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'Real' Islam and Jihad - A Rejoinder

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'Real' Islam and Jihad - A Rejoinder

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'Real' Islam and Jihad - A rejoinder
by Dr. Habib Siddiqui
(Wednesday December 17 2003)

"To understand the significance of Jihad in Islam and its civilization, one must distinguish between a common meaning of the term and the theological and the juridical sense of the word."

In post 9/11, there is no denying about the existence of a very concerted effort by anti-Muslim Jesuits, pundits, rabbis and their paid agents, some even masquerading as secular humanists, to demonize Islam. So, it is not surprising to see a mushrooming growth of self-styled ‘experts’ on Islam.

Their audacious claim, without any formal training, let alone on the language, of the subject material, is so ludicrous that it only reminds me of the story of a barber who pretended to be a medical surgeon. [It was evident from confessional statements by these ‘experts’ that some of them did not read any book on Islam outside the readily available Internet sources or a handful of books now found in the bazaar. Most of their newly found interest in Islam dates back to 9/11/2001, a fateful day in American history.] In his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Prof. Neil Postman showed how in this age of ‘information super-highways’ our best actors no longer come from  Hollywood; they are our elected representatives! Looking at the delinquent activities of our self-styled experts, thanks to bigoted, anti-Muslim websites, who now needs Orientalist academics to tell us about Islam and Muslims!

One of the great Rabbis once advised a charlatan: “Don’t get too excited about the Talmud unless you are a believing Jew who leads a kosher life.” But who cares! Like “soom-moom, book-moon and ‘oum-yoon” (deaf, dumb and blind), they are oblivious of such words of wisdom. They are on a race for merchandizing their pseudo-scholarship. And there is nothing more lucrative than the topic of Jihad. Truly, in the West no word in the vocabulary of the Islamic religion has been as misunderstood, distorted, and denigrated as the word Jihad, thanks not only to the Western media for stereotyping but also to the extremist Muslims who provide them with examples to justify propagation of such an image. The word has now gained such a commercial appeal in the West that many disingenuous, greedy and prejudiced individuals have been vying hard to use the term in their titles in any way imaginable.

A recent example is an essay “An Introduction to Real Islam and Jihad,” which is posted in a hate-website (whose one of the declared goals includes banning of the Qur’an), long known for its ‘selective picking’ (more like cherry-picking) methodology with hadith and Qur’anic literature and abuse thereof to demonizing Islam. We are informed that the author of this series of articles on the above subject wanted to remain anonymous until his anti-Muslim piece finds a publisher.
A closer scrutiny of the essay shows, contrary to the claims of its unnamed author and the self-styled reviewer/messenger, that it has nothing substantive about either ‘Real’ Islam or ‘Jihad,’ outside current propaganda that are aimed at dehumanizing and demonizing Islam and its people. To most of these post- 9/11 crusaders, there are no moderate Muslims; all Muslims are terrorists. Just as Mein Kemf is ample enough of a source to understand the sick mind of Adolf Hitler, the following statement by one of the leaders of this hate website provides a good picture into his sick and poisonous mind.

Writing about the difference between the moderate and terrorist Muslims, he recently wrote:

“… my long and careful analysis leads me to the conclusion that the only difference is the latter wants to start the Jihad against the infidels now while the former thinks it is better to wait until the Muslims are strong and then attack. The difference is in the form not in substance. Their only disagreement is when and how the Jihad against the infidels should take place. Otherwise all the Muslims, whether moderate or extremists believe in the same book.. That book calls for waging war against the non-Muslims until they are subdued and humiliated. The Quran teaches:

9:29, Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Surely, to understand Islam or Jihad, subjects with which these spiteful charlatans have little familiarity, one would be unwise if their prejudiced materials, written  with the sole intention of maligning Islam, are taken at their face values.

As I have maintained all along in many of my writings, the events of 9/11 should not be viewed through the prisms of Muslim theology. This, in spite of the fact that the attacks were carried out, or so we are told, under the cloak of religion. All the Scriptures are open to many interpretations. As Tariq Ali puts it, “All factions can drink from these wells and this make them powerful as ideologies.” [1] There is no shortage of violent passages in any Scripture (see, e.g., my articles - The Scathing World of the Rushdies, The Repulsive World of Serge Trifkovic, and Problem Verses in the Bible – published in the Internet for references). Such passages, without the context of 3P’s (people, period and place), as if moral imperatives (e.g., rahmah or mercy, ‘adl or justice, ihsan or kindness, and ma’ruf or goodness that are the overall moral thrust of the Qur’anic message) and historical context were irrelevant to their interpretation are, therefore, vulnerable for abuse by “cherry-picking” or ‘exclusionary’ zealots for and against alike. But that would surely be disingenuous to castigate a religion.

