Exploring the Qur’an for Lessons in IR – II


War, being a matter of life and death for millions, should not be resorted to unless it is absolutely necessary, and once it is, there should be a ceiling to the extent military tactics to gain the upper hand, are executed.
War, being a matter of life and death for millions, should not be resorted to unless it is absolutely necessary. And once it is, there should be a ceiling to the extent military tactics to gain the upper hand, are executed.

Back in the seventeenth century, decades before the state system as we know it today was even established, Hugo Grotius – the Father of International Law – gave the Just War Theory. Just, as in justice.

The Just War theory is a point of reference for the discipline of International Relations, as it traces military ethics and humanitarian law back to its origins. It is a criterion that judges the legality of war based on two principles, Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello. The former refers to justice in going to war, and the latter, to justice in conduct of war. Or in other words, Jus ad Bellum determines whether the reason a war was waged was just from a legal-ethical point of view, while Jus in Bello determines if the manner in which it proceeded once it had begun, was legally-ethically just.

The spirit of the theory is that war, being a matter of life and death for millions, should not be resorted to unless it is absolutely necessary. And once it is, there should be a ceiling to the extent military tactics to gain the upper hand, are executed.

To a student of International Relations, the origin of a theory is more or less irrelevant, so long as he can apply it sensibly to contemporary political developments. However, to give credit where it is due, it is worth pointing out that long before the Age of Enlightenment even dawned in Europe, the foundations of the Just War Theory were laid in the Holy Qur’an in the seventh century CE.


To give credit where it is due, it is worth pointing out that long before the Age of Enlightenment even dawned in Europe, the foundations of the Just War Theory were laid in the Holy Qur’an in the seventh century CE.


“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed, Allah does not like transgressors.” So goes the decree in verse 190, chapter 2 – Surah-e-Baqarah. It manifests the Muslims’ argument that Jihad is a conditional phenomenon, where it expands the decree to fight, to include “those who fight you”. It is not, contrary to the stereotypic worldview, a religious obligation that calls for all followers to be in a perpetual state of war.

Correct as it is, the argument is incomplete. For, by referring to only two-thirds of the verse, it singles out an extremely important detail. That detail is not only a further expansion of the initial decree, but an expansion of the limitations to that decree. It warns the Muslims to ‘not transgress, for indeed, Allah does not like transgressors.’

Where the first condition covered the events before Jihad by setting aggression by the enemy as a threshold for waging the fight, the second covers the events during and after Jihad. It is a caveat to the Muslims against resorting to war crimes. These would include destruction of natural habitats and flora, victimization of non-combatants, rape, mutilation and maltreatment of Prisoners of War (POWs). Or, to put it in international-legal terms, where the first condition dealt with justice in going to war, the second deals with justice in the conduct thereof, thus the two principles of Grotius’ theory, Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello.

The caveat makes another appearance, albeit rather gently, in verse 194: “So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you.” This is what modern military jargon identifies as proportional response, which again, is a sub-principle of Jus in Bello.

For men charged in the name of religion, going overboard with revenge is a norm. If the aggressor ends up on the weaker side, the victor considers himself entitled to avenge the aggression twofold. Ultimately, he does unto the aggressor worse than what the aggressor had done unto him. Same goes for people charged in the name of nationalism.


For men charged in the name of religion, going overboard with revenge is a norm. If the aggressor ends up on the weaker side, the victor considers himself entitled to avenge the aggression twofold. This, again, is forbidden in Islam.


This, again, is forbidden in Islam. The only course open to the mujahideen as regards their enemy – be he on the battlefield or in the former’s prisons – is reciprocity. Or retribution, as the Qur’an puts it. Logically speaking, the war that began with the enemy’s aggression, should end with his surrender. And so it does. Or should. Verse 192 states this in no equivocal terms: “And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

There is little point in reiterating that the people who occupy centre-stage in defining the Muslim identity, today, do not come even close to epitomizing Islam. But it is a distinction that should be made nevertheless. The strength of the Muslim lies, or should lie, not in his ability to coerce, but in his ability to convince. From that perspective, members of armed militia groups from Boko Haram and DAISH, to Al-Qaeda and the TTP, are some of the weakest Muslims the world has ever seen. Their disservice to the Muslim identity in particular, and humanity in general, has put the wisdom of one of the world’s greatest religions, into question.

Note: You can find the first part of this article here.

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