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Published in the 16-30 Jun 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Position paper
Islam and the use of force - ii
By Iqbal A Ansari

The laws of a just war in Islam are based on the same principles as are the modern humanitarian laws of armed hostilities codified as the Four Geneva Conventions (1949). For waging such a war, it has to be fought under a unified political command and its objectives and timings have to be declared. The weaponry, terrain, and strategy are to be so designed and selected as not to routinely violate the humanitarian code. Use of weapons of mass destruction is therefore outlawed. 

Internal insurgency and rebellion can enjoy legitimacy, if any section or group feels persistently oppressed and other peaceful methods of redressal have been exhausted. But the use of force by any such group will be governed by the same conditions i.e. unified political command, application of humanitarian laws distinguishing between military and civilian targets, especially civilian population. The logic of civilians being tax-payers and therefore supporters of a tyrannical government and therefore to be treated as potential combatants is not valid. Taking any non-combatant civilian hostage is not lawful. 

Even if Jihad is lawfully declared and conducted strictly in accordance with the Islamic code, it will not be necessarily applicable to all Muslims of the world irrespective of their relation with their respective governments, and their status in their own countries. In case a group of Muslims or a Muslim country declares Jihad against a non-Muslim group or country on valid grounds and with valid methods, it will not be binding on other Muslim groups or other Muslim countries. Treaty obligations of any Muslim community and country with any non-Muslim community/country are required to be given overriding consideration to those of fraternity of faith.

In view of the above it is clear that use of violent methods by armed opposition groups wherein the intended or unintended victims can be civilians including women and children uninvolved in hostilities, has no sanction under Islam. The logic that since in democracies it is the people whose vote and taxes support the government, civilians can be targeted is perverse. The current terrorist practices of hostage taking, bombing/suicide bombing of civilian buildings, planting explosive devices in civilian areas, trains and buses, hijacking of planes etc. are all unlawful according to Islam code on use of force. Suicide-bombing of purely military targets may be considered permissible, but not in situations where civilians could be the victim.

The foregoing discussion should make it clear that whereas a kind of militancy defined as vigorous struggle directed towards establishing a just order is inherent in the ideological orientation of Islam, use of force can seek legitimacy only under strict conditions both while defining ends as well as means. In this regard Islamic code is no less restrictive than the civilized world’s consensus as expressed in the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions humanitarian on Laws of war. Terrorism where non-combatants civilians can and do become victims of force or denial of rights like hijacking or hostage taking is therefore absolutely illegitimate under Islam.

We admit that some Muslim jurists and theologians have not interpreted the Quranic teaching on the use force in the proper spirit and also that the practice of Muslim reader in history has not always been in accordance with Islamic ideals. However for any unjust wars or transgression of humanitarian laws by Muslims in history or in our times, Islam, i.e. the Holy Quran and the practice of the Prophet, cannot be held responsible.

We hold that all acts of terrorism, wherein force is indiscriminately used causing destruction, intended on unintended, of civilian life including women, children, aged, disabled and worshippers are un-Islamic, irrespective of purity of motives and justice of the cause that some militant groups are inspired with. While sympathising with such people, like Palestinians, who have been driven to desperation by a terrorist-racist regime which has occupied their lands and has forced to flee their homes, we cannot absolve acts that cause avoidable loss of civilian life, especially of women and children. 

In view of the Islamic position on legitimate use of force distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants, and between military targets and civilian life, we consider all weapons of mass destruction and landmines, as well as bombing of cities by conventional bombs as inherently unjust, unlawful and diabolical. It is the civilized Western world which is responsible for developing and using all this diabolical machinery of war-fare. Twentieth century has been witness to the diabolical deeds of the West, for fighting unjust wars in the name of nation and race, which brought untold suffering and misery to hundreds of millions of people.

We appeal to all the militarily powerful nations of the world, led by the United States of America to start in phases, elimination of all weapons of mass destruction and of conventional weapons and strategies, which are capable of causing indiscriminate destruction of civilian life. It is only by doing so that ‘civilized world’, especially the American missions of elimination of terrorism any semblance of legitimacy. We appeal to the world community, especially people and governments of the West, not to apply double standard in dealing with the oppression of and gross injustice to Arab Muslim Palestinian. We also appeal to India as Pakistan to settle the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We appeal to the Indian Government and the people of India to stop terrorization of religious, minorities and persistent programs against them, to punish the guilty and provide justice to victims.

We pledge to support war on terrorism, but it should not be directed against people of one faith and region. It should be directed against all forms and manifestations of terrorism, be it by the U.S., Israel or India and Pakistan. Moreover fighting terrorism should not undermine due process of law and human rights norms. It should not be used as an excuse for selective application of sanction against certain people and for waging war against them, while allowing Israel to oppress and terrorize and subjugate Muslims. 
In view of the stated position of Islam which attaches supreme value to justice and freedom, we also appeal to all nations including U.S., Israel, India and Pakistan to uphold rule of law, to respect human rights norms, to sign and specially ratify the statutes of the International Criminal Court.

We appeal to all Islamists with commitment to human rights to give priority to developing a culture of peace, tolerance and dialogue in their societies and countries, while engaged in the struggle for securing justice. We also appeal to Islamists to engage in research and activism in the area of prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts, and in developing effective techniques for peaceful struggles for right of self-determination and for fighting political and economic injustice that they are faced with. 

We appeal to Muslim spiritual leaders and those of other faith communities to promote peace and justice in the world by seeking non-violent resolution of conflicts, ensuring fairness to all parties. However while pursuing the noble quest of a state of everlasting peace in the world, it should be our endeavour to seek universal observance of humanitarian laws of armed conflict whenever force is used, so that all non-combatants, especially women, children, old and disabled enjoy protection of life and dignity during hostilities. 

— (Concluded)

Part No.1 Islam and the use of force - i

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