word "Islam" is closely related to the word "salam or silm"
which means peace. Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam,
himself had a very peaceful nature, was extremely tolerant,
and highly protective of the non-Muslim minorities living in
the Muslim state.
However, there are times when states find war inevitable,
but Islam only permits war in specific and dire
circumstances. It keeps warfare at a level of mercy and
respect for the enemy that no other army has been able to
reach. The Prophet sometimes had to fight for the mere
survival of his people and message, but once their security
was ensured, he immediately reverted to peace and diplomacy.
There is a rigid code Muslims must abide by in deciding when
they can fight and how the fighting should be conducted. War
itself is despised, and is only a last-resort option when
all other attempts at peace have been made.
A Muslim is never allowed to initiate hostilities. "And
fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against
you, but transgress not the limits. Surely, Allah likes not
the transgressors." [2: 190].
The only times in which believers are allowed to take up
arms are when they are defending their own lives and the
lives of their people, when they see the weak being
oppressed in acts of tyranny, and when they are prohibited
from practicing their religion:
"And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of
the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is
worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the
Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you
there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such
is the reward of disbelievers." [2: 191].
"They question thee (O Muhammad) with regard to warfare in
the sacred month. Say: Warfare therein is a great
(transgression), but to turn (men) from the way of Allah,
and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of
Worship, and to expel His people thence, is a greater with
Allah; for persecution is worse than killing. And they will
not cease from fighting against you till they have made you
renegades from your religion, if they can. And whoso be
cometh a renegade and dieth in his disbelief: such are they
whose works have fallen both in the world and the Hereafter,
Such are rightful owners of the Fire: they will abide
Aside from these circumstances, there is no legitimate
fighting in Islam.
The conditions placed upon the soldier in battle are of
utmost respect for the enemy and for human life. Islam makes
a clear distinction between combatants and noncombatants,
forbidding soldiers to harm defenseless civilian in any way.
The Prophet said: "Do not kill the women, children, aged or
the ill." He also prohibited Muslims from harming monks in
their monasteries or hermits in their caves. Cutting down
trees, destroying livestock, wells, homes or land of the
enemy is likewise forbidden. Upon seeing the corpse of a
woman in a battlefield, Prophet Muhammad asked his
companions why she had been killed, and condemned it.
There is no excuse for any expedition or attack resulting in
the killing of civilians, no one has the right to take
For those enemies active in combat and those taken prisoner
of war, the list of rights is lengthy. There is no torture,
no killing of the wounded or defenseless, and the return of
corpses to the enemy is honored. There is no mutilation of
the enemy bodies. Even after Hind bint Utbah, a powerful
lady of Makkah, chewed the liver of the Prophet's uncle,
Hamzah, after he was killed in a battle between Muhammad and
her non-Muslim people, Muhammad still forbade his men from
disrespecting a creation of God in such a way
The Prophet commanded the believers to treat the prisoners
of war with kindness. One prisoner by the name of Abu Aziz
told how surprised he was to see the Muslims giving the
better part of their meal-the bread-to the prisoners while
they themselves just had dates. "Not a crumb of bread would
fall into their hands without them giving it to me," he
narrated, "and I would be so embarrassed that I would reject
it. But then they would return it back to me."
The Qur'an lays down strict guidelines for the declaration
of war by a Muslim army, and Muslims are prohibited from
breaching any treaty to which they have agreed.
"If you fear treachery from any people throw back (their
covenant) to them (so as to be) on equal terms (that there
will be no more covenant between you and them), Certainly
Allah likes not the treacherous. [8:58].
The extent of the Prophet's mercy can be seen in the Muslim
conquest of Makkah, which happened towards the end of his
life. The Makkan tribe of Quraish had blatantly violated the
significant "Treaty of Hudaybiyya" by supplying men and arms
in an effort to attack a Muslim-allied tribe. They had
slaughtered ruthlessly, even killing inside the Holy
Sanctuary, and knew they could expect retaliation for such a
Muhammad, upon learning of the raid, set out for Makkah at
the head of a colossal army of 10,000 men. Everyone
wondered how he would conduct this expedition; if he wanted
revenge for all the mockery, persecution, and murders of his
companions, now was certainly the time. His forces
humiliatingly outnumbered his enemies.
When the army reached the outskirts of Makkah, they came
upon the chief of Quraish, the archenemy of Islam, Abu
Sufvan. Several Muslims were furious and wished to see him
dead, but the noble Prophet received him. Muhammad
asked his uncle, Abbas, to take Abu Sufyan ahead to a high
gorge-giving him a full view of the Muslim army approaching
The leader must have felt his heart leap to his throat as he
watched group after group, tribe after tribe pass in front
of him. Finally, he turned to 'Abbas and asked
incredulously, "Oh Abbas! Who are all these people?" Abbas's
plain and powerful: "This is the Apostle of Allah and his
When Abu Sufyan approached the Prophet Muhammad begging for
pardon and forgiveness, it was not revenge he heard coming
from Muhammad's blessed lips. Instead, the Prophet simply
said: "He who takes refuge in Abu Sufyan's house is safe;
whosoever confines himself to his house, the people therein
will be in safety; and he who enters the Sacred Mosque is
With these words Muhammad gave a full pardon and amnesty to
the city of Makkah, and it was conquered in peace. To Wahshi,
the murderer of Muhammad's uncle Hamzah; a pardon. To Hind,
who mutilated his body and chewed his liver, absolute
clemency. To Habar, who had attacked the Prophet's daughter
so brutally that she eventually died, forgiveness.
After seeing this, the people started to accept Islam in
crowds, as long before, God had promised Muhammad they
would. " When comes the Help of Allah (to you against your
enemies) and conquest (of Makkah), And you see that the
people enter Allah's Religion (Islam) in crowds, So glorify
the Praises of your Lord, and ask for His forgiveness.
Verily, He is the One Who accepts the repentance and
As families were reunited and the Muslims celebrated being
back in the sacred city, Muhammad had other things in mind.
After offering prayers to God for the victory, he proceeded
directly to the House of God, the Ka'bah, that had been
polluted by the 360 man-made idols. The Prophet of God
proceeded to knock them to the ground with his bow. As he
did, he recited the Qur'anic verse: "And Say: Truth (Islamic
Monotheism) has come and falsehood (Polythesm) has vanished.
Surely! Falsehood is ever-bound to vanish." [17:81].
"Al-Amin" returned to Madinah, where he spent the last years
of his extraordinary life in worship and devotion to his
Lord. He continued to stand in prayer for hours throughout
the night until his ankles were swollen and his wife asked
him to stop., but he did not.
Although he was a ruler of a vast empire in his last years,
he continued to sleep on a modest straw mat, with no desire
for carpets, or luxuries of any kind. He became ill and
passed away in the arms of his wife, Aisha, at the age of
63. He left behind a stunning legacy, a blameless example
and a religion that changed the world forever.