If we cannot condemn Christianity for colonization and massacre of unarmed civilians across the globe during the last two millennia, including the recent killings in Jonestown, Waco, Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Daghestan, Nagorno Karabach, Uganda, Rwanda, Liberia, Mindanao Islands (in the Philippines); if we cannot condemn Judaism for the crimes of Baruch Goldstein or Rabbi Kahane’s group, or war crimes of Sharon and Netanyahu government in Israel; if we cannot condemn Hinduism for the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Kashmir, Bombay, Assam and Gujarat; if we cannot condemn Buddhism for the killing fields in Cambodia, or the massacre of Rohinga Muslims in the Arakan (Myanmar), or the killings of Tamils in Sri Lanka – we have no right to condemn Islam for the event of 9/11. Pure and Simple! Truly, there is much in common between the fanatical Hindu followers of the Sangh Parivar - Bajrang Dal, VHP, BJP and Hindu Mahasabha; the Jewish settlers in Palestine; the Serbian Orthodox Christian marauders of Milosevic and Karadzic in Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo; the Russian Orthodox savages of Putin and Yeltsin in Chechnya and the Caucasus; and the Christian KKK burning crosses on lawns to prove their “Christian” motivations for their actions.

If Muslim youths today appear to be frustrated and angry it is not because of theology of Islam but of an inability as a human being to comprehend and/or tolerate anti-Muslim hypocrisy, double standard and the treatment of their brethren as third-class citizens of this planet. [2] They are massacred, maimed and mutilated. They see how monumental abuses of human rights are routinely practiced against them, and yet, there seems to be no end in sight. [3] They see how the Pharaonic powers of our time deliberately bomb everyone in a village or a market just to apprehend/kill a suspected hostile combatant. [4] They see how scores of international charters and resolutions do not mean a damn thing to their greatest advocates, who practice not what they preach. It is a sad world indeed! There is none that speaks for them, and none that rescues them from their abysmal misery.

The topic of Jihad is a very favorite item in the arsenal of detractors. It is often equated with religious intolerance. In keeping up with that tradition, our unnamed author wrote about Jihad. He wrote,

“.. Kuranic passages speak always of the unbelievers who are to be subdued as dangerous or faithless. … [It] appears undeniable that violent Jihad is permitted in Islam for both offensive and defensive purposes. It was commanded by, and praised by Muhammad as being one of the greatest forms of true Islamic spirituality. Further, some of the final direction from Muhammad was that it (Jihad) is to continue until all people are subjected to Islamic rule.” [Note the author’s unfamiliarity with the Arabic language, which is quite evident from his spelling of the Islamic Scripture.]

To make his point that the true intent of the term is violent in its application, he quoted Sir Hamilton Gibb, a famous Orientalist, who wrote quite a few books on Islam (what he called Mohammedanism), its prophet, history, and ibn Batuta’s travel. Let us look at the definition for the Arabic word ‘jihad’, as presented in Gibb’s Concise (Shorter) Encyclopedia of Islam (courtesy of our unnamed author):

JIHAD, holy war. The spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general. It narrowly escaped being a sixth "rukn", or fundamental duty, and is indeed still so regarded by the descendants of the Kharidjis.

One wonders: where did Sir Gibb get this meaning ‘holy war’ for surely the equivalent Arabic phrase al-harb al-muqaddasah is nowhere to be found in the Qur’an! Just check it out. Jihad is an Arabic word, derived from the root ‘juhd,’ which means to strive or struggle, and in the Islamic context this striving and exertion is understood to be in the path of Allah. This is reflected in the Qur’anic verse 9:20 where Allah says, “Allazina amanu, wa hajaru wa jahadu fee sabilillahi be amwalihim wa anfusihim, aa’zamu darajatan ‘indallahi, wa ‘oulaa’ika humul faa’yezoon (meaning: Those who believe, and have left their homes and striven with their wealth and their lives in Allah’s way are of much greater worth in Allah’s sight. These are they who are triumphant).”

