If cutting trees is forbidden, why were trees cut in a war?

The Details of the Question

We know that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) strictly forbade cutting fruit trees in war. However, we also know that when Sons of Nadir tribe was besieged, the Prophet ordered his Companions to cut down and burn the date trees; and in the attack of Taif, the Prophet ordered them to cut down the date trees and destroy the gardens.
- I have no doubts regarding the issue. I am just looking for the truth about it.
- Was it an exception or was this rule introduced after all this (war) happened?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Some trees were cut down by Allah’s permission in the war in question. The meaning of the verse regarding the issue is as follows:

“Whether ye cut down (O ye Muslim!) The tender palm-trees, or ye left them standing on their roots, it was by leave of Allah, and in order that He might cover with shame the rebellious transgressors.” (al-Hashr, 59/5)

According to the information given in tafsir books, some of the date trees were cut down and some of them were left on their roots upon the order of the Prophet (pbuh). By using the issue as an excuse, Jews spread the following rumor: “Although the Prophet (pbuh) told people not to cause mischief on earth, he caused mischief by cutting down our trees.” The Companions hesitated in this regard. They asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) about the issue: “Did we earn rewards for what we did not cut and did we commit a sin because of cutting the trees.” Thereupon, the verse above was revealed.

The verse attracts attention to the fact that some of the date trees were cut down and others were left uncut upon the command and permission of Allah. The cutting of high-quality trees was aimed at proving the honor of believers and the humiliation of unbelievers, intimidating the Jews, and perhaps causing them to leave their homeland more easily.

This deed is not mischief; on the contrary, it is a blessing for believers and an act of punishing those who pursue mischief.

The last part of the verse “and in order that He might cover with shame the rebellious transgressors” points out that aspect. (See Razi, Mawardi, Maraghi, the interpretation of the verse in question)

According to some scholars, the main rule in war is not to cut down trees. The ones that were cut down are an exception based on Allah’s wisdom.

According to some other scholars, operations such as cutting down trees and demolishing houses during war are not a general rule, but may be put into practice by the head of state, his deputy or the officials appointed by him, depending on the situation of the war. Their evidence is the verse above. (see Razi, Kashshaf, the interpretation of the verse in question)

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