Jihad Vs Terrorism

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By A. G. Noorani*



(The concept of jihad has been distorted as much by extremists professing Islam as it has by detractors of the faith in the West. Aggression is proscribed by the Quran and the only kind of war permitted is one in self-defence. Extremists, however, de-contextualize verses of the Quran and base their skewed interpretation of the religion by wrongly claiming that a number of the earlier Quranic verses have been abrogated by subsequent ones during the twenty-two years that it took for the entire scripture to be revealed to Prophet Muhammad. In essence jihad is a struggle that one wages against oneself on behalf of oneself. Terrorist violence is anathema to Islamic doctrine. Editior.)

“The highest form of jihad is to speak the truth in the face of a tyrannical ruler.”[1] This injunction of Prophet Muhammad alone suffices to expose the falsehoods that are being retailed by professional jihadists, on the one hand, and by professional Islam-baiters in the West, on the other. It implies two things – jihad is not synonymous with warfare, let alone terrorism; and it has an ethical component. Jihad means exertion. Ijtihad, a source of sharia, is the exertion of reason. The accord in mendacity reveals both professionals in their true colours.

It is not a new phenomenon. But it has acquired a virulence in the last three decades if not more. Certainly, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, had not the slightest doubt about what jihad meant. He said at a meeting in Jahangir Park, Karachi on 15 August 1951:“Jihad really means to strive for justice and truth, whereas war means to fight others for territorial ambitions.”[2]

A vivid illustration of the accord in mendacity is that the leading professional jihadist Osama bin Laden and K. S. Sudarshan, the supremo of the virulently anti-Muslim body in India, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, interpret verses of the Quran in the same sense, perverted to their respective nefarious ends. Sudarshan’s RSS physically attacks the lives and properties of Muslims of India. Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda attacks the soul of Islam. It invokes perversely the doctrine of abrogation of Quranic verses. This, indeed is the profound challenge Muslims face in the twenty-first century – how to retrieve from the fundamentalists the Word of Allah and the Message He Sent through the Chosen One. In short to revitalize Islam, renew our faith and make the Message a relevant guide to our times.

Note the tell-tale coincidence. In 2001 Sudarshan quoted two verses from the Quran (Surahs: 8:39 and 9:5) to claim that Muslims have used their scripture to take to the path of intolerance and bloodshed.[3] The first reads: “And fight them until there is no more persecution and religion is all for Allah.” That is all he quoted. It is, however, part of two connected verses which are:

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 religion is all for Allah. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Seer of what they do.”

The context of these Medina verses is relevant. The Meccans had gone away discomfited from their defeat in the battle of Bader. 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.”[4]

The second verse quoted by Sudarshan i.e., 9:5 reads:“Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolators wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them every ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the spoor due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is forgiving, merciful.” Sudarshan cited this to show how Muslims have taken to the path of intolerance and conflict.

Prof. Clinton Bennett understood the verse differently. He was once Assistant Chaplain at Westminister College, Oxford. His book In Search of Muhnammad is an earnest effort by a devout Christian to understand Muhammad. (Cassell, 1998).

Referring to this very verse, Bennett wrote: “This verse has indeed been so used but this is to remove the verse both from the context of what the Quran says about war (defensive, or to right a wrong) and from the context of Quranic exegesis. Scholars point out that the words “but if they repent … leave their way free,” contained in the same verse … clearly indicate that the “unbelievers” must have initiated some type of attack against the Muslims. Indeed, the verse probably refers to the existing conflict between the Muslims and their opponents, thus giving Muslims permission to re-engage after the religious truce had ended.”[5]

Now compare bin Laden’s “The World Islamic Front’s Declaration to Wage Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders” issued on 23 February 1998 in the Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. After citing Surah 9:5 and recounting the US’ “crimes” in “the Arabian Peninsula”, in Iraq, Egypt and Sudan, he said: “On that basis, and in compliance with Allah’s order, we hereby issue the following decree to all Muslims: The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual obligation incumbent upon every Muslim who can do it and in any country – this until the Aqsa Mosque [Jerusalem] and the Holy Mosque [Mecca] are liberated from their grip, and until their armies withdraw from all the lands of Islam, defeated, shattered, and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the Word of the Most High – “[F]ight the pagans all together as they fight you all together” [9:36] and the Word of the Most High, “Fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and [all] religion belongs to Allah” [8:39].

“And the Most High said : “And why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and on behalf of those oppressed men, women, and children who cry out, Lord Rescue us from this town and its oppressors. Give us from Your Presence some protecting friend Give us from Your Presence some defender!” [4:75].

“By Allah’s leave we call upon every Muslim who believes in Allah and wishes to be rewarded to comply with Allah’s order to kill the Americans and seize their money wherever and whenever they find them. We also call on Muslim ulema, leaders, youths, and soldiers to launch the raid on the Devil’s army – the Americans – and whoever allies with them from the supporters of Satan, and to rout those behind them so that they may learn [a lesson].” It was signed by bin Laden; Aywan al-Zawahiri “Commander of the Jihad Group in Egypt;” Abu Yasir Rifa’i; Ahmad Taha, Egyptian Islamic Group; Sheikh Mir Hamza, Secretary of the Organisation of Islamic Ulema in Pakistan, and Fazlur Rahman, Commander of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh. (For the text vide Raymond Ibrahim (ed.), The Al Qaeda Reader; Doubleday; 2007, pp.11-14).

Three features deserve note. It asserts an individual’s right to declare jihad, as distinct from the right of the ummah or a faqih or the State. It is sweeping in character; global not territorial. The charges do not add up to a Casus belli, either.

To Saudi intellectuals’ letter “How We Can Coexist” bin Laden replied with an essay written or authorized by him entitled “Moderate Islam is a Prostration to the West.” He wrote: “They said in their declaration: “Man, from his very makeup, is a sacred creation. Thus it is impermissible to transgress against him, no matter what his color, race, or religion. Allah Most High said: ‘We have honored the children of Adam [mankind] …’ [17:70].” “No matter what his color, race, or religion” – such beautiful expressions as found in treaties of the Organization of Non-Aligned States that deserve commendation by way of further development by the Saudi intellectuals, who have begun to incessantly repeat the concepts found in national charters.

