DAWN - Opinion; 20 August, 2004

Published August 20, 2004

War ethics in Islam

By Dr S.M. Moin Qureshi

History does present a few examples when, in the days of peace, a powerful nation treated its weak neighbours in a graceful manner. The real test of character for such a nation, however, lies in its attitude towards a vanquished nation. Islam has left indelible imprints of its magnanimity both in conditions of war and peace.

Swayed by the electrifying effects of the conquest, conquerors usually go berserk in their behaviour with the conquered. Possessed with brute authority, they unleash all sorts of atrocities in the occupied territories. Emanating much before Halaku and continuing after Hitler, this is what the war literature of the world teaches and preaches.

The Islamic approach to war and its aftermath eliminates the unjust use of force. Islam does not favour the maxim of 'might is right' prevailing in the world since Cain took the life of his younger brother Abel.

The two were the sons of Adam (AS) and had offered sacrifice to God. It was accepted from Abel - the righteous one. Puffed up with power, arrogance and jealousy, Cain threatened to kill Abel and did exactly that. The Quran recalls this first ever brazen act of terror in human history thus:

"... each offered a sacrifice (to Allah). It was accepted from one, but not from the other. The latter said, "I will surely slay you." The former said, "Verily, Allah accepts only from those who are righteous." (Al-Ma'idah: 27)

So the soul of the other (latter one) led him to the murder of his brother; he murdered him and became one of the losers." (Al-Ma'idah: 30) The self-abnegating phrase 'war for peace' is also against the temperament of Islam. Literally meaning peace and security, Islam believes that two evils do not make a good.

It exhorts its followers not to do evil in return of evil done to them, but to do what will best repel the evil. This is because Islam acknowledges that there is no equality or comparison between good and evil. It requires that evil should be repelled or destroyed with something which is better, just as an antidote is better than poison. The Quran ordains:

"Repel evil with that which is better..." (Al- Mu'minun: 96) Before Islam, the whole world was plunged into intractable wars, bloodshed, ferocity and animosity. Fighting was endemic in society with no ethical limits, no rules of conduct whatsoever.

Islam could not condone such tyrannical practices which had downgraded humanity to the level of beasts. On the contrary, it advocated that in mutual ties between nations, the basic issue was that of recognition and cooperation; not war or hatred.

Islam contends that all human beings are descended from a single pair of parents. Their tribes and nations are convenient labels by which we may know certain differing features. Before Allah, they are all one and he gets most honour who is most pious. Addressing the whole human race, Almighty Allah holds:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you..." (Al- Hujurat: 13).

Islam, as a practised religion, does not rule out the possibility of war against a nation that is not willing to live in peace and has become a threat to the existence of the benign nation.

When there is no option and in the face of persecution, the believers are permitted to fight with vigour and full preparation, but not ruthlessly. Modern war is always followed by pillage, looting, debauchery and general massacre.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), on the other hand, issued strict orders to the commanders of Muslim armies not to kill women, children, old and infirm men, not to cut down fruit-bearing trees and crops, nor to slaughter animals whose flesh was eaten.

Places of worship, not only mosques, but also churches, synagogues and cloisters were to be protected. Mutilate or disfigurement of the corpses of enemies was prohibited. The dwellings of unresisting citizens were to be left untouched so also the means of their sustenance.

To that extent, Islam is opposed to the callous, yet oft-spoken doctrine: 'All is fair in love and war.' The Quran repudiates the propaganda that Islam was preached by force. Conversion by compulsion is not allowed. Almighty Allah proclaims: "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error..." (Al-Baqarah: 256).

The very first injunction about war (quoted below) provides that it should be waged in self-defence and that too within the permissible limits: "And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors."(Al- Baqarah: 190)

Only a war regulated by the above moral restraints is approved by Islam to prevent horror and violence against the innocent, against their freedom of thought and action and to ensure their honourable existence. No distinction of religion and creed has to be observed with regard to the safety and security of the citizens.

The Quran differentiates between a war undertaken for a genuine cause and the one waged as a transgression to create mischief in the world: "Those who believe, fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the cause of Satan..." (An-Nisa: 76)

Now, if an aggressive nation comes to terms and desists from its sinister designs, peace should be made with it and rapprochement arrived at. Rather the first nation should display categorically its desire for peace and friendship.

