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Islam's Jihad for Peace PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Louay Safi   
Apr 17, 2002 at 07:00 PM

Is Islam a religion of peace, moderation, and tolerance, or is it one that directs its followers to kill infidels, encourages forced conversion, and intimidates the followers of other faiths? Is there one Islamic conception of peace, and one interpretation of the conditions of peace, or does Islam give rise to a multiple of interpretations? And does the concept of jihad amounts to a holy war, or is jihad consistent with world peace?

These are some of the questions I intend to address in this paper. I argue that Islam has a vision of a peaceful world and demands strict observation of the very values necessary for bringing about a peaceful world. Islam teaches its followers to submit and surrender their individual wills to a higher truth and a transcendental law, so that one can lead a meaningful life informed by the divine purpose of creation, and where the dignity and freedom of all human beings can be equally protected. Islamic teachings assert the basic freedom and equality of all peoples. It stresses the importance of mutual help and respect, and direct Muslims to extend friendship and good will to all, regardless of their religious, ethnic, or racial background.


Islam, on the other hand, permits its followers to resort to armed struggle to repel military aggression, and indeed urges them to fight oppression, brutality, and injustice. The Qur’anic term for such a struggle is jihad. Yet for many in the West, jihad is nothing  more than a holy war, i.e. a war to enforce one’s religious beliefs on others. Most Muslims would reject the equation of jihad with holy war, and would insist that a better description that captures the essence of the Islamic concept of jihad is a just war. There are still small and vocal groups of Muslims who conceive jihad as a divine license to use violence to impose their will on anyone they could brand as an infidel, including fellow Muslims who may not fit their self-proclaimed categorization of right and wrong.


The confusion about the meaning of jihad, and the debate over whether jihad is a “holy war” or a “just war” is of great importance for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, particularly at this juncture of human history when the world has once again rejected narrow nationalist politics and is moving rapidly to embrace the notion of global peace and that of a multi-cultural and multi-religious society. It is, hence, very crucial to expose the confusion of those who insist that jihad is a holy war and who place doubts on Islam’s ability to support global peace. The advocates of jihad as a holy war constitute today a tiny minority of intellectuals in both Muslim societies and the West. Western scholars, who accept jihad as a holy war, feed on the position of radical Muslim ideologues, as well as on generalization from the particular and exceptional to the general.



Classical Doctrine of Jihad


The doctrine of jihad was developed in the first three centuries of Islam, and was influenced by the political structure of the day. The ideas and doctrines advanced by early Muslim jurists were shaped, on the one hand, by the political organization of the Islamic polity, which recognized the moral autonomy of the various religious and ethnic communities that comprised it, and, on the other hand, by the imperial politics of Byzantine. That is, the classical doctrine of jihad, and its corollary theory of the Two abodes, the abode of Islam and the abode of war, are the products of their time, and should be understood as such.


Although the rules and principles pertaining to relations between Islamic and non-Islamic states date back to the early Medina period, the Islamic classical doctrine of war and peace was developed by Muslim jurists (fuqaha) during the Abbasid era. The tenets of the doctrine can be found either in general law corpora under headings such as jihad, peace treaties, aman, or in certain special studies such as al Kharaj (land tax), al Siyar (biography/ history), etc. The work of the Muslim jurists consists mainly of rules and principles concerning the initiation and prosecution of war, rules and principles that have been predicated on a specific perception of the role and objectives of the Islamic state in respect to other states.


Classical Muslim scholars often equated the notion of jihad with that of war. The conception of jihad failed to capture the full range of its rich meaning, and was hence reduced to a military use denoting the act of fighting and war.


While the Qur'an often uses the word jihad in reference to the act of war, it gives the term broader meaning. The term jihad was first introduced in the Makkan Qur'an--verses (29:6,69) and (25:52)--long before the Muslims were permitted to fight. In the Makkan period, the term jihad was used in reference to the peaceful struggle in the cause of God.


These Qur’anic verses direct the Muslims to patiently persevere in the face of Quraysh persecution and oppression, and to rely on dialogue and communication to establish just peace, based on universal principles. It follows that fighting and using military tactics is only one of several avenues through which the duty of jihad can be discharged. The methodology of jihad includes, among other things, peaceful resistance and perseverance against oppression and tyranny, if the general conditions of the moment indicate that this approach is the most effective way to achieve the objectives of the Muslim community.


