By Maulvi Yahya Nomani
(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)
Today, some misguided people, misusing the Islamic doctrine of jihad, are seeking to wrongly justify their indiscriminate killing of civilians, Muslims as well as others. At the very outset I should state that such acts are wholly impermissible in Islam. While discussing the issue of jihad in the path of God, it is crucial to bear in mind that shedding blood is not an end in itself; nor is it the reason why jihad is a blessed act in God’s eyes.
The reason why jihad in God’s path is considered a meritorious act is that it is a means for the exaltation of the true faith. The mujhaid is beloved of God because of his willingness to sacrifice his own life and wealth in God’s path. Islam considers shedding blood a crime, but regards oppression and strife as greater crimes. A true jihad aims at ridding the world of oppression and strife.
It is because of this that the Islamic shariah stresses that in a state of war only combatants or those who have trained to become combatants or are otherwise somehow involved in the war can be attacked. No harm should befall any non-combatants, for that is not permissible in Islam.
Once, in a battlefield, the Prophet came across the corpse of a woman. Driven to anger, the Prophet exclaimed, ‘What sort of war was she fighting that she was killed?’ Then, he sent a message to the man who was leading the Muslim forces, Hazrat Khalid, instructing him to ensure that henceforth no woman, labourer or slave must be slain in the course of the war (Sunan Abu Daud 2669, Masnad Ahmad 17158, Sahih Bukhari 3015). The Prophet repeatedly forbade the killing of women and children during war, as is mentioned in the books of Hadith. According to one hadith report, the Prophet declared:
‘Do not slay any old, infirm person, nor any child or woman. Do not cheat in matters of war booty. Be kind and charitable. God loves those who are charitable.’
The Prophet also forbade his followers from attacking the monks and mendicants of other faiths, even in the course of war. In a hadith recorded in the Masnad Ahmad (2723), whenever the Prophet used to dispatch an army to the battlefield he would instruct it to refrain from kill people worshipping in their places of worship and those who served in such places. In the Mu‘ata of Imam Malik (858) it is recorded that once, when Abu Bakr dispatched Yazid ibn Sufiyan to Syria, which was at that time a largely Christian country, on a military expedition, he said to him that he would meet people who would tell him that they had sacrificed the world in order to worship and serve God. Such people, he instructed Khalid, must not be harmed. He also warned him not to attack or slay women, children and the aged and infirm, not to cut down any fruit-bearing trees, not to despoil any human habitation or set on fire any orchard, and not to renege on treaties and agreements. In his collection of hadith reports, Imam Baihaqi has attributed similar instructions to the Prophet, and although the chain of transmitters of this report is weak, because of its large number of narrators it has been accepted as fairly strong.
All this clearly suggests that killing innocent non-combatants is not at all legitimate, and that those who engage in such heinous crimes in the name of jihad have made a mockery of that noble doctrine.