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The Punishment of Those Who Wage War against Muslims

By : Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi

To fight against the Muslims is a greater sin. Amash narrates from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) and Fazl ibn Shaz?n who narrated from Imam ‘Ali Ri?a (a.s.) that Qur’an has clearly mentioned chastisement for this sin and indicated the Shari punishment in Surah al-M?’ida 33-34:

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be exiled; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement, Except those who repent before you have them in your power; so know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Surah al-M?’ida 5:33-34)

In Minhaj it is written that in the 6th year of Hijrah a group from Awniyah and Akal came to Holy Prophet (S) and accepted Islam and stayed on with him (S). But when the climate of Medina did not suit them, they fell sick. The Holy Prophet (S) was informed about their condition and he gave them permission to reside on the outskirts of Medina where camel milk was available in plenty at a place called “Jabalul Eier.” In this way they may stay there for some time and drink the milk and urine of camel to cure their disease and become healthy once more.

They left for the valley and stayed for some time and regained health. One day they hatched a conspiracy and stole 15 camels of the Holy Prophet (S) and returned to their tribe as Murtad (renegades). When the news reached Medina, Yasar, a servant of Holy Prophet (S) chased them with a few people and caught up with them. The two groups fought with each other. Yasar was captured, his hands and legs amputed, and eyes and tongue were pierced with thorns. At last he achieved martyrdom. When the Holy Prophet (S) came to know of this he sent Karbaz bin Jabir after them. He captured all of them and tied their hands and legs and brought them to the Holy Prophet (S). So Allah, the Most High, revealed His words: “The punishment of those who wage war ...” (Surah al-Maidah, 5:33)

There are various other traditions of Imams (a.s.) on this topic with slight differences.

Who is an attacker?

According to the jurists an attacker (Muharib) is one who carries weapons; like sword, spear, dagger, gun, wood, stone etc. to frighten the Muslims and rob them of their wealth or shed their blood. It is immaterial whether he does it alone or with a group of people or whether he succeeds in his aim or not. That is, whether people get frightened or not, or whether he takes their wealth or not, whether he kills them or not, if he carries a weapon he is an attacker. And it makes no difference whether he is on the seas or land, in a city and a crowded place, or in a desert like a wanderer; or whether he carries the weapon during day or at night and whether he enters the Muslims’ houses forcefully and attacks them, in all cases he is a Muharib (attacker)

It is in K?fi that Surat bin Kal?b asked Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) regarding a person who comes out of his house for mosque or any other place and suddenly someone catches him from behind and beats him and snatches his clothes. Imam (a.s.) said such a person is Muharib (attacker) and the verse is applicable to him.
There is no difference if the attacker is a Muslim or a non-Muslim, a man or a woman, is in an Islamic city or non-Islamic area. We should note that ‘attacker’ doesn’t mean that he only fights a war against Muslims. Creating mischief in the land and disturbing peace or spreading fear or using weapons to kill or threaten people makes one an attacker.

In short a Muharib is one who attacks the life and property of Muslims using weapons and one who destroys peace and harmony.

To war against Allah (S.w.T.) and Prophet (S)

In the Qur’anic verses it is said that fighting against Muslim means fighting a war against Allah and Prophet (S). This is due to the respect and high status accorded to Muslims. In fact any dealings with them are like dealings with Allah (S.w.T.) and Prophet (S). This is because they are connected with Allah (S.w.T.). It is also possible that it is so because Muslims are closely linked with Allah (S.w.T.) through the Prophet and to cause harm to Muslims or to take away their property or shed their blood is prohibited by Allah (S.w.T.) and His Prophet (S). Whoever acts against the divine command is an attacker (who has fought against Allah (S.w.T.) and Prophet).

Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) said :

"Allah (S.w.T.) says: One who hurts My believing servant has declared war against Me, and one who respects a believer has secured himself from My wrath." (K?fi vol. 2, page. 350)

He also said :

“Whoever humiliates my friend has openly waged war against me.” (K?fi vol. 2, page. 352)

Punishment for a Muharib

As mentioned in the above verse one of the following four punishments may be accorded: to kill, to crucify, to cut off hands and legs, or to exile the attacker/s from the city.

In Burhan Qur’an page. 188 it is mentioned that according to religious terminology ‘attacker’ refers to a person who frightens people, creates inconvenience in a city or desert, whether he is weak or strong, a man or a woman. In all cases such a person is a Muharib (attacker) and when the attack is directed against Muslims according to Qur’an it is equivalent to waging war against Allah (S.w.T.) and Prophet (S) and Qur’an says regarding it,

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement (Surah al-Maidah 5:33)

After this verse the above book says: Respected readers! At this juncture let us examine the false allegation of the modernized liberal people who say that the penal code of Islam is barbarous. Why is it that these people have reserved their sympathy and emotional feelings for murderers and robbers. Why is it that they do not sympathise with the victims of these cruel people? In most cases the victims are women and children, who are targeted by these beasts. Is there any difference in exterminating such elements to preserve peace and harmony with the destruction of germs to guard the society from deadly diseases? Would any sane person criticise a doctor for being cruel if he kills the disease germs with an injection? There is no doubt that every fair person would consider this a mercy for the society and an act of justice. It is also necessary to mention that the Merciful Maker of Islamic Law has not overlooked mercy and beneficence even with regard to a criminal offence.

