By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
The Quran tells us that even if a person appears to be one’s enemy one should deal with him using a better way. It may be, it says, that some day he may become one’s friend. Thus, it says (41:34):
Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend
Elsewhere, the Quran ((60: 8-9) says:
He [God] does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you on account of your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just. God only forbids you to make friends with those who have fought against you on account of your faith and driven you out of your homes or helped others to do so.
A close comparative analysis of these two verses indicates that the Quran distinguishes between an enemy, on the one hand, and a combatant, on the other. The Quran commands us that even if an individual or a group appears to be one’s enemy, one should still maintain good relations with them. In this way, Dawah efforts can continue in a balanced and proper manner. Obviously, then, apparent enmity must not be allowed to become a barrier in the way of interaction, because it is through interaction that Dawah efforts can continue to be made—and Dawah efforts have the power to turn even enemies into friends.
However, the issue of combatants is different. Combatants are people who have unleashed, and in a unilateral way, war against the believers. These people should be dealt with on the basis of emergency principles or the ethics of war, and one can even cut off all relations with them until they cease their war.
This is an extremely important difference, which it is necessary to observe in practical life. If the believers do not understand this difference, they will behave in the same way with enemies as with combatants. The result of this would be that interests of the Islamic Dawah would be harmed and the required Dawah efforts would be come to a halt.
One should exercise extreme caution with regard to those who unleash war, including abstaining from normal relations with them. But as far as ordinary people are concerned, one should, without considering their apparent friendship or enmity, maintain the same human relations with everyone so that the work of Islamic Dawah carries on uninterruptedly and under no condition comes to a halt.
Islam teaches us that even in a situation of an actual war one should distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. A combatant can be fought, but never a non-combatant. In this regard, it may be argued that this principle was perhaps appropriate as far as war in the ancient past was concerned, but that today wars are fought using bombs and other modern weaponry and systems, which do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.
The answer to this argument is that if and when such a situation arises that in the course of fighting non-combatants are also killed, then such a war must not be engaged in. To avoid war or to kill non-combatants in war—the first of these is the lesser evil, and the other the greater evil. If one has to choose between a lesser evil and a greater evil, obviously one must choose the former over the latter. This is what reason demands, and so does the Shariah.
But in today’s context, if one is faced with a situation in which in the event of war non-combatants cannot avoid being killed (which rules out war as a feasible option), then one must remember that along with this, and as a result of modern developments, a favourable situation has also emerged: the availability of new, constructive possibilities on a vast scale.
These new and constructive possibilities are so many that the question of winning or losing a war has now become a secondary matter. One party may win a war but it may also have to pay the price for this in the form of having to suffer terrible devastation because of the war. The opposite party may lose the war but it may obtain access to peaceful avenues, through which it can achieve great success without any conflict.
A good example in this regard is provided by recent Japanese history. Japan was badly defeated in the Second World War. But, it did not make any military plans for its recovery. Instead, it accepted its subordinate status as a reality, and, using peaceful means, made major efforts for its recovery. This project proved to be so successful that in just a few years Japan was completely transformed. Japan’s success in this regard owed to the fact that it used peaceful means to access the numerous opportunities that the modern world had made available.
An opposite example is provided by Palestinian history. In 1947, the Palestinian Muslims were faced with a situation which they thought justified violent action against Israel. But what was the outcome of all of this? In 1947, the Palestinian Muslims had more than half of the land area of Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem. But as a result of choosing the path of violence, today the Palestinians have nothing at all. In the same span of time in which the Palestinians received only enormous destruction as a result of their violent actions, Japan was able to become an economic super-power at the global level.