Weapons of mass destruction
Recently, various sects and groups issued several publications asserting the permissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against non-Islamic countries claiming that their allegations conform to Islamic law. They substantiate their claims with proof from some juristic texts, and on analogy to turs [En. human shield], tabyīt [En. surprising the enemy at night] and tahrīq [En. killing with fire] mentioned in some books of Islamic jurisprudence.
Is this argument correct and does it conform to Islamic law?
Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is a military term used for a class of unconventional highly destructive weapons that are capable of causing damage on a massive scale to living creatures and the environment.
WMDs are classified into three categories:
1- Atomic weapons: These include the nuclear bomb, the hydrogen bomb, and the neutron bomb. Weapons in this category are designed to diffuse radiation that is destructive to humans, buildings and pollute entire cities for extended periods. Some of these weapons may destroy humans only.
2- Chemical weapons: These include multi purpose gases used in military operations and burning agents. Chemical weapons are extremely hazardous, potentially fatal to any living creature exposed to them and destroy vegetation. Chemical warfare agents commonly occur in either a gaseous or highly vaporous liquid state and are extremely toxic. They rarely exist in a solid state.
3-Biological weapons: This is a term applied to the bacteria and viruses used to spread dangerous epidemic diseases behind enemy lines causing losses to its animal and agricultural supplies.
Possessing these kinds of weapons to deter enemies is a requirement of Islamic law. This is evidenced by the words of Allah:
“And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy”
In his interpretation of the verse, the luminary, al-Alusi, said: "Anything that can be used as a deterrence in war" [10/24 Dar al-Turath al-Arabi]. In the previous verse Allah commands Muslims to deter their enemies who may be inclined to attack Muslims. Apart from being a principle of Islamic law that factors in punishments and disciplinary actions, deterrence is also a legitimate political principle sanctioned by states in their defense policies and established in military strategies.
Acquiring and possessing WMDs is an integral of [religious] legal and political requirements. This is because a condition to a requirement is [naturally] a requirement and the license to undertake a certain action authorizes the implementation of the conditions of its objectives.
It is well known that acquiring and possessing WMDs creates strategic and military balance between states and serves to deter any state that is tempted to launch a hostile attack against a Muslim country therefore preventing them from being dragged into an undesired war. This applies to acquiring WMDs and using them to deter enemies and oppressors. There is a difference between acquiring these weapons to deter potential aggressors and between initiating their use.
The scenario of initiating the use of WMDs which is based on the personal reasoning and opinions of individual sects, factions, and groups is prohibited by Islamic law. Any opinion that maintains its permissibility or attributes it to Islamic law and its scholars is a false claim and accusation against [sacred] law and religion. This is substantiated by the following:
The decision to declare war
1- The principle in war is that it should be launched with the authorization of the Muslim ruler; it is imperative that the decision to declare war be based on his own reasoning and his subjects must obey him. A ruler is authorized to declare war due to his knowledge of evident and hidden matters, the consequences of actions and the interest of his people. For this reason, a ruler is authorized to declare wars and hold domestic or international treaties as soon as he assumes office. In turn, he does not issue decisions based on [personal] whims. He declares a war only after consulting specialists in every relevant field such as technical specialists, military personnel, and political consultants who are indispensable in the military strategy.
A person or persons who independently determine the use of WMDs not only impose their opinion on their rulers but on the entire [Muslim] community. They give themselves the right to make decisions relating to the destiny of the entire community without recourse to ahl al-hall wal-'aqd [En. those who are qualified to elect or dispose of a ruler on behalf of the Muslim community] in matters that expose the country or people to great dangers.
The luminary al-Bahutī said in Sharh Muntahā al-Iradāt: "It is prohibited to [launch an] attack without the ruler's permission because he is responsible for making the decision of declaring war. [This is because] he has access to all the information pertaining to the enemy. [His permission is mandatory] except if [Muslims] are taken by surprise by non-Muslim enemies and fear their threat. [Only] then is it permissible to fight the attackers without the ruler's permission because of the general benefit therein.”
2- Breach of international agreements and treaties
Islamic states must abide by the agreements and treaties that they acknowledged and entered into on their own accord; standing firmly with the international community towards achieving global peace and security [only] to the extent of the commitment of the signatory countries. Allah says:
O you who believe, fulfill [all] contracts [Al-Maīda] 5:1
In the above verse, the term 'contract' refers to all commitments between two parties on a particular action. In his interpretation of the above verse, the erudite Tunisian scholar, ibn 'Ashur says: "Contracts in this verse refers to one of a genus denoting the totality [of contracts]. It includes covenants that Muslims made with their Lord such as to follow the shari'ah … pacts of allegiance between the believers and the prophet [pbuh], not to associate partners with Allah, steal, or commit fornication … agreements between Muslims and non-Muslims … and agreements between a Muslim and another" [Al-Tahriir wa al-Tanwīr, 6/74].