Karen Armstrong echoes this understanding when she says,

 “ … [The] primary meaning of the word jihad is not ‘holy war’ but ‘struggle’ or ‘effort.’” [5] Truly, the term "holy war" is from the time of the Crusades and originated in Europe among the Christians as a rallying cry against the Muslims in Jerusalem. Karen Armstrong further says, “Far from being addicted to warfare, Islam insists on the importance of peace. The message of the Qur’an is a plural vision; it respects and values other traditions.” [6]

Contrary to our unnamed author’s assertion, in Islamic theology, war is never holy; it is either justified or not, and if it is justified, those killed in battle are considered Shaheeds. [7] As Prof. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA has pointed out while the Qur’an speaks about Jihad as an inherent moral or good act, every single reference to qital (fighting in a war), on the other hand, is qualified by some moral conditions of restraint. Such moral restraint is often expressed as a command to Muslims not to transgress but to find a peaceful solution. [8] [See, e.g., the verse 4:90 following the verse 4:89.]

According to Karen Armstrong,

“The only war condoned by the Qur’an, therefore, is a war of self-defense. ‘Warfare is an awesome evil’ (2:217), but sometimes it is necessary to fight in order to bring the kind of persecution suffered by the Muslims to an end (2:217) or to preserve decent values (22:40). But Muslims may never initiate hostilities, and aggression is forbidden by God (2:190). While the fighting continues, Muslims must dedicate themselves wholly to the war in order to bring things back to normal as quickly as possible; but the second the enemy sues for peace, hostilities must cease (2:192).” [9]

Now let us look at some of the verses, e.g., 2:190-1, that our unnamed author brought up.
One of the early commentators of the Qur’an Abu al-‘Aliya said that the verse 2:190 [“And fight (qatelu) in the way of Allah those who fight you”] was the first ‘ayah where the members of the nascent Muslim community in Madinah (which included many uprooted Makkans) were allowed to fight the Makkan non-Muslims (the mushrikin). The verse is also quite clear in its instruction that Muslims were not to begin the fight, but only to retaliate [likewise] (see e.g., 2:194, 42:40, 16:126). In the verses 2:192-3, they were also commanded to cease if their enemies ceased from fighting. It is, therefore, no wonder that before the Conquest of Makkah, all the battles with the Makkan non-Muslims were fought around Madinah.

There is much disagreement among the commentators about the actual meaning of the word fitnah (commonly understood as persecution, harassment, unrest, injustice, mutiny, etc.) as it appears in the verse 2:191: “And al-fitnah is worse than killing.” One of the early commentators Mujahid maintained that only the hostile combatants among the Makkan mushrikin were meant for fighting. Ibn Kathir quotes him to say, [the meaning of the Ayah indicates that,] ‘If they abandon their injustice [persecution] then do not start aggression against them afterwards.’

Abdullah ibn Umar, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (S), was very sure that the verse (2:193) [“And fight them until there is no more fitnah …”] was limited in its scope to the Makkan mushriks. That is why, when his involvement during the conflict between Hajjaj and ibn Zubayr was sought, he said, “We did fight until there was no more fitnah, and the religion became for Allah alone. You want to fight until there is fitnah and the religion becomes for other than Allah.” In another narration, he is quoted as saying, “We did that [fight] during the time of Allah’s Messenger (S) when Islam was still weak and [the Muslim] man used to face trials in his religion, such as killing or torture. When Islam became stronger (and apparent), there was no more fitnah.” [Tafsir Ibn Kathir] [10]

Because of the harshest nature of certain verses in its relationship with the Makkan non-Muslims, anti-Muslim bigots often cite the Surah at-Tawbah to show the negative side of Islam. Still, we see that the verse 9:36 clearly states, “And fight against the mushrikin collectively as they fight against you collectively.” That is, it emphasizes the retaliatory nature of fighting.
[As it has been shown above, our unnamed author disingenuously picked a paragraph from Ibn Kathir’s tafsir that complied with his hypothesis and did not mention the other relevant citations that I just quoted from his Tafsir work, which offer a different interpretation of the verses 2:190-4.]

