The Islamic Verdict on Hostages

In times of war, Islamic law permits the taking of hostages from the enemy camp and they can be: released, ransomed or punished appropriately. Ideally, the choice exercised should be taken in the interest of Islam and the immediate community concerned. However, the Muslims will be constrained and influenced by two external factors. First of all, the behaviour of the enemies with regards to how they are treating the Muslim prisoners and conducting the war in general; secondly, the military capability of the Muslims in comparison to their enemies.

The first two options of releasing the prisoners or ransoming them for a price are not disputed. But the latter category of punishing the prisoners has caused some level of controversy due to the recent abduction of foreigners by the Iraqi resistance. Many of the Muslims, in particular the moderate brigades, unfortunately, even some of the so-called radical groups have capitulated to the media generated pressure around them have started to issue erroneous verdict on the matter, that, not only contradicts Islam but common sense.

They have adopted the language of these belligerent aggressors by exclusively condemning the abduction of a small number of foreigners by the Iraqi resistance. Whilst remaining mute on the thousands of innocent civilians taken as hostage from their homes. They are subsequently tortured, abused, and some have even been murdered. The abductions of the foreign and Iraqi hostages are certainly related like married couples, even though the media pretends, that, they are divorced!

Just to digress a little –” it is worthwhile noting the use of the word ‘foreign’ with regards to the Iraqi resistance. Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi from Jordan, across the artificial colonial installed border, sharing the same blood, culture, language and religion is a foreigner according to the occupying forces! So, who are the Australians and the Americans that have come from thousands of miles way across the ocean? Do they hold the Iraqi Green-Card issued by the former CIA operative Iyad Allawi? We certainly do not hear the Iraqis referring to the small number of Arabs/Muslims who have come across the border to aid the Iraqi resistance as foreigners: to the contrary how could they operate without the approval of the indigenous Iraqis?

Let us first examine the evidences pertaining to the permissibility to punish and execute prisoners of war. One should bear in mind that in Islamic law, there are mandatory obligations and prohibitions. And between these two rigid points, lies what is permitted, a matter of choice, to be selected as the best option on what should be done.

Islamic Evidence

Muslims are generally encouraged to treat the prisoners well; there are sayings (Hadiths) of the Prophet (SAW) on this matter. And he said, treat the prisoners well. The companions (Sahabas) of the Prophet (SAW) used to feed the prisoners with better food before feeding themselves. There are numerous incidences of where Muslims have released captives unharmed or for a very small price. No torture or humiliation was exercised over them.

Indeed, the Taliban treated the prisoners far better than the US forces reciprocated. They mass murdered the prisoners with their hands tied behind their backs, as was reported by Robert Fisk of the Independent along with pictures. Similarly, prior to the gruesome revelations of Abu-Ghraib, the Muslims did not behead the hostages; they treated their prisoners far better, given that the Iraqis are the real victims in defending their lands. Recently the two Italian women released from captivity also confirmed the good treatment by their open support for the Iraqi resistance.

However, the issue of treating the prisoners well is not an absolute decisive command but an advice. Furthermore there are other evidences that show the permissibility to execute prisoners of war they are elaborated below.

a). Battle of Badr

After the battle of Badr, the Muslims acquired prisoners of war. Some of the companions of the Prophet (Sahabas) were inclined to ransom them for money whilst others took the more stern view, that, they should be executed. The Prophet (SAW) opted for the lenient option. However, it was the latter point of view that was upheld by the revelation, meaning that, execution was not only permitted but in this instance the preferred thing to do.

“It is not fitting for an Apostle (Muhammad) that he should have prisoners of war, until he has thoroughly subdued the land. You look on the temporal goods of this world but Allah (SWT) looks to the hereafter” (8:67)

Another incidence after Badr was the capture of the notorious Umayah ibn Khalaf and his son; they were the owners and torturers of Bilal (RA). When Bilal (RA) spotted them as prisoners of Abdul Rahman bin Auf (RA), he with the help of the residents of Medina (Ansars) cut the two prisoners to pieces for their earlier belligerent activity. Similar punishment was given to the tortures of Abu-Ghraib in Fallujah for their heinous crime! The Prophet (SAW) did not rebuke the action of Bilal therefore consented to the execution of these prisoners of war.

The Prophet also have ordered the execution of three prisoners of Badr by the name of Ruqba bin Abi Muwayed, Nadr bin Harith, Tuima bin Adiee, another clear evidence of the permissibility to execute the Prisoners of war.

b). The incident with the Jewish tribe of Banu-Quraiza

The tribe of Banu-Quraiza committed treachery against the Muslims; they were taken as captives and all the adult men were put to death, around 600 men. Note, all of the adult male captives were slain not just those who committed the breach. Why? Because, they were engaged with the Muslims as a nation hence punished as a nation.

c). The Quran

Apart from the abovementioned verse (8:67), the chapter of Muhammad (47:4) also alludes to the permissibility or in this case recommendation to execute prisoners of war. It states:

“Therefore, when you meet (battlefields) the unbelievers smite their necks; At length, when you have thoroughly subdued them bind (the captives) firmly: therefore either Generosity or ransom: until the war lays down its burden.” (47:4)

Here, the verse clearly recommending the execution of prisoners until the Muslims have the upper hand. Then, they are encouraged to either set them free or ransom them. The use of the word “smite their necks” (Darab ar-Riqab) refers to execution as oppose to the general killing in the battlefields mentioned in the other verse where it uses the word “Qatil”

There are other evidences but the abovementioned evidences should suffice to prove the point that the Muslims have the three options in dealing with the prisoners of war. In general, they should treat the prisoners well but at certain times, harsh measures may be more suitable and necessary. These situations arise primarily due to the circumstances imposed upon the Muslims, as stated earlier the treatment of prisoners will be influenced by the behaviour of the enemy and the huge disparity in the military capability between the Muslims and non-Muslims. Hence let us briefly examine these external factors.

