Chapter 7: Dynamics of Islamic Jihad by Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry



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Dynamics of Islamic Jihad

By Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry



  1. The Qur’an and the Sunnah

  2. Rules framed by the Jurists in the Light of the Text

    1. Rule 1

    2. Beheading of Prisoners

    3. Release with Ransom

    4. Exchange of Prisoners

    5. Gratis Release

    6. Enslavement

    7. Treatment of Enslaved Prisoners

I- The Qur’an and the Sunnah

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In this chapter we shall study the treatment given by Islam to the prisoners  of war which, by any standard, has been the most humane, most kind and impressively ideal. But before we highlight the rules and regulations regarding prisoners of war, it would be most appropriate if we glance through the relevant verses of al-Qur’an, the revealed book of Islam, and Ahadith and practice of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.

The Verses of Holy Qur’an

1. It is not for any Prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land. Ye desire the lure of this world and Allah desireth (for you) the Hereafter, and Allah is Mighty, Wise. Had it not been for an ordinance of Allah which had gone before, an awful doom had come upon you on account of what ye took. Now enjoy what ye have won as lawful and good, and keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”.


2.       Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necks until, when ye have routed them, then making fast of bonds; and afterward either grace or ransom till the war lay down its burdens.


3.       And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him (saying) : We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you……


In the above verses, following instructions regarding prisoners of war have been given :

1.       The enemy should be completely defeated and his fighting power should be completely crushed before the enemy soldiers are taken as war prisoners.

Since the above mentioned principle was not fully acted upon by the followers of Islam in the Battle of Badr, God has disapproved their action and reprimanded them. The Battle of Badr was the first major clash between the forces of Islam and forces of disbelief and in this battle the Muslims proceeded to take the enemy soldiers as prisoners before crushing the fighting power of the enemy and later on decided to release these prisoners against ransom. Had the Muslims pursued the enemy when it fled and crushed it completely, they might have been spared future hardships which the enemy created for them. As it was not done, their action regarding taking of prisoners and releasing them on ransom, which was otherwise permitted by verse 4 of chapter 47 of Al-Qur’an, has been severely condemned being unwanted on the occasion of first encounter between Islam and Disbelief.

2.       The prisoners should be taken in the actual battle filed before the hostilities cease and war terminates.

3.       They should be accorded kind and humane treatment. They should be properly fed. The Qur’an considers it an act of virtue and goodness to feed prisoners for love of Allah without wishing any reward or thanks.

4.       Regarding release of the prisoners of war, the Qur’an prescribes two options, namely : they should be set free either as a favour and grace, or they should be released for a ransom. Release of prisoners for ransom includes : that they should be set free after accepting ransom money; that they should be set free after taking some service from them or that they can be exchanged for the Muslim prisoners of war who are in the possession of the enemy.

Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

1. Ibn Omar reported that the Apostle of Allah sent Khalid-b-Walid to Banu Jizimah and invited them to Islam but they were not good enough to say : We accepted Islam. They began to say : We are Sabeans, we are Sabeans. Then Khalid began to put them to death and make them captives. He allotted one captive to every one of us till one day Khalid passed order to put to every captive under us to death. I said : By Allah, I shall not kill my captive, and none of my companions will kill his captive till we approach the Prophet and mention it to him. He raised up his hands and said : O Allah, I am innocent to Thee of what Khalid did twice.


2.       Ayesha reported that when the Apostle of Allah took captives of those who joined at Badr, he killed Oqbah-b-Abi Muait and Nazr-b-Hares and he showed favour to Abu Garrah al-Juhamiy.

–––(sharhi Sunnat)

3.       Jubair-d-Mut’em reported that the Apostle of Allah said about the captives of Badar : Had there been Mut’em-b-Adi alive and then interceded to me for these impure captives, I would have set them free on his account.


