Biography of the Prophet Muhammad by Sir Zafrulla Khan: In Defense of the Defensive Wars


And we sent you Muhammad, but as mercy for all people of the world. (Al Quran 21:107)

The mosque of Medina first built by the Prophet Muhammad himself

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Sir Zafrulla Khan was a polymath and one of the best legal minds of the last century. He became the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan and took office in 1947.

He served concurrently as leader of Pakistan’s delegation to the UN (1947–54). From 1954 to 1961 he served as a member of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He again represented Pakistan at the UN in 1961–64 and served as president of the UN General Assembly in 1962–63. Returning to the International Court of Justice in 1964, he served as the court’s president from 1970 to 1973.

He wrote a wonderful biography of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him.

The chapter number six of the biography is titled Regulation of Fighting and in it, the author nicely articulates a defense of all the defensive wars fought during the life time of the Prophet Muhammad. This is how the chapter starts:

In Medina the Muslims found themselves in a very precarious and unenviable situation. Their security was threatened not only by Quraysh, who had put a price on the head of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, and had followed this up by serving an ultimatum, through Abdullah bin Ubayy, that unless the Holy Prophet was expelled from Medina, they would invade Medina in full strength and slaughter all the men in it and enslave all the women; but they were not secure against the machinations of the disaffected in Medina, and had to be wary of the Jews. Quraish had declared war upon the Holy Prophet and the Muslims and all those who might support them. The state of war thus initiated continued over six years and was interrupted only by the Truce of Hudaibiyya in the sixth year. Less than two years later Quraish committed a glaring breach of the Truce and hostilities broke out again which were terminated only when the greater part of the peninsula had acknowledged the supremacy of the Islamic state and had submitted to it.

In view of the ultimatum of Quraish, the Muslims were accorded divine permission to take up arms in their defence and in the defence of their faith:

‘Permission to fight is granted to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged, and Allah indeed has the power to help them. They are those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly only because they affirmed: Our Lord is Allah. If Allah did not repel the aggression of some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated, would surely be destroyed. Allah will surely help him who helps His cause; Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty. If We establish these persecuted ones in the earth, they will observe Prayer and pay the Zakat, and enjoin good and forbid evil. With Allah rests the final issue of all affairs (22:40-2).

‘If Allah were not to repel a section of mankind by another, the earth would be filled with disorder, but Allah is full of bounty towards all peoples (2:252).’

It must be appreciated, however, that Islam regards war as an abnormal and destructive activity, to which recourse can be had only in the last resort. The Holy Quran describes war as a conflagration, and declares that it is God’s purpose to put out such a conflagration whenever it erupts, meaning that when war becomes inevitable it should be so waged as to cause the least possible amount of damage to life and property; and that hostilities should be brought to a close as quickly as possible, as is said: ‘Whenever they kindle a fire for war, Allah extinguishes it. They strive to create disorder in the earth and Allah loves not those who create disorder’ (5:65).

Fighting is permissible only to repel or halt aggression. But even in the course of such fighting, Muslims are not permitted any transgression; as is said: ‘Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely Allah loves not the transgressors’ (2:191).

It is repeatedly stressed that the object of any fighting forced upon Muslims should be to put down aggression and persecution, for persecution is worse than killing. During the course of fighting, all customary restrictions and limitations must be observed except when the enemy fails to observe them; in which case Muslims may forego them also, but only to the extent to which the enemy dispenses with them (2:192). Should the enemy desist from the fighting, the Muslims should do likewise, for Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful (2:193). When freedom from persecution is secured, fighting should be brought to an end, as is said: ‘Fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is freely professed for the sake of Allah alone’; but even this is subject to the enemy continuing the fight, as is said: ‘if they desist, then remember that no hostility is permitted except against the aggressors’ (2:194).

Should war become unavoidable, every effort must be made to limit its mischief and horror and to bring hostilities to a close as early as possible. Savage practices like disfiguring the enemy dead and torturing prisoners of war, which were common in pre-Islamic Arabia, are prohibited altogether in Islam. With regard to customs and practices not in themselves barbaric or revolting, the principle laid down is that the Muslims might extend reciprocal treatment to the enemy, and might retaliate to the extent to which an injury or a wrong is inflicted upon them, but that the better part would be to endure and to forgive (16:127).

Permission to take up arms in defence was granted, but so far as numbers and material resources were concerned, the Muslims were at a fearful disadvantage vis-a-vis Quraish, who did not stand alone, but taking advantage of the prestige that they enjoyed as guardians of the Ka’aba and the influence that they exercised by virtue of their handling the trade between the east and the north and the north-west, constantly incited the tribes against Islam and the Muslims. The latter were only a small community in Medina, not more than a few hundreds, and of material resources they possessed none. They were in no position to take the field against an enemy as powerful as Quraish.

Read the whole biography online:

Additional reading on this theme

Defensive War in the Holy Quran in 600 Words

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