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JIHAD. Carrying the basic connotation of an endeavor toward a praiseworthy aim, the word jihad bears many shades of meaning in the Islamic context. It may express a struggle against one’s evil inclinations or an exertion for the sake of Islam and the ummah, for example, trying to convert unbelievers or working for the moral betterment of Islamic society (“jihad of the tongue” and “jihad of the pen”). In the books on Islamic law, the word means an armed struggle against the unbelievers, which is also a common meaning in the Qur’an. Sometimes the “jihad of the sword” is called “the smaller jihad,” in opposition to the peaceful forms named “the greater jihad.” Today often used without any religious connotation, its meaning is more or less equivalent to the English word crusade (“a crusade against drugs”). If used in a religious context, the adjective “Islamic” or “holy” is currently added to it (al jihad al-Islami or aljihad al-muqaddas).

Origin. The concept of jihad goes back to the wars fought by the Prophet Muhammad and their written reflection in the Qur’an. It is clear that the concept was influenced by the ideas on war among the pre-Islamic northern Arabic tribes. Among these, war was the normal state, unless two or more tribes had concluded a truce. War between tribes was regarded as lawful and if the war was fought as a defense against aggression, the fighting had an additional justification. Ideas of chivalry forbade warriors to kill noncombatants like children, women, and old people. These rules were incorporated into the doctrine of jihad as fixed in the latter half of the second century AH.

The Qur’an frequently mentions jihdd and fighting (qital) against the unbelievers. Surah 22.40 (“Leave is given to those who fight because they were wrongedsurely God is able to help them-who were expelled from their habitations without right, except that they :ay `Our Lord is God.’ “), revealed not long after the Hijrah, is traditionally considered to be the first verse dealing with the fighting of the unbelievers. Many verses exhort the believers to take part in the fighting “with their goods and lives” (bi-amwalihim wa-anfusihim), promise reward to those who are killed in the jihad (3.157-158, 169-172), and threaten those who do not fight with severe punishments in the hereafter (9.81-82, 48.16). Other verses deal with practical matters such as exemption from military service (9.91, 48.17), fighting during the holy months (2.217) and in the holy territory of Mecca (2.191), the fate of prisoners of war (47.4), safe conduct (9.6), and truce (8.61).

It is not clear whether the Qur’an allows fighting the unbelievers only as a defense against aggression or under all circumstances. In support of the first view a number of verses can be quoted that expressly justify fighting on the strength of aggression or perfidy on the part of the unbelievers: “And fight in the way of God with those who fight you, but aggress not: God loves not the aggressors” (2. 1 9o) and “But if they break their oaths after their covenant and thrust at your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief’ (9.13). In those verses that seem to order the Muslims to fight the unbelievers unconditionally, the general condition that fighting is only allowed in defense could be said to be understood: “Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush” (9.5) and “Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden-such men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book-until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled” (9.29). Classical Qur’an interpretation, however, did not go into this direction. It regarded the Sword Verses, with the unconditional command to fight the unbelievers, as having abrogated all previous verses concerning the intercourse with nonMuslims. This idea is no doubt connected with the preIslamic concept that war between tribes was allowed, unless there existed a truce between them, the Islamic ummah taking the place of a tribe.

During the second half of the eighth century, the first comprehensive treatise on the law of jihad was written by `Abd al-Rahman al-Awza`i (d. 774) and Muhammad al-Shaybani (d. 804). The legal doctrine of jihad was the result of debates and discussions that had been going on since the Prophet’s death and through which the doctrine had been developed. This period in which the doctrine of jihad was gradually formulated coincided with the period of the great Muslim conquests, in which the conquerors were exposed to the cultures of the conquered peoples. The doctrine of jihad may have been influenced somewhat by the culture of the Byzantine Empire, where the idea of religious war and related notions were very much alive. It is, however, very difficult to identify these influences. If there are similarities, they are not necessarily the result of borrowing but may be due to parallel developments.

