Jihad: Obsolete Yet Relevant

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* The author is an eminent Indian scholar and expert on constitutional issues.


(That obsolete jihad must be spurned. We need a jihad which is an ally of ijtihad. The gates of ijtihad must now be opened. Those of the fraudulent jihad must be shut. Only the real non-violent jihad is truly Islamic and truly relevant. – Author)

“The highest form of jihad is to speak the truth in the face of an unjust ruler”, Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) said (At Fath al Kabir; Vol.1, p. 208). In a flash, as it were, this inspiring saying establishes irrefutably that, contrary to the vulgar notion among Muslims and non-Muslims alike, jihad is not synonymous with armed conflict or the waging of war. It has a wider and profound meaning. Islam respects pluralism. The Quran declares “To every one of you We have appointed a right Way and an open road. If God had willed, he would have made you one community (ummah)…” (5:48). Another verse declares “Say: ‘We believe in God, and that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Sustainer unto Moses and Jesus and all the (other) Prophets: we make no distinction between any of them. And unto Him we surrender ourselves.” (3:84).

The Quran was revealed over a period of 23 years with 114 chapters (surahs) and 6235 verses (ayaats). During this period the situation changed radically. The Prophet (PBUH) was a persecuted rebel at Mecca who became a ruler after he moved to Medina. In one of the finest biographies in English, Karen Armstrong describes the transformation graphically in Chapter 8 on Holy War. “Unlike Jesus,however, Muhammad did not have the luxury of being born ‘when all the world was at peace’. He was born into the bloodbath of seventh-century Arabia where the old values were being radically undermined and nothing adequate had yet appeared onto their place. …

“Muhammad had arrived in Medina in September 622 as a refugee who had narrowly escaped death. He would continue to be in mortal danger for the next five years, and during this time the umma faced the possibility of extermination. In the West we often imagine Muhammad as a warlord, brandishing his sword in order to impose Islam on a reluctant world by force of arms. The reality was quite different. Muhammad and the first Muslims were fighting for their lives and they had also undertaken a project in which violence was inevitable.

“The Qu’ran began to urge the Muslims of Medina to participate in a jihad. This would involve fighting and bloodshed, but the root JHD implies more than a ‘holy war’. It signifies a physical, moral, spiritual and intellectual effort. There are plenty of Arabic words denoting armed combat, such as herb (war), sira’a (combat), ma’araka (battle) or qital (killing), which the Qu’ran could easily have used if war had been the Muslims’ principal way of engaging in this effort. Instead it chooses a vaguer, richer word with a wide range of connotations. Jihad is not one of the five pillars of Islam. It is not the central prop of the religion, despite the common Western view. But it was and remains a duty for Muslims to commit themselves to a struggle on all fronts – moral, spiritual and political – to create a just and decent society, where the poor and vulnerable are not exploited, in the way that God had intended man to live. Fighting and warfare might sometimes be necessary, but it was only a minor part of the whole jihad or struggle. A well-known tradition (hadith) has Muhammad say on returning from a battle. ‘We return from the little jihad to the greater jihad,’ the more difficult and crucial effort to conquer the forces of evil in oneself and in one’s one society in al the details of daily life.

As soon as the Muslims undertook the hijra they knew that they would have to be prepared to fight. The Helpers had made the Pledge of War at Second ‘Aqaba and shortly after his arrival in Mecca Muhammad received a revelation giving the Emigrants permission to fight too: ‘Leave is given to those who fight because they were wronged – surely God is able to help them – who were expelled from their homes unjustly, because they said ‘Our Lord is God.’ Had God not driven back the people, some by the means of others, there had been destroyed cloisters and churches, oratories and mosques, wherein God’s Name is much mentioned.’

“The Qu’ran was beginning to evolve a theology of the just war: it might sometimes be necessary to fight to preserve decent values. Unless religious people had sometimes been ready to ward off attack, all their places of worship (for example) would have been destroyed. God will give the Muslims victory only if they ‘perform the prayer, and pay the alms’, make just and honourable laws and create an equitable society.” (22:40-3; Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet; Victor Gollancz, 1995; pp. 165, 167-169).

