Unintentionally Killing Muslims: Jihadists Debate
This post is a continuation of my summary of the second chapter in Self-Inflicted Wounds. I’ve already discussed the debates within al-Qaeda concerning the proper use of takfir. Here, I’ll briefly (more so than my last post) summarize what Mohammed Hafez says are the differences among jihadists regarding the acceptability of unintentionally killing innocent Muslims.
As attested in the summary on takfir, jihadists have a different definition of who is a true Muslim and who professes to be a Muslim but is in reality a tyrant (secular government), apostate (direct and/or indirect supporter of the tyrant), or heretic (Shi’ite.) As for the true believers, Islamists hold, like the rest of the umma, that killing fellow Muslims is forbidden (hence the takfir obfuscation). Q 48:25 is held up in support of this position. But more often than not, attacks on the unbelievers take the lives of Muslims as well. The problem for jihadists, then, is how to make this permissible.
Ayman al-Zawahiri argues that unintentionally killing Muslims is permissible in a defensive jihad, for waging jihad in the face of a foreign oppressor is the ultimate duty of Muslims and should be carried out at all costs. Muslims who die in this manner are martyrs, he says, citing ibn Taymiyya. Hafez writes,
Basically, he avers that: (a) jihad today is defensive in character; (b) the tyrants and infidels protect themselves with heavy armory and fortified buildings that can only be destroyed through explosives and rockets; (c) the tyrants and infidels position themselves among innocent Muslims; and, therefore, (d) using explosives and rockets to kill tyrants and infidels will inevitably result in Muslim collateral damage.
Two other views that Zawahiri lays out but doesn’t accept (he doesn’t say why) are 1) as propounded in the Maliki madhhab, the killing of innocents, no matter the circumstances, is always forbidden. 2) Unintentionally killing innocents is permissible in offensive jihad if the benefits to the umma outweight the individual costs. This position is backed up by the sunna of the Prophet Muhammad using catapults in his siege of Taif, a tactic that couldn’t distinguish between innocent Muslims and unbelievers.
Moving on to attacking unwitting Muslim human shields, Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al-Libi both maintain (on the authority of classical scholar al-Qartubi) that such Muslim collateral damage is permissible if “if the advantage gained is imperative, universal, and certain” where
“Imperative” means that reaching the infidels cannot be attained without killing the human shield; “universal” means that the advantage gained by killing the human shield benefits every Muslim…; and “certain” means that the benefit gained by killing the human shield is definite.
One critique of this position comes from Sayyid Imam who argues that because the Quran is so explicit about the matter, it overrides the ijtihad (independent reasoning) of ibn Taymiyya or any other august scholar. Thus unintentionally killing Muslims is forbidden.