By the seventh day of war, Israel had already dropped 6,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip. Entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble. Thousands of Palestinians, including children, have been killed, and the death toll continues to increase.
Sewage systems have been destroyed, leading to wastewater collecting in the streets. Cemeteries have become too dangerous to reach, so families mourning their deceased relatives have nowhere to bury them. Hospitals have run out of power and medical supplies. Amputations have had to take place without anaesthetic, newborns in incubators are at risk of immediate death, procedures are having to take place using only the light from mobile phones.
More recently, while Israel launched its ground invasion, they disconnected all internet and phone communications. Acts of horror have been perpetrated under the cover of darkness, with no way of contacting those trapped amidst Israeli bombardment.
Such acts have not stopped.
In fact, there are no words to describe the brutality and barbarism of this campaign by Israel, which they regard as a response to attacks by Hamas on October 7th. However, this response has already killed vast numbers more Palestinians than Israelis that died at the hands of Hamas.
The office of the Israeli Prime Minister posted on X (formally Twitter) that Israel’s conflict is a “struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle.” Despite deleting the tweet, the speech stands proudly on their government website. Such rhetoric provides justification for the Israeli government to treat its opponents however it likes — because it is fighting individuals who are, in their mind, sub-human. According to this mindset therefore, the life of an Israeli child ‘of light’ is therefore worth more than the life of a Palestinian child, who lives only according to the ‘law of the jungle.’ Even if Israel performs evil actions therefore, they are, by definition ‘good,’ fighting against ‘evil.’
Two Palestinian children trying to maintain happiness amidst bombardment
The Western Response
Almost every Western leader has expressed near-unequivocal support for Israel over recent weeks. US President Joe Biden has asked Congress for a staggering $105 billion for assistance for Ukraine and Israel. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby reported that, “We’re not drawing red lines for Israel. We continue to support their security needs. That will continue.”
The US Secretary of State’s message was of a similar nature:
“The message that I bring to Israel is this: You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself, but as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to. We will always be there by your side,”Anthony Blinken
In other words, Israel has complete, unconditional permission to do whatever it wills, to kill as many civilians as it ‘needs to,’ to destroy buildings and towns to rubble, to starve and bombard the Palestinian population. There are no rules, only endorsements. There are no limits, only endless words of encouragement and financial support.
Oliver Dowden, a UK Cabinet minister, even defended Israel’s bombardment of a refugee camp, describing the act as being simply ‘part of the reality of the conflict.’
After all, as Noam Chomsky once said:
‘When they do it it’s terrorism, when we do it, it’s counter-terrorism.’
The Islamic Perspective on Retaliation
While Western governments urge on Israel to commit increasingly severe and barbaric acts of terror against the Palestinian civilian population, the Islamic response to such situations promotes the highest levels of human decency and morality.
“The recompense of an injury is a penalty in proportion thereto; but whoso forgives and effects a reform thereby has his reward with Allah. Surely He loves not the wrongdoers.”Quran 42:41
“If you desire to exact retribution, then adjust the penalty to the wrong you have suffered, but if you endure with fortitude, that surely is best for the steadfast.”Quran 16:126
In essence, Islam permits retaliation only to the degree that a person or group have been wronged, but forbids exceeding these limits. Any murder of civilians is inherently disproportionate as they are illegitimate targets of retaliation.
Moreover, while permitting retaliation within the confines of true proportionality, the Quran emphasises the consideration of forgiveness wherever possible. While forgiveness is not always prudent in times of war, the concept of never punishing an opposing force beyond what they have inflicted is both necessary and vital to stop escalations from taking place. And even if some level of retaliation is required, no civilians should ever be targeted or killed.
If Israel had incorporated this strategy, or Western leaders, governments, or media organisations, had put pressure on Israel to do this, then far fewer innocent people would have died.
Furthermore, with Israel’s current determination to seemingly destroy huge parts of Gaza, their disproportionate actions could well cause this war to escalate. Other nations such as Turkey, Lebanon or Iran, may well become aggrieved at the injustice, and raise armies themselves to defend the Palestinian people. Even an ultimate escalation to a world war is very possible. An Islamic approach to retaliation would undoubtedly have mitigated against this.
