Killing, plunder, spoil, tribute and capture were long-standing practices preceding the final message of Islam sent down to Prophet Muhammad. However, Islam refined such practices in such a way, which was not customary neither during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad nor even centuries after his demise up to date and even until the Judgment Day.
So, let’s know the truth about killing, plunder, spoil, tribute and capture in Islam.
- Killing, Plunder, Spoil, Tribute and Capture in Islam
- The Islamic Attitude towards Killing and Fighting
- The Islamic Attitude towards Plunder
- The Islamic Attitude towards Capture
Killing, Plunder, Spoil, Tribute and Capture in Islam
The Islamic Attitude towards Killing and Fighting
Prohibition of Killing and Fighting at the Dawn of Islam
The (wrongful) killing is prohibited from the dawn of Islam up to date. As for fighting, it was not allowed at the dawn of Islam even for self-defense purposes.
The call to Islam was purely peaceful at the dawn of Islam. In the face of persecution and prejudice, Prophet Muhammad and Muslims were allowed throughout the earliest thirteen years of the Prophetic mission only to keep patient with the harm caused by the polytheists and repel evil with goodness. In this regard, the following verses were sent down. We read:
And follow what is revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and be patient until Allah will judge. And He is the best of judges. (Yunus 10:109)
We also read:
Repel, by [means of] what is best, [their] evil. We are most knowing of what they describe. (Al-Mu’minun 23:96)
Permission of Fighting after Immigration subject to Strict Rules
When persecution reached its climax and was about to wipe out Islam and Muslims, Muslims were permitted to fight in defense of the heavenly message and themselves in the face of the evil forces after the immigration to Medina, i.e. after thirteen years of the call to Islam had elapsed and only ten years were left from the Prophetic mission and the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad.
This means that Prophet Muhammad’s mission started and remained purely peaceful for the best part and weapons could be carried to defend it only towards the end of Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime.
Had fighting been inherent in the call to Islam, carrying weapons would have been ordered from the very beginning. However, carrying weapons was permitted only late in Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime. This serves as historic evidence that the peacefulness of the call to Islam had been the original case and weapons were carried later to protect it.
According to the most preponderant opinion, the earliest Qur’anic verses to permit fighting are the following ones:
Indeed, Allah defends those who have believed. Indeed, Allah does not like everyone treacherous and ungrateful. Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory. [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is Allah.” And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might. [And they are] those who, if We give them authority in the land, establish prayer and give zakah and enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. And to Allah belongs the outcome of [all] matters. (Al-Hajj 22:38-41)
In the above verses, we notice that the reasons for the permission of fighting are mentioned. They are defending the believers, repelling aggression, standing up to injustice and persecution, protecting the places of worship including Jewish synagogues, Christian churches and Muslim mosques, and empowering the believers on earth for them to offer prayers, give alms, enjoin good and forbid evil.
Rules of Fighting Permission
Just as the permission of fighting is given in the Qur’an for the purposes of defending faith, pertinent rules are also provided in order to regulate such fighting, restrict it to the purposes for which it is legislated and prevent its extension to purposes for which it was not legislated like injustice and aggression.
For example, the permission of fighting the polytheists is coupled with the prohibition of aggression against them. About that, we read in the Qur’an:
Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah. But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors. [Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him. (Al-Baqarah 2:190-194)
Likewise, the permission of fighting the hypocrites who betray the believers and side with the disbelievers against the believers is contingent on the cases where they refuse to repent and desist or they don’t take refuge with a people there is a treaty between them and the believers. About that, we read in the Qur’an:
What is [the matter] with you [that you are] two groups concerning the hypocrites, while Allah has made them fall back [into error and disbelief] for what they earned. Do you wish to guide those whom Allah has sent astray? And he whom Allah sends astray – never will you find for him a way [of guidance]. They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah. But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper. Except for those who take refuge with a people between yourselves and whom is a treaty or those who come to you, their hearts strained at [the prospect of] fighting you or fighting their own people. And if Allah had willed, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you. So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them. You will find others who wish to obtain security from you and [to] obtain security from their people. Every time they are returned to [the influence of] disbelief, they fall back into it. So if they do not withdraw from you or offer you peace or restrain their hands, then seize them and kill them wherever you overtake them. And those – We have made for you against them a clear authorization. (An-Nisaa’ 4:88-91)
We also read:
If the hypocrites and those in whose hearts is disease and those who spread rumors in al-Madinah do not cease, We will surely incite you against them; then they will not remain your neighbors therein except for a little. Accursed wherever they are found, [being] seized and massacred completely. (Al-Ahzab 33:60-61)
Similarly, the permission of fighting those who violate oaths, attack Islam and drive the believers out of their houses is also contingent on their refusal to desist. About that, we read in the Qur’an:
But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and attack your religion with disapproval and criticism, then fight (you) the leaders of disbelief (chiefs of Quraish pagans of Makkah) – for surely their oaths are nothing to them – so that they may stop (evil actions). (At-Tawbah 9:12)
Types of Permissible Fighting
Inland Fighting (Jihad)
In Islam, fighting or armed jihad has two types: inland fighting and outland fighting. As for the inland fighting, it is fighting by Muslims against such an enemy that aggresses them either inside or around their territories.