The unnamed author also quotes some passages on the subject of Jihad from the English book “Reliance of the Traveller,” tr. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, as if it is an authoritative and binding source for all Muslims. I am not sure if he is aware of the fact that the original Arabic version -`Umdat as-Salik - by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 769/1386) is only a book of interest on fiqhi matters among people of the Shafi’i madhab, who account for only about a quarter of world Muslims. The book’s legal rulings were applicable for the Shafi’i people of the 14th – 16th century. Many of its rulings, outside matters like salat and zakat, are no longer valid, and no country in the world today follows those rulings. Other than academic interest, I fail to attach any significance to this book. Surely, the Ottoman Caliphs (who ruled vast territories in the three continents) and Muslim rulers in India and many other parts of the world (from the 13th to the 20th century C.E.) did not follow the dictates of `Umdat as-Salik. As the record shows Muslim rulers were very tolerant with all non-Muslims as long as the latter did not openly revolt against their regimes.

The unnamed author writes,

“Further, some of the final direction from Muhammad was that it (Jihad) is to continue until all people are subjected to Islamic rule. Aggression toward non-Muslims is allowed, but prior to attacking, the Muslims are to offer them a choice: 1- Become Muslim; 2- do not become Muslim but pay the extortion (jizya) tax; 3- defend yourselves unto death.”

[Note again his willful distortion of the meaning of the Arabic word jizyah.] The above statement by our unnamed author is wrong when looked in the context of the Qur’anic verse 2:256 ‘la ikraha fid-din (meaning: there is no compulsion in religion).’ This ayah is explicit in its claim that Islam’s aim is not compulsion.

In the Qur’anic commentaries it is written that an Ansar companion of the Prophet (S) who had previously been a polytheist had two sons who had become Christians. He went to the Prophet (S) and said to him: “O Messenger of Allah! What can I do to these two sons of mine that have become Christians? .. Do you give me permission to force them to leave their religion and become Muslims?” The Prophet (S) said: “No! There is no compulsion in religion.” [11]

Another ayah that clearly discouraged Muhammad (S) from compelling anyone to accept Islam is 10:99: “And if your Rabb (Lord) willed, all on the earth would have believed, in total; will you then compel them to believe?” Belief or faith is a thing that people must choose for themselves. That is why Allah has not forced anyone to be true believers and has given them the freewill to choose between various options [see, e.g., the verse 18:29: “Say: ‘The truth is from your Lord’: Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject (it)”].

Commenting on the verses 2:190-4 vis-à-vis the verses in Surah at-Taubah, Imam al-Tabari in his Tafsir work “Jami' al-Bayan 'an Tawil Ay al-Qur'an” says that Muslims are prohibited from fighting with those who do not fight with them; Allah does not like people who cross the limits imposed by Him by killing unarmed non-Muslims. Prof. Mahmoud Ayoub of the Temple University in his work “The Qur’an and Its Interpreters” mentions that Ibn Kathir (likewise) says that Muslims were here encouraged to fight against those enemies whose sole purpose was to fight against Islam and its people; not against unarmed populace. It is because of such an understanding of the verses relating to fighting that when Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, dispatched Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan for the Syrian expedition he instructed his troops not to harm unarmed people. [Al-Jami' li-Ahkam al-Qur'an by Imam al-Qurtubi] [12]

Writing about ‘Liberalism in Islam- A case for secular Governance’, R. Natarajan, in his essay “Islam As I Know,” writes,

“The celebrated 1941 Atlantic Charter echoes the same wisdom – a wisdom that dates back to the 7th century AD - by insisting on ‘the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way’, ‘No coercion in religion’, the Qur’an declares further because ‘the truth manifest, and so is falsehood’ (2:256). Religious aggressors are threatened with a ‘mighty chastisement’ (2:114) in the Life Hereafter. Churches, monasteries, synagogues and mosques, according to the Qur’an are all places of worship: ‘If Allah did not repel some people by others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which Allah ’s name is much remembered, would have been pulled down’ (22: 40). To the pagans of Mecca, Muhammed assured through the revelation: ‘To you be your religion, to me my religion’ (109:6). Humayun, though heading a ‘government-in-wandering’, advised his son against religious prejudice and favoured administering ‘impartial justice, having regard to the religious susceptibilities and religious customs of all sections of the people’. Jews and Christians headed many departments of the Omayyad Caliphate. In conclusion, the traditions of religious liberalism in Islam, … certainly make a good case for secular governance, and offer the best conceptual framework for a welfare state.” [13]