As an aside, while large numbers of Christian politicians in the USA unequivocally support Israel in their current military action, the below Christian doctrine on retaliation as taught by Jesus Christ is vastly different:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”Matthew 5:38-40
In this context, it is interesting however that prominent Christians are willing to endorse Israel’s disproportionately severe response to the attacks upon them, while at the same time regarding Jesus as their Universal Saviour and Guide. The fact that they do not utilise the teaching of ‘do not resist an evil person,’ either shows that they are betraying their faith, or that their faith is inapplicable to current times.
If the latter is true, then they should perhaps consider why their religion does not provide them with an adequate framework and set of principles by which to live their lives.
Netanyahu’s ‘Holy War’
When Benjamin Netanyahu declared the ground invasion in Gaza over recent days, he referenced the Bible in his speech. “You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible.” The people of Amalek were a recurrent enemy of the Israelites in the Old Testament. In several verses of the Bible, the Israelites are commanded to commit brutal punishment upon the Amalekites. In one place, the Bible records that they are commanded to ‘blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’ In another, they are apparently told:
“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”1 Samuel 15:3
Muslims do not accept that these were commandments given by God to the Israelites, but were almost certainly interpolations by later authors. Regardless, these are the barbaric teachings invoked by Israel’s Prime Minister.
As the West gives them unconditional support, members of the UK government consider criminalising people chanting the word ‘Jihad’ during pro-Palestinian protests. The irony is that it is Israel’s leaders themselves who are using scriptural verses as a justification to commit atrocities. If any Muslim leader acted similarly, they would be branded as the worst kind of extremist.
Incidentally, Netanyahu chose not to see inspiration from other verses from the Old Testament:
“You shall not murder.”Exodus 20:13
“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house… nor anything that is your neighbour’s.”Exodus 20:17
“Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.”Psalms 34:15
“The work of righteousness shall be peace. Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever.”Isaiah 32:17
The other somewhat ironic fact is that the true meaning of Jihad has nothing to do with waging unjust wars or committing brutalities. To their credit on this issue, the BBC explain the real meaning of the term surprisingly accurately in a recent article about pro-Palestinian protests:
“Jihad” literally means “effort” or “struggle” in Arabic. In Islam the main meaning is an internal struggle, such as a believer’s struggle to live in accordance with their faith.
It can also be an outward struggle or war, which in Islamic teaching must be in self-defence and within prescribed limits.
It is the West who find the term ‘Jihad’ abhorrent, due to their misunderstanding of its meaning, and yet it is the West who are supportive of a nation using an Old Testament verse about brutalising an entire population as a pretext to do exactly that.
War & Islam
As the West have shown over recent decades, they are quick to wage or endorse war, and such wars often turn out to be prolonged, protracted, and devastating affairs — often even without clear purpose. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Yemen, among others, bear testament to this. Today, the Israel bombing campaign is already causing immense horror, all while Western leaders refuse to even call for a ceasefire or diplomatic negotiation. The conditions under which wars should be waged in Islam are very different.
When the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the Founder of Islam, claimed to be a Prophet, he and his early followers were treated horrifically by those around him. They were slandered and mocked, but also brutally beaten. Their wealth and property were taken from them, and their businesses were boycotted. The tribes in Arabia around him vowed to destroy him and his followers completely, such that Islam would be completely wiped out.
In this context, despite the fact that fighting back in self-defence seemed reasonable, the Prophet ordered his followers to remain patient. Though their lives were in literal mortal peril, he once told one of his companions:
“For now, I have been ordered to pardon. Thus, I cannot give you permission to fight.”[Sunanun-Nasa’I, Katabul-Jihad, Babu Wujubil-Jihad, Hadith No 3086]
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, left the city with his companions and migrated elsewhere. Despite their migration, his pagan enemies pursued him ceaselessly, with rewards promised for anyone who found and killed the Prophet. They wrote threatening letters to the leader of the city to which the Prophet had migrated — asserting that they would gather an army to attack the city. The pagan enemies then travelled around Arabia, inciting as many tribes as possible against the Muslims. This was done to such an extent that the Muslims spent every moment worrying about being attacked.
At this time, there were only a few hundred Muslims who were able to fight, and even they were weak and poor, against the entire wealth of a tyrannical nation comprising huge numbers of tribes. This is why, on the brink of destruction, the Prophet Muhammad was finally given instruction by God to fight back. This instruction was evidently not to compel people to become Muslim, or to establish rule or dominion. Rather it was in the context of tyrants who were hell-bent on wiping out not only all Muslims, but also preventing the freedom of those of all faiths from worshipping.
