, the Quran presents the war as one of the realities of our world test; because guarding your own self, going after the terrorists who make innocent people suffer and inhibiting the ones that are attacking the safety of our lives are intrinsic reflexes of the human condition. With respect to that, as Islam is the religion which situated in human nature, it commands the war at required times. 

THE LEGITIMATE REASONS FOR WAR

Our Lord announces that He will examine us intensely in our world test:

وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنْفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ

“We will surely test you through some fear and hunger, by means of diminishing your properties, lives, and yields. Give glad tidings to those who persevere” (al-Baqarah 2:155).

The only way to pass this examination is showing endurance, which is the act of doing the right thing at any cost. This active demeanor towards life is named as Sabr in the Quran. Moreover, the Jihad is also the name of the effort which God commands us to apply during such adverse periods in our life. Given this, war is a dramatic practice of this Jihad concept. In addition, Jihad which involves war when necessary, is a subject of forgiveness by God and also a subject of a beneficial commerce which will occur both in this world as well as the Hereafter. The benefits which can be gained from this deal is named as “the great success” :

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا هَلْ أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَىٰ تِجَارَةٍ تُنْجِيكُمْ مِنْ عَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَتُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ بِأَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنْفُسِكُمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ يَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَيُدْخِلْكُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ وَمَسَاكِنَ طَيِّبَةً فِي جَنَّاتِ عَدْنٍ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ وَأُخْرَىٰ تُحِبُّونَهَا ۖ نَصْرٌ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَفَتْحٌ قَرِيبٌ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

“Believers, will I guide you to a trade that will save you from a painful punishment? That you believe in God and His Messenger, and strive in the cause of God with your wealth and yourselves. That is best for you, if you only knew. He will forgive your sins; and will admit you to Gardens with rivers flowing through them and pleasant dwellings in the Gardens of Eden. That is the great success. And another thing you love: support from God and imminent victory; Give glad tidings to the believers” (as-Saff 61:10-13).

One of the parties in this trade is the group of people who trust God while the other party is our God. This deal is also mentioned in both the Torah and the Gospel:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ اشْتَرَىٰ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَنْفُسَهُمْ وَأَمْوَالَهُمْ بِأَنَّ لَهُمُ الْجَنَّةَ ۚ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَيَقْتُلُونَ وَيُقْتَلُونَ ۖ وَعْدًا عَلَيْهِ حَقًّا فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنْجِيلِ وَالْقُرْآنِ ۚ وَمَنْ أَوْفَىٰ بِعَهْدِهِ مِنَ اللَّهِ ۚ فَاسْتَبْشِرُوا بِبَيْعِكُمُ الَّذِي بَايَعْتُمْ بِهِ ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ

“Truly, God has bought of the believers their lives and their possessions, promising them paradise in return. They fight in the way of God so they kill and are slain. It is a promise rightfully on Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Quran. And who is more true to His word than God? Then, rejoice in the good tidings of the trade that you made with Him. This is the great triumph.” (at-Tawbah 9:111).

Although the unrealistic, fictional, baseless, and emotional mindset which is propagated in this epoch, it is impossible to maintain the world peace continually. By reason of the characteristics of human being addicted to his own interests and his preference for the world instead of the Eternal Life, conflicts of interest do occur inevitably. Apart from that, the only place which any crime can be committed is this world. There will not be such freedom in the Hereafter. In summation, war is, unfortunately, a subject of human agenda at any era of mankind and it will continue as such. The required conditions for war are completely indicated in the Quran, by our Lord. Not only that, when these conditions are met, it is an obligatory act to battle. He commands:

وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ

“Fight for God’s cause against those who start a fight against you, but do not commit any aggression. God does not like aggressors” (al-Baqarah 2:190).

The conditions mentioned in the Quran which validates the war, can be gathered under four titles:

  1. Breach of Three Critical Lines

The three unacceptable breach are listed in the Quran, in Surah al-Mumtahinah. Those are such violations of rights that are universally known and acknowledged throughout the history of man. Related verses are:

لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُمْ مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ أَنْ تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ إِنَّمَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ قَاتَلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَأَخْرَجُوكُمْ مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ وَظَاهَرُوا عَلَىٰ إِخْرَاجِكُمْ أَنْ تَوَلَّوْهُمْ ۚ وَمَنْ يَتَوَلَّهُمْ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ

“God does not forbid you from dealing kindly and equitably with those who did not fight you because of your faith and did not drive you out of your homes. God loves those who are equitable. But God forbids you from befriending those who fought against you over your faith and drove you from your homes and helped others to drive you out. Any who takes them for friends are the wrongdoers” (al-Mumtahinah 60:8-9).

