By Sikandar Azam
Islam regards human life as sacred. In war or peace, Islam enjoins the believers to respect and honour human life. This ruling is universal in nature; for, it is irrespective of the person’s faith, place of birth, colour or language.
At the time of peace, people generally live peacefully, cooperate with one another, and respect one another. But at the time of war, people tend to throw all rules and norms to the wind. They more often than not go on killing spree. They do not take care to spare the old and the weak, women and children. But Islam, which is the final code of life prescribed by the Lord, Creator and Sustainer, teaches the believers to respect and honour human life and protect civilians even at the time of war.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ told his fighters: “Do not lay hands on the old, women, children and babes.” When it came to protecting non-combatants, the Companions of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ followed his example. Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the first Caliph, stopped his military commander from marching ahead as he wanted to give him ten rules for guidance on the battlefield. Those rules included: “You must not mutilate dead bodies; do not kill a woman, a child, or an aged man; do not cut down fruitful trees; do not destroy inhabited areas;…You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.”
It was in keeping with this tradition that Article 3(a) of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, adopted by foreign ministers at the OIC on 5 August 1990, reaffirmed: “In the event of the use of force and in case of armed conflict, it is not permissible to kill non-belligerents such as old men, women and children.”
Killing a fellow human being is the most gruesome and ghastliest crime. Islam deems the killing of a person without rhyme or reason as the killing of the entire humanity. The Qur’ān (5:32) says: “… if anyone slays a human being, for anything other than in punishment of murder or for spreading corruption on earth, it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; and that if anyone saves a human life, it shall be as though he had saved all mankind. Our messengers brought them clear evidence of the truth, but despite all this, many of them continue to commit all manner of excesses on earth.”
The injunction aims at weakening the motive to commit a murder and establishing the just punishment for such a crime whenever it takes place.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, “O Allah’s Messenger ﷺ! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet ﷺ said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.” Thus it is the duty of the believers to stop the oppressors from committing oppression.