The classical doctrine of war and peace is founded on three essential propositions: [1]


1. The world is divided into two territories: dar al lslam (the abode of Islam), the area subject to Islamic law, and dar al Harb (the abode of war), the area not yet brought under Islamic rule. Al Shafi'i adds a third territory, dar al 'ahd or the territory of covenant. His third category however is superfluous, for he stipulates that a non-Islamic state may enter into a peace treaty with the Islamic state only if it renders an annual tribute jizyah; this stipulation puts him therefore on the same footing with other classical writers.


2. The dar al lslam is under permanent jihad obligation until the dar al Harb is reduced to nonexistence. Jihad is, thus, the instrument of the Islamic state to promote Islam and expand the territory wherein Islamic law is enforced.


3. Peaceful coexistence between dar al lslam and dar al Harb is possible only when the latter renders an annual tribute of jizyah (land tax) to the former.


The classical doctrine of jihad has persisted over the centuries with few minor and sporadic alterations. The tenets of this doctrine have been handed down unchallenged, despite several grave flaws in its development and despite its violation of some essential Islamic principles. As will be argued later, this may, in part, be attributed to the political conditions existing at the time the doctrine was articulated and developed; conditions which prevailed throughout much of Muslim history.


According to the classical Muslim jurists, a permanent state of war exists between dar al Islam and dar al Harb. This means that hostility, or a state of war, is the norm that govern the relationship between Islam and other political powers, while peace can be achieved under one of the following two conditions: To accept Islam and, thus, be left alone, or to pay the jizyah, in which case they are entitled to retain their religion and enjoy Muslim protection. It is clear that war, according to the foregoing view, is the normal state of things, and that peaceful relations between the Islamic and non-Islamic states is contingent on the acceptance of Islam by the non-Islamic states or their payment of annual tributes to the Islamic state.


Textual Interpretations and Historical Conditions


The propositions of the classical doctrine of jihad were predicated on a set of legal rulings pertaining to specific questions which arose under particular historical circumstances, namely, the armed struggle between the Islamic state during the Abbasid era, and the various European dynasties. Classical jurists did not intend to develop a holistic theory with universal claims.


Misunderstanding of the position of Islam vis-à-vis war and peace alluded to earlier is essentially a problem of textual explication. It is a problem of how a Qur’anic text is and ought to be interpreted. The textual interpretation that led to the rise of the classical doctrine of Jihad failed to relate the Qur’anic statements to their historical context, and employed the notion of abrogation (naskh) in order to ignore all texts that conflict with its conclusions. I do not intend to undertake a comprehensive textual analysis of the Islamic sources and legal devices employed to justify the classical doctrine of jihad, as I have already done that elsewhere.[2] Rather, I will confine myself to summarizing the three main principles advanced in the Qur’an concerning peace and the use of force:


  1. Muslims must recognize the moral autonomy of all religious and ethnic communities.
  2. Muslims are commanded to seek common grounds for cooperation and peaceful coexistence with others.
  3. Fighting is permitted either to repel aggression or support oppressed individuals and communities.


Islam’s Vision of Peace


Tolerance is a modern virtue of Western society. The modern West embraces freedom of religion and abhors religious, ethnic, and racial discriminations. Yet Western multiculturalism is anchored more in secular than religious ethos, and is still far from being entrenched in Western society. In historical Islam, multiculturalism emanated directly from religious teaching, and hence reflected a deeper individual and societal commitment.


The first thing that strikes us when we study the Qur’anic texts is that the Qur’an neither confines faith and salvation to those who accept the Islamic revelation, nor deny faith and salvation to other religions.[3] Indeed the Qur’an does not limit the attribution of faith and salvation to Muslims but extend it to believers of other faiths.[4] The Qur’an states in no uncertain terms that all persons who believe in God and the Last Day, and do good, are assured of salvation: Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians – any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteous deeds – on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”  (Al-Ma’idah 69) 


Nor does the Qur’an consider all those who accepted Islam as true believers.  For some have accepted the new religion as a general mode of life but failed to internalize its worldview and ethical mission.[5] Others conform to Islamic teachings only in appearance, but continue to harbor suspicion and doubts, even ill-will toward Islam and its adherents and advocates.[6]  It follows that believers and disbelievers can belong to all religions.


