– Sunnis Against Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)



Professor Sohail Hashimi says:

“So far, no systematic work has been done by Muslim scholars on how nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons relate to the Islamic ethics of war. This is an astonishing fact in light of the development of nuclear technology by several Muslim countries and the repeated use of chemical weapons by Iraq.”

Even more unfortunate, the acquisition of WMDs was and is a goal of al-Qa’eda. Militant preachers were quick to recognize and fill in this gap.

Osama bin Laden in a 1998 Time interview with Rahimullah Yusufzai made that crystal clear, in which Rahimullah asked bin Laden,

“The U.S. says you are trying to acquire chemical and nuclear weapons. How would you use these?”

Osama bin Laden responded,

“Acquiring weapons for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty. If I have indeed acquired these weapons, then I thank God for enabling me to do so. And if I seek to acquire these weapons, I am carrying out a duty. It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess the weapons that would prevent the infidels from inflicting harm on Muslims.”

In a 2001 interview by Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir, Osama reiterated this support. In the same interview, al-Zawahiri boasted,

“If you have $30 million, go to the black market in central Asia, contact any disgruntled Soviet scientist, and a lot of dozens of smart briefcase bombs are available. They have contacted us, we sent our people to Moscow to Tashkent to other central Asian states, and they negotiated and we purchased some suitcase bombs.”

Al-Zawahiri, known to be a braggadocio and manipulator, may have been overdramatic in this interview to stir fear in the masses. But his desire to acquire such weapons and harm the masses is real. It is to be noted that OBL explicitly advocated the possession of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent. However, one need not have an explicit statement from OBL that advocates usage. OBL clearly believes that killing Muslim and non-Muslim civilians is permissible.

OBL and other militants have never specified a limit or threshold of how many innocent Muslims can be killed as “collateral damage” in such attacks, which makes the use of nuclear weapons (and other WMD) – or any other weapon for that matter – perfectly valid from the militant perspective. As long as such weapons are used on “infidels,” that is what matters, no matter how many Muslims are massacred in the process.

Addressing the matter of “collateral damage” of innocents from the Sunni point of view is therefore a key argument against militants who have a distorted understanding of the matter.  (The manipulation of al-Tatarrus by al-Qa’eda, the “law on the use of human shields,” is discussed in another post.)

Because of this surprising gap in knowledge, and perhaps induced by al-Qa’eda’s repeated desire to acquire WMD, extremists capitalized on this by filling in the gap and producing perhaps the first in-depth “fatwa” on WMD in 2003 that “justified” its use from a militant perspective. The notorious pro-WMD fatwa was by the Saudi Wahhabi extremist, Nasir al-Fahd, who was a student of the late Hamoud al-Oqala al-Shu’aybi, who endorsed the September 11th 2001 attacks. Two other extremists of the “Shu’aybi school,” Ali al-Khudair and Ahmed al-Khaldi, also endorsed the pro-WMD fatwa. Though they later recanted, surely by pressure from Saudi authorities, militants nevertheless found the justification they needed for the use of WMD.

This was reflected in al-Zawahiri’s  Exoneration where he took from Nasir al-Fahd’s so-called fatwa and expanded on it to ensure that any use of such weapons was completely justified Islamically:

“Nasir al-Fahd’s 2003 fatwa is built in its entirety into Exoneration: the same ideas, thoughts, examples and scholars to justify equal retaliation—“repaying like for like”. The similarities between the two texts are nothing short of striking. Virtually every single cleric, scholar, and example used by al-Fahd to justify the use of WMD has been resurrected in near-symmetry throughout “Exoneration”. While a handful of the same individuals were cited by both al-Fahd and Zawahiri to justify different issues, nearly 30 authors were identically sourced with correlating content. Indeed, Zawahiri tended to expand on the thoughts and ideas of al-Fahd by diving into a more comprehensive justification with even further citations.”

(Source: Rolf Mowatt-Larssen. (January 2011). “Islam and the Bomb: Religious Justification for and Against Nuclear Weapons. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Kennedy School of Government. p.35.)

Mufti Ali Gomaa’s Fatwa Against WMDs

Fortunately, Egypt’s Mufti, Ali Gomaa, gave a Fatwa against the use of WMD which can be used to counter al-Qa’eda and other militants.

Below are excerpts from a Fatwa by Mufti Ali Gomaa against the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

(Beginning of quoted Fatwa excerpts from Mufti Ali Gomaa)

Recently, various sects and groups issued several publications asserting the permissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against non-Islamic countries claiming that their allegetions conform to Islamic law. They substantiate their claims with proof from some juristic texts, and on analogy to turs [En. human shield], tabyīt [En. surprising the enemy at night] and tahrīq [En. killing with fire] mentioned in some books of Islamic jurisprudence.