“Now, then, how can you speak about Allah without knowledge? Who told you that transgression against man is impermissible – if he is an infidel? What about Offensive Jihad? Allah Exalted, the most High, said: “Fight them! Allah will torment them with your hands” [9:14]. And He said: “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them – seize them, besiege them, and make ready to ambush them! But if they repent afterward, and perform the prayer and pay the alms [i.e., submit to Islam], then release them. For Allah is truly All-Forgiving, Merciful” [9:5]. Indeed, these expressions of yours are built upon the principle of equality, as found in the charters of the United Nations, which do not distinguish [among] people, neither by way of religion nor race nor sex. Islam improves; it is not improved. For the Muslim, even if he was a slave, is a million times more superior than an infidel lord.” (ibid; p. 38). The editor, Raymond Ibrahim, points out the double-talk. There is a fierce counsel to Muslims and tender message to the West. The essay was “a doctrinal denunciation of the very concept of moderate Islam.”

Al Qaeda responded to the American letter “What We’re Fighting For” with an essay entitled “Why We are Fighting You.” Ibrahim notes – “Interestingly, that essay does not mention those many Islamic doctrines delineated in al-Qaeda’s declaration to the Saudis that intrinsically require Muslims to attack non-Muslims – and which al-Qaeda mocked the Saudis for not mentioning. For instance, when speaking to the Saudis, bin Laden writes : ‘There are only three choices in Islam : either willing submission; or payment of the jizya, thereby physical, though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam; or the sword – for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive; either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die. Thus it behooves the [Saudi] signatories to clarify this matter to the West – otherwise they will be like those who believe in part of the Book while rejecting the rest.’

“Yet when speaking to the West directly, bin Laden portrays Islam only as a ‘religion of showing kindness to others, establishing justice between them, granting them their rights, and defending the oppressed and the persecuted.’ Curiously, he neglects to mention the aforementioned three options that he chided the Saudis for failing to state to the infidels. Instead, he “altruistically” invites Americans to embrace Islam.” (ibid; pp. 19-20). True Mujahids cannot be hypocrites.

At the core of the debate is interpretation of the Quran, which was revealed to the Prophet over a period of 22 years, 5 months and 14 days. 86 Surahs (chapters) were revealed in Mecca in 13 years. 28 Surahs were revealed in Medina in 10 years. Persecution of the worst kind and dire peril to his life forced him to migrate from Mecca to Medina in 622 (the hijrah). The Prophet died at Medina on 8 June 632.

The great scholar Fazlur Rahman rightly complained that no serious effort was made to read the Quranic verses in the order in which they were revealed so as to understand their context. His “double movement” theory is brilliant: “If we look at the Quran, 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 building any genuine and stable Islamic set of laws and institutions, there has to be a two-fold movement. First one must move from the concrete case treatments of the Quran – taking the necessary and relevant social conditions of that time into account – to the general principles upon which the entire teaching converge. Second, from the general level there must be a movement back to specific legislation, taking into account the necessary and relevant social conditions now obtaining.”[6]

The same point was made over a century ago by Moulavi Cheragh Ali in his magnum opus, A Critical Exposition of the Popular “Jihad.” The subtitles read: “Showing that all the Wars of Mohammad were defensive; and that aggressive war, or compulsory conversion is not allowed in the Koran.” The title added “With Appendices” whose sub-title read: “Proving that the word ‘Jihad’ does not necessarily mean warfare, and that slavery is not sanctioned by the prophet of Islam.” It was published in 1885 and was reprinted in 1984 by a dedicated publisher of Islamic Studies, Mohammad Ahmed (Idarah-i-Adaliyat-I Delhi; 2009 Qasimjan Street, Delhi 6).

It was appropriately dedicated to his soul-mate, 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 Khilji 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….”

‘These alleged injunctions, I need not say here, after what I have stated in various places of this book regarding intolerance, and compulsory conversion, are merely false imputations. There are no such injunctions of the Prophet against either zimmis [i.e. protected or guaranteed], or the Hindus.’

Cheragh Ali, a civil servant in Hyderabad State, was a close associate of Syed Ahmad Khan. Aziz Ahmad says that he “developed some of [Syed Ahmed Khan’s] ideas with consummate scholarship. 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.”[7]

Muhammad began to preach the message of Islam in 612. Before long the fierce tribe of Quraysh began persecuting him. In 615, before his own emigration to Medina in 622, a party of 11 Muslims immigrated to Ethiopia, followed the next year by another party of 100. The Quraysh sent an emissary to the Christian ruler, Negus Armuh, to obtain their surrender. The Prophet’s migration to Medina (hijrah, the opening of the Muslims calendar) was treated as an act of war. Cheragh Ali takes the reader through the events that followed, culminating in Muhammad’s entry into Mecca and the success of his mission in Arabia. Each battle is carefully analysed. Every single verse in the Quran on jihad is quoted and its context set out with full references in the footnotes.

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 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 repel force by force; and were justified by every law and justice.” Muhammad faced persecution for about sixteen years from the third year of his mission to the sixth year after the hijrah. (pp xxiv – xxv).

What Raja Siva Prasad alleged on 9 March 1883 was “confirmed” by bin Laden on 23 February 1998. Both were wrong. But while the Raja spoke in ignorance bin Laden speaks in malevolence; hence the wilful misinterpretation of the Sacred Book.

Cheragh Ali’s work is regarded as an authoritative exposition of Jihad even now over a century after it was published because he takes pains to cite the context for every text to which he refers. This writer makes no apology for quoting him in extenso: “All the fighting injunctions in the Koran are, in the first place, only in self-defence, and none of them has any reference to make warfare offensively. In the second place, it is to be particularly noted that they were transitory in their nature, and are not to be considered positive injunctions for future observance or religious precepts for coming generations. They were only temporary measures to meet the emergency of the aggressive circumstances. The Mohammadan Common Law is wrong on this point, where it allows unbelievers to be attacked without provocation. But this it places under the category of a non-positive injunction. A positive injunction is that which (is) incumbent on every believer. But attacking unbelievers without any provocation, or offensively, is not incumbent on every believer. The Hedaya has: – “The sacred injunction concerning war is sufficiently observed when it is carried on by any one party or tribe of Mussulmans; and it is then no longer of any force with respect to the rest.”

“The Mohammadan Common Law makes the fighting only a positive injunction “where there is a general summons, (that, where the infidels invade a Mussulman territory, and the Imam for the time being issues a general proclamation, requiring all persons to stand forth to fight,) for in this case war becomes a positive injunction with respect to the whole of the inhabitants,” – this is sanctioned by the Law of Nations and the Law of Nature.

After citing the legists of old he proceeded to demolish their thesis comprehensively. His thoroughness conforms to the highest standards of scholarship. Apart from the context of the revelation, a verse must be read in the context also of other related verses. It is impermissible to single out one verse and cite it in support of one’s stand. Consider these verses from Sura 2:

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 wherever ye 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 infidels !”

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 worship be that of God: but if they desist, then let there be no hostility, save against wrong-doers.”

