Can a Muslim kill civilians that he thinks are sinful?

Killing civilians is PROHIBITED

by Ibn Anwar

Was the recent shooting in Orlando that killed 50 civilians at a night club justified according to Islamic Sacred Law?The short answer to this is absolutely no. Without going into the minutiae of our Sacred Law as to the impermissibility of a lone soldier(al-hajim al-wahid), attacker or gunman to sally forth on his own volition to inflict physical harm on others without the instruction of the ‘imam’ or ‘ameer’ (legal executive power)in a situation where there is no valid war (fi hal al-harb wa la hudnata fih), it is criminal to harm a non-combatant of any age and of any occupation. And it should be duly noted that his supposed allegiance to ISIS shows that he has no standing according to Islamic Law as a valid ‘mujahid’ (an Islamic soldier that engages in a valid armed struggle), because the so called ‘khilafah’ of ISIS is illegitimate as per the agreement of all scholars of ‘Ahl Sunnah Wal Jama’ah’ (Sunni Islam) throughout the world.

Even if the individual that committed the deed was a valid soldier or ‘mujahid’ in the eyes of our Sacred Law, he transgressed the limits of our Sacred Law as the ‘maqtul’ or target was most evidently inviolable and as such he falls under the category of ‘al-mujrimin’ (criminals) and not ‘al-mujahideen’ (those who correctly engages in valid armed struggle).

Below is an excerpt from a fatwa by our teacher, Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti on the subject of terrorism that specifically addresses this most unfortunate catastrophe. [1]

Fasl I. The Target: Maqtûl

The proposition: “so it is acceptable for them to attack the non-Muslims in the west”, where “non-Muslims” can be taken to mean, and indeed does mean in the document, non-combatants, civilians, or in the terminology of fiqh: those who are not engaged in direct combat [man la yuqâtilu].

This opinion violates a well known principal rule [dâbit] from our Law:

[it is not permissible to kill their [i.e., the opponents’] women and children if they are not in direct combat.]

This is based on the Prophetic prohibition on soldiers from killing women and children, from the well known Hadith of Ibn ‘Umar (may Allâh be pleased with them both!) related by Imams Malik, al-Shafi’i, Ahmad, al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Bayhaqi and al-Baghawi (may Allâh be well pleased with them all!) and other Hadiths.

Imam al-Subki ( raDiy-Allahu-anhu.gif  may Allâh be pleased with him!) made it unequivocally clear what scholars have understood from this prohibition in which the standard rule of engagement taken from it is that: “[a Muslim soldier] may not kill any women or any child-soldiers unless they are in combat directly, and they can only be killed in self-defence” [al-Nawawi, Majmû’, 21:57].

It goes without saying that men and innocent bystanders who are not direct combatants are also included in this prohibition. The nature of this prohibition is so specific and well-defined that there can be no legal justification, nor can there be a legitimate shar’îexcuse, for circumventing this convention of war by targeting non-combatants or civilians whatsoever, and that the hukm shar’î of killing them is not only harâm but also a Major Sin [Kabira] and contravenes one of the principal commandments of our way of life.

–end of excerpt–


The following are Qur’anic and Hadith proofs on the impermissibility of harming non-combatants or civilians.

Imam Bayhaqi reports that the second Caliph of Islam, ‘Umar al-Khattab r.a. dispatched a letter in which he said:

اتقوا الله فى الفلاحين فلا تقتلوهم

“Fear Allah regarding the farmers and do not kill them.” [2]

The farmers are not killed not because they are farmers but that they are not of those that belong to the combatants as noted by Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi:

أما الفلاح الذي لا يقاتل فينبغي ألا يقتل، لما روي عن عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه أنه قال: اتقوا الله في الفلاحين الذين لا ينصبون لكم فى الحرب

“As for the farmer that is not a combatant, he should not be killed, because it was narrated from ‘Umar bin al-Khattab r.a. that he said, “Fear Allah regarding the farmers who do not wage war against you.” [3]

Imam al-Awza’iy clearly identifies the reason for which the farmers are not to be killed:

لا يقتل الحراث إذا علم أنه ليس من المقاتلة

“Farmers are not to be killed if it is known that they are not from among the combatants.” [4]

It is clear then that the علة (‘illah) or reason behind the prohibition of killing farmers is if they are known to be non-combatants. From this we may extrapolate that the killing of civilians other than farmers are equally prohibited because the ‘illah between the specifically mentioned group and the general population of civilians corresponds perfectly.

