The Delusional Understanding of Quranic Verses by Radical Groups Part 2
By Dr. Ibrahim Negm
The Delusional Understanding of Quranic verses by Radical groups Part II
The concept of Jihad in Islam is one of the topics that causes the most confusion and is surrounded by a loud cacophony equating Jihad with mass murder and random shooting sprees.
All concepts have roots in a group of beliefs that nourish the concept into full bloom. To understand the concept of Jihad we need to take a broader look at the message of Islam and the Prophetic tradition. Muslims consider Prophet Muhammad to be the carrier of the last revelation from God to all mankind. This concept gives rise to the universality of Islam which does not confine itself to place or time and more importantly does not target a particular race or ethnicity. Islam transcends the boundaries of space, time and race to encompass all of humanity in its fold.
Muslims maintain that the most important characteristic of the Prophet Muhammad, which is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, is that he is a “mercy” to the worlds. The idea that the Prophet Muhammad was sent by God to be a mercy to the worlds reinforces the universal characteristic of the message of Islam as the Prophet is not a mercy to Muslims alone but to all the worlds; people, animals, plants, stones, indeed to all creatures.
This overarching characteristic of the Prophet being a mercy to all the worlds, as Muslims stress always, encompasses all the concepts and ideologies which stem from Islam and are promoted by it, including the concept of Jihad.
The Linguistic Origin of Jihad
The word Jihad comes from the root j / h / d, which in Arabic means to exert the most effort. This definition is general as one can exert effort in studying or fulfilling goals and ambitions in a variety of areas.
In Islam the idea of exerting effort has two levels, a major level and a minor one. The major level of Jihad is jihad al-nafs or struggling against one’s lower self and its demeaning lustful desires. This Jihad is the hardest because it needs discipline and hard work. The lesser, or minor Jihad, is al-qitaal or armed struggle. This latter meaning is subject to strict rules and regulations in Islamic Law.
The Concept of Jihad in Quran and Sunnah
Being one of the major aspects in the Islamic doctrine, the importance of Jihad is reflected in the extensive discussion of its rules and application both in the Quran and the Prophetic traditions. The relevant Quranic verses and traditions deal with different facets of this issue revealing the beliefs and motivations of those who participate in Jihad as well as the restrictions and regulations governing their activities. In conducting close examination of the jihad verses, we need to have some consideration to the time of the revelation of these verses. The majority of the Quranic verses pertaining to jihad originated after 2 A.H., at the time of the Battle of Badr. The earlier verses pertinent to jihad addressed a different understanding of jihad and helped to create a foundation for future developments in Islamic Jihad. At the very beginning of revelation in Makkah, the Muslim community was at the early stage of growth and development. A segment of the early revelation of the Makkan period spoke directly of the jihad of the heart- the inner struggle to follow the way of Islam and strive to please God. The early Muslims of Makkah received hope through the following words:
“For those whose hopes are in the meeting with God (in the Hereafter, let them strive); for the Term (appointed) by God is surely coming: and He hears and knows (all things). And if any strive (with might and main), they do so for their own souls: for God is free of all needs from all creation. Those who believe and work righteous deeds, -from them shall We blot out all evil (that may be) in them, and We shall reward them according to the best of their deeds.” (29: 5-7)
In this verse and similar other verses the focus was on developing one’s self and struggling against personal lusts and whims to strengthen their personal faith. Another important message that was prevalent at the early stage of revelation is the message of assurance which was necessary as the early Muslims needed to build confidence in themselves and their new faith even while they rejected the beliefs of their families. At this stage Muslims were not commanded to take arms yet they were seeking a sign of deliverance. God assured the believers with a promise of future triumph when He says “…With God is the decision, in the past and in the future: on that day shall the believers rejoice-with the help of God. He helps whom He will and He is Exalted in Might, Most Merciful” (30: 4-5).
Qur’anic Verses and Prophetic Traditions on Jihad
The Quranic revelation in Makkah which lasted for 13 years focused solely on the issue of peaceful proclamation of the absolute unity of God by Prophet Muhammad in the pagan-dominated town of Makkah. The Quran at this period imparted the preliminary knowledge of the Reality and gave brief answers to the common arguments that had misled people to engage in idol worshipping. The Quran laid down as well the basic principles of morality. These messages consisted of short and concise sentences couched in an effectively fluent language that suited the taste of the people to whom they were first addressed.
The eloquent literary style of the Quran was so appealing that it touched their hearts. Although universal truths were enunciated in these messages, they were given a local color supported by arguments, examples, and illustrations from the environment these people were quite familiar with. These early revelations were confined to the tribal history, traditions, monuments, beliefs and morality. Therefore in the early stage of the message, the Quran addressed those people who were totally ignorant of Islam and therefore naturally it had to teach them the basic articles of faith. But towards the end of revelation, the Quran was primarily concerned with those who had accepted Islam and formed a community for carrying on the work delegated to them by the Prophet.
In other words, the early Quranic chapters were focused on monotheism and the famous example is the chapter of Ikhlasin which God the Almighty says “Say: He is God, the only One, God, the Everlasting. He did not beget and is not begotten and none is His equal” (112: 1-4). At the very beginning, Prophet Muhammad was divinely asked to relate the divine message to his immediate family and close companions only. Therefore in the first four years of the Islamic message the original Muslim community combined of a number of social outcasts, slaves, family relatives and close companions.
The discrete period of the Islamic message lasted for a few years before the divine decree of going public with the Islamic message and calling people to the way of God. Once the Islamic message got public, the persecution from the elite of the tribe of Quraysh followed suit as they thought of the new message as a threat to their old traditions vested interests and prestigious position among the Arabs. Muslims were heavily subjected to all sorts of violence, transgression and torture in order to convert them back to the customary pagan worship. During the whole Makkan period which lasted for 13 years, Muslims were commanded not to respond in retaliation or act in self defense against persecution. They were rather asked to maintain patience and endure transgression peacefully. When the persecution against Muslims reached an intolerable level, the Prophet was commanded to emigrate to Medinah after he miraculously survived an assassination attempt.
When the Prophet with his companions resided in Medinah, they were aiming at securing the borders of Medina from offensive attacks along with forming allies with Arab tribes to neutralize their position and to halt them from forming coalitions with the Quraysh tribe. At this point, Jihad in the sense of armed struggle or Qital in Arabic was deemed necessary to secure the newly born state. During the last nine years of the Prophet’s life, jihad was pursued and the Prophet participated in twenty seven campaigns. The Quranic revelation n at this period was concerned with the discourses and commandments that were required for every occasion. Therefore, some of the proclamations were fiery rhetoric and other verses were in the form of edicts. Some of the revelations adopted the method of a teacher, trainer and reformer espousing the principles and methods for organizing a community, building a state and develop a great civilization. Other verses in this period addressed issues pertinent to the new Muslim community, their life affairs and worship. Some verses taught Muslims how to fulfill their obligations as vicegerent for the Lord. These verses included instructions and guidelines for their guidance, and warned them against their weaknesses and exhorted them to sacrifice with their lives and properties in the way of God. The revelations taught Muslims the needed moral lessons both in defeat and victory. Other verses addressed the way of dealing with the hypocrites, the unbelievers, the people of the Book, the belligerent powers and their allies.
Keeping in mind the concept of “mercy” which forms the backbone and root of all Islamic legislations and rulings, one must understand that Jihad is no different. God in the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad in his prophetic traditions have laid out the purpose of Jihad and set the rulings and foundational bases which condition this concept and through which it can be defined as Jihad. In the second year of the Medina period, Muslims for the first time were granted the permission for military jihad. The permission was revealed through a verse just a few months before the Battle of Badr. The verse says “Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, God is competent to give them victory. [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is God .” And were it not that God checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of God is much mentioned. And God will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, God is Powerful and Exalted in Might. (22: 39-40)
This verse emphasizes the integral component of justice in conducting jihad. Muslims were forcibly evicted from their homes due to the heavy persecution by the elite of Quraysh. Most of them left their homes and were totally deprived of their worldly goods and lacked the means to start a new life. Although Muslims had strong reasons for conducting Jihad, God placed huge emphasis on maintaining justice against those who wronged the Muslims.
Although Muslims had to resort to armed struggle to secure their lives and protect the newly born state, the Quran presented engaging in warfare as an “unwanted obligation” which has to be carried out with strict observance of particular humane and moral guidelines and which must not be resorted to except when it is absolutely inevitable. God indicated in the Quran that He disapproves of wars ignited by the disbelievers; He says “Each time they kindle the fire of war, God extinguishes it. They rush about corrupting earth. God does not love corrupters.” (5:64)
Muslims were asked not to engage in wars until fighting becomes compulsory. Muslims were asked to fight only when the other party attacks and no other alternative remains except war. God says “But if they cease fighting, God is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful (2:192).
