The Qur’anic View of War
In the Qur'an, war represents an "unwanted obligation" which has to be carried out with strict observance of particular humane and moral guidelines and which must not be resorted to except when it is absolutely inevitable.
In one verse of the Qur'an, it is explained that those who start wars are the disbelievers and that Allah does not approve of wars:
…Each time they kindle the fire of war, Allah extinguishes it. They rush about the earth corrupting it. Allah does not love corrupters. (Surat al-Ma'ida, 64)
In the case of a conflict, before engaging in a war, believers must wait until fighting becomes compulsory. Believers are allowed to fight only when the other party attacks and no other alternative except war remains:
But if they cease (fighting), Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surat al-Baqara, 192)
A closer examination of the Prophet Muhammad's (saas) life reveals that war was a method resorted to for defensive purposes only in unavoidable situations.
The revelation of the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad (saas) continued for a period of 23 years. During the first 13 years of this period, Muslims lived as a minority under a pagan order in Mecca and faced much oppression. Many Muslims were harassed, abused, tortured, and even murdered, their houses and possessions plundered. Despite this, however, Muslims led their lives without resorting to violence and always called the pagans to peace.
When the oppression of the pagans escalated unbearably, the Muslims emigrated to the town of Yathrib, which was later to be renamed Madinah, where they could establish their own order in a freer and more friendly environment. Even establishing their own system did not prompt them to take up weapons against the aggressive pagans of Mecca. Only after the following revelation, the Prophet (saas) commanded his people to prepare for war:
Permission to fight is given to those who are fought against because they have been wronged – truly Allah has the power to come to their support – those who were expelled from their homes without any right, merely for saying, "Our Lord is Allah"… (Surat al-Hajj, 39-40)
In brief, Muslims were allowed to wage war only because they were oppressed and subjected to violence. To put it in another way, Allah granted permission for war only for defensive purposes. In other verses, Muslims are warned against the use of unnecessary provocation or violence:
Fight in the Way of Allah against those who fight you, but do not go beyond the limits. Allah does not love those who go beyond the limits. (Surat al-Baqara, 190)
After the revelation of these verses, several wars occurred between the Muslims and the pagan Arabs. In none of these wars, however, were the Muslims the inciting party. Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad (saas) established a secure and peaceful social environment for Muslims and pagans alike by signing the peace agreement of Hudaybiya which conceded to the pagans most of their requests. The party who violated the terms of the agreement and started hostilities once again were the pagans. With rapid conversions into Islam, the Islamic armies mustered a great force against the pagan Arabs. However, the Prophet Muhammad (saas) conquered Mecca without bloodshed and in a spirit of compassion. The Prophet Muhammad (saas) did not take revenge on pagan leaders in the city. Yet, he did not do harm to any one of them, forgave them and treated them with the utmost understanding. Pagans, who would later convert to Islam of their own free will, could not help admiring such nobility of character in the Prophet (saas).
Not only during Mecca's conquest, but also in the course of all the battles and conquests made in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (saas), the rights of innocent and defenseless people were meticulously protected. The Prophet Muhammad (saas) reminded believers numerous times about this subject and by his own practice became a role model for others to follow. Indeed, he addressed believers who were about to go to war in the following terms: "Go to war in adherence to the religion of Allah. Never touch the elderly, women or children. Always improve their situation and be kind to them.Allah loves those who are sincere."2The Messenger of Allah (saas) also clarified the attitude Muslims must adopt even when they are in the middle of a raging battle:
The Islamic principles Allah proclaims in the Qur'an account for this peaceful and temperate policy of the Prophet Muhammad (saas). In the Qur'an, Allah commands believers to treat the non-Muslims kindly and justly:
Allah does not forbid you from being good to those who have not fought you over religion or driven you from your homes, or from being just towards them. Allah loves those who are just... (Surat al-Mumtahana, 8-9)
In the above verses, how Muslims should behave towards non-Muslims is stated: A Muslim should treat all non-Muslims kindly. In a case where this enmity causes violent attacks against Muslims, that is, where they wage a war against them, then Muslims should respond to them justly by considering the humane dimensions of the situation. All forms of barbarism, unnecessary acts of violence and unjust aggression are forbidden by Islam. In another verse, Allah warns Muslims against this and explains that no condition should not cause them to fall into injustice:
You who believe! Show integrity for the sake of Allah, bearing witness with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just. That is closer to heedfulness. Heed Allah (alone). Allah is aware of what you do. (Surat al-Ma'ida, 8)
The Meaning of the Concept of "Jihad"
Another concept that deserves clarification due in the context of our discussion is that of "jihad".