According to these two verses, the ones who deserved actional interference are the ones who

-violated the freedom of religious belief,

-violated the right of habitation,

-or supported the ones who performed these wrongdoings.

The religious beliefs of those people who committed these fauls are not specified in the Quran. It is not essential to determine our relationship with such people based on their religion. It is required to fight them even if they call themselves Muslims. 

  1. Call of the Oppressed

Another legitimate reason to battle which is mentioned in the Quran is the presence of communities that are persecuted and dispossessed of any definite capability. Such groups should not have to be Muslims in order to seek and receive help from us. Fighting for those people to rescue them should be considered as a religious responsibility.

وَمَا لَكُمْ لَا تُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَالْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ وَالنِّسَاءِ وَالْوِلْدَانِ الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْ هَٰذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ الظَّالِمِ أَهْلُهَا وَاجْعَلْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ وَلِيًّا وَاجْعَلْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ نَصِيرًا

“How could you refuse to fight in God’s cause for the helpless men, women, and children who are screaming, “Our Lord! Lead us towards freedom, out of this land of oppressors! Through your grace, give us a protector and a helper!” (an-Nisa 4:75).

The commands continue in the next verse by highlighting that Muslims are the ones who fight for this aim and it also indicates that the ones who show opposite attitude, as supporting the oppressors are the ones who disregard the words of God and being friends with Satan. The command to battle with such groups is repeated:

الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ۖ وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ الطَّاغُوتِ فَقَاتِلُوا أَوْلِيَاءَ الشَّيْطَانِ ۖ إِنَّ كَيْدَ الشَّيْطَانِ كَانَ ضَعِيفًا

“Those who believe, fight in the way of God. Those who disbelieve, fight in the way of Satan. So you (believers) fight against the friends of Satan. Surely strategy of Satan is weak” (an-Nisa 4:76).

  1. Treachery

Having an absolute certainty that one of the parties of a peace protocol will violate the expected course of the agreement can also be determinant in this matter. In such scenario, the guarantee of peace with the opposing side can be temporarily suspended. The verse which explains this status is:

وَإِمَّا تَخَافَنَّ مِنْ قَوْمٍ خِيَانَةً فَانْبِذْ إِلَيْهِمْ عَلَىٰ سَوَاءٍ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْخَائِنِينَ

“If you have reason to fear treachery from people (with whom you made a treaty), let them know that you intend to cancel the treaty so you will be on even terms. God does not love the treacherous” (al-Anfal 8:58).

 

  1. Violating an Agreement

The signals that are showing the forthcoming violation of a peace agreement requires suspension of the peaceful passive state. Therefore, after surpassing those signals, the complete violation of an agreement will naturally be seen as a reason for war. The Quran asks and declares:

 

أَلَا تُقَاتِلُونَ قَوْمًا نَكَثُوا أَيْمَانَهُمْ وَهَمُّوا بِإِخْرَاجِ الرَّسُولِ وَهُمْ بَدَءُوكُمْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ ۚ أَتَخْشَوْنَهُمْ ۚ فَاللَّهُ أَحَقُّ أَنْ تَخْشَوْهُ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ مُؤْمِنِينَ

“Will you not fight against people who broke their oaths, and intended to expel the Messenger, and opened (hostility) against you first? Do you fear them? For God is worthier of being feared by you, if you are believers” (at-Tawbah 9:13).

A Jewish community, Children of Kurayza had a peace deal with Muslims in Medina. However they betrayed them in the War of Khandaq and re-located to enemy side. Muslims started battling them:

وَأَنْزَلَ الَّذِينَ ظَاهَرُوهُمْ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ مِنْ صَيَاصِيهِمْ وَقَذَفَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الرُّعْبَ فَرِيقًا تَقْتُلُونَ وَتَأْسِرُونَ فَرِيقًا

God brought down from their strongholds those of the people of the Book who backed them (your enemy) up and cast terror into their hearts. You were killing some of them and capturing some(al-Ahzab 33:26).

