by Dr. Khalifa Abdul Hakim

Excerpted from Ch  XI Islamic Ideology by Dr. Khalifa Abdul Hakim

Islam, the Religion of Peace, had to wage war to protect and establish itself. This has led to vilification of Islam as a religion based on force and propagated by the sword. 

Whoever has studied the rise of Islam with the Seer's insight as Carlyle did or without a sectarian bias as Gibbon and many others after him have done, can easily repudiate this charge. 

Islam was presented by a Prophet who was socially, economically and politically a man without any worldly might. He and his followers were persecuted by all possible means for more than a decade before he began to use force against force to defend himself and his handful of followers against ancient tribal savagery. He and his followers showed unparalleled patience and perseverance against heavy odds. They were deprived of all worldly goods, deprived of the means of securing their daily bread, exiled and made to flee from their homeland. 

No movement in history can show greater spirit of sacrifice and martyrdom. Even for a long time when they thought they were strong enough to hit back, they were restrained by the Prophet (P .B. U .H), who was waiting for a time when they could succeed in their mission with the least possible bloodshed. They were striving to establish not only their own creed but general religious liberty where every one could follow his own convictions provided that he did not directly disrupt the minimum bonds of a peaceful social order. I

If the Prophet (P .B. U .H) had started preaching his doctrine with big battalions at his back and offering people alternative of conversion or the sword, one could rightfully say here was a creed which [was] spread at the point of the bayonet. But how could a creed, whose fundamental principle was 'that there ought to be no compulsion in religion,' as the Qur'an has put it, explicitly compel people by force to accept it? 

The simple question is where did these wielders of the sword come from? If the sword converted people to Islam, who converted the people who wielded the sword? Terrible force was used against the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) when he had no force except the force of Truth and the force of his convictions. One by one his persecutors succumbed to his spiritual power. After accepting Islam, these erstwhile persecutors and new converts were persecuted by others, needless to paint a horrible picture of the atrocity that they suffered. 

For more than a decade Islam was extremely non-violent. Slowly and steadily, the number of the Faithful increased but the persecution continue[d] and they were exiled. Then there came a period when only two alternatives were before them -- either to fight for their religious liberty or to perish. Who can blame Islam if it fought for its very existence?

The whole difficulty about understanding the place of war in life arises from the fact that religion like Buddhism and Christianity, that had spread over a part of civilized humanity before Islam, had in the least banned fighting or killing for any purpose or cause. Not only human life must never be destroyed but it was a sin to kill even vermin, germs and poisonous insects. The ultimate purpose of all morality and spirituality is peace and non-violence but this purpose had been misunderstood by religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Christianity.

The Buddhist doctrine of Ahimsa or non- killing was impracticable. All life feeds on life; the higher has no alternative but to live on the lower. As Rumi has put it, 'in the world everything is an eater and at the same time eaten'. Buddhism aimed at the negation of life by the negation of all desire including the desire to procreate and in strict consistency not only human life but all existence must perish by practising strict Ahimsa.

There are sects in India whose followers keep their mouths covered by a cloth so that no visible or invisible insect or germ might enter it: the poor fellows do not know how many living beings they unconsciously devour during the day and the night. They consider it a sin to kill germs, lice, vermin, serpents, mosquitoes and all other pests. This is an attempt to live consistently with the doctrine of Ahimsa of Buddhism and Jainism. These deluded creatures do not realize that vegetable life is also life and in avoiding to eat all animal and living on fruits and vegetables, you are devouring life only one step lower. On such doctrines man could not found a rational social order and he could not exist at all. 

Then we come to Christianity and the New Testament. Early Christians sincerely believed that Christ had prohibited war under all circumstances. There was no difference between a righteous and unrighteous war, between a war of aggression and of defence. All war was banned by the New dispensation. It was believed that Christ had prohibited all retaliation; evil was to be resisted and only good was to be returned for evil. The only right course for the true Christian was a quiet patient martyrdom leaving the tyrant to the vengeance of the Lord. 

Prohibition of a forceful suppression of evil under all circumstances was a misinterpretation of the meaning of Christ. Love and non-violence go a long way towards the reformation of humanity Christ and rightfully laid great emphasis on them. But it was the same Christ who used the scourge against the lenders the courtyard of the Temple. If he had lived longer and the situation had worsened, his scourge might have been replaced by the sword. After all it was he who said that he had brought not peace but the sword might have used it then metaphorically but if he had been obliged to engage in a life and death struggle to protect himself and his creed of love, the metaphorical sword might have become an actual sword of steel. 