The exact meaning of "Jihad" is "effort". Thus, in Islam, "to carry out jihad" is "to show effort, to struggle". The Prophet Muhammad (saas) explained that "the greatest jihad is the one a person carries out against his lower soul". What is meant by "lower soul" here is selfish desires and ambitions.
Assessed from the Qur'anic point of view, the word "jihad" can also mean a struggle carried out on intellectual grounds against those who oppress people, treat them unjustly, subject them to torture and cruelty and violate legitimate human rights. The purpose of this struggle is to bring about justice, peace and equality.
The use of the concept of "jihad" for acts of aggression against innocent people, that is for terror, is unjust and a great distortion of the true meaning of the term.
Killing Oneself (Committing Suicide) is Forbidden in the Qur'an
Another important matter that arose in the wake of the latest terrorist assaults against the United States is that of suicide attacks. Some people who are ill-informed on Islam have made utterly erroneous statements to the effect that Islam, the religion of love and peace, allows suicide attacks, whereas in Islam killing oneself and killing other people are both prohibited. In the words, "Do not kill yourselves." (Surat an-Nisa', 29) Allah has declared suicide to be a sin. In Islam it is forbidden for anyone to kill himself or herself, for no matter what reason.
Committing suicide, and thus carrying out suicide attacks, and causing the deaths of thousands of innocent people while doing so, is a total violation of Islamic morality. Allah says in the Qur'an that it is a sin to put an end to one's own life. For that reason, it is quite impossible for someone who believes in Allah and says he abides by the Qur'an to do such a thing. The only people who can do such things are those who have a very mistaken perception of religion, have no idea of true Qur'anic morality, fail to use their reason and conscience, are under the influence of atheist ideologies, and who have been brainwashed with feelings of hatred and revenge. Everybody must oppose such actions.
And do not kill yourselves. Allah is Most Merciful to you.
Compassion, Affection and Humanity in the History of Islam
To sum up the facts we have seen so far, Islam is a religion of peace, love and compassion. This truth is accepted by many non-Muslim historians and theologians. One of these is the British historian Karen Armstrong, a former nun and an expert on Middle East history. In her book Holy War, which examines the history of the three divine religions, she makes the following comments:
... The word 'Islam' comes from the same Arabic root as the word 'peace' and the Qur'an condemns war as an abnormal state of affairs opposed to Allah's will… Islam does not justify a total aggressive war of extermination… Islam recognizes that war is inevitable and sometimes a positive duty in order to end oppression and suffering. The Qur'an teaches that war must be limited and be conducted in as humane a way as possible. Mohammad had to fight not only the Meccans but also the Jewish tribes in the area and Christian tribes in Syria who planned on offensive against him in alliance with the Jews. Yet this did not make Mohammed denounce the People of the Book. His Muslims were forced to defend themselves but they were not fighting a 'holy war' against the religion of their enemies. When Mohammad sent his freedman Zaid against the Christians at the head of a Muslim army, he told them to fight in the cause of Allah bravely but humanely. They must not molest priests, monks and nuns nor the weak and helpless people who were unable to fight. There must be no massacre of civilians nor should they cut down a single tree nor pull down any building.4
The Caliphs who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad (saas) were also very sensitive in exercising justice. In conquered countries, both the indigenous people and the newcomers led their lives in peace and security. Abu Bakr (ra), the first Caliph, demanded his people adopt just and compassionate attitudes in these lands. All these attitudes were in compliance with the values of the Qur'an. Abu Bakr (ra) gave the following command to his army before the first Syrian expedition:
