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Early Islamic Legal-Historical Precedents: Prisoners of War

  • Lena Salaymeh


The inseparability of law and history is manifest when historical interpretation -an integral component of legal hermeneutics-results in juristic disagreement. This article is a foray into the shift from prohibition to permissibility of prisoner of war execution in early Islamic legal history that connects changing legal opinions to changing historiographical readings. Contemplating the contrast between historical and jurisprudential interpretations of historical events with legal implications will facilitate investigation of the interactions between historiography and legal discourse. Exploring a few questions will highlight the ambiguous, overlapping roles of historians and jurists as they construct (legal) histories: (1) Do historical narratives about all the battles that occurred during the Prophet's lifetime illustrate his legal practice concerning treatment of prisoners of war? (2) After the Prophet's death, how did Muslim jurists adjudicate this issue? (3) What legal reasoning did key Muslim jurists of the ‘professionalization’ period apply in permitting the execution of war prisoners? (4) What could explain the discrepancy between the chronologically earlier opinion (prohibiting prisoner execution) and the later, more dominant legal opinion (permitting prisoner execution)?



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1. The legal category of ‘prisoner of war’ is arguably a modern one; however, for our purposes, ‘prisoner of war’ refers to soldiers or combatants captured during or immediately after warfare. In the context of seventh-century Arabia, ‘combatants’ generally means malesἈabove the age of puberty and capable of engaging in warfare. Familiarity with Islamic legal history or legal theory is unnecessary for understanding the underlying theme of this essay. For introductions to this area of study, see Hallaq, Wael B., A History of Islamic LegalἈTheories: An Introduction to Sunnī uṣūl al-fiqh (Cambridge, UK; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997). See also Kamali, Mohammad Hashim, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence,Ἀ rev. ed. (Cambridge [England]: Islamic Texts Society, 1991). This article's approachἈto the sources presumes that “it seems plausible to assert that the traditional Islamic material,Ἀconsidered as a whole... contains embedded within it sufficient material to reconstruct atἈleast the main issues debated by Believers in the early Islamic period, and the basic attitudesἈof the main parties to those debates.”Donner, Fred M., Narratives of Islamic Origins, StudiesἈin Late Antiquity and Early Islam 14 (Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1998), 2829.

2. This period is commonly described as ‘classical,’ but ‘professional’ or ‘professionalization’ will be used here to emphasize the substantive characteristic of this historiographical category.

3. In contrast to the ‘majority’ opinion (of the ‘classical’ period) permitting prisoner execution, there are ‘minority’ opinions prohibiting it-such as the Jafarī (Shīī) school of law. Seeal-ḥillī, al-ḥasan ibn Yūsuf Ibn al-Muṭahhar, Tadhkirat al-fuqahā. (Qum: Mu.assasat Ā l al-Bayt li-Iḥyā al-Turāth, 1993/1994 [1414 H]), 9:154–55. There is also a minority Ḥanafī opinion-represented by al-Ḥasan (bin Zīyād) and Ḥamād bin abī Sulaymān-that prohibits execution. See Sarakhsī, Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad, Sharḥal-Siyar al-Kabīr, ed. Shaybāni, Ṣalāḥal-Dīn Munajjid and Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan (750-804/5) (Cairo: Ma.had al-Makhṭū ṭat bi-Jā al-Duwal al-Ἀrabīyah, 1971/1972), 3:1024.

4. Khaled Abou El Fadl suggests that the prohibition of prisoner execution disappeared from Islamic legal history because it was “inconsistent with the war practices of the age.”Fadl, Khaled Abou El, “The Rules of Killing at War: An Inquiry into Classical Sources,” The Muslim World 89, no. 2 (1999): 153. For a brief overview of various Islamic legal opinions on prisoners of war, seeṬabarī, , KitĀb al-jihād wa-kitāb al-jizyah wa-aḥkām al-muḥāribīn min kitāb ikhtilāf al-fuqahā. ed. Schacht, Joseph (Leiden: Brill, 1933), 141–46.