External Factors

Moazzam Begg, the British captive held at Guantanamo Bay, who was originally kidnapped from Pakistan by the US, has clearly stated in his letter about the use of torture, abuse, and other forms of violations. He has even witnessed the torturing of prisoners to death by the US authority. The Iraqis and the world have already witnessed the inhuman brutality of the US soldiers in Abu-Ghraib. Where even young boys and girls were subjected to rape, sodomy, torture and other forms of sexual perversion that is definitely ‘foreign’ to the Arab/Islamic culture. It certainly does not come from ‘foreigners’ like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!

Seymour Hersh revealed that young Iraqi boys were sodomised and shrieking whilst they were being filmed as souvenirs for their friends and relatives back at home. Speaks volume about these subhumans, exhibiting a behaviour that is worse than animals! When the Pentagon showed the pictures and videos, implicit references were made to executions and Necrophilia committed by the US soldiers. If this were not an American phenomenon, why else did Arnold Schwarzenegger recently abolish Necrophilia in California?

The abuse is not confined to Abu-Ghraib. Recent investigations by American legal investigators [1] have once again showed that torture and rape is rampant throughout the U.S.-run prison system in Iraq. Such incidences are still occurring. Proving the point that Abu-Ghraib was only a sample of what was caught on camera, the real horror is much greater.

Therefore, the Iraqis are entitled to inflict equivalent punishment on the non-Muslims prisoners in retaliation and as a means to deter the enemy from abusing the Iraqi prisoners. Here too, the Muslims have excelled. Beheading a handful of captives is far less painful than being tortured to death as acknowledged by Nick Bergs father. Even the degrading sexual torture can be worse than beheading.

However, that only applies to those who have some degree of self-respect and honour. Sexual abuse inflicted on Lyndie England unlikely to constitute punishment but rather a kind of titillation. Indeed, such examples highlight that Islam is indeed very different from the secular fanaticism of ‘freedom’!

The US forces have also used heavy weapons in civilian populated areas without any regards for their life. If the US truly wanted to minimise civilian casualties why their ‘brave’ and well-equipped soldiers could not engage in a hand-to-hand combat? Incineration and beheading by the use of high-tech weapons entitles the Iraqi resistance to behead and dismember the captives who are party to the conflict, directly or indirectly.

Even if the US forces treated the Muslim prisoners well, the Iraqi resistance would still be entitled to execute their prisoners or resort to other harsh measures as they have been invaded. Hence, it could be used as a form of deterrence and retribution. Furthermore, given the huge disparity between the US firepower and the Iraqi resistance, they are naturally entitled to use such means to defend themselves.

In addition to common sense, there is the general permission in Islamic law to widen the scope of permissibility in order to survive, provided it is a legitimate action of self-defence which is not disputed in the case of Iraq.

Many have argued, that, politically and militarily it is better to restrict the target to the combatants. Of course, nobody disputes this but due to the vast disparity between the Iraqi resistance and the US forces, their options are very limited.

Status of non-Combatants

This brings us to the final argument about who is a non-combatant. Some people have argued civilian contractors and charity workers are not legitimate targets. Many of these people have entered Iraq under the flag of the US, who is an illegal occupier. Even the UN Secretary has endorsed this point as he admitted, that the war was a violation of the UN Charter. Thus, the non-combatants have entered without any covenant with the Iraqi people, as there is no legitimate Iraqi authority. If the non-combatants have come under the US flag then they come as part of the aggressor party.

In any case, most of these non-combatants are mercenaries not on charitable missions. Like vultures, they are making quick profit in exchange for the stolen (‘mismanaged’) Iraqi oil, Iraqi lives and their blood. And they are helping the US forces directly or indirectly; hence they are part of them.

The Prophet (SAW) took hostage a man from the tribe of Uqail because of his alliance with the belligerent tribe of Thaqeef. Even though Uqail was not a combatant. This is a clear evidence to show that allied nations or those assisting the combatants, even if it is indirectly are treated the same way.

Finally, why should Muslims distinguish in taking only combatants when the Americans are clearly not doing this! The US has incarcerated many innocent civilians, including old men and children. Some were subsequently released as evidence of their innocence. Since, one is held without charge, it must be presumed that the detainee is innocent – that is if you believe another one of the masks of democracy “innocent until proven guilty”, which is a mask that is pealing off rapidly.

At present, many of the Muslims and non-Muslims are exhibiting double standards, fostered by the mass media. So, they can’t stomach the beheadings of a few hostages done in retaliation but they are ready to tolerate the beheadings, incineration and much more of thousands of Iraqis using high-tech equipments. Even the deliberate torturing to death of prisoners in US custody is somehow appears to be more palatable than beheadings!