In other words, God granted Muslims the permission to get engaged in warfare for only defensive purposes. In other verses Muslims were warned against the use of excessive violence or unnecessary provocation. God says “Fight in the way of God against those who fight you, but do not go beyond the limits. God does not love those who go beyond the limits.” (2:190).
After the revelation of these verses, several battles were conducted but none of which the Muslims were the inciting party. Prophet Muhammad formed a secured and peaceful social environment for Muslims and non Muslims alike by signing the peace agreement of Hudaybiyah which conceded to the pagans of Quraysh most of their requests. The party which violated the terms of the treaty and breached the peace agreement was Quraysh by their upfront hostility. With the rapid increase in the number of Muslims in Medinah, the Prophet developed a great army against his pagan enemies. With mustering this great force if the Prophet wished, he could have wielded his sword towards them yet he entered Makkah in the eighth year after Hijra (migration to Madina) with his army without any bloodshed and in a spirit of tolerance. If the Prophet wished he could have taken revenge for all the persecution that the Muslims suffered and endured patiently during the last 13 years in Makkah but he granted his pardon and full amnesty to all Makkans who were taken aback by the Prophet’s utter compassion and tolerance. Due to the overarching mercy of the Prophet, Makkans embraced Islam willingly and could not help but admiring the nobility of the Prophet’s impeccable character.
Islam taught the believers that the life of human beings is sacred and should be dealt with as such. God says in the Quran: “if any one kills a person-unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land- it would be as if he killed the whole people, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people.” [5: 32] The Quran forbids murder whilst extolling the sanctity of human life, “life, which God has made sacred” [6: 151]
God also says in the Holy Qur’an:
Fight in the cause of God those who fight you but do not transgress limits; For God loveth not transgressors. [2: 190] In his commentary, Imam al-Taher Ibn ‘Ashur reported through Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Umar Ibn ‘Abdul ‘Aziz and Mujahid that this verse is definite and has not been abrogated. He went on to say: “the purport is to fight those who are set to fight you, i.e. do not attack the old, women or children.”
Suleiman Ibn Burayda narrated through his father that whenever the Prophet used to send an army to battle, he would brief its commander and remind him to fear God in his actions and those with him and say: “Fight in the name of God, fight those who fight you from among the disbelievers and do not exceed your limits, do not transgress, deceive, mutilate [the dead] and do not kill a child.” [Al-Tirmidhi].
Ibn ‘Umar (may God be pleased with them both) said: “I saw the messenger of God (peace be upon him) circling the Ka’ba saying: ‘How great and sacred you are, and how pleasant your fragrance! By He in whose hand is the life of Mohammed, the sanctity of a believer, his property, life and to think well of him is greater in the sight of God than yours.’” [Ibn Majah]. Furthermore, the Prophet reported to have said: “The first cases to be adjudicated against on the Day of Judgment will be those of bloodshed.” (Bukhari), and his strikingly stark threat that: “Whoever kills one (non-Muslim) under contract (of Muslim protection) will never smell the scent of Paradise.” (Ibn Majah).
Through the discourse about Jihad, we can outline the moral aspect of jihad in both the Quran and the prophetic traditions and six categories can be defined. These are: obligation to fight in the cause of God, reward for fighting, reward for martyrdom, divine aid against the enemy, criticism of the hypocrites, and exemptions from fighting. These categories represent the spiritual and emotional status of those Muslims conducting Jihad. Prophet Muhammad spoke in several recorded traditions about the necessity of fighting only in the cause of God.
