Islam is a religion of peace and many verses of the Quran vouch for this. Muslims are only allowed to wage war under special circumstances such as it should be for a justified cause and only done as a last resort. In Islam, even in warfare, strict rules must be followed to safeguard the innocent and keep the peace.
The Quran calls its way ‘… the ways of peace …’ (Quran 5:16). It describes reconciliation as the best policy (4:128), and proclaims that Allah abhors any disturbance of peace (2:205). However, war is a reality and Islam recognizes that but puts conditions on for it to be justified.
When is war justified in Islam?
Muslims should seek ways to maintain peace and are only allowed to wage war under special circumstances and the Quran points them out including it should be for a justified cause and only done as a last resort. In Islam, even in warfare, strict rules must be followed to safeguard the innocent
Quran verses about peace
Across the globe, there is everything but peace. Whether within our lives or our communities, there is everything but peace. Our Creator calls Himself As-Salam, within whose meaning is the source of peace, the giver of peace, the owner of peace. If we, as Muslims are to submit to the Maker, we should have at least the first level of peace, being within ourselves.
Importance of peace in Islam
The word peace is mentioned more than 40 times in the Quran. In order to be at peace with myself, we need to ask ‘Where did I come from? With the recognition of the Maker, you gain that internal peace.
For example, everyone knows for a fact that before we came into this world, we were in our mothers’ wombs, yet we don’t remember it. We rely on other people telling us or showing us this fact. In a similar way, Our Creator has sent Messengers to inform us about where we were before that period, i.e. with Him.
And they also informed us of our return to Him after we die. Understand this part, then you will want to learn about what He wants from us and try your best to do it and this is where the peace starts. It then extends to those close to you and branches out to your extended family, your neighbours and ultimately to society at large. Islam looks at peace from within and without.
Let’s look at some remarks about Islam in terms of why would a religion that we say promotes peace would have any relations to war. This is a common question because most people think that war and religion are two different entities.
But even in previous scriptures, there is a mention in almost every major religion of sometimes there being a need to go to war as a necessity. War is a reality that needs to be dealt with, although as a last resort and this is not unique to Islam. History shows that being completely passive in the face of injustice and oppression leads to further loss.
Reasons for going into war
So how do you identify a situation where war becomes justified? From a religious point of view this is extremely important as you would want to do something that is pleasing to God when it is necessary to go to war. There are some stipulations to this:
- War should only be launched by a proper authority.
‘O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you…’
- It should also be for a just cause.
‘Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged…’
- The action should be proportional without being excessive.
‘Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.’
‘And if you punish [an enemy, O believers], punish with an equivalent of that with which you were harmed. But if you are patient – it is better for those who are patient.’
- There also needs to be a reasonable hope for success.
- It has to start with the right intention.
- It should only be done as a last resort.
What do the scriptures say about warfare?
It is important to be clear about the scriptural foundations for our actions. Many people call for peace and some do so on the basis of their scriptures. But do all scriptures measure up to our modern high expectations of world peace? Some scriptures are in conflict within themselves where one part of the scripture promotes peace while another verse or passage is being extremely violent and this has been noticed in the study of scriptures of the world’s religions.
When it comes to the Quran, some people have pointed to a similar type of conflict in that they see there are some verses that promote peace and on the other hand there are some verses that promote violence. Some Muslims have taken the latter set of verses as their guiding principles and they commit violent acts in the name of Islam. So it is essential that a Muslim takes a closer look at the Quran and see how the Quran is as an overall message one of peace. What are the foundations in the Quran based on which Muslims should be working for and establishing peace.
Given these founding principles, how do we understand the verses which appear to promote violence of some sort? In fact, the Quran does not promote violence at all though some verses taken out of context may give that impression. When the Quran is studied within the context in which it was revealed during the lifespan of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) 1400 years ago, responding to the events in his life, and it is also studied within the context of the Quran itself, you will see that it is really all about peace and war is actually treated as an exception.
Where war is done for a good purpose such as protecting the oppressed or for preserving religious freedom, that too comes with limitations and cautions so that the aggression should never come from the part of the Muslims. The Quran speaks more directly about peace when it says the making of reconciliation is best and the opposite of that – corruption, is condemned in the Quran time and time again.
So when is war considered necessary?
There are some circumstances mentioned in the Quran where war becomes necessary and justified. The first one is obviously self-defence, which everyone recognises. You sometimes have to take up arms to protect your life and property.
‘Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory – [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is Allah.” And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.’
Permission is given to respond in a military encounter because they have been oppressed and driven out of their homes for no other reason than they said we are believers in One God.
The other instance is when the places of worship such as masjids (mosques), churches synagogues etc are attacked or likely to be attacked so the justification is in the preservation of the freedom to worship and places of worship, so Muslims become responsible for protecting all places of worship, not just mosques.
Another justification is to help the weak:
‘And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children who say, ‘Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?’
Allah encouraged His believing servants to perform Jihad in His cause and to strive hard to save the oppressed Muslims, men, women and children who are crying out for help. The Quran calls on the believers to help those people. We cannot just sit idly by and see that people are being oppressed and just leave these things to happen. This is actually a global responsibility to take care of the weak and downtrodden when they are being oppressed in any part of the world.
When the practicing of their faith became too dangerous for the Muslims in Makkah, Allah instructed the Prophet (SAW) to emigrate to the city of Madinah, where the people were mostly welcoming of the Muslim faith.
This emigration, known as the Hijrah, marked the beginning of an Islamic society in Madinah, in which the Prophet became the head of state. Within two years of the emigration, the Makkans marched towards Madinah to wage war against the Muslims and destroy the Islamic state that had been established there.
This battle is known as the Battle of Badr. This is the time when the first injunctions from Allah to Muslims were given to prepare themselves for fighting. It was a war in the defence of their territory and their Faith.
Allah instructs Muslims to fight back, but not to transgress and remain just even during the battle. They are told that material interests should not be the motivation for their fighting, that they should not take up arms against those that were not in opposition to the true faith.
You can read more about the battles during the Prophet’s time in another article published on this site.