War is Deceit           

An Analysis of a Contentious Hadith on the Morality of Military Deception



­­­ “War is Deceit”:

An Analysis of a Contentious Hadith 

on the Morality of Military Deception


by


Professor Joel Hayward



MBDA English Monograph Series - Book No. 24



(c) Copyright 2017, The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, Amman, Jordan. All rights reserved.



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ABSTRACT: This study is not intended as an all-encompassing critique of Islam-hatred, nor even of its worst aspects. It is merely an attempt to build on the author’s previous work ― which argues that the Qur’an is not inherently martial and has a clear ethical code governing and constraining the use of violence for political purposes ― by analysing one particular associated claim seemingly endlessly made by Islam’s critics. They assert that, far from being a paragon of virtue, the Islamic prophet Muhammad was deceitful and, indeed, boasted of it in several sayings recalled by followers. “War,” they quote him saying, “is deceit.” They contextualise their criticism of Muhammad’s statement that “war is deceit” by arguing that his unashamed statement proves that he was personally dishonest whenever expedient and that Islam consequently tolerates dishonesty in a way that other religions do not.


This study rejects the view that, in the wars fought by Muhammad, he acted immorally through any acts of wanton personal dishonesty (“deceit”) that constitute severe character imperfections and stain his reputation as a holy man. It argues instead that, in his quest to defeat the forces within Arabia which sought to destroy his fledgling community, Muhammad used ruse and bluff and strategic and tactical deception as a reasonable, necessary and eminently legitimate means of gaining military advantage so as to minimise suffering on both sides. It argues that, if Muhammad is to be condemned for using ruses during warfare, then for consistency and fairness his critics must also consider earlier prophets including Moses, Joshua and David, and all of history’s greatest military leaders, including Washington, Wellington, Nelson, Lee, Churchill and Eisenhower, to have been morally corrupt merely because they also esteemed the advantages obtained through the use of ruse.



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