To interpret correctly the verses of the Quran is to do much more than read the true meaning of jihad; it is to discover the true significance of Islam itself by discarding the dross which has accumulated over time. The great French Scholar Professor Olivier Roy is perhaps the most insightful writer on “Political Islam” as it has emerged in recent decades. He warns “A sacred book is not Napoleon’s Civil Code or an issuance policy, where everything is put in unequivocal terms. By definition it has various meanings and is subject to argument and interpretation” (Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah; Hurst & Co., 2004; p. 10).

Dr. Fazlur Rahman uttered a caution and also suggested a sound approach: “we know from numerous reports that the Prophet’s Companions themselves sometimes understood certain Qur’anic verses differently, and this was within his knowledge. Further, the Qur’an, as I have often reiterated, is a document that grew within a background, from the flesh and blood of actual history; it is therefore both as ‘straight-forward’ and as organically coherent as life itself. Any attempt to take it with a literalist, partialist superficiality and lifeless rigidity will, to use AJ. Arberry’s phrase, ‘crush its gossamer wings to power’.” (Islam & Modernity; The University of Chicago Press; p. 144).

The approach he enunciated is very helpful. “If we look at the Qur’an, it does not in fact give many general principles: for the most part it gives solutions to and rulings upon specific and concrete historical issues; but, as I have said, it provides, either explicitly or implicitly, the rationales behind these solutions and rulings, from which one can deduce general principles. In fact, this is the only sure way to obtain the real truth about the Qur’anic teaching. One must generalize on the basis of Qur’anic treatment of actual cases – taking into due consideration the sociohistorical situation then obtaining – since, although one can find some general statements or principles there, these for the most part are embedded in concrete treatments of actual issues, whence they must be disengaged. The net conclusion to be drawn from these considerations is the following. In building any genuine and viable Islamic set of laws and institutions, there has to be a twofold movement: First one must move from the concrete case treatments of the Qur’an – taking the necessary and relevant social conditions of that time into account – to the general principles upon which the entire teaching converges. Second, from this general level there must be a movement back to specific legislation, taking into account the necessary and relevant social conditions now obtaining.” (italics here in the original; elsewhere, they are added).

Consider this one verse alone “So when the sacred months have passed away then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and be in wait for them in every ambush”(9:5). Two points are obvious. The verse has a reference to a particular situation at that time (“sacred months”) and it refers to a war in progress.

The South African scholar and human rights activist Farid Esack draws pointed attention to the meaning of the word jihad. “Jihad” – literally means “to struggle”, to “exert oneself” or “to spend” (energy or wealth). In the Qur’an, it is frequently followed by the expression “in the path of God” and “with your wealth and your selves”. For Muslims, the term “jihad” has also come to mean the “sacralization of combat” Despite its popular meaning as a sacred armed struggle or war, the term “jihad” was always understood by Muslims to embrace a broader struggle to transform both one’s self and society. The Qur’an itself uses the word in its various meanings ranging from warfare in self-defence (4:90; 25:52; 9.41) to contemplative spiritual struggle (22:78; 29:6), and even exhortation (29:8; 31:15). Given the comprehensive Qur’anic use of the term and the way jihad is intended to transform both one’s self and society; one may say that it is simultaneously a struggle and praxis. For many Muslims, jihad is the Islamic paradigm of the liberation struggle, and justice as the objective of jihad, rather than the establishment of Islam as a religious system, is a common theme in progressive Muslim discourse. Later Muslim scholars insisted that justice can only be established through the establishment of an Islamic order; hence the conflation about jihad as the means to establish an Islamic government.” (The Qur’an: A User’s Guide; A Guide to its Key themes, history and interpretation; One World; Oxford, 2005; p. 178).

Prof. Roland E. Miller, an ordained Lutheran missionary in India, is also an Islamic scholar of repute. He discuses Jihad in a chapter (12) entitled “Muslim Piety and Spiritual Struggle: Taqwa and Jihad” (Muslim Friends: Their Faith and Feeling: An Introduction to Islam; Orient Longman, 1996; p. 241). He writes: “Every Muslim is to be a kind of striver (mujahid), that is, a person who struggles for that which is right, against that which is evil. Majid Khaddurri states that Muslim jurists “have distinguished four different ways in which the believer may fulfill his jihad obligation: by his heart; his tongue; his hands; and his sword.” The ordinary distinction today is between the spiritual and physical forms of striving. Spiritually, it means engaging in a battle against sin and Satan in one’s own life. This is called “the greater jihad.” Applied to the physical realm, the exertion means righteous warfare. This is called “the lesser jihad.” A well-known Hadith reports that the Prophet Muhammad gave top precedence to the greater jihad, humanity’s spiritual struggle against evil.

