Prophet of Islam Loved Releasing the Prisoners of War

March 01

Mustafa Agerman

The essence of Islam is accord, that is, peace. War is an exceptional situation. The term Islam means peace and salvation. However, it is meaningless for a state to wish for peace unilaterally. One must be prepared if one’s enemy is preparing to attack and looking for the right opportunity. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) commanded:

“O! People do not wish to encounter the enemy; from Allah wish for good health and when you encounter them, be patient. Know that heaven is under the shadow of the swords.”

With this hadith (saying of the Prophet), the Prophet discouraged the believers from seeking war while at the same time stating that they should have faith in success if war is inevitable.

In Islam war is not waged to shed blood, gain land or for booty. All of these goals are forbidden. War is just one part of the great and sacred movement, jihad, a word meaning struggle, which encompasses every struggle from the personal to the national. That is jihad is the struggle to make the laws of Allah prevalent in accordance with His will. It is a movement that will continue until the Day of Judgment; it is incessant. Yet, sometimes in the sources the term jihad is used to denote war, implying that jihad can include war; but we must remember that the words battle and war do not contain the complete meaning of jihad. The struggle held against the enemies of Islam who prevent jihad is war.

In the orders given to the battle commanders Prophet Muhammad commanded:

“When you encounter your enemies who are idolaters, invite them to Islam; should they accept, they are your brothers. If they do not accept, ask them to submit to the state of Islam; should they not accept that either, ask help from Allah and make war on them.”

It is understood from this hadith that the true purpose of Muslims is not to destroy people, but to teach them about and help them towards accepting Islam. The true goal of Islam is to make people prosperous in this world and the next.

In order to prevent the people of Mecca from making the mistake of attacking the Islamic army and shedding blood, he ensured that they had accepted defeat in advance and sent the following information to them:

  • He who takes shelter in the Kaaba is secure,
  • Whoever takes shelter in Abu Sufyan’s house is secure,
  • Whoever locks the door of his house and stays in his own house will not be touched, he will be secure.”

With this superior tactic the Prophet dispersed the forces of Mecca and prevented blood shed. Then he forgave the people of Mecca, and they were brought to Islam by this example of extraordinary forgiveness and mercy.

The principle of “protecting civilians and the environment during wars”, which has become a major problem in our modern world, was achieved under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad. He held the battles of Badr and Uhud outside the city and during the Battle of the Trench he surrounded the city with trenches and protected innocent civilians.

As we have mentioned above, Prophet Muhammad applied a different tactic during the conquest of Mecca; he took into consideration the safety of the civilians on the enemy side and he was able to ensure the same.

TREATMENT OF PRISONERS

Prophet Muhammad treated prisoners well. Except for those who were violently opposed to Islam or those who had tortured Muslims in the past, nearly all prisoners benefited from the mercy and forgiveness of Prophet Muhammad.

“Before Islam, there was no particular or definite manner of treatment for prisoners of war in the Arabian Peninsula. They were sometimes killed; sometimes were enslaved (especially women and children); sometimes they were freed for a ransom or for nothing; some were exchanged with prisoners of war held by the other side.” (Hamidullah, Wars of the Holy Prophet, 66).

The Holy Prophet acted with mercy towards prisoners of war, particularly in the Battle of Badr.” To ensure that the prisoners were kept in custody safely, the Prophet placed them among his troops and told his troops to treat them well. This order was carried out accordingly. They were given clothes. They were given the same food as the Muslims. Some Muslims gave them their bread rations and only ate dates. Their sole purpose was to obey the order given.” (Hamidullah, Wars of the Holy Prophet, 65-66).

Prophet Muhammad’s treatment of prisoners of war can be discussed under:

This practice occurred in the Battle of Badr. The idolaters left the battleground having had seventy soldiers killed and seventy taken prisoner; this was the first victory for the Muslims. The prisoners of war were taken to Medina and they were treated well. Prophet Muhammad ordered: “Treat the prisoners well.” The wealthy prisoners were released in exchange for ransom. Prisoners who were not well off were released for no payment. Prisoners who were educated were released on the condition that they taught Muslim children how to read and write.

The Prophet would sometimes release prisoners of war in exchange for the release of his own people who were being held by the idolaters.

The most striking and often-practiced treatment of prisoners of war in the period of Prophet Muhammad was the release of prisoners in exchange for nothing. This treatment was practiced in the Battle of Muraysi, the Conquest of Mecca and the Battle of Hunayn. Nearly all the prisoners of war who were released became Muslim over time.

There is one account of prisoners being killed during a battle in the Prophet’s lifetime. This happened in the aftermath of the Battle of Badr. Among the captured prisoners in the Battle of Badr, Nadr ibn Haris and Ukba ibn Abu Muayt were killed. The reason for this is the fact that they had severely tortured Muslims during the Meccan period. These people paid the price for what they had done before.

Prophet Muhammad ordered that the dead left by the enemy on the battleground should be decently treated. He prevented the dead bodies from rotting in the open air by having them buried in pits.

Muslims not only treated prisoners of war well, but they also treated idolaters who had been wounded well, giving them the same medical treatment as the Muslim casualties.