4.       Anas reported that eighty men from the inhabitants of Makkah with full arms suddenly fell upon the Prophet from the hill of Tan’eem intending thereby to attack the Prophet and his companions unawares. He arrested them suddenly and gave them life, and in a narration : “He set them free”. Then the Almighty Allah revealed : And He it is who withheld their hands from you and your hands from them in the valley of Makkah (48 : 24)


5.       Merwan and Meswr-b-Makhramah reported that the Apostle of Allah stood when a deputation of Hawazin waited on him to accept Islam. They begged him to return their properties and captives. He said: Choose one of the two measures–either captives or properties. They said: We prefer our captives. The Messenger of Allah then got up, praised Allah with what is due to Him and then he said: As for next, your brethren have come quite repentant, and indeed I now consider that I should return them their captives. So whoso of you likes that it would be pleasing, let him do, and whoso of you likes that he should get his share, till we give it to him out of what Allah gives us as Fai, let him do so. The people said: O Messenger of Allah! We are willing to release (captives). We don’t know who are among you who will give permission and who will not give permission. So return till your leaders come to us over your affairs. Then the people returned and so the leaders talked with them. Afterwards they returned to the Messenger of Allah. They informed him that they were glad and so gave permission.


6.       Imran-b-Hussain reported that Saqif was an ally to Banu Oqail. Saqif took two persons out of the companions of the Holy Prophet as captives, and the companions of the Prophet took captive of a man of Banu Oqail. They tied him firm and threw him in heat. The Messenger of Allah passed by him, and he called him: O Muhammad, O Muhammad, for what have I been overtaken? He said: For faults of your ally Saqif. Then he left him and departed. He called out to him: O Muhammad, O Muhammad. The Prophet then took compassion on him and returned. He asked: what is the matter with you? He said: verily I am a Muslim. He said: if you tell this and control your own affair, you will attain full success. He said that the Holy Prophet had ransomed him in exchange of two men whom Saqif made captives.


7.       Ayesha reported that when the Makkans went for the ransom of their captives, Zainab sent a property to ransom Abul A’s. She also sent therein her necklace which was with Khadijah who gave it to her as dower of marriage with Abul A’s. When the Holy Prophet saw it, his compassion was greatly moved and he said: Inform me whether you would set her captive free for her and return her what belongs to her. ‘Yes’ said they. The Prophet then asked him to let free the way of Jainab to come to him. The Holy Prophet sent  Zaid-b-Haresah and a man from the Ansars and said: Stay at the valley of Najeh till Zainab passes by you. Then accompany her till you can bring her back.

–––(Ahmad, Abu Daud)

8.       Ibn Mass’ud reported that when the messenger of Allah wished to kill Oqbah-b-Abi Muait, the latter said: Who is for the children? He replied: the fire.

–––(Abu Daud)

From the traditions reported above and from the battles fought by the Prophet and his companions which have been recorded in Islamic history, we get the following information regarding the treatment of the Prophet with prisoners of war.

1.       Seventy prisoners fell into the hands of the Muslims in the battle of Badar. The question arose how to treat these prisoners. The Prophet consulted his companions on this vital issue. The opinion of Abu Bakr was that the prisoners should be released on ransom, while Umar suggested that the prisoners should be put to sword. The Prophet (PBUH) agreed with the views of Abu Bakr and decided to release the prisoners on receipt of ransom. Those prisoners who were poor were required to teach ten Muslim children each and, thus, get their liberty. The rich among the prisoners were obliged to pay ransom (generally four thousand Dirhams per head) for securing their freedom. The Prophet’s uncle Abbas and son-in-law Abu’al A’s had to pay ransom for their release. Those prisoners who were poor and also illiterate being unable to pay ransom or teach children were set free without ransom.

2.       During their detention, the prisoners of Badr were distributed among the companions by the Prophet (PBUH) as there were no state prisons in Madinah in those days. Each companion got one or two prisoners with instructions that they should be treated kindly and food, clothing and lodging should be provided to them according to means. The companions of the Prophet treated the prisoners so kindly that one of the prisoners is reported to have remarked : “Blessings be on the people of Madinah! They made us ride while they themselves walked, they gave us bread to eat when there was little of it contenting themselves with dates”. Suhail-b-Amr, a prisoner of war, was a good orator who used to deliver speeches against Islam. Umar suggested that two of his teeth should be broken, but the suggestion was turned down by the Prophet who said: “I have not been sent to mutilate men”.

