As the history of Islam tells, in the year 610, the angel Gabriel descended upon an orphan merchant from Mecca named Muhammad. Gabriel revealed the words of God to Muhammad, and for the next 23 years, the revelations from God continued, completing the holy text of the Qur’an, or “the recitation.” The Qur’an and the actions of Muhammed, who became the messenger and Prophet of God, as recorded by the hadiths, have become the foundation of divine guidance and moral direction for Muslims and Islamic jurisprudence.
Centuries have passed since the death of Prophet Muhammad; mankind has modernized, technology advanced, science developed and the world transformed into a fast-paced, inter-connected and globalized network. The moral issues that confront mankind today are thus of a different caliber than the issues from a thousand years ago.
Of course, some matters are eternal and need no reinterpretation amidst the tide of changes. For instance, the practice of fasting from dawn to dusk during the holy month of Ramadan, which began in practice over a thousand years ago, continues to be practiced by millions of Muslims to this day. The purpose remains untainted throughout the years as well; fasting serves as a spiritual experience that teaches self-control, strength, patience and empathy towards those who don’t have food and water readily available. Yet, what every man and woman of the Islamic faith must challenge themselves with is how to confront issues that have only recently surfaced – issues that aren’t given any specific guidance from Islamic jurisprudence. In these occasions, Muslims must refer to Islam’s moral standards as dictated by the Qur’an and hadiths and carefully apply them to the issues of today. This process of deductive analogy is called qiyas and is a legitimate way for a Muslim to create an injunction for a new circumstance. The destructive capabilities of nuclear weapons, which were beyond anyone’s scope of imagination in the 7th century, raise such questions of morality in today’s time. The question thus remains: is Islam and nuclear weapons compatible? What would the Prophet Muhammad, the messenger of God, say about the weapons of the 21st century?
In a report conducted in 2011 titled “Islam and the Bomb: Religious Justification for and Against Nuclear Weapons,” author Rolf Mowatt-Larssen from Harvard University collected evidential texts and verses from the Quran and hadiths revealing the enunciation of killing noncombatants. For example, in chapter 2 verse 190 of the Quran, limits during the conduct of conflict is acknowledged:
“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.”
The hadiths also describe that the Prophet gave specific instructions on sparing the lives of the innocents:
“Do not kill a decrepit old man, or a young infant, or a woman …”
Moreover, the 8th century Islamic jurist, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani, wrote in his book of conduct that was drawn upon hadiths that the Prophet forbade mutilation and the killing of women and children:
“He (of the enemy) who has reached puberty should be killed, but he who has not should be spared … Spare the minors—the youth … The Apostle of God prohibited the killing of women … nor should you mutilate or kill children, women, or old men.”
This principle of not targeting the innocent as well as an enunciation for environmental protection was also referenced by the first Caliph (successor to the Prophet Muhammad), Abu Bakr, in a speech delivered in 632.
“Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire ... Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services, leave them alone.”
As a counter-argument, some point to Islam’s recognized principle of proportionality. Indeed, the Qur’an does sanction equal retalitation (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,) although patience is considered a better course of action. This principle can be extended to nuclear weapons and the legitimization of states carrying nuclear weapons for the purpose of deterring and attacking adversaries.
“And if one has responded to injustice to no greater extent than the injury he received, and is again tyrannized, Allah will help him: for Allah is Pardoning and Forgiving.” (Chapter 22, verse 60.)
However, to argue that because Islam condones equal punishment nuclear weapons and nuclear retaliation is acceptable ignores the other principles that the religion also subscribes to. As indicated previously by various passages and verses, Islam does not condone the killing or injuring of the innocent, nor the purposeful degradation of the environment. All of these things are inevitably to occur when dealing with the prowess of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons don’t serve the purpose to target and kill a single individual; their nature lies in the capability for mass destruction, not only immediately, but in the aftermath of the nuclear fallout. In the only occasion where nuclear weapons were detonated in warfare, during World War II by the United States, two bombs completely destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Approximately 200,000 Japanese people were killed, most of whom were innocent civilians. Recently, scientists have concluded that if 100 nuclear weapons the size of those used in Hiroshima were detonated, less than 0.5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal, the resulting impact on the environment and in consequence, agricultural production, would threaten over one billion with "nuclear famine."
There is no escaping the death of innocent people and the destruction of the environment with nuclear weapons. Based on my deduction of the goals of Islam and the goals of nuclear proliferation, I find that the two are incompatible.
I urge all those who practice a faith, may it be Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, or any other religion, as well as those who may not be a follower of an organized religion, but rather adhere to their own moral standards, to deeply assess the morality of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are not compatible with my morals, and I hope that you find that they’re not compatible with yours either.