Ayatollah Abolqasem Alidoost
Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are relatively new phenomena in international affairs, and therefore, Islamic jurisprudence, including Shi’ite scholars, did not specifically address them in the previous centuries. However, Islamic jurisprudence has a number of well-established general principles that can be applied to this issue. These principles can, and have been, used as the basis for religious edicts on weapons of mass destruction by contemporary Islamic scholars, including Ayatollah Khamenei and other prominent jurists.
The most prominent general principles that can be applied to weapons of mass destruction are principles governing differentiation of targets, protection of the environment and ensuring safety and security of non-combatants during war and conflict. Since by definition, WMD are indiscriminate, make no distinction between military and civilian targets, have a long-lasting, destructive impact on the earth and the environment, and endanger the health of everyone, including those of future generations, one can readily find several long-established general principles of Islamic and particularly Shi’ite Jurisprudence applicable to WMD. Reference in this regard can be made to texts and edicts which are over a thousand years old.
Traditional Shi’ite religious edicts on nonconventional weapons
In the religious edicts (fatawa) of earlier Islamic and particularly Shi’ite scholars, Muslims were prohibited from using poison in times of war, or from contaminating their enemies’ drinking water with poison. The indiscriminate effect of poison was advanced as the jurisprudential basis for this ruling. The most prominent Shi’ite jurists, as early as 1,000 years ago, argued that poison acted indiscriminately and did not distinguish between combatants and civilians. They further contended that it had a destructive impact on the environment and living creatures. Applying the same principles that were used to explicitly prohibit the use of poison in warfare, one can readily establish that the use of more contemporary means of warfare with similar impact and consequences, including chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, is also forbidden in Islamic legal tradition and doctrine.
There are several narrations (Hadith) from Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), which explicitly prohibit the utilization of poison against infidels (Mushrekin) and their territories. It is thus evident that contemporary religious edicts, which ban the use of WMD, are pillared on principles as old as Islamic Sharia itself.
As early as the time of the first compilations of Shi’ite jurisprudence by early Shi’ite scholars, the rules governing the use of various means of warfare available at that time were described in treatises dealing with the concept of Holy Struggle (jihad). In this regard, reference should be made to Abu Jafar Muhammad Ibn Hassan Tusi, also known as Sheikh Tusi, who is considered to be among the most preeminent Shi’ite scholars of all times and whom lived in the 11th century (5th century After Hijrah in the Islamic Calendar.) In his book, “A Concise Description of Islamic Law and Legal Opinions” (Al-Nihayah fi Mujarrad al-Fiqh wa al-Fatawa), Sheikh Tusi states that:
«یَجوزُ قِتال الکُفّارِ بِسائر ِاَنواعِ القَتل، الّا السّم؛ فَانّه لا یَجوز ان یلقی فی بِلادِهم السّم»
“It is permissible to fight with infidels using all sorts of deadly tools except for poison. The dispensation of poison in their land is not permissible.”
Sheikh Tusi’s religious ruling, which was issued over a thousand years ago, has since been acknowledged and espoused by numerous other scholars, who have issued similar edicts (Fatawa) in their own treatises.
Contemporary Shi’ite religious edicts on WMD
Among contemporary Islamic scholars, the prominent Najaf-based jurist, the late-Grand Ayatollah Khoei and a majority of his students, have issued religious edicts imposing restrictions in relation to the means and weapons of war, which can be directly interpreted as prohibiting the use of WMD.
Many of the living Shi’ite Grand Ayatollahs have also expressed their edicts on this issue, which are generally consistent with the religious edict (fatwa) against WMD – including development, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons – issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei. Below are some of the edicts (fatawa) related to WMD issued by senior Islamic clerics.
Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi
“As Iran’s Supreme Leader has declared nuclear weapons to be impermissible (haram), I too as a source of emulation (marja taqlid), view such arms as impermissible.”
Grand Ayatollah Javadi Amoli
“Scholars believe that possession and development of atomic weapons and WMDs are not permitted and have issued religious rulings in this regard.”
“Mass killing and genocide are forbidden by divine religions.”
Grand Ayatollah Sobhani
“Given the principles of Islam in regards to human beings and the respect it holds for mankind, utilizing atomic weapons is absolutely prohibited – even for deterrence purposes.”
Grand Ayatollah Nuri Hamedani
“We do not allow the use of nuclear weapons.”
Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has on numerous occasions announced his legal understanding and resulting jurisprudence in relation to this topic. For instance, Ayatollah Khamenei has expressed the following:
“In our opinion, in addition to nuclear weapons, other WMDs such as chemical and biological arms also pose a serious threat to humanity. We declare the use of such weapons as impermissible (haram) and believe that protecting mankind from this great disaster is a public duty.”
“We do not believe in nor seek atomic bombs and weapons. Based on our religious principles, utilizing such WMDS is absolutely prohibited and impermissible. It is tantamount to pillage and genocide, which the Holy Qur’an forbids.”
“The Iranian nation is opposed to such weapons based on its Islamic principles, as well as prudence and rationality.”
“We do not want atomic bombs, and are even opposed to the possession of chemical weapons.”
“There is also the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, which everyone has accepted, including Iran.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly announced that it is against using and developing nuclear weapons in accordance with its principles and Islamic jurisprudence.”
It is thus evident that Ayatollah Khamenei’s religious edict against nuclear weapons is deeply rooted in Islamic jurisprudence, and is not new or unique.