5. For instance, the Life of Theodota of Amid (d. 698 CE) reports collecting ransom money from church attendees (living under Islamic rule) for the purpose of ransoming captives (presumably held by the Byzantines). See MS Jerusalem (St Mark's) 199, fol. 557b (an 18th-century Arabic translation of a Syriac vita originally composed in the early eighth century). Writing in the twelfth century, Michael the Syrian reported both Muslim killing and freeing of war prisoners throughout the eighth century CE. See Michael, the Syrian, , Chronique de Michel le Syrien: patriarche jacobite d'Antioche (1166-1199), trans. Chabot, Jean Baptiste (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1899-1910), 2:479, 501, 526 and 3:1, 2. (Thanks to Jack Tannous for these references.) See also,Rotman, Youval, Les esclaves et l'esclavage: de la Méditerranée antique à la Méditerranée médiévale: VIe-XIe siècles (Paris: Belles lettres, 2004), 56-62, 6875.

6. Application of the methodology of uṣū l al-fiqh is not what is intended. Instead, it is a legal-historical tradition, since “already in the first/seventh century people consciously resorted to the Qur.ān and to rulings of the Prophet as sources of the law, if not as extensively as in later times.”Motzki, Harald, The Origins of Islamic Jurisprudence: Meccan Fiqh before the Classical Schools, trans. Katz, Marion H., Islamic History and Civilization. Studies and Texts, 41 (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2002), 295.

7. This intentionally modifies the list of battles reported in ‘classical’ sources, such as Sa'd, Muḥammad Ibn, Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt al-kabīr, trans. Haq, S. Moinul, assisted by Ghazanfar, H. K. (Karachi: Pakistan Historical Society, 1967), 2:2. See also Isḥāq, Muḥammad Ibn, The Life of Muḥammad: A Translation of Isḥā q's Sīrat rasū l Allāh, trans. Guillaume, Alfred (1955; Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2004), 659–60.

8. Raids or Ghazw had always been an important component of the Bedouin economy of survival.” Bamyeh, Mohammed A., The Social Origins of Islam: Mind, Economy, Discourse (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 42. Thus, this differentiation between a raid and a battle is fashioned from indications in the sources.

9. Ḥadīth is a narration of what the Prophet said, did, or acknowledged. See Robson, J., “Ḥadīth,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, ed. Bearman, P., Th. Bianquis, , Bosworth, C. E., Donzel, E. van, and Heinrichs, W. P. (Leiden: Brill, 2007). Brill Online. University of California UC Berkeley. 12 October 2007 0248 On the biographical literature, seeMotzki, Harald, editor, The Biography of Muḥammad: The Issue of the Sources (Boston: Brill, 2000). On the historical value of one of the earliest surviving ḥadīth collections, seeMotzki, Harald, “The Muṣannaf of Ἀbd al-Razzāq al-Ṣan.ānī as a Source of Authentic Aḥādīth of the First Century A.H.,Journal of Near Eastern Studies 50, no. 1 (1991): 121.

10. Consequently, evaluating the authenticity of sources is immaterial. Secondary literature is avoided in this historical account precisely because the objective is to sketch what Muslim jurists knew or believed about their history. Also,Wāqidī's, Kitāb al-Maghāzīis not used as a main source for reasons of historical influence and reliability. For an analysis of Islamic historical sources, seeDonner, , Narratives of Islamic Origins.

11. al-Ṣan.ānī, Ἀbd al-Razzāq ibn Hammām al-Ḥimyarī, Muṣannaf fī al-ḥadīth, ed. Ma'mar ibn Rāshid, and Ayman Naṣr Azharī, (Beirut: Manshūrāt Muḥammad Ἀlī Bayd'ūn, Dār al-Kutub al-.Ilmīyah, 2000), 5:141, 144, 240.

12. In another version, the Prophet consulted the community, which chose ransoming. See Shaybah, Ἀbd Allāh ibn Muḥammad Ibn Abī, Muṣannaf fī al-aḥādīth wa-al-āthār, ed. Laḥḥām, Sa'īd, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1989), 7:673, 8:474–75.

13. al-Ṣan'ānī, al-Ḥimyarī, Muṣannaf, 5:140-41, 250; Shaybah, Ibn Abī, Muṣannaf, 8:477.