[The] historical situation never developed during his lifetime to put his convictions to the test or to unfold the actual implications of his doctrine. Later on when Christ was able to wield the worldly might, history shows how much sword it used and the use of it was justified by the teaching of Christ and sanctified by the High Pontiffs who considered themselves the inheritors of his Love and Truth, and who were supposed to be inspired by him the Holy Ghost to wage righteous wars and set up Inquisitions. Even now there are Christian sects and individual Christians who consider all war to be wrong and refuse to participate in it, believing that it is against the teaching of Christ. Some of them had to be sent to the prison during the World War I. They call themselves conscientious objectors. 

Islam preached and practised a rational doctrine of war. Most of the wars waged later on by Muslim rulers during the course of history had not been Islamic wars. Only those wars were Islamic in which the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) and his immediate followers engaged for the sake of making Islam secure and extirpating religious persecution. Respect for human life is one of the fundamentals of Islam and war is permitted only for the rightful protection of human life and its intrinsic values. The Qur'an is full of injunctions to respect and protect human life. In preaching respect for human life, the social solidarity of humanity is also brought in view. "And therefore We enjoined it on the Israelites that whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men" (5-32). 

Again [the] unlawful taking of human life is coupled with adultery as the most heinous of sins. The good people 'kill not a person unjustly and do not fornicate: whoever does it will meet with punishment.' The pre Islamic Arabs used to kill their new-born girls, considering them to be economic and social burdens. Islam put down this practice vehemently and extirpated it from the entire Muslim world. This shameful crime never raised its head again in the civilized world. Where two persons fight each other as in duel, on account of some irrational passion the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) said that the murderer and the murdered shall both go to hell. 

When the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) enumerated great sins, murder was always there in the list. "The greatest of sins is associating another god with Allah, murder, disobedience of parents and telling of lies" (Anas ibn Malik). "A believer continues to be within the pale of his religion so long as he does shed unlawful blood" (Ibn Umar). 

It will be noted that wherever Islam prohibits killing, it always qualifies it as killing without justice. 'Thou shall not kill' is not an absolute injunction. There are situations in life when killing becomes a paramount duty. The word Fitna is often used in the Qur'an where the permission to kill an evildoer is given, and it is said Fitna is worse than killing. The word Fitna is difficult to translate with a single English word. It means trial, temptation, putting a man in difficulties; it also means persecution, social tyranny, or social disorder and compelling a man to unlawful submission or forcibly keeping away a man from pursuing the right path, or misleading a man into false pursuits or into deviation from truth. The word is often used in the Qur'an in conjunction with the word Fasad which means corruption and disruption and signifies social disorder and tyranny. Killing, sanctioned by Islam, only prevents Fitna and Fasad, to re-establish social order, to prevent persecution and to create conditions of the Reign of Law instead of a Reign of Terror. 

The people against whom the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) waged war denied all liberty of conscience to human beings. Whoever did not agree with them in the worship and customs was persecuted, exiled or killed.  The Muslims were not allowed to fight to enrich themselves at the cost of the Vanquished;all Muslim jurists are agreed that it is unlawful to fight only for the extension of territory or any economic gains. Nor is it lawful to fight in order to convert others forcibly to Islam.

During the time of the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) and after him a great Caliph like Omar had a Christian slave. On and off Omar placed before him the beauty and truth of Islam and often persuaded him to become a Muslim: The slave would always say, 'No. I don't accept'. On his refusal Omar would reply, 'Please yourself, there is no compulsion in Islam.' Would a man like Omar wage war on peoples and nation's right and left, in order to convert them to Islam at the point of the bayonet, when he felt helpless against his own slave? Let the unbiased reflect.

The example of Buddha and Christ as great spiritual guides of humanity has led some of their followers and certain others to identify spirituality with prohibition of all war. Some Christian writers have held the opinion that Muhammad (P.B.U.H..) was a good Prophet so long as he preached and suffered in Mecca. But when he waged war and founded a state, he became a politician and legislator and hence ceased to be a prophet. It is a very narrow view of prophethood that a prophet is a prophet only so long as he merely talks of love and justice and goodwill, [yet] the moment he comes to grip with realities and begins to recast the sorry scheme of things according to the ideals that he preaches, he descends to a lower level of existence. 

Everyone knows how easy it is to preach high ideals and how difficult it is to practice them in great personal, social and conflicts. Unless and until ideals are put to the test of the stress and strain of social and political life, they remain suspended in mid-air and are considered to be counsels of perfection and unrealizable pious dreams. Muhammad (P.B.U.H..), whom the writer in Encyclopaedia Britannica calls the most successful Prophet in history, had the distinction of putting before humanity realizable ideals. He realized them during his lifetime to the extent that he could say with satisfaction 'I have fulfilled my mission.' 

