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کور / Student Resources / Political Science / Civil Politics / Declaration of war from a recognised government

Declaration of war from a recognised government

Department: Political science

Module (course): Civil politics

June 20th, 2020

Lesson: Declaration of war from a recognised government

Recently, I received news on social media that two renowned academics, both with a track record of working in Afghanistan, among other places, had set up a Centre for the Study of Armed Groups, as part of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a think tank with its headquarters in the UK.

The news got me thinking: most of these armed groups operate in Muslim countries, or are sponsored by Muslim governments. One does not have to look very far. you know them as well as me, you don’t need reminding, there are so many armed groups operating in south Asia and the Middle East, all of them sponsored by Muslim governments.

Beautiful twilight, not so beautiful armed group

This in turn had me wondering if the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups realised that the armed groups they are studying should not exist at all, that is if the Muslim governments that sponsor them were really acting in accordance with Islamic teachings. Perhaps this point is not really part of the brief of the Centre. Their’s is a rigorous academic approach. The armed groups exist, so they are there to be studied. It is not part of their remit to examine if the armed groups should exist, from an Islamic angle. That is more the remit of MDI. So here goes.

There is – in theory at least – 100 per cent unanimity on this in Islamic jurisprudence: only an established and recognised government is in a position to declare, and conduct, war against another nation.

So there are two points here: one, the declaration of war by an established and recognised government, and secondly, the conduct of war by a recognised government, under the command of the Supreme Commander – the Head of State.

To take the second point first, the basic Quranic text regarding leadership in jihad (qital) comes in Surah’al-Baqarah, when the Children of Israel approached the prophet Samuel, and ask them to appoint a commander for them, ‘so that they could do battle in the path of Allah’. It was then that Saul (Talut) was designated as their king and commander, the leader under whom they could do battle against the forces of Jalut (Goliath) (Al-Baqarah, 2:246-247)

in the Book of Jihad of Sahih Bukhari, there is a chapter on Fighting Under the Command of the Leader (Head of State), and Living under his Protection:

انّما الامام جنّة، یقاتل من وّرائه و یتقی به

The Head of State is a shield; one goes into battle under his command, and one lives under his protection.

Once fighting is to be conducted under a Head of State – a Supreme Commander – it follows that it is not to be pursued clandestinely, but openly, with a declaration of war, such as when one’s adversaries break their treaty, one may also follow suit:

وَإِمَّا تَخَافَنَّ مِن قَوْمٍ خِيَانَةً فَانبِذْ إِلَيْهِمْ عَلَىٰ سَوَاءٍ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْخَائِنِينَ

(الانفال، ۵۸)

And if you are fearful of any treachery on their part, then throw their treaty back at them (declare war against them) so as to be on equal terms, for Allah does not love the treacherous.

(Al-Anfal, 8:58)

This point, that the declaration and conduct of jihad has to come from a recognised government, is not just something that comes up in a few Quranic verses and Hadiths of the Holy Prophet. It is a theme that permeates the whole of the Holy Quran. For example, there is this verse of Surat’at-Tauba, which was revealed with regard to going out for jihad when summoned by the Holy Prophet – the commander-in-chief at the time:


وَأَنفُسِكُمۡ فِي سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِۚ 

Go forth, whether lightly or heavily equipped, and strive and struggle with goods and your persons, for the cause of Allah.

(At-Taubah, 9:41)

This verse was revealed at the time of the expedition of the Holy Prophet to Tabuk. As it turned out, this expedition did not lead to any fighting. It was more a test case as to who was willing to heed the call of the Holy Prophet – the commander-in-chief – to embark on an expedition. Like it was inconceivable at the time of the Prophet that anyone else than he would be able to call Muslims to arms except for him. The same is the case nowadays: it is only the commander-in-chief of an established, recognised government who is in a position to call people to arms. This Hadith narrated in Sahih Muslim makes the matter even clearer:

عن ابن عباس قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يوم الفتح فتح مكة لا هجرة ولكن جهاد ونية وإذا استنفرتم فانفروا 

According to Ibn Abbas, on the day of the conquest of Mecca, the Holy Prophet pointed out that Mecca was now in the hands of the Muslims, so hijra – emigration – from Mecca was cancelled out, but there was jihad, and the intention of jihad, ‘so when you are called to arms, heed the call.’

(Sahih Muslim)

That is when proxy groups work clandestinely by a foreign government, with no open declaration of war – this is not allowed in the Islamic scheme of things. But what about when an insurgency is home grown? We will deal with this in a upcoming dars – lesson – Inshallah. Then we will look, all being well, at how all these measures and limitations on Islamic warfare are really part of the Islamic scheme of things to put an end to war altogether.

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