Frequently Asked Questions
What does Islam say about war
The Qur’an in no way glorifies war, but recognizes that war may be a necessary, final resort, “fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. God does not like the aggressors.” (2:190). Jihad, in a military sense, can only be made in two instances: to defend oneself and others against aggression, and to fight for justice and freedom of religion for Muslims and non-Muslims. The Qur’an says that “tumult and oppression are worse than killing” (2:217), and must therefore be eradicated. But how war is waged is strictly regulated in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad ordered Muslims to adhere to specific regulations if they are at war, which have become part of Islamic Shari’ah (Law). Some of these “rules of war” are described in the box below.
Rules of War according to Islamic Shari’ah (Law)
- Only a last resort and must be abandoned if there is a desire to initiate peace
- Cannot be declared by any or one person; it must be a decision made by a recognized governing authority
- Cannot be waged for any other intention than to release people from oppression and to establish justice
- Cannot be waged in order to convert or force people to follow Islam
- No harm should be done to women, children, the elderly, the sick, religious figures (such as priests or rabbis), or any other civilian and non-combatant
- Cutting trees, and destroying plants and animals is prohibited
- Destroying houses and places of worship is prohibited
- Polluting water, burning and ravaging crops, and using chemical weapons is prohibited
- Torturing prisoners of war is prohibited
What is the Shari’ah or Islamic Law
Shari’ah, unfortunately, in popular perception has come to mean a strict, religious system that denies people’s basic human rights and commands the infliction of barbaric punishments. But again, Shari’ah has a very different meaning in Islam.
Shari’ah is an Arabic word that literally means “the path to a watering place”. In Islam, however, Shari’ah stands for Islamic Law and is based on two primary sources - the Qur’an and the Sunnah or example of the Prophet Muhammad, available in detailed, narrative text called Hadith. The central notion behind the Islamic legal system is the fact that God is the Law-maker, and no one person or group of people have the authority to create laws or alter laws set down by God. But where the Qur’an and Hadith do not provide a specific answer to an issue, Muslims depend on tertiary sources - Ijma’ or the consensus of Muslim scholars and Qiyaas or the process of finding analogy to already established rulings. For example, the Qur’an says that alcohol is forbidden to Muslims. Through the process of Qiyaas, other narcotics, such as marijuana are also forbidden, because of their similar ability to dampen a person’s senses and control a person’s life.
In fact, many years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, as more and more people in neighboring lands began to accept Islam as their faith, Muslims saw the need to create the Science of Islamic Jurisprudence or Fiqh. Fiqh categorized the legal rulings and injunctions in the Qur’an and Sunnah as ones that cannot be changed (because they are set down by God) and ones that can be changed (because there is an allowance of difference of opinion). It also provides guidelines on how to tackle new issues in order for Islam to adapt to continuous historical change as it enters new societies and new cultures.
With the rapid advancement of science and technology, Muslims continue to find new issues to consider. Is stem cell research allowed in Islam? How do Muslims fast and pray up North, where the sun never “sets”? Can a Muslim run for office in a predominantly non-Muslim country? The Fiqh (Jurisprudence) Council of North America is an example of an organization of Muslims that looks at various issues never considered before by the Muslim community.
Shari’ah defines our relationship with God and our relationship with other human beings. Its purpose is to establish justice, which must be done equally to all, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, man or woman, poor or rich, and so on. In fact, the concept and practice of justice is so important in Islam, that Muslims are commanded by God in the Qur’an to be just, even if means testifying against themselves, their parents, or their family.
Shari’ah is meant to provide guidance for all aspects of a Muslims life and society that can be classified into four broad categories: Family Law, Law of Commerce, Criminal Law, and International Law.
There have been recent examples of an initiative by some Muslims to implement Islamic Law in their country, in hopes of establishing an Islamic state and perhaps return to a time when Muslims lived in complete obedience to God, such as the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphs - those leaders of the Muslim nation who ruled after the Prophet Muhammad. While this intention to establish the Law of God may be quite genuine for many Muslims in the world, attempts by some countries to implement Shari’ah have not been without misunderstanding of the basic principles and purpose behind it, and the way in which it is introduced and instated.
Above all, Islamic Law is meant to remove hardship from life and not make the practice of religion difficult. Incidentally, the Qur’an says that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2: 256); that no one has the right to force someone else in belief and practice. The people of a nation must want to be ruled under Shari’ah. But some Muslims who try and implement Shari’ah in their country fail to realize that their first obligation is to ensure the protection of the life, property and honour of their people. Unfortunately, what seems to be initially implemented and emphasized of the Shari’ah is Criminal Law and punishment.