Their transfer to the powerful enemy does not mean that Muslims will not respond to this betrayal. God swt put fear in their heart and removed them from their mansions.

As seen, war is an obligatory act when the required conditions are actualized. To repeat again, 

-violation of the right for religious freedom,

-violation of the right of habitation,

-and supporting those crimes

are not acceptable actions. It is also not acceptable to remain as an audience member and stare at such atrocities. What is above everything is the obligation of fighting on the path of God, due to correct reasons.

PREPARATION FOR WAR

When legitimate reasons for war emerge and battling becomes inevitable, considering the natural tendencies of the human condition, man begins to make provision of each scenario and consider each and every opportunity. He will utilize his God-given utmost potential to defend himself and to counteract. Iron, which its stiffness and benefits are mentioned in the Quran, is granted by God. The 25th verse of Surah al-Hadid is significant about “iron”. Moreover, as an instance of Prophet David (peace be upon him), it is told that the construction of iron shields was taught to human during David’s era to protect themselves in wars[3]

It is declared in the 60th verse of Surah al-Anfal that it is a definite obligation for Muslim communities to make preparations for war.

وَأَعِدُّوا لَهُمْ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ مِنْ قُوَّةٍ وَمِنْ رِبَاطِ الْخَيْلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدُوَّ اللَّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ وَآخَرِينَ مِنْ دُونِهِمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَهُمُ اللَّهُ يَعْلَمُهُمْ ۚ وَمَا تُنْفِقُوا مِنْ شَيْءٍ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ يُوَفَّ إِلَيْكُمْ وَأَنْتُمْ لَا تُظْلَمُونَ

“Prepare whatever forces you can, so that you might frighten God’s enemies and yours, and to frighten others unknown to you but known to God. Whatever you may do in God’s cause, will be repaid to you in full and you will not be wronged” (al-Anfal 8:60).

While referring to warring factions that defeated groups that are greater than themselves numerically[4], the Quran also points out the balance of power between the sides during antebellum[5]. In this regard, in order to maintain the advantage on this balance of power, it is required to innovate and improve the military forces continually.

Furthermore, what we also learn from the Quran is the necessity of informing the public concerning the obligation of war at required times. Muslim communities have to be mentally ready to embrace the idea that sometimes war is the only solution to achieve the intended results.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ حَرِّضِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عَلَى الْقِتَالِ…

“O Prophet! Urge the believers on to fight…” (al-Anfal 8:65).

Additionally, the importance of preliminary preparations such as intelligence gathering activities, deploying at right locations, planning rationally, forming alliances sanely, psychological attrition activities, paying attention to confidentiality of information regarding the operation and etc can be observed from the Quran and from the exemplary actions of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).

 

DOS AND DON’T’S OF WAR

Maintaining the unity of soldiers on the battlefield is essential. The Almighty God decrees in the Qur’an: “God loves those who fight in His cause, in ranks, as if they are a compact structure.[6]

 

One must lay down his life and never flee from the battlefield. The relevant verse is below:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا لَقِيتُمُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا زَحْفًا فَلَا تُوَلُّوهُمُ الْأَدْبَارَ

“Oh, you who believe and trust (in God)! When you meet those who disregard God’s verses in battle array, do not turn your backs to (flee from) them” (al-Anfal 8:15). 

God’s threat to those who flee from the battlefield without a valid reason is alarming:

وَمَنْ يُوَلِّهِمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ دُبُرَهُ إِلَّا مُتَحَرِّفًا لِقِتَالٍ أَوْ مُتَحَيِّزًا إِلَىٰ فِئَةٍ فَقَدْ بَاءَ بِغَضَبٍ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَمَأْوَاهُ جَهَنَّمُ ۖ وَبِئْسَ الْمَصِيرُ 

“Whoever turns his back on such a day, except while maneuvering for battle or in an endeavor to join another troop, incurs wrath from God. Their abode is Hell. What a miserable situation it is!” (al-Anfal 8:16) 

It is necessary to show resistance and to remember God’s commands regarding the war throughout the war:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا لَقِيتُمْ فِئَةً فَاثْبُتُوا وَاذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ 

“O you who believe and trust (in God)! When you meet a troop, stand fast and frequently remember (the relevant commands of) God, so that you may attain what you hope for” (al-Anfal 8:45).

