Question: Does Islam Approve of Terrorism and War?
In order to understand the answer to this question, another concept must first be introduced. Islam is different than most, if not all, other religions. Most religions teach a set of beliefs to be held internally, combined with a set of rituals to be practiced externally. Islam includes these aspects and more. Islam is regarded by Muslims as not just a religion in the sense of it being a collection of beliefs and practices, but also as a complete way of life. Islam teaches Muslims how to live every aspect of their life, from proper etiquettes of eating and drinking all the way up to solutions for social and economic problems facing a nation.
Therefore, in order to truly practice their religion, Muslims cannot separate politics from religion (see the question: Secularism and Islam). This is because Islamic teachings include instructions for how to govern a Muslim society, how to select a political leadership, how to be a good citizen, how to deal with social issues such as crime and immorality, and other topics that are related to politics and government. Muslims believe that in order to be a true follower of Islam, all teachings must be followed including those covering these aspects.
With this understanding that Islam is a complete way of life for Muslims, it is now easier to understand the answer to the question. Islam does provide teachings on how to behave in situations of war, and outlines a code of conduct for war. This is because, as a complete way of life for human beings covering every aspect of their life, Islam recognizes that Muslims will be involved in wars, just like every other human society in the history of mankind.
Islam recognizes that waging war against injustice and fighting in self-defence are an unavoidable fact of life. In fact, Islam teaches that if such wars did not occur, there would be great injustice in the world because if good people did not stand up to defend justice, then evil would prevail. It would also be illogical to require people not to defend themselves when attacked and not to protect their right to their lives, property, wealth and family.
However, without proper guidance and teachings on what actions are acceptable in war, human beings would be left to decide these matters on their own. Human feelings that develop during conflict situations, such as hatred and a desire for revenge would lead them to commit atrocities, as we have witnessed far too many times in the history of our world. Therefore, it is from the wisdom of God that Islam includes regulations on actions during conflict which would help a devout follower of Islam to suppress their feelings of anger, hatred and revenge and to enforce on themselves a strict moral code of conduct.
Islam strongly forbids Muslims from waging war against peaceful people and nations that have not attacked Muslims or usurped their rights: "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God does not love transgressors" (Holy Qur'an, Chapter 2, Verse 190) and "Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (of peace), or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If God had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: therefore if they withdraw from you and fight you not, and (instead) send you (guarantees of) peace, then God has opened no way for you (to fight a war against them)" (Holy Qur'an, Chapter 4, Verse 90). Also, Islam requires Muslims to accept any peace proposals by their enemies as long as the rights and property of Muslims are not lost: "But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah: for He is the One that Heareth and Knoweth (all things)" (Holy Qur'an, Chapter 8, Verse 61). Islam also teaches that God hates those who betray others: "Allah loveth not the treacherous" (Holy Qur'an, Chapter 8, Verse 58).
Islam gives other more detailed rules for Muslims to adhere to during times of war. These include the following:
- Civilians who are not actively involved in the fighting are to be left out and may not be harmed
- Killing of women, children, the elderly is forbidden
- Betrayal is forbidden
- Mutilating corpses of the dead is forbidden
- Cutting down trees is forbidden
- Destroying buildings is forbidden
- Killing those who surrender is forbidden
Finally, Islam also provides teachings on dealing with prisoners of war: "And they (the believers) feed (even though they need the food for themselves) the indigent, the orphan, and the captive, (Saying): We feed you for the sake of God alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks" (Holy Qur'an, Chapter 76, Verses 7-8) Islam also requires Muslims to properly clothe prisoners of war, and forbids all forms of torture or harming of prisoners.
If all of these rules are implemented by all armies across the world, we would no longer hear about massacres of civilians, indiscriminant bombing of cities, execution or torture of prisoners or other similar atrocities which we hear on the news on a daily basis.