In Tafs?r Majmaul Bayan under the explanation of the concerned verse is a narration from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) that the punishment of an attacker is according to the seriousness of his crime. If he has committed a murder he is put to death, and if in addition to murder he has plundered wealth, he is first executed and then crucified. If only wealth is plundered without killing anyone, his punishment is severing of hands and legs. If his crime was to spread unrest, or to waylay people, his punishment is exile. This tradition clearly states that the law of Islam has prescribed punishment of an attacker according to the enormity of his sin and this itself shows mercy to a criminal. Moreover Islam has not restricted itself to this beneficence but also stipulated that if the attacker repents before being caught, he is exempted from punishment. He is only responsible for the property he has stolen. And Surah al-M?’ida verse-34 proves this.

On page 185 it is mentioned that the aim of heavenly law for human society is that the five basic and important things like life, faith, wealth, lineage and honour of people should be protected from any attack. An attack on these five basics can result in war and bloodshed. There is no doubt that such discipline cannot be accomplished with orders and prohibitions (Amr and Nahy) alone. The only effective deterrent is the fear of punishment.

The great Muslim philosopher, Abu Raih?n Biruni in the book Tahq?q Ma Lil hind writes that according to Hindu and Christian beliefs, violence of any kind should be avoided and criminals should be dealt with lenient methods. According to them the philosophy of offering the other cheek, and praying for the forgiveness of the evil doers is more effective in reforming them. But practical experience shows that not everyone is impressed with this philosophical attitude and most criminals can only be compelled to avoid evil through fear of strict punishment. The following verse gives the Islamic thoughts regarding retaliation:

And there is life for you in (the law of) retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may guard yourselves (Surah al-Baqarah 2:179)

This verse is addressed to the men of intellects who are concerned about the hereafter and who are aware of the value of this life. The verse says that human life and society is related to law of retaliation. Knowing the precise nature of punishment prescribed for a particular crime acts as a deterrent for committing it. Islam has specified penalties for serious crimes like murder, adultery, stealing, fighting, drinking, apostasy which are responsible for the decadence and destruction of civilisations. Whereas there is no prescribed punishment for minor crimes and it is left at the discretion of the judge (H?kim al-shar?). He bases his judgement according to the circumstances and other factors related to the criminal. (End of quotation from Burh?n al-Qur’an)

The philosophy of retaliation is further explained as follows: Life is balanced by discrimination between good and evil and Allah (S.w.T.)’s law of balance has to be observed and enforced. Therefore the guilty should be punished and the people against whom the crime has been committed should know what punishment has been given and how it is carried out. In this way the boundaries of transgression are clearly marked and made known.

The details regarding the penal code are mentioned in the traditions. Regarding this there is a tradition in al-K?fi narrated from Umr? bin Uthman Madayani that Imam ‘Ali Ri?a (a.s.) was asked regarding the 33-34 verses of Surah al-M?’ida as to which crimes make one liable for above-mentioned four penalties. Imam (a.s.) said that when one wars against Allah (S.w.T.) and His Prophet (S), spreads mischief in the land, kills someone and plunders his wealth, he is to be killed and crucified. If he robs people without killing his right hand and left leg or left hand and right leg should be cut off. If he takes up weapons to war against Allah (S.w.T.) and His Prophet and try to spread mischief in the land but doesn’t kill anybody nor plunders any wealth he should be exiled.

Imam (a.s.) was asked how such people can be exiled he (a.s.) said: He shall be expelled from the city where he has committed the crime and sent to another town and the people of that city should be informed that this is an exiled person. They must not associate with him or have any dealings with him, nor should they eat or drink with him. This should continue for a year.

As in our age these penalties are not implemented, it is not necessary to dwell into the details and narrate more traditions on this topic.

When a Muharib (attacker) repents sincerely before being arrested the above-mentioned penalties are not applicable for him. If he is in possession of plundered wealth it should be returned to its rightful owner. If he has committed a murder, the law of retaliation should be applied, except in the case where the victim of the crime himself pardons him.

Defending from robbers

An armed robber is the same as an attacker (Muharib) and the owner of wealth has the right to defend himself. If in this engagement the robber is killed no compensation is payable. If protecting some property is Wajib or if the robber attacks the honour then it is Wajib to defend to ones utmost capacity except if there is risk of losing ones life. If the thief has the intention of killing it is Wajib for the owner of the property to defend himself. If it is not possible he should flee or hide himself or use any other way so that his life is protected and if it is the case of a thief without weapon then too the thief is a Muharib (attacker). So whatever rule is prescribed for armed robber will also apply to him except that the penalty of Muharib is not applicable to him. If all the conditions of an attacker are found in the thief then the full penalty will be accorded to him, and if all conditions are not found, then only exemplary punishment should be given to discipline him. Such a robber is “Mustalib” (one who openly loots people and runs away) or “Mukhtalis” (One who steals quietly). The religious jurist (Hakim al-Shara) is authorized to award whatever punishment he considers suitable. The thief could be beaten or imprisoned.

A man snatched an earring from the ear of a girl and ran away. He was presented before ‘Ali (a.s.). ‘Ali (a.s.) said: His stealing and robbery is apparent and not hidden from people, therefore the penalty for stealing, that is cutting of hand, cannot be applied to him; rather he should be beaten and given exemplary punishment. Therefore he was beaten and imprisoned. The third kind is “mukht?l” means one who betrays and in a tricky manner takes away the wealth of someone. Like faking certificates to trick people into parting with their wealth. It is necessary that all such people be punished with exemplary punishment.

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