On the brink of extinction, at the last possible moment, they were allowed to fight. Many Muslims were fearful of fighting, given their weakness and aversion to take up arms. However, the following verse of the Quran was revealed regarding this:
“Fighting is ordained for you, though it is repugnant to you; but it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you like a thing while it is bad for you. Allah knows all things, and you know not.”Quran 2:217
Fighting was never a preference for the Muslims, however the below verse, also revealed around this time, explains clearly that the reason for fighting was in defence of the oppressed only, and in order to safeguard the rights of those of all faiths, not simply of the Muslims:
“Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them. Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ – And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty”.Quran 22:40-41
In the Quran, God commanded Muslims to be courageous in fighting, but to never go too far, or lose sympathy or humanity. Wars should always be defensive, not offensive:
“And if these disbelievers incline towards peace, then O Messenger! You should also incline towards it, and put thy trust in Allah. Surely, it is He Who is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.”Quran 8:62
The Quran, and the practical example of the Prophet, also highlighted that civilians should never be targeted, and the only people who should be fought against are those that specifically have oppressed or committed injustices:
“Allah does not forbid you to be kind and to act equitably towards those who have not fought you because of your religion, and who have not driven you forth from your homes. Surely, Allah loves those who are equitable.
Allah only forbids you that you make friends with those who have fought against you because of your religion, and have driven you out of your homes and have aided others in driving you out. Whoso makes friends with them, those are the transgressors.”Quran 60:9-10
During the five-year period of war which began around two years after the Prophet Muhammad’s migration, peace be upon him, the number of soldiers in the Muslim army went from around 300 to between 1500 and 3000. In the 20-month period of peace which followed, after a treaty was signed with the aggressors, the number of Muslims in the army rose to around 10,000. This signified the rapid conversions to Islam occurred in peacetime.
War was a hindrance to the spread of Islam, and peace was always what the Muslims desired most.
Islamic Rules of War
While the West and Israel argues that the wars it wages are provoked, or defensive in nature, it nonetheless has seemingly no rules for how it conducts them, and no limits on the atrocities that it endorses. ‘Unprecedented bombardment’, seemingly indiscriminately, is currently taking place in Gaza. One doctor describes the state of the hospitals currently as scenes which make ‘hell look like a tea party.’
We have already seen US government figures describe the deaths of 500,000 children in Iraq as ‘worth it’. In the name of fulfilling their own geopolitical goals, they also seem to have no limits as to how many innocent Palestinians they are willing to kill. Are such people worthy of being our moral guides? Can such a civilisation really be deemed the most respectable? Can those with such a worldview possess the authority to throw criticisms at Islam?
Contrary to such principles, Islam lays down vital and binding ground-rules as to how to conduct a war, if one is forced upon them. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, explained:
“O ye Muslims! Go forth in the name of Allah and perform Jihad with the intention of protecting religion. But beware! Do not embezzle the wealth of spoils and do not deceive a people. Do not mutilate the enemy dead, and do not kill women and children, nor religious recluses, and do not kill the elderly. Create peace in the land, and treat the people with benevolence, for surely, Allah loves the benevolent.”Sunanu Abi Dawud, Kitabul-Jihad, Babu Fi Du’ail Mushrikin, Hadith No. 2614
Thus, targeting civilians is never acceptable in times of war. It appears that both Hamas and Israel have been guilty of violating these rules. Indeed, Hamas appear to be clearly defying Islamic law.
Not only are civilians deemed exempt from being killed in a war, but so are holy sites, and even greenery. Gaza’s oldest church, thought to be the third oldest church in the world, was destroyed over recent weeks by Israeli bombs, with dozens of people, who were sheltering within it, killed and injured. The Prophet Muhammad’s closest companion, and first successor, Abu Bakr, advised:
“Do not cause harm to those who consider themselves to be devoted to the cause of Allah. Similarly, do not harm that which they consider to be sacred, do not cut down a fruitful tree and do not ruin an inhabited place.”Al-Mutwatta, By Imam Malik bin Anas, Kitabul Jihad, Hadith 982
Islam also forbids plundering, pillaging and destruction during war. The Prophet Muhammad even advised his companions that they should not strike the face of an opponent in battle, such were the high standards of dignity and respect he afforded even those who fought against him.