Because believers and disbelievers cannot be distinguished on religious lines, as they run across all religions, the Qur’an urges Muslims to seek a political order based on peaceful cooperation and mutual respect, and warns them against placing religious solidarity over covenanted rights and the principles of justice.[7] The Qur’an, therefore, directs the Muslims to find a common ground with other religious communities. This common ground is expressed as a mutual respect of the freedom and autonomy of different religious communities.[8] That none should appropriate to themselves the right to impose their way of life on other religious communities.[9] The Qur’an is also clear that their can be no force in matter religious.[10]


Similarly, any thorough and systematic reading of the actions of the Prophet and his companions towards other communities would only reinforces the above principles and demonstrate that early Muslims always sought peace and peaceful coexistence and cooperation, and had to take up arms only as a last resort, and in response to violent attacks.



Despite the violent opposition of Quraysh, the Prophet proceeded to summon people peacefully to Islam, and the Muslims were further commanded, for prudential reasons, not to respond to the violence of Quraysh. As it will be discussed in more details below, Muslim pacifism during the Makkan period was justifiable both morally and politically. Quraysh’s aggressive behavior towards the emerging Muslim community was never a threat to its survival. However, with the founding of the state of Medina, Quraysh’s aggression become fatal, and hence required more drastic measures for self-defense against utter destruction.


Peaceful Ethos and Military Struggle


After the immigration to Medina, the Muslims were permitted to fight against those who declared war against them. (22:39-40) As a result, the Muslims fought a series of battles against the Quraysh, including the Battles of Badr and Uhud. The war against the Islamic city-state of Medina was further escalated when other Arab tribes joined with the Quraysh in the war against the infant Islamic state in an attempt to destroy it. The campaign to eliminate Muslims reached its climax in the Battle of al Khandaq (The Trench) when ten thousand fighters of the Quraysh and their allies surrounded Madinah. The Muslims, nonetheless, made several attempts to neutralize their foes by signing a peace treaty with the Quraysh and their allies at al Hudaybiyah. Unfortunately, the Arab tribesmen of Quraysh and its allies, who had thrived historically on war and developed, consequently, a warlike culture, did not respect the treaty and violated its provisions. It became, thus, quite clear that the only way to neutralize these people was by annulling the cultural basis of their hostility and infidelity, which could be only done by coercing them into Islam.


The original position of Muslims concerning the Jews of Medina was also based on the principle of peaceful coexistence. A few months after the Prophet arrived in Medina, he concluded a covenant of friendship, alliance, and cooperation between the Muhajirun and the Ansar on one side and the Jews on the other. The covenant not only recognized the freedom of religion of the Jews and assured their security, but also provided them with complete autonomy, bound with certain duties and obligations, mutually applicable on both Jews and Muslims, as the following excerpt of the document reads:


As the Jews fight on the side of the Muslims, they shall spend of their wealth on equal par with the Muslims. The Jews have their religion and the Muslims theirs. Both enjoy the security of their own populace and clients except the unjust and the criminal among them. The unjust or the criminal destroys only himself and his family. [11]


The friendly relationship between the Jews of Medina and the Muslims continued until 'Abdullah bin Salam, a rabbi and a prominent Jewish leader, embraced Islam. This incident, evidently, sparked grave panic among Jewish leaders, who became apprehensive about the Muslim presence in Medina and feared that Islam would penetrate their ranks. It was at this stage that Jews began their campaign against Muslims; first through a war of words, aimed at refuting the Qur'anic teaching and inducing a state of suspicion about the Prophet and his message, and later by conspiring with Quraysh, then the arch-enemy of Islam.[12]


The first confrontation between Jews and Muslims took place after the Battle of Badr when some Jews of Banu Qaynuqa' violated the right of a Muslim woman by forcefully exposing her nakedness. This incident developed into fighting between a Muslim passerby and the Jewish assailants in which a Jew and the passerby were killed. Consequently, general fighting between the clan of the murdered Muslim and Banu Qaynuga' erupted. When the Prophet was informed of the confrontation, he sent word to Banu Qaynuqa; asking them to stop the attacks and keep the covenant of mutual peace and security. Banu Qaynuqa' responded by ridiculing the Prophet's request, leaving the Muslims no option but to fight. [13]


