Qitāl Without the Authority of the State
Islamic Punishments
Question asked by .
Answered by Asif Iftikhar

In your editorial ‘Terrorism, Murder and Manslaughter All in the Name of Allah’ (published March-April, 1997), you have tried to prove that there is no concept of Jihād -- militant struggle to be more precise -- in Islam without the authority of the State. In this regard, I have three questions:

i)    Abu Basīr, a convert to Islam in the Prophet’s  time (sws), formed a base near Duh’l-Marwah and launched guerrilla warfare from there, ultimately forcing the Quraysh to make peace with him. Wouldn’t you agree that his stance proves your point invalid?

ii)   Isn’t your idea a negation of the Jihād in Kashmir?

iii)   Isn’t your idea a negation of Hadrat Husayn’s stand against Yazīd?


Abu Basīr was bound by the Pact of Hudaybiyyah to remain in Makkah, but he defected to the Muslims in Madīnah. The Prophet (sws), in accordance with the terms of the pact, returned him to the Quraysh by handing him over to two representatives from their side. Abu Basīr killed one of them on the way back; the other ran away and came to the Prophet (sws). Abu Basīr also returned to the Prophet (sws) and told him that by handing Abu Basīr over to the Quraysh the Prophet (sws) had fulfilled his promise and that thenceforth Abu Basīr was himself responsible for all his actions. Thereafter, Abu Basīr left Madīnah and went to ‘īs near Dhul’l Marwah. Soon a number of other defectors joined him and began ambushing the trade caravans of the Quraysh. Finally, the Quraysh relaxed the conditions of the pact for him, and he, along with his companions, settled down in Madīnah.

If the moral of Abu Basīr’s story is that ambushes -- or guerrilla warfare as you prefer to call the skirmishes in question -- without the authority of the State are justified in Islam, then it also follows from Abu Basīr’s episode that a Muslim may break a promise that the Prophet (sws) makes on behalf of all the Muslims and that a Muslim may also kill a mu‘āhid (a non-Muslim with whom a treaty -- especially of peace -- has been made by the Islamic State).

One can only extol the brilliance of those who find, in what Abu Basīr did, justification for Qitāl without the authority of the State. It is amazing that they simply choose to ignore the fact that Abu Basīr, after killing one man, told the Prophet (sws) that Abu Basīr was then responsible for his own actions and that the Prophet (sws) had fulfilled his promise by handing Abu Basīr over to the Quraysh. The only thing that went in favour of Abu Basīr was that he got lucky enough to get a relaxation from the Quraysh, who had become tired of his ambushes.

It is obvious from Abu Basīr’s statement to the Prophet (sws) that the Prophet (sws) would not have demanded Qisas from the Quraysh if they had later killed Abu Basīr for killing a man and violating the terms of the treaty.

The chance that God afforded to Abu Basīr in the form of pardon by the Quraysh might be indicative of His mercy for a convert to Islam, but it does not in any way negate a principle emanating from the Qur’ān and the Sunnah for Qitāl.


ii)   ‘No Qitāl without the authority of the State’ is not ‘my idea’. It is a deduction from the Qur’ān for which deduction detailed arguments were given in the editorial. Calling this deduction ‘your idea’  does not prove it wrong. You can call it anything that pleases you: your idea, your imagination, your trickery, but only sound counter arguments from the Qur’ān and the Sunnah can negate what is presented on these bases.

Regarding the struggle in Kashmir, I should like to ask you if you regard all what Muslims do as truly Islamic. Isn’t it possible -- as has been the case many a time in our history -- that a Muslim or a group of Muslims -- despite our emotional attachment to that person or group -- may be doing something against the Qur’ān without realising it? What are the criteria? That is the question. Are the criteria the Qur’ān and the Sunnah or actions and emotions of the Muslims? If actions and emotions are the criteria, ‘Umar (raa) should not have submitted to Abu Bakr’s argument (raa) when he recited the Qur’ān on the death of our Prophet (sws).

In Kashmir, different factions fighting Indian hegemony have different objectives and strategies. Which objectives and strategies are right and which are wrong? Is Kashmir another Afghanistan in the making (where Muslims fought and killed Muslims)? These questions should be of interest to every patriotic Pakistani Muslim. However, the question here is not Kashmir. It is the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. What are the arguments from within the Qur’ān and on the basis of the Sunnah which negate the principle of No Qitāl without the Authority of the State?

I do not deny the plight of the Kashmiri Muslims or the atrocities of the Indians. Indeed, if it were my choice alone, I should like to bomb all the Indians out of Kashmir -- may be even out of India. But again the question is: How do the Qur’ān and the Sunnah want me to go about it?

If you look at the editorial from this angle, you’ll find that it does not negate Jihād in Kashmir. It merely spells out the right way to do it.

My article does not stop Pakistan or any other Muslim State -- from Morocco to Indonesia -- to wage an armed Jihād against India. Indeed, that, according to the article, would absolutely be in accordance with the dictates of Islam provided that the Jihād is morally and tactically justified. If, in that Jihād, my country  or ‘the United Muslim States’ asked for my services as an individual, I should regard it as a matter of my faith to render them. In the existing circumstances, however, we must ask ourselves whether  or not we are deceiving our conscience with insignificant measures as slogans, seminars and rallies to cover up for the lack of courage and of tactical ability at the level of our State -- and even at the level of the Ummah -- to wage an all out Jihād for our Kashmiri brethren.

iii) Regarding Hadrat Husayn’s stand against Yazīd, again the first question is related to the criteria?

It is evident from the Qur’ān that the Qur’ān and the Sunnah are the actual sources of Divine guidance, not history. Not only has the veracity of various historical records been a subject of continual debate, the contexts in which events have been reported are also not always clear. Why then should one rely on a human source of knowledge for deriving religious principles when two indubitable sources of Divine guidance -- the Qur’ān and the Sunnah -- are available?

As Muslims, we can assume that Hadrat Husayn did what he thought was correct. But what exactly was it that he did? What actually happened? Much has been written on these issues and much needs to be written. Research on this aspect of our history, it seems, will continue. We, however, have to decide about religion on the basis of the Qur’ān and the Sunnah.

As far as history is concerned, who knows further research might reveal that Hadrat Husayn decided to go to Kūfa just to form an independent State for fulfilling a condition for Khurūj and that on finding out that the people of Kūfa had backed out from supporting him, he offered to pledge allegiance to Yazīd (one of the three propositions he made) not as a compromise but as an acceptance of the Qur’ānic principle of government by the majority-vote of the Muslims (see the Qur’ān 42:38).



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