In this case, Muslims are permitted to fight to defend themselves as well as their territories and faith until such an enemy stops aggressing them. About that, we read in the Qur’an:
And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help.” (An-Nisaa’ 4:75)
Outland Fighting (Jihad) and its Rules
As for the outland fighting, it is fighting by Muslims against such an enemy that impels them to fight outside their territories. Such fighting often takes place for the purposes of defending Muslims while calling to Islam outside their territories. Such fighting has rules established by the Qur’an and the Sunnah (Prophetic tradition).
Such rules are included in the following hadith: Sulayman bin Buraydah narrated on the authority of his father, “Whenever the Messenger of God appointed a commander for an army or an expedition, he would instruct him to fear God in his own behavior and consider the welfare of the Muslims who were with him. He then used to say ‘Go out for Jihad in God’s name, in the cause of God, and fight those who disbelieve in God. Go out for Jihad and do not indulge in embezzlement, or be treacherous or mutilate (dead bodies) or kill a child. When you meet your enemy, or the polytheists, invite them to three courses of action, and accept whichever of them they are willing to agree to, and refrain from doing anything else: Call them to Islam, and if they agree accept it from them. Then invite them to migrate from their land to the land of the Emigrants (i.e. Medina). If they refuse, then tell them they will be like the Muslim desert Arabs, thus they will have no right in the spoil unless they participate in Jihad with Muslims. If they refuse (to accept Islam), order them to pay the tribute and if they agree, accept it from them. If they refuse, seek God’s help against them and fight them. When you besiege a fortress, and its people wish you to grant them the protection of God and His Prophet, grant them neither but grant them your protection, for it is less serious (a lesser guilt) to break your guarantee of protection than to break that of God’s. And if they offer to capitulate under the condition that they are subjected to the judgment of God, do not grant them this, but judge according to your own command, for you do not know whether or not you will be able to carry out God’s Judgment regarding them.’” (Muslim)
Prophet Muhammad prohibited killing the innocents, especially children, and attacking the places of worship, specifically hermitages, or the worshippers therein. Ibn `Abbas reported that if Prophet Muhammad dispatched an army, he would instruct: “Go out in the name of God to fight in the cause of God against those who disbelieve in God, but do not act treacherously or dishonestly, do not commit mutilation, do not kill children or hermits.” (Recorded by Imam Ahmad)
The prohibition of killing the innocents, especially women and children, is reiterated in the following hadith: Ibn `Umar reported that a woman was found dead at one battle fought by the Messenger of God. Thereupon, the Messenger of God prohibited killing women and children. (Al-Bukhari)
The Islamic Attitude towards Plunder
Though Islam permitted booties as the victor’s right according to the practice which was followed in wars centuries before its advent, Muslims were not keen on spoiling other peoples’ property, given their return of spoils in several historic situations especially in Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime. Muslims did not fight for booties but to defend themselves and call to God and Islam.
For example, Prophet Muhammad returned to Malik ibn `Awf, the chieftain of Hawazin tribe, his captured kindred and property. In addition, he gave him one hundred camels and kept him as the chieftain of his people after Malik’s defeat by Muslims in the wake of Hunayn Battle.
Ibn Ishaq reported: the Messenger of God asked the delegation of Hawazin about Malik ibn Awf: “What did he do?” They replied: “He is in Al-Taif with Thaqif tribe.” He suggested: “Tell him that if he comes to me as Muslim, I will return to him his kindred and property and, in addition, I will give him one hundred camels.” When Malik was told about that, he sneaked away from Thaqif tribe and went to the Messenger of God at Al-Ju`ranah or Mecca, where he embraced Islam and became a good Muslim. Thereupon, he returned to him his kindred and property. When he gave him one hundred camels, Malik ibn Awaf improvised the following poetic verses:
I have never seen or heard about someone out of all people like Muhammad.
