A Quick Overview on the Islamic Perspective on Mass Destruction Weapons

A Quick Overview on the Islamic Perspective on Mass Destruction Weapons

According to the verses of the Quran, traditions, as well as fatwas, it is safe to conclude that Islam takes wars to be military confrontations only between armed forces, hence the use of lethal weapons of mass destruction that indiscriminately kill large numbers of people is strictly prohibited.‌

September 26, the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

The Reaction of the International Community to the Threat of Nuclear Weapons

In 2014, the United Nations designated September 26 as the “International Day for the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons”, an action which was suggested by Iran as an Islamic country. As the name suggests, this is a day to remind all governments, international and regional organizations, NGOs, media and educational centers to take actions toward the elimination of nuclear weapons in the world.

Therefore, all of the states and organizations are called upon on this day to take actions such as holding conferences, media coverage on the issue, and holding cultural events in order to enlighten the people regarding the threats posed by nuclear weapons. This will, hopefully raise public awareness regarding this issue, bringing the people to demand the countries which possess and produce nuclear weapons to eliminate these lethal weapons.

Before the invention of nuclear bombs, mankind had already acquired the technology for producing other weapons of mass destruction [WMDs] such as biological and chemical weapons. But it was the singularly detrimental effects of nuclear weapons that prompted the international community to take legal actions to prevent the proliferation of such weapons and work its way toward their complete elimination.

In the event of any nuclear war, not only will hundreds of thousands of people be killed instantly at the first moment of the attacks, the attacks will also leave terrible effects which will kill millions more possibly for several decades after the attacks. Historical evidence indicates that many of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks later suffered from various incurable diseases such as cancer due to the terrible radiation that they had been exposed to. Moreover, for generations after those nuclear attacks, many children were born with birth defects due to the radiation their parents and grandparents had been exposed to.

In addition, any nuclear war can also trigger environmental crises such as the contamination of the upper layers of the atmosphere with radioactive substances, a steep decrease in the earth’s temperature due to nuclear winter, extreme ocean acidification, rising sea levels, loss of farms and widespread hunger and death all over the world.

Islam’s Viewpoint regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction

Based on the Islamic precepts, it is strictly forbidden to use any kind of weapon of mass destruction in general, and, quite naturally, nuclear weapons in particular. Let us take a look at some of the evidence found in the Islamic teachings in this regard.

    There are numerous verses in the Quran which indicate that during wars or any other acts of aggression, civilians should never be harmed. For instance, verse 190 of Surah al-Baqarah reads:

«وَ قاتِلُوا في‏ سَبيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذينَ يُقاتِلُونَكُمْ وَ لا تَعْتَدُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدين»

“And fight in the Way of Allah with those who fight you, but do not transgress the limits, for Allah likes not the transgressors.”

In this verse, the phrase “with those who fight you” signifies the ones that Muslims are authorized to fight with. Clearly, they are instructed to fight only those who “fight” them which excludes unarmed civilians particularly the elderly, women and children. Therefore, based on this verse, the civilians who do not play a direct role in wars must not be subjected to acts of aggression or violence and they must not be harmed.[1]

Additionally, Islam places such great importance on the protection of innocent lives that, according to verse 32 of Surah al-Mā’idah, killing a single innocent person is as heinous as killing the entire mankind. This has been said to emphasize that a murderer who takes the life of even a single soul will incur such a huge penalty that is beyond our understanding.[2]

In keeping with these Quranic teachings, the Prophet of Islam (s) and the Infallible Imams (‘a) also explicitly instructed the Muslims that they must strictly avoid killing innocent people in wars.

For instance, during the wars of the early years of Islam, the Prophet (s) always instructed the Muslims soldiers to spare anyone who did not play a direct role in wars, including women, children, and the elderly. He even instructed his soldiers to refrain from cutting down trees.[3] Moreover, historical narratives indicate that the Prophet (s) strictly forbade the Muslim troops from poisoning the water supplies of the pagan cities [in order to win battles more easily].[4] Historical evidence similarly suggest that Imam Ali (‘a) always prevented his troops from fighting anyone who was not directly fighting them on the battlefield.[5]

These Quranic and Prophetic teachings have led the Muslim jurists, both Shiʿa and Sunni, to unanimously issue fatwas, prohibiting the killing of old people and children, and generally anyone who is not directly involved in wars.[6]

According to these verses, traditions, and fatwas, it is safe to conclude that Islam takes wars to be military confrontations only between armed forces, hence the use of lethal weapons of mass destruction that indiscriminately kill large numbers of people is strictly prohibited. The obvious example of such lethal weapons of mass destruction is the devastating nuclear weapons.

2. Apart from the principles which have emphasized the “need to protect the innocent and civilians in wars”, the prohibition of the use the production and use of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons can also be inferred in other ways from the Islamic teachings.

In verse 205 of Surah al-Baqarah, the hypocrites have been described as follows:

«وَ إِذا تَوَلَّى سَعى‏ فِي الْأَرْضِ لِيُفْسِدَ فيها وَ يُهْلِكَ الْحَرْثَ وَ النَّسْلَ وَ اللَّهُ لا يُحِبُّ الْفَسادَ»

“[The sign by which they can be recognized is that] when they assume authority, they strive in the earth to do mischief therein, and they ruin the crops, the cattle, and the people [though they know well that] Allah does not like mischief.”

According to this verse, hypocrites are spiteful enemies of the truth who, if gain power, will corrupt and ruin the cities, destroying the livestock and animals, as well as people and their properties. The phrase “يُهْلِكَ الْحَرْثَ وَ النَّسْلَ” in this verse means the indiscriminate destruction of all living things, including plants, animals, and human beings.[7]

Considering the above-mentioned verse, any course of action that ultimately leads to “mischief and corruption on the earth”, including striving to produce WMDs and entering arms races, is legally prohibited by the laws of Islam. Interestingly, in this verse the Holy Quran speaks of any “attempt” made toward corrupting or destroying people or living things, which is a stage much lower than the actual destruction of living things and people.

