Did Prophet Muhammad initiate wars against peaceful neighbors?

February 28, 2013


Did Prophet Muhammad declare war against people because they did not embrace Islam or accept Islamic rule?


In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, did not initiate war against anyone who offered to make peace with him. War is a last resort in Islam for the physical defense of the community and it is not a means to force people to enter Islam. Peaceful coexistence among different religions is highly preferred over conflict.

Allah said:

وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ

Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Verily, Allah does not like transgressors.

Surah Al-Baqarah 2:190

Ibn Abbas considered it an act of transgression – mentioned by this verse – that a Muslim would attack someone who offers him peace. He said:

لَا تَقْتُلُوا النِّسَاءَ وَلَا الصِّبْيَانَ وَلَا الشَّيْخَ الْكَبِيرَ وَلَا مَنْ أَلْقَى إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَمَ وَكَفَ يَدَهُ فَإِنْ فَعَلْتُمْ هَذَا فَقَدَ اعْتَدَيْتُمْ

Do not kill women, or children, or old men, or whoever comes to you with peace and he restrains his hand from fighting; for if you did that, you would certainly have transgressed.

Source: Tafseer At-Tabari 2:190

Al-Baydawi considered “initiating the fighting” to be an act of transgression. He writes in his commentary:

وَلاَ تَعْتَدُواْ بابتداء القتال أو بقتال المعاهد أو المفاجأة به من غير دعوة أو المثلة أو قتل من نهيتم عن قتله

The verse: Do not transgress, (2:190) means by initiating the fighting, or by fighting those protected by a peace treaty, or by fighting those who never received the call to Islam, or to commit mutilation or to kill whomever it has been forbidden to kill.

Source: Tafseer Al-Baydawi 2:190

Ibn Al-Qayyim summarizes these points by saying:

وَلَمْ يُكْرِهْ أَحَدًا قَطُّ عَلَى الدِّينِ وَإِنَّمَا كَانَ يُقَاتِلُ مَنْ يُحَارِبُهُ وَيُقَاتِلُهُ وَأَمَّا مَنْ سَالَمَهُ وَهَادَنَهُ فَلَمْ يُقَاتِلْهُ وَلَمْ يُكْرِهْهُ عَلَى الدُّخُولِ فِي دِينِهِ

The Prophet never forced the religion upon anyone, but rather he only fought those who waged war against him and fought him. As for those who made peace with him or conducted a truce, then he never fought them and he never compelled them to enter his religion.

Source: Hidayat Al-Hayara 237

In addition to the Quran’s exegesis, we have two concrete examples from the Prophet’s biography in which he applied the principle of non-aggression.

Abu Sukainah reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

دَعُوا الْحَبَشَةَ مَا وَدَعُوكُمْ وَاتْرُكُوا التُّرْكَ مَا تَرَكُوكُمْ

Leave the Abyssinians alone as long as they leave you alone; and leave the Turks alone as long as they leave you alone.

Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 4302, Grade: Sahih

Ibn Rushd said:

مَا رُوِيَ عَنْ مَالِكٍ أَنَّهُ قَالَ لَا يَجُوزُ ابْتِدَاءُ الْحَبَشَةِ بِالْحَرْبِ وَلَا التَّرْكُ لِمَا رُوِيَ أَنَّهُ عَلَيْهِ الصَّلَاةُ وَالسَّلَامُ قَالَ ذَرُوا الْحَبَشَةَ مَا وَذَرَتْكُمْ وَقَدْ سُئِلَ مَالِكٌ عَنْ صِحَّةِ هَذَا الْأَثَرِ فَلَمْ يَعْتَرِفْ بِذَلِكَ لَكِنْ قَالَ لَمْ يَزَلِ النَّاسُ يَتَحَامَوْنَ غَزْوَهُمْ

It is narrated from Malik that he said it was not permissible to initiate war against the Abyssinians or the Turks because of the saying of the Prophet: leave the Abyssinians alone as long as they leave you alone. Malik was asked about the authenticity of this tradition, and although he did not recognize it, he said: the people continue to avoid attacking them.

Source: Al-Bidayat Al-Mujtahid, Kitab Al-Jihad

Therefore, the Prophet had forbidden the Muslims from initiating war against the Turks or the Abyssinians if they did not attack first. This is the practical application of the non-aggression principle mentioned in the verse 2:190 and others. As Allah said:

فَإِنِ اعْتَزَلُوكُمْ فَلَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ وَأَلْقَوْا إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَمَ فَمَا جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ عَلَيْهِمْ سَبِيلًا

So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause for war against them.

Surah An-Nisa 4:90

Furthermore, the Quran has commanded Muslims to make peace with those who offer peace. Allah said:

وَإِن جَنَحُوا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

If they incline to peace, then incline to it and rely upon Allah. Verily, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.

Surah Al-Anfal 8:61

In this regard, Ali ibn Abu Talib reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّهُ سَيَكُونُ بَعْدِي اخْتِلَافٌ أَوْ أَمْرٌ فَإِنْ اسْتَطَعْتَ أَنْ تَكُونَ السِّلْمَ فَافْعَل

Verily, after me there will be conflicts or affairs, so if you are able to end them in peace, then do so.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 697, Grade: Sahih

In conclusion, the Prophet did not initiate war against peaceful neighbors. Muslims have been forbidden from fighting those who do not fight them. Likewise, Muslims have been commanded to accept peaceful coexistence from those who offer peace.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.