“Many Muslims realize that the word jihad has become a disturbing term for non-Muslims, who connect it with religious extremism and indiscriminate violence. Muslims do not look at it that way. For them the word signifies a positive religious concept, which may be and frequently is misinterpreted either by Muslims themselves or by non-Muslims. A comparison will make the point clear. The term “crusade” is widely used by many people who see no problems with it and employ it innocently to describe peaceful religious gatherings. At the same time, however, when Muslims hear this word, they experience feelings of distress because it conveys to them an old message of religious violence and suffering. Precisely the same is true with the word jihad. Muslims use it in a positive sense to signify an important religious truth, while to many others it carries a message of needless religious violence. … Apart from the evil of polytheism, jihad does not enter into the issue of inter-religious relations. The overriding principle is established by the famous verse: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2.256). When he began his career in the city of Medina, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) provided the model for this principle by establishing a social compact with the Jews and unbelievers. The Qu’ran declares the words that he spoke: “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion” (109.6)”. (pp. 245-6 and 250).

Prof. Richard Bonney’s book Jihad: From Quran to bin Laden (Palgrave, Macmillan; 2004) can fairly be regarded as a definitive work. He describes the stages in the evolution of the concept of jihad. “The traditional reading of the Qu’ran outlines from ‘stages’ which arose from the historical development in which the Prophet found himself. Here is one such traditional reading, that of Shamseddin al-Sarkhsi (c. 400/1010-482/1090), one of the greatest jurists of the classical age, whose 30-volume Mabsat is considered to rank among the word’s leading legal works.

  1.  At the beginning, the Prophet was enjoined to propagate the message of Islam peacefully and to avoid direct confrontation with the unbelievers. This is disclosed in the Qu’ranic texts … (Q.15:94 and Q.15:85, respectively. …
  2.  And then Allah enjoined the prophet to confront the unbelievers by means of argumentation, which is clearly expressed in the Qu’ran, ‘call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and argue with them in good manner’ (Q.16:125).
  3.  And then Allah granted permission to the prophet and his followers to fight their enemies with the Divine command. ‘Permission to fight their enemies is granted upon those who were unjustly wronged…’ (Q.22:39). They were then enjoined to wage war against those who initiated aggression against Muslims (Q.2:193). … Forbidden Months (al-ashhur al-hurum) with the divine command ‘fight you the unbelievers immediately after the end of the Forbidden Months’. (Q.9:5). 
  4. The final stage came with the Divine command of Allah enjoining the Prophet and his followers to wage war against the unbelievers unconditionally. It is expressed in the Qu’ranic text. ‘Fight you all in the path of Allah, and be aware that Allah is all-knowing’ (Q.2:244). This command will remain as such and its unconditional nature implies that is realization is imperative upon Muslims. Unless war is made imperative, attempts to bring about the superiority of Islam and the inferiority of unbelief will not be a success (cf. Q.8:39). 

With respect, Prof. Bonney has completely misunderstood verse 2:244 by an error all too common; namely, picking on a verse in isolation. The saintly scholar Muhammad Asad explains the verse 2:244 altogether differently. He opines: “i.e. in a just war in self-defence against oppression or unprovoked aggression” (cf 2:190-194). These verses which occur in the same surah (chapter), Al-Baqarah, refer explicitly to wars in self-defence. They read : “(190) AND FIGHT in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression – for, verily, God does not love aggressors (191) And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away from wherever they drove you away – for oppression is even worse than killing. And fight not against them near the Inviolable House of Worship unless they fight against you there first, but if they fight against you, slay them: such shall be the recompense of those who deny the truth. 

“(192) But if they desist – behold, God is much-for-giving, a dispenser of grace. 

“(193) Hence, fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone; but if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, save against those who (willfully) do wrong.