The Qur’an accepts the reality of difference and diversity within humanity [Qur’an 49:13: O man! God has created you male and female and made you into diverse nations and tribes so that you may come to know each other.] At another place the Qur’an is quite lucid that diversity is part of the divine plan: “If the Lord had willed, He would have made mankind into a single nation …” (11:118) The Qur’an recognizes the legitimate multiplicity of religious convictions and laws, as can be seen from the verse:

“To each of you God has prescribed a Law and a Way. If God would have willed, He would have made you a single people. But God’s purpose is to test you in what He has given each of you, so strive in the pursuit of virtue, and know that you will all return to God, and He will resolve all the matters in which you disagree.” (5:49)

It is because of this nature of diversity and tolerance within the Islamic theology that the Islamic civilization was pluralistic and unusually tolerant of various social and religious denominations, something that was unthinkable outside in the Middle Ages. Even to this day, there are groups like the Yazidis and Sabaeans (Sabians) that are surviving with their culture and religion intact. Debunking the myth against Islam, the (non-Muslim) historian De Lacy O' Leary wrote:

"History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever accepted." (Islam at the Crossroads, London, 1923, p. 8).

Commenting on the myth of Islam being spread by sword, Stephen Schwartz writes:

“It should also be known that Muslims ruled Spain for roughly 800 years. During this time, and up to when they were finally forced out, the non-Muslims there were alive and flourishing. Additionally, Christian and Jewish minorities have survived in the Muslim lands of the Middle East for centuries. Countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan all have Christian and/or Jewish populations. If Islam taught that all people are supposed to be killed or forced to become Muslims, how did all of these non-Muslims survive for so long in the middle of the Islamic Empire? Additionally, if one considers the small number of Muslims who initially spread Islam from Spain and Morocco in the West to India and China in the East, one would realize that they were far too few to force people to be members of a religion against their will. Additionally, the great empire and civilization established by the Muslims had great staying power -- its citizens were proud to be part of it.

The spread of Islam stands in contrast to the actions of the followers of Christianity, who since the time of the Emperor Constantine have made liberal use of the sword - often basing their conduct on Biblical verses. This was especially true of the colonization of South America and Africa, where native peoples were systematically wiped-out or forced to convert. It is also interesting to note that when the Mongols invaded and conquered large portions of the Islamic Empire, instead of destroying the religion, they adopted it. This is a unique occurrence in history - the conquerors adopting the religion of the conquered! Since they were the victors, they certainly could not have been forced to become Muslims! Ask any of the over one billion Muslims alive in the world today whether they were forced! The largest Muslim country in the world today is Indonesia --- and there were never any battles fought there! So where was the sword? How could someone be forced to adhere to a spiritually rewarding and demanding religion like Islam?” [14]

Let me remind our readers that Muslim scholars have not shied away from discussing the subject of Jihad and that there are hundreds of books written by them on this subject. Quite a few of these books are also available in all western languages. For a thorough treatment of the subject, I recommend to our readers the books ‘Jihad’ by Murteza Mutahhari and ‘The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity’ (Ch. 6) by Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
Let me also make few other relevant remarks.
1). Any citation in the Qur’an must be looked for conditional and unconditional nature of commandment. If there seems to be both prevalent on a certain directive, the rule is to treat the unconditional as the conditional directive. The Qur’anic verse 9:29 is an often-cited unconditional verse (a favorite one in the arsenal of FFI brigade members), while the verse 2:190 (as discussed earlier) is a conditional one. Therefore, the verse 2:190, as explained earlier, takes precedence over 9:29.

2). Jizyah existed in many parts of the world before the advent of Islam. Some scholars say that the root word for Jizyah is gaziyeh (of the Persian root), a tax (collected for war) introduced by Anushirawan, a Sasanian king of Persia. From very early on, whenever non-Muslims volunteered to assist Muslims in their fight against aggression by foreign forces, Muslim governments returned the jizyah to such volunteers. In Tafsir al-menar shawahid there are many such accounts from various history books. So, Jizyah was a war tax, imposed on able-bodied, wealthy non-Muslims who did not want to volunteer for defense of the nation. [The Hanafi madhab exempts more categories of non-Muslims than any other madhab.] When the Muslim army failed to protect their lives and properties, Jizyah was returned to the affected families. [For instance, Umar ibn Khattab (RA) returned jizyah to an Arab Christian tribe that he was incapable of protecting from Byzantine aggression. As has been argued by Prof. El Fadl, the imposition of jizyah on non-Muslims has not been pronounced as an absolute and unwavering rule in the Qur’an. Attention to historical context again is critical. He writes, “The Qur’an endorsed a poll tax (jizyah) as a response to particular groups in Arabia who were persistently hostile to the early Muslims. Importantly, the Prophet did not collect a poll tax from every non-Muslim tribe that submitted to Muslim sovereignty, and in fact, in the case of a large number of non-Muslim but non-hostile tribes, he paid them a periodic sum of money or goods. These tribes were known as ‘those whose hearts have been reconciled.’ Furthermore, Umar entered into a peace settlement with Arab Christian tribes pursuant to which these tribes were obligated to pay the Islamic annual tax known as the zakah (almsgiving), and not the poll tax.” [15] See the book Rawdat al-Talibin by Abu Zakariyya an-Nabawwi for details.]