Classical Doctrine. The doctrine of jihad as written in the works on Islamic law developed out of the Qur’anic prescriptions and the example of the Prophet and the first caliphs, as laid down in the hadith. The crux of the doctrine is the existence of one single Islamic state, ruling the entire ummah. It is the duty of the ummah to expand the territory of this state in order to bring as many people as possible under its rule. The ultimate aim is to bring the whole earth under the sway of Islam and to extirpate unbelief: “Fight them until there is no persecution [or “seduction”] and the religion is God’s entirely” (2.192 and 8.39). Expansionist jihad is a collective duty (fard al-kifayah), which is fulfilled if a sufficient number of people take part in it. If this is not the case, the whole ummah is sinning. Expansionist jihad presupposes the presence of a legitimate caliph to organize the struggle. After the conquests had come to an end, the legal specialists specified that the caliph had to raid enemy territory at least once a year in order to keep the idea of jihad alive.

Sometimes jihdd becomes an individual duty as when the caliph appoints certain persons to participate in a raiding expedition or when someone takes an oath to fight the unbelievers. Moreover, jihad becomes obligatory for all free men capable of fighting in a certain region if this region is attacked by the enemy; in this case, jihad is defensive.

Sunni and Shi’i theories of jihad are very similar. However, there is one crucial difference. The Twelver Shi’is hold that jihad can only be waged under the leadership of the rightful imam. After the Occultation of the last one in 873, theoretically no lawful jihad can be fought. This is true for expansionist jihad. However, as defense against attacks remains obligatory and the `ulama’ are often regarded as the representatives of the Hidden Imam, several wars between Iran and Russia in the nineteenth century have been called jihad.

War against unbelievers may not be mounted without summoning them to Islam or submission before the attack. A hadith lays down the precise contents of the summons:

Whenever the Prophet appointed a commander to an army or an expedition, he would say: “. . . When you meet your heathen enemies, summon them to three things. Accept whatsoever they agree to and refrain then from fighting them. Summon them to become Muslims. If they agree, accept their conversion. In that case summon them to move from their territory to the Abode of the Emigrants [i.e., Medina]. If they refuse that, let them know that then they are like the Muslim bedouins and that they share only in the booty, when they fight together with the [other] Muslims. If they refuse conversion, the ask them to pay poll-tax (jizya).. If they agree, accept their submission. But if they refuse, then ask God for assistance and fight them. . . .”

(Sahih Muslim)

This hadith also neatly sums up the aims of fighting unbelievers: conversion or submission. In the latter case, the enemies are entitled to keep their religion and practice it, against payment of a poll-tax (jizyah) (see surah 9.29, quoted above). Although the Qur’an limits this option to the People of the Book, that is, Christians and Jews, it was in practice extended to other religions, such as the Zoroastrians (Majus).

Whenever the caliph deems it in the interest of the ummah, he may conclude a truce with the enemy, just as the Prophet did with the Meccans at al-Hudayb-iyah. According to some schools of law, a truce must be concluded for a specified period of time, no longer than ten years. Others hold that this is not necessary, if the caliph stipulates that he may resume war whenever he wishes to do so. The underlying idea is that the notion of jihdd must not fall into oblivion.

The books on law contain many practical rules concerning warfare, such as exemptions from the obligation to fight, the protection of the lives of noncombatants, lawful methods of warfare, treatment of prisoners of war, safe-conduct to enemy persons, and the division of the spoils.

Function. The most important function of the doctrine of jihad is that it mobilizes and motivates Muslims to take part in wars against unbelievers, as it is considered to be the fulfillment of a religious duty. This motivation is strongly fed by the idea that those who are killed on the battlefield, called martyrs (shahids), will go directly to Paradise. When wars were fought against unbelievers, religious texts would circulate, replete with Qur’anic verses and hadiths extolling the merits of fighting a jihad and vividly describing the reward waiting in the hereafter for those slain during the fighting.

Another function was to enhance the legitimation of a ruler. After the year 750, the political unity of the ummah was lost, never to be restored. Several rulers would govern different regions of the Muslim world. One of the ways to acquire greater legitimacy was to wage jihad against unbelievers, which is one of the main tasks of the lawful caliph.