He gave profusely to the beggar when he begged for giving. If you like, he will tell you about tomorrow
Booty, Spoil and Tribute not Plunder
For the avoidance of misunderstanding, Islam did not permit the customary plunder and pillage of the property of the civilians and innocents the armies were used to.
Islam just permitted “booty” which meant, in the Islamic sense, seizing the effects and ordnance of the warriors who fought Muslims at the battlefields in addition to the supplies of the armies fighting Muslims.
As for civilians, Islam does not permit plundering their property or outraging them. Upon the conquest of Mecca, the Ansaris’ standard was borne by Sa`ad ibn `Ubadah. When he passed by Abu Sufyan, he taunted: “Today will be a day of carnage. Today, sanctity will be violated. Today, God will disgrace Quraysh.”
When Prophet Muhammad caught up with Abu Sufyan, the latter complained: “O Messenger of God, have you heard what Sa`ad said?” The Prophet wondered: “What did he say?” When he was told about Sa`ad’s taunts, `Uthman and `Abdul-Rahman ibn `Awf panicked: “O Messenger of God, we fear that he will outrage Quraysh.”
Prophet Muhammad then declared: “No, today will be a day on which the Ka`abah will be glorified. Today will be a day on which God will honor Quraysh.”
Then he took the standard from Sa`ad and gave it to his son, Qays ibn Sa`ad ibn `Ubadah or purportedly to Az-Zubayr. (Ar-Rahiq Al-Makhtum, Safy Ar-Rahman Al-Mubarakfury, Dar Al-Hilal, Beirut, the 1st edition)
Ibn Ishaq reported on the authority of Safiyah bint Shaybah that when the Messenger of God descended and people were reassured, he went to the Ka`abah and circumambulated it. When he finished circumambulation, he called on `Uthman ibn Talhah to bring the Ka`abah key. So, he opened it for Prophet Muhammad to enter. Thereupon, Prophet Muhammad stood at the Ka`abah door and preached a sermon.
Prophet Muhammad then wondered: “O folks of Quraysh, what do you expect me to do to you?” They replied: “Something good! You are a good brother and the son of a good brother.” Then, he said: “Go away! You are free (to go where you want – that is, not captured.)”
Then, he sat down. Then, Ali got up and said: “Give us both door keeping and water supply!” Then, Prophet Muhammad gave the Ka`abah key to `Uthman and said: “Take it forever! It is not me but God that gave it to you. It will not be taken away from you except by a tyrant.” (Reported by Ibn Abi Shaybah in his Musannaf)
Upon the conquest of Iraq, Khaled ibn Al-Walid did not assault peasants. On the contrary, he gave them good treatment as recommended by Caliph Abu Bakr and kept them cultivating land. (Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, Ali As-Sallabi, p 312)
Thus, Muslims did not plunder the civilians’ property. They would rather spoil the belongings of the fighters and the movable property of the tribes whose members wholly fought Muslims just as some Arabian and Jewish tribes did.
As for the peoples that involved both fighters and civilians, Muslims did not assault the civilians or seize their property. However, an affordable tribute would be taken from them.
Ibn Abi Najih reported: “I asked Mojahed: ‘Why do the non-Muslim people of the Levant pay four dinars, whereas the people of Yemen pay only one dinar?’” He replied: ‘Because of solvency’” (Al-Bukhari)
Prophet Muhammad was also reported as saying: “Beware, if anyone wrongs a covenanter, diminishes his right, forces him to work beyond his capacity, or takes from him anything without his consent, I shall plead for him (covenanter) on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)
Islam exempts from tribute women, children, the needy, monks, and the disabled. Moreover, Islam recommends spending on the elderly and the disabled from among non-Muslim citizens. The fifth rightly-guided Caliph, `Umar ibn `Abdul-Aziz wrote to his governor of Basra, Adi ibn Arta’ah:
“Look for the elderly, the weak, and the incomeless from among the non-Muslim citizens, and give to them adequate welfare from the Muslim treasury. I was told that the Commander of the Believers, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, passed by a non-Muslim old man who was begging at doorsteps. So, `Umar lamented: ‘We have not been just towards you! We took tribute from you during your youth and then caused you to be lost in your old age.’ Then, he gave to him adequate welfare from the treasury.”
