The Islamic Etiquette of Muslim Relations with Other Faith Communities

By Muhammad Taqi Uthmani; Translated by Shameen S Desin (Jeddah)

Fighting in the way of Allah is only permissible in situations where there is no other option. If, for instance, by administering non-violent methods, it is possible to achieve the intended benevolent objects of the Islamic Shariah, then there is no need to wage war.

Dealing with Non-Muslim Warriors:

There is no doubt that Islam has made it lawful to engage in combat and fight in order that the Word of Allah may be supreme, and also in order that justice and equity may prevail, and that mankind may worship Allah instead of worshipping men like themselves and to defend the religion of Islam and the Muslim nations. In most religions, the state of war implies overcoming the enemy, endeavouring to minimize their strength, taking prisoners of war, and seizing whatever wealth they may have.

Islam appeared at a time when the flames of enmity ad hostility were burning brightly in the east and the west without any rules to put an end to them or restrain them. During those days, there were no rules regarding war – no fixed ideas about how to fight or what motives to fight about. Nor were there any regulations about how to wage war with the enemy and capture or subjugate them. Islam preceded other world religions in introducing laws to regulate war tactics and procedures used to deal with enemies, whereas before the advent of Islam, there had existed anarchy and ignorance relating to the issue of war.

 Reformation of Motives of War

The first rule that Islam introduced regarding war was that there should be a good intention and motive behind it. Thus Islam abolished all wars that had no motive behind them except the display of strength or to earn a good reputation or the acquisition of wealth, or to overtake lands or to defend tribal loyalty or to make their own language reign supreme. Consequently, war in Islam is permitted only to make the word of Allah supreme or to defend the religion of Islam and the Muslim territories.

Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “A man came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said, ‘A man fights for the sake of gaining booty, while another fights in order to be remembered, and yet another fights in order to hear praise; which one of them is fighting in the way of Allah?’ The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) replied, ‘He who fights so that the Word of Allah (i.e. the Qur’an) be supreme (i.e. that all people come under the banner of Islam and organize their lives according to the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah) is in the way of Allah.'”
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that a man said, “O Messenger of Allah! (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) A man wishes to fight in the way of Allah, and he also wishes to get a portion of the worldly goods?” The Messenger of Allah replied, “He will not earn any reward” (i.e. his fighting is not sincerely for Allah, in fact it is only for a worldly gain, and hence, he will receive no reward for it in the hereafter).

Hence, those wars which were a consequence of worldly hostility or feelings of partisanship, or those wars which aimed at making people worship other human beings (this is completely wrong since all mankind are the descendants of Prophet Adam [peace be upon him] and Hawwa, and have been created by Allah the Almighty, who Alone is worthy of worship) and bringing them under control; all such wars have no relationship with Islamic Jihad. According to Islam, there are only two reasons due to which Muslims may engage in Jihad:

First: to defend Islam or the Muslim state in case it is attacked by disbelievers, and this is what Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, is saying in the following verses of the Holy Qur’an:

“Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged; and surely, Allah is Able to give them (believers) victory – those who have been expelled from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah.'” (Surat-ul-Hajj: verses 39-40)

Allah, the Almighty also teaches us a similar theme in the following verse of the Holy Qur’an:

“And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors.” (Surat-ul-Baqarah: verse 190)

And second: to repel injustice, oppression and trials and to oppose the disbelievers so that they may not prevent people from embracing Islam. Allah, Glorified and Exalted, teaches us this very concept in the following verse of the Blessed Qur’an, ad He is the most Truthful of all those speak:

“And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism i.e. worshipping others besides Allah), and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone (in the whole of the world).” (Surat-ul-Anfal: verse 39)

Rub’ay bin ‘Aamir implied the same concept when he spoke in front of Rustum, at the time when the Muslims had assailed the Caesar, and they had been questioned, “Why have you come?” by their opponents (i.e. the non-Muslims whom the Muslims had suddenly attacked).

Rub’ay bin ‘Aamir replied, “Allah has sent us that we take whom Allah wills out of the worship of mankind to the worship of Allah; we help people to move from the narrowness and distress of the worldly life to a more lively existence (i.e. a way of life which would ensures the welfare of mankind in both this world and the hereafter); and we enable people (by the will of Allah) to leave behind the tyranny of other religions (i.e. false religions, other than Islam) and embrace Islam, which is matchless in its justice and equity.”