14. Ch. Pellat, , “al-Nadr b. al-Ḥā r ith b. Ἀlkama b. Kalada b. Ἀbd Manāf b. Ἀbd al-Dār b. Kuṣayy,” Encyclopaedia of Islam. Brill Online. University of California UC Berkeley. 20 May 2007 <>

15. Shaybah, Ibn Abī, Muṣannaf, 8:441. al-Qushayrī, Muslim ibn Hajjāj, SaḥīḥMuslim; Being Traditions of the Sayings and Doings of the Prophet Muhammad as Narrated by His Companions and Compiled under the Title al-Jāmi-uṣ-ṣaḥīḥ, by Imam Muslim, trans. Ṣiddīqī, Ἀbdul Ḥamīd (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1971-1975), n. 4421-22, 3:986–87.

16. Shaybah, Ibn Abī, Muṣannaf, 8:441. al-Qushayrī, , SaḥīḥMuslim, no. 4424, 3:987.

17. Isḥāq, Ibn, The Life of Muḥammad, 337.

18. Ibid., 309.

19. Ibid.

20. al-Ṣan.ānī, al-Ḥimyarī, Muṣannaf, 5:240.

21. Isḥāq, Ibn, The Life of Muḥammad, 318. (Incidentally, this poet reportedly did help Quraysh in their next battle, Uḥud, against the Muslim community.)

22. Shaybah, Ibn Abī, Muṣannaf, 8:475.

23. Isḥāq, Ibn, The Life of Muḥammad, 387–89. Some sources suggest one prisoner (the poet from the battle of Badr) was executed, but this likely occurred during battle or as a result of his violating the prior agreement (not to fight against the community) with the Prophet. This discrepancy between the ḥadīth needs further investigation.

24. Isḥāq, Ibn, The Life of Muḥammad, 459–60. Readers familiar with early Islamic history are asked to consider this depiction of history seriously and not reflexively presume any omission based on prior exposure to the Islamic historical tradition. Section V will explain why a prevailing historical interpretation (both academic and non-academic) concerning Banū Qurayz a constitutes a problematic special case.

25. A few non-combatant captives were taken as booty, but no ‘soldiers’ were captured. Isḥāq, Ibn, The Life of Muḥammad, 511, 514–16.

26. Ibid., 535.

27. Isḥāq, Ibn, The Life of Muḥammad, 570, 576. Bukhārī, Muḥammad ibn Ismā.īl, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī = The Translation of the Meanings of Ṣaḥīḥal-Bukhārī, Arabic-English, trans. Khan, Muhammad Muhsin (Medina: Dar al-Fikr, 1981), 4:235.

28. The historical summary presented here of the Prophet's treatment of war prisoners differs from some contemporary sources in its categorization of battles and its exclusion of later historical sources. See, for example, Adghīrī, Ἀbd al-Salām bin al-Ḥasan, Ḥukm alasrá fī al-Islām wa-muqāranatuhu bī al-qānū n al-dawlī al-amm, 1st ed. (Rabat: Maktabat al-Ma.ārif, 1985), 89117. But see Shalabī, Raūf, al-Jihād fī sabīl Allāh: majālatuhu wawas -ailuhu wa-āhdāfuhu (Cairo: Dār al-Turāth al-Ἀrabī, 1974), 106–7.

29. al-Qushayrī, , ṢaḥīḥMuslim, n. 4361, 3:962–63.

30. The report narrates that “eighty persons from the inhabitants of Mecca swooped down upon the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) from the mountain of Tanīm. They were armed and wanted to attack the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) and his Companions unawares. He (the Holy Prophet) captured them but spared their lives. So, God, the Exalted and Glorious, revealed the verses: ‘It is He Who restrained your hands from them and their hands from you in the valley of Mecca after He had given you a victory over them.’” Ibid., n. 4452, 3:1001.

