Rana Rais Khan observes how Allah’s Apostle (sa) upheld the humanitarian ideals even at times of war against the most tyrant enemies
Islam did not conquer lands and enter hearts by inflicting torture, raping helpless women or killing the innocent. Indeed, 1400 years before the Geneva Convention or any other War Crimes Tribunal was formed, the Prophet (sa) and his companions (rta) displayed a great sense of mercy and justice, when dealing with the enemies of Islam, which is prominently absent nowadays. The horrific stories of savageness today put every human being on earth to shame. Tribunals and other organizations appear either feeble or ineffective in delivering justice. Looking back at Islamic history, we encounter remarkable examples of Islam’s magnanimous soldiers.
After the victorious battle of Badr, upon Prophet’s (sa) orders, a ransom was set with consideration of the financial circumstances of the captives. As a result, some poor captives were released even without ransom. Others were allowed to work for their freedom. Given that the polytheists of Makkah were literate as compared to the Muslims of Madinah, the Muslims would ask the literate Makkan captives to teach the younger generations of Madinah literacy in return for their freedom. Accordingly, they were entrusted with ten children, and as soon as the children were proficient, the prisoners were set free.
The Prophet (sa) encouraged Muslims to treat prisoners humanely, so much so that Muslim captors would give to them the most valued item in their meal-bread-and keep only dates for themselves. After the battle of Badr, the Prophet (sa) ordered to burry the dead bodies of Islam’s enemies in a dry well, rather than leave them around for birds and beasts to prey on. This he did out of respect for their dignity, as well as out of mercy for the family of the dead. On the contrary, the disbelievers mutilated the dead bodies of Muslim soldiers in the following battle of Uhud. Prophet’s (sa) uncle’s Hamza’s (rta) heart was cut out by Hind bint Utbah, Abu Sufyan’s wife, out of barbaric vengeance. Prophet (sa) simply forgave her and never avenged her even later in life, when she converted to Islam.
Another extraordinary example is of when the Prophet’s (sa) son-in-law Amr ibnul Aas (who was yet a disbeliever) was captured in Badr fighting against Muslims. The Prophet (sa) did not make any distinction between his relatives and strangers. The Prophet’s (sa) daughter Zainab (rta) sent her late mother’s Khadija’s (rta) necklace to secure the freedom of her husband Amr ibnul Aas. Though this gesture greatly saddened the Prophet (sa), reminding him of his late beloved wife.
Likewise, before the commencement of the battle of Uhud, Allah’s Messenger (sa) gave his sword to Abu Dujanah (rta). The companion demonstrated incredible valor before the enemies. As he was moving into the thick of the battle, he rushed to kill a person, who was inciting the enemy to fight the Muslims. Upon this, that person shrieked. It was a woman, Hind bint Utbah. Abu Dujanah spared her saying: “I respect the Prophet’s sword too much to use it on a woman.” Though she was actively involved in the war, a sense of compassion took over Abu Dujanah (rta), comprehending the Prophet’s (sa) merciful nature.
Once, the Jewish tribe of Bani Nadir revoked the treaty they had agreed upon with the Muslims and attempted to murder the Prophet (sa) by deception. Consequently, the Prophet (sa) and his troops lay siege on Bani Nadir’s fortresses for a considerable time. Eventually, the Jews began to despair of any help from their allies, and Huyay agreed to go into exile with his people. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) allowed them to take all the possessions that their camels could carry, except for their arms and armor, as well as safeguarded their departure from Madinah.
Bani Nadir loaded their doors and even their lintels onto their camels. As they made their way through the crowded market of Madinah, the camels were objects of wonder, both for the richness of their trapping and the wealth of their load. Women displayed garments of silk or brocade, most of them laden with ornaments of gold, rubies, emeralds, etc. Muslims permitted their enemies to march off with pride.
The battle of Mu’tah was the beginning of great Muslim conquests into the lands of Christians. It all started, when the close ally of the Roman Empire, Amr al-Ghassani, beheaded the Prophet’s (sa) messenger, Al-Harith Bin Umair (rta), while delivering a letter to the ruler of Basra. The killing of an envoy was grounds enough for Muslims to declare war. But the Prophet (sa) suggested that the Muslims invite the enemy to profess Islam first, and then, based on their response, they would decide whether to wage war or make peace.
Islam also condemns any purposeful destruction of the enemy’s property. The Prophet (sa) always ordered his army: “Fight the disbelievers in the name of Allah (swt), neither plunder nor conceal booty, kill neither children nor women, nor an ageing man, nor a hermit be killed; moreover, neither trees should be cut down nor homes demolished.” (Zad Al-Mad 2/155, Fath Al-Bari 7/511)
A translation from the Quran states: “And indeed whosoever takes revenge after he has suffered wrong, for such there is no way (of blame) against them. The way (of blame) is only against those who oppress men and rebel in the earth without justification; for such there will be a painful torment. And verily, whosoever shows patience and forgives, that would truly be from the things recommended by Allah (swt).” (Ash-Shura 42:41-43)
Obeying Allah’s (swt) instructions to attain the level of Ihsan (a beautiful deed), Muslim soldiers made a great impact on the lives of many non-Muslims. Indeed, there is a famous saying: “History has never known more merciful conquerors than the Arabs.” It was this mercy that allowed Islam to relieve nations from cruelty, injustice, and barbarism and introduce a civilized way of life.