3.       Out of the Seventy prisoners taken at Badr, only two were put to sword, namely, Oqbah bin Abi Muait and Nazr bin Hares. They were put to death not for their participation in Battle of Badr against the Muslims, but for their unparalleled enmity against Islam and for their oppression, tyranny and persecution to which they had been subjecting the innocent Muslims at Makkah.

It is reported that when Oqbah bin Abi Muait was being put to death for his war crimes, he cried: who will care for his children? The Prophet replied: Fire. This reply of the Prophet has been unfortunately subjected to very harsh criticism by the enemies of Islam particularly by some of the non-Muslim scholars of modern times whose enmity against Islam is otherwise an open secret. They assail the conduct of the Prophet on human and compassionate grounds. Research, however, reveals that Oqbah belonged to tribe called Bani-An-Nar (children of fire) and the reply of the Prophet in fact referred to that fact which would mean that people of his tribe shall take care of them. Otherwise the man who has been referred to in the Qur’an as Mercy for both the worlds, who was a champion and a great protector of the rights of orphans and widows, and whose love for children was proverbial, would not give such an inhuman reply.

Even otherwise the refusal of the Prophet to release Oqbah on the pretext of “who will look after his children” can be defended on the principle of justice. If this pretext is to govern the dispensation of justice, then no criminal on earth who is guilty of war crimes, robbery, adultery, murder, rebellion, etc. can ever be punished as in case of his conviction his children may face hardships.

Only one person, the poet Abu Azzah from the prisoners of Uhud was beheaded. From the prisoners taken at Khaiber only Kinanah bin Abi al-Huqaiq was put to death because of his violating the agreement[1]. At the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet declared general amnesty, but in respect of only a few persons (not more than half a dozen) the orders were issued that wherever they were found they should be put to death. However, these orders were withdrawn in respect of more of them and only two or three were put to death who had committed unforgivable crimes against the Muslims and Islam.

It would be fair if we describe here the fate of Jewish tribe of Banu Quraizah as that has invited very harsh criticism against the Prophet from hostile quarters. In the fifth year of the Hegira, the Makkans along with their allies again invaded Madinah with a large army of ten thousand. Against this formidable host the Muslims could muster only three thousand men. So they dug a trench round the unprotected quarter of the city and relied for the safety of the other parts on Banu Quraizah who were allied to the Muslims by Charter of Madinah and were bound to support them in case Madinah is invaded. These Jews, however, broke their pledge and joined the invaders. As soon as the enemy raised the siege and left the place, the Muslims under the Prophet decided to expel the Jews as their presence in the city might lead in future to the destruction of the city. Since the Jews refused to leave, they were besieged and forced to surrender at discretion. They made only one condition that their punishment should be left to the judgement of Saad bin Muaz the chief of Banu Aus whose clients they were. The arbitrator gave the award that their fighting men should be put to death and their women and children should be made slaves. The award was implemented. This may be severe punishment according to modern thinking but it was customary according to the rules of war then prevalent. Moreover, the punishment was announced by the arbitrator appointed by the Jews themselves, the Prophet was not responsible for this punishment.

4.       About the prisoners taken at Badr, the Prophet is reported to have said: “If Mutem bin Adi were alive and had interceded for the release of the prisoners, I would have set them free on his account”. From this Hadith it can be inferred that prisoners of war can be set free as a matter of grace, ransom is not essential.

5.       Six thousand persons were taken prisoners by the victorious Islamic army in the Battle of Hunain. When a deputation from the tribe of Hawazin approached the Prophet to secure release of these prisoners, the prisoners had already been distributed among the Muslim soldiers. The Prophet called upon the soldiers to release their prisoners without ransom but if anyone of them wanted ransom that would be paid out of the first receipt of income in the public treasury. He himself freed his share immediately without any ransom. Following his example almost all the Muslims freed the prisoners of their shares without any ransom. This example sets the principle that the government is not authorized to release the prisoners after their distribution among the Muslims except the willingness of the holders of the prisoners. The holders may free them gratis or by accepting ransom which may be paid by the Islamic state out of public treasury.

