The Prophet Muhammad’s Role in Warfare


Excerpted from- WISE Up- Knowledge ends Extremism 2017


What Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of Daesh, is doing is a complete violation of the teaching of the Prophet of Mercy, Muhammad (pbuh), and the dictates of the Qur’an. It is surprising the self-proclaimed Khalifah “studied” Islam for many years, since he interprets it to suit his whims and personal impulses. Al-Baghdadi is doing more harm to Islam, and by extension to humanity, than al-Qaeda and other terrorists organizations ever did. Islam, the Qur’an, and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) have nothing to do with Daesh’s criminal agenda. He is using the Qur’an and Islam to exploit the naivete and ignorance of the Muslim masses, and his claims are unanimously rejected by Muslim scholars of the world.

The Prophet Muhammad, the Messenger of Mercy, did not prescribe war as a natural state of affairs; at the same time, war cannot simply be abolished. What any reformer or spiritual leader can do is minimize its brutality. The Messenger of Mercy, at God’s direction, attempted to establish rules of warfare that would make war as humane as possible, to encourage peace, and to minimize the toll in human lives.

Many portray the Messenger of Mercy bloodthirsty and as a warmonger as if fighting battles was his main occupation. But in reality, out of the ten years of his life in Medina, only 795 days were spent on battles and expeditions. The rest of the ten years (approximately 2,865 days) he spent on bringing revolutionary changes to people’s lives and totally reforming a pagan society. This historical fact is overlooked by most of his biographers and almost all Western writers who depict him as a warmonger.

The Prophetic approach to war can be better appreciated by looking at some figures. The Messenger of Mercy was forced to defend himself militarily on many occasions, yet the amount of human loss that resulted is surprisingly low given similar battles and wars in human history. From a total of 28 battles and 38 campaigns, the total casualties from those wars, including both sides, amounted to 1,284 lives.

Someone can argue that the reason for the decreased numbers of casualties is the smaller numbers of combatants who participated in the various campaigns. But a careful examination shows that the percentage of people killed in these wars relative to the number of the people who participated in them amounted to about 1.5 percent. Since the Messenger of Mercy was victorious in most of these battles, the numbers of casualties indicate that he is not to be counted among the ruthless and barbaric warlords, conquerors, and military generals of human history—in fact, he was far from it.

Compare the above numbers to other wars in human history. For example, in the Second World War alone, the ratio between the number of people killed (including civilians) to the number of combatants who were involved in that war was 351%. That is, 10,600,000 participated in that war, yet the dead numbered as high as 54,800,000.

The Messenger of Mercy brought sweeping changes to the conduct of war, radically limiting the means and use of violence against others. Much like today, the Messenger of Mercy lived in a world in which brutal warfare was rampant. Like the Roman and Persian empires of that time, the Arab tribes primarily engaged in battle for material gains rather than for any higher, moral purpose. The Messenger of Mercy, however, would change that radically.

The Messenger of Mercy stressed the observance of several important moral principles even during the tumult of warfare. First, he fundamentally redefined the basic understanding and concept of war. By introducing an entirely new term—jihad fi sabilillah—he purified warfare from its material or vested interests and self-serving motives. Jihad means “struggle” and for one to carry a concerted effort to remove the injustices and oppression imposed by others. By adding “in the way of God” (fi sabilillah), he taught that war must not be waged for the sake of the self, of spoils, pride, prestige, subjugation, or oppressing other people. This belief served as the glue holding the principles of warfare together and reining in all potential injustices inherent within it.

Under this new conception of war, the Messenger of Mercy introduced a comprehensive set of laws that encompassed the conduct of war: its moral boundaries, components, rights, and obligations; the difference between combatants and noncombatants and their rights; and the rights of envoys, prisoners of war, and conquered people. All of these principles were expressed clearly and unequivocally by the Messenger of Mercy.

The Messenger of Mercy also underscored the sanctity and inviolability of human life, be it Muslim or non-Muslim. He embodied the Qur’anic verse: “If anyone slays a human being—unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth—it shall be as though he had slain all humanity” (5:32). His followers, although they certainly were—and still are—prone to great errors, were remarkable exemplars of these principles in general.

The Messenger of Mercy prohibited the robbery, banditry, and vandalism that had been commonplace in wars before his time. For example, after the Khaybar peace treaty had been signed, some of the young new Muslims started looting Jewish property. The Jewish leader came to the Messenger of Mercy and asked: “Is it appropriate for your people to slaughter our donkeys, devour our crops, and beat our women?” Suddenly, the Messenger of Mercy ordered the entire army into the mosque for prayer and told them: “God did not permit you to enter the People of the Book’s houses without permission and to beat their women and eat their crops.” If a milking animal is found on the way and soldiers want to take its milk, they cannot do so unless permission is granted. Therefore, even in warfare, the Messenger of Mercy stressed the importance of the rule of law and respect for the property and rights of others, which is far more than what we see in modern wars.

In the past, armies destroyed crops, farmland and property, and even entire villages. But the Messenger of Mercy prohibited killing all non-combatants, such as women, children, the old, the sick, the wounded, the blind, the disabled, the mentally unwell, travelers, monks, and worshippers. In fact, he only permitted killing those in the front lines; everyone behind them was protected from attack. Remarkably, the Messenger of Mercy here grants far more than what is stated in theories of just war today. Once the Messenger of Mercy saw a woman’s corpse on the battlefield and became very upset. He ordered his commander, Khalid ibn al-Walid: “Do not kill women or laborers.” Moreover, the Messenger of Mercy specifically commanded Muslims not to kill monks or worshippers, and not to destroy places of worship.

Before Islam, both Arabs and non-Arabs, in the heat of vengeance, habitually burned their enemies alive. The Messenger of Mercy categorically prohibited this: “Nobody should punish with fire except the Lord of Fire [God].” He also forbade desecrating and mutilating the enemies’ corpses by cutting off their limbs.

The Messenger of Mercy prohibited the killing of prisoners of war, declaring: “No wounded person will be killed, no one who flees will be followed.”

The Messenger of Mercy also stated that one cannot breach one’s trust and kill those with whom peace has been made. No peace treaty should be violated: “If you have made a treaty with a people, you cannot make any changes or alterations until it expires.”

The Messenger of Mercy tried his utmost to reduce human casualties. Anyone who studies the Messenger of Mercy’s wars objectively and compares these with other wars in human history, including the wars of our modern times (such as the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the War on Terror) can conclude that his wars were the least bloody—and most humane. Today, in a time of constant war under pretexts of preemptive strikes, these teachings demonstrate his just personality—a Messenger for our time.