Does Islam Condone War Against Civilians?

Shafi'i Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick


In the Shafi’i School, I seek clarification on whether certain actions, such as bombing, kidnapping, dismemberment, indiscriminate killing, or machine-gunning non-combatant civilians, whether in a targeted or indiscriminate manner, are permissible. This includes individuals of various demographics, such as children, women, men, and the elderly. Are there exceptions to these actions, whether as an initial attack or in retaliation?

Additionally, I would like to understand the distinction between a non-combatant civilian and a civilian actively participating in the war effort, and how this differentiation is defined according to Shafi’i jurisprudence.

Finally, considering the ongoing situation in Palestine, I inquire about the validity of the concept of reprisals. Can combatants or armed forces legitimately engage in reprisals against non-military populations? Furthermore, if soldiers are deliberately placed among civilians as a war tactic or as human shields, how does Islamic jurisprudence address this issue?

I appreciate your guidance and clarification on these matters. May Allah reward you for your knowledge and wisdom.


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah alleviate our difficulties and guide us to what pleases Him. Amin.

In the Shafi’i School, as in other Islamic jurisprudential traditions, targeting non-combatant civilians, such as children, women, and even animals, is generally prohibited. Unless they are actively fighting. [Nawawi, Minhaj al-Talibin]

Islam emphasizes the sanctity of human life, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians contradicts this fundamental principle. Acts such as bombing, dismembering, or killing non-combatants are not justified and run counter to the teachings of Islam. Islam generally emphasizes the principles of justice, proportionality, and avoiding harm to non-combatants in warfare. [Nawawi, al-Majmu‘] Sadly, these rules are very rarely applied by others when they fight Muslims.

Propaganda and The Fog of War

It is essential to understand that much of modern warfare lies in the propaganda and fog of war, so one must be cautious against blindly accepting biased narratives, especially against oppressed, colonized, and occupied people.

In light of the above, it is essential to educate oneself not only in the classical Sacred Law but also on the realities of current events, while learning from traditional scholars who are able to shed light on unique contemporary applications by relying on traditional sources.

Complexities of Contemporary Warfare

The application of the aforementioned rules of warfare will depend on the specific context in question, and the complexities of modern warfare often complicate offering a clear directive from classical traditional Sacred Law, and reliable scholars should always be consulted.

Meanings of Jihad

Engaging in combat, including jihad, encompasses various meanings. The late polymath, Dr Muhammad Sa‘id Ramadan Al-Buti, emphasized that taking up arms represents just one facet, and exhausting all alternative meanings before resorting to physical combat is crucial. This does not imply, contrary to some apologists’ assertions, that jihad or religious fighting should never occur. As Muslims, akin to adherents of all religions and nations, we recognize that circumstances may arise necessitating the use of force. [Buti, Al-Jihad fi Al-Islam]

Positive Steps

To play a more enlightened role in current world events and oppression against Muslims, we advise the following:

Understanding the Middle East Situation: Seek comprehensive insights from reliable scholars, preferably those directly affected by the issues in the afflicted countries, and reliable, unbiased history books. This will help you to see through the fog of war and protect you from falling prey to propaganda, and Allah knows best.

Creating Public Awareness: Work towards raising awareness among the public about the Middle East situation, striving to dispel misconceptions and promote a nuanced understanding.

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]

Praying for Resolution: Engage in sincere prayers to alleviate the challenges faced by the people in the Middle East, recognizing that prayer is a potent weapon for believers.

In this way, individuals can contribute positively to addressing the complex issues in the region, promoting understanding, and fostering a sense of unity among Muslims and beyond.

I pray this is of benefit and that Allah guides us all.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar Shaykh Taha Karaan.

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and has completed his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.