Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Collateral Damage: War and Civillian Casualties in Islam and the Ottoman Practices

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Collateral Damage: War and Civillian Casualties in Islam and the Ottoman Practices

Article excerpt

Abstract: The well-known perception of war-hungry Muslims who had the Qur'an on the one hand and sword on the other offering a choice of either accepting Islam or losing one's head has easily been created in the literature by the Orientalist scholars. Today the stress on the Jihad controversy by mass media in Europe and America is important and needs to be corrected. That jihad has usually been translated by the Western media as "holy war" is a greatly misunderstood principle in Islam. There is no term in Arabic which means, "holy war". War is not "holy" in Islam.

I would like to divide this study into two parts: In the first part, the issue of conquest and its religious, ideological and theoretical references will be dealt with in reference to basic Islamic sources and the previous Islamic state's practices. In particular, what are the limits of warfare and the position of civilians in the wars and wartimes according to the Islamic law will be looked for. In the second part, as a typical Islamic state, to what extend Ottoman conquests in the Balkans followed and practiced the legal way that opened up by Islamic law will be analyzed according to the available chronicles.

Key Words: War, Civillian Casualties, Islam, Ottoman Practice, Voluntary Surrender

The Meaning and Nature of Islam

From the Muslims' point of view, Islam is the religion appointed by God for the welfare of mankind, individually and collectively, in both worlds. It is based on belief in and worship of God, without associating with him any partners whatsoever. Belief in and worship of God requires on the part of a believer deep concern with creatures, animate or inanimate. The deeper one's belief in and submission to God is, the deeper one's concern for all creatures. Belief in the unity of God allows no one on the earth to enjoy and exercise absolute freedom in dealing with creatures.1

Islam, literally meaning peace, salvation and submission, came to establish peace, first, in the inner worlds of human beings themselves, making them at peace with God, nature and themselves, and, then, in the entire world and universe. For reason, peace and order are fundamental in Islam. It always seeks to spread in a peaceful atmosphere and refrains from resorting to force as much as possible. Islam never approves injustice in whatever form it is, and severely forbids bloodshed. According to the Qur'an: "Whoever slays a soul not to retaliate for a soul slain or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had slain all mankind, and whoever 'gives life' to a soul, it shall be as if he had 'given life' to the whole of mankind."2

According to Bernard Lewis there are different meanings of the word "Islam" in the contemporary world. In order to avoid misunderstandings in any discussion of Islam and its practices, we should be aware of all of these. There are at least three different meanings. "In the first place, Islam means the religion thought by the Prophet Mohammed and embodied in the Muslim revelation known as the Qur'an. In the second place, Islam is the subsequent development of this religion through tradition and through the work of the great Muslim jurists and theologians. In the third meaning, Islam is the counterpart not of Christianity but of Christendom. In this sense Islam means not what Muslims believed or were expected to believe but what they actually did."3

At this point, the above explanation is very important to note here, especially, for the people who are not familiar with Islam and the Islamic world that require an extensive research to understand the nature of Islam as a religion and its practices among the people. If one does not know exactly what Islam says about the issue of war and its various aspects, one can easily reach insufficient conclusions that may affect his ideas either negatively or positively.

War in Islam

There are strict rules regulating how war may be conducted. For example, the following is the order given by Prophet Muhammad to come until the present day to armies dispatched for fighting:

"Always keep fear of God in your mind. …

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