Omar ibn al-Khattab (ra), who succeeded Abu Bakr (ra), was famous for the way he exercised justice and made contracts with the indigenous people of the conquered countries. Each one of these contracts proved to be an example of compassion and justice. For instance, in his declaration granting protection to Christians in Jerusalem and Lod, he ensured that churches would not be demolished and guaranteed that Muslims would not worship in churches in groups. Hazrat Omar (ra) granted the same conditions to the Christians of Bethlehem. During the conquest of Medain, the declaration of protection given to the Nestorian Patriarch Isho'yab III (650 - 660 AD) again guaranteed that churches would not be demolished and that no building would be converted into a house or a mosque. 6The letter written by the patriarch to the bishop of Fars (Persia) after the conquest is most striking, in the sense that it depicts the understanding and compassion shown by Muslim rulers to the People of the Book in the words of a Christian:
The following document by Omar (ra) shows us the kind of love and compassion Allah grants to man, provided that he adopts the character traits described in the Qur'an:
All these are very important examples revealing the understanding of justice and understanding of true believers. In a verse Allah commands the following:
Allah commands you to return to their owners the things you hold on trust and,
Canon Taylor, one of the mission leaders of the Anglican Church, expresses the beauty revealed by the Islamic morality in one of his speeches as follows:
Jerusalem, which is sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians, must be a place where all believers can remember Allah with joy and love.
The false assertion that people in conquered countries converted to Islam under threat has also been disproved by Western researchers, and the justice and compassionate attitude of Muslims has been confirmed. L.Browne, a Western researcher, expresses this situation in the following words:
In his book The Prospects of Islam, Browne goes on to say that the real motive behind the Muslims' conquests was the brotherhood of Islam. The vast majority of Muslim administrators who have reigned over the Muslim lands throughout history continued to treat the members of other religions with the utmost compassion and respect. Within the borders of all Islamic states, both Jews and Christians lived in safety and enjoyed freedom.
The reign of the Seljuk Turks and that of the Ottoman Empire were also marked by the just and compassionate outlook of Islam. In his book, The Preaching of Islam, Thomas Arnold explains the Christians' willingness to come under Seljuk rule because of this attitude:
Malik Shah, the ruler of the Islamic Seljuk Empire during its brightest age, approached the people in the conquered lands with great compassion and justice and thus was remembered with respect and love by them. All objective historians refer to the justice and compassion of Malik Shah in their works. His compassion also kindled feelings of love towards him in the hearts of the People of the Book. For this reason, unprecedented in history, many cities came under Malik Shah's rule of their own free will. Sir Thomas Arnold also mentions Odo de Diogilo, a monk of St. Denis, who participated in the Second Crusade as the private chaplain of Louis VII, refers in his memoirs to the justice administered by Muslims regardless of the subjects' religious affiliation. Based on the graphic account of Odo de Diogilo, Sir Thomas Arnold writes:
The situation of the survivors would have been utterly hopeless, had not the sight of their misery melted the hearts of the Muhammadans to pity. They tended the sick and relieved the poor and starving with open-handed liberality. Some even bought up the French money which the Greeks had got out of the pilgrims by force or cunning, and lavishly distributed it among the needy. So great was the contrast between the kind treatment the pilgrims received from [them] . . . and the cruelty of their fellow-Christians, the Greeks, who imposed forced labour upon them, beat them, and robbed them of what little they had left, that many of them voluntarily embraced the faith of their deliverers. As the old chronicler [Odo de Diogilo] says: "Avoiding their co-religionists who had been so cruel to them, they went in safety among the infidels who had compassion upon them, and, as we heard, more than three thousand joined themselves to the Turks when they retired."12
These statements by historians reveal that Muslim administrators who truly adopted the morality of Islam always ruled with compassion and justice. Likewise, the history of the Ottoman Empire which ruled lands on three continents for centuries abounds with examples of justice.