As such, while we must always be prepared for the just fight lest it be forced on us, even in the midst of an armed conflict, we must always be ready for peace if there is any indication for it from the other side. There is no merit merely in a fight by itself.

The Quran enjoins upon believers: "But if they (the enemies) incline towards peace, incline you also to it and (put your) trust in Allah. Verily He is the All-Hearer, the All-knower." (Al-Anfal: 61)

If the war (waged for legitimate reasons) culminates into victory, the conquerors should mete out a compassionate treatment to the defeated. There are nations which raise lofty slogans of human rights and claim to be the upholders of sublime objectives of civilization, but their behaviour towards the conquered nations has been found to be extremely disgraceful, and a far cry from the norms of justice and compassion.

There is no parallel in history to the dignified attitude displayed by the Holy Prophet on the occasion of the conquest of Makkah. His arch enemies of 11 excruciating years, who had crossed all limits in tormenting him and his companions, stood before him humiliated, heads down with shame, waiting for a befitting revenge.

They deserved and expected the severest punishment. Yet, the Prophet (SAW) was clement to the core. He announced that he would behave with them the way Yusuf (AS) had behaved with his cruel brothers saying:

"...This day let no reproach be (cast) on you: Allah will forgive you, And He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!" (Yusuf: 92) Islam has a comprehensive set of rules to deal with the prisoners of war.

First of all, they are to be overtaken in the actual war field. The Quran prohibits taking prisoners after the cessation of hostilities and in normal circumstances (Al-Anfal: 67 and Muhammad: 4).

As to their subsequent treatment, the Quran offers two options - ".... Thereafter, (is the time for) either generosity (i.e. freeing them without ransom) or ransom (according to what benefits Islam) until the war lays down its burdens..." (Muhammad: 4).

Seventy prisoners fell to the hands of the Muslims in the battle of Badr. Some of them were released without ransom by the clemency of the Prophet and some with ransom. Those who could not afford to pay the ransom money were required to teach 10 children each for their freedom.

History stands testimony to the bitter fact that the victorious nations let loose a reign of terror against the helpless prisoners of war. Islam strictly forbids such inhuman actions. During their captivity, the prisoners must be treated kindly. They have to be properly fed, clothed and looked after.

The lesson learnt by the Muslims from the grand victory of Makkah was not of man's glory but humility, not of power but of service, not an appeal to vanity but a realization of Allah's mercy.

Any success man achieves in his endeavours should be attributed to the blessings of Allah. The Prophet had an additional duty to perform - to pray for the forgiveness of his people in case any of them had exulted in their victory or done anything unauthorized.

Surah Al-Nasr provides complete guidance about our conduct in the wake of victory: "When comes the help of Allah (to you O Muhammad against your enemies) and the conquest (of Makkah). And you see the people enter Allah's religion (Islam) in crowds. So celebrate the praise of your Lord and ask for His forgiveness.

Verily He is the one who accepts the repentance and forgives." (Al-Nasr: 1-3)

Composite dialogue and Kashmir issue

By M.H. Askari

India has expressed satisfaction at the progress of the composite dialogue launched about two months ago, and aimed at bringing to an end the decades-old tensions in the subcontinent.

In an address to the nation on August 14, the eve of his country's independence anniversary, prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh said that the talks so far "augur well" and called for further deepening of the dialogue.

Pakistan, in somewhat less effusive language, has also acknowledged that the ground covered so far in the bilateral talks indicates that the two sides have been able to pave the way for "further movement" towards the goal of peace and security.

Apparently, there is a reason to believe - as a report in this paper said the other day - that the leadership in India and Pakistan has "courageously decided" to confront the challenge: "The brave act of the leaders has created change in the prolonged tense atmosphere."

Several unanticipated aspects of India-Pakistan relations surfaced during the talks but that only encouraged the interlocutors of the two countries to enlarge the scope of the talks.

However, it would be unrealistic to suggest that the talks were pursued without any element of contention. Since a significant section of policymakers in India continue to maintain that the whole Kashmir state as it was constituted at the time of independence should form part of India, there appears to be no consensus there on the future of Kashmir.

There are also elements in Pakistan who strongly believe that Kashmir is not negotiable at all as the principle on which the subcontinent was partitioned meant the state with its 95 per cent Muslim population and no road link with India should form part of Pakistan.

It is reassuring that Pakistan's prime minister-designate, Shaukat Aziz, has endorsed the way out of the imbroglio as suggested by President Pervez Musharraf - a solution based on the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

It is unfortunate that bureaucracy sometimes creates insurmountable hurdles in the way of a congenial basis to resolve festering issues such as the future of Kashmir. The apparent denial of a visa to a Srinagar-born Kashmiri girl living in Pakistan to visit her ailing parents in her ancestral home in Srinagar is a most regrettable human tragedy.

The authorities in both parts of the troubled state should take a humane view of the difficult situation in which the Kashmiris sometimes find themselves, specially when they need to travel from one part of the state to the other.

Travel between the two parts of Kashmir is on the agenda of the composite talks, but for the present, both governments could perhaps develop an interim basis for the grant of visas specially to people placed in circumstances and deserving compassionate treatment.

In a press statement the amir, Jamaat-i-Islami, of Azad Kashmir has taken a position on several issues that can only create difficulties in the way of arriving at a settlement.

He has expressed the view that the "core" issue has been intentionally sidelined in the composite dialogue whereas the agenda for the dialogue specifically provides for a resolution of the problem.

Moreover, Kashmir is scheduled to be taken up at a higher level, possibly at the level of General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when they meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The prime minister-designate Shaukat Aziz has also made it clear that Pakistan would continue to support a solution of the problem on the basis of the wishes of the Kashmiri people. While talking to Lord Nazir, member of Britain's House of Lords, he pointed out that he had a personal association with Kashmir as his mother belonged to the state.

It is reasonable to presume that the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had among other issues the Kashmir dispute in his mind when he declared, in his Indian Independence Day address from the ramparts of Delhi's Red Fort, that India had always favoured the process of a "purposive dialogue" with Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues. He also said specifically that "the assurance of peace and prosperity in our neighbourhood is an important priority for us."

The continuing tensions between the Kashmiri leaders (in occupied Kashmir) and New Delhi are potentially a major hurdle in the way of India and Pakistan jointly attempting to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

As evident from the statement of the Kashmiri leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, it is the lack of trust. Mr Geelani has gone on to make the prophecy that when the composite dialogue reaches the stage of Jammu and Kashmir, India would "show its thumb to Pakistan".

In the course of the composite dialogue so far, although not yet in the context of Kashmir specifically, Pakistan has had no such experience. Mr Geelani also believes that India will go no farther than a "solution around the Line of Control (LoC)".

Pakistan has every hope that in accordance with the spirit in which the dialogue has been conducted so far, India will negotiate with Pakistan with an open mind. If the objective is to work towards the goal of a durable peace, Kashmir will have to be resolved on a sustainable basis.

Anything short of that would not ensure lasting peace. Both India and Pakistan will be required to shift substantially from their respective committed positions. Pakistan has given a clear enough indication that it is ready to do that. For the sake of the success of the composite dialogue, New Delhi can be expected to do the same.

Even at the risk of repetition, it may be recalled that the day India sent its forces into Kashmir (October 26-27, 1947) Pandit Nehru made the solemn declaration: "Our view which we have repeatedly made public is that the question of accession in any disputed territory or state must be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people and we adhere to this view..."

Less than a month later, he said for the umpteenth time in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan: "Regarding Kashmir, the question of accession should be decided by plebiscite or referendum under international auspices such as those of the United Nations..."

Dangerously divided but democratic

By Dr. Akhtar Hasan Khan

No nation is politically monophilosophic. Countries as old as England and France have many colours on their political spectrum. The US, which is a melting pot of immigrants from all over the world, has different political strands.

In almost all western democracies, political parties are either left of centre or right of centre. In the US, the Republicans have been right of centre and the Democrats left of centre. This was true until Bush Jr. came on the scene. Now the Republican party has gone to the far right, and in the process, has acquired strong religious overtones.

Separation of the church and the state is a pillar of the US constitution - a principle followed by all US presidents. Bob Wood ward asked Bush Jr. (Plan of Attack) as to why he deviated from his father's policy by attacking Iraq.

Bush Sr. had very wisely observed that he did not want the "US to be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land." But Bush Jr. replied that he had guidance from a "higher authority" than his father to attack Iraq. Tony Blair joins him in prayer meetings where they get divine revelation on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Dan Reagan stated at his father's funeral that although his father was deeply religious, he did not wear religion on his sleeve as President Bush Jr. and the neo-conservatives are doing.

President Bush has described his war on terror as a crusade, which literally means fighting for the cross of Christ. Theologians supporting Bush like Rev. Jerry Falwell and Rev. Frank Graham have used blasphemous words for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Rev. Graham says that Christianity and Islam are as different as light and darkness. Revs Falwell and Graham do not belong to the mainstream Catholic or Protestant churches but to a new proselytizing church which is deeply disturbed by the fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.

The religious and dogmatic approach also determines the far right Republican attitude on abortion, gay rights, stem cell research and other issues. The Republicans are opposed to abortion because they feel that abortion at any stage is killing the child and they proclaim themselves to be pro-life.

They are also opposed to gay rights and Bush proposed an amendment to the US constitution to ban gay marriages. He knew well that the amendment had no chance of being approved by two-thirds of Congress but still went through the motion in order to placate the religious far right. The Senate did not consider the issue to be fit even for voting.

The liberals want this issue to be left to the states as some states like California and Massachusetts have allowed gay marriages whereas states in the southern Bible belt have banned it.

The scientific community is strongly in favour of stem cell research as it holds great promise for curing many debilitating diseases like Alzheimer and Parkinson's. President Bush is opposed to it on religious grounds.

For President Bush, public policy is not to be framed by an election approach but by religious righteousness, forgetting the lessons of religious war fares in Europe, which lasted for centuries and ended only when everyone learnt to tolerate each other's religion.

More importantly, he fails to realize that in pursuit of scientific knowledge and personal liberties, religious dogmas have no place. He seems to be applying the opposite yardstick to freedom and tolerance.

The US today is split in the middle. All political commentators have observed that whereas in previous elections the swing vote was thirty per cent, in the presidential election 2004 it is only 10 per cent.

Forty-five per cent of the electorate has decided to vote for Bush, come what may, in the next 80 days. An equal percentage is committed to Kerry. This is not because they love Kerry, who is perceived as an aloof patrician, but because they hate Bush, his religious fervour and his foreign policies, especially the invasion of Iraq.

Despite this sharp division, the US is firmly committed to democracy. The US Supreme Court ruled that about 600 prisoners, of which more than a 100 are Pakistanis held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, have the right to appeal before the US courts and they cannot be held in detention without due process indefinitely.

The counsel for the state argued that the detention centre is outside the jurisdiction of the US Supreme Court but the learned judges in a 7-2 decision held that it was in their jurisdiction and holding prisoners without legal redress was inconsistent with the basic principles of the US constitution and judicial system.

The Senate Intelligence Committee and the 9/11 Commission presented a unanimous bipartisan report and recommendations on very controversial issues in an election year.

They stated in clear terms that Saddam Hussein was not involved directly or indirectly in events leading to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They also stated that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction as alleged by President Bush and Tony Blair.

The intelligence on this subject was flawed and the Director of CIA, George Tenet, had to resign for tailoring his intelligence to the desires of hawks in the White House.

Both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the 9/11 Commission lamented the lack of morality in US leadership. The 9/11 Commission states, "The US must offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely and abide by the rules of law." The statement clearly implies that this is not being done at present.

Evidently, by encouraging Sharon's atrocities in Palestine, Indian cruelties in Kashmir, Russian repression in Chechnya and acting after thousands had died in Bosnia and Kosovo, US might is detested around the world for its double standards. The casualty figures in Iraq give only the number of coalition soldiers dead and injured. The far greater numbers of Iraqis who have died are never mentioned.

The manner in which Michael Moore has lampooned Bush as a buffoon in his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 could only happen in the US. Moore catches him in awkward moments, especially sitting unmoved with a blank expression for seven minutes on hearing that the World Trade Centre and Pentagon had been hit by civilian air crafts.

He expatiates on connections between Osama bin Laden and Bush families and how members of the Osama family were allowed to leave the US in a chartered plane without being questioned at a time when civilian flights were disallowed.

He shows how happy Iraqis were before being pushed into the miseries of war. He depicts the suffering of an American mother who has lost her son in Iraq. In short, the firm paints Bush as a foolish leader without any feeling for the ordinary man.

The US electorate must prove its deep commitment to democracy by voting out Bush from the White House. Otherwise the "higher authority" may guide him to commit more horrible acts than the invasion of Iraq. Another term for Bush would be dangerous for the US and the entire world.

The writer is a former federal secretary.



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