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Civilians in warfare when democratic countries are involved

Published: 25/08/2011 12:49:00 PM GMT
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Some people are declaring the prohibition regarding the killing of civilians during war to be inapplicable to democratic countries. They argue that the policies of those countries are enacted by the governments they themselves choose through their votes. It is not like the days when kings were authorities unto themselves and their actions did not reflect the will of the people. Therefore, in today’s democratic world, it is right to assume that the nation’s policies have the sanction of public at large. Is there any validity to this line of reasoning?

Answered by

the Fatwa Department Research Committee - chaired by Sheikh `Abd al-Wahhâb al-Turayrî

The argument being advanced by these people is false. This should become obvious to us if we consider the circumstances in which the rulings prohibiting the killing of civilians came about.

The rulings prohibiting the targeting of civilians are from the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he was battling the pagans of Mecca and their allies among the pagan tribes of Arabia. The pagans of Mecca were a tight-knit community and their tribal leaders made their decisions together at their tribal councils. They were more like a very large and squabbling family than a burgeoning and impersonal nation. Moreover, the population of Mecca – indeed of all Arabia – was small and the region’s social organization was tribal. The average person in such a society had more personal access to the decision makers and had far greater influential on policy that an individual American or British person today has with respect to his country’s foreign policies which are determined largely by big corporations and powerful lobbies.

Indeed, there was solidarity among the pagan Arabs as to their purposes against the Muslims. During the Battle of Uhud, the women went out to the battlefield, led by Hind, to lend moral support to the soldiers. Before the battle, they sang the following song to inspire their men:

If you go forth, we will embrace you,
And spread out the cushions.
But if you retreat we shall leave you,
And do so without affection.

It has been said by historians that their singing had a maddening affect on their men folk and that this influenced their performance on the battlefield.

In spite of all this, Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) stressed the need to protect the weak and the noncombatants during war and was very considerate of them.

Ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “I saw the body of a slain woman during one of the battles of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), so he forbade the killing of women and children.” [Sahîh al-Bûkhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

Rabâh b. Rabî` said: “We were with Allah’s Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) during a battle and we saw people gathered together. He dispatched a man to find out why they were gathered. The man returned and said: ‘They are gathered around a slain woman.’ So Allah’s Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘She should not have been attacked!’ Khâlid b. al-Walîd was leading the forces, so he dispatched a man to him saying: “Tell Khâlid not to kill women or laborers’.” [Sunan Abî Dâwûd]

It is also related that Allah’s Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Tell him not kill children or laborers.” [Sunan Ibn Mâjah]

Laborers are not to be attacked deliberately, even if they are present during the battle, as long as their activities are not directly connected with the fighting. Workers who are not present at the battlefield are definitely not to be treated with aggression, regardless of the fact that they are in the enemy country. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) would say the following words to his troops before sending them to war: “Go forward in the name of Allah. Do not kill an elderly person, nor a small child, nor a woman, and do not exceed the bounds.” [Sunan Abî Dâwûd]

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah comments: “These people today, just like those at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are the ones to whom the message of Islam must be conveyed.”

Source: Islam Today

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