The way the Jews settled in Ottoman lands during the time of Sultan Beyazid II, after being subjected to massacre and exile in the Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, is a fine example of the compassion that Islamic morality brings with it. The Catholic monarchs who ruled much of Spain at the time brought grave pressure to bear on the Jews who had formerly lived in peace under Muslim rule in Andalusia. While Muslims, Christians and Jews were able to live side by side in peace in Andalusia, the Catholic monarchs tried to force the whole country to become Christian, and declared war on the Muslims while oppressing the Jews. As a result, the last Muslim ruler in the Granada region of southern Spain was overthrown in 1492. Muslims were subjected to terrible slaughter, and those Jews who refused to change their religion were sent into exile.
One group of these Jews without a homeland sought shelter in the Ottoman Empire, and the state allowed them to do so. The Ottoman fleet, under the command of Kemal Reis, brought the exiled Jews, and those Muslims who had survived the slaughter, to the land of the Ottomans.
Sultan Beyazid II has gone down in history as a most pious believer, and in the spring of 1492 he settled these wronged Jews who had been expelled from Spain in certain parts of his empire, around Edirne, and Thessalonica in present-day Greece. Most of the 25,000 Turkish Jews living in Turkey today are the ancestors of those Spanish Jews. They have practiced their religion and customs, which they brought from Spain some 500 years ago and continued to live most comfortably with their own schools, hospitals, old people's homes, cultural associations and newspapers. In the same way that they have traders and businessmen, they also have representatives in numerous professions, from technical subjects to advertising, with increasingly developing intellectual circles. While Jewish communities in many countries in Europe have for centuries been exposed to the fear of anti-Semitic racist attacks, those in Turkey have lived in peace and security. This example alone is enough to demonstrate the compassion that Islam brings with it and its understanding of justice.
The compassion and affection exhibited by Sultan Beyazid II applied to all the Ottoman sultans. When Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror conquered Istanbul, he allowed the Christians and the Jews to live freely there. André Miquel, who is known for the valuable works he has written about the just and compassionate practices of Muslims and the world of Islam, says:
The Christian communities lived under a well administered state that they did not have during the Byzantine and Latin periods. They were never subjected to systematic persecution. On the contrary, the empire and especially Istanbul had become a refuge for Spanish Jews who were tortured. People were never Islamized by force; the movements of Islamization took place as a result of social processes.13
The non-Muslims were granted many rights also in the pre-Ottoman Islamic states. Georgetown University's Professor of Religion and International Relations John L. Esposito describes how Jews and Christians who came under the administration of Muslim states met with enormous understanding:
As is clear from these facts, Muslims have at no time in history been oppressive. On the contrary, they have brought peace and security to all nations and beliefs wherever they have gone. They have abided by Allah's verse which says: "Worship Allah and do not associate anything with Him. Be good to your parents and relatives and to orphans and the very poor, and to neighbors who are related to you and neighbors who are not related to you, and to companions and travellers and your slaves. Allah does not love anyone vain or boastful." (Surat an-Nisa', 36) and have behaved well to all people.
In short, friendship, brotherhood, peace and love are the bases of Qur'anic morality, and it is to these superior virtues that Muslims try to adhere. (For further details, see Harun Yahya's Justice and Compassion in the Qur'an)
Those who believe and do not mix up their belief with any wrongdoing,
11. Yesevizade, Sevgi Peygamberi, Hakikati Arayış Neşriyatı, Ankara, 1996, s. 272-273; Sir Thomas Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, s. 97; Finlay: 4A History of Greece, III, 358-9; J. H. Krause: "Die Byzantiner des Mitte latters", Halle, 1869, s. 276
13. F. Emecen, K. Beydilli, M. İpşirli, M.A. Aydın, İ. Ortaylı, A. Özcan, B. Yediyıldız, M. Kütükoğlu, Osmanlı Devleti ve Medeniyeti Tarihi, İslam Tarih, Sanat ve Kültür Araştırma Merkezi, İstanbul, 1994, s. 467