A Spiritual Jihad Against Violence and Terrorism - Part II

Sheila Musaji

Posted Aug 18, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
Bookmark and Share

A Spiritual Jihad Against Violence and Terrorism - Part II


Put simply, there are three possible views of war that a religion might adopt.

(1) The pacifist view: all violence and killing is wrong.  (2) Belief in ‘a Just War’: some wars, at least, are right because they are perceived to be in the interests of justice - and should therefore be fought according to just rules.  (3) Belief in ‘Holy War’: the God of a religion is perceived to ask, or command, its followers to make war on those who do not believe in that religion and who pose a threat to those who do.

?Like many other religious terms jihad, often mistranslated as “holy war”, is a deeply nuanced concept that has been relined and relined many times throughout more than fourteen centuries of Islamic history. As Bruce Lawrence, a noted American Islamicist, recently pointed out, jihad historically has had as much to do with political ideology as with religion proper, since “all proponents of jihad, whether writers or actors, intellectuals or politicians, are ideologues.? ... Despite this rather obvious but often overlooked fact (which is equally true when applied to the concept of “holy war” in Christianity), it should not be forgotten that within Islam the relationship between religion and ideology is inherently reciprocal; consequently, any ideologue who calls for jihad must come up with sound scriptural and legal justification for doing so. The resulting medley of religious, political, and moral discourses in numerous parts of the world and over many centuries has made jihad into an extremely complex concept ? so much so, in fact, that a completely thorough discussion of the term can only be conducted on a case-by-case basis.? Jihad, Islam?s Struggle for Truth, Vincent Cornell

What limits does the just war doctrine impose?

“The moral issue here is not merely whether suicide bombing can be justified, because only those who have lost even the rudiments of civilized values can possibly think that it is. A larger issue is whether the terrorists? actions can be categorized as war. If so, what limits does the ?just war doctrine? impose as recognized universally by the classical scholars in all the world?s religious traditions. ... The larger challenge to global civilization in the twenty-first century is how does one manage conflict with hate-filled extremists who are immune to all tactics of conflict resolution? Can such extremists be marginalized by marshaling spiritual and intellectual powers against which they have no defenses? If so, is there a ?grand strategy? to do so?” A ?Grand Strategy? to Wage Jihad Against Terrorist Muslims who would Hijack Islam, Dr. Robert D. Crane

The attempt to discuss the just war concept (as well as the concept of jihad) has never been more important.

“These are difficult times in relations between the West and the Islamic world. Wars and rumors of war abound, and terrorism (although rarely its context) dominates the headlines. A shooting war continues between the United States and al Qaa?ida in Afghanistan, and war evidently impends between the United States and the United Kingdom on the one hand and Iraq on the other. Fundamentalisms—Muslim, Jewish, and Christian—metastasize. Atop all else, violence reigns unchecked in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and makes effective responses to assorted other challenges enormously more difficult. With polarities unprecedