Islam or Israel: Which Normalized the Killing of Women and Children?
In a recent debate between Piers Morgan and Mohamad Hijab, the former asked his Muslim guest what his reaction was to Hamas’s massacre of Israeli civilians on October 7, 2023.
“I was actually very sickened by it,” responded Hijab. Then, in apparent anticipation of Morgan’s follow up question—whether he, Hijab, condemns Hamas—the Muslim offered what seemed to be his most prepared and rehearsed position:
And this is something I do want to put on the table, because I think it’s fair for people to know this. In our religion we do not believe, okay, as a Muslim, I am a Muslim, I do not believe in the killing of any man, woman, or children—non-combatants. That is not despite the religious teachings; that’s because of the religious teachings. So, in terms of condemning Hamas—and just dropping straight into it—I condemn not only Hamas, but any entity, okay, wherein it has been proven that this has been done—the killing of [non]combatants. And therein I condemn any party that does it. Any party that kills people or strikes at people where it is more probable than not that it will hit a civilian target, I condemn them, and that’s why I condemn the IDF, because when they strike they know that it is more probable than not that they are going to hit civilian targets. They know that the majority of people that are going to be affected are civilians.
This is quite the mouthful and requires correction.
The “Exception” to the Rule Has Become the Rule Itself
First, while it is true that Islam generically bans the willful targeting of women and children during war (jihad), there have always been a few caveats—which, as usual, trace back to Islam’s prophet, Muhammad.
For instance, Muhammad authorized his followers to use catapults during their siege of the non-Muslim town of Ta’if in 630 AD, though he was aware that women and children were sheltered there. Separately, when asked if it was permissible to launch night raids or set fire to the fortifications of the infidels if women and children were among them, the prophet responded, “They [women and children] are from among them.”
As might be imagined, any and all militant Muslims, past and present—certainly including Hamas—have cited these Muhammadan examples (sunnan) to justify all-out attacks on non-Muslims, even if intermingled non-combatants might get killed. By making the waging of jihad so much easier, one might say that this “exception” to the rule has become the rule itself.
By way of more documentation, below is my 2007 translation of an early and much revered Muslim jurist, Abd al-Rahman al-Awza‘i (707-774 AD), making these same points:
[T]he Prophet besieged the inhabitants of Ta’if and fired at them with catapults, despite his ban on killing women and children. He did so knowing full well that women and children would be struck, for it was not possible to differentiate between them…. [Moreover,] the Prophet was [once] asked whether it was permissible to attack the idolaters in the dark even if this led to their women and children being struck. He [Muhammad] replied: ‘They are from among them.’ He also used to command that if those whom his armies intended to attack agreed to prayer [i.e., embraced Islam], then they were to be left alone, but if not, then they were to be attacked. This is the course that the righteous caliphs followed. And it is well known that whoever follows such a course, bombarding infidels, will inevitably hit their women and children, who are otherwise forbidden from being killed.
Following the Example of Their Prophet
“It is well known,” indeed: from the times of Muhammad to the present, Muslim jihadists have followed their prophet’s example — indiscriminately killing countless women and children during their jihads on infidels — which, for more than a millennium included the “West,” or Europe.
Which leads to an even more telling point: Muhammad allowed the killing of civilians and non-combatants during offensive jihads—meaning jihads to conquer and steal the territory of non-Muslim peoples (as at Ta’if) — and not just during defensive jihads, which might be more reasonable. Compare and contrast this with the IDF’s actions: even if it does kill noncombatants, it does so in the context of defending Israel against and trying to root out Hamas.
Put differently, accepting the inadvertent killing of civilians is more reasonable when one is defending their home — which is what Israel is doing — as opposed to when one is trying to conquer the homes of others — which is what the prophet of Islam and over a millennium of jihadist leaders (or terrorists) did.
In light of all this, and considering that for Mohamad Hijab, “Any party that kills people or strikes at people where it is more probable than not that it will hit a civilian target, I condemn them,” one wonders if he is willing to condemn his prophet, who did and normalized precisely this?
As for the rest of us, the lessons remain simple: Islamic teachings take indiscriminate violence and terrorism to a whole other level; and Muslims continue to dissemble about it.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Defenders of the West and Sword and Scimitar is the Distinguished Senior Shillman Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and the Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.