Abu Musa al- Ash’arai narrated: A Bedouin asked the Prophet: “A man may fight for the sake of booty and another may fight so that he may be mentioned by the people and a third may fight to show his position (i.e. bravery); which of these is regarded as fighting in God’s cause?” The Prophet said, “He who fight so that God’s word should be superior, fights for God’s cause”. Another tradition reported that “If a man engaged in battle entertains in his heart a desire to obtain out of the war only a rope to tie his camel, his reward shall be forfeited.” In other words if any object or objective should replace the desire to fight for the cause then the actions of the mujahid cannot be considered as jihad. Muslims have been encouraged for instance to fight in order to defeat oppressive forces and rescue the oppressed as has been related in the following Quranic passage:
“And why should you not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill treated (and oppressed)- men, women and children, whose cry is: “Our lord, rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect; and raise for us from Thee one who will help. Those who believe fight in the cause of God, and those who reject faith fight in the cause of Evil. So fight against the friends of Satan: feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan.” (4:75-76)
Thus while the Quranic verses revealed to the early Muslims after the Battle of Badr clearly encouraged them not to fight merely for the sake of wealth or fame, the mujahidin were also offered strong motivation through the reward that would come from God. Even the Muslim who performed his other religious duties with diligence was prompted to seek the additional reward of participation in jihad. If a mujahid is killed in the course of the battle, he becomes a martyr shahid whose reward is even greater. God says in the Quran “Think not of those who are slain in God’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord; they rejoice in the Bounty provided by God.” (3:169-170)
Therefore martyrs are assured the greatest of all possible rewards. The reward for one who is shahid is so great that, according to one hadith narrated by Anas ibn Malik in which the prophet said “Nobody who dies and finds good from God in the hereafter would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again for the sake of God (al- Bukhari). The expectation of the great reward of martyrdom has motivated Muslim fighters to go into battle fields often in such manner as would surprise their opponent, who may not have similarly strong incentive. This has been noted in current times as a major difficulty in defeating Muslim armies.
The Purpose of Jihad in Islam
The purpose or the aim of combative Jihad as laid down in Islamic Law is as follows:
1- Self defense and fighting back against aggression.
2- Alleviating religious persecution and establishing freedom of religion so that people may have the opportunity to think freely and practice their religious convictions.
The Conditions and the Rulings for Jihad
1- The nobility of purpose, meaning that no personal interests or private gains should be the aim behind which Jihad is being waged.
2- Fighting should be only against warriors not defenseless civilians who are not in the battlefield and are not equipped or trained to be engaged in combat.
3- The killing or harming of women and children is strictly prohibited. Al-Bukhari and Muslim reported through Abdullah ibn Umar (may God be pleased with them both) that a woman was found dead in one of the battles fought by the Prophet (peace be upon him); thereupon he condemned killing women and children. Another phrasing of the hadith states: “The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) forbade killing women and children.” Imam al-Nawawi said: “There is a scholarly consensus on putting this hadith in practice as long as the women and children do not fight.” [Sharh Muslim 12/48].
4- Preserving the lives of captives and treating them humanely.
5- Preserving the environment which includes the prohibition on killing animals or cutting trees or destroying harvest or polluting rivers or wells or demolishing houses.
6- Preserving religious freedom for clergy as well as worshippers in their homes, churches or synagogues.
7- Killing and attacking people by surprise is prohibited. Abu Hurairra (may God be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “A believer is not to kill [others]. Faith is a deterrent to killing.” Ibn al-Athir said: “Killing [here] means taking others by surprise and killing them while they are unprepared.” [Al-Nihaya fi Gharib al-Hadith wa al-Athar 3/775]. The hadith means that faith is a deterrent to attacking others suddenly while they are unprepared. The Prophet’s words: “A believer is not to attack [others] by surprise” is a clear prohibition against deception in combat.
8- Permission to enter a country is considered a non-verbal security agreement not to cause corruption in the host country. Imam al-Khurqī said in his Mukhtasr: “Whoever enters lands in safety is not allowed to cheat them of their money.” Commenting on this statement, Ibn Qudama said that it is prohibited to betray them [non-Muslims in non-Muslim countries] because there is an unspoken covenant to enter in safety on the condition that the person who seeks permission to enter a foreign country does not betray or oppress them. So whoever enters our lands in safety and betrays us violates this security agreement. This is prohibited because it involves treachery which is forbidden in our religion.” [Al-Mughni 9/237].
9- The enemy must be from among those whom Muslims are permitted to fight as compared to the enemy with whom Muslims have a truce. It is impermissible to attack the enemy under the cover of night because it is a violation of the security pact between them in terms of lives, wealth, and honor.
10- It is impermissible to use human shields save in a state of war and under specific conditions detailed by jurists. [Bahr Ra`iq 80\5, Hashiyat ibn ‘Abn Abdin 223\3, Rawdat al Talibin 239\10, Mughni al Muhtaj223\4, Mughni ibn Qudama 449\8, 386/10].
Who Has The Right To Call For Jihad and Declare War?