Thus Ibn Qayyim said:

إن أصحاب النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – لم يقتلوهم حين فتحوا البلاد، ولأنهم لا يقاتلون فأشبهوا الشيوخ والرهبان

“Verily, when the companions of the Prophet s.a.w. conquered various lands, they did not kill them BECAUSE the latter did not fight (against them), and so in that sense they were similar to the elderly and the religious leaders.” [5]

The narrations and scholarly views supplement the clear Qur’anic injunction:

وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلا تَعْتَدُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ

“And fight for the sake of Allah THOSE WHO FIGHT YOU: but do not commit excesses, for Allah does not love those who exceed (i,e., the parameters of Sacred Law)” (Surah al-Baqarah, verse 190)

The clarifying clause in the verse above for fighting against one’s enemies is spectacularly clear and it is “those who fight you”. This point is detailed in Mufti Shafi’ Uthmani’s magnum opus ‘Ma’riful Qur’an’:

“The command in this verse is that Muslims should fight only those
disbelievers who come to fight against them. It means that there are other people too who do not take part in fighting, such as, the women, the children, the very old, the priests and monks and others devoting themselves to quiet religious pursuits, and the physically handicapped, and those casual labourers who work for disbelievers and do not go to fight along with them; it is not permissible to kill such people in a Jihad. The reason is that the command in the verse is restricted to fighting those who come to fight Muslims. The kind of people mentioned above are not all fighters. That is why Muslim Jurists رحمهم الله have also ruled that should a woman, an old man or. religious person take part in actual fighting along with disbelievers or be helping them in any manner in their fight against the Muslims, then, killing them is permissible because they come under the purview of
الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ:’those who fight YOU’
(Mazhari, Qurtubi and Jassas)” [6] *

Similarly, Mawlana Abdul Majid Daryabadi comments on the clause “those who fight you” (الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ) in his commentary on the Qur’an:

“The words ‘fight with those who fight against you’ clearly show, first, that the Muslims were not the aggressors, and secondly, that those of the enemy who were not actual combatants — children, women, hermits, the aged and the inform, the mained, and the like, had nothing at all to fear from the Muslim soldiery.

It was in the light of this express divine injunction that the great Abu Bakr (of blessed memory), the first Caliph (successor of the Prophet, charged his troops in Syria, ‘not to mutilate the dead, nor to slay old men, women, and children, nor to cut down fruit-trees, nor to kill cattle unless they were needed for food; and these humane precepts served like a code of laws of war during the career of Mohammadan conquest.’ (Bosworth Smith, op. cit. p. 185)” [7] **

And so, the order and permissibility of armed struggle is only given against those that combat you — combatants. Non-combatants are inviolable and must not be harmed and this is the verdict of our Sacred Law upon all Muslims for all times.


[1] Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti (2005). Defending the Transgressed By Censuring the Reckless Against the Killing of Civilians: Mudafi’ al-Mazlum bi-Radd al-Muhamil ‘ala Qital Man La Yuqatil. United Kingdom: AQSA Press. p. 20


[2] al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra, 9:91

[3] Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi, al-Mughni, 9:251

[4] Ibn al-Qayyim, Ahkam ahl al-dhimma, 1:165

[5] Ibid.

[6] Muhammad Shafi’ Usmani (2011). Ma’riful Qur’an (Muhammad Hasan Askari & Muhammad Shamim, trans.), Volume 1. Karachi, Pakistan: Maktaba Darul ‘Uloom. p. 483

* Mazhari, Qurtubi and Jassas are well known commentators of the Qur’an and Mufti Shafi’ Uthmani mentions them as his explanation of Surah al-Baqarah, verse 190 corresponds and is preceded by theirs .

[7] Abdul Majid Daryabadi (1991). Tafsir-ul-Qur’an. Karachi, Pakistan: Darul Ishaat. p. 123 fn. 268

** Bosworth Smith as cited by Mawlana Daryabadi is Reverend Bosworth Smith. He was assistant-master in Harrow school and fellow of Trinity College at Oxford University. He wrote the book ‘Mohammed and Mohammedanism’.

Allah a’lam (Allah knows best)