Rub’ay bin ‘Aamir did not imply by the last part of his speech that Muslims coerce others into accepting Islam. Certainly, Islam was not spread by the sword, nor did the Muslims demand that people embrace Islam – it was by the sheer beauty of Islam and its truthfulness and appeal to human nature that Islam spread far and wide. Rub’ay meant that Islam rescued people from being oppressed by other human beings and brought them to the justice that Allah has ordained for His creatures by the implementation of His fair and just laws on earth. Thus every single human being would be given his rights, and the tyrants would meet their equals in strength and thus be conquered. In this way, an environment in which every human being would be able to compare the different religions with open eyes – and thus discover the truth on his own – would be formed. By thinking in this manner, every man would be able to understand the truthfulness of Islam and reject disbelief and oppression which are both unnatural attitudes for mankind.

Islam, therefore, prohibited all wars which had no other motive but to enslave others and to unlawfully usurp their possessions and territories.

Reformation of War Tactics

In the religion of Islam, clear and just rules have been laid down regarding the tactics to be followed during war to prevent war from turning into anarchy. It was the practice of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that when he dispatched a group of Muslim Mujahideen to face an enemy and engage in fighting – if required – that he would explain to them the rules they must abide by and make sure that they understood that they must adhere to them under all circumstances. Buraidah ibn Al-Husaib (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:

‘When the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) appointed a general over an army of Muslim Mujahideen, he would advise him especially to fear Allah, and to be kind to those warriors who were under his control, then he (i.e., the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings of Allah be upon him]) would say: “Fight in the name of Allah in the path of Allah; fight with he who does not believe in Allah; wage war but do not commit excesses, and do not be treacherous; do not imitate your enemies and do not kill newborns.”

Anas ibn Maalik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

“Truly when the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) wished to dispatch an army, he would say: “Embark in the name of Allah; do not kill an old man, nor a small child, nor a woman; do not commit excesses; and do not seize the booty which is yours; and reform yourselves and be kind to one another; surely Allah loves those who do good.”

Normally, when an army is prepared to face an enemy, the general or commander delivers a sermon in which he urges the soldiers to fight valiantly against the enemy. However, it was not the practice of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to do the same. On the contrary, he would emphasize that no innocent person – especially women and children – should be hurt or killed.

Imam Bukhari and others have narrated that Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) said:

“I found women killed in some of the battles which were held at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) strongly disapproved of the killing of women and children during battles.”

Verily, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) sent an army to Syria, and appointed Zayd ibn Abu Sufyan as its commander. He (i.e. Abu Bakr) accompanied the army on foot, for a while, urging them on, and he advised Zayd ibn Abu Sufyan thus:

“You will come across a people who assert that they have restrained themselves for the sake of Allah, so let them be (i.e., leave them alone and do not hurt them). And I am admonishing you the following ten commands: do not kill any woman, nor any child, nor any aged person; do not cut a tree which bears fruit; do not demolish an inhabited building; do not slaughter an ewe (a female cow) or a camel except for food; do not drown a date-palm tree, nor burn it; do not commit excesses; and do not be cowardly (i.e. in facing the enemy).”

Prior to the advent of Islam, warriors would do whatever was within their grasp to fulfill their objectives in war. Thus, sometimes, unfair tactics would be used by one side to win. Islam brought an end to this injustice by laying down rules for war and mortal combat which every Muslim is obliged to follow. These guidelines have been preserved and written down in books, such as “Kitaab-as-Siyar” by Al-‘Awzay’ee and another book, “Kitaab-as-Siyar-al-Kabeer” by Imam Muhammad ibn Hassan Al-Shaybani (may Allah have mercy on both scholars). These two books are among the earliest works in which the rulings regarding war and international relations have been explained in detail. The rulings have been derived from the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and the dealings of the rightly-guided Caliphs and all the other Companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them).

The Establishment of Justice during War

Islam did not limit itself by teaching its followers only some simple rules governing war tactics, which have been mentioned earlier. Truly, the religion of Islam has urged its followers to be concerned about establishing justice accurately, even at the beginning of battle.

For instance, it is known that, generally speaking, among different religions and faiths, that, during battle, it is considered lawful to seize the wealth of the enemy; warriors are permitted to confiscate the property of their foes by any means they can. However, Islam has regarded as lawful to the Muslims, only that portion of wealth which they manage to capture with their forearms, from the opposing side. As for that wealth which they receive as trusts (Amanah), even if it be from the enemy, is not regarded as lawful for the Muslims.

Verily, among the most practical and shimmering examples of how this concept was put into practice by the Muslims during the era of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is what happened in the battle of Khaiber to a man by the name of Al-Aswad Ar-Ra’yee (may Allah be pleased with him). This story has many different narrations in the books of Ahadith and the Seerah of the Blessed Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Here we will relate the version narrated by Al-Baihaqi (may Allah have mercy on him), on the authority of Musa Ibn ‘Uqbah, who was the leader of Maghazi. He said:

“Afterwards they – the Jews – entered one of their forts which was inaccessible and was known by the name of ‘Al-‘Amous’. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) besieged them for almost twenty nights. It was an unclean land, and extremely hot; therefore the Muslims exerted a lot of effort, and they found a donkey which belonged to the Jews – its story was mentioned, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) forbade the Muslims from eating its flesh.”