6.       In the expedition against Tayy, many prisoners of war were captured including the daughter of famous Hatim Tai. The prisoners were released for ransom. However, daughter of Hatim had no one to pay for her ransom, so she was set free by the Prophet without ransom and was provided conveyance for her journey.

7.       In the Battle of Bani al-Mustaliq, many prisoners were taken and among them was Juwairiyah whom the Prophet married. Because of this marriage, all the prisoners were released gratis by the Muslims, saying : Now they are relatives of the Prophet.

8.       On the occasion of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, some eighty persons attacked the Muslim camp at the dawn. However, they were captured and later on released gratis.

9.       Hadith No.6 given above shows that exchange of Non-Muslim prisoners captured by Muslims for Muslim prisoners captured by others was also ordered by the Prophet of Islam. The Prophet ordered exchange of one person of Bani Oqail who had been captured by the Muslims for two Muslims who had been captured by Bani Saqif an ally of Bani Oqail. Thus mutual exchange became a rule and is still followed.

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II- Rules Framed by the Jurists in the Light of the Text

The jurists of Islam have framed the following rules regarding the prisoners in the light of the Qur’anic instructions and traditions of the Prophet of Islam :


1. Rule 1: [Back to the start of this chapter] Commenting upon verse 4 of Chapter 47 of the Holy Qur’an which is the main source of Islamic law regarding captives of war, Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi writes :

“The general command that has been given about the prisoners of war is : “Show them favour, or accept ransom from them”.

“Favour includes four things : (a) That they should be treated well as prisoners; (b) That instead of killing them or keeping them in captivity for lifetime, they should be handed over to the individual Muslims as slaves; (c) That they should be put under Jizyah and made dhimmis; and (d) That they should be set free without ransom.

“There are three ways of ransoming them: (a) That they should be set free on payment of a ransom; (b) that they should be set free after taking some special service from them; and (c) that they should be exchanged for the Muslim prisoners of war who are in the possession of the enemy.”

How to deal with the prisoners of war, the discretion to decide has been left with the commander. The commander of the forces or in certain important cases the caliph would decide whether war captives are to be beheaded, enslaved, released on paying ransom, exchanged with Muslim prisoners, or released gratis.

The Holy Prophet and the Companions at different times acted in one or the other way as the occasion demanded. The Divine Law has not bound the Islamic government to act in only one particular way. The government can take any action it deems appropriate on a particular occasion.

2. Beheading of Prisoners: [Back to the start of this chapter] The general principle of law which has been enshrined in chapter 47 verse 4 of the Qur’an is “either grace or ransom” which means that the war prisoners may be released gratis or after ransom. From this the jurists hold that the prisoners should not be put to death. This is the general rule upon which almost consensus exists among the jurists of every age. However, possibilities of exceptions to this general rule also exist as the above mentioned verse of the Holy Qur’an does not clearly forbid to kill a prisoner. The Prophet of Islam is also reported to have ordered capital punishment for certain particular prisoners on some occasions in exceptional circumstances.

Hence the general rule is that prisoners of war should not be put to death. But in extreme cases of necessity and in the higher interests of Islam and Islamic state, some particular prisoner of war can be killed for war crimes, for his persecution of Muslims and for his enmity against Islam. However, no prisoner can be killed for mere acts of belligerency. And even for war crimes, none can order, not even the commander of Muslims forces, for the death penalty. Only the head of state can do so.

If a prisoner accepts Islam, he cannot be killed. A prisoner can be killed only when he is in government custody. If he has been given in custody of someone, he cannot be put to death. In case of capital punishment, he would be killed in the customary manner in which the persons found guilty of crimes are killed; he shall not be tortured to death.

3. Release with Ransom: [Back to the start of this chapter] The Holy Qur’an has legalised releasing prisoners of war on receipt of ransom in verse No.4 of Surah 47. Hence there are some instances of release of prisoners on various kinds of ransom in the reign of the Prophet. Sometimes the prisoners were required to pay ransom in gold and silver as the prisoners of Badr were required to pay one thousand to four thousand dirhams each; sometimes they were required to render some valuable service as some of the prisoners of Badr were required to teach a number of  Muslim boys how to read and write; sometimes arms of war were accepted from them as compensation.