31. Wāqidī, Muḥammad ibn Umar, Kitāb al-Maghāzī, ed. Jones, Marsden (Beirut: 'Ā lam al-Kutub, 2006), 48.

32. For a contemporary writing echoing this, see Fār, Ἀbd al-Wāḥīd Muḥammad, Asrá al-harb: dirāsah fiqhīyah wa-taṭbīqīyah fī niṭāq al-qānū n al-duwalī al-'amm wa-al-sharī'ah al-islāmīyah (Cairo: 'Ā lam al-Kutub, 1975), 192.

33. Concerning prohibition of prisoner execution, Rushd, Ibn mentions that: “Al-H' asan ibn Muḥammad al-Tamīmī reported that there is a consensus of the Companions on this issue.” Rushd, Ibn (aka Averroes), Bidāyat al-mujtahid wa-nihāyat al-muqtaṣid, ed. amawī, Mājid al-H., 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār Ibn H. azm, 1995), 2:738.

34. On other groups prohibiting prisoner execution, see above, note 3.

35. Qudāmah, Muwaffaq al-Dīn Ἀbd Allāh ibn Aḥmad Ibn, al-Mughnī, ed. Turkī, Ἀbd Allāh ibn Ἀbd al-Muḥsin and ulw, Ἀbd al-FattāḥMuḥammad H., 1st ed. (Imbābah, Cairo: Hajr, 1986), 13:45; illī, Ibn al-Muṭahhar al-H., Tadhkirat al-fuqahā., 9:156.

36. Shaybah, Ibn Abī, Muṣannaf, 7:671, 673–74. Qudāmah, Ibn, al-Mughnī, 13:45; illī, Ibn al-Muṭahhar al-H', Tadhkirat al-fuqahā., 9:156.

37. Qal'ah'jī, Muḥammad Rawwās, Mawsū'at fiqh al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri, 1st ed., Fī sabīl mawsū'ah fiqhīyah j āmi'ah, , 9 (Beirut: Dār al-Nafā'is, 1989), 1:127–28. Ἀbd Allāh ibn Ἀbbās (d. 686-8) may have shared this opinion; see Qal'ah'jī, Muḥammad Rawwās, Mawsū.at fiqh Ἀbd Allāh ibn Ἀbbās, al-salaf, Fī sabīl mawsū.ah fiqhīyah jāmi.ah; Silsilat mawsū.āt fiqh (Beirut: Dār al-Nafā'is, 1996), 121.

38. Qur.ān 47:4, The Holy Qur-ān: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary, trans. Ἀli, Ἀbdullah Yūsuf (Al-Madīnah Al-Munawarah: King Fahd Holy Qur-ān Printing Complex, 1989-1990), 1560.

39. Qal'ah'jī, Muḥammad Rawwās, Mawsū'at fiqh.Umar ibn Ἀbd al-Ἀzīz, 1st ed., Fī sabīl mawsū.ah fiqhīyah jāmi.ah; Silsilat mawsū.āt fiqh al-salaf (Kuwait: Jā al-Kuwayt, Lajnat al-Tā.līf wa-al-T.arīb wa-al-Nashr, 2001), 171. Likewise, there are conflicting reports about the practice of his son. SeeQal'ah'jī, Muḥammad Rawwās, Mawsū, at fiqh Ἀbd Allāh ibn.Umar:.aṣruhu wa-ḥayātuh, Fī sabīl mawsū.ah fiqhīyah jāmi.ah, 7 (Beirut: Dār al-Nafā'is, 1986), 118.

40. Qal.ah'jī, Muḥammad Rawwās, Mawsū.at fiqh Ibrāhīm al-Nakha.ī, Fī sabīl mawsū.ah fiqhīyah jāmi.ah, 8 (Beirut: Dār al-Nafā.is, 1986), 1:282. Qal.ah'jī, Muḥammad Rawwās, Mawsū.at fiqh Sufyān al-Thawrī, 1st ed., Fī sabīl mawsū.ah fiqhīyah jāmi.ah; Silsilat mawsū.ā t fiqh al-salaf, 10 (Beirut: Dār al-Nafā.is, 1990), 156.

41. “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war).” Qur'-an, 497.

42. al-Ṣan.ānī, al-Himyarī, Muṣannaf, 5:143–44; Shaybah, Ibn Abī, Muṣannaf, 7:672. These verses will be discussed in more detail below.