1- In Islamic Law, war in only declared and launched with the authorization of, and under the banner of, the Muslim ruler; it is imperative that the decision to declare war be based on his own reasoning and his subjects must obey him. A ruler is authorized to declare war due to his knowledge of evident and hidden matters, the consequences of actions and the interest of his people. For this reason, a ruler is authorized to declare war and agree to domestic or international treaties as soon as he assumes office. In turn, he does not issue decisions based on [personal] whims.
2- The Muslim ruler declares war only after consulting specialists in every relevant field such as technical and military specialists and political consultants who are indispensable to military strategy. The luminary al-Bahutī said in Sharh Muntahā al-Iradāt: “It is prohibited to [launch an] attack without the ruler’s permission because he is responsible for making the decision of declaring war. [This is because] he has access to all the information pertaining to the enemy. [His permission is mandatory] except if [Muslims] are taken by surprise by non-Muslim enemies and fear their threat. [Only] then is it permissible to fight the attackers without the ruler’s permission because of the general benefit therein.”
3- Breach of international agreements and treaties: Islamic states must abide by the agreements and treaties that they have acknowledged and entered into of their own accord; standing firmly with the international community towards achieving global peace and security [only] to the extent of the commitment of the signatory countries. God says: O you who believe, fulfill [all] contracts [5:1]
In the above verse, the term ‘contract’ refers to all commitments between two parties on a particular issue. In his interpretation of the above verse, the erudite Tunisian scholar, ibn ‘Ashur says: “‘Contracts’ in this verse refers to one of a genus denoting the totality [of contracts]. It includes covenants that Muslims made with their Lord such as to follow the shari’ah … pacts of allegiance between the believers and the prophet [pbuh], not to associate partners with God, steal, or commit fornication … agreements between Muslims and non-Muslims … and agreements between one Muslim and another” [Al-Tahriir wa al-Tanwīr, 6/74].
Amr ibn Awf al-Muzna, may God be pleased with him, narrates that the prophet [pbuh] said: “Muslims are bound by the conditions [they stipulate] except those that are unlawful or those that make unlawful matters lawful.” [reported by al-Tirmidhi].
Commenting on this hadith, al-Jassass said: “It is a general obligation to fulfill all the conditions man holds himself to as long as there is nothing (in Islamic law) to restrict them.” [Ahkam al-Qur`an, 2/418].
Ali, may God be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet [pbuh] said: “The protection granted by the weakest Muslim to a non-Muslim is tantamount to that of the entire [community]. Whosoever violates it incurs the curse of God, the angels, and all the people.” [Reported by al-Bukhari].
Abdullah ibn Umar, may God be pleased with them both, narrated that the Prophet [pbuh] said: “The signs of hypocrisy are four: when he is entrusted with something he betrays the trust, when he speaks he lies, when he makes a promise he breaks it, when he quarrels he behaves in an immoral manner. Whoever possesses all four is a hypocrite and whoever possesses one of them possesses an element of hypocrisy until he gives it up.” [Reported by Bukhari in his Sahih].
Umar ibn al-Hamq al-Khazaī narrated that the Prophet [pbuh] said: “If a man entrusts another with his life and is killed by him, I have nothing to do with the murderer, even if the murdered man were a non-Muslim.” [Reported by al-Bayhaqi]. Consequently, the parties to international treaties and agreements are committed to end war and enjoy a state of peace by virtue of the agreement they entered into. God Almighty says: And if they incline towards peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon God. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing. [8:61].
Unauthorized Calls for Jihad: a Juristic Perspective
Among the loud unauthentic voices of some self claimed scholars who vehemently call Muslim youth to rally for Jihad, a moderate voice of reason is most needed. We have to place the issue of calling for jihad or declaring war -which includes the deployment of Muslim soldiers to war zones- in its appropriate juristic frame work in order for us to have a deeper understanding of the issue at hand.
Jihad in a combative sense in principle is a collective obligation [fard kifaya]: It is one of the collective duties of the community as a whole. Imam al Nawawi explained in his book “Sharh al Nawawi ‘ala Muslim” that Jihad nowadays is a collective obligation unless non Muslim armies occupy a Muslim land in which case the residents of this land have to perform jihad and if the people of the occupied land are unable to repel the aggression, their neighboring countries should rise up to their defense.
The organization of jihad is the responsibility of the rulers and military personnel, who from their appointed positions are best able to calculate the consequences of such a crucial decision. Rulers examine the extent of the necessity that calls for defensive jihad.
