Question: An English translation of Minhaj al-Talibin by Imam Nawawi states that monks and the like are to be killed in jihad even if they pose no direct military threat. Is this accurate?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
Yes, the translation is correct, and that is the relied upon the position of the Shafi’i school. [Minhaj al-Talibin, Nawawi] This position is based on the verse of the Quran, “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day …” [Qur’an, 9: 29] The language of the verse is inclusive of all disbelievers, so monks and the like are not excluded. [Al-Majmu’, Nawawi]
This however it is not the only position in the Shafi’i school and furthermore does not reflect how Muslims historically worked in warfare.
The first caliph and the one who was in charge of the Muslim armies told his people, “You will assuredly come to a people who claim to divest themselves for Allah’s sake (monks), so leave them alone with their divestment …” [Muwatta Malik; Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq]
Historically, the Muslims did not fight non-combatants and did not kill monks and the like.
To understand this whole issue soundly, we should not read legal manuals by ourselves. We need to study the life of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the lives of the early Muslim rulings and see who they humanely and nobly applied the letter of the law.
Legal manuals are only two-dimensional and need to be explained and contextualized by specialists. This why it is narrated that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Knowledge is only acquired through receiving knowledge (ta’allum).”
This is not an issue of something being lost in translation. This is an issue of something being lost in education.
I pray this helps.
[Ustadh] Farid Dingle
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.