Likewise, the campaign against Banu al Nadir was triggered by their infidelity and misconduct, when they openly violated the provisions of their covenant with the Muslims by sending three of their leaders, Huyayy ibn Akhtab, Salam ibn Abu al Huqayq, and Kinanah ibn al Huqyaq, together with two leaders of the tribe of Banu Wa'il, to Makkah in order to instigate the Quraysh and their allies to attack the Muslims in Madinah, and to pledge their support. Indeed, the Jewish delegation was able to mobilize the Pagan Arabs against the Muslims, and their counsel led to the campaign of al Khandaq, invoking the most horrible experience the Muslims had ever had in their struggle against the Quraysh and its allies.   In like manner, the fighting between the Islamic state and both Byzantium and Persia was commenced not because the Muslims wanted to extend the dominion of the Islamic state, or dar al Islam, using the classical terminology, but rather because both the Byzantines and the Persians either assailed Muslim individuals and caravans or prevented the peaceful spread of the Islamic message.


The campaign of Dawmah al Jandal, the first campaign against the northern Christian tribes which were Byzantine protectorates, was a punitive expedition to avenge the attacks on the Muslim caravans to al Sham (Syria) by some of these tribes, such as Qada'ah and Banu Kalb.[14] Likewise, the campaign of Mu 'tah was also a punitive expedition to avenge several grave violations against the Muslim messengers and missionaries whom Muhammad had sent north to call people to Islam and introduce the new faith to the northern regions. For example, the Prophet sent al Harith ibn 'Umayr to the governor of Busrah. Upon reaching Mu'tah, alHarith met with Sharhabil Amir ibn al Ghassani, who asked him"! "Are you a messenger of Muhammad? Al Harith answered: Yes. Then Sharhabil ordered his men to kill him, and he was executed."[15]


The Prophet also sent "five men to Banu Sulayman for the sole purpose of teaching them Islam, and he endured their cold-blooded murder by their hosts. Only their leader managed to escape, and he did so purely accidentally. He also sent fifteen men to Dhat al Talh on the outskirts of al Sham in order to call its people to Islam. Therefore, too, the messengers of Muhammad and the missionaries of faith were put to death in cold-blood."[16] It was also reported that the northern Christian tribes killed those among them who had professed Islam,[17] leaving the Muslims therefore no choice but to fight them for their aggression and tyranny. These incidents, and others, triggered the campaigns of Mu'tah and al Hudaybiah, and led eventually to the conquest of al Sham and al 'Iraq.


Evidently, the doctrine of the two territorial divisions of the world, and its corollary concept of the permanent state of war, was influenced by the factual conditions that existed during the period when this conception was conceived, namely the hostile relations between the 'Abbasid caliphate and Byzantine empire. The jurists who devised the classical doctrine had, obviously, overlooked not only the peaceful coexistence between the early Islamic state and Abyssinia, but also the earlier hostility of Byzantium and its allies against the emerging Islamic state.[18]


Peaceful Coexistence: Abyssinia and Islam


The relationship between Abyssinia and the early Islamic state is an excellent case study for rebutting the classical conception of the two territories (dar al Islam and dar al harb), which calls for a permanent war against non-Muslim political communities until they accept Islam or pay jizyah. Malik ibn Anas, the founder of the Maliki school of law, advised that the Muslims should not conquer Abyssinia predicating his opinion on a hadith of the Prophet: "Leave the Abyssinians in peace so long as they leave you in peace." He acknowledged that he was not sure of the authenticity of the statement, but said: "People still avoid attacking them."[19]


Abyssinia had maintained its Christian identity long after Islam was established in Arabia and North Africa. Few Muslim families could be found in the fourth Hijri century. From the beginning, Abyssinians showed their good will to the early Muslims who, escaping the persecution of Quraysh, had sought refuge in Abyssinia. The Muslim émigrés were welcomed by the Abyssinians and were further protected from their persecutors who sent a delegation to bring the Muslim escapees back home. Good relations between Abyssinia and the Islamic state continued, the former being the only nation to acknowledge Islam at that time.[20]


The peaceful relationship between Abyssinia and the Islamic state is very significant for rebutting the concept of the two territorial division of the world, and its corollary conception of a permanent state of war which does not permit the recognition of any non-Muslim state as a sovereign entity and insists that the latter should always pay a tribute to the Islamic state. For although Abyssinia had never been a Muslim nation, it was recognized by the early Islamic state as an independent state that could be let alone without imposing any kind of tax on it or forcing it into the orbit of the Islamic state. Obviously, Abyssinia could not be considered apart of the territory of Islam (dar al Islam), for Islamic rule had never been exacted therein;[21] nor would it be considered apart of the territory of war (dar al Harb), since there had been no attempt to force it into the pale of Islam or to declare a permanent war against it. The only satisfactory explanation of the peculiar position of Abyssinia is that the doctrine of the two territories was founded on a fragile basis.