All the aspects of the decision for combative jihad and their ramifications are examined and are subject to a scientific and factual study which carefully balances the benefits with the disadvantages. The enterprise must be free from negligence, weakness, superficiality, or heedless emotions. No single group or person may initiate jihad on their own as this is considered transgression and may constitute more harm.
In certain cases Jihad becomes an individual obligation [fard ‘ayn] in countries where Muslim sanctuaries are attacked and their security threatened and is a duty upon the citizens to defend their country as Ibn ‘Abdeen stated in his commentary.
Defensive jihad is not obligatory upon all Muslims; it is a communal obligation for those residing outside the territories under attack. If they are unable to repel the enemy, jihad becomes an individual obligation upon Muslims in neighboring countries according to Ibn‘Abdeen.
Implementing the legal ruling concerning this manner requires:
-Following the valid means which is the responsibility of those in authority who are aware of the political and military aspects, able to assess the need of jihad and calculate the ramifications, interests and disadvantages associated with the regional considerations and international treaties and are aware of the balance of international power. All of this requires:
– Special considerations and meticulous military and political studies which have exhausted the possibility of a peaceful resolution which God Almighty commanded. He said:
“But if they incline towards peace, you [Prophet] must also incline towards it, and put your trust in God: He is the All Hearing, the All Knowing” [Al-Anfal, 61];
– Preserving the security of Muslim countries, their citizens and interests.
– The ability to face and endure the choice of war.
– Jihad must be formally declared and clearly defined to prevent Muslims from falling prey to notorious organizations that may exploit their emotions and take advantage of their zeal to serve suspicious goals in the name of jihad.
The Spread of Islam: Was it by Sword?
Some people claim that the spread of Islam across the world was done at the sword point but this couldn’t be any further from the truth. The spread of Islam outside the Arabian Peninsula was conducted in proportionate ratios with the natural development of Islamic advocacy. History proves that there is no abnormal increase in these ratios which might indicate incidents of mass conversions. After conducting a meticulous examination of the percentage of increase in the number of converts to Islam in countries outside the Arabian Peninsula since the first Hijri century until the 7th century, we figure out that after the first century the percentage of Muslims in Persia reached 5%, Iraq 3%, Syria and Egypt 2% and finally Andalusia less than 1%. The increase in the number of converts increased gradually from 25% then 50% along centuries to reach 75% at the end of the 7thcentury.
There are a number of major characteristics of the spread of Islam across the globe:
– No signs of eradication of people who refuse to convert.
– Slaves were given the opportunity and were elevated in rank to become rulers.
– Muslims did not conduct inquisitions or mass conversion tribunals.
– Christians, Jews and Hindus remained in their countries enjoying both freedom of worship and full citizenship.
– The region of Hijaz remained poor economic wise until the discovery of petroleum in modern time whereas colonial powers were shipping off goods and raw materials of the colonized countries and used them for their own industrial and economic development.
Jihad vs. Terrorism
Terrorism cannot be the outcome of any proper understanding of religion. It is, rather, a manifestation of the immorality of people with cruel hearts, arrogant souls, and warped logic. Islam by its nature is a religion of moderation, not of extremes. In his famous saying, the Prophet of Islam advised Muslims to always choose the middle ground and not seek extremes on either side. This moderation in religion means that one neither exaggerates; transgressing the limits set by God, nor neglects them altogether, thereby falling short of His expectations. While calling upon all Muslims to exercise moderation with all permissible things, Islam clearly and categorically rejects all forms of extremism, including ghuluww (excessiveness), tanatu‘ (zealotry) and tashaddud (extreme practices). These forms of extremism do not find a home in Islamic teachings, because Islam recognizes that extremism is morally flawed and unproductive. It is against human nature, and has always been a short-lived phenomena which does not work.
The problem faced by Muslims today – and indeed religious communities across the globe – relates to the issue of authority. In both Islam and other religions we are witnessing a phenomenon in which laypeople without a sound foundation in religious learning have attempted to set themselves up as religious authorities, even though they lack the scholarly qualifications for making valid interpretations of religious law and morality. In many cases, they have been facilitated in this by the proliferation of new media and irresponsibly sensationalistic journalism. It is this eccentric and rebellious attitude towards religion that clears the way for extremist interpretations of Islam that have no basis in reality. None of these extremists have been educated in Islam in genuine centers of Islamic learning. They are, rather, products of troubled environments and have subscribed to distorted and misguided interpretations of Islam that have no basis in traditional Islamic doctrine. Their aim is purely political – to create havoc and chaos in the world.
