Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Islamic Conduct of War...

Peace, one and all, wherever you may be...
I'm currently in the process of putting together a course on early Islamic history. As I was reading Imam al-Tabari's Tarikh al-rusul wa'al-muluk (History of Prophets and Kings), I came across a report of Abu Bakr's injunctions to the Muslim army which was sent to avenge the defeat at Mu'ta. Reading this reminds me of just how utterly alien the current idea of 'Islamic Rage' (what a naff title) is to our Tradition. So, I thought I'd post it here: it's useful food for thought...

'Oh army, stop and I will order you [to do] ten [things]; learn them from me by heart. You shall not engage in treachery; you shall not act unfaithfully; you shall not engage in deception; you shall not indulge in mutilation; you shall kill neither a young child nor an old man nor a woman; you shall not fell palm trees or burn them; you shall not cut down [any] fruit-bearing tree; you shall not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel except for food. You will pass people who occupy themselves in monks' cells; leave them alone, and leave alone what they busy themselves with. You will come to a people who bring you vessels in which are varieties of food; if you eat anything from [those dishes], mention the name of God over them. You will meet a people who have shaven the middle of their head and have left around it [a ring of hair] like turbans; tap them lightly with the sword. Go ahead, in God's name; may God make you perish through wounds and plague!'
(I.1850)

A couple of brief notes are in order here. Firstly, 'tap them lightly with the sword' is a rendering of a difficult passage, which seems to refer to a rebuke at such behaviour. It also means, in other words, 'don't kill them'. 'May God make you perish through wounds and plague' is a backhanded way of saying 'May God make you martyrs' and seems to refer to an actual Tradition of the Prophet (saw): 'My community will vanish through wounds and plague', though Allah knows best.
Ma'as salama,
Abdur Rahman

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