Fatwas, Books and Articles on Fighting and Military Conflict in Islam

There are also many fatwas or responses to Islamic legal questions available in English (and many more in Arabic) that respond to questions of violence, fighting, war, pronouncements of apostasy, and related issues. These fatwas come from a range of sources, both identifying with the Sunni madhhabs and those identifying with the ‘Salafi’ methodology. Some of the English-language fatwas are provided below.

Ali Gomaa

The former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Ali Gomaa, has a number of research articles and fatwas on his website discussing the concept of  jihad in Islam.

Jihad: Concept, History and Contemporary Approaches. This lengthy article discusses the linguistic meaning of jihad, its historical origins in the Qur’an and in the events of the Prophet’s life, and the limits and restrictions that are placed on those who fight, including the impermissibility of harming non-combatants. Shaykh Gomaa describes warfare as ‘an “unwanted obligation” which has to be carried out with strict observance of particular humane and moral guidelines and which must not be resorted to except when it is absolutely inevitable.’ Shaykh Gomaa summarises the purpose of military jihad in Islamic law as follows:

  1. Self defense and fighting back against aggression.
  2. Alleviating religious persecution and establishing freedom of religion so that people may have the opportunity to think freely and practice their religious convictions.

He sets out a number of rules that must be observed, including:

  1. The impermissibility of harming women and children
  2. Preserving religious freedom, and avoiding attacking religious buildings or clergy
  3. Treating captives humanely and preserving their lives
  4. Preserving the environment
  5. The impermissibility of attacks by surprise or under cover of night
  6. The prohibition of betraying those who have extended a covenant of security to enter their lands in safety
  7. The prohibition of attacking those with whom the Muslims have a truce.
  8. War must be declared by the Muslim ruler and it is impermissible to attack without his permission.

Finally, Shaykh Gomaa reiterates that according to Islamic law, all Islamic states must abide by the international agreements and treaties they have acknowledged and entered into of their own accord.

In Shaykh Gomaa’s view, “none of the current incidents of terrorism which happen to involve Muslims claiming to be performing Jihad are actually Jihad because they fail to meet any of the above laid down conditions.”

Other research articles and fatwas from Shaykh Gomaa’s website include:

The Rules and Ethics of War in Islam.  This article discusses lawful reasons for warfare under Islamic law and the ethics and rules that must be observed.

Fatwa on Jihad. This fatwa responds to a question about whether Muslims are commanded to fight people everywhere. Shaykh Gomaa responds that jihad in Islam is only against injustice and oppression, and discusses the context of Qur’anic verses and Prophetic hadiths that are often cited to justify indiscriminate violence. He explains that the position of Muslim scholars is that in the modern era, non-violent advocacy for Islam has replaced the pre-modern practice of warfare between empires. The indiscriminate acts of terrorists are condemned as ‘corruption on the earth’ and compared to the early rebels of Islam, the Kharijites.

Fatwa on Jihad in Syria. This fatwa clarifies the issue of defensive jihad as an individual obligation or communal obligation in countries neighbouring those where Muslim sanctuaries have been attacked. Shaykh Gomaa also discusses the requirements of jihad in this case, which includes following those in authority the need for formal declaration of jihad.

Abdullah bin Bayyah

  • Mauritanian imam Sheikh Abdullah b. Bayyah, professor at King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia and a member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, responded to a question about a Muslim ruler giving a covenant of security to non-Muslims. He noted that a Muslim ruler can give a covenant of security to non-Muslims and that those under such covenant may not be attacked under Islamic law.
  • In another fatwa Sheikh Bin Bayyah responded to a question regarding when violence is permissible. He affirmed that it is only permissible in the context of resisting aggression—yet if one remains patient, one is complying with one of the foremost commandments of God.
  • In another fatwa Sheikh Bin Bayyah reaffirmed that friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims is permissible, and indeed it is virtuous to treat those of other faiths with kindness and equity.
  • In another fatwa Sheikh Bin Bayyah clarified that ruling by other than what God has sent down, though a serious breach of Islamic law, is not enough to take someone out of the fold of Islam.

Shaykh Faraz Khan

  • Shaykh Faraz Khan, from the Sunni website Seekers Guidance, answered a question regarding what takes a person out of Islam. His fatwa notes the traditional criteria, and emphasises that calling a Muslim a disbeliever is an extremely grave matter that is condemned both in the Qur’an and in hadith sources, and is restricted to qualified jurists of the highest calibre.
  • In response to a question about the hadith: “I was ordered to fight the people until they testify…” Shaykh Faraz Khan explains its limited application to Arab polytheists of the Prophet’s time.
  • In response to a question about Qur’anic verse 9:5 ('Slay them wherever you find them’) Shaykh Faraz Khan discusses the traditional historical context of the verse, its limited and conditional application, and affirms that it cannot be used to justify violence or terrorism against innocent civilians.
  • In a lengthy response to a question regarding violence and war in the Qur’an and Islamic law, Shaykh Faraz Khan responded in detail regarding the restrictions placed by Islamic law on the use of force, and the need for understanding the historical context of verses and hadiths. He reiterated that Islamic law requires fulfilment of all covenants with Muslims and non-Muslims, considers treachery to be an extremely grave matter, and  forbids attacking women and children under any circumstances.

Islamic Statements Against Terrorism
An extensive archive of statements and rulings by senior Muslim scholars against terrorism and extremism, compiled by Professor Charles Kurzman from the University of North Carolina

Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism
A comprehensive list of fatwas and formal statements made by Muslim scholars and organisations against terrorism and extremism, compiled by The American Muslim