Some Muslim sources claim that al Najashi, the king of Abyssinia during the time of the Prophet, had embraced Islam after receiving the invitation of the Prophet. Ibn al Athir, for instance, wrote in this regard: "When al Najashi received the letter of the Prophet, he believed in him, following his (instructions), and embraced Islam in the presence of Ja'far ibn Abu-Talib, then sent sixty Abyssinians to the Prophet headed by his son; the group had drowned however while sailing (to Madinah)."[22] The story about al Najashi's accepting Islam did not affect the status of Abyssinia as a territory in which Islam did not rule, and, consequently, should be considered, according to the definition of classical writers, a territory of war.


Peace and the State of War


A systematic examination of Islamic texts and Muslim history shows that peace is and has always been the original position and final aim of Islam. War can and must be fought, however, to repel aggression and lift oppression, but only as the last resort. War should not be seen as an instrument of the state to advance ideological commitments of the bearers of political power.  War is not, and should never be, a political choice. War in Islam has specific objectives, and these objectives revolve around defending human rights. Advancing narrow interests and imposing religious beliefs are not legitimate objectives of war in Islam.


From its inception, the Qur'an emphasized peace as an intrinsic Islamic value. In fact, the terms "Islam" and "peace" have the same root, salam. Furthermore, Allah has chosen the word peace (salam) as the Muslim's greeting. Reviewing the early Muslim era and reflecting on the experience of the early Muslim generations, one can clearly see that peace was always the original position of Muslims, and that war was either a punitive measure to annihilate tyranny and oppression, or a defensive measure to stop aggression. From the very beginning, Prophet Muhammad was instructed to use a friendly and polite approach to call people to Islam. (Qur’an 16:125)


Clearly, peace in Islam does not mean the absence of war, but the absence of oppression and tyranny. Islam considers that real peace can only be attained when justice prevails. Islam, therefore, justifies war against regimes that prevent people from choosing their ideals and practicing their beliefs. It does not, however, justify war against non-Muslim entities that neither prevent the preaching of Islam nor inflict wrong upon Muslims. The Islamic state should thus maintain peace with those who show goodwill to Muslims. The Islamic state is justified, on the other hand, in declaring war against those who commit aggression against it or its mission. "This movement," Sayyid Qutb wrote, "uses the methods of preaching and persuasion for reforming ideas and belief, and uses physical power and jihad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the jahili system which prevents people from reforming their ideas and beliefs. ."[23]


The classical jurists, who devised the doctrine of two divisions, dar al Islam and dar al Harb, indiscriminately classify all non-Muslim communities under one category and advocate a permanent state of war against them, insisting that Muslims should not establish peaceful relations unless they are forced to.[24] Clearly, this doctrine, which reflects the factual relationship between the Islamic and non-Islamic states during the 'Abbasid era, fails to take into account the total principles as well as the real objectives of the Islamic Ummah. As Ibn Taymiyah points out in his book Al Syiasah al Shar'iyah, fighting against non-Muslims is, not the aim of the Islamic state, but fighting can be employed against those who deny Muslims the right to carry out their mission – the propagation of Islam.