It is worth noting that Prophet Muhammad was very keen on returning the trusts which had been kept by him. Before he emigrated from Mecca, he had instructed Ali to return trusts to their owners. He said to Ali: “Sleep on my bed and put on my green gown. So, nothing hateful will happen to you.” Then, Prophet Muhammad ordered Ali to return the deposits and trusts he had. (Tarikh At-Tabarany 2/372)
If Prophet Muhammad was really keen on plunder and pillage, why did he return trusts to Quraysh though they had proceeded to kill him and his companions?
Indeed, he elected to follow the then applicable practice and restore his rights at battlefields instead of betraying trust from Badr Battle until his demise.
The Islamic Attitude towards Capture
Though Islam permitted capturing men and taking women and children captive as the victor’s right according to the practice which was followed in wars centuries before its advent, Islam refined this practice in a way which was not familiar for centuries.
Capture of Men in Islam
While Islam permitted taking men prisoner, it did not allow prolonged capture or the ensuing enslavement. A non-Muslim prisoner of war would not be held captive forever nor could he be enslaved. His fate would be either: release, ransom or killing.
A prisoner of war could be either released for free, ransomed with a financial consideration or with a Muslim prisoner of war or killed if he so deserves, though the cases of killing the prisoners of war are scarce in the history of Islam. About that, we read in the Qur’an:
So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure their bonds, and either [confer] favor afterwards or ransom [them] until the war lays down its burdens. (Muhammad 47:4)
We also read:
It is not for a prophet to have captives [of war] until he inflicts a massacre [upon Allah ‘s enemies] in the land. Some Muslims desire the commodities of this world, but Allah desires [for you] the Hereafter. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (Al-Anfal 8:67)
Kind Treatment for Male Captives in Islam
Unlike any other faith, Islam commands kind treatment for captives. About that, Qur’anic verses were revealed in the Qur’an. For example, we find in the Qur’an a promise of profuse giving for captives and forgiveness in this world and the Hereafter if they give up evil and do good. We read:
O Prophet, say to whoever is in your hands of the captives, “If Allah knows [any] good in your hearts, He will give you [something] better than what was taken from you, and He will forgive you; and Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Al-Anfal 8:70)
Furthermore, the Qur’an orders good treatment for captives and deems those who are kind to captives as righteous servants of God whom God promises happy fate and great reward in the Hereafter. We read:
Indeed, the righteous will drink from a cup [of wine] whose mixture is of Kafur, A spring of which the [righteous] servants of Allah will drink; they will make it gush forth in force [and abundance]. They [are those who] fulfill [their] vows and fear a Day whose evil will be widespread. And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive, (Al-Insan 76:5-8)
Most notably, Islam urges the release of captives as one of the most remarkable good deeds. Abu Musa reported that the Prophet said, “Free the captives, feed the hungry and pay a visit to the sick.” (Al-Bukhari)
Prophet Muhammad put the above hadith into practice in his lifetime. He released Al-Mustaliq tribe’s captives and prisoners and Malik ibn `Awf’s Hawazin captives and prisoners.
Capture of Women and Children in Islam
While taking women and children captive was permitted in Islam, Muslims were not keen on capturing or enslaving women and children. There were several historic situations where Muslims freed the women and children they took captive. For example, in Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, Muslims set free the captives from Al-Mustaliq and Hawazin tribes.
As for Al-Mustaliq tribe’s captives and prisoners, Ibn Ishaq quoted `A’ishah as relating: “When the Messenger of God divided Al-Mustaliq tribe’s captives, Juwayriah went to someone with whom she agreed to pay for her emancipation. She was so beautiful and pretty that no man would see her without getting captivated by her. She went to the Messenger of God to ask for help (with emancipation). I hated her (for her beauty). She said: ‘O Messenger of God, I am Juwayriah, the daughter of Al-Harith, who was the chieftain of his people. I endure the ordeal you know. Since I agreed to pay for my emancipation, please help me.’ Then, he suggested: ‘What about that is better than that? What if I pay for you and marry you?’ She replied: ‘Ok!’ So, he did. When people knew that, they said: ‘They (Al-Mustaliq) have become the Messenger of God’s in-laws.’ So, they freed Al-Mustaliq tribe’s captives and prisoners they had. By so doing, one hundred families were manumitted. Therefore, I have never known a woman who is more helpful for her people than her.” (Siyar A`lam An-Nubala’)
As for Hawazin tribe’s captives and prisoners, Marwan bin Al-Hakim and Miswar bin Makhrama reported that when Hawazin delegation came to the Messenger of God after they had embraced Islam and requested him to return their property and war prisoners to them, the Messenger of God said, “To me the best talk is the truest, so you may choose either of two things; the war prisoners or the wealth, for I have delayed their distribution.” The Messenger of God had waited for them for over ten days when he returned from Ta’if. So, when those people came to know that the Messenger of God was not going to return to them except one of the two things, they said, “We choose our war prisoners.” Then, the Messenger of God stood up amongst Muslims, and after glorifying God as He deserved, he said, “Now then, these brothers of yours have come to us after repentance, and I see it logical that I should return their captives to them, so whoever of you likes to do that as a favor then he can do it, and whoever amongst you likes to stick to his share, let him give up his prisoners and we will compensate him from the next booties which God will give us.” Thereupon, all people said: ‘O Messenger of God, we have agreed willingly to do so (return the captives)’” (Al-Bukhari)
Kind Treatment for Female Captives in Islam
Islam urges matchlessly kind treatment for female captives. Islam was the earliest faith to command respect and kind treatment for captive women. The first gain captive women got under Islam was their emancipation according to the general command for slave emancipation under Islam (Al-Balad 90:13), not to mention the fact that Islam made slave emancipation an expiation for some sins (Al-Maidah 5:89), (Al-Mujadilah 58:3).