Is it honest to pick on verse 187 or verse 189 alone and ignore the context of the text itself, let alone the context of the revelation? The oft misquoted Surah 9:5 reads thus: “And when the sacred months are passed, kill those who join other gods with Allah wherever Ye find them; and seize them, and besiege them, and lay (in) wait for them with every kind of ambush; but if they repent and observe prayer and pay the obligatory alms, then let them go their way. Verily, Allah is Gracious, Merciful.”

The very first line indicates that a war was on, interrupted by “the sacred months.” The rest of the verse defers to its revival thereafter; that is, revival of a defensive war forced on Muslims. It refers, to be precise, to a particular war. It is not an injunction for war.

The legendary Muhammad Asad was not only an erudite scholar but a man of faith who led a life of piety. His English Translation and Commentary The Message of The Quran reflects both, learning and piety (Dar Al-Andalus, Gibraltar 1980; distributors E. J. Brill, London). His Commentary says “Read in conjunction with the two preceding verses as well as with 2:190 – 194, the above verse relates to warfare already in progress with people who have become guilty of a breach of treaty obligations and of aggression … 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 aggressors” (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 this surah 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 the 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).”[8]

On Surah 9:5 Cheragh Ali writes: “The fifth verse of the ninth Sura is by no means an injunction to attack first or wage an aggressive war. This verse is one of the several published at Medina after the Meccans had violated the treaty of Hodeibia and attacked the Bani Khozaa, who were in alliance with Mohammad. The Meccans were given four months’ time to submit, in default of which they were to be attacked for their violation of the treaty and for their attacking the Bani Khozaa. They submitted beforehand, and Mecca was conquered by compromise. The verses …… (Sura IX, 1 – 15, & c.) were not acted upon. So there was no injunction to wage an aggressive  war. … The 190th verse of the second Sura is not at all an absolute injunction to wage a war of aggression. The verses 190, 191, 192 and 193, if read together, will show that the injunction for fighting is only in defence.” (Cheragh Ali, p. 123).

He concluded: “I will not hesitate in saying that generally the Mohammadan legists, while quoting the Koran in support of their 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,…” (ibid., p. 129).

This verse (Surah 9:5) has been discussed at some length advisedly. Its title, significantly, is At–Tawbah (Repentance) and was revealed at Medina. It is not preceded by the invocation “Bismilla hir Rahman ar Rahim” (In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace” in contrast with every other Surah of the Quran. Asad pointed out “This undoubtedly deliberate omission is responsible for the view held by many Companions of the Prophet that At-Tawbah is in reality a continuation of Al-Anfal (Surah 8 : Spoils of war) and that the two together constitute one single Surah (Zamakhshari) notwithstanding the fact that an interval of about seven years separates the revelation of the one from that of the other … the inner relationship between At-Tawbah and Al-Anfal is unmistakable. Both are devoted the problems of war between the believers and the deniers. The theme of treacherous violation of treaties occurs in both.”[9]

Surah 9 as a whole was revealed in 9 H. and was followed by several others; e.g., Al-Maidah (Surah 5, The Repast) This is important as we shall see. The fundamentalists hold that the “verses of the sword” – ayat al – sayf – (9:123, 9:39, 2:190, and 9:5) override the injunctions for tolerance and compassion, invoking the doctrine of abrogation. They deny the hadith on Greater and Lesser Jihad and rely on the dicta of Ibn Taymiyya (1263 – 1328).

Ibn Taymiyah gave a Fatwa in 1303 on the Mongol’s atrocities in the Muslim lands, while professing to be Muslims themselves. The question posed was “Is fighting them permissible or a duty?” He replied “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 the Islamic fold] and abide by some of its laws. Such was the attitude of Abu Bakr [the first caliph] and the prophet’s companions when they fought against those who refused to pay zakat. All scholars in subsequent generations agree to this ruling, even though at first ‘Umar questioned Abu Bakr over it. The Prophet’s companions were unanimous in their support for fighting to achieve the rights of Islam. This is in line with the Quran and the Sunnah.” He questioned the Mongols’ adherence to Islam “They fight for Chinghis Khan.”[10]

After Cheragh Ali’s work, Richard Bonney’s study, Jihad, From Quran to bin Laden, is the most definitive to appear. He points out that “for Ibn Taymiyah, the priority was not to wage war in the Dar Al-Harb. It was to turn in words, and purge the Sunni world of infidels and heretics.” He expressed his arguments most clearly in the chapter on “The Religious and Moral Doctrine of Jihad” in his book Governance According to Allah’s Law in Reforming the Ruler and his Flock (Al-Siyasa al-Shariyya fi islah al-Rai wal – Raiyya). Bonney holds that “In none of the jihad passages cited is the sense unequivocally warlike. Instead, Ibn Taymiyah short-circuits the argument on the nature of jihad with the following formulation: ‘Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is Allah’s entirely (Q.2:189; Q.8:39) and Allah’s word is uppermost (Q. 9:40), therefore, according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought.”[11]

The Algerian Groupe Islamique Arme relied on Ibn Taymiyya’s dicta to take the lives of Trappist monks. He was regarded as an extremist and sent to prison by four judges representing the four schools of law for a literalist interpretation of the Quran. For some critics he was not worthy of the title Shaykh al-Islam.[12]

But “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. In particular, Ibn Taymiyah was cited twice in sermons and communiques in 2003. In his sermon published on 16 February 2003, bin Laden said of Ibn Taymiyah : ‘The most important religious duty – after belief itself – is to ward off and fight the enemy aggressor. Shaykh al-Islam [Ibn Taymiyah], may Allah have mercy upon him, said: ‘to drive off the enemy aggressor who destroys both religion and the world – there is no religious duty more important than this, apart from belief itself.’ This is an unconditional rule.

“He returned to the same subject in his speech posted in English on 18 July 2003. No true Islamic state was currently in existence, he contended. To attain it, five conditions were needed: ‘a group, hearing, obedience, a hijrah [that is, detachment from the world of heresy to establish and strengthen a community of believers outside it, in the path of the Prophet Muhammad] and a jihad. Those who wish to elevate Islam without hijrah and without jihad sacrifices for the sake of Allah have not understood the path of Muhammad…

“Once more the name of Ibn Taymiyah was brought in to support the cause: ‘If jihad becomes a commandment incumbent personally upon every Muslim, it [jihad] rises to the top of the priorities, and there is no doubt of this, as Shaykh al-Islam [Ibn Taymiyah] said: ‘nothing is a greater obligation than repelling the aggressive enemy who corrupts the religion and this world – except faith itself.’

