Islam has provided the most humane of the rules of combat in existence, and I assure you that Islam does forbid the killing of non-combatants, particularly the killing of women, children, the elderly or disabled, and soldiers who surrender.

Considering the importance of the topic against the background of the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, we have been repeatedly giving the details of Islamï؟½s rules of combat and other related topics in our Web site.

It is evident that we can never have a world here below without the possibility of humans fighting one another. So the best we can strive for is to have a code of rules for war. And it is the merit of Islam that it does provide such rules, which remain ever nobler and more realistic than any other code existing for the conduct of war.

In religious or sectarian history, it was Islam that, for the first time ever, adopted an attitude of mercy and caring for the captured enemy. Unprecedented by previous legal systems, and long before the Geneva Convention, Islam set the rule that the captive is sheltered by his captivity and the wounded by his injury.

Whether in war or peace, Islam insists that its injunctions are to be strictly observed. Worship does not cease during wartime. Islamic jurisprudence maintains that whatever is prohibited during peace is also prohibited during war. Here is the actual command of God permitting fighting; the Qur’an says what means:

*{Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors.}* (Al-Baqarah 2:190)

The above permission to fight lays down clearly the following conditions:

(1) Never commit aggression; fighting is allowed only for self-defense.
(2) Fighting must never be against non-combatants or non-fighting personnel.

In the course of war, enemy soldiers are likely to be caught as prisoners. The Qur’an provides alternatives in dealing with the prisoners of war: either free them (“generosity”) or ransom them. The Qur’an says what means:

*{Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers [in fight], smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly [on them]: thereafter [is the time for] either generosity or ransom: until the war lays down its burdens.}* (Muhammad 47:4)

It is noteworthy that Allah does not give a third choice, so there is no provision for keeping enemy soldiers incarcerated in cells for abuse. And so Muslims cannot hold anybody either soldiers or civilians as “enemy combatants” in a legal limbo, to be chained or kept within cages as the leaders of the “civilized world” do.

The second option allowed in the case of prisoners of war is ransoming. This stands for a provision in the treaty following a war, for the release of the prisoners on certain conditions, such as the payment of compensation, exchange of prisoners, and so on. But undoubtedly, for fighting as an enemy soldier, no human should be put behind bars for an indefinite period.

Islam has given clear rulings for the kind treatment of captives. Whether a soldier is captured in battle or surrenders to the Muslims, he should be treated humanely. The example of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in this regard is well known, as he never enslaved a free man, never imprisoned anyone.

The later followers of the Prophet imprisoned enemy soldiers and kept them as captives to be exchanged for Muslim captives held by the enemies. This was in accordance with this Qur’anic verse that says what means:

*{If then anyone transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.}* (Al-Baqarah 2:194)

But the Prophet had given them clear instruction to treat the prisoners of war in a kind and humane manner. He said, “Beware of the prayer of the oppressed; for there is no barrier between it and Allah.”

Relating how the Companions complied strictly with this order given by the Prophet, one of the prisoners of the Battle of Badr, Huzayr ibn Humayr, stated, “Whenever they had lunch or dinner, they used to give me preference by providing me with bread while theyï؟½d eat only dates, in showing compliance with the Prophetï؟½s order of treating prisoners well.”

Abu Bakr, who was the first caliph in Islam immediately after the Prophetï؟½s death, gave the following instructions to his commander who went on a campaign to Syria:

“Do not betray or be treacherous or vindictive. Do not mutilate. Do not kill the children, the aged or the women. Do not cut or burn palm trees or fruitful trees. Donï؟½t slay a sheep, a cow or camel except for your food. And you will come across people who confined themselves to worship in hermitages, leave them alone to what they devoted themselves for.”

And the guiding principle of such noble behavior on the part of Muslim soldiers and commanders is the Qur’anï؟½s insistence on justice. The Muslims are commanded to stand out firmly for justice, even opposing their own parents or others intimate to them, if need be. The Qur’an says what means:

*{O you who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be [against] rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts [of your hearts], lest you swerve, and if you distort [justice] or decline to do justice, verily God is well acquainted with all that you do.}* (An-Nisaa’ 4:135)

And again:

*{O you who believe! stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that you do.}* (Al-Ma’idah 5:8)

During the Crusades, the Muslim commander, Salah Ad-din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (Saladin; 1137ï؟½1193), while engaged in battle with Richard the Lion Heart of England, sent his own personal physician to treat him when he was seriously ill. In fact, he personally supervised Richardï؟½s treatment until he became well.

This attitude was quite different from the behavior of the invading crusaders. When the Christian army entered Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, it slaughtered 70,000 Muslims, including women, children, and old men. They broke children’s skulls by knocking them against walls, threw babies from roof tops, roasted men over fire, and cut open women bellies to see if they had swallowed gold. So wrote the famous Christian historian Edward Gibbon. (Quoted by Draper, History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, Vol. 2, p. 77.)

Islam never fought nations but fought only despotic rulers. War in Islam is always for truth and justice, or, in other words, in the Way of God. Muslims must bear this in mind, and so their behavior before, during, or after a war should never violate the commands of Allah and the example of His Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).