Not only did Islam urge the emancipation of captive women, but it also called for their education, refinement, emancipation and marriage. It offered double reward for that in order to encourage Muslims to do that.
Abu Burda reported on the authority of his father that the Messenger of God said: “Any man who has a slave girl whom he educates properly, teaches good manners, manumits and marries will get a double reward…” (Al-Bukhari)
Prophet Muhammad was a good example to Muslims of how to put the foregoing into practice. He emancipated so many captive women and bondwomen to the extent that about half the mothers of the believers (Prophet Muhammad’s consorts) were originally captive women and bondwomen.
Lady Mary the Copt was a bondwoman with whom Prophet Muhammad was presented by Al-Muqawqis (of Egypt). Juwayriah bint Al-Harith, Saifiyah bint Huyay and Rayhanah bint Zayd had been originally captive women whom Prophet Muhammad emancipated and married, and so they became mothers of the believers.
The captive women emancipated by Prophet Muhammad were not restricted to the mothers of the believers. Rather, the emancipation of some mothers of the believers eventuated in the emancipation of the fellow captives of their tribes.
Moreover, Prophet Muhammad emancipated such captive women whom he did not marry, like Safanah bint Hatem At-Tai’ and the captive women from Hawzin tribe. So, Prophet Muhammad would not emancipate captive women solely to marry them.
Islam made for captive women several ways out of slavery. While Islam calls for their education, refinement, and emancipation for free and then their marriage, it also urges those Muslims who cannot do that to charge a material consideration in return for their emancipation (An-Nur 24:33)
Furthermore, Islam made it incumbent to refrain from sex with captive women for a whole menstrual cycle to make sure they are not pregnant. It also made giving birth to a child from the master by a captive woman automatically conducive to the emancipation of this captive woman. In this case, such a captive woman is called Umm Walad, i.e. “the mother of a child”. So, she becomes disposable no longer, that is to say cannot be sold or in any way given to anyone else.
If neither emancipation with/without compensation nor giving birth to a child from the master is possible, Islam guarantees good lives for captive women thanks to the gains they get under it.
For example, Islam encouraged Muslim men to marry Muslim captive women and bondwomen if they could not afford marriage with free Muslim women and it entitled them to the same rights as free women, including the dowry and seeking their guardians’ permission (An-Nisaa’ 4:25), (Al-Baqarah 2:221).
In clear terms, Islam commanded good treatment for captive women (An-Nisaa’ 4:36). While such good treatment involves countless manifestations and forms, there are certain forms of good treatment which are specifically ordered in Islam, like the prohibition of their exploitation for making money by coercing them into prostitution (An-Nur 24:33) and the call for giving them in marriage if their guardians are unwilling to marry them (An-Nur 24:32).
Out of mercy and compassion for captive women and bondwomen, if they committed punishable offences, they would receive half the punishment free women received (An-Nisaa’ 4:25).
- The Holy Qur’an
- Sahih Al-Bukhari
- Sahih Muslim
- Musand Al-Imam Ahmad
- As-Sirah An-Nabawiyah, by Ibn Ishaq
- Ar-Rahiq Al-Makhtoum, Safi Ad-Din Al-Mubarakfoury, Dar Al-Hilal, Beirut, Lebanon, 1st edition
- Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah
- Abu Bakr As-Siddiq’s Biography, Ali As-Sallaby, p 312
- Tarikh At-Tabarany
- Siyar A`lam An-Nubala’
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