Musa Ibn ‘Uqbah continued:

“An Abyssinian (i.e. he was a native of present-day Ethiopia) slave who was dark-skinned and belonged to the people of Khayber, who was a shepherd, looking after his master’s flock of sheep, approached the Jews in Khayber. When he saw that they had taken up arms and were engaged in battle, he asked them, ‘What do you want to do?’ The Jews replied, ‘We are fighting against this man who considers himself a Prophet,’ (i.e., the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings of Allah be upon him]). The mention of the Blessed Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) touched the heart of the Abyssinian slave, and he took his flock of sheep with him, until he reached the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He (i.e. the slave) addressed the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) thus, ‘What do you say and what do call to?’ The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) replied, ‘I call to Islam; and to give the testimony that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah, and that we should not worship anyone other than Allah.’ The man  said, ‘What do I get if I give the testimony and believe in Allah?’ The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him replied, ‘You will be rewarded with Paradise, if you die upon that.’ Thus impressed, the slave embraced Islam. Al-Aswad Ar-Ra’yee then said, ‘O Prophet of Allah! These sheep which are with me are a trust.’ The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, ‘Take them out of our camp, and leave them in an infertile area, surely Allah will return them back to their owners.’ The slave did so, and the sheep returned to their master.”

In another narration, narrated by Jabir Ibn Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him), the story is as follows:

“The slave said to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), ‘Truly, I have believed in you and in what you have brought (i.e. the Holy Qur’an), so what shall I do with these sheep, O Messenger of Allah, for they are certainly a trust, and they belong to the people – some of them own one sheep and others own two sheep or more?’ The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) replied, ‘Turn their (i.e. the sheep’s) faces, they will return to their masters.’ After hearing this, Al-Aswad Ar-Ra’yee took a handful of soil or sand and sprinkled it over the sheep’s faces, so they started moving around until all of the sheep had returned to their owners’ homes. The slave then took his place in the battlefield, where he was shot by an arrow and died on the spot, without even having prostrating himself once before Allah (i.e. he died without offering a single prayer or even bowing down in Sujood, right after he had accepted Islam). The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘Place him inside the tent.’ After a while, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘Verily, the Islam of your companion was good, I have seen what became of him: he has surely been given two of the Hour-al-`Een (the beautiful maidens of Paradise) as wives.'”

Another narration by Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) is as follows:

“The Abyssinian slave, al-Aswad Ar-Ra’yee said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! Truly I am a man of black-colored skin, ugly in appearance and filthy of smell, and penniless, so if I fight these people (i.e. the enemy of the Muslims), until I am killed, will I enter Paradise?’ The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, ‘Yes.’ Thus, the slave came forward and began to fight, until he was killed. Then the Prophet of Allah went close to him, while he was lying dead, and said, ‘Surely, Allah has beautified your face and purified your soul and increased your wealth… Truly, I have seen both his wives who are al-Hour-al-`Een (i.e. the beautiful maidens of Paradise).'”

 It has become evident from authentic narrations that the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) of the Blessed Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) were facing a lot of hardships in this battle, to the extent that they had no other option but to slaughter a donkey and cook its meat, but they were not allowed to eat it, until they had moved the cooking pots away from the fire. In this situation, the Abyssinian slave, Al-Aswad Ar-Ra’yee came to them with a flock of sheep, owned by the enemy. The easiest way out of this dilemma would have been that the Muslims seize this flock of sheep as war-booty. However, they did not do so, even though in a situation such as theirs, being at war with the owners of the sheep, they could easily have captured the flock of sheep and slaughtered a few of them in order to feed the starving Muslim warriors. They could have confiscated the sheep since they were at war with the owners of the sheep, since the wealth of the enemy is lawful for Muslims in times of war, and especially because the shepherd had embraced Islam when the Muslims were fighting against the Jews. Nevertheless, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not give his consent to take the sheep as booty or to feed the Muslim soldiers. He was concerned that the shepherd had taken the sheep as a trust from their owners, and he commanded that the sheep be returned to their rightful masters. He did not like to take the sheep even though the Muslims with him were desperately in need of food.