43. Sunnī legal schools differ in many respects, but these differences are not pertinent to this study. The Ja.farī (a Shī.ī legal school) opinion is a ‘minority’ one, prohibiting prisoner execution (see note 3).

44. Focus will again be on primary texts (rather than secondary literature) in order to contrast the historical and legal depictions of prisoners of war.

45. Shaybānī, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan, The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybānī's Siyar, trans. Khadduri, Majid (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1966), 100.

46. This succinctness is also evident in a twelfth-century Ḥanafī legal compendium; see Kāsānī, Abū Bakr ibn Mas.ūd, Badā'i' al-ṣanā'i' fī tartīb al-sharā'i', ed. Uthmān, Aḥmad Mukhtār' (Cairo: Zakarīyā Ἀli Yūsif, 1968), 9:4307. There is a minority Ḥanafī opinion prohibiting prisoner execution (see above, note 3).

47. al-Qayrawānī, Ἀbd Allāh ibn Ἀbd al-Raḥmān Ibn Abī Zayd, The Rísâla: Treatise on Mâlíkî Law of 'Abdallâh Ibn-Abî-Zayd Al-Qayrawânî (922-996): An Annotated Translation, trans. Kenny, Joseph (Minna: Islamic Education Trust, 1992), 107. Al-Qayrawānī likely presumes that believing (i.e., Muslim) prisoners may not be killed. This may be a reference to bughāh, Muslims who resist government authority. See Fadl, Khaled Abou El, “The Rules of Killing at War: An Inquiry into Classical Sources,” The Muslim World 89, no. 2 (1999): 146.

48. “Mais s'il arrive qu'ils soient poursuivis par l'ennemi, les cavaliers devront aller rejoindre les quarante autres restés sur place, mettre à mort ou envoyer en avant les prisonniers qu'ils auront faits, s'en aller au plus vite et gagner l'endroit bien défendu.”Nicephorus, Emperor IIPhocas, , Le Traité Sur la Guérilla de l'Empereur Nicéphore Phocas (963-969), trans. Gilbert, and Dagron, Haralambie Mihaescu, Byzantin, Le monde (Paris: Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1986), 74. This implies that Byzantines likely accepted or practiced prisoner execution, which could have made it seem normative or necessary to their Muslim neighbors.

49. Nawawī, Yaḥyá ibn Sharaf, Rawḍat al-ṭālibīn,ūd, 'Ā dil Aḥmad Ἀbd, Mu'awwaḍ, Ἀlī Muḥammad, and Suyūṭī, (1445-1505) (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-'Ilmīyah, 1992), 7:450–51.

50. Taymiyah, Aḥmad ibn Ἀbd al-Ḥalīm Ibn, Ibn Taimiyya on Public and Private Law in Islam; or, Public Policy in Islamic Jurisprudence, trans. Farrukh, Omar A. (Beirut: Khayats, 1966), 142, citation omitted.

51. This could be because his contemporaneous political situation-the Crusades-was a motivation for harsher treatment of prisoners.

52. Māwardī, Ἀlī ibn Muḥammad, The Ordinances of Government, trans. ḤWahba, Wafaa, Great Books of Islamic Civilization (Reading: Garnet Publishing, 1996), 54.

53. “Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom.” Qur'ān, 1560.

54. Māwardī, , The Ordinances of Government, 54.

55. Ibid., 54-55.

56. “It is not fitting for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war until he hath thoroughly subdued the land. Ye look for the temporal goods of this world; but Allah looketh to the Hereafter: And Allah is exalted in might, Wise.” Qur.-an, 489.

57. Māwardī, , Ordinances, 5051.

58. See above, note 12; al-Qushayrī, , ṢaḥīḥMuslim, n. 4360, 3:962.

59. Rushd, Ibn, The Distinguished Jurist's Primer: A Translation of Bidāyat al-mujtahid wa-nihāyat al-muqtaṣid, ed. Rauf, Muhammad Abdul, trans. Nyazee, Imran Khan, 2 vols. (Reading: Garnet Publishing, 1994), 1:456.

