Ethics & Humanity of Islam in the War Towards Enemies

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*What are the Ethics & Humanity Islam Teaches in the War Towards Enemies?*

As Islam stands against waging war, especially against the innocents, it never overlooks the possibility that mankind may resort to war against each other. That is why it shows keenness on regulating warfare, between Muslims and non-Muslims; it enumerates those that should not be killed or even targeted during the battles. Not only that. Islam also sets rules regarding those taken as prisoners of war; how they should be treated and dealt with.

This is what is clarified by Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zahra, in his book Concept of War in Islam; it reads: “Islam advocates clemency with captives. History has never known warriors so merciful to their captives as the early Muslims who followed the teachings of their religion. Numerous religious texts demand clemency with captives.”

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Islam never fought nations but fought only despotic authorities. Islamic war was one of liberation and not of compulsion. Muslims are prohibited from opening hostilities without properly declaring war against the enemy unless the adversary has already started aggression against them.

The first and the foremost basic right in Islam is the right to live and the respect of human life. The holy Quran and the traditional sayings and acts of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) strictly impose the following injunctions during the time of peace and the time of war:

1. No one should be burned alive or tortured with fire.

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2. Wounded soldiers who are neither unfit to fight, nor actually fighting, should not be attacked.

3. Prisoners of war should not be killed.

4. It is prohibited to kill anyone who is tied up or in captivity.

5. Residential areas should not be pillaged, plundered, or destroyed, nor should the Muslims touch the property of anyone except those who are fighting against them.

6. Muslims must not take anything from the general public of the conquered country without paying for it.

7. The corpses of the enemy must not be disgraced or mutilated.

8. Corpses of the enemy should be returned.


9. Treaties must not be broken.

10. In Islam, taking one’s life is equal to taking the life of the whole of the mankind. Allah says in the holy Quran: “If anyone slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people…” (Quran 5:32)

Prisoners are usually taken when a battle is at its height and there is danger that rage may lead the victorious warriors to harm those who have been defeated in order to take revenge. The Prophet, however urged his followers to treat their captives with clemency. He said to them “You are recommended to treat your captives kindly.”

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What are the teachings of Islam as regard the prisoners of war? Does Islam grant them freedom, ransom or enslave them to the Muslims? Allah says: “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…” (Quran 47:4)

The Quranic verse thus provides alternatives: either the Muslim commander should free those captives who cannot offer ransom either in the form of money or an equivalent number of Muslim captives, or he should ransom his captives for money or for a similar number of Muslim captives (exchange of prisoners).

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The Prophet avoided the enslavement of any free man in his wars; his actions tended towards its denunciation. He urged the manumission of those who had been enslaved. The Quran refers to the permissibility of slavery only to urge the emancipation of the enslaved.

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