“(194) Fight during the sacred months if you are attacked: for a violation of sanctity is (subject to the law of) just retribution. Thus, if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him just as he has attacked you – but remain conscious of God, and know that God is with those who are conscious of Him.” Thus, although the believers are enjoined to fight back whenever they are attacked, the concluding words of the above verse make it clear that they must, when fighting, abstain from all atrocities, including the killing of non-combatants.” (The Message of Qur’an: Translated and explained, Dar Al-Audalus, Gibraltar; 1980 pp. 54 and 41-2).

Amazingly, few have cared to consult the classic on the subject: A Critical Exposition of the Popular ‘Jihad,by Maulvi Cherag Ali. It was appropriately dedicated to his soulmate, a fellow rationalist and Islamic reformer, Syed Ahmed Khan. A Note explains why he embarked on the work of stupendous research. “I here take the opportunity of removing a wrong idea of the alleged injunction of the Prophet against our countrymen, the Hindus. The Hon’ble Raja Siva Prasad, in his speech at the Legislative Council, on the 9th March, 1883, while discussing the Ilbert Bill, quoted from Amir Khusro’s Tarikh Alai that, “Ala-ud-din Khiliji once sent for a Kazi, and asked him what was written in the Code of Muhammadan law regarding the Hindus. The Kazi answered that, the Hindus were zimmis [condemned to pay the jizya [tax]; if asked silver, they ought to pay gold with deep respect and humility; and if the collector of taxes were to fling dirt in their faces, they should gladly open their mouths wide. God’s order is to keep them in subjection, and the Prophet enjoins on the faithful to kill, plunder and imprison them, to make Mussulmans, or to put them to the sword, to enslave them, and confiscate their property…”

Cheragh Ali, a civil servant in Hyderabad State, was a close associate of Syed Ahmad Khan. But his mind was no pale reflection of his friend. It is most probable that both influenced each other. Of the two, Cheragh Ali had a more scholarly knowledge of Hebrew and the Old Testament. He had, besides, at least a working knowledge of French.

Cheragh Ali does not confine his narrative to this aspect alone. Throughout his book he is at pains to distinguish between the jihad which the Prophet(PBUH) fought and the ones which were fought in the name of Islam by Muslim rulers: “There was no pretence of former injuries on the part of the Moslems to make war on the Koreish. They were actually attacked by the Koreish and were several times threatened with inroads by them and their allies. So it was not until they were attacked by the enemy that they took up arms in their own defence, and sought to repel and prevent hostilities of their enemies. The defence set up for Muhammad is not equally availing of every sanguinary and revengeful tyrant. It was not only that Muhammad was wronged or attacked, but all the Moslems suffered injuries and outrages at Mecca, and when expelled therefrom, they were attacked upon, were not allowed to return to their homes, and to perform the pilgrimage there. The social and religious liberty, a natural right of every individual and nation, was denied them. A cruel or revengeful tyrant may not be justified in taking up arms in his own defence, or in seeking to redress his personal wrongs and private injuries; but the whole Moslem community at Mecca was outraged, persecuted and expelled – and the entire Muhammadan commonwealth at Medina was attacked, injured and wronged – their natural rights and privileges were disregarded – after such miseries the Moslems took up arms to protect themselves from the hostilities of their enemies and to repeal force by force; and were justified by every law and justice.”

Muhammad (PBUH) faced persecution for about sixteen years from the third year of his mission to the sixth year after the hijrah. A former RSS supremo, K. S. Sudarshan, once quoted two verses from the Quran to show how Muslims have used their scripture selectively to take to the path of intolerance and bloodshed. One reads: “And fight them until persecution is no more and religion is all for Allah”. That is all he quoted. It is, however, part of two connected verses which are set out below:

“8:38. Say to those who disbelieve, if they desist, that which is past will be forgiven them; and if they return then the example of those of old has already gone.

“8:39. And fight with them until there is no more persecution, and all religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then surely Allah sees all that they do.”