Frivolousness and conceit may bear grievous consequences at war. The following verse about the Battle of Hunayn is an example:

لَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ فِي مَوَاطِنَ كَثِيرَةٍ ۙ وَيَوْمَ حُنَيْنٍ ۙ إِذْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ كَثْرَتُكُمْ فَلَمْ تُغْنِ عَنْكُمْ شَيْئًا وَضَاقَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْأَرْضُ بِمَا رَحُبَتْ ثُمَّ وَلَّيْتُمْ مُدْبِرِينَ 

“God has helped you on many battlefields and on the day of Hunayn. You took pride in your great numbers, but they were of no use to you. The earth seemed to close in on you despite its spaciousness, then you turned back, and fled” (at-Tawbah 9:25).

All the requirements of war must be met and we must do whatever is necessary during the battle. We learn what it is in the verse below:

فَإِمَّا تَثْقَفَنَّهُمْ فِي الْحَرْبِ فَشَرِّدْ بِهِمْ مَنْ خَلْفَهُمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ 

“When you detect them at war, disperse them in such a way that those behind them have to disperse. Maybe they come to their senses” (al-Anfal 8:57).

The 4th verse of Surah Muhammad, which we highly presume to be sent down before the Battle of Badr, also explains what is necessary to do on the battlefield:

فَإِذَا لَقِيتُمُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فَضَرْبَ الرِّقَابِ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا أَثْخَنْتُمُوهُمْ فَشُدُّوا الْوَثَاقَ فَإِمَّا مَنًّا بَعْدُ وَإِمَّا فِدَاءً حَتَّىٰ تَضَعَ الْحَرْبُ أَوْزَارَهَا ۚ ذَٰلِكَ وَلَوْ يَشَاءُ اللَّهُ لَانْتَصَرَ مِنْهُمْ وَلَٰكِنْ لِيَبْلُوَ بَعْضَكُمْ بِبَعْضٍ ۗ وَالَّذِينَ قُتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَلَنْ يُضِلَّ أَعْمَالَهُمْ 

“When you meet those who ignore (God’s verses), smite their necks. When you suppressed them,  cordon (the rest of) them off strictly. Thereafter, set them (the captives) free, either by an act of grace (free of charge) or against ransom. Do this, so that the burden of war is laid down. God could have defeated them Himself had He preferred, but He does so to test some of you by means of others. As for those who are killed in God’s cause, He will not let their deeds be in vain” (Muhammad 47:4).

A similar verse is below:

قَاتِلُوا الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَلَا بِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَلَا يُحَرِّمُونَ مَا حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَلَا يَدِينُونَ دِينَ الْحَقِّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حَتَّىٰ يُعْطُوا الْجِزْيَةَ عَنْ يَدٍ وَهُمْ صَاغِرُونَ 

“Fight the ones among those who were given the Book who do not believe and trust in God nor the Last Day, nor forbid whatever God, that is, His Book has forbidden, nor adopt the True Religion as religion, until they pay that fine[7] by their own hands while they are abased” (at-Tawbah 9:29).

“Being abased” during the war would mean being captured, and “that fine” is the ransom which the captives who were not released as an act of grace will have to pay. We understand by the following verse that during the war conducted against the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza, Muslims had met the requirements of war and taken captives after having suppressed the enemy on the battlefield. 

وَأَنْزَلَ الَّذِينَ ظَاهَرُوهُمْ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ مِنْ صَيَاصِيهِمْ وَقَذَفَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الرُّعْبَ فَرِيقًا تَقْتُلُونَ وَتَأْسِرُونَ فَرِيقًا 

“God brought down from their strongholds those of the people of the Book who backed them (your enemy) up and cast terror into their hearts. You were killing some of them and capturing some” (al-Ahzab 33:26).

Beginning to take captives without considering the mentioned principles would cause much pain on the battlefield and deviation from the goals of the war. The mistakes made during the Battle of Badr cost a lot. Muslims had encountered great danger because they had attempted to take captives before reaching the stage mentioned in the verse. The conquest of Mecca was delayed due to this mistake:

مَا كَانَ لِنَبِيٍّ أَنْ يَكُونَ لَهُ أَسْرَىٰ حَتَّىٰ يُثْخِنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ ۚ تُرِيدُونَ عَرَضَ الدُّنْيَا وَاللَّهُ يُرِيدُ الْآخِرَةَ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ 

“It behooves no prophet to take captives until he has sufficiently suppressed the enemy on the battlefield. You merely seek the temporary gains of the world whereas God desires for you the (good of the) Hereafter. God is superior and He judges correctly” (al-Anfal 8:67).