4. Exchange of Prisoners: [Back to the start of this chapter] Release of prisoners on ransom, as already explained, also includes release in exchange. Several instances of the exchange of prisoners are found in the life of the Prophet; sometimes one for one, at others one for more. We have already related a Hadith according to which the Prophet exchanged one prisoner of Banu Oqail whom Muslims had captured with two Muslim prisoners who had been captured by Banu Saqif an ally of Banu Oqail. On another occasion one female captive who had been taken prisoner in an expedition led by Abu Bakr was exchanged with Quraish of Makkah for several Muslims whom Quraish detained. Hence the exchange of prisoners became a rule and is still followed, although in later times it developed into a complicated institution involving exchange of thousands of prisoners. However, there is consensus that if a non-Muslim prisoner embraces Islam of his own free will, he may not be handed over to disbelievers for the purpose of exchange.

5. Gratis Release: [Back to the start of this chapter] This means release of prisoners without any ransom or compensation. This is approved rather recommended as one of the options for release of prisoners by Verse 4 of Chapter 47 of al-Qur’an which recommends “either grace or ransom” as courses of action for setting free the captives of war when hostilities have ceased. There are many instances of gratuitous release of prisoners by the Prophet from the Battle of Badr until his death. There are also instances of release on parole with the condition that the released persons would not take part in hostilities against Muslims. However, order for such type of release can be issued by the Islamic state or the commander before the distribution of war captives among the soldiers, because when they are distributed then they cannot be released without the consent of the holders. The captives of Hawazin provide a good example when the Prophet had to pay compensation from the public treasury to all those who possessed these captives and who were not willing to part with their share without ransom.

6. Enslavement: [Back to the start of this chapter] The recommendation of the Qur’an in its verse 4 of chapter 47 is that prisoners would be freed either gratuitously or with ransom. Thus this verse does not directly permit nor does it prohibit enslavement of war captives. In the practice of the Prophet, however, there are some instances of enslavement of the prisoners of war. The females and children of the Jewish tribe of Banu Quraizah in accordance with award of the arbitrator, were enslaved and distributed among the Muslims. The captives of Battle of Hunain were distributed among the Muslim troops, but later on released when a delegation of Banu Hawazin, who had embraced Islam, approached the Prophet for their release. Captives of Arab tribe of Bani-al-Mustaliq were also distributed among the Muslim troops but later on released voluntarily when the Prophet married a girl from among the captives after liberating her.

Later on the Prophet declared that no Arab could be enslaved. Caliph Umar issued orders that peasants, artisans and professionals of belligerent states should not be enslaved[2]. It has been held by the jurists that Muslims captured in war cannot be made slaves and similarly those who embrace Islam before being taken as prisoners could not be enslaved. However, those who accept Islam after being taken prisoners cannot escape slavery. Caliph Umar is reported to have said : “When a prisoner embraces Islam after falling into the hands of the Muslims as captive, he will not be killed, but will remain as a slave”[3].

7. Treatment of Enslaved Prisoners: [Back to the start of this chapter] As stated earlier, those captives of war who are not released gratis or on ransom or not exchanged are distributed among their capturers or among the ordinary Muslims as slaves. Before distribution the Islamic government is responsible for their food, clothing, lodgement and in case of illness for their treatment. But as soon as they are distributed, those in whose custody they are given become responsible for their food, clothing, lodgement, medical care, etc.

General instructions issued by the Prophet to his followers about the prisoners were that they should be accorded very kind treatment and provided food, clothes and accommodation according to means. The prisoners cannot be killed or mutilated by those in whose custody they are given. The Prophet also issued instructions: “If there is a woman with a child among the prisoners, she is not to be separated from her child, nor near relatives from one another. And prisoners are to be treated according to their status in their society”.

We would deal with Islam’s treatment of slaves in a separate chapter and will see how Islam made the slaves brothers of the Muslims and assigned a very respectable status to them in Islamic society.

[Back to the start of this chapter]

[1]    The Meaning of the Qur’an by Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi.

[2]    Dr. Hamidullah

[3]    Abul ‘Ala Maududi

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