Moral Obligations And Etiquettes Of A Muslim Army

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Terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) are the buzzwords of the new millennia. One is inundated with these terms on mainstream media, within the field of academia and in the political arena. Why are these phrases mentioned so frequently, dissected in such minutiae and intimately linked to the religion of Islām?

Since the coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 federal governments, security agencies and police departments throughout the western world have sought to insulate their communities from further terrorist acts. As such, funding to counter-terrorism (CT) think-tanks and academics studying religious extremism has increased exponentially. Hall (2013) argues that SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) units in the United States militarized at both state and local law enforcement agency levels due to the ‘war on drugs’ in the 1980s and the ‘war on terror’ in the 2000s (p. 487). CT has thus become a major industry in large part due to violence linked to disgruntled Muslims acting in the name of Islām.

Geneva Convention

The Geneva Convention has been credited with enshrining humanitarian rights for both combatants and non-combatants during times of war. This pact was the culmination of a series of diplomatic meetings and treaties which stipulated minimum protections for captured military personnel, wounded soldiers, chaplains, medical staff and civilians. However, many contemporary historians fail to acknowledge that Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq (رضي الله عنه), the first caliph of Islām and close companion of prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ), had already laid down these foundations regarding military conduct 1400 years previously. Whilst this contribution may be ignored by many in the west it can’t be erased from the various texts documenting early Islāmic history.

Abū Bakr Al-Ṣiddīq’s (رضي الله عنه) Golden Advice

This influential ṣaḥābah (companion of the prophet ﷺ), whose legacy has been documented in the various books of sīrah (prophetic biography), was bestowed the epithet al-Ṣiddīq (the Truthful). Evidence for this is found in the statement of Muḥammad (ﷺ), “O Uhud! Be firm, for on you there is none but a Prophet, a Siddiq and two martyrs' (Hadith #3686, Book 62, Chapter 6) (Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī), with the two martyrs being ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb and Uthmān ibn ‘Affān (both whom were later assassinated) and Abū Bakr (رضي الله عنهم) being the Ṣiddīq.

Abū Bakr (رضي الله عنه) was an experienced veteran of several military campaigns during the lifetime of the prophet (ﷺ). As such he was able to combine real-life combat experience with his knowledge of the Sunnah to lay down a number of moral obligations a Muslim army must abide by during scouting expeditions, skirmishes and battles.

The truthfulness of Abū Bakr (رضي الله عنه) was perfectly conveyed in the policy he dictated as caliph regarding military engagement. These instructions were conferred upon Usāma ibn Zayd (رضي الله عنه) when he set out as leader of an armed contingent sent to Syria to engage the Byzantines. As cited by Najeebabadi (2000) the caliph outlined a ten-point policy of engagement that prohibited the Muslims from the following, namely: stealing, lying, breaching the trust, killing non-combatants, destroying fruit bearing plants and trees, slaughtering livestock other than for consumption and disrespecting the inhabitants of the lands they entered. It also exhorted the Muslim army to give da‘wah (proselytize) to those they encountered, to say the basmalah (invoking Allāh سبحانه وتعالى) before eating or drinking and to respect the sanctity of churches and synagogues and those who sought refuge in them (p. 279).

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Clearly the exhortations of Abū Bakr (رضي الله عنه) were the fore-runner to the Geneva Convention. This policy wasn’t just mere words, it was enacted immediately and applied in the field by the army of Usāma ibn Zayd (رضي الله عنه) over a millennia ago. With this in mind it is exasperating that this precedent, a shining example in the realm of military engagement, has not been embraced by modern state militaries and Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs).

Lack of Morality - NSAGs

The aforementioned precedent is one that state sanctioned militaries, resistance groups and militias must strive to adopt. What is very disappointing, particularly in the Muslim world, is the rise of NSAGs such as Al-Qāʿidah (AQ) and the Islāmic State of Iraq and Shām (ISIS) and their modus operandi agitating for political change. These groups do not abide by the standard set by the ṣaḥābah, rather they engage in acts of terrorism against the civilian population e.g. the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by AQ in 1998 and the lone wolf terrorist attacks carried out in Europe and North America linked to ISIS since 2014.

The NSAGs mentioned above lack morality, bring shame to the ummah (nation of believers), have increased the scrutiny of Muslims and their institutions by intelligence agencies, legitimized the occupation of Muslim lands and provided ammunition for right-wing nationalists to unfairly criticize Muslim citizens of western nations. However, to single out these rogue groups without mentioning the carnage wrought by state actors would be unjust and deceitful.

Lack of Morality – State Sanctioned Militaries

The enshrinement of humanitarian rights by the Geneva Convention, as they relate to war, was precipitated by major military confrontations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The large-scale devastation of civil infrastructure and loss of life during World Wars I and II mired

Europe in economic hardship and social malaise. The allied bombing of Dresden, Germany and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan by the United States (US) in WWII caused colossal civilian casualties. History was to repeat itself when the ‘coalition of the willing’ invaded Iraq in the early 2000s based on a concocted narrative of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

The theatre of war has moved from Europe and the Pacific (WWII) to the middle-east allowing the United States to pursue its ‘war on terror’. The Physicians for Global Survival (PGS), Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) released a publication (2015) which claimed that the number of casualties in Iraq by the end of 2006 may have possibly been as high as 940 000 (p. 28) and that deaths in Afghanistan reached approximately 200,000 by the end of 2013 (p. 78). With US intervention also wreaking havoc in Libya and Syria the number of casualties from the ‘war on terror’ will only increase.

Thus, whilst NSAGs such as AQ and ISIS have engaged in terrorism against civilians clearly this pales in comparison to the frequency and magnitude of those acts perpetrated by the United States and its allies since the turn of the 21st century. Western nations and their armed forces should take heed of Abū Bakr’s (رضي الله عنه) approach to military engagements. War will always be a part of the history of mankind, yet in this day and age of precision munitions surely collateral damage to civilians could be vastly reduced.


  1. Al-Bukhari, M. (1997). The Translation of the Meanings of Sahīh Al-Bukhāri Arabic-English (Vol. 5, 1st ed.) (M. Khan, Trans., S.N. Al-Ubaydī, Rev., M.H. Nasr, Rev., M.T. Al-Hilalī, Rev., A. Mujahid, Sup.). Retrieved from Bukhari%20Vol.%205%20-%203649-4473.pdf
  2. Hall, A. R., & Coyne, C.J. (2013). The Militarization of U.S. Domestic Policing. The Independent Review, 17(4), 485 – 504. Retrieved from
  3. ajeebabadi, A.S. (2000). The History of Islam (Volume 1.). (R.J. Manderola, Ed., M.T. Salafi, 99 Ed., S. Mubarakpuri, Rev., A. Mujahid, Sup.). Retrieved from 99
  4. [Physicians for Global Survival, Physicians for Social Responsibility, International Physicians for 99 the Prevention of Nuclear War. (2015). Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the 99 ‘War on Terror’ Iraq Afghanistan Pakistan (Ist international edition) (J. Wagner, Ed., A. 99 99 Fathollah-Nejad, Trans.). Retrieved from 999-- 000-999content/uploads//2018/05/body-count.pdf
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