A topic as old as the religion itself. But what does the Qu’ran really say about war, peace and violence?
Many non-Muslim circles around the world deem Islam a violent religion spread by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by force and through the use of the sword. Certain groups such as Daesh and Boko Haram promote this notion as they spread their terror under the guise of Islam.
In this article, I want to examine what the Holy Qur’an has to say about war. After all, it is the manual for all Muslims to follow. If someone claiming to be a Muslim is doing something contrary to the Qur’an, we wouldn’t deem them non-Muslim, but at the same time we’d say their action has no Qur’anic – hence no Islamic – basis.
So, what guidelines does the Qur’an give us regarding war, peace and violence?
Peace Is The First Option
The Holy Book first and foremost encourages people to adopt peace. For example, if someone is annoying, insulting or winding us up, we shouldn’t immediately respond with words or actions of our own. In fact, we should literally respond with ‘peace’ and move on with our lives.
And the servants of the Beneficent Allah are they who walk on the earth in humbleness, and when the ignorant address them, they say: peace.”
Similarly, if we are in a dispute with someone or we fear hostility from another party yet they agree to reconcile, we should too reconcile and cease any hostility towards them.
And if they incline to peace, then incline to it and trust in Allah; surely He is the Hearing, the Knowing.”
Surah Kafiroon is based upon this principle. That is to say, you have your gods and we have our God. You won’t worship what we worship and vice versa. Therefore each man and woman to his or her own religion. We don’t need to fight each other because we follow different faiths.
The Boundaries of Peace
Allah (SWT) asks us to maintain peace, wherever possible, yet not unconditionally. All humans have an inherent sense of dignity. We can’t be friendly with groups who dislike us on account of our beliefs or for any other reason and have subsequently made efforts to make our life difficut. Here, the resolution isn’t to necessarily fight them but to not be friendly either. Aside from inflicting our self-respect, adopting a friendly approach may give them the green light to continue using harsh words against us and bully us. Therefore God gives the instruction to not respect nor be friends with them:
Allah only forbids you respecting those who made war upon you on account of (your) religion, and drove you forth from your homes and backed up (others) in your expulsion, that you make friends with them, and whoever makes friends with them, these are the unjust.”
The previous verse says the opposite (60:8). That is, to be kind, friendly and courteous to those who treat you the same.
To Not Create Unnecessary Conflict
We are told to not go around causing mischief in our neighbourhoods and communities unnecessarily. This could mean spreading lies between two people or groups who end up warring with each other or plot in some other way to sow disunity and conflict.
And do not seek to make mischief in the land. Surely Allah does not love the mischief-makers.”
The Permissibility of War in Self-Defence
The Holy Qu’ran asks us to adopt peace and a non-violent stand up until our life is threatened. In that case, engaging in war to preserve our life is allowed, which resonates with common sense anyway.
Those who have been attacked are permitted to take up arms because they have been wronged – Allah has the power to help them.”
Even then, there is an etiquette to follow. Just because someone has attacked you, does not give you the permission to exceed all bounds. In the Qur’an we are told to reciprocate if the other party stops fighting (2:192) and to only be hostile to those who are actively engaging in aggression (2:193).
Similarly, if someone surrenders and asks for mercy we are to grant him or her that and release them back to their home:
And if one of the disbelievers surrenders and pleads mercy, then show mercy so that they can hear the words of Allah, and then allow him to go back to his place of safety.”
Prophet Muhammad’s Rules of Engagement
The Noble Book makes it clear that peace and reconciliation should always be the first course of action, followed by war in self-defence only. This means we can’t go around fighting people we don’t like. Violence is only permissible to preserve our lives.
If we look at the commentaries of the so-called violent verses, we will see the context was always in self-defence. To protect Islam rather than spread it. Elaborating on these is outside the scope of this article but you can find the explanations in popular tafsir books.
Lastly, I’d like to summarise a few ahadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) that sheds light on what the verses about war and peace practically means:
- Prohibition of killing women and children in war (Muslim hadith number 4320)
- Prohibition of killing people who are non-combatants and the elderly (Al-Bayhaqi hadith number 16689, Nayl al-Awrat hadith number 3324 and Ahmad hadith number 15562)
- Prohibition to mutilate dead bodies (Muslim hadith number 4294).
It’s clearly evident that when we are fighting in self-defence it’s not to let our anger get the better of us. We are to fight as long as the opposition threatens our lives. We are to cease fighting and show mercy if it is asked for and, importantly, we cannot let our anger towards the person spread to their family or community who have nothing to do with it.