Fighting has been permitted so that the object of making the religion only for Allah and making the word of Allah supreme can be advanced. It has been agreed that whoever prevents (the Muslims from carrying out) this (mission) is to be fought. But those who do not fight (against the Muslims), such as women, children, monks, elderly, the blind and the crippled, and the like, except when they fight by words or by actions, should not be killed, according to the majority of scholars. Some (scholars), however, argue that all (unbelievers) should be killed because of their blasphemy—except women and children, because they are the lot of Muslims [sic]. Only the first argument, however, is correct, because fighting is (permitted) against those who fight us to prevent us from calling (people) to the religion of Allah. As the Almighty said: "And fight in the way of Allah those who fight you, but commit no aggression, for Allah does not love aggressors."(2:190).[25]


Ibn Taymiyah, therefore, concludes that since God has permitted the taking of life only insofar as it is necessary to promote righteousness (and good behavior) " … any (unbeliever) who does not prevent Muslims from practicing the Religion of Allah, he hurts by his disbelief no one but his own soul."[26]


The classification of all non-Muslims under one category and declaring a permanent state of war against them all is unjustified and completely wrong. It is true that a state of war may exist between the Islamic state and a hostile power, but hostility should be evident first before the state of war is declared. The Muslims, therefore, should distinguish between the peaceful and the hostile and treat each accordingly. This distinction has been made by the Qur'an; and subsequently by Prophet Muhammad and his companions, long before the doctrine of the two territorial division was articulated. Surah al Mumtahinah (Ayat 8-9) make it quite clear that non-Muslims are not one category but two, and state that they should be dealt with differently. (60: 8-9)


The Limits of War


We concluded, in the foregoing discussion, that the aim of war is not to propagate or spread Islam, nor is it to expand the territory of the Islamic state or dominate, politically or militarily, non-Muslim regions. Rather, the aim of war is to establish and ensure just peace, and to annihilate oppression and abolish tyranny. It is true that the right to communicate the message of Islam is protected under Islamic law, and the Islamic state must, therefore, respect and defend this right. But the obligation to protect the right of Muslims, and for this matter all religious communities, to promote their belief and values should be carried out through peaceful means and in a friendly manner. The assurance of justice and destruction of tyranny are therefore the underlying objectives of war. However, since the terms "justice" and "tyranny" cover wide ground and permit broad interpretation, they need to be translated into more concrete forms. We can distinguish five situations where the violation of the principle of justice and the excessive misconduct of tyranny call the Islamic state to war and justify its use of violence against the political entity that is implicated in such practices.


1. War against oppression


It is incumbent upon Muslims to challenge any political authority that either uses its free exchange of ideas, or prevents people to freely professing or practice the religion they chose to embrace.


And fight them until there is no more persecution and religion is only for Allah . . . (2:193)


And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are 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." (4:75)


Obviously, oppressiveness of a particular regime is not to be determined by comparing the values and conduct of that regime with Islamic norms and standards, but rather by its toleration of the Muslim interaction with its subjects and the communication of Islam to the general public. Corruption and mismanagement should not be considered, therefore, the criteria that classify a particular regime as oppressive, deserving, thus, to be fought, because, it may be recalled, Muslims are commanded to invite mankind to Islam through friendly means and effect social and political change using the peaceful methods of education and moral reformation. Only when their peaceful efforts are frustrated and met with violence, are they justified to use violence to subdue the aggressive party. As it was shown above, the Prophet did not resort to war against the Pagan Arabs until they persecuted the Muslims and violated their lives and properties; nor did he fight the Jews of Madinah until they betrayed the Muslims and conspired with their enemies. Similarly, the Prophet declared war against Byzantium and its Arab allies only when they killed the messengers and missionaries who were sent to peacefully summon people to Islam and introduce to them the new revelation of God.


2. War in defense of Muslim individuals and property


When wrong is inflicted on a Muslim individual by a member, or members, of another political community, whether this wrong is done to his person, by assaulting or murdering him, or to his property by robbing or unjustly confiscating it, the Islamic state is obligated to make sure the individual, or his family, is compensated for his suffering, and that his rights are upheld. Because it is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the legal procedure of this matter, it suffices to say that the Islamic state should ensure that justice has been done to the wronged Muslim, even if that take a declaration of war against the political community that tolerates such an aggression, provided that the authority of the political community has refused to amend the wrong inflicted on the Muslim individual after it has been formally notified and given reasonable time to respond.


… whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury he has inflicted on you and be careful (of your duty) to Allah and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil). (2:194)


3. War against foreign aggression


The clear-cut case of foreign aggression is a military attack on the Islamic state or its allies. The Muslims, however, are not obliged to wait until the enemies launch their attack, to respond. Rather, the Islamic state can initiate war and carry out a preemptive strike if the Muslim authorities become convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the enemy is mobilizing its forces and is about to carry out an offensive, or if a state of war already exists between the Islamic state and its adversaries.