A similar mistake made in the Battle of Uhud caused Muslims to stay between two fires and suffer.

Another point to keep in mind regarding war is that it is essential to take all the safety precautions during the war. The 102nd of Surah an-Nisa manifests the importance of taking necessary precautions during the war by the example of prayer (salat/namaz).

In the wartime, taking measures against any black propaganda is a must[8]. According to the narration, on the way back from Bani Musthaliq, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not let the soldiers rest and kept the army moving in order to avoid the propaganda of hypocrites among them.

As a conclusion, taking captives on the battlefield before taking all necessary steps and completely suppressing the enemy is strictly forbidden. God had sent down a sharp warning after the Battle of Badr since this principle was violated.

 

GOD’S HELP AT WAR

The almighty God has promised to help the Muslims who go to war for rightful reasons listed in the Qur’an and by seeking to gain God’s approval. He has decreed:

إِنَّا لَنَنْصُرُ رُسُلَنَا وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَيَوْمَ يَقُومُ الْأَشْهَادُ

“We will surely help Our Messengers and those who believe and trust, both in this worldly life and on the day when witnesses will be brought” (Ghafir 40:51).

This help of God is not promised to the people of Prophet Muhammad only but it was also promised to the past believers in all previous nations. Relevant verses are below:

 

وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا مِنْ قَبْلِكَ رُسُلًا إِلَىٰ قَوْمِهِمْ فَجَاءُوهُمْ بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ فَانْتَقَمْنَا مِنَ الَّذِينَ أَجْرَمُوا ۖ وَكَانَ حَقًّا عَلَيْنَا نَصْرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

“We sent Messengers before you to their people. They came with clear proofs. We then inflicted the proportionate punishment to criminals. It is incumbent upon Us to help the believers” (ar-Rum 30:47).

وَلَقَدْ سَبَقَتْ كَلِمَتُنَا لِعِبَادِنَا الْمُرْسَلِينَ  

“Our word has already gone on ahead to Our Messenger servants:

إِنَّهُمْ لَهُمُ الْمَنْصُورُونَ

‘You will surely be helped[9].

وَإِنَّ جُنْدَنَا لَهُمُ الْغَالِبُونَ

Our soldiers; they will be victorious” (as-Saffat 37:171-173).

The help of God in these verses is promised only after all the requirements of war are met. Expecting help when a party starts a war without reasonable Quranic grounds or without making the necessary preparations but only thinking “We are believers and therefore God will help us!” would be in vain. 

When all preparations for war are achieved and God’s help comes, no army can defeat the army of believers. This is the absolute glad tiding given by God. Believers must trust in this word of God just as they should all other verses He sent down and fight in God’s cause keeping this in mind. The following verse from the Qur’an points to this issue:

إِنْ يَنْصُرْكُمُ اللَّهُ فَلَا غَالِبَ لَكُمْ ۖ وَإِنْ يَخْذُلْكُمْ فَمَنْ ذَا الَّذِي يَنْصُرُكُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِهِ ۗ وَعَلَى اللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ

“If God helps you, there is none to overcome you. Yet, if He forsakes you, who is it that can help you in spite of Him from then on? The believers should rely on God only” (Al-e Imran 3:160).

Indeed, none can defeat the army of believers when helped by God, even if they are less in number. This is the way it was with previous nations and it will be the same till the Day of Judgment. 

God’s means of help to Muslims are manifested in the Qur’an by various examples. One of them is the Battle of Badr. In this war, believers had fallen into a difficult situation for a while but God had helped them to defeat the Meccan mushrik because Muslims had not violated the rules of war. The verses related to this subject are below:

وَلَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ بِبَدْرٍ وَأَنْتُمْ أَذِلَّةٌ ۖ فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

God helped you to be victorious at Badr when you were despairing. Then, refrain from doing wrong against God, so that you might fulfill your duties.

إِذْ تَقُولُ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَلَنْ يَكْفِيَكُمْ أَنْ يُمِدَّكُمْ رَبُّكُمْ بِثَلَاثَةِ آلَافٍ مِنَ الْمَلَائِكَةِ مُنْزَلِينَ

(Oh, Messenger!) On that day you were asking the believers: “Is it not sufficient for you that your Master reinforces you with three thousand angels being sent down?” 