60. See above, note 53.

61. Rushd, Ibn, The Distinguished Jurist's Primer, 1:456.

62. See above, note 56.

63. Rushd, Ibn, The Distinguished Jurist's Primer, 1:456.

64. See above, note 53.

65. Rushd, Ibn, The Distinguished Jurist's Primer, 1:457.

66. “Those who maintained that the verse, which is specific about the matter of captives (prohibiting execution), has abrogated the acts of the Prophet, said that the captive is not to be executed. Those who maintained that the verse neither mentions captives nor is its purpose the final disposal of the question of what is to be done to the captives, and that the act of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings be upon him) is an addition to what is in the verse, when they take into account the censure of the failure to execute the captives said that the execution of the captives is permitted.” Ibid.

67. al-Rāfi.ī, Ἀbd al-Karīm ibn Muḥammad, al-Ἀzīz sharḥal-Wajīz: al-ma.rū f bi-al-Sharḥ al-kabīr, ed. Mu'awwad, Ἀlī Muḥammad and al-Mawjūd, 'Ā dil Aḥmad Ἀbd, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-'Ilmīyah, 1997), 11:410. These cases were discussed in Section I.

68. Donner, notes that “it is reasonable to consider al-Ṭabarī's work as a representative product of the early Islamic historiographical tradition, if not, indeed, as the culmination and crowning glory of that tradition.” Donner, Fred M., Narratives of Islamic Origins, Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam 14 (Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1998), 128.

69. See note 56.

70. Ṭabarī defines the key verb (yuthkhina ) as killing. Ṭabarī, , Jāmi' al-bayān 'an ta'wīlāy al-Qur'-an, ed. al-FattaḥKhālidī, ṢalāḥἈbd and Ἀlī, Ibrāhīm Muḥammad, 1st ed. (Damascus; Beirut: Dār al-Qalam; al-Dār al-Shāmīyah, 1997), 4:101–2. This corresponds to the interpretation of two other major exegetical scholars, Bayḍāwī and Zamakhsharī. SeeBayḍāwī, Ἀbd Allāh ibn.Umar, Anwār al-tanzīl wa-asrār al-tā.wīl, ed. Fleischer, H. O. (Leipzig: Sumptibus F.C.G. Vogelii, 1846-1878), 1:374; see also Zamakhsharī, Maḥmūd ibn.Umar, al-Kashshā ḥaqā.iq al-tanzīl wa-.uyū n al-aqāwīl fī wujū h al-ta.wīl, ed. Qumārī, Muḥammad al-Ṣadiq (Cairo: al-Bābī al-Ḥalabī, 1966-1968), 2:168. But see Sulaymān's, Muqātil b. suggestion of subdue and overcome in al-Balkhī, Muqātil ibn Sulaymān, Tafsīr, ed. Ἀbd Allāh Maḥmūd Shiḥātah, (Cairo: al-Hayah al-Miṣrīyah al-'Āmmah lil-Kitāb, 1979-1989), 4:44.

71. Ṭabarī, , Jāmi. al-bayā ta.wīlāy al-Qur-an, 6:688.

72. “If ye gain the mastery over them in war, disperse, with them, those who follow them, that they may remember.” Qur.-an, 486.

73. See above, note 41. See Ṭabarī, , Jāmi al-bayā ta.wīlāy al-Qur.-an, 6:688–89.

74. Ibid., 6:689.

75. Such as Naḥḥās, Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad, Nāsikh wa-al-mansūkh fī al-Qur'-an al-karīm, ed. Udfuwī, Muḥammad ibn Ἀli (Egypt: al-Maktabah al-Ἀllāmīyah, 1938), 165–66.

76. Sarakhsī, , Sharḥ, 3:1024.

77. Ibid., 3:1025.

78. Ibn Qudāmah, , al-Mughnī, 13:45.

79. For a historical depiction of these events, seeṬabarī, , Victory of Islam, trans. Fishbein, Michael, SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 2741. An example of the classification problem is that ḥadīth concerning the Banū Qurayz a are in the book of warfare of later ḥadīth collectionṢSeeal-Qushayrī, , ṢaḥīḥMuslim, n. 4368-4371, 3:966.