The context of these Medina verses is relevant. The Meccans had gone away from the battle of Bader in defeat, quite discomfited. The verses enjoined the Muslims not to pursue them and to desist from fighting any further, once their own persecution had ceased. Muhammad Asad’s excellent commentary on the Quran explains the import of these verses: “Both these passages stress self-defence – in the widest sense of the word – as the only justification of war. … As I have pointed out on more than one occasion, every verse of the Quran must be read and interpreted against the background of the Quran as a whole. The above verse, which speaks of a possible conversion to Islam on the part of ‘those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God” with whom the believers are at war, must, therefore, be considered in conjunction with several fundamental Quranic ordinances. One of them, “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith” (2:256), lays down categorically that any attempt at a forcible conversion of unbelievers is prohibited – which precludes the possibility of the Muslims’ demanding or expecting that a defeated enemy should embrace Islam as the price of immunity. Secondly, the Quran ordains, “Fight in God’s cause against those who wage wars against you, but do not commit aggression, for verily, God does not love aggression” (2:190); and, “if they do not let you be and do not offer you peace, and do not stay their hands, seize them and slay them whenever you come upon them; and it is against these that we have clearly empowered you (to make war)” (4:91). Thus, war is permissible only in self-defence (see Sura 2, verses 190 and 191), with the further proviso that “if they desist-behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace” (2:192), and “if they desist, then all hostility shall cease” (2:193). Now the enemy’s conversion to Islam – expressed in the words, if they repent, and take to prayer (literally “establish prayer”) and render the purifying dues (zakat) – is no more than one, and by no means the only, way of their “desisting from hostility” and the reference to it in verses 5 and 11 of surah 9 certainly does not imply an alternative of “conversion or death”, as some unfriendly critics of Islam choose to assume. Verses 4 and 6 give a further elucidation of attitude which the believers are enjoined to adopt towards such of the unbelievers as are not hostile to them (in this connection, see also 60:8-9). (Asad; p. 256). 

Cheragh Ali’s citation of verses from the Quran yields the same conclusion. He places another verse, often misquoted to misrepresent jihad (2:193), in its context: “The verses 190, 191, 192 and 193, if read together, will show that the injunction for fighting is only in defence. The verses are:

‘190. And fight for the cause of God against those who fight against you: but commit not the injustice of attacking them first; verily God loveth not the unjust.’

‘191. And kill them whenever ye shall find them; and eject them from whatever place they have ejected you; for (fitnah) persecution is worse than slaughter; yet attack them not at the sacred Mosque, ,until they attack you therein, but if they attack you, then slay them: such is the recompense of the infields:

‘192. But if they desist, then verily God is Gracious, Merciful –

‘193. And do battle against them until there be no more (fitnah) persecution and the only worship be that of God; but if they desist, then let there be no hostility, save against wrong-doers.’ ”

It is not difficult to appreciate how a wholly false impression can be created by isolating a single verse and by quoting it out of context.

Muslim jihadists of today are as practiced offenders. In Islam the concept of jihad is inextricably linked to the concept of ‘oppression’. The Quran is replete with references to protection of the oppressed and to forbearance from aggression. ‘But what hath come to you that ye fight not on the path of God, and for the weak among men, women and children, who say, ‘O our Lord: bring us forth from this City whose inhabitants are oppressors; give us a champion from thy presence; and give us from thy presence a defender!” (4:75). Also, ‘Permission (to fight) is given to those on whom war is made because they are oppressed.

And surely Allah is also to help them’ (22:39) Nor is the unbeliever to be deprived of protection: ‘If any one of those who join gods with Allah ask an asylum of thee, grant him asylum, in order that he hear the Word of God; then let him reach his place of safety. This, for that they are people devoid of knowledge’ (9:6). The overriding injunction is: ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ (2:256).

Having refuted Western and Indian critics of jihad, Cheragh Ali went on an offensive against Muslims whose notions of jihad were no better. The Quranic verses must be read in the proper context, he repeatedly insisted and demonstrated how some Muslim commentaries, including the famous Hedaya, misled Muslims and non-Muslims alike: ‘I will not hesitate in saying that generally the Muhammadan legists, while quoting the Koran in support of theories, quote some dislocated portion from a verse without any heed to its context, and thus cause a great and irreparable mischief by misleading others, especially the European writers …”

Cheragh Ali found support for his views in the writings of a European scholar, Edward William Lane, who admitted: ‘Misled by the decision of those doctors, and an opinion prevalent in Europe, I represented the laws of “holy war” as more severe than I found them to be according to the letter and spirit of the Kuran, when carefully examined, and according to the Hanafee code. I am indebted to Mr. Urquhart for suggesting to me the necessity of revising my former statement on the subject; and must express my conviction that no precept is to be found in the Kuran, which, taken with the context, can justify unprovoked war.

