Prisoners of war in Islam
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The historical legal principles governing the treatment of prisoners of war, in shar'iah, Islamic law, (in the traditional madhabs schools of Islamic jurisprudence), was then a significant improvement over the pre-existing norms of society during Muhammad's time (see Early reforms under Islam). Men, women, and children may all be taken as prisoners of war under traditional interpretations of Islamic law. Generally, a prisoner of war could be, at the discretion of the military leader, freed, ransomed, exchanged for Muslim prisoners, or kept in bondage. In earlier times, the ransom sometimes took an educational dimension, where a literate prisoner of war could secure his or her freedom by teaching ten Muslims to read and write. Some Muslim scholars hold that a prisoner may not be ransomed for gold or silver, but may be exchanged for Muslim prisoners.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, upon capture, those captives not executed, were made to beg for their subsistence. During his life, Muhammad changed this custom and made it the responsibility of the Islamic government to provide food and clothing, on a reasonable basis, to captives, regardless of their religion. If the prisoners were in the custody of a person, then the responsibility was on the individual.
Historically, Muslims routinely captured large number of prisoners. Aside from those who converted, most were ransomed or enslaved. Pasquier writes,
It was the custom to enslave prisoners of war and the Islamic state would have put itself at a grave disadvantage vis-a-vis its enemies had it not reciprocated to some extent. By guaranteeing them [male POWs] humane treatment, and various possibilities of subsequently releasing themselves, it ensured that a good number of combatants in the opposing armies preferred captivity at the hands of Muslims to death on the field of battle.
According to accounts written by Muhammad's followers, after the Battle of Badr, some prisoners were executed for their earlier crimes in Mecca, but the rest were given options: They could convert to Islam and thus win their freedom; they could pay ransom and win their freedom; they could teach 10 Muslims to read and write and thus win their freedom. William Muir wrote of this period:
In pursuance of Mahomet’s commands, the citizens of Medîna, and such of the Refugees as possessed houses, received the prisoners, and treated them with much consideration. “Blessings be on the men of Medina!” said one of these prisoners in later days; “they made us ride, while they themselves walked: they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was little of it, contenting themselves with dates.”— William Muir, The Life of Mahomet
These principles were also honoured during the Crusades, as exemplified by sultans such as Saladin and al-Kamil. For example, after al-Kamil defeated the Franks during the Crusades, Oliverus Scholasticus praised the Islamic laws of war, commenting on how al-Kamil supplied the defeated Frankish army with food:
Who could doubt that such goodness, friendship and charity come from God? Men whose parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, had died in agony at our hands, whose lands we took, whom we drove naked from their homes, revived us with their own food when we were dying of hunger and showered us with kindness even when we were in their power."
Treatment of prisoners
Upon capture, the prisoners must be guarded and not ill-treated. Islamic law holds that the prisoners must be fed and clothed, either by the Islamic government or by the individual who has custody of the prisoner. This position is supported by the verse [Quran 76:8] of the Quran. The prisoners must be fed in a dignified manner, and must not be forced to beg for their subsistence. Muhammad's early followers also considered it a principle to not separate prisoners from their relatives.
After the fighting is over, prisoners are to be released, with some prospect of survival, or ransomed. The freeing or ransoming of prisoners by Muslims themselves is highly recommended as a charitable act. The Qur'an also urges kindness to captives and recommends, their liberation by purchase or manumission. The freeing of captives is recommended both for the expiation of sins and as an act of simple benevolence.
Women and children
Some Muslim scholars claim that women and children prisoners of war cannot be killed under any circumstances, regardless of their faith, but that they may be enslaved, freed or ransomed. However Hadith 4457 makes exceptions for this based on the child's suitability for conversion to Islam, saying "The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) used not to kill the children, so thou shouldst not kill them unless you could know what Khadir had known about the child he killed, or you could distinguish between a child who would grow up to he a believer (and a child who would grow up to be a non-believer), so that you killed the (prospective) non-believer and left the (prospective) believer aside" Women who are neither freed nor ransomed by their people were to be kept in bondage and referred to as ma malakat aymanukum (slaves).
Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, a Nigerian extremist group, said in an interview "I shall capture people and make them slaves" when claiming responsibility for the 2014 Chibok kidnapping. Shekau has justified his actions by appealing to the Quran saying "[w]hat we are doing is an order from Allah, and all that we are doing is in the Book of Allah that we follow". In October 2014, in its digital magazine Dabiq, ISIL explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women. Specifically, ISIL argued that the Yazidi were idol worshipers and appealed to the shariah practice of spoils of war. ISIL appealed to apocalyptic beliefs and "claimed justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world." In late 2014 ISIL released a pamphlet on the treatment of female captives and slaves which permits sex with them.
There has been disagreement whether adult male prisoners of war may be executed, although Muhammad did execute men on many occasions. One traditional opinion holds that executing prisoners of war is strictly forbidden; this is the most-widely accepted view, and one upheld by the Hanafi madhab.
However, the opinion of the Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali and Jafari madhabs is that adult male prisoners of war may be executed. Conventionally, execution was conditional on the reasonable belief that male prisoners would pose a genuine and immediate threat to the Muslim community if allowed to live. The decision for an execution is to be made by the Muslim leader. This opinion was also upheld by the Muslim judge, Sa'id bin Jubair (665-714 AD) and 'Abu Yusuf Ya'qub a classical jurist from the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. El Fadl argues the reason Muslim jurists adopted this position was largely because it was consistent with the war practices of the Middle Ages.
Most contemporary Muslim scholars prohibit altogether the killing of prisoners and hold that this was the policy practiced by Muhammad. The 20th-century Muslim scholar, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi states that no prisoner should be "put to the sword" in accordance with a saying of Muhammad.
Even those the enemies of Islam, actively fighting against Islam, there may be individuals who may be in a position to require protection. Full asylum is to be given to them, and opportunities provided for hearing the Word of Allah...If they do not see their way to accept Islam, they will require double protection: (1) from the Islamic forces openly fighting against their people, and (2) from their own people, as they detached themselves from them. Both kinds of protection should be ensured for them, and they should be safely escorted to a place where they can be safe.
Maududi further states that Islam forbids torturing, especially by fire, and quotes Muhamad as saying, "Punishment by fire does not behoove anyone except the Master of the Fire [God]."
- Islamic views on slavery
- Islam and war
- Islamic military jurisprudence
- Slavery in 21st century Islamism
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