The following verse rebukes the prophet pbuh of ransoming the prisoners of war, so does it mean that prisoners of war should be executed

"It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war (and free them with ransom) until he had made a great slaughter (among his enemies) in the land. You desire the good of this world (i.e. the money of ransom for freeing the captives), but Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter. And Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise. Were it not a previous ordainment from Allah, a severe torment would have touched you for what you took." [Al-Qur'an 8:67-68]


The Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam consulted Abu Bakr and 'Umar ibn al-Khattab as to what he should do with the prisoners. Abu Bakr suggested that he should ransom them, explaining this by saying: "They are after all our relatives, and this money would give us strength against the disbelievers, moreover, Allah could guide them to Islam." 'Umar advised killing them, saying, "They are the leaders of kufr (disbelief)." The Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam preferred Abu Bakr's suggestion to that of 'Umar's. The following day, 'Umar called on the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam and Abu Bakr to see them weeping. He showed extreme astonishment and inquired about the situation so that he might weep if it was worth weeping for, or else he would feign weeping because of the above verse revealed to the prophet pbuh protesting against ransoming the prisoners of war.

3 Answers 3


1."Mofradat Raghib" defines the word "ثخن" saying: "ثخن الشیء فهو ثخین" means: that thing became so thick that could not be flowing anymore; it stopped running.

So Prophet's "اثخان" in the verse "ما کان لنبی ان یکون له اسری حتی یثخن فی الارض" means the time when his religion gets strong, powerful and dominant as if it became a thick and almost solid matter which would not subside and disappear.

So the meaning of the verse is: it has been unprecedented among prophets to take captives except when their religion becomes settled and steady in the land.

The verse is saying that before making sure that you've won the war against your enemies do not think of taking captives.

In this verse, the blame lies with those who proceeded to take captives for temporal gain(عرض الدنیا) before the war was over and won by Muslims because according to some traditions some new Muslims intended to take captives as many as possible in the battle of "Badr" in order to demand ransom in return of setting them free. This might've jeopardized the victory of Islam in wars because they could've been so caught up with taking and holding captives that they lost sight of the big picture. Surprisingly, the same thing happened in the battle of "Ohod" where some soldiers were distracted by gathering the spoils of war and then the enemy grasped the opportunity and managed to carry out a viscous attack which resulted in martyrdom of many Muslims.

This point must be mentioned that in this verse, the finger of blame has not been pointed at Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) because the verse is condemning taking captives not anything else like demanding ransom. Furthermore, there is no verse or tradition saying that the Prophet recommended or was agreed in taking captives before waging the war.

Some have said that if the verse is scolding them for taking fidyah (ransom) or taking ghanimah (spoils of war) before God allowed them to do so, then the rebuke would cover the Prophet as well, because he consulted the people about fidyah before God allowed him to do so. But this interpretation is not correct, because the Muslims took fidyah after these verses were revealed. Also, the prophet’s status is loftier and higher than to possibly think that God would threaten him with a great punishment, because on one hand God does not punish anyone without a sin and on the other, He Himself has granted the Prophet infallibility.

  1. When explaining the interpretation of the verse 190 of Surah Baqarah, Allamah Mohammad Hussein Tabataba’i states:

Jihad hasn’t become wajib in order to take over others’ property and households , it has become wajib for the defending of human rights. Originally, defense has limits, while transgression is breaking the limits. Because of this, the end of the verse says:

“لا تعتدوا ان الله لا یحب المعتدین"

Do not exceed the limits, for verily Allah does not like the transgressors.”

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Although this incident is true, but it was specific to the battle of Bader. So you can generalize this to all battles because in the Quran there are verses that mention war prisoners:

  • Feeding war prisoners:

    And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive http://quran.com/76/8

  • Replacing war prisoners with money:

    So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure their bonds, and either [confer] favor afterwards or ransom [them] until the war lays down its burdens..... http://quran.com/47/4

  • Hadith in Muslim

    It has been narrated on the authority of Anas b. Malik that eighty Persons from the inhabitants of Mecca swooped down upon the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) from the mountain of Tan'im. They were armed and wanted to attack the Prophet (ﷺ) and his Companions unawares. He (the Holy Prophet) captured them but spared their lives. So, God, the Exalted and Glorious, revealed the verses: " It is He Who restrained your hands from them and their hands from you in the valley of Mecca after He had given you a victory over them."

Also in many historic events, freeing specific war prisoners in battle of Bader because they used to help Muslims, if a war prisoner knows how to write and read then he will be freed after teaching 10 people, or killing some if they were really bad, such as killing brutal people of Quraish for hurting the Muslims...

  • can you confirm whether the verse 47:4 was abrogated by verse, 8:67-68
    – user4841
    Jul 3, 2014 at 0:16
  • 1
    ..'coz the 8:68 says "Were it not a previous ordainment from Allah <verse 47:4>, a severe torment would have touched you for what you took." some do say it was aborogated explicitly one of the very explicit verse which show abrogation
    – user4841
    Jul 3, 2014 at 0:18
  • also the first verse you quoted it seems does not speak about post battle POW but captives like jailed civilians
    – user4841
    Jul 3, 2014 at 9:02
  • can you verify "captives" is it slaves or POW?
    – user4841
    Jul 5, 2014 at 5:24
  • @UmarAdeel sorry, was busy. According to Ibn Kathir, some companions said it refers to muslim captives while some companions said it refers to POW
    – Sohaeb
    Jul 5, 2014 at 5:29

It really depends on the circumstances. There can be no absolute ruling on this question. But this must be strongly reminded that Islam is predominantly a religion of mercy and forgiveness.

Revenge and punishment are reserved only for exceptional situations when all peaceful means are already exhausted but still a severe and very likely hazard remains associated with forgiving and giving the enemy a second chance! Don't forget that the Holy Prophet forgave and forgot about the consistent vicious antagonism and atrocities of his most sworn enemies when he defeated and conquered the militant infidels of Mecca while having absolute authority over their life and death. This was the utmost manifestation of magnanimity and mercy with hardly any precedent in history of mankind.

That's why mawadda (love), rahma (compassion), maqfira and ra'fa (forgiveness) are among some of the most widely used attributes of Allah in Islam, and also main characteristics of its Prophet.


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