The Islamic State and other militant factions, fighting for sundry geopolitical causes, are obliterating the distinction between jihad and criminality. The utter disregard of life, the expansion of battlefield into schools and mosques, including the Prophet’s Mosque, and the cruelty associated with violence have never been the lawful means of fighting jihad for any cause, including fighting against oppression, under the guidance of the Qur’an and Prophet’s Sunnah, the Basic Code of Islam. Jihad is an integral part of the Islamic faith; criminality is the antithesis to Islam.
Muslim militants violate the Islamic law of war when they embrace lex talionis and adopt barbarity in answer to barbarity, and torture in answer to torture. Even if some militants are reacting to atrocities and torture perpetrated in the U.S.-administered prisons against Muslim detainees at Abu Ghraib (Iraq), Bagram (Afghanistan), andGuantanamo (Cuba), the Basic Code does not allow criminality in return for criminality. And even if some militants are reacting to criminal bombings of wedding parties and hospitals, the Basic Code does not permit hitting soft targets in return for the destruction of soft targets in Muslim communities.
In the past few years, the violence perpetrated by militant factions is more in the form of pre-Islamic savagery, far worse than lex talionis. Abducting and raping women, mutilating children, setting prisoners on fire, drowning detainees, decimating bystanders in markets and worshippers in mosques, these and similar crimes can never be lawful under the teachings of the Basic Code. The Islamic State and affiliates are not engaged in jihad when they disregard the distinctions between lawful and unlawful employment of violence. Acting brutishly is not the Islamic law of war. Islamic faith civilizes the sadism of human inclinations and does not submit to impulsive vengeance. Reducing jihad to criminality is a great disservice to Islam. “Whoever comes to his Lord as a criminal - indeed, for him is Hell; he will neither die therein nor live” (Qur’an 20:74).
The word “criminals” (muj’rimīn and muj’rimūn), in a plural form, connoting the corporate nature of criminality, appears more than fifty (50) times in the Qur’an. Criminality is an integral part of human culture. The Qur’an informs the readers that there are “grand criminals” conspiring to do harm in every town and community (6:123). These criminals are divided into factions; if one faction repents the others continue to engage in criminality inviting the wrath of Allah (9:66). Most often, the grand criminals are self-righteous, arrogant individuals who disregard guidance (10:75). Despite their superciliousness and a belief that what they are doing is good, the grand criminals remain in error and mental turmoil (54:47). Historically, the Qur’an reminds us, the criminals have never been successful in their pursuit and lawless ideology. “Travel through the land and observe how was the end of the criminals.” (27:69). While they face degradation and rejection in this world, the criminals will do worse in the life hereafter. They will not enter “Paradise until a camel enters into the eye of a needle” (7:40).
Muslims cannot condone criminal militancy even if a Muslim community is under occupation, alien domination, or any other form of oppression that mandates jihad. When a Muslim violates a key command of Islamic law, he or she is no longer acting as a Muslim. Once a Muslim, always a Muslim is not a tenet of Islam. Just as in a secular legal system, a citizen remains free as long as he or she abides by the law. The same is true under Islamic law. Being a Muslim is not an automatic status regardless of behavior. Criminality is incompatible with the Islamic faith. The Prophet of Islam declared that an adulterer at the time of engaging in unlawful sex, a drinker at the time of drinking alcohol, a thief at the time of stealing, and a robber at the time of looting, is not a believer while doing any of these unlawful acts (Sahih Bukhari 81:763). Likewise, a militant who violates the Islamic law of war at the time of fighting is not a believer and if he dies in the commission of an unlawful act of violence, he loses the rank of a martyr.
Rejection of Criminality
More than a billion Muslims of all races, colors, languages, and nationalities celebrating the ending of the month of fasting, the holy Ramadan, all over the world, can no longer tolerate the bands of criminals supposedly acting in the name of Islam. Muslims reject any and all violations of the Islamic law of war that forbids killing innocent civilians, demolishing houses, attacking mosques and markets, stoking sectarian warfare, raping women, abducting and forcing women into marriage, bombing schools, torturing prisoners, and harming non-Muslims living peacefully in Muslim and non-Muslim lands. According to the Qur’an, Muslims by definition cannot be criminals(68:35). Any notion of jihad that permits criminality cannot be lawful under the Basic Code of Islam.