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What Is The Islamic View of Collateral Damage?

07 February, 2017
Q I recently read a study that said that Americans and British people thought that collateral damage was an acceptable part of war. But Muslims in those countries were less likely to find this acceptable. So, what is the Islamic concept of collateral damage if there is one?


Salam (Peace) John,

Thank you for your question.

The very literal meaning of Islam is peace and submission. A Muslim is a person who submits peacefully and willingly to God. Islam came to establish peace on earth.

Islam strives to make people at peace with God, with nature, and with themselves.

Of the basic teachings of Islam are peace and order. Islam calls for justice for all people regardless of their color, race, and different backgrounds.

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Islam seeks to refrain from using force as much as possible. Shedding blood is prohibited in Islam. The Quran makes it clear that:

{Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.} (Quran 5:32)

War is an exceptional case in Islam. Peace is the norm. Muslims fight those who fight them. Muslims do not initiate a war. Muslims fight to establish justice and to stop oppression.

We read in the Quran:

{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 .” […]} (Quran 22:39-40)

If war is the last resort, then Islam laid down rules and regulations that have to be applied strictly. We read in the Quran what means:

{Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.} (Quran 2:190)

If American and British people think that collateral damage is an acceptable part of war, Islam does not see it this way.

If the non-combatants support those against whom war is waged and it happens that they are captured, they are called POWs (prisoners of war). There are certain rulings pertaining to POWs.

They are to be treated gently and kindly. They are not to be beheaded or tortured. The following narration explains how the Prophet dealt with captives of war:

When the delegates of the tribe of Hawazin came to the Prophet and they requested him to return their properties and captives. The Prophet stood up and said to them:

I have other people with me in this matter (as you see) and the most beloved statement to me is the true one; you may choose either the properties or the prisoners as I have delayed their distribution.” The Prophet had waited for them for more than ten days since his arrival from Ta’if. So, when it became evident to them that the Prophet was not going to return them except one of the two, they said, “We choose our prisoners.” The Prophet got up amongst the people and glorified and praised Allah as He deserved and said, “[…] So, whoever amongst you likes to do that as a favor, then he can do it, and whoever of you likes to stick to his share till we recompense him from the very first war booty which Allah will give us, then he can do so (i.e. give up the present captives).” The people unanimously said, “We do that (return the captives) willingly.” […] (Al-Bukhari)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have given these instructions to Muslim when they go to war:

    1. Do not destroy fruit trees nor fertile fields in your paths.
    2. Be just, and spare the feelings of the vanquished.
    3. Respect all religious persons who live in hermitages or convents and spare their edifices.
    4. Do not kill civilians.
    5. Do not outrage the chastity of women and the honor of conquered.
    6. Do not harm old people and children.
    7. Do not accept any gifts from the civil population of any place.
    8. Do not billet [house] your soldiers or officers in the houses of civilians. (Andrew Miller, Miller’s Church History from First to Twentieth Century, 285)

In one of the battles, the Prophet saw a woman from the enemy, who did not look like a fighter, lying dead in the middle of a battleground, he was enraged and said in anger to his own Companions:

Why was she killed? She was not a fighter!

War in Islam is a means not an objective. We read in the Quran:

{O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.} (Quran 2:208)

Muslims should judge people by their actions not their intentions. It is narrated that a companion of the Prophet asked him:

If I encountered a person amongst the infidels (in the battlefield) and he attacked me and struck me and cut off one of my hands with the sword. Then he (in order to protect himself from me) took shelter of a tree and said: I become Muslim for Allah’s sake. Messenger of Allah, can I kill him after he had uttered this? The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Do not kill him. I (the narrator) said: Messenger of Allah, he cut off my hand and uttered this after amputating it; should I then kill him? The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Don’t kill him, for if you kill him, verily he would be in a position where you had been before killing him and verily you would be in a position where he had been before uttering (kalimah). (Muslim)

Killing civilians will not lead to a positive outcome for the transgressing army. There is simply no justification for killing innocent people.

I hope this answers your question.

Please keep in touch. Salam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Muslim Scholars Refute ISIL’s Ideology (Folder)

ISIL & Islamic Ethics of War

Bombing Innocents: IUMS’s Statement

Does Islam Promote Killing Innocent People?