“That the prominent jurist is regularly cited by bin Laden to support his cause is therefore not in doubt. As early as August 1996 he had praised him for ‘arousing the ummah of Islam against its enemies.’ The question is whether or not the citations are justified. Does bin Laden in reality not take Ibn Taymiyah out of context and distort his thought? Ibn Taymiya’s preoccupation, it has been seen, was with Muslim decline in the period of the Mongol invasions. It is true that he encouraged resistance to the foreign invader but that this was a genuinely defensive response cannot be doubted. An organization such as al-Qaeda which has justified world-wide acts of terrorism, and in particular the events of 11 September 2001, can claim with only an extraordinary feat of intellectual dishonesty that it is waging a defensive jihad.”[13]

Al Qaeda however, distorts Ibn Taymiyyah’s writings as willfully as it does the Quran. He would never have said what al Qaeda declares proudly “preaching has nothing to do with torture; jihad is the way of torturing the infidels at our hands”.

Indeed “the bin Laden thesis can find no real justification from within the political theory of Ibn Taymiyah. Rather, Ibn Taymiyah had argued that there is no basis in the Quran or the Sunnah for the traditional theory of the Calphate (khalifah) or the divine theory of the imamate (imamah).”[14]

Nonetheless what Ibn Taymiyyah taught was damaging enough. He wrote: “There is a Hadith related by a group of people which states that the Prophet… said after the battle of Tabuk : ‘we have returned from Jihad Asghar to Jihad Akbar.’ This hadith has no source, nobody whomsoever in the field of Islamic Knowledge has narrated it. Jihad against the disbelievers is the most noble of actions, and moreover it is the most important action for the sake of mankind.”[15] Hasan al-Banna the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (al – Ikhwan al – Muslimun) in 1928 also denied that such a hadith existed.

Ayesha Jalal explains the mystery in her recent work, Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia. She writes: “The need for an ideology to legitimate the wars of conquest fought by the Umayyad (661 – 750) and Abbasid (750-1258) dynasties induced Muslim legists to define jihad as armed struggle and to divorce law from ethics. Classical juridical texts skirted around the moral and spiritual meanings of jihad to concentrate on the material facets of warfare – the division of spoils, the treatment of non-Muslims, and the rules of conduct for the Muslim army. Such stipulations were matched by the invention of traditions (hadith) extolling jihad as armed struggle. Some Muslims questioned the application of the concept of jihad to wars fought by temporal rulers that had nothing to do with struggle for the cause of God. One popular tradition justified the reservation. Upon returning from one of the early wars in defense of the newly established community, the Prophet Muhammad is said to have told his companions that they had come back from waging jihad al-asghar, or the lesser war, to fight the jihad al-akbar, or the greater war, against those base inner forces which prevent man from becoming human in accordance with his primordial and God-given nature. This tradition was not included in any of the authoritative collections of hadith during the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, an omission that in itself reveals the mindset of the compilers and the political climate of the times.”[16] The hadith is however cited in Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s classic Ihya Ulum-id-Din (translated by Fazlul Karim, Darul Ishat , Karachi, 1993; 3 : 58; cited in Jalal p. 322, f.n. 14).

But let alone the hadith, the Word of Allah is questioned and the disruptive doctrine of abrogation is invoked. The Quran is replete with injunctions for tolerance, such as that “there can be no compulsion in religion” (2.256). Indeed, on this point the Quran is adamant. “The truth is from your Lord,” it says; “believe it if you like, or do not” (18:29). The Quran also asks rhetorically, “Can you compel people to believe against their will?” (10:100). Obviously not; the Quran therefore commands believers to say to those who do not believe, “To you your religion; to me mine” (109:6). Such verses, we are told, were abrogated by Surah 9 which is among the last to be revealed to the Prophet. In his essay “Moderate Islam is a Prostration to the West” bin Laden refers to those verses and asserts “number of exegetes, including Ibn Kathir, have said that this verse has been abrogated by the World of Allah Most High: “You [desert-dwellers] shall be called upon to battle a mighty nation unless they submit [i.e., embrace Islam]” [48:16]. And the verse: “O you who believe! Fight the infidels who dwell around you, and let them see how ruthless you can be. Know that Allah is with the righteous” [9:123]. And the verse : “O Prophet! Wage war against the infidels and hypocrites and be ruthless. Their abode is hell – an evil fate!” [9:73]. Thus the [matter of] abrogation is conveyed by those who think that the ban has to do with forcefully placing them under the authority of the religions. But those who believe that [the ban] revolves around the beliefs of the heart find no contradiction between the verses.” (Ibrahim, p. 41).

Sayyid Qutb stated this view with crystal clarity. “For Qutb when the Quranic text al-Anfal (Q.8:61) was revealed. God instructed His messenger to remain at peace with those groups who refrained from fighting him and the Muslims, whether they entered into a formal treaty with the Muslims or not. The Prophet continued to accept a peaceful relationship with unbelievers and people of earlier revelations until Surah 9 was revealed, when he would only accept one of two alternatives; either they embraced Islam or paid jizya which indicated a state of peace. Otherwise, the only alternative was war, whenever this was feasible for the Muslims to undertake, so that all people submit to God alone.” (Bonney; p. 219).

Qutb was much influenced by Maulana Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi. He and others of the same persuasion were grilled by the Court of Inquiry to enquire into the Punjab Disturbances of 1953, comprising Justices M. Munir (President) and M. R. Kayani. Their Report dated 10 April 1954, popularly known as the Munir Report is a devastating exposure of the false notions of jihad.[17]

The Report recorded “The generally accepted view is that the fifth verse to Sura-i-Tauba (Sura IX) abrogated the earlier verses revealed in Mecca which permitted the killing of kuffar only in self-defence. As against this the Ahmadis believe that no verse in the Quran was abrogated by another verse and that both sets of verses, namely, the Meccan verses and the relative verses in Sura-i-Tauba have different scopes and can stand together. This introduces the difficult controversy of nasikh and mansukh, with all its implications. It is argued on behalf of the Ahmadis that the doctrine of nasikh and mansukh is opposed to the belief in the existence of an original Scripture in Heaven, and that implicit in this doctrine is the admission that unless the verse alleged to be repealed was meant for a specific occasion and by the coming of that occasion fulfilled its spurpose and thus spent itself, God did not know of the subsequent circumstances which would make the earlier verse inapplicable or lead to an undesired result. The third result of this doctrine, it is pointed out, cuts at the very root of the claim that laws of Islam are immutable and inflexible because of changed circumstances made a new revelation necessary, any change in the circumstances subsequent to the completion of the revelation would make most of the revelation otiose or obsolete.