بَلَىٰ ۚ إِنْ تَصْبِرُوا وَتَتَّقُوا وَيَأْتُوكُمْ مِنْ فَوْرِهِمْ هَٰذَا يُمْدِدْكُمْ رَبُّكُمْ بِخَمْسَةِ آلَافٍ مِنَ الْمَلَائِكَةِ مُسَوِّمِينَ

Of course, it is! Yet, if you persevere while taking the precautions of defense, and if they bear down on you with this much fury, your Master will reinforce you with five thousand angels that are engaged in your support.

وَمَا جَعَلَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَّا بُشْرَىٰ لَكُمْ وَلِتَطْمَئِنَّ قُلُوبُكُمْ بِهِ ۗ وَمَا النَّصْرُ إِلَّا مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَكِيمِ

God did this (help) merely as glad tidings to you and for your hearts to be at ease. Victory comes from no one else but God Who is Superior and Who judges correctly.

لِيَقْطَعَ طَرَفًا مِنَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَوْ يَكْبِتَهُمْ فَيَنْقَلِبُوا خَائِبِينَ

He (also) does this in order to cut off a party from the ignorers or to subdue them so that they turn upside down defeated.  (Al-e Imran 3:123-127)

 

إِذْ تَسْتَغِيثُونَ رَبَّكُمْ فَاسْتَجَابَ لَكُمْ أَنِّي مُمِدُّكُمْ بِأَلْفٍ مِنَ الْمَلَائِكَةِ مُرْدِفِينَ

“That day you were seeking aid from your Master. He responded ‘I will help you with a thousand angels rank on rank.[10]‘ 

 وَمَا جَعَلَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَّا بُشْرَىٰ وَلِتَطْمَئِنَّ بِهِ قُلُوبُكُمْ ۚ وَمَا النَّصْرُ إِلَّا مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ 

God did this (help) merely as glad tidings to you and for your hearts to be at ease due to it. Victory comes from no one else but God. God is Superior and judges correctly.

إِذْ يُغَشِّيكُمُ النُّعَاسَ أَمَنَةً مِنْهُ وَيُنَزِّلُ عَلَيْكُمْ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ بِهِ وَيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمْ رِجْزَ الشَّيْطَانِ وَلِيَرْبِطَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِكُمْ وَيُثَبِّتَ بِهِ الْأَقْدَامَ 

Remember when He gave you sleep as a reassurance from Him, and sent down water from the sky to purify you, to remove the Devil’s defilement from you, to bond your hearts together and make your feet firm.

إِذْ يُوحِي رَبُّكَ إِلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ أَنِّي مَعَكُمْ فَثَبِّتُوا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ۚ سَأُلْقِي فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا الرُّعْبَ فَاضْرِبُوا فَوْقَ الْأَعْنَاقِ وَاضْرِبُوا مِنْهُمْ كُلَّ بَنَانٍ 

That day, your Master inspired the angels: ‘I am with you, so brace those who believe. I shall cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve.’ So, (believers!) strike at the nape of their necks and beat their fingertips!” (al-Anfal 8:9-12)

Obviously, the almighty God did not send the angels to kill the disbelievers but as glad tidings to believers and to reassure them. The number of Muslims was less than a thousand at the Battle of Badr. Had three thousand angels beaten the necks and fingertips of their enemy, no mushrik could survive[11]. Therefore, the command “strike at the nape of their necks and beat their fingertips” in the verse, as famous tafsir scholar Fakhraddin Razi had also suggested [12], was given to Muslims rather than the angels. Therefore, angels had not fought with swords but supported Muslims by cheering up and encouraging them.

God had helped Muslims in a similar way at the Battle of the Trench: 

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ جَاءَتْكُمْ جُنُودٌ فَأَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ رِيحًا وَجُنُودًا لَمْ تَرَوْهَا ۚ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرًا

“Oh, you who believe! Keep in mind the blessings that God bestowed upon you when the armies charged at you! Against them, We sent a wind and armies you did not see. God was Observant of what you were doing” (al-Ahzaab 33:9).