3). Islam came to reform society and to form a nation. As such, it covers all the activities of human life – governing the society, economic laws and political laws. The rules of military engagement are, therefore, not neglected either. The underlying message in the Qur’an, however, is ‘was-sulhu khayr (and peace is better).’ [16] [See also the verse 4:90: “If they leave you alone and offer to make peace with you, God does not allow you to harm them;” and the verse 60:8: “Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them. For Allah loves those who are just;” and the verse 8:61: “If your enemy inclines towards peace, then you should seek peace and trust in God for He is the One that hears and knows (all things).”] But if the adversary is hostile and not ready to embrace peaceful co-existence and, therefore, initiates war, then it must be fought with in like manner, without transgression. That is why the Qur’an says, “Truly God defends those who have faith. Truly God does not love the treacherous rejecter. Permission (for warfare) is given to those who are attacked and definitely wronged. And truly God is capable of helping them; those who have been expelled from their houses without justice, for no reason except their saying ‘Our Nourisher is God….’” (22:38-41) All these verses negate the notion that Muslims are to be in a permanent state of war with non-believers.

4). The Qur’an has fundamentally defined Jihad not as a war of aggression or of superiority or of authority, but of resistance against aggression. There is complete agreement amongst Muslim scholars that the essence of Jihad is defense and not offense. [See again, in this context, the verse 22:39: “Permission (to fight) is given to those upon whom war is made because they are oppressed, and most surely Allah is well able to assist them.”]

5). Fighting against aggression is not aggression. But fighting against other than aggression is aggression and is unlawful. According to the directive of the Prophet Muhammad (S), the Jihad against one’s soul is more virtuous than the physical Jihad against one’s enemies.

6). To understand the significance of Jihad in Islam and its civilization, one must distinguish between a common meaning of the term and the theological and the juridical sense of the word. “In the first sense,” as Prof. Nasr explains, “it [jihad] is used to mean any effort considered worthy, much like ‘crusade’ in the general sense in English and not in particular reference against both Muslims and Jews in Palestine in the Middle Ages. … Beyond the general understanding of jihad, which embraces life itself, Islamic authorities over the ages have distinguished between the lesser and the greater jihad … The greater, and one might also say greatest (in Arabic the word akbar means both ‘greater’ and ‘greatest’), jihad is therefore the inner battle to purify the soul of its imperfections, to empty the vessel of the soul… The greater jihad is undertaken only by those spiritual warriors who are willing to sacrifice their ego before the Throne of the One. .. As for the lesser jihad, in the sense of outward struggle and battle, the meaning of jihad as the Western media use it, a distinction must first of all be made the between struggles and battles carried out within Arabia against the idolatry at the dawn of Islam and events in later Islamic history.” [17]

7). An ayah is only abrogated by another when it is in complete disagreement with it. The ayat of Surah at-Tawbah are not such that we can consider them as nullifiers of the ayat that had arrived previously and which attached conditions to jihad. According to the scholars of usul al fiqh: there is no generality that is without an exception.