The Muslim Response Today
The Worldwide Head, known as the Caliph, of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, leads the largest united group of Muslims in the world today. In a recent sermon, in response to the prevailing situation unfolding in Israel and Gaza, he said:
“I want to ask for prayers in relation to the current situation of the world. In the past few days, a war has started between Hamas and Israel due to which civilians on both sides – women, children and the elderly – are being killed or have been killed, without any distinction. Even at times of war, Islam does not permit the killing of women, children or anyone who is not participating in the war, and this teaching was strictly established by the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. The world is saying – and it has some truth to it – that Hamas initiated this war and killed Israeli civilians indiscriminately. Leaving aside the fact that the Israeli army has been killing innocent Palestinians prior to this, Muslims should always act according to Islamic teachings. […] If there is a legitimate war, then it can take place against the army, but not against women, children and the innocent.
Nevertheless, the step Hamas took was wrong; it caused more harm than good. In response [to Hamas’ attack], the punishment or war should have remained against Hamas alone – this would have been true bravery and the correct response.
However, what the Israeli army is doing now is extremely dangerous and it seems this will not stop. The number of lives of women and children that will be lost cannot be imagined. The Israeli government announced that it will completely wipe out Gaza and to do that it endlessly bombed Gaza, reducing it to a pile of ashes. The latest development is that the Israeli government is saying that more than 1 million people should leave Gaza, and some have begun leaving already. Thankfully, though a weak voice, the UN has raised some concerns that this is against human rights, is wrong and will create a lot of problems and that Israel should rethink this instruction.
Instead of condemning Israel outrightly, they [the UN] are making a mere request to them. Nevertheless, the innocent who are not participating in the war cannot be blamed. If the world sees Israeli women, children and civilians as innocent, then the Palestinians are innocent too.
The teachings of the People of the Book also say such killing is not allowed. Muslims are blamed that they have committed wrong, but these people should look at themselves too. The Ambassador of Palestine [in the UK] was interviewed by the BBC and, in response to a question, said that Hamas is a militant group, not the government and that the Palestinian government has nothing to do with them. He also raised a valid question – that if true justice had been established, then this situation would not have arisen. If world powers do not have double standards, then such disorder and warfare can never even occur. Thus, end these double standards and the wars will end themselves.”
[…] It should always be remembered that when destruction occurs, even these powers will not remain secure.”
The attack by Hamas on October 7th, and Israel’s devastating response to it, have shaken the world. Every day we appear closer and closer to a wider war, one which has the potential to engulf even the nations in which we reside.
How have we got here? It is because powerful nations have spent years cheering on injustices throughout the world, and today they continue to do so. While innocent people, including children, are bombed and their homes destroyed, the West supports these actions as ‘self-defence.’
All the while, over the last two decades especially, the religion of Islam has been demonised as one which is violent and barbaric. Of course, there are some Muslims today who commit terrible acts, but these acts are done in spite of their religious teaching, not because of it. Islam lays down its rules of war, the conditions which must be met in order for a war to be declared, and a set of principles designed to minimise the cost to human life as far as possible.
Indiscriminate killing, like what we are seeing today, is totally against the teachings of Islam. Even the Old Testament provides the famous commandment ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill,’ and yet current Israeli leaders use their own Holy Books to justify waging extraordinary warfare.
It is time for a ceasefire in Gaza, but more than that, it is time for the West to humble itself. Recent events have highlighted more and more that it is no moral authority over others. While it affords freedom of conscience at home, it has committed and supported brutalities abroad which continue to devastating effect today.
It is time for people to truly look into Islam — the only religion whose teachings have the beauty and capability to prevent us sliding into a Third World War. On an individual level it provides peace, contentment, and a relationship with a Living God, and on a societal level it provides humane, dignified teachings of wisdom and total justice, that the West would do well to adopt today.
The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, peace be upon him, summed up beautifully Islam’s teachings of justice and love for all of mankind — teachings which the world would do well to pay heed to.
“The principle to which we adhere is that we have kindness at heart for the whole of mankind. If anyone sees the house of a Hindu neighbour on fire and does not come forward to help extinguish the fire, most truly I declare that he does not belong to me. If anyone of my followers, having seen someone attempting to murder a Christian does not endeavour to save him, I most truly declare that he does not belong to us.”Siraj e Muneer: Roohani Khaza’in Vol.12, p28