Page 3 of 9
Islam is a religion of peace. This fact is borne by both Islamic teachings and the very name of “Islam.” The term Islam essentially means to submit and surrender one’s will 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. They stress 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 urge 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 less or 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-Muslim 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.
Given the fact that radical interpretation of Islam have had a disproportionate influence on the way Islam’s position regarding peace and war is perceived and understood, I intend to focus my discussion on rebutting the propositions of the classical doctrine of jihad, embraced by radical Muslims, showing that these propositions were predicated on a set of legal rulings (ahkam shar‘iyyah) 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.
I hope I will be able to demonstrate in the ensuing discussion that classical jurists did not intend to develop a holistic theory with universal claims. I further aspire to introduce a more comprehensive conception of war and peace which takes into account the Qur'anic and Prophetic statements in their totality. This new conception is then used to establish the fundamental objectives of war as well as the basic conditions of peace.
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. What rules did classical scholars use in deriving concepts and doctrines from Islamic sources, and what rules should Muslims use today. And because the analysis must engage the classical methods, there is no escaping from employing the terminology of Islamic jurisprudence, better known as usul al-figh. The legalistic and textual analysis of Islamic texts is, however, joined by a historical and analytical discussion, aimed at examining the chronology of the armed jihad between the early Islamic state and the various political communities it fought.