“We are wholly incompetent to pronounce on the merits of this controversy but what has to be pointed out is the result to which the doctrine of jihad will lead if, as appears from the article in the Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam and other writings produced before us including one by Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi and another by Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, it involves the spread of Islam by arms and conquest. ‘Aggression’ and ‘genocide’ are now offences against humanity for which under sentences pronounced by different International tribunals at Nuremburg and Tokyo the war lords of Germany and Japan had to forfeit their lives, and there is hardly any diference between the offences of aggression and genocide on the one hand and the doctrine of spread of Islam by arms and conquest on the other.” (Report; pp. 223-4).

Richard Bonney’s criticism of the doctrine is sound. “The objection to the substitution of the so-called ‘earlier’ verses by the ‘later’ ones is twofold. Firstly, it prevents a holistic reading of the Holy Quran. … A second objection to the revelation by substitution theory is that it cannot be verified by objective evidence. In general terms there is a divine prerogative to erase what He wills and endorse … what He wills. With him is the master copy of all the revelations (Q.13:39). But though there are references to textual change (Q.2:106; Q.16:101), or the replacement of revelation by revelation, the Quran itself does not expound a theory of naskh. …

“On the analogy of external naskh, that Islam, the latest of the Divine Revelations, sets aside certain of the social and ritual laws of the earlier religious systems, there was support for internal naskh. There was also a practical necessity for it: two conflicting statements might be seen as incapable of reconciliation and hence simultaneous implementation. Beyond this, there is less agreement. There is no statement in the Quran or among the hadith that a particular verse had been substituted by another: nor did classical Muslim scholars possess any clear indication that one verse was later or earlier in revelation than another. They merely asserted that this was so, often without giving clear reasons, so that we now cannot know how it is ‘possible to distinguish the verse which is the sole valid source for obligatory action from the verse whose ruling has been abandoned. ..’ ”[18]

It was left to the brilliant Tunisian scholar Mohamed Charfi to explode the use of naskh by the false advocates of jihad. He draws pointed attention to one fundamental question – what was objective of the Prophet of Islam’s Mission? His answer is irrefutable. “The Prophet’s mission is to pass on God’s message. The Koran expresses this in restrictive terms: ‘You are only a messenger’. On the ways of passing on the message, the Koran says : ‘Call men to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation’ (16:125). The Prophet’s role is to bear happy tidings, but these also contain a message of warning: ‘Your mission is only to give clear warning’ (16:82). The Prophet’s role is also defined negatively. He has not been sent to be the ‘keeper’ of others (4:80); his mission does not involve ‘using coercion with them’ (50:45). ‘Had your Lord pleased, all the people of the earth would have believed in Him, one and all. Would you then force people to have faith? (10:99). No, surely not; everyone is responsible for the attitude that he or she freely chooses. The Koran adds: ‘Say: “You people! The truth has come to you from your Lord. He that follows the right path follows it for his own good, and he that strays does so at his own peril. I am not your keeper” (10:108). Finally, there are the two verses that summarize the Koranic teaching on the Prophet’s role by recalling what he should do and what he should avoid: ‘Your duty is only to give warning: you are not their keeper’ (88:21-22). These verses should not need interpretation; their obvious meaning is that the Prophet had a duty to preach, not a power of command, and that this excluded any quasi-state function.” This puts paid to the man-made theory of the Islamic State.

He continued “It is true that many verses deal with jihad, whether to define the forms in which it should be waged, or to encourage Muslims to participate in it, or to criticize those who refuse. The clearest in this respect is the one that prescribes a duty to engage in jihad: ‘Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them’ (9:73). There does seem to be a contradiction here between the two sets of verses. Commentators have taken advantage of this to claim that the verses dealing with jihad abrogate those dealing with freedom of belief. …

“It is perfectly legitimate to challenge the case for abrogation. In order to maintain that one set of verses abrogated another of the same grade but did not actually say that it was abrogating them, we would first need to be satisfied that the two were absolutely incompatible with each other. The idea of abrogation is especially grave, above all when it is a question of the word of God. But that is not what is involved here… It is true that the ulema interpreted the theory of jihad more broadly. But in reality the theory was virtually never applied from the Middle Ages down to the period of colonization. In the mid-twentieth century, to mobilize as many as possible for the struggle against the colonial powers, leaders of the national liberation movement used the concept of jihad in addition to their political arguments. But the decades following decolonization saw a calming of relations between Muslim and other countries, and a period of friendly cooperation succeeded the old relations of domination….

“Today, relations between Muslims and others suffer from a vicious circle. On the one hand, absolutely nothing can justify the fact that Palestinians and Chechens are still deprived of their right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent state; it must be hoped that a just solution to these problems will be found as soon as possible, and that the Afghan and Iraqi peoples will quickly regain full sovereignty over their national territory. On the other hand, nothing can justify the killing of civilians anywhere in the world, whatever their religion or nationality; it is desirable that a representative and credible assembly of ulema should one day proclaim that the idea of holy war, and especially of offensive jihad, has been abandoned forever, and that any attack on an innocent person is to be condemned, whatever the circumstances.

“Certainly the prophet would never have approved of the acts of violence committed in recent years in the name of Islam. And this whole interpretation is all the more persuasive if we consider that the Prophet accomplished his mission in accordance with divine prescriptions.”[19]

The perversion of the concept of jihad is a modern phenomenon. Earlier it was abused for imperial aggrandizement, now, it is abused to wage terrorist campaigns and to justify the taking of the lives of innocent people. Jihad has an ethical connotation. The Arabic terms for warfare or fighting are harab or kital.

Cheragh Ali also noted that the early Muslims did not support the “popular” notion of jihad and mentioned “the opinions of the early Moslems; legists of the first and second century of the Hegira, like Ibn Omar the second khalif, Sotian Souri, Ibn Shobormah, Ata, and Amar-bin-Dinar. All these early legists held that the fighting was not religiously incumbent (wajib), and that it was only a voluntary act, and that only those were to be fought against who attacked the Moslems.” (Cheragh Ali; p. 134).

But, who can validly declare jihad? Is a fatwa required? If so, by whom? Most importantly, is it an individual decision or a collective one? Bin Laden, as we have noted, harps on the individual’s right to declare jihad. Sayyid Qutb, more sophisticated laid down an elaborate process – an Islamic movement under a single leadership; ideological struggle; hijrah, mental separation from jahili society, and an Islamic society. It must then wage a perpetual war (Bonney; p. 222) To Mawdudi  “a jihad” can be “declared by a national government of Muslims in the legitimate interests of the State” (Munir Report; p. 225). He refused to consider the Kashmir war (1947-48) a jihad. To the Cordoban jurist, Ibn Rushd jihad was a collective obligation, not a personal one, relying on the verse 2 : 216.