Since our unnamed author audaciously claims that his 15-part essay (book) presents a ‘politically incorrect’ version of Jihad, I wonder if he was aware of and if he could explain the following statements of Muslim savants:

1). The Prophet (S) said, "The mujahid is he who wages war against his soul in Allah's way."[Bahr al-Fava’id]
2). One's endeavor to educate a lad and train him is superior to Jihad in the path of Allah. - Abdullah ibn Mubarak (R)
3). The best Jihad is to speak just before a tyrannical ruler. – Muhammad (S)
4). For one who wages Jihad against his passions and his soul [nafs], all regions are lands of border forts and warfare. [Bahr al-Fava'id]
5). Acquire knowledge for the pleasure of Allah, for learning engenders piety, reverence for one’s Lord and fear of wrongdoing. Seeking knowledge for Allah’s pleasure is an act of worship, studying it is a Dhikr (celebration of God’s glory), searching for it is a Jihad (rewarding struggle), teaching it to someone who realizes its worth is a Sadaqa (charity), and applying it in one’s home strengthens family unity and kinship. - Mu’adh ibn Jabal (RA)
6). Know that the soul (nafs) is the greatest of idols; therefore the Prophet (S) said, "We have returned from the lesser Jihad to the greater." He (S) called it "greater" because the outward enemy … is clear to you: you observe him, and are thus able to guard yourself against him. But the path of this enemy [nafs] is hidden: you do not see him, and thus it is difficult to guard against him. Satan too is the inward enemy, and it is difficult for men to guard against him. Allah said, "Lo! he seeth you, both he and his companions, whereas ye see him not." (Qur'an 7:27) [Bahr al-Fava’id]
7). Abdullah ibn Umar (RA) was asked, "What do you say about Jihad?" He replied, "Begin with your soul and fight against it; begin with your soul and wage war on it. If you are slain, Allah will raise you up; if you are slain as a hypocrite Allah will resurrect you as a hypocrite, but if you are slain as a steadfast man deserving of reward He will resurrect you thus."
8). The pious have said, "He who wishes the path of the Hereafter to be revealed to him must count four deaths as necessary for him: the white death, the black death, the red death and the green death. The white death is hunger and thirst; the black death is bearing the troubles caused by men; the red death is opposing the soul; and the green death is wearing ragged garments and the patched cloak." Waging Jihad against the soul is among the greatest of all wars. [Bahr al-Fava’id]

Concluding Remarks
Most Islamic jurists, especially in modern times, believe that the lesser jihad is legitimate only as defense and cannot be originated as aggression. In classical Sunni theory, based on the existence of an Islamic state, it was the sovereign in consultation with the ulama [religious scholars] who could declare jihad in the juridical and theological sense. As far as Twelve-Imam Shi’ism is concerned, lesser jihad, except for defense, is haram (unlawful), by Islamic Law in the absence of the ma’sum (the inerrant ones, meaning the Prophet and the twelve Imams).

In his essay our unnamed author has only proven that any text provides possibilities for interpretation. Those possibilities can be exploited, for or against, by the reader’s efforts. If the reader is spiteful, intolerant, or has hidden agenda his interpretation may often be biased, incorrect, and nuanced in ways that support his/her agenda, let alone being hateful and intolerant. I won’t recommend such writings to any serious reader of Islam.

La kum deenikum waliyadeen (meaning: to you is your religion and to me is mine).



[1]. See the essay “Theological Distractions” by Tariq Ali in “The Place of Tolerance in Islam,” Beacon Press, Boston (2002), p. 37.
[2]. See, e.g., the report from killing of a Shi’ite cleric Abd al-Razzaq in Iraq by an American tank (
[3]. See, e.g.,〈=e&dir=news for a report on how Israelis abuse Palestinians.
[4]. See the BBC reports: More Afghan children die in raids (; Rumsfeld backs targeting rebels (
[5]. See the essay “Has Islam been hijacked?” by Karen Armstrong in the book “Taking Back Islam,” ed. Michael Wolfe, Beliefnet (2002) p. 11.
[6]. Ibid., p. 13.
[7]. See the essay by Prof. Khaled Abu el-Fadl in the book “The Place of Tolerance in Islam.”
[8]. Ibid., p. 101-2.
[9]. See the essay “Is Islam Violent?” by Karen Armstrong in the book “Taking Back Islam,” p.28.
[10]. Tafsir ibn Kathir, Darussalam Publishers and Distributors, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (2000).
[11]. Jihad by Morteza Mutahhari, tr. Mohammad Salman Tawheedi, p. 42.
[12]. Abu Bakr’s letter stated: "Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman. nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone." (Quoted in introduction to The Book of Jihad and Expedition (Kitab Al-Jihad wa'l-Siyar), Sahih Muslim (tr. Abdul Hamid Siddiqui)
[14]. See the website:
[15]. Khaled Abou el-Fadl, Op. cit.
[16]. Qur’an 4:128
[17]. The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, HarperSanFrancisco, First Edition, Ch. 6.

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