Possessing these kinds of weapons to deter enemies is a requirement of Islamic law. This is evidenced by the words of Allah: “And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy”

In his interpretation of the verse, the luminary, al-Alusi, said: “Anything that can be used as a deterrence in war” [10/24 Dar al-Turath al-Arabi]. In the previous verse Allah commands Muslims to deter their enemies who may be inclined to attack Muslims. Apart from being a principle of Islamic law that factors in punishments and disciplinary actions, deterrence is also a legitimate political principle sanctioned by states in their defense policies and established in military strategies.

It is well known that acquiring and possessing WMDs creates strategic and military bal- ance between states and serves to deter any state that is tempted to launch a hostile attack against a Muslim country therefore preventing them from being dragged into an undesired war. This applies to acquiring WMDs and using them to deter enemies and oppressors. There is a difference between acquiring these weapons to deter potential aggressors and between initiating their use.

The scenario of initiating the use of WMDs which is based on the personal reasoning and opinions of individual sects, factions, and groups is prohibited by Islamic law. Any opinion that maintains its permissibility or attributes it to Islamic law and its scholars is a false claim and accusation against [sacred] law and religion. This is substantiated by the following:

The decision to declare war

The principle in war is that it should be launched with the authorization of the Muslim ruler; it is imperative that the decision to declare war be based on his own reasoning and his subjects must obey him. A ruler is authorized to declare war due to his knowledge of evident and hidden matters, the consequences of actions and the interest of his people. For this reason, a ruler is authorized to declare wars and hold domestic or international treaties as soon as he assumes office. In turn, he does not issue decisions based on [personal] whims. He declares a war only after consulting specialists in every relevant field such as technical specialists, military personnel, and political consultants who are indispensable in the military strategy.

A person or persons who independently determine the use of WMDs not only impose their opinion on their rulers but on the entire [Muslim] community. They give themselves the right to make decisions relating to the destiny of the entire community without recourse to ahl al-hall wal-’aqd [En. those who are qualified to elect or dispose of a ruler on behalf of the Muslim community] in matters that expose the country or people to great dangers.

Breach of international agreements and treaties

Islamic states must abide by the agreements and treaties that they acknowledged and entered into on their own accord; standing firmly with the international community towards achieving global peace and security [only] to the extent of the commitment of the signatory countries.

Using WMDs involves killing people and taking them by surprise

Abu Hurairra (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “A believer is not to kill [others]. Faith is a deterrent to killing”. Ibn al-Athir said: “Killing [here] means taking others by surprise and killing them while they are unprepared” [Al-Nihaya fi Gharib al-Hadith wa al-Athar 3/775]. The hadith means that faith is a deterrent to attacking others suddenly while they are unprepared. The Prophet’s words: “A believer is not to attack [others] by surprise” is a clear prohibition since it involves deception. Khubayb al-Ansarī (may Allah be pleased with him) was captured by the polytheists and sold in Mecca to Banī al-Hārith ibn ‘Amir ibn Nawfal ibn abd Manāf. It was Khubayb who killed al-Hārith ibn ‘Amir in the battle of Badr. He remained a prison- er with them for some time. Once, he asked the daughter of al-Harith for a razor to shave and placed her son on his lap. When she came upon this scene and saw Khubayb holding the razor in his hand and her son on his lap, she became scared. Thereupon, Khubayb said to her: “Are you afraid that I might kill him? I will never do that.” She said: “I never saw a captive better than Khubayb.” This is an example of a Muslim imprisoned by his enemies who plotted to kill him. In spite of being on the verge of death, he refrained from killing their son when he had the opportunity to do so. The manners of a Muslim are free from deception and killing others by surprise.

Killing and harming women and children

Al-Bukhari and Muslim reported through Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) that a woman was found dead in one of the battles fought by the Prophet. There- upon he condemned killing women and children. Another phrasing of the hadith states: “The messenger of Allah forbade killing women and children.” Imam al-Nawawi said: “There is a scholarly consensus on putting this hadith in practice as long as the women and children do not fight [the Muslims]. If they do, the majority of scholars maintain that they should be killed” [Sharh Muslim 12/48].

Killing and harming Muslim residents of the target countries

Targeting other countries with WMDs will endanger the lives of Muslims residents, natives or visitors. The noble Shari’ah honors the life of Muslims and warns against shedding their blood without right. Allah Almighty says: “But whoever kills a believer intentionally—his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment.” [Al-Nisa`]

On that account: We ordained for the children of Israel that if any one kills a person—unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he killed the whole people, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people [Al-Maeda. Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (may Allah be pleased with them both) narrated that the Prophet said: “The perishing of this world is easier in the sight of Allah than taking a Muslim’s life” [Sunan al-Nassa’i].