The best analysis comes from the world’s foremost authority on political Islam, Prof. Olivier Roy. He writes “Interestingly, however, the terrorists in their endeavour to root their wrath in the Koran are introducing some obvious religious innovations. The most important is the status of jihad. Whatever the complexity of the debate among scholars since the time of the Prophet, two points are clear: jihad is not one the five pillars of Islam (profession of faith, prayer, fasting, alms-giving and pilgrimage) and it is therefore a collective duty (fard kifaya), under given circumstances. But the radicals, since Sayyid Qutb and Mohammed Farrag, explicitly consider jihad a permanent and individual duty (fard ‘ayn).”[20]

Bin Laden’s jihad does not belong to the Islamic tradition but to “the ethos of a modern Western terrorist.” With him “there is no room for negotiation. His aim is simply to destroy Babylon.”[21]In religion this is bida (innovation) which is violative of Islamic tenets. Roy drives the point home with devastating force. “By stressing individual actions, neo-fundamentalists regularly indulge in bid’a (innovation), which is normally abhorred by all fundamentalists. To include jihad in an individual’s mandatory religious duties is to add a sixth pillar of the faith to the five admitted by orthodoxy. Hizb ut-Tahrir declares Khilafat a compulsory religious duty, although this has never been stated by any classical theologian. Today, it seems, everyone feels qualified to issue a fatwa, which is also a clear innovation.”[22]The Salafi mainstream ulema consider jihad a collective rather than an individual duty and even then it must be waged in conformity with prescribed “rules of conduct.”

Islam envisages a plural society. The Constitution of Medina or the Medina Agreement (Sahifat at Madinah) provided in Clause 25: “The Jews of Banu Qurf are a community (ummah) along with the believers. To the Jews their religion (din) and to the Muslims their religion (din)…”[23]

It is tragic that while Western scholars have begun to show a genuine desire to grasp the real nuances of jihad, some Muslims have begun to pervert it for political ends.

Karen Armstrong’s work, Muhammad: A Biography of The Prophet, has won deserved acclaim. She recalls that “Muhammad and the first Muslims were fighting for their lives and they had also undertaken a project in which violence was inevitable. No radical social and political change has ever been achieved without bloodshed, and, because, Muhammad was living in a period of confusion and disintegration, peace could be achieved only by the sword. Muslims look back on their Prophet’s years in Medina as a Golden age, but they were also years of sorrow, terror and bloodshed. The umma was able to put an end to the dangerous violence of Arabia only by means of a relentless effort.

“The Quran began to urge the Muslims of Medina to participate in a jihad. This would involve fighting and bloodshed, but the root JHD implied 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 harb (war), sira’s (combat), ma’araka (battle) or qital (killing), which the Quran 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. The 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 own society in all the details of daily life. As soon as the Muslims undertook the hijra they knew that they would have to be prepared to fight.”[24]

But how relevant is jihad today? We have noted the reservations in the Munir Report. The scholar F. E. Peters has different concerns. “In the centuries after Muhammad, the combination of juridically-imposed conditions and political realities has diminished the effectiveness of jihad as a practical instrument of policy, though it remains a potent propaganda weapon both for Muslim fundamentalists to brandish and for their Western opponents to decry. Muslim jurists have rarely agreed on the exact fulfillment of the conditions they have laid down for a genuine jihad (and Muslim public opinion even less often), while the ummah on whose behalf it is to be waged has now been divided, perhaps irretrievably, into nation-states that generally subscribe to a quite different (and decidedly non-Islamic) version of International law.”[25]

That is very true, as true as the fact that we live in a world in which power suppresses the truth, human rights and nations’ freedom. In 1978 the United Nations General Assembly recognized “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence … from …. Foreign occupation of all available means, particularly armed struggle.”

The suicide bomber is not a religious fanatic but a desperate nationalist. One of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject holds that ‘the taproot of suicide terrorism is nationalism” and “at bottom suicide terrorism is a strategy for national liberation from foreign occupation by a democratic state.” Therefore, “the west’s strategy for the war on terrorism is fundamentally flawed. Right now, our strategy for this war presumes that suicide terrorism is mainly a product of an evil ideology called Islamic fundamentalism and that this ideology will produce campaigns of suicide terrorism wherever it exists and regardless of our military policies. This presumption is wrong and is leading toward foreign policies that are making our situation worse.”

Professor Robert A. Pape teaches international relations at the University of Chicago and is the Director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism. Researching his book, which covered all 462 suicide bombings around the globe, he had his colleagues scour Lebanese sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and biographies of the Hizbollah bombers. “Of the 41, we identified the names, birthplaces, and other personal date for 38. We were shocked to find that only eight were Islamist fundamentalists; 27 were from Leftist political groups such as the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union; three were Christians, including a woman secondary school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon. What these suicide attackers – their heirs today – shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation.”[26]

Many Americans hoped that Al Qaeda had been badly weakened by U.S. efforts since September 11, 2001. The data show otherwise. In 2002 and 2003, Al Qaeda conducted 15 suicide terrorist attacks, more than in all the years before September 11 combined, killing 439 people.

“Since September 11, 2001, the United States has responded to the growing threat of suicide terrorism by embarking on a policy to conquer Muslim countries – not simply rooting out existing havens for terrorists in Afghanistan but going further to remake Muslim societies in the Persian Gulf. To be sure, the United States must be ready to use force to protect Americans and their allies and must do so when necessary. However, the close association between foreign military occupations and the growth of suicide terrorist movements in the occupied regions should make us hesitate over any strategy centering on the transformation of Muslim societies by means of heavy military power. Although there may still be good reasons for such a strategy, we should recognize that the sustained presence of heavy American combat forces in Muslim countries is likely to increase the odds of the next 9/11.” Jihad becomes a convenient war cry.

Unbeknown to most, a true jihad has been fought in our times – in South Africa. Farid Esack is an internationally known South African Muslim scholar and social activist. He served as a Commissioner for Gender Equality with Nelson Mandela’s Government. His book The Quran: A User’s Guide (Oneworld Oxford, Oxford, 2005) testifies to his learning. One wishes South Asian Muslims will invite men like him to speak on Islam.

Farid Esack’s book Quran, Liberation & Pluralism: An Islamic Perspective of Inter-religious Solidarity against Oppression (Oneworld, Oxford, 2006) describes how he and other Muslims united with their fellow men to fight against South Africans’ racist regime and “to identify with the oppressed” (pp. 36, 83 and 106-7). The argument of religious exclusivism was rejected. He writes: “A theology of liberation, for me, is one that works towards freeing religion from social, political and religious structures and ideas based on uncritical obedience and the freedom of all people from all forms of injustice and exploitation including those of race, gender, class and religion. Liberation theology tries to achieve its objectives through a process that is participatory and liberatory. By this I mean that it is formulated by, and in solicarity with, those whose socio-political liberation it seeks and whose personal liberation becomes real through their participation in this process. Furthermore, an Islamic liberation theology derives its inspiration from the Quran and the struggles of all the prophets. It does so by engaging the Quran and the examples of the prophets in a process of shared and ongoing theological reflection for ever-increasing liberative praxis. …

“The Quran offers itself as an inspiration and guide for comprehensive insurrection against an unjust status quo. It, furthermore, asks to be read through the eyes of a commitment to the destruction of oppression and aggression and the establishment of justice. … Jihad literally means ‘to struggle’, to ‘exert oneself’ or ‘to spend energy or wealth’ (Ibn Manzur, n.d., 1, p. 709). In the Quran, it is frequently followed by the expressions ‘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’ (Schleifer 1982, p. 122). 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 oneself and society. The Quran itself uses the word in its various meanings ranging from warfare (4:90; 25:52; 9:41) to contemplative spiritual struggle (22:78; 29:6) and even exhortation (29:8; 31:15). …

“The commonly assumed definition of jihad in South African liberatory rhetoric reflects a break with traditional juristic understandings of it. ‘Jihad’, said a Qibla pamphlet, ‘is the Islamic paradigm of the liberation struggle … an effort, an exertion to the utmost, a striving fortruth and justice’ (Qibla n.d., Arise andBear Witness, p. 2). Similarly, the Call argued that, for Muslims ‘the struggle for freedom and justice in South Africa is a sacred one. Any Muslim who abandons the struggle in South Africa, abandons Islam. Jihad in the path of God is part of the iman of a Muslim’ (Call of Islam 1985, We Fight On, p. 1). The centrality of justice as the objective of jihad, rather than the establishment of Islam as a religious system, was common in virtually all the public pronouncements of the Islamists. “The purpose of jihad is to … destroy and eradicate injustice and not to replace one unjust system with another, or to replace one dominant group with another. Jihad is, therefore, a ceaseless, continuous, super conscious and effective struggle for justice.” (p. 106-7).

The concept of revolt against oppression is defined in the Quran at more than one place. Islam prescribes a Theology of Liberation just as the Christian priests in Latin America did in their own way. Jihad is, not synonymous with armed resistance. It has a specific, legitimate objective and it is, above all, a profoundly moral effort.

In contrast, Bin Laden does not hesitate to lie. In an interview to the Ummat of Karachi on 28 September 2001 he disowned responsibility for 9/11 with palpable falsehood. “The United States should try to trace the perpetrators of these attacks within itself; the people who are a part of the US system, but are dissenting against it. Or those who are working for some other system; persons who want to make the present century as a century of conflict between Islam and Christianity so that their own civilization, nation, country, or ideology could survive. They can be anyone, from Russia to Israel and from India to Serbia.”[27]

His is an open ended perpetual war “we will fight till there will be no oppression, social justice prevails everywhere and everyone believes in Allah. (Fatwa Urging Jihad Against Americans; 15 May 2006, on the internet). The attack makes no discrimination. Bin Laden told ABC in 1998 that “the worst terrorists in the world are the Americans. There is no need to distinguish whether they are soldiers or civilians. The are alls targets in our eyes.”[28] This is utterly un-Islamic.

Islam blazed the trail for modern international humanitarian law. Mashood A. Baderin of the University of the West of England has written an excellent work in which he establishes that Islamic law supports every provision in both the United Nation’s International Covenants – on Civil and Political rights and on the Economic, Social and Cultural rights.[29]

So is international humanitarian law, which is a part of international law. Prof. Yadh ben Ashoor points out: “A number of works give accounts of relevant directives issued by Abu Bakr (the first Caliph who succeeded the Prophet), who is said to have given ten commandments to one of his generals: ‘Do not kill any women, children, elders or wounded. Do not have fruit-trees or date-trees cut down. Do not burn them. Do not destroy inhabited places. Do not have cows or sheep drowned. Do not be guilty of cowardice, but do not be inspired by hatred’…. It should not be forgotten that, on the legal front, the methodology adopted by Islam is founded on effort (ijtihad). Consequently, it is the duty of contemporary Moslem jurists to adapt classical solutions and interpretations to the needs of the times.

“The only condition is that the results should not run counter to the letter and spirit of the Koran or the Sunnah, but should foster the interests of the Islamic community. In fact, nothing in the Koran or Sunnah seems to be in direct contradiction to international humanitarian law. The opinions of certain great scholars should only be taken as doctrinal stand points, and these must be divested of their sacredness that the fortuities of history have bestowed on them.” (International Review of the Red Cross; March-April 1980; pp. 59-69).

According to a tradition of the Prophet (hadith), he instructed his commanders: “do not kill a minor child or an old man of advanced age or a woman, do not hew down a date palm or burn it, do not cut down a fruit tree, do not slaughter a goat or cow or camel except for food…” According to a different transmission of the tradition, he enjoined upon his commanders “the fear of God. Do not disobey,’… ‘do not cheat, do not show cowardice, do not destroy churches, do not inundate palm trees, do not burn cultivation, do not bleed animals, do not cut down fruit trees, do not kill old men or boys or children or women.”

The jihadis have no use for the Prophet’s dicta or, for that matter, for Islam itself. Their concern is not with the faith, but its exploitation to secure their political ends. (Vide also Javaid Rehman; Islamic State Practices, International Law and the Threat from Terrorism; Hart Publishing, Oxford; 2005).

The Muslim finds himself torn between terrorists masquerending as jihadists, on the one hand, and imperial excess on the other. Deep within he feels that history has cheated him. It is not the least merit of Richard Bonney’s excellent work that, while presenting jihad in a true perspective, he explains why some Muslims took to arms, albeit with the false cry of jihad “Violent intervention is a consequence of American exceptionalism. … Americans have been intruders with the idea that they are a latter-day chosen people …”[30]

Henry C. K. Liu, Chairman of the Liu Investment Group in New York argued cogently in January 2003. “Terrorism can only be fought with the removal of injustice, not by anti-ballistic missiles and smart bombs. The solution lies in denying terrorism any stake in destruction and increasing its stake in dialogue. This is done with an inclusive economy and a just world order in which it would be clear that terrorist destruction of any part of the world would simply impoverish all, including those whom terrorists try to help. The U.S. can increase its own security and the security of the world by adopting foreign and trade policies more in tune with its professed values of peace and justice for all.”[31]

Modern wrongs revive memories of ancient wrongs. In a strikingly objective analysis Dr. Yuan Hua, Assistant Researcher, Foreign Liaison Office, Beijing Municipal Government recalls both wrongs. “From 700 to 1200 AD, the Moslem world was at the forefront of the planet in political, economic and cultural fields. Confrontation between Moslems and Christianity lasted over 14 centuries. In the first thousand years. Islam was basically on the offensive, representing a powerful economic and military force. Moslem conquerors invaded Europe, Africa, India and China, building extensive commercial and information networks there. Meanwhile, they had created a remarkable Islam civilization in the art and natural science of humanity. But over the past 300 years, the surging West inflicted a series of defeats on the Moslem world and set up colonial empires in Asia and Africa. As a result, Western thoughts, laws and life style began to challenge Moslem authority. This has sparked a strong nostalgia about the past glory among many Moslems.

“They began to wonder what went wrong with Islam and how to revive the glorious days gone by. However, the stark contrast between history and reality, the failure to see hopes ahead, especially the marginalization of Moslem countries in the globalization process, have driven them into despair. Taking advantage of their urge in venting their strong resentment against the West, Al Qaedaists lured them into terrorism through abusing Islamic teachings. Western hegemony and Moslem dependency feuelled their anger.

“Mongol invasion in the 13th century led to the decline of Moslem power. Division of the Middle East between British and French colonists in the 19th and early 20th century aggravated the tragedy. – U. S. – Soviet contention in the Middle East brought disaster to the Moslem countries….- Protracted Arab-Israeli war has deeply hurt Moslem national and religious feelings and U.S. partiality rubbed salt into the wounds.” (Analyzing Al Qaedaism; Contemporary International Relations; Vol. 18, No. 3; May-June 2008; pp. 56-58).

There is a political and economic challenge. But, surpassing them is the moral and intellectual challenge. Cherfi asked the ulema to discover the roots of Islam and revitalize the faith.

Olivier Roy has the same message and he is a sympathetic observer. His criticism is irrefutable. “A puzzling problem remains to be answered, however, namely the apparent dearth of reformist thinkers in the Muslim world. If westernization is such a tremendous challenge, and no matter what the practical adaptations to it of the average Muslim, what accounts for the seeming lack of theological debate? In fact there are many modern Muslim thinkers (such as Mohammed Arkoun, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Abdolkarim Soroush, Muhammad Shahrur and Mohsen Kadivar). The issue is not about writers but about readers. Why are reformists so little read?”

The picture he paints is depressingly accurate. “The religious knowledge circulating in mosques and on the internet is quite dogmatic and based on the same intangible principles. Quotations play an important role: a debate might simply be an exchange of quotations from the Koran or Hadith, with little reasoning or analysis. Such citations are always from the basic texts and seldom from commentators (except a few favourites like Ibn Taymiyya). Self-taught mullahs have mimetic relations with traditional ulama : they speak of knowledge, science and authority, and make use of a classical terminology, albeit applied to a reduced corpus. The authentication process for Hadith (isnad, or chains of transmission) is borrowed from tradition. There is no use of modern tools of exegesis such as linguistics and history.

“In addition the lack of knowledge is often legitimized by schools of thought like the Wahhabis and Tablighi. There is a great deal of anti-intellectualism in all contemporary forms of religious revivalism, in Islam and in Christianity. The founder of Wahhabism, Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, wrote only one very small book, Kitab al-Tawhid (The Book of Divine Unity) : why should a good believer try to learn more and go further? For the Tablighi faith is at stake rather than learning. Young born-again Muslims do not want to undertake years of study; they want the truth immediately. It is of little avail to lament the contempt for theology and philosophy among revivalist believers. This contempt is no accident but part of their religious experience.” (Roy pp. 30 and 169).

In combating, both, the nihilistic terrorist and imperialist wrongs, the Muslim will have done more than find the true meaning of Jihad. He would have discovered the core of Islam. That is what this jihad is for – to save the soul of Islam.


[*] A.G.Noorani is an eminent Indian scholar, legal expert and noted columnist.

[1] Al-Fath al Kabir, Vol. 1, p. 208.

[2] M. Afzal Rafique (ed.), Speeches and Statements of Quaid-i-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan (1941-1951), Research Society of Pakistan, University of the Punjab, Lahore, 1987, p.563.

[3] Organizer, a Delhi weekly, organ of the RSS, 4 November 2001.

[4] Asad, Muhammad, The Message of the Quran, Translated and Explained, Dar Al-Andalus, Gibraltar, 1980, p. 244,footnote39.

[5] Bennett, Clinton, Prof; In Search of Muhammad, Cassell, 1988, p. 119.

[6] Rahman, Fazlur, Islam and Modernity, University of Chichago Press, 1978, p.20.

[7] Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan 1857-1964, Oxford University Press, 1967, p.57.

[8] Asad, Muhammad; The Message of the Quran, Translated and Explained, pp.244 and 256 respectively.

[9] Asad, p.254.

[10] Bonney, Richard; Jihad, From Quran to bin Laden, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, pp. 424-425.

[11] Ibid; p. 119.

[12] Ibid.; p. 120.

[13] Ibid., pp. 122-123.

[14] Ibid., p. 125.

[15] Ibid., p. 117.

[16] Jalal, Ayeshah, Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia, Harvard University Press, 2008, p.9.

[17] Report of the Court of Inquiry; Superintendent, Government Printing, Punjab, Lahore, 1954.

[18] Bonney,  pp..6-27; the last quote is from J. Burton’s, The Sources of Islamic Law, p.31.

[19] Islam and Liberty: The Historical Misunderstanding, Zed Books, London, 2005, pp.106-9.

[20] Globalised Islam: The Search for a new Ummah, Hurst & Co; London, 2004, p.41.

[21][21] Ibid., p.56

[22] Ibid., p.179.

[23] For the full text vide Charles Kurzman (ed.), Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 171-173.

[24] Armstrong, Karen, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Victor Bollancz, London, 1995, p.168.

[25] The Monotheists, Princeton University Press; Vol. 1, 2003, p.271.

[26] Pape, Robert, A., Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Random House, 2006.

[27] Vide Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad, Foundation Books, New Delhi, 2005, p.5.

[28] Peter L. Bergan, “Al Qaeda’s new Tactics,” The New York Times, 15 November 2002.

[29] Baderin, Mashood, A; International Human Rights and Islamic Law, OUP, p.279.

[30] Bonney, p.373

[31] Quoted in Bonney, p.383.