̔Amr ibn ̔Awf al-Muznaī, may Allah be pleased with him, narrates that the prophet [pbuh] said: "Muslims are bound by the conditions [they stipulate] except those that are unlawful or those that make unlawful matters lawful" [reported by al-Tirmidhī].
Commenting on this hadith, al-Jassās said: "It is a general obligation to fulfill all the conditions man holds himself to as long as there is nothing (in Islamic law) to restrict them" [Ahkam al-Qur`an, 2/418].
̔Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that the prophet [pbuh] said: "The protection granted by the weakest Muslim to a non-Muslim is tantamount to that of the entire [community]. Whosoever violates it incurs the curse of Allah, the angels, and all the people" [Reported by al-Bukhārī].
̔Abdullah ibn ̔Umar, may Allah be pleased with them both, narrated that the prophet [pbuh] said: "The signs of hypocrisy are four: when he is entrusted with something he betrays the trust, when he speaks he lies, when he makes a promise he breaks it, when he quarrels he behaves in an immoral manner. Whoever possesses all four is a hypocrite and whoever possesses one of them possesses an element of hypocrisy until he gives it up." [Reported by al-Bukhārī in his Sah̄ih].
̔Umar ibn al-Hamq al-Khaza̔ī narrated that the prophet [pbuh] said: "If a man entrusts another with his life and is killed by him, I have nothing to do with the murderer, even if the murdered man were a non-Muslim" [Reported by al-Bayhaqī].
Consequently, the parties to international treaties and agreements are committed to end war and enjoy a state of peace by virtue of the agreement they entered into. Allah Almighty says:
And if they incline towards peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing [Al-Anfal] 61.
3- Using WMDs involves killing people and taking them by surprise. Abu Hurairra (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "A believer is not to kill [others]. Faith is a deterrent to killing". Ibn al-Athir said: "Killing [here] means taking others by surprise and killing them while they are unprepared" [Al-Nihaya fi Gharib al-Hadith wa al-Athar 3/775].
The hadith means that faith is a deterrent to attacking others suddenly while they are unprepared. The Prophet's words: "A believer is not to attack [others] by surprise" is a clear prohibition since it involves deception.
Manners of a Muslim
Khubayb al-Ansarī (may Allah be pleased with him) was captured by the polytheists and sold in Mecca to Banī al-Hārith ibn 'Amir ibn Nawfal ibn abd Manāf. It was Khubayb who killed al-Hārith ibn 'Amir in the battle of Badr. He remained a prisoner with them for some time. Once, he asked the daughter of al-Harith for a razor to shave and placed her son on his lap. When she came upon this scene and saw Khubayb holding the razor in his hand and her son on his lap, she became scared. Thereupon, Khubayb said to her: "Are you afraid that I might kill him? I will never do that." She said: "I never saw a captive better than Khubayb."
This is an example of a Muslim imprisoned by his enemies who plotted to kill him. In spite of being on the verge of death, he refrained from killing their son when he had the opportunity to do so. The manners of a Muslim are free from deception and killing others by surprise.
4- Killing and harming women and children
Al-Bukhari and Muslim reported through ̔Abdullah ibn ̔Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) that a woman was found dead in one of the battles fought by the Prophet (P.B.U.H). Thereupon he condemned killing women and children. Another phrasing of the hadith states: "The messenger of Allah (pbuh) forbade killing women and children." Imam al-Nawawi said: "There is a scholarly consensus on putting this hadith in practice as long as the women and children do not fight [the Muslims]. If they do, the majority of scholars maintain that they should be killed" [Sharh Muslim 12/48].
5- Killing and harming Muslim residents of the target countries
Targeting other countries with WMDs will endanger the lives of Muslims residents, natives or visitors. The noble Shari'ah honors the life of Muslims and warns against shedding their blood without right. Allah Almighty says:
But whoever kills a believer intentionally—his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment [Al-Nisa`] 93.
On that account: We ordained for the children of Israel that if any one kills a person-unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land- it would be as if he killed the whole people, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people [Al-Maeda] 32.
Abdullah ibn 'Amr (may Allah be pleased with them both) narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said: "The perishing of this world is easier in the sight of Allah than taking a Muslim's life" [Sunan al-Nassa'i].
Ibn 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) said: "I saw the messenger of Allah (pbuh) circling the Ka'ba saying: "How great and sacred you are, and how pleasant your fragrance! By He in whose hand is the life of Mohammed, the sanctity of a believer, his property, life and to think well of him is greater in the sight of Allah than yours" [Ibn Majah].
Killing a Muslim intentionally and in spite is a major sin second to disbelief. The Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) of the Prophet and their students differed over Allah’s acceptance of the murderer’s repentance.
6- The ramifications of using WMDs
Such a foolish act will bring about catastrophes not only upon Muslims but upon the entire world because the countries under attack may retaliate either in kind or in a more brutal manner. Moreover, the destructive effects of some of these weapons may exceed the targeted area and spread by wind to other countries not involved in the conflict. Hence, the immediate and far reaching evils of WMDs are greater than the benefits, if any. It is worthy to mention at this point that preventing harm is among the principles of Islamic law. This is based on legal maxim, "Preventing harm takes precedence over gaining benefit."
