The word "Islam" is closely related to the word "salam or silm" which means peace. Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, himself had a very peaceful nature, was extremely tolerant, and highly protective of the non-Muslim minorities living in the Muslim state.
However, there are times when states find war inevitable, but Islam only permits war in specific and dire circumstances. It keeps warfare at a level of mercy and respect for the enemy that no other army has been able to reach. The Prophet sometimes had to fight for the mere survival of his people and message, but once their security was ensured, he immediately reverted to peace and diplomacy.
There is a rigid code Muslims must abide by in deciding when they can fight and how the fighting should be conducted. War itself is despised, and is only a last-resort option when all other attempts at peace have been made.
A Muslim is never allowed to initiate hostilities. "And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but transgress not the limits. Surely, Allah likes not the transgressors." [2: 190].
The only times in which believers are allowed to take up arms are when they are defending their own lives and the lives of their people, when they see the weak being oppressed in acts of tyranny, and when they are prohibited from practicing their religion:
"And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers." [2: 191].
"They question thee (O Muhammad) with regard to warfare in the sacred month. Say: Warfare therein is a great (transgression), but to turn (men) from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel His people thence, is a greater with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing. And they will not cease from fighting against you till they have made you renegades from your religion, if they can. And whoso be cometh a renegade and dieth in his disbelief: such are they whose works have fallen both in the world and the Hereafter, Such are rightful owners of the Fire: they will abide therein," [2:217].
Aside from these circumstances, there is no legitimate fighting in Islam.
The conditions placed upon the soldier in battle are of utmost respect for the enemy and for human life. Islam makes a clear distinction between combatants and noncombatants, forbidding soldiers to harm defenseless civilian in any way. The Prophet said: "Do not kill the women, children, aged or the ill." He also prohibited Muslims from harming monks in their monasteries or hermits in their caves. Cutting down trees, destroying livestock, wells, homes or land of the enemy is likewise forbidden. Upon seeing the corpse of a woman in a battlefield, Prophet Muhammad asked his companions why she had been killed, and condemned it.
There is no excuse for any expedition or attack resulting in the killing of civilians, no one has the right to take innocent lives.
For those enemies active in combat and those taken prisoner of war, the list of rights is lengthy. There is no torture, no killing of the wounded or defenseless, and the return of corpses to the enemy is honored. There is no mutilation of the enemy bodies. Even after Hind bint Utbah, a powerful lady of Makkah, chewed the liver of the Prophet's uncle, Hamzah, after he was killed in a battle between Muhammad and her non-Muslim people, Muhammad still forbade his men from disrespecting a creation of God in such a way
The Prophet commanded the believers to treat the prisoners of war with kindness. One prisoner by the name of Abu Aziz told how surprised he was to see the Muslims giving the better part of their meal-the bread-to the prisoners while they themselves just had dates. "Not a crumb of bread would fall into their hands without them giving it to me," he narrated, "and I would be so embarrassed that I would reject it. But then they would return it back to me."
The Qur'an lays down strict guidelines for the declaration of war by a Muslim army, and Muslims are prohibited from breaching any treaty to which they have agreed.
"If you fear treachery from any people throw back (their covenant) to them (so as to be) on equal terms (that there will be no more covenant between you and them), Certainly Allah likes not the treacherous. [8:58].
The extent of the Prophet's mercy can be seen in the Muslim conquest of Makkah, which happened towards the end of his life. The Makkan tribe of Quraish had blatantly violated the significant "Treaty of Hudaybiyya" by supplying men and arms in an effort to attack a Muslim-allied tribe. They had slaughtered ruthlessly, even killing inside the Holy Sanctuary, and knew they could expect retaliation for such a weighty crime.
Muhammad, upon learning of the raid, set out for Makkah at the head of a colossal army of 10,000 men. Everyone
wondered how he would conduct this expedition; if he wanted revenge for all the mockery, persecution, and murders of his companions, now was certainly the time. His forces humiliatingly outnumbered his enemies.
When the army reached the outskirts of Makkah, they came upon the chief of Quraish, the archenemy of Islam, Abu Sufvan. Several Muslims were furious and wished to see him dead, but the noble Prophet received him. Muhammad
asked his uncle, Abbas, to take Abu Sufyan ahead to a high gorge-giving him a full view of the Muslim army approaching Makkah.
The leader must have felt his heart leap to his throat as he watched group after group, tribe after tribe pass in front of him. Finally, he turned to 'Abbas and asked incredulously, "Oh Abbas! Who are all these people?" Abbas's reply was
plain and powerful: "This is the Apostle of Allah and his Companions."
When Abu Sufyan approached the Prophet Muhammad begging for pardon and forgiveness, it was not revenge he heard coming from Muhammad's blessed lips. Instead, the Prophet simply said: "He who takes refuge in Abu Sufyan's house is safe; whosoever confines himself to his house, the people therein will be in safety; and he who enters the Sacred Mosque is safe."
With these words Muhammad gave a full pardon and amnesty to the city of Makkah, and it was conquered in peace. To Wahshi, the murderer of Muhammad's uncle Hamzah; a pardon. To Hind, who mutilated his body and chewed his liver, absolute clemency. To Habar, who had attacked the Prophet's daughter so brutally that she eventually died, forgiveness.
After seeing this, the people started to accept Islam in crowds, as long before, God had promised Muhammad they would. " When comes the Help of Allah (to you against your enemies) and conquest (of Makkah), And you see that the people enter Allah's Religion (Islam) in crowds, So glorify the Praises of your Lord, and ask for His forgiveness. Verily, He is the One Who accepts the repentance and forgives"
As families were reunited and the Muslims celebrated being back in the sacred city, Muhammad had other things in mind. After offering prayers to God for the victory, he proceeded directly to the House of God, the Ka'bah, that had been polluted by the 360 man-made idols. The Prophet of God proceeded to knock them to the ground with his bow. As he did, he recited the Qur'anic verse: "And Say: Truth (Islamic Monotheism) has come and falsehood (Polythesm) has vanished. Surely! Falsehood is ever-bound to vanish." [17:81].
"Al-Amin" returned to Madinah, where he spent the last years of his extraordinary life in worship and devotion to his Lord. He continued to stand in prayer for hours throughout the night until his ankles were swollen and his wife asked him to stop., but he did not.
Although he was a ruler of a vast empire in his last years, he continued to sleep on a modest straw mat, with no desire for carpets, or luxuries of any kind. He became ill and passed away in the arms of his wife, Aisha, at the age of 63. He left behind a stunning legacy, a blameless example and a religion that changed the world forever.