A reformer that he was, the battle against the jihadists of the times was only a front in Cheragh Ali’s war against ignorance and conservatism. ‘The Koran keeps pace with the most fully and rapidly-developing civilization, if it is rationally interpreted, not as expounded by the Ulema in the Common Law Book and enforced by the sentiment of a nation. It is only the Muhammadan Common Law, with all its traditions or oral sayings of the Prophet – very few of which are genuine reports – and the supposed chimerical concurrence of the learned Moslem Doctors and mostly their analogical reasonings (called Hades, Ijma, and Kias), passed under the name of Fiquah or Shariat – that has blended together the spiritual and the secular, and has become a barrier in some respects regarding certain social and political innovations for the higher civilization and progress of the nation. But the Koran is not responsible for this all.” It is rare to find any scholar speaking or writing thus in the South Asia of today.

Over a century later, in a speech to American religious leaders in New York, President Muhammad Khatami of Iran censured the jihadists of today whom he aptly called nihilists: ‘It assumes various names, and it is tragic and unfortunate that some of those names bear a resemblance to religiosity and some proclaim spirituality…

“Vicious terrorists who concoct weapons out of religion are superficial literalists clinging to simplistic ideas. They are utterly incapable of understanding that, perhaps inadvertently, they are turning religion into the handmaiden of the most decadent ideologies. While terrorists purport to be serving the cause of religion and accuse all those who disagree with them of heresy and sacrilege, they are serving the very ideologies they condemn

“The role of religious scholars has now become even more crucial, and their responsibility ever more significant. Christian thinkers in the 19th century put forward the idea that religion should be seen as a vehicle for social solidarity. Now that the world is on the edge of chaos… the notion of Christian solidarity should prove helpful in calling for peace and security, in the holy Koran human beings are invited to join their efforts in ta’awon, and ta’awon means solidarity, which can be translated into – co-operation to do good.” We should all co-operate in the cause of doing good. President Khatami urged a dialogue of civilizations instead of a clash between them. (The Economist; 24 November 2001).

Chiragh Ali also quotes an Islamic scholar who is also quoted by Prof. Bonney to show how the verses on jihad were revealed by stages. “Sarakhsee generally entitled Shums-ul-a- mma (the Sun of the Leaders), who died in 671 A. H., as quoted by Ibn Abdeen in his Radd-ul-Muhtar , makes several stages in publishing the injunctions for fighting. He writes: “Know thou that the command for fighting has descended by degrees. First the Prophet was enjoined to proclaim and withdraw, ‘Profess publicly then what thou hast been bidden and withdraw from those who join gods with God’ (XV, 94) . Then he was ordered to dispute kindly; ‘Summon thou to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and with kindly warning: dispute with them in the kindest warning (XVI, 125). Then they were allowed to fight, ‘A sanction is given to those who are fought …’ (XXII, 39). Then they were allowed to fight if they (the unbelievers) attacked them, ‘If they attack you, then kill them’ (II, 191). After this they were enjoined to fight on the condition of passing over the sacred months, ‘And when the sacred months are passed, then kill the polytheists’ (IX, 5). After this they were enjoined to fight absolutely, ‘And fight for the cause of God…’ (II, 190, 244). And thus the matter was settled.” There was no injunction for fighting absolutely or aggressively in Koran.” Vide however, Asad’s commentary on the verses (Maulavi Cheragh Ali; Idarah-I Adabiyat-I Delli; 2009 Qasinjan Street, Delhi-6; 1885. I acknowledge debts. The original copy in the Aligarh Muslim University is brittle. In 2002 its Vice Chancellor Muhammad Hamid Ansari, a valued friend, traced a reprint by this obscure publisher. Its owner Mohammad Ahmed reprinted several such texts only as a labour of love. My late friend, M. H. Askari introduced me to him).

Jihad has been distorted by some writers of traditions and perverted by Muslim rulers for the ends of real politick. The Greater Jihad was subordinated to the Lesser Jihad. As a Lebanese scholar, Yusuf Ibish noted: “The Greater Jihad is fighting one’s animal tendencies. It is internal rather than external: striving in the path of God to overcome one’s animal side. Man shares with animals certain characteristics which, if let loose, make him a very dangerous beast. To bring these passions under control, that is what Jihad means. Man has a tendency to overestimate himself – and to underestimate his spiritual potential. He has a tendency to control and exploit his environment and other human beings. Jihad is essentially against such tendencies.