Surely, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught his Companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them) how to deal justly with non-Muslims, even during battle, and he made certain that they got accustomed to practicing such principles of fairness and equity. Certainly Khubaib (may Allah be pleased with him) was a captive in the hands of his enemies, i.e. the Kuffar of Makkah. A child belonging to the Kuffar approached Khubaib, who was preparing to die at the hands of his bitter enemies. Khubaib (may Allah be pleased with him), sat the child on his thigh, but the child’s mother was afraid – she thought that Khubaib might kill her child. He asked her, ‘Are you afraid that I will take your child’s life? I was not going to do any such thing.’

Khubaib (may Allah be pleased with him) could have used this opportunity, and demand the Quraysh to set him free in return to him for sparing the life of the little child. However, he did not do so, and was resigned to being killed, and he did not like that people should say that the Muslims kill children of the enemy, or that the Muslims capture children of the enemy and use them to buy their freedom.

The Imam, Abu Ubaid Al-Qasim Ibn Sallaam (may Allah have mercy on him) has narrated that Safwan Ibn Amr and Sa’eed Ibn Abdul Azeez reported:

“Truly, the Romans made peace with Mu’awiyah (may Allah be pleased with him) on the condition that he pay them a certain amount of money. Mu’awiyah took a pledge with the Romans, and he paid them the agreed amount in a place known by the name of ‘Ba’labuck’. The Romans, however, proved treacherous. Nevertheless, Mu’awiyah and the Muslims who were accompanying him, did not wish to kill any of the Romans. They did not consider it right to take the life of any of the Romans, even though the Romans had deceived the Muslims. On the other hand, the Muslims said, “Honesty and loyalty in return for perfidy, is better than deceit in return for deceit.”

It is not possible, in this brief and concise discussion, to relate all the just laws the religion of Islam has ordained. Nor is it feasible to describe all the laws which were first implemented in the history of Islam and the magnificent examples set by the early Muslims in their fair-minded attitudes and manners towards non-Muslims in the conditions of both war and peace. Nevertheless, we hope that what we have mentioned is sufficient to demonstrate how kind and graceful a religion Islam is, and how balanced the views of Islam are in this field.

The Preference of Peaceful Means to Solve Disputes

Truly, the scholars of Islamic Law and its Principles and those who give speeches on Islamic topics are in accord that resorting to fighting in the way of Allah is only permissible in situations where there is no other option. If, for instance, by administering non-violent methods, it is possible to achieve the intended benevolent objects of the Islamic Shariah, then there is no need to wage war. It has been narrated in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that Prophet ‘Eesa (peace be upon him) will descend to earth from Paradise at the end of time and will “bring an end to Jihad” (fighting in the way of Allah) because at that time it will be conceivable for the Islamic Law to be established without resorting to war or fighting.

This proves that, if it is possible to solve International disputes by the use of peaceful methods, then, that is preferable to resorting to war and bloodshed, as long as these peaceful methods conform to Islamic values. This is expressed very clearly by Allah, the Almighty in the Qur’an:

“And if they incline to peace, you also incline to it, and (put your) trust in Allah.” (Surat-ul-Anfal: verse 61)

Verily, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to Badeel Ibn Warqaa before the signing the treaty of Hudaibiyah:

“We have not come to fight anyone, but to perform the Umrah. No doubt, the war has weakened Quraysh and they have suffered great losses, so if they wish, I will conclude a truce with them, during which they should refrain from interfering between me and the people (i.e. the Arab infidels other than Quraysh) and if I have victory over those infidels, Quraysh will have the option to embrace Islam as the other people do, if they wish; they will at least get strong enough to fight. But if they do not accept the truce, by Allah in whose Hands my life is, I will fight with them defending my Cause till I get killed, but (I am sure) Allah will definitely make His Cause victorious.”

These words coming from the mouth of the most eloquent of all speakers, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) demonstrate the stance taken by Islam in situations of war and peace with great clarity and distinction. Truly, the words of the Blessed Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), “No doubt, the war has weakened Quraysh and they have suffered great losses,” makes it evident that war is not an end itself; and if it is feasible to maintain peace and security without shedding any blood, then that is very much recommended. However, the preference of peaceful means should not be at the price of the purposes and aims of the Islamic Shari’ah. In other words, the lofty principles of Islam should not be sacrificed just in order to maintain peace. Allah, the Almighty, says in His Book, reinforcing this view: “So long as they are true to you, stand you true to them.” (Surat-ut-Tawbah: verse 7)

On the other hand, if the enemy or opposing side opts for peace talks in order to deceive the Muslims and delay fighting and to increase in falsehood, and as a means of continuing with their oppression and cruelty towards the Muslims, and in further postponing the discharging of rights to their rightful owners, then surely these peaceful ways are nothing but deceitfulness and dishonesty. In such a case, where the establishment of peace on the basis of just and equitable principles is not feasible, the words of a poet ring true:

“The sword is the most eloquent preacher to nations.”

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