If aggression is committed against another political entity with which the Islamic state has entered into mutual alliance, or has signed a treaty that stipulates military protection, the Islamic state is also obliged to fulfill its commitment to its ally and provide the military support needed. The conquest of Makkah was precipitated by Quraysh's attack on Khuza’ah, which was an ally of the Islamic city-state of Medina, violating thereby a provision of the Treaty of al Hudaybiyah that prohibited such an act.


Political Struggle and Violence


Classical theory makes no distinction between armed insurrection and political opposition, and often confuses war of secession with apostasy. Confusing the two has, arguably, led to contemporary attempt by radical groups to justify violence on confessional grounds. While the use of force may be justified against armed insurrection, coercive power cannot be legitimized against the peaceful opposition to the state. Hence, when a proportion of the population residing within the boundaries of the Islamic state violently opposes the application of the law, or threaten the territorial integrity of the state, the authorities are justified in using armed forces to subdue armed rebellion. It should be emphasized, however, that what is at issue here is not just opposition to a particular public policy, but an insurrection that attempts to achieve its goals through military tactics, threatening thereby the lives and property of other members of the society. Three types of dissension, however, should be differentiated, two of which are merely causes of rebellion, which can be forcefully subdued, while the third is a case of legitimate political opposition that should be dealt with in a peaceful manner.


i) Apostasy: When a group of Muslim individuals fortify themselves in an area of the Muslim territory and refuse to permit the application of certain fundamental Islamic principles or laws, such as the establishment of public prayer (salah al jama'ah), the payment of zakah, and the like, it is a case of apostasy, for which, the group is to be fought until its members cease their rebellion and submit to public law. It should be clear that apostates are to be fought not because they refuse to profess or practice Islam, but because they disobey the Islamic law. Therefore, nobody should be questioned or prosecuted for not fulfilling his personal duties toward God – for he is answerable to God, not to the Muslim community, insofar as his personal duties are concerned-as long as he fulfills his public duty. For example, the individual who privately neglects prayer is not subject to any punitive measures, so long as he does not publicly denounce prayer. Nor can he be forced to attend public prayers because attending congregations is a voluntary duty and matter of personal choice. He can, however, be forced to pay zakah, and can be punished for refusing to render his share to the Muslim authority because zakah is not only a personal duty, but a public obligation as well.


ii) Insurrection: When a group of Muslim individuals fortify themselves in an area of the Muslim territory, refuse to implement a public policy formulated by just authority and through due procedure, and use the force of arms to prevent the authorities from taking custody and prosecuting those who do not comply with public policy, it is a case of insurrection which justifies the use of armed force by the Muslim authority to subdue the rebellion.


iii) Political Opposition: When a group of Muslim individuals peacefully opposes a public policy, uses a public forum to object to its application, and attempt to persuade the rest of the population to adopt their view regarding this policy, it is a case of political opposition which does not justify the use of force by the authority to circumscribe the influence of the opposition or to destroy it. The authority can, if it perceives that the opposition constitutes a threat to the general welfare, respond by initiating legal proceedings through the courts or by inducing sanctions through the institution of al Shura (consultation), or by using any other peaceful measures that the general law of the Islamic state permits.




Peace in Islam is both the original position and the final goal, and jihad denotes the struggle for both establishing inner peace through moral discipline, and realizing a just social and political order.


While Islamic texts and history can be twisted and bent to justify the use of violence for achieving political ends, a systematic reading of Islam normative sources, I contend, is bound to convince the skeptic that Islamic values and principles promote pluralism and openness, and reject bigotry and imposition.



*Prepared for presentation at the “Challenges and Opportunities for Islamic Peacebuilding After September 11,” Conference, University of Notre Dame, April 12-13, 2002.







[1]Muhammad Talaat al Ghunaimi, The Muslim Conception of International Law and the Western Approach (Netherlands, the Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1978), p. 156; and Ibn Rushd, “Chapter on Jihad” in Bidayat al Mujtahid wa Nihayat al Muqtasid, trans. Rudolph Peters in Jihad in Mediaeval and Modern Islam (Belgium: E. J. Brill, 1977), p. 24.

[2] See Louay M. Safi,  Peace and the Limits of War: Transcending Classical Notions of Jihad (Herndon, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2001).