“The Lesser Jihad – fighting on behalf of the community, in its defense – is a duty incumbent on a Muslim provided he is attacked. A man has the right to defend his life, his property, and he has to organize himself along these lines. Of course, one can produce incidents in history and ask whether in fact the principle of self-defense applies. It is true that Muslims have waged wars; wars of conquest, wars in the ordinary sense, often not at all related to religion or faith. But this indicates that some Muslims have not exercised the Greater Jihad.” (Miller; p. 254).

Prof. Bonney rightly criticizes the traditionalists at length for distorting the true message of Islam. “Orientalists such as Ignaz Goldziher in the nineteenth century denounced ‘fabrications’ in the traditions, which he considered were a weapon of debate by the various groups competing for control of the Islamic movement. Even Muslim legal scholars such as professor Kamali accept that the development of serious and persistent differences in the community by the year 40/660, marked by the emergence of the Kharijis and the Shi’a led to ‘distorted interpretation of the source materials, or… outright fabrication’. Moderate followers of Goldziher in the later twentieth century, such as G. H. A. Juynboll, argued that ‘fabrication or forgery’ may have begun ‘almost immediately after the Prophet’s death, if not on a small scale even already during his lifetime’. Juynboll wrote: ‘Too many Companions, especially Anas, Abu Hurayra Ibn ‘Abbas and Jabir b. ‘Abd Allah to name but a few of the most important alleged hadith transmitters among them, were ‘credited’ with such colossal numbers of obviously forged traditions that it is no longer feasible to conceive of a foolproof method to sift authentic from falsely ascribed material.

“In particular, Anas (d. 93/711), who allegedly lived to the age of 103, was convenient source for forgers because of his longevity. Abu Harayra stands at the head of the list of hadith transmitters, with 5374 ‘channels through which ahadith were transmitted’; he is said to have instructed 800 students. ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar had 2630 narrations, Anas ibn Malik 2286. ‘A’ishah Umm al-Mu’minin 2210 and ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas 1660, Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah 1540 and Abu Sa’Id al-Khudri 1170. M.Z. Siddiqi talks of a ‘crisis of authencity’ with fabrications spread by heretics, sectarians, storytellers and even devout traditionalists, ‘the most dangerous type of hadith forgers’. Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Bahili (d.275/888) was generally venerated for his piety, but admitted that he had forged traditions in order to make the hearts of the people tender and soft.”

Thus, the challenge that faces Muslims is not only to understand the Word of Allah correctly, but also to separate wheat and chaff from the Word of Man, the hadith.

Prof. Richard Bonney has helpfully published as an Appendix an extract from a fatwa pronounced by Ibn Taymiyah on the Mongols, (702/1303) who incidentally claimed to be Muslims. The fatwa said: “Any community or group that refuses to abide by any clear and universally accepted Islamic law, whether belonging to these people or to some other group, must be fought until they abide by its laws. This applies even though they make the verbal declaration (that brings a person into then Islamic fold) and abide by some of its laws.” (Bonney; p. 424).

Bonney’s comment on Ibn Taymiyah is apt: “Ibn Taymiyah thus should be seen as a revivalist of the doctrine of jihad and perhaps its last great theoretician in the Middle ages. His fatwa regarding the Mongols established a precedent: in spite of their claim to be Muslims, their failure to implement shariah rendered the Mongols apostates and hence the lawful object of jihad. Muslim citizens thus had the right, indeed duty, to revolt against them, to wage jihad. For Osama bin Laden, Ibn Taymiyah, along with Shaykh Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, is one of the great authorities to be cited to justify the kind of indiscriminate resort to violence which he terms jihad.” (ibid.; pp 121-2).