A final function of the jihad doctrine was that it provided a set of rules governing the relationship with the unbelieving enemies and behavior during actual warfare. Muftis could invoke this set of rules and issue fatwas showing that a ruler’s foreign policy was in conformity with the rules of Islamic law. These rules could be molded to fit the circumstance. A case in point is when, after the collapse of Islamic political unity, two Muslim states would be at war with one another. In such situations muftis would usually find cause to label the enemies either as rebels or as heretics, thus justifying the struggle against them.

During Islamic history, but especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, radical movements striving for a purification of Islam and the establishment of a purely Islamic society proclaimed jihad against their opponents, both Muslims and non-Muslims. To justify the struggle against their Muslim adversaries, they would brand them as unbelievers for their neglect in adhering to and enforcing the strict rules of Islam.

Changing Modern Interpretations. The colonial experience affected the outlook of some Muslim intellectuals on jihad. Some would argue that in view of the military superiority of the colonizer, jihad was not obligatory anymore on the strength of surah 2.195 (“. . . and cast not yourselves by your own hands into destruction, . . . “). Others, however, elaborated new interpretations of the doctrine of jihad.

The first one to do so was the Indian Muslim thinker Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898). After the Mutiny of 1857 the British, arguing that the Muslims wanted to restore Moghul rule and that the doctrine of jihad made them fight the British, began favoring the Hindus in the army and in government service. Sayyid Ahmad Khan wanted to show that Islam did not forbid cooperation with the British colonial government; in this he was motivated by his desire to safeguard employment for the young Muslims from the middle and higher classes. In order to demonstrate that the Indian Muslims were not obliged to fight the British and could be loyal subjects, he gave a new interpretation of the jihad doctrine. On the basis of a new reading of the Qur’an, he asserted that jihad was obligatory for Muslims only in the case of “positive oppression or obstruction in the exercise of their faith . . . impair[ing] the foundation of some of the pillars of Islam.” Since the British, in his opinion, did not interfere with the practice of Islam, jihad against them was not allowed. [See the biography of Ahnzad Khan.]

Middle Eastern Muslim reformers like Muhammad `Abduh (1849-1905) and Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935) did not go as far as Sayyid Ahmad Khan. On the strength of those Qur’anic verses that make fighting against the unbelievers conditional upon their aggression or perfidy, they argue that peaceful coexistence is the normal state between Islamic and non-Islamic territories and that jihad is only allowed as defensive warfare. This view, however, left the way open to proclaim jihad against colonial oppression, as the colonial enterprise was clearly an attack on the territory of Islam. A recent development in this line of thinking is the presentation of the jihdd doctrine as a form of Muslim international law and the equation of jihad with the concept of bellum justum. Those who have elaborated this theory proudly point out that Muhammad al-Shaybani (d. 804) had formulated a doctrine of international public law more than eight centuries before Hugo Grotius. [See the biographies of `Abduh and Rashid Ridd.]

Contemporary thinking about jihad, however, offers a wider spectrum of views. Apart from the conservatives,; who adhere to the interpretation given in the classi books on Islamic law, there are the ideologues of radical Islamic opposition, who call for jihad as a means to spread their brand of Islam. Some of these radii groups call for the use of violence in order to defeat established governments. They are faced, however, a serious doctrinal problem as they preach an revolution against Muslim rulers; Islamic law allows volt only in very rare circumstances. One of these when a ruler abandons his belief; as the apostate serves capital punishment, fighting against him is al lowed. Throughout Islamic history, governments opposition movements have declared their Muslim a versaries to be heretics or unbelievers (takfir, decl someone to be a kafir, unbeliever) in order to jus their struggle against them. It is this line of reaso that is used by contemporary radical Islamic groups give legitimacy to their use of arms against rulers are to all appearances Muslims. In modern times th views were first propagated by fundamentalists like yid Qutb (d. 1966) and Abu al-A`la Mawdfidi (1903 1979) [See the biographies of Qutb and Mawdudi.]

