Thanks To Mm And Others For Reactions

Thanks to [MM] and others for reactions to this posting on the UAE Islamic law conference and the issue of suicide bombings.

War is a very messy thing, and attempts to think about it in terms of legalities have been dogged by inconsistencies and difficulties of implementation. Nevertheless, war crimes are recognized as a legal category and war crimes trials have been held, including, recently, that of Slobodan Milosevic.

I believe that the medieval Muslim jurists (and before them the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad) who laid down the laws of war were engaged in an ethical task that has clear similarities to that of the framers of the Geneva Conventions. They were attempting to specify what actions were licit during war. What they held was that warriors fight warriors. Muslim warriors were not to slaughter innocent women and children belonging to the enemy side.

Medieval Muslim thinkers quoted a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, “”Set out for Jihad in the name of Allah and for the sake of Allah. Do not lay hands on the old verging on death, on women, children and babes. Do not steal anything from the booty and collect together all that falls to your lot in the battlefield and do good, for Allah loves the virtuous and the pious.”

Likewise, Sahih Bukhari gives an anecdote about the Prophet being dismayed when a woman was killed in battle, and forbidding it. Now, the pagan Meccans had chased the Prophet and his companions out of Mecca, and so were in the position of occupiers of that region, and were actively trying to kill Muslims. They had tried to assassinate the Prophet himself! Yet the Prophet was disturbed at the idea of Muslims killing pagan Meccan women in the course of battles, and he forbade it.

I therefore find al-Qaradawi’s position illogical and un-Islamic, since he holds that occupation of Muslim lands justifies the deliberate killing of innocents among the enemy. I know of no classical Islamic jurisprudential grounds for such a position, and it contradicts the sunna of the Prophet. I think Dr. Hasan Safar’s position makes far more sense within the Islamic legal tradition. (It is Safar with a sin, by the way, not al-S.affar).

Likewise the hadith corpus makes it clear that Muslims are to avoid creating an aversion to Islam. Thus, again from Bukhari: “It has also been narrated by Sa’d b. Abu Burda through his father through his grandfather that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent him and Mu’adh (on a mission) to the Yemen, and said (by way of advising them): Show leniency (to the people) ; don’t be hard upon them; give them glad tidings (of Divine favours in this world and the Hereafter) ; and do not create aversion. Work in collaboration and don’t be divided.”

Since for Muslims to blow up babies in their strollers, kids in dance clubs, patrons in pizzerias, and college students in cafeterias creates an aversion to Islam, I should think it would be contrary to Islamic law simply on those grounds.

Obviously, it is possible that in the course of fighting a just war, women and children will be killed accidentally. This was recognized in Islamic law and excused as long as there had been no deliberate intent to harm innocents. In ethics, everything is a matter of intent. Once you admit that there are just wars, then you are simply going to have to live the with likelihood that some innocents will be killed. This is different from deliberately setting out to kill innocents, and even to kill mainly innocents.

Both in Islamic law and in the Geneva conventions, the deliberate targeting of civilians is condemned. (By the way, if the comparison is the US campaign in Afghanistan, it is deeply flawed. The New York Times was unable to document more than 450 non-combatant deaths in that war, which overthrew the tyrannical rule of 60,000 Taliban who had harbored international terrorists on a large scale. All of those casualties are highly regrettable, but they were not intentional).

Al-Qaradawi’s attempt to distinguish between killing Israeli civilians and killing other civilians seems to me untenable. Let us say a group of American civilians goes to Kabul. And let us say that al-Qaida remnants believe Kabul is under American occupation. Is it all right for them to blow up the American civilians? How would such an act be different from Hamas blowing up Israeli civilians? Al-Qaradawi’s position is a slippery slope that leads inexorably to terrorism. For, of course, the US according to al-Qaida was in “occupation” of Eastern Arabia, which then monstrously authorized September 11 in their eyes.

I am a little surprised that MM frames his response in part by questioning my ethical balance in not condemning the deliberate killing of civilians by parties other than Muslims. I actually think I have been consistent in this regard (and this goes back to my college-era protests against the Vietnam war). He clearly has not been reading my weblog at www.juancole.com .

The discussion at this particular panel at UAE conference was not about just war or the Palestinian right of self-defense (i.e. fighting Israeli *soldiers*). It was about the Islamic validity of deliberately targetting primarily civilians.

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