The ramifications of using WMDs

Such a foolish act will bring about catastrophes not only upon Muslims but upon the entire world because the countries under attack may retaliate either in kind or in a more brutal manner. Moreover, the destructive effects of some of these weapons may exceed the targeted area and spread by wind to other countries not involved in the conflict. Hence, the immedi- ate and far reaching evils of WMDs are greater than the benefits, if any. It is worthy to men- tion at this point that preventing harm is among the principles of Islamic law. This is based on legal maxim, “Preventing harm takes precedence over gaining benefit.”

Consequences of using WMD

Some of these weapons damage individual and public properties, wasting wealth which is forbidden by Islamic law. The prohibition is greater if the wasted wealth belongs to the oppressed. Thus, this prohibition lies in violating Islamic law on the one hand and the rights of others on the other.

The use of some of these weapons may require the perpetrator to enter the target

Permission to enter a country is considered a non-verbal security agreement not to cause corruption in the host country.

Imam al-Khurqī said in his Mukhtasr: “Whoever enters enemy lands in safety is not allowed to cheat them of their money.” Commenting on this statement, Ibn Qudāma said that it is prohibited to betray them [non-Muslims in non-Muslim countries] because there is an unspoken covenant to enter in safety on the condition that the person who seeks permission to enter a foreign country does not betray or oppress them. So whoever enters our lands in safety and betrays us violates this security agreement. This is prohibited because it involves treachery which is forbidden in our religion. [Al-Mughni 9/237].

The legal and juristic texts used as evidence to spread this extreme idea are taken out of context. Using these texts in such a manner disturbs peace, ignoring the differences between states of war and peace, and the special rulings pertaining to each of them. This is a compel- ling difference that is inconsistent with using WMDs weapons based on textual evidence on the permissibility of tabīt and ramy al turs. It is a grave mistake to make this analogy even though they are valid in themselves within the context cited by the authors of these texts. It is dangerous to take these rulings from their context and apply them to different situations. Moreover, it is impermissible to derive a ruling permitting the use of WMDs against an op- pressor based on analogy since it is established that there is a difference between the rulings for repelling an aggressor and those of jihad [En. fighting for the cause of Allah]. These in- clude repelling the aggressor by the least violent means. If it is possible to resolve the conflict in a peaceful manner, it is prohibited to use weapons against the aggressor. Using WMDs against others is not consistent with Islamic values.

It is invalid to base the permissibility of using WMDs on analogy [Ar.qiyās] to tabyīt, using the catapult, or tahrīq

There are great and manifest differences between the two situations. The prophetic traditions mentioned on tahrīq, tabyīn, and the catapult were narrated in a state of war; there is a differ- ence between a state of war and peace. There is a great difference in the effects of throwing stones at the enemy using the catapult and between using WMDs. The effects of the catapult are relatively restricted as compared to the effects of WMDs. The above methods of warfare mentioned in the prophetic traditions were conducted with the approval of rulers. Giving a person, [other than a ruler], the right to declare war is a crime against the [Islamic] community and its rulers under the pretext of jihad.

Even if we assume the authenticity of these prophetic traditions, we must note that they refer to specific incidents and cannot be put into general practice. For this reason, some scholars maintained that the principle [in war] is to avoid tabyīt, tahrīq, and destruction; they base their opinion on the general religious texts which discuss the ethics of war.

Our opinion is that WMDs that cause fires must not be used due to the prohibition of burning. After ordering his troops to use fire, the prophet forbade its implementation as a weap- on even though the Muslims were in a state of war. Abū Hurayrah narrated that the prophet [pbuh] said: “Allah alone has the right to punish with fire” [Bukhārī]. It is known that many WMDs cause huge fires, therefore it is better to ban their use even in a state of war.

It is a mistake to base the issue of the use of WMDs on tabyit because scholars restricted its permissibility by the following: It must be implemented in a state of war. The enemy must be from among those whom Muslims are permitted to fight as compared to the enemy with whom Muslims have a truce. It is impermissible to attack the enemy under the cover of night because it is a violation of the security pact between them in terms of lives, wealth, and hon- or. If it is prohibited to attack under the cover of darkness the enemy with whom Muslims have a security pact, then it is even more prohibited to use such lethal weapons against them.

Human Shields

It is impermissible to use human shields save in state of war and under specific conditions detailed by jurists. [Bahr Ra`iq 80\5, Hashiyat ibn ‘Abī Dīn 223\3, Rawdat al Tablibīn 239\10, Mughnī al Muhtāj 223\4, Mughni ibn Qudāma 449\8, 386/10].

(end of quoted Fatwa excerpts from Mufti Ali Gomaa)