Hunayn was another war with divine help. At the beginning of this war, Muslims had slackened off because they had outnumbered the enemy. They, therefore, had a hard time for a while and had to retreat. They won the victory when God’s help arrived. Related verses are:

لَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ فِي مَوَاطِنَ كَثِيرَةٍ ۙ وَيَوْمَ حُنَيْنٍ ۙ إِذْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ كَثْرَتُكُمْ فَلَمْ تُغْنِ عَنْكُمْ شَيْئًا وَضَاقَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْأَرْضُ بِمَا رَحُبَتْ ثُمَّ وَلَّيْتُمْ مُدْبِرِينَ

“God has helped you on many battlefields and on the day of Hunayn. You took pride in your great numbers, but they were of no use to you. The earth seemed to close in on you despite its spaciousness, then you turned back, and fled.

ثُمَّ أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَىٰ رَسُولِهِ وَعَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَأَنْزَلَ جُنُودًا لَمْ تَرَوْهَا وَعَذَّبَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ جَزَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ

Thereafter, God sent down His reassurance upon His Messenger and the believers, He sent down troops which you could not see and punished those who ignored the verses. This is the requital of those who ignore” (at-Tawbah 9:25-26).

 

CONSEQUENCES OF WAR

The following divine tidings for martyrs is unexcelled condolence for their kith and kin, as well as a unique incentive for the remaining people regarding probable future wars:

وَلَا تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ أَمْوَاتًا ۚ بَلْ أَحْيَاءٌ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ . فَرِحِينَ بِمَا آتَاهُمُ اللَّهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ وَيَسْتَبْشِرُونَ بِالَّذِينَ لَمْ يَلْحَقُوا بِهِمْ مِنْ خَلْفِهِمْ أَلَّا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ . يَسْتَبْشِرُونَ بِنِعْمَةٍ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَفَضْلٍ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُضِيعُ أَجْرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ 

“Do not consider dead those who were killed for God’s cause! Nay, they are alive. They are provided with (provisions) in their Master’s presence. They rejoice in what God granted them out of His favor. They would like to give glad tidings to those people who are behind and have not yet joined them that they will neither fear nor grieve. They would like to give glad tidings of the blessings and favors from God and that God does not let the wages of the believers go to waste” (Al-e Imran 3:169-171).

 

The very next verse praises the war veterans:

الَّذِينَ اسْتَجَابُوا لِلَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا أَصَابَهُمُ الْقَرْحُ ۚ لِلَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا مِنْهُمْ وَاتَّقَوْا أَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ 

“Those who respond to the invitation of God and His Messenger even after being wounded (in the battle), those of them who behave kindly and refrain from doing wrong will have a great reward” (Al-e Imran 3:172).

The war may end in victory or defeat. In case of defeat, calm and objective self-criticism regarding the reasons for defeat may add to our experience and may serve for our benefit even after such frustration.

Indeed, the verses sent down following the wars of Badr and Uhud manifested the mistakes made during the wars. This precluded repeating the same mistakes again, thus transforming them into lessons. Similarly, as mentioned in verse 122 of Surah at-Tawbah, the returning soldiers from diverse segments of society contribute to the knowledge of people by reporting their observations when they are back from the battle. 

The 4th verse of Surah Muhammad leaves Muslim leaders with no choice regarding the captives but freeing them either against ransom or as an act of grace. This guarantees the survival of the people captured by Muslims. Furthermore, the Quran informs that captives are in guest status within Muslim families[13]. The guest captives who are temporarily among Muslim families thus have the chance to meet God’s religion, whereas Muslims get the opportunity to make an exemplary invitation to Islam through their actions and showing hospitality. On the other hand, the captives who live in Muslim society in the status of guests can use all of their civil rights including marriage. If they have difficulty in earning their due ransom, they are supported through certain zakat funds and items of expiation. When they return to their homeland having witnessed the manners mentioned above, they would praise Islam among their own people, thus serving as volunteered messengers of God’s religion.