He sheathed his sword when he had extirpated religious intolerance and made religion free for all. The Qur'an repeats so often: "And fight them until there is no persecution and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist then there should be hostility except against the Oppressors" (2-193). Whoever accepts the Peace of the Lord, whatever may be his religion, is under your protection. Protect his life, honour [his] property as you would protect your own. 

If we glance through history, we can see that no religion and no culture was ever able to banish war [within] human society. Religions like Christianity or Buddhism or the Vedanta religion of the Hindus had to interpret their doctrines in a way that would make them consonant with reality. Perhaps more wars have been waged by Christian nations among themselves and against non-Christians than by any other group of humanity. And as to religious persecution and intolerance, no religion ever beat the Christian record. 

It is the height of prejudice and perversity that it is the Christian writers [themselves] who have persistently spread the calumny [a misrepresentation intended to blacken another's reputation] against Islam . . .  saying it is a religion of the sword and the Muslim fanatical hordes threw themselves against the rest of the world with the sword in one hand and the Qur'an in the other. Such a charge could either be the result of ignorance of history or a product of malice. 

The history of the rise of Islam and its struggle for self-preservation and the preservation of common human liberties and decencies has been misinterpreted as the use of force for the spread of a particular doctrine. In the beginning, Islam offered treaties of peace to those Arabian tribes who did not choose freely to accept Islam, and the Qur'an lays great stress on the observance of contracts and treaties. But when the Arabian tribes repeatedly violated the treaties and tried to form alliances with one another for the destruction of nascent Islam, only two alternatives were left: to crush them or be crushed. Those who willingly entered Islam entered a brotherhood which offered complete Liberty, Fraternity and Equality to every citizen irrespective of race or class. 

The lowest of the low had the same rights as the highest of the high, the President of the Republic. Islam is considered by some not as a religion but as a socio-political movement. Even considered as such, one may ask a student of history to search the annals of mankind to find any movement before Islam which abolished social and class distinctions altogether and offered other nations not slavery but complete equality. 

Bilal, the Negro, was esteemed higher than many aristocrats of the Quraish because of his character and sacrifices. One might object and say, 'Yes it was a brotherhood of the Faithful but what about those who stood outside the pale of Islam?' The answer is that to them Islam offered complete protection of their religion and their mode of life. The same reign of law covered them. In a way, they had even a more advantageous position than the Muslims themselves. They received the protection from the State without the duties enjoined the Muslims. In lieu of a light tax, it was enjoined on the State to protect their lives, their property and honour. The Muslim had to pay a heavy tax on their surplus capital but the non-Muslims were exempted it. The poor, the old, unearning people, the disabled, women and the children were all exempted from it, and whenever a non-Muslim proved his inability to pay this light tax, he was exempted. 

Islam has been calumnised as religious imperialism. But has there been at any time of history any type of imperialism which compelled the rulers to bear greater burdens than the ruled? There were cases in early Islamic history where, when non-Muslim tribes that had paid the tax for protection, the money was returned to them when Muslims found themselves unable to protect them against their foes. This tax called Jazia, has been misunderstood as a discriminatory tax, making an individious distinction among the citizens of a State. This charge is again based on ignorance of the Islamic polity. If it discriminated at all, it discriminated against the Muslim protectors themselves who were compelled to pay higher taxes and also had the duty to fight for the State. There was no compulsory military service for non-Muslims. Those non-Muslims who did military service were exempted from the tax. 

When the Qur'an inculcates the necessity for a righteous war, it mentions the protection of other religions even before the protection of Islam itself: the establishment of peace on earth and not the protection of Muslim community only is given as a justifiable reason for war. "And were it not for Allah's repelling some man with others, the earth would certainly be in a state of I disorder but Allah is gracious to His creatures" (2-251). 

The order in which the protection of places of worship is mentioned, is worth noticing and is very significant to appreciate, the spirit of Islam and its philosophy of war. The mosque is mentioned last and not first. Whenever barbaric hordes or religious fanatics invade other peoples, all lovers of religious liberty must stand up and fight so that the right of freedom of worship and freedom of conscience, from which so many other civil liberties follow, is secured. 

It is explicitly forbidden in Islam either to demolish or desecrate the place of worship of any people, and the priests of any religion are not to be killed or harassed in any way. If any Muslim invader ever acted contrary to this injunction, the fault cannot be ascribed to Islam. The failings of a people, only superficially professing a religion, cannot be laid at the door of the religion itself. Their failings are the fruit of their disbelief and not a direct product of their faith. 

In many places, the Qur'an enjoins the necessity of war to establish peace for mankind. This means, if at any time forces of tyranny and oppression raise their head anywhere and threaten the peace of the world, it is the duty to fight against such aggression. "Had there not been Allah's repelling some people by others, certainly there would have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques in which Allah's name is much remembered” (22:40). 