7- Consequences of using WMD
Some of these weapons damage individual and public properties, wasting wealth which is forbidden by Islamic law. The prohibition is greater if the wasted wealth belongs to the oppressed. Thus, this prohibition lies in violating Islamic law on the one hand and the rights of others on the other.
8- The use of some of these weapons may require the perpetrator to enter the target. Permission to enter a country is considered a non-verbal security agreement not to cause corruption in the host country.
Imam al-Khurqī said in his Mukhtasr: "Whoever enters enemy lands in safety is not allowed to cheat them of their money."
Commenting on this statement, Ibn Qudāma said that it is prohibited to betray them [non-Muslims in non-Muslim countries] because there is an unspoken covenant to enter in safety on the condition that the person who seeks permission to enter a foreign country does not betray or oppress them. So whoever enters our lands in safety and betrays us violates this security agreement. This is prohibited because it involves treachery which is forbidden in our religion.” [Al-Mughn̄i 9/237].
The use of textual evidence to propagate the permissibility of using WMDs
The legal and juristic texts used as evidence to spread this extreme idea are taken out of context. Using these texts in such a manner disturbs peace, ignoring the differences between states of war and peace, and the special rulings pertaining to each of them. This is a compelling difference that is inconsistent with using WMDs weapons based on textual evidence on the permissibility of tabīt and ramy al turs. It is a grave mistake to make this analogy even though they are valid in themselves within the context cited by the authors of these texts. It is dangerous to take these rulings from their context and apply them to different situations.
Moreover, it is impermissible to derive a ruling permitting the use of WMDs against an oppressor based on analogy since it is established that there is a difference between the rulings for repelling an aggressor and those of jihad [En. fighting for the cause of Allah]. These include repelling the aggressor by the least violent means. If it is possible to resolve the conflict in a peaceful manner, it is prohibited to use weapons against the aggressor. Using WMDs against others is not consistent with Islamic values.
It is invalid to base the permissibility of using WMDs on analogy [Ar.qiyās] to tabyīt, using the catapult, or tahrīq for the following reasons:
- There are great and manifest differences between the two situations.
- The prophetic traditions mentioned on tahrīq, tabyīn, and the use of the catapult were narrated in a state of war; there is a difference between a state of war and peace.
- There is a great difference in the effects of throwing stones at the enemy using the catapult and between using WMDs. The effects of the catapult are relatively restricted as compared to the effects of WMDs.
- The above methods of warfare mentioned in the prophetic traditions were conducted with the approval of rulers. Giving a person, [other than a ruler], the right to declare war is a crime against the [Islamic] community and its rulers under the pretext of jihad.
Even if we assume the authenticity of these prophetic traditions, we must note that they refer to specific incidents and cannot be put into general practice. For this reason, some scholars maintained that the principle [in war] is to avoid tabyīt, tahrīq, and destruction; they base their opinion on the general religious texts which discuss the ethics of war.
It is impermissible to use WMDs
Our opinion is that WMDs that cause fires must not be used due to the prohibition of burning. After ordering his troops to use fire, the prophet forbade its implementation as a weapon even though the Muslims were in a state of war. Abū Hurayrah narrated that the prophet [pbuh] said: "Allah alone has the right to punish with fire" [Bukhārī]. It is known that many WMDs cause huge fires, therefore it is better to ban their use even in a state of war.
It is a mistake to base the issue of the use of WMDs on tabȳit because scholars restricted its permissibility by the following:
- It must be implemented in a state of war.
- The enemy must be from among those whom Muslims are permitted to fight as compared to the enemy with whom Muslims have a truce. It is impermissible to attack the enemy under the cover of night because it is a violation of the security pact between them in terms of lives, wealth, and honor.
If it is prohibited to attack under the cover of darkness the enemy with whom Muslims have a security pact, then it is even more prohibited to use such lethal weapons against them.
It is impermissible to use human shields save in state of war and under specific conditions detailed by jurists. [Bahr Ra`iq 80\5, Hashiyat ibn 'Abī Dīn 223\3, Rawdat al Tablibīn 239\10, Mughnī al Muhtāj 223\4, Mughn̄i ibn Qudāma 449\8, 386/10].
Based on the above, what was mentioned in the question is a false claim. It is a great crime to promote this claim as it is also considered corruption on earth which Allah Almighty forbids. Its perpetrators are warned of severe punishment:
If the hypocrites and those in whose hearts is disease and those who spread rumors in al-Madinah do not cease, We will surely incite you against them; then they will not remain your neighbors therein except for a little [Al-Ahzāb] 60.
So fulfill the measure and weight and do not deprive people of their due and cause corruption upon the earth after its reformation. That is better for you, if you should be believers [Al-A`rāf] 85.
So would you perhaps, if you turned away, cause corruption on earth and sever your [ties of] kin? Those [who do so] are the ones that Allah has cursed, so He deafened them and blinded their vision [Mohammed̄] 22-3.
Allah Almighty knows best.