80. The focus of what follows is not moral evaluation (since contemporary morality is not superior to this history), but how and why a historical incident is interpreted by successive generations in certain wayṢThis event is not entirely verifiable and its non-occurrence has been argued. However, factuality is not relevant because our focus is on what Muslim jurists believed to have happened in early Islamic history-not what actually happened. For opposing interpretations of this narrative (as fictional or factual), seeArafat, W. N., “New Light on the Story of Banū Qurayẓa and the Jews of Medina,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1976): 100107. Kister, M. J., “The Massacre of the Banū Qurayẓa: A Re-examination of a Tradition,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 8 (1986): 6196. For a discussion of the problematic ‘motif of Muḥammad and the Jews,’ see ṢFaizer, Rizwi, “Muhammad and the Medinan Jews: A Comparison of the Texts of Ibn Ishaq's Kitāb Sīrat Rasūl Allāh with Al-Waqidi's Kitāb al-Maghāzī,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 28, no. 4 (1996): 463–89.

81. See Lecker, Michael, “Wāqidī's Account on the Status of the Jews of Medina: A Study of a Combined Report,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 54 (1995): 1532.

82. See Lecker, Michael, The “Constitution of Medina”: Muḥammad's First Legal Document, Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam, 23 (Princeton: The Darwin Press, 2004), 48. The smaller, more numerous Jewish Arab tribes appear to have been party to the ‘Constitution,’ whereas the three largest and most powerful tribes entered into separate agreements.

83. This ruling could have also been an application of Jewish law since there are reports that Jewish law was applied in judgment against Jewish adultererṢFor the most often cited example, see Bukhārī, , Ṣaḥīḥal-Bukhārī, bk. 82, no. 825, 8:550.

84. On the relationship between biographical and ‘campaign’ literature, see Horovitz, Josef, editor, The Earliest Biographies of the Prophet and Their Authors (Princeton: The Darwin Press, 2002), 4.

85. The incident is reported as the judgment of al-Ṣan.ānī, Sa'd. al-Ḥimyarī, Muṣannaf, 5:280. See also differing attributions of the judgment to God orShaybah, Sa'd in Ibn Abī, Muṣannaf, 8:503.

86. Shāfi.ī, Muḥammad ibn Idrīs, al-Umm, ed. Muzanī, Ismā.īl ibn Yaḥyá (791878 C.E.), Reprint of the ed. published in Cairo, 1321 (1903/4) Kitāb al-Sha.b (Cairo: Dār al-Sha.b, 1968), 4:107.

87. Sarakhsī, , Sharḥ, 3:1025.

88. Qudāmah, Muwaffaq al-Dīn Ἀbd Allāh ibn Aḥmad Ibn, al-'Umdah fī al-fiqh al-Ḥanbalī, ed. al-Hawwārī, and Zahrā, Anwar. (Damascus: al-Dār al-Muttaḥidah lil-Ṭi bā.ah wa-al-Nashr, 1990), 46.

89. Donner suggests “the Believers may have adopted a distinct confessional identity as Muslims only in the second half of the first century AH.” Donner, , Narratives of Islamic Origins, 99, n. 1. But seeElad, Amikam, “Community of Believers of ‘Holy Men’ and ‘Saints’ or Community of Muslims?: The Rise and Development of Early Muslim Historiography,” Journal of Semitic Studies xlvii (2002): 241308.

90. See Lecker, Michael, “A Note on Early Marriage Links between Qurashīs and Jewish Women,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 10 (1987): 1739.

91. Lecker notes, “… fosterage was probably the social institute that facilitated the absorption of Arab children by Jewish clans.”Lecker, , “'Amr ibn Ḥazm al-Anṣārī and Qur.ān 2, 256: ‘No compulsion is there in religion,’” Oriens 35 (1996): 63. See alsoLecker, Michael, “Zayd b Thābit, ‘a Jew with Two Sidelocks’: Judaism and Literacy in Pre-Islamic Medina (Yathrib),” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 56 (1997): 259–73.

92. The Banū Qurayẓa had been tax collectors for the Persians and were economic forces in Medina. The Prophet appears to have undertaken some redistribution of property that could have antagonized them. SeeIbrahim, Mahmood, Merchant Capital and Islam (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), 180.