Abul Ala Mawdudi was as extremist. “Mawdudi’s writings, and especially the summary address that he delivered on ‘War in the cause of Allah’ (jihad fi sabil Allah) on Iqbal Day (13 April 1939) serve as an excellent (and nearly comprehensive) summary of Islamist ideology. This statement made it clear that the purpose of jihad was none other than world revolution, since Islam knows no national boundaries and accepts no other system than its own. … ‘the objective of the Islamic Jihad is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system, and establish in its place an Islamic system of state rule. Islam does not intend to confine this rule to a single state or to a handful of countries. The aim of Islam is to bring about a universal revolution. Although in the initial stages, it is incumbent upon members of the Party of Islam to carry out a revolution in the state system of the countries to which they belong, their ultimate objective is none other than a world revolution.’ ” (ibid.; p.200). Sayyid Qutb held that “the conflict between Islam and jahiliyyah was not only inevitable but perpetual” (ibid.; p.218).

Ibn Taymiyah had a long lasting and baleful influence for a variety of reasons. Spurious scholarship, bigotry, political decline and Western aggressions on the Muslim world contributed to them. These men were not revivalists; they were nihilists. They were not scholars but propagandists. It is not Islam, but their own political agenda which moved them.

For the original meaning of Jihad an excellent guide is Prof. Asma Afsaruddin of the University of Notre Dame, Illinois. Her work, The First Muslims: History and Memory, is a work of high scholarship (One World, Oxford; 2009). She writes: “The term jihad in Qu’ranic usage is a term with multiple meaning and, as even a cursory reading of some of the related literature reveals, was understood as such by early religious authorities and scholars. Jihad in the Qu’ran is a broad umbrella term which means “struggle” and “striving”. The fuller term, as usually occurs, is al-jihad fi sabil Allah (“striving in the path/for the sake of God”). This striving is an ongoing effort to “enjoin good and forbid wrong,” an essential and basic moral imperative for the believer. In Qu’ranic usage, the word jihad alone does not refer to armed combat. The specific term used for armed combat is qital, which can be a means of enjoining good and forbidding wrong in specific circumstances. Another important means of striving in the way of God is through patient forbearance (sabr), which is always required for the believer under all circumstances. As mentioned in chapter 7, exegetical glosses from the early period on the full Qu’ranic phrase al-jihad fi sabil Allah explain this moral imperative as referring to a wide array of activities: for example, embarking on the pursuit of knowledge, giving alms, and earning a licit livelihood, in addition to military defense of Islamic realms.

“Thus the early hadith compilation of ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-San’ani (d. 826), one of the Successors to the Successors, contains reports which refer to jihad in their multiple significations. ‘Abd al-Razzaq records a report attributed to the famous Successor al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 728), who valorizes the struggle inherent in daily life and worship as the central and more important meaning of jihad. In this report al-Hasan says, “There is nothing more arduous or exacting (ajhad) for a man than the money which he spends honestly or for a right cause and the prayer that he says deep in the middle of the night.” The Arabic superlative ajhad is related etymologically to term jihad and underscores the greater merit accruing from doing daily ordinary activities as well. Reports such as these highlight the general signification of jihad as striving to better oneself and contributing to the welfare of one’s family and society.” (p. 192)

The jihad of Ibn Taymiyah, Syed Qutb, Bin Laden and Mawdudi is a fraud on the faith of Islam. Their jihad was a crime which has now reached obsolescence. The Quranic jihad which Prof. Afsaruddin mentions is relevant; but neglected. It is the core of a theology of liberation; liberation from ignorance, from want and from oppression; economic, social, political and legal.

The battle was lost centuries ago as the Tukish scholar Mustafa Akyol reminds us. “The war of ideas between the Traditionists and the Rationalists of Islam was a long and complex one, and we have covered only the headlines of this curious story. The result, in a nutshell, was that the Traditionists won and the Rationalists lost. This was the outcome of a trend that started in the third century of Islam and crystallized in the fifth. The Traditionist victory had permanent consequences for Muslim thinking …The foreign invasions changed the entire intellectual landscape of Islamdom. The West was no longer a model to emulate but rather an intruder to eradicate. The question, “How can we be like the West?” would soon be replaced by “How can we resist the West?” And the push for ijtihad would be overshadowed by the drive for jihad.” (Islam Without Extremes; p.174).

That obsolete jihad must be spurned. We need a jihad which is an ally of ijtihad. The gates of ijtihad must now be opened. Those of the fraudulent jihad must be shut. Only the real non-violent jihad is truly Islamic and truly relevant.