Given the above-mentioned teachings, it is clear that the production and use of nuclear weapons, which indiscriminately destroy military personnel and civilians, as well as infrastructure of towns, and even animals and trees is strictly prohibited based on the precepts of Islam.

Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, the religious and political leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has also stated the following in his historic fatwa regarding such lethal weapons: “Based on our convictions, in addition to nuclear weapons, other types of WMDs such as chemical and biological weapons also pose a serious threat to humanity. Iran that is itself a victim of the chemical weapons understands the danger of producing and storing such weapons more than any other nation and is ready to use all its resources in order to fight them. We consider the use of WMDs to be religiously prohibited, and we consider it everyone’s duty to strive to protect humanity from the evils of these terrible weapons.”[8]

According to other respected jurists in the Islamic Republic of Iran, including Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, not only the manufacture of such weapons is religiously prohibited, but even conducting R&D toward the development of such weapons is considered strictly prohibited. This is because R&D in this field will pave the way for something prohibited to be possible to do.[9]

Assessing the Possibility of the NPT’s Success

In spite of numerous international conferences and meetings held and the declarations issued with the purpose of the elimination of nuclear weapons, there is still no prospect of success in this undertaking.

The United States and Russia, as possessors of the greatest arsenals of advanced nuclear weapons, have not made much progress toward nuclear disarmament and must soon decide whether they are willing to extend the previous INF agreement which expires in 2021. If this agreement is not extended, then there will no longer be any binding legal restrictions on the world’s two largest possessors of nuclear weapons to stop them from developing more nuclear weapons.

The threat of nuclear weapons exists in the Middle East as well, albeit in a different form. International estimates suggest that Israel possesses at least 100 nuclear warheads; this is a country which is not a party to any of the international treaties for the restriction and elimination of nuclear weapons. Britain, France, China and, to a lesser extent India and Pakistan [which are all countries that possess nuclear weapons] have not only refused to take tangible steps toward dismantling their nuclear weapons, but they have constantly worked toward further developing their nuclear arsenals.

Failures in “Nuclear Disarmament”, combined with the possibility of some of these deadly weapons being seized and used by terrorist groups and the risk of accidental nuclear attacks, has destroyed all hope in the UN ever being able to help create a world free of violence and war.

Finally, it should be kept in mind that, without a heartfelt sense of responsibility based on true faith and conviction that the civilians must not be harmed in international conflicts, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the international legal organizations to practically obligate the possessors of nuclear weapons to eliminate their most dangerous WMDs.


Keywords: nuclear weapons, mass destruction, atomic bomb, arsenal, peace, chemical weapons, biological weapons, massacre, women, children, military, civilian, generation, corruption, tillage, the Islamic Republic, Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, religious Fatwa, the US, Russia, Israel

[1] For more information in this regard refer to: Makarem Shirazi, N. Āyīn-I Rahmat. Compiled and edited by: Aliannejad, Abulqāsim. Pub: Al-Imam Ali ibn Abiṭālib (ʻa) Pub. 1st ed., 1385 Sh, Qom, p. 65.

[2] “مَنْ قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا

[3] “لا تَغُلُّوا وَ لا تُمَثِّلُوا وَ لا تَغْدِروا وَ لا تَقْتُلُوا شَيْخاً فانِياً وَ لا صَبيّاً وَ لا امْرَأَةً وَ لا تَقْطَعُوا شَجَراً الّا انْ تَضْطَرُّوا الَيْها” al-Kulaynī, Mohammad ibn Yaʻqūb ibn Isḥāq. Al-Kāfī. Researched/revised by: Ghaffārī, A., and Ākhundi, M. pub: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyyah. 4th ed., 1407, Tehran, vol. 5, p. 27.

[4] “نَهَى رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص أَنْ يُلْقَى‏ السَّمُ‏ فِي‏ بِلَادِ الْمُشْرِكِين”, ibid, p. 28.

[5] For instance, the Imam (ʻa) ordered the following to one of the commanders of his army:

“...اتَّقِ اللَّهَ الَّذِي لَا بُدَّ لَكَ مِنْ لِقَائِهِ وَ لَا مُنْتَهَى لَكَ دُونَهُ وَ لَا تُقَاتِلَنَّ إِلَّا مَنْ قَاتَلَك‏...” Sharīf al-Raḍī, Mohammad ibn Ḥusain. Nahj al-Balāghah. Researched/revised by: Feyz al-Islam. Pub: Hejrat Pub. 1st ed., 1414 Qom, p. 372.

[6] For more information in this regard, refer to: Zuḥayli, W. Āthār al-Ḥarb fi al-Fiqh al-Islāmī. Pub: Dār al-Fikr. Damascus, 1412 Ah, p. 497; Najafī, M.H. Jawāhir al-Kalām. Pub: Dār Iḥyā’ al-Turāth al-Arabi. 7th ed., 1403 Ah, vol. 21, pp. 73-74.

[7] For more information in this regard refer to: Makarem Shirazi, N. Tafsīr-i Nimūneh. Pub: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyyah. 10th ed., Tehran, 1371 Sh., vol. 2, pp. 75-76.

[8] http://farsi.khamenei.ir/treatise-content?id=228#2790

[9] For more information in this regard, refer to: Makarem Shirazi, N. Payām-I Imam. Pub: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyyah. 1st ed., Tehran, 1386, vol. 9, p. 505.