Publication Date: 
Thu, 2011-12-22 23:38

History shows that prisoners of war have been the victims of the worst imaginable forms of human cruelty. Islam’s stand on the treatment of prisoners of war has been made clear in a verse of the Holy Qur’an, which describes the qualities of a virtuous man. “And they feed for the love of God, poor, the orphan and the prisoner (Surah Insan, verse 8.)
Islam gives great emphasis on manners during a battle.
There are many other Hadiths that urge Muslims not to kill others.
Before engaging in a battle, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to instruct his soldiers:
• “Do not kill any child, any woman, or any elderly or sick person.” (Sunan Abu Dawud)
• “Do not practice treachery or mutilation. Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees. Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food.” (Al-Muwatta)
• “If one fights his brother, (he must) avoid striking the face, for God created him in the image of Adam.” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
• “Do not kill the monks in monasteries, and do not kill those sitting in places of worship.” (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal)
• “Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter the cattle.” (Sahih Bukhari; Sunan Abu Dawud)
• “Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy. Pray to God to grant you security, but when you (are forced to) encounter them, exercise patience.” (Sahih Muslim)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) had also issued clear instructions for good treatment of prisoners of war.
The first group of prisoners ever taken captive in the history of Islam was in the Battle of Badr, which was fought between the Muslims and pagans of Makkah in 624 AD.
Almost all of the 70 Makkans who were captured in that war were set free with or without ransom.
“When they ate their morning and evening meals they gave me the bread and ate the dates themselves in accordance with the orders that the Prophet had given about us. If anyone had a morsel of bread he gave it to me,” Ibn Ishaq, an early biographer of the Prophet (peace be upon him), wrote quoting a prisoner of war.
A prisoner should not be coerced into renouncing his religion. He should be invited to Islam and given the choice to accept or reject the call.
“O Prophet! Say to those who are captives in your hands: ‘If Allah finds any good in your hearts, He will give you something better than what has been taken from you and He will forgive you. For Allah is Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Surah Anfal, Verse 70.)
That is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) let idol-worshipping Thamamah Al-Hanafi, who was captured by the Muslims in a battle, go scot-free. He was brought to the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, according to a valid Hadith. The prisoner did not show any willingness to renounce his old faith and accept Islam. On the other hand, he told the Prophet (peace be upon him): “If you kill me, you kill a man whose blood will surely be avenged. If you are generous, then you are generous to a man who knows how to be grateful. If you are after money, then ask of me whatever amount you like.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not make any decision on the man’s fate on the first or second day after he was taken a prisoner. On the third day, the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered his companions to set Al-Hanafi free.
In the battle of Badr, the Prophet (peace be upon him) showed that a prisoner had, among other rights, the right to be decently clothed.
“After the Battle of Badr, prisoners of war were brought. Among them was Al-Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib. He did not have a shirt on, so the Prophet (peace be upon him) looked for a shirt for him. It turned out that a shirt of Abdullah bin Ubayy was the right size, so the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave it to Al-Abbas to wear and compensated Abdullah with his own shirt.” (Bukhari).
According to the noted commentator of the Holy Qur’an and Hadith, Ibn Kathir (1301-1373), the Prophet distributed the prisoners of Badr among his companions for their upkeep (Al-Bidayah wa Al-Nihayah).
Muslims are ordered to treat prisoners of war kindly. Prisoners cannot be abused on account of the fact that they were fighting against the Muslims. There is no Islamic law that permits punishment for a prisoner because of his faith. Imam Malik said he had never come across any teachings of Islam that sanctions torture of a prisoner of war to extract information.
However, the Prophet had ordered execution of a few prisoners of war because of the serious crimes they had committed. Even though Muslim jurisprudents are not unanimous in the permissibility of killing prisoners of war, they agree that a prisoner could not be killed without a valid reason such as being guilty of a crime that warranted capital punishment.

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