Distribution of war spoils is another task to accomplish after war. Quranic commandments decree that some of the war spoils are reserved for public interest, as well as those who were not able to take part in war. This allows every segment of people in the society to benefit from financial gains of war. Related verses are:

وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا غَنِمْتُمْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ فَأَنَّ لِلَّهِ خُمُسَهُ وَلِلرَّسُولِ وَلِذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ آمَنْتُمْ بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أَنْزَلْنَا عَلَىٰ عَبْدِنَا يَوْمَ الْفُرْقَانِ يَوْمَ الْتَقَى الْجَمْعَانِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ 

“If you believe and trust in God and in what We sent down to our servant on the day when truth and falsehood were distinguished, the day when those two hosts met in battle, know that one-fifth of whatever spoils you acquire belongs to God, the Messenger, his close relatives, orphans, the destitute, and the traveler. (The rest of it belongs to soldiers.) God establishes criteria for everything” (al-Anfal 8:41).

CONCLUSION

Although it is a disliked circumstance, war is a part of life. Since God is the authority in all areas of life, He has determined the worldwide conception of war. In this piece of work called “The Universal Principles of War”, this subject matter was addressed in a general framework through referring the verses from the Quran.

This humble study uncovers that even the war itself may be transformed into a constructive element of mankind if it is executed by Muslims who behave according to God’s war narrative. This study may also be seen as a basis for the researchers who are willing to concentrate on this very topic. Politicians, social engineers, strategists, and military experts and other individuals from different layers of professional life should make use of the verses and insights that are appeared in this paper and reach wisdom upon this theme to complement the literature with an additional lens and to serve the public.

 

This study is a collective work of Dr. Fatih Orum, Dr. Yahya Senol, Erdem Uygan and Vedat Yılmaz; and published in the 24th issue of the quarterly magazine “Kitap ve Hikmet (Book and Wisdom)” issued by Suleymaniye Foundation.

Translation by Can Okçabollu, A. Zeynep Dönmez.

 

[1] ar-Rum 30:30
[2] al-Furqan 25:68
[3] al-Anbiya 21:80
[4] al-Baqarah 2:249
[5] al-Anfal 8:65-66
[6] as-Saf 61:4
[7] Jizya, which traditionally means “per capita tax taken from non-Muslim men living in a Muslim country” was invented as a result of arbitrary interpretation of the word “jizya” in the verse below. Such a tax did not exist during the lifetime of Messenger Muhammad (pbuh):
“Fight those of the People of the Book who do not [truly] believe in God and the Last Day, who do not consider prohibited what God and His Messenger have prohibited, who do not obey the rule of justice, until they pay that fee (al-jizya) with their own hands while they are abased.” (at-Tawbah 9:29)
We can learn what “that fee” is from another verse which explains this one:
“When you meet those who ignore (in battle), smite their necks (with your swords) until you suppress them, and then cordon (the rest of) them off strictly; thereafter set them (the captives) free, either by an act of grace, or against ransom. Do this, so that the war lays down its burden” (Muhammad 47:4)
“Being abased at war” points to being captured at war. Some of the captives may be released as an act of grace and some have to pay their ransom to be freed. The fee (al-jizya) that they “pay with their own hands” is nothing but the ransom the captives would have to pay in order to regain their freedom.
[8]an-Nisa 4/83; Al-e Imran 3:173.
[9]Iltifat, meaning literally “turning to one side,” is an art in Arabic literature. One of the obvious stylistic features of this art is the use of grammatical shifts from one personal pronoun to another unexpectedly (e.g. third to second to first person or first to second to third person) to emphasize the expression. This practice of Arabic confuses the English reader. Therefore, at many of its incidents, as well as this one, expressions have been translated into English by disregarding this literal art.
[10] The verse 124 of Surah Al-e Imran informs us that Muslims were helped by three thousand angels during the Battle of Badr. Then, the expression “thousand angels rank on rank” means 1000 angels first, then 1000 more and 1000 more were sent down for help.
[11]As Fakhr al-Din al-Razi informs us, some of the scholars stated that angels did not fight at Badr in person but stood by Muslims, increased them in number, heartened and encouraged them. Otherwise, even the power of one angel could suffice to destroy everything on earth because, Gabriel had ruined the cities of Lot and people of Thamud by only one feather of his wing, and he had destroyed the people of Prophet Saleh by only one loud cry. Razi continues: “The expression ‘God did this merely as glad tidings’ in the verse is evidence that angels were not sent down to fight in person”. (Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir, 3rd ed, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, Beirut, 1999, v.5, p.460 – Commentary on verse 10, Surah al-Anfal)
[12]al-Razi, op.cit, v.5, p.463 (Commentary on verse 12, Surah al-Anfal)
[13]Insan 76:8.
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Date: Oct 26, 2019