This post is the beginning of a series I will do on Jihad. Future posts will cover how Muhammad gave form to Jihad and how it ties in to recent terrorist attacks.
Inner struggle or holy war?
Recent terror attacks on London, Manchester, Stockholm, Berlin and Paris have all been linked to perpetrators with Islamic backgrounds. Salman Ramadan Abedi, the Manchester suicide bomber, for example, is known to have attended a Salafist mosque together with his father and brother. He is described as someone who supported terrorism.[s] When the news spread that these attacks are carried out by Muslims, the Islamic community is keen to directly dismiss every link with the Islamic doctrine. If ever you wish to learn about the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy…
To get an understanding of Jihad I have relied on Islamic text and interpretations as to clear myself of the confirmation bias. It is important to note two things about this: there are different schools of Islam. I will only cover Sunni Islam and as such, these text, especially the Tafsir may not apply to Shia Islam for example. But Sunni school has by far the most followers.[s] Second, there are different interpretations of Islamic law. Reliance of the Traveler may not apply to every school, but it uses Hadeeth and the Quran to learn from. As such it, for the most part, won’t differ from the other schools.
The meaning of Jihad
Reliance of the Traveller details the laws that can be extracted from the Qur’an, Hadith and Al-Sira. It is a highly respected guide on fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence). This book’s translation into English has received a certification by Al-Azhar, the most important university of Islamic studies. When it addresses Jihad, it starts by detailing what Jihad is.
Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada signifying warfare to establish the religion. And it is the lesser jihad. As for the greater jihad, it is spiritual warfare against the lower self (nafs), which is why the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said as he was returning from jihad. [s]
When it comes to understanding various texts in the Qur’an we rely on Mufassir. These are special scholars that undergo serious training such as memorizing the Qur’an, studying Arabic and history. Of these Mufassir none is more respected than Ismael ibn Kathir, who basically summarized the work of the highly respected Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, but filtered out the bad hadith and (almost) only used authentic hadith. His tafsir (interpretations) are highly respected in Sunni Islam, so much so he was also called ‘The Pillar of Faith’. [s] Kathir writes:
Allah made it obligatory for the Muslims to fight in Jihad against the evil of the enemy who transgress against Islam. […] It is reported in the Sahih: (Whoever dies but neither fought (i.e., in Allah’s cause), nor sincerely considered fighting, will die a death of Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic era of ignorance).
On the day of Al-Fath (when he conquered Makkah), the Prophet said:
(There is no Hijrah (migration from Makkah to Al-Madinah) after the victory, but only Jihad and good intention. If you were required to march forth, then march forth.)
(…though you dislike it) means, `Fighting is difficult and heavy on your hearts.‘ Indeed, fighting is as the Ayah describes it, as it includes being killed, wounded, striving against the enemies and enduring the hardship of travel.
Allah then said:
(. ..and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you) meaning, fighting is followed by victory, dominance over the enemy, taking over their lands, money and offspring. [s]
Thus we learn that by law Jihad means not only the internal struggle (greater Jihad), but also to fight the unbelievers. Ibn Kathir further explains this to not merely mean defensive fighting. ‘After Victory only Jihad’. ‘If you were required to march forth, then march forth.’ Texts like these clearly indicate that even if the aggressor is defeated the fight must go on, informing us that Jihad is not a defensive concept. When we look to another Mufassir, Al Qurtubi, which is less known in the Western world because his works are not translated, we can further defend that Jihad is not merely understood as a concept of inner struggle. Qurtubi writes, concerning Qur’an 2:120:
The reason for the ayat was that the idolaters were asking for a truce while continuing to attack the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and Islam. So Allah informed him that they would not be pleased until he followed their religion and He commanded jihad against them. [s]
“He (Allah) commanded Jihad against them” surely cannot mean ‘he ordered internal struggle against them’.
And so we see that even the great Islamic scholars disagree with the view that Jihad only means internal struggle. Not only does it mean war with the unbelievers, it is an active war, not a defensive one. In future post I will show by examples of Muhammad himself that he also fought against the unbelievers in an active war, not just defensive.