[3]Not all of them are alike! Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (for the right); they rehearse the signs of God around the night, and they prostrate themselves in adoration.  “They believe in God and the last day; they enjoin the right and forbid the intolerable (munkar); and they hasten in (all) good works:  they are in the rank of the righteous.  Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for God knows well those that do right.”   (3: 113-5)  “And there are certainly among the People of the Book those who believe in God, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to God.  They will not sell the signs of God for a miserable gain!  For them is a reward with their Lord, and God is swift in account.”  (3: 199)

[4] The Qur’an goes even further to make it abundantly clear that no religious community has the right to claim monopoly on righteousness or salvation:  “The Jews say:  The Christians have naught (to stand) upon; and the Christians say: The Jews have naught (to stand) upon.  Yet they (Profess to) study the (same) book.  Like unto their work is what those say who know not; but Allah will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment.” (2: 113)  Indeed the Qur’an rebukes those of the People of the Book who justify the violation of their moral code when dealing with people who belong to another faith:  “Among the people of the book are some who, if entrusted with a hoard of gold, will (readily) pay it back; others, who, if entrusted with a single silver coin, will not repay it unless you constantly stood demanding, because they say: there is no call on us (to keep faith) with these ignorant (pagans).  But they tell a lie against god, and (well) they know it.” (3: 75)

[5] The desert Arabs say, “We believe.”  Say, “Ye have no faith; but you (only) say, ‘we have submitted our wills to God,’ for not yet has faith entered your hearts.  But if you obey God and His messenger, he will not belittle aught of your deeds: for God is oft-forgiving, most merciful. (49: 14)

[6] See for example (2:8-20) and (4:142-3).

[7]Those who believed, and migrated, and fought for the faith, with their property and their persons, in the cause of God, as well as those who gave (them) asylum and aid — these are (all) friends and protectors, one of another.  As to those who believed but chose not to migrate, you owe no duty of protection to them until they migrate; but if they seek your aid in religion, it is your duty to help them, except against a people with whom you have a treaty of mutual alliance.  And (remember) God sees all that you do.  The unbelievers are protectors, one of another: unless you do this (protect each other), there would be oppression and commotion on earth, and great mischief.” (8: 72)

[8] “To each among you have We prescribed a Law and an Open Way. If God had so willed He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God: It is He that will show you the truth of the maters in which you dispute.” (5:48)

[9] Say: “O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, form among ourselves, lords and patrons other than God.” If then they turn back, say: “Bear witness that we submit to God’s will.”

[10] “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error.” (2: 256) and “If it had been theLord’s Will, they would all have believed—All who are on earth! Will you then compel mankind against their will to believe?” (10: 98)

[11] Ibn Hisham, Sirat Ibn Hisham (Lebanon, Beirut: Al Majma’ al ‘Ilmi al ‘Arabi al Islami, n.d.), p. 142; and Muhammad H. Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, trans. Islmail al Faruqi, 8th ed. (Indiana: North American Truat, 1979), p. 181.

[12] Haykal, pp. 191-3.

[13] Ibid., pp. 300-1; and Ibn Hisham, p. 214.

[14] Haykal, p. 284; and al Daqs, p. 287.

[15] Al Daqs, p. 287.

[16] Haykal, p. 387

[17] Al Daqs, pp. 287-8.

[18] Ibid.,  pp. 178-9.

[19] Ibn Rushd, p. 11; Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (New York: AMS Press, 1979), p. 256.

[20] Ibid., pp. 13-4; Haykal, pp. 97-101; and Ibn Hisham, pp. 81-7.

[21] The classical definition of dar al Islam is the territories in which Islamic law is in force. See al Daqs, pp. 126-8; Khadduri, p. 62; and al Ghanaimi, pp. 155-8.

[22] Ibn al Athir, Al Kamio fi al Tarikh (Cairo: al Matba‘ah al Muniriyyah, 1930), vol. 2, p. 145.

[23] Sayyid Qutb, Milestones (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: University Publishing Co, n.d.) p. 55.

[24] Majid Khadduri, The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybani Siyar (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1966), p. 154; also Ibn Rushd, p. 22.

[25] Ibn Taymiyah, Al Siyasah al Shar‘iyah (Damascus, Syria: Dar al Kitab al ‘Arabi, n.d.), pp. 131-2.

[26] Ibid.

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