Is Islam a religion of war?
War is not something that is desired but humanity has not been able to get rid of war throughout history. In the Quran, the struggle of two sons of Adam is mentioned. One of them is innocent the other is aggressive. The aggressive one kills the innocent one. (See the chapter of al-Maida, 27-31) The name of the innocent one is Abel; and the name of the aggressive one is Cain.
When Cain killed his brother, human blood was shed for the first time in the world. However, this blood increased in the course of time and spread to the whole world. Abel and Cain are the representatives of the innocent people and aggressive people. As long as people like Cain exist in the world, people like Abel will have the right to defend themselves.
Thus, Islam allows war based on certain conditions in order to prevent the cruelty of the oppressors and to ensure universal peace. For instance, let us have a look at the following verse:
“To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight) because they are wronged― and verily, Allah is Most powerful for their aid.” (al-Hajj, 39)
This verse addresses the Prophet and his Companions who are in the first rank of Islam. They had suffered pressure and torture that caused the death of some of them in Makkah. Some of them went to Abyssinia acting upon the advice of the Prophet. The others migrated to Madinah afterwards. They almost always heard news like the following: “Makkans are attacking; Makkans have attacked.” Muslims were allowed to fight when they were under such conditions.
The following is stated in another verse related to war:
“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.” (al-Baqara, 190)
The following issues are pointed out in the verse:
1- “Fight those who fight you.” That is, do not fight those who do not fight you. As a matter of fact, the Prophet enjoined his commanders not to kill children, women, old people and those who retired into seclusion in temples.
2- The war must be “fi sabilillah”, that is “in the way of Allah”. Others might fight in order to invade new countries and to own the resources of raw materials, etc. However, a Muslim can fight only in the way of Allah. That is, he struggles in order to stop cruelty, mischief and chaos in the world.
3- It is not permissible to transgress limits during or after the war. Islam orders Muslims to kill in a nice way when they have to kill. For instance, Islam prohibits killing by torture and cutting off ears, noses, etc.
The following is stated in another verse:
“And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?― men, women, and children, whose cry is: "Our Lord! rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect; and raise for us from Thee one who will help.’’ (an-Nisa,75)
In this verse, Muslims are advised to fight if they are oppressed in a town or if they are prevented from practicing their belief. At the end of the war, Muslims are freed from oppression and they attain freedom of religion and conscience; the people of that country are left free to accept Islam or not.
We can state the following in conclusion:
What is essential in Islam is peace not war. However, when people are oppressed or when a state attacks another state, war is in question. Islam allows war in those cases. Islam did not introduce war when it was non-existent in the world. When those who regard Islam as a religion of war look at their own history, they will see the reality that there were wars almost in every period of their history. Therefore, the existence of war decrees in Islam is not a deficiency for Islam but perfection. In the decrees that are mentioned in verses and hadiths, a reality like war which is inevitable was transformed into a civilized and humane form from a bedouin and wild appearance.