Wars that have been waged throughout the course of human history originated from diverse motives. There were wars of tribe against tribe, either for gains or because of incitements of passions of anger and revenge, or for the expenditure of surplus energy which had no outlet for constructive, social purposes account of the pressure of growing population, the means of subsistence lagging behind the mouths to be fed, even from the very beginning economic gains or Communistic economics calls the means of production and distribution were never the sole motives of the conflicts. 

Insult to a member of the tribe or his murder or insult to the god of the tribe was enough to start war or a feud which may last for a whole century. We have ample examples of it in the history of the Arabian tribes before Islam. Then we have invasions of barbaric hordes tempted by the spoils of civilized life that had become by the amenities of urban existence or by degeneracy and social tyranny. Terrible wars of devastation have also been waged by religious intolerance and fanaticism, of which crusades are the most shameful example. They convulsed the whole of Europe and caused more disorder and confusion in the lands where the crusaders came and through which they passed than in the Muslimdom they attempted to crush and subdue. 

Then we have endless dynastic wars waged for the aggrandizement or protection of dynasties and entire nations were used as pawns in the game of politics. Millions of human beings were murdered countless homes destroyed because of the ambitions of a few power-intoxicated rulers. Ever since the rise of industrial capitalism new motives for wars have entered history. Weaker nations who had not organized themselves industrially and had lagged behind in the inventions of more powerful instruments of production and destruction, were subdued for the supply of cheap raw materials and for the sale of manufactured goods. The industrial West proposed to enslave the whole world for its benefit. Side by side with this. the West had developed racial, linguistic or territorial nationalism and patriotic fervour was exploited in the interests of capitalism. 

Industrial capitalism and nationalism nursed seeds of their own destruction within their own organism and we now have humanity divided on the basis of economic ideologies which are enlisting moral and religious fervour for the purposes of defence and offence and the world is on the brink of another Armageddon. If religion must be related to life and has to nurture and preserve human values, we have to find out what guidance Islam can offer in such a situation. We have already outlined the Islamic philosophy of war.

Islam allows war and enjoins it as a duty to establish social order or to crush the sources of injustice. Islam does not believe in tribes and races dividing humanity into hostile groups; nor does it sanction nationalism as developed in the West. Tribes and nations do exist and will continue to exist. The Qur’an considers the variety of languages and colours as one of the blessings of God; but humanity is essentially one. O People, you have been created out of one Soul and you have only One God. Unite on those elements that are common humanity. Islam therefore would stand against racialism and nationalism: no war based on national arrrandizement would be permitted. Some people think that Islam has sanctioned only defensive war; if it means that you must wait till you are actually attacked, it is a misinterpretation of the principles of Islam. War must be waged for the defence of essential human liberties as the Qur’an says "Fight with them until there is no persecution and religion should only for Allah" (2-193). 

If you see an enemy preparing to destroy your liberties, you must crush him before he becomes too strong for you. Islam enjoins on its followers to keep ready for a trial of strength against the enemies of humanity, but all attempts must be made to keep peace between different peoples. War is inevitable, as humanity is divided into warring groups ready to pounce upon one another, and there is always possibility of aggression. 

The principle of a league of nations is also enunciated in the Qur'an. All nations must live peacefully as organs of the body of humanity; everyone must be allowed to follow his own way of life. Even a nation morally or intellectually superior to another has no mission to impose its own way of life on another by force. 

In the ancient world, religion comprised the whole of life, and when the Qur’an enunciates the principle that there must not be any compulsion about religion -- it is tantamount to saying that individuals and nations must be left free to follow their own ways so long as they do not engender social confusion and persecution. This is a charter of liberty for all human groups which is more comprehensive than the Magna Carta of King John or the Atlantic Charter signed even by the imperialists. According to Islam, every civilized nation should accept it as a principle of war and peace, that whenever the helpless and the weak are persecuted, an  honest and righteous people should rise to crush the tyrant. 

In Islam, fighting in the way of the Lord, means fighting for social justice. It does not mean fighting to spread a certain dogma. In countless places the Book [the Qur'an] says that you have to fight against tyranny and suppression of liberties and the fight must go on till persecution stops and people are free to believe as they like and act according to them. “And what reason have you that you should not fight in the way of Allah and of the weak among the men and the women, and the children (of) those who say: our Lord cause us to go forth from this town whose people are oppressors and give us from Thee a helper" (4:75). This clearly explains what is meant by fighting in the way of the Lord. It is not a fight for a theological mystery or a metaphysical doctrine; God is the Ideal of human conduct; He stands for social justice. Fight for social justice only is enjoined by Islam; a war for any other purpose would be un-Islamic.