93. Most contemporary historians have, unfortunately, continued to disregard the complex nature of historical identity by projecting modern identity categories on this historical period. But see Donner, Fred M., “From Believers to Muslims: Confessional Self-Identity in the Early Islamic Community,” al-Abhath 50-51 (2002-2003): 953. The prolonged existence of Jewish-Christians is a comparable historical case that further substantiates the likelihood of vague confessional identity during this period. See Werblowsky, R. and Wigoder, Geoffrey, “Christianity,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. Berenbaum, Michael and Skolnik, Fred, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007), 4:673–94. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Thomson Gale. University of California/Berkeley. 20 June 2007 <>.

94. Nöldeke, Theodor, Tārīkh al-Qur'-an [Geschichte des Qorans], ed. Schwally, Friedrich, Bergstrasser, Gotthelf, and Pretzl, Otto, trans. Tāmir, Jūrj, 1st ed. (Beirut: Konrad Adenauer Foundation, 2004), xxxvi. For the text of these verses, see notes 56 (Qur.ān 8:67) and 53 (Qur'ān 47:4).

95. For an example of this legal argument, see Shalabī, , al-Jihād fi sabīl Allāh, 104–5.

96. This historical interpretation is evident in some contemporary texts, which suggest that executions of war prisoners were the consequences of some prior crimes unrelated to prisoner of war statuṢSee 'Ulyān's, chapter on “Prisoners of War in Islam” in al-Sarḥān, Muḥyī Hilāl et al., Asrá al-ḥarb fī al-Islām wa-al-qānū n al-dawlī (Baghdad: al-Jumhūrīyah al-'Irāqīyah, Wizārat al-Awqāf wa-al-Shu.ūn al-Dīnīyah, Majallat al-Risālah al-Islāmīyah, 1986), 3951. See also Shalabī, , al-Jihād fi sabīl Allāh, 104–7.

97. Rotman, , Les esclaves et l'esclavage, 56-62, 6875.

98. “In short, the Qur'ānic regulations modify in certain particulars rather than supplant entirely the existing customary law.” Coulson, Noel J., A History of Islamic Law (Edinburgh: University Press, 1964), 15.

99. See references to the enslavement of prisoners of war inThe Digest of Justinian, trans. Watson, Alan, rev. English-language ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), 1: and 2:49.15. See alsoThe Institutes of Justinian: Text, Translation, and Commentary, trans. Thomas, J. A. C. (Amsterdam; New York: North-Holland Pub. Co.; American Elsevier Pub. Co., 1975), bk. I, title III, p. 14.

100. Tanakh = JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh: The Traditional Hebrew Text and the New JPS Translation, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1999). This verse was generally understood as applying to an optional war.

101. “Borrowing” is an inaccurate way of characterizing the complicated transformation of these hybrid communitieṢSeePregill, M. E., “The Hebrew Bible and the Quran: The Problem of the Jewish ‘Influence’ on Islam,” Religion Compass 1 (2007): 643–59.

102. On the acceptability of non-abrogated, pre-Islamic laws (such as some Biblical law) as a source of Islamic jurisprudence, see Darwīsh, Ἀbd al-Raḥmān ibn Ἀbd Allāh, al-Sharā'i' al-sābiqah wa-madá ḥujjīyatihā fī al-sharī.ah al-Islāmīyah (Saudi Arabia: Ἀal-Rb Ἀ. A. al-Darwīsh, 1989). On the dialectic relationship between Islamic and Jewish legal thought, seeMaghen, Ze'ev, After Hardship Cometh Ease: The Jews as Backdrop for Muslim Moderation (Berlin; New York: Walter De Gruyter, 2006).

103. Indeed, the integration of Biblical ideas in the Islamic conceptualization of jihād is a fascinating topic, but beyond the scope of this essay.

104. For a contemporary presentation of this legal interpretation, seeShalabī, , al-Jihād fiἈsabīl Allāh, 101–7.

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Early Islamic Legal-Historical Precedents: Prisoners of War

  • Lena Salaymeh


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