The most eloquent and elaborate statement of view can be found in a pamphlet published by the logue of the Jihad Organization, whose members sinated President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in 1981. pamphlet is called Al -faridah al-gha’ibah (The A Duty), referring to the duty to wage jihad, which, cording to the author, `Abd al-Salam Faraj, is not filled anymore. The author borrows his arguments two fatwas issued by the fundamentalist author Taymiyah (1263-1328), when his opinion was regarding the legitimacy of Mongol rule in the Mid East. The prop of Ibn Taymiyah’s reasoning is the fact that the Mongol rulers apply their own law instead the shari’ah. This, in his opinion, is sufficient cause regard them as unbelievers, even if they pronounce the profession of faith. Further, if this argument is not accepted, they still have forfeited their right to demand the obedience of their Muslim subjects, and they may be fought.

Faraj argues that the situation Ibn Taymiyah describes is similar to the Egyptian situation, as Egyptian law, with the exception of family law and the law of succession, is based on codes of Western inspiration. Observing that, in spite of the vocal demands of the Islamic groups, the government has always refused to introduce the shari`ah, the author concludes that such a government cannot be regarded as Islamic and that it is an individual duty of each Muslim to rise in armed rebellion against this heathen regime in order to replace it with an Islamic one.


Arberry, A. J., trans. The Koran Interpreted. New York, 1955. All Qur’anic quotations herein follow this standard English translation.

Bakker, Johan de. “Slaves, Arms, and Holy War: Moroccan Policy vis-b-vis the Dutch Republic during the Establishment of the `Alawi Dynasty, 166o-1727.” Ph.D. diss., University of Amsterdam, 1991. Examines the function of jihad doctrine in Morocco’s foreign relations, especially with the Dutch Republic, and its role in enhancing the `Alawid dynasty’s legitimacy.

Ghunaimi, Mohammad Talaat al-. The Muslim Conception of International Law and the Western Approach. The Hague, 1968. Attempt to present the doctrine of jihad as a form of Islamic international law.

Hamidullah, Muhammmad. Muslim Conduct of State. 6th rev. ed. Lahore, 1973. Survey of classical jihdd doctrine based on an extensive reading of classical sources, but somewhat marred by the author’s apologetic approach.

Jansen, J. J. G. The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Sadat’s Assassins and Islamic Resurgence in the Middle East. New York and London, 1986. Analysis and translation of Al farulah al-ghd’ibah. The translation, especially of the abundant quotations of the classical works on Islamic law and the hadith, is not always reliable.

Kelsay, John, and James T. Johnson, eds. Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions. New York, 1991.

Khadduri, Majid. War and Peace in the Law of Islam. Baltimore, 1955 Reliable survey of the classical doctrine of jihad.

Kriiger, Hilmar. Fetwa an Siyar: Zur internationalrechtlichen Gutachtenpraxis der osmanischen Seyh ul-Islam vom 17. bis i9. Jahrhundert unter besonderen Beriicksichtigung des “Behcet ul-Fetava”. Wiesbaden, 1968. Examines the role of jihad doctrine in Ottoman foreign relations from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

Kruse, Hans. Islamische Volkerrechtslehre. Bochum, 1979. Deals especially with treaties between Islamic and other states according to classical Hanafi law.

Noth, Albrecht. Heiliger Krieg an heiliger Kampf in Islam an Christentum. Bonn, 1966. Comparison of jihdd with similar notions in Christianity against the historical background of the Crusades.

Peters, Rudolph. Jihad in Medieval and Modern Islam. Leiden, 1977.

Translation of the chapter on jihad from Averroes’ (d. 1198) legal compendium, Bidayat al-mujtahid, and of a modernist treatise on jihad written by Mahmud Shaltut (d. 1963).

Peters, Rudolph. Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History. The Hague, 1979. Deals with jihad as a means of mobilization in anticolonial struggles and with new interpretations of jihad doctrine.

Peters, Rudolph. “The Political Relevance of the Jihad Doctrine in Sadat’s Egypt.” In National and International Politics in the Middle East: Essays in Honour of Elie Kedourie, edited by Edward Ingram, pp. 252-273. London, 1986.

Shaybani, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan.. The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybani’ s Siyar. Translated and introduced by Majid Khadduri. Baltimore, 1966. Translation of one of the earliest works on jihad. Sivan, Emmanuel. L’Islam et la Croisade: Idiologie et propagande dans les reactions musulmanes aux Croisades. Paris, 1968.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/jihad/

  • writerPosted On: July 12, 2014
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