It goes without saying that, in Islam, war is decreed for self defense. Therefore, Muslims resort to war to ward off aggression committed against them. Referring to this, Allah Almighty says: “To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged; and verily God is most powerful for their aid.” (Al-Hajj:39)
Muslims are allowed to defend themselves by all means when they are attacked. However, Muslims should not abandon the Islamic ethics and morals in dealing with the enemy.
Islam is committed to regulating warfare. It specifies those that should not be killed or even targeted in battle. Not only that, but Islam also sets rules regarding the treatment of POWs, commanding that they be treated well and mercifully.
However, displaying the photos of the enemy’s captives is permissible within the restrictions of Shari`ah as long as such display raises the morale of the Muslim army, particularly when the enemy does the same with the Muslim captives.
Here, it is to be added that the principle of reciprocity has well-established rules in Shari`ah, whereby Muslims are warned from embarking on inhumane actions. For instance, if the enemy mutilates the dead bodies of Muslims, the Muslim army is not permitted to act in the same manner.
Moreover, the display of the photos of captives is no way a violation of the Geneva Convention as long as it doesn’t expose captives “to public curiosity”.
Dr. Ahmad Abu-Al-Wafa, Professor of International Law, Faculty of Law at Cairo University, states the following:
“The Islamic Shari`ah orders Muslim to treat captives kindly and not to inflict harm on them. The specific point raised in the question (i.e., the display of photos of captives) was not tackled by Muslim jurists. However, the issue can be best clarified in view of the general rules of Shari`ah as well as its objectives.
With a close insight on the current situation, one sees that the United States has violated the Geneva Convention by releasing photos of al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Hence, the American objection to the display of photos of American captives is part of the double standard policy exercised by the States.
The unlegislated and unjust American-led war on Iraq far exceeds [in evil] the mere display of photos of their captives.
Reviewing the Third Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, I see that the Third Convention does not directly tackle the issue of displaying photos of captives save through a general guideline governing the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Article Three states that “prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”
Part of the arousing people’s curiosity concerning those captives is to publicly display them in streets before everyone to see and this DID NOT actually happen.
Guided by Article Three referred to above, I see that the display of captives or their photos in a way that did not expose them “to public curiosity” is not considered a violation of the Geneva Convention.
The United States previously displayed the photos of the Afghani captives in Guantanamo. Not only that, but the United States violated and ill-treated those captives, which is a total violation of the Geneva Convention. How is it, then, that the United States prohibits others to display the photos of American captives although the Americans permitted such display for themselves!?
Added to the above, the United States violates the Geneva Convention, which states that there should be a settlement to the status of civilian captives right after war ends. If those captives become subject to court judgments, then they should be treated as prisoners of war until a final court ruling is issued.”
Moreover, Dr. Anwar Dabbour, Professor of Shari`ah, Faculty of Law at Cairo University, adds:
“Viewing the current situation, it is permissible to display the photos of POWs before the public (for example, via TV) as long as there is no mutilation of the captives or violation of their honor during the display. In addition, the display of the POWs of the enemies should not lead to infliction of harm on Muslims and there should be a tangible benefit for the Muslim army to display such photos. This is due to the following reasons:
1. The current war against Iraq is an unjust one. The enemy facing the Muslims is very much stronger, and the display of photos in such time really raises the morale of the Muslims.
2. Displaying the photos of captives sows fear in the hearts of the enemy.
3. Displaying of such photos will help press the rulers of the countries leading the war to withdraw their forces from the battlefield and end the war.
4. There is no Shari`ah text that prohibits the display of photos of captives as long as their `awrahs are covered.”
Finally, Dr. Ja`far Abdus-Salam, Professor of International Law at Al-Azhar University, concludes:
“For sure, the American-led war on Iraq is an illegitimate war. I really wonder why the US is denouncing the display of American captives!?
International Law dictates to treat captives in a kind way. I have reviewed the Third Article of the Geneva Convention concerning prisoners of war and I do not find any text which prohibits the display of captives’ photos on TV.
I see that the display of the photos of the American captives via TV is so important at this time, as their appearance sets an example for those who encourage the American-led war on Iraq.
Having stated that there is no text which prohibits the display of the photos of captives via TV, I see that their appearance does not run counter to the Third Article of the Geneva Convention or even to the kind treatment stated by that Convention, as such “claimed violation” is legally unacceptable in the norm of International Law.”