Unfortunately, terrorists often invoke the Islamic concept of “Jihad” to justify their crimes. This has led to much confusion and the tendency to misinterpret this important Islamic idea by linking it to violence and aggression. Military Jihad, by contrast, is the antithesis of terrorism. It is a just war of the sort that can be found in every religious law and civil code. As the Qur’an says, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but avoid aggression for God does not like the aggressor.” “But if they cease [fighting], then God is Forgiving, Merciful.” This statement has been repeated many times throughout the second chapter of the Qur’an and forms the fundamental parameters for the Islamic law of warfare: namely, that it is permissible only for the purpose of repelling an attack, and protecting one’s self, one’s home and one’s family.
Terrorism does not come close to fulfilling any of the many conditions which are necessary for a just Jihad. Among these is the fact that war can only be launched upon the authorization of the Muslim ruler, after consultation with specialists and consultants. Vigilantism has been clearly forbidden throughout Muslim history.
Similarly, terrorism involves killing people and taking them by surprise. The Prophet has instructed: “A believer is not to kill [others]. Faith is a deterrent to killing.” Similarly, he has said: “A believer is not to attack [others] by surprise.” Clearly, terrorists can only accomplish their goals by going against these Islamic teachings, which are fundamental to the type of chivalrous character Muslims must always exhibit, whether at wartime or during periods of peace.
Moreover, terrorism kills and harms women and children. A tradition of the Prophet relates that a woman was found dead in one of the battles. The Prophet found out about this, and thereupon forbade the killing of women and children. Another phrasing of this hadith states: “The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) forbade killing women and children.” The great scholar of Islam, Imam al-Nawawi commented on this: “There is a scholarly consensus on acting on this tradition as long as the women and children do not fight.” It is clear once more that this is counter to the practice of terrorists.
As such, it is clearly a mistake to label the terrorists practitioners of Jihad, or mujahidin. This is a lofty Islamic concept which bears no resemblance to the lawlessness practiced by terrorists.
The word commonly used in modern Arabic for terrorism, irhab, though an improvement, also poses its own set of problems. Indeed, irhab and the related Arabic root (r / h / b) often contain positive resonances for those conversant with classical Islamic vocabulary. For example, the Qur’an uses a word in the semantic range spawned by (r / h / b) to explain the proper awe with which humans ought to relate to God. “O Children of Israel, remember my favor wherewith I favored you; and fulfill my covenant and I shall fulfill your covenant, and have awe of Me.” [2:40].
Similarly, the Qur’an uses a related word (rahban) to refer to monks and monasticism (rahbaniyya), and their manner of interacting with the Divine. Finally, and more concretely, the root (r / h / b) is used to refer to a praiseworthy deterrence against those enemies who would seek to aggressively intimidate the Muslim community. “Make ready for them whatever force you can and of horses tethered that you may thereby awe the enemy of God and your enemy.” [8:60]. This term therefore is often used to refer to a concept of deterrence aimed at securing an advantage that will lead to peace with an enemy that would otherwise transgress against the Muslim community.
The term irjaf as the proper translation into Arabic for terrorism is more favored. “This word, which denotes subversion and scaremongering to bring quaking and commotion to society is derived from the root (r / j / f), which means to quake, tremble, be in violent motion, convulse, or shake.” This term occurs in the Qur’an in this context in one telling verse: “Now; if the hypocrites do not give over, and those in whose hearts there is sickness and they make commotion (murjifun) in the city, We shall assuredly urge thee against them.” [33:60].
In the context of this verse, al-Qurtubi, the renowned thirteenth-century Qur’anic commentator and Malikiījurist, explains the meaning of irjaf with respect to “shaking of the hearts (tahrik al-qulub),” noting the root’s corresponding application to “the shaking of the earth (rajafat al-ard).” Within an Islamic context, connecting this metaphor of creating commotion on earth (murjifun) with that of shaking hearts (tahrik al-qulub) connotes that those who do wrong are in fact acting against the wishes of the Divine. The term murjifun (singular, murjif), as well as the equivalent rendering irjafiyyun (singular, irjafi), is a far better translation of terrorists … Of course, there are multiple ways to bring about such intense commotion to society, but all of these fall under the term Irjaf. From a linguistic perspective, the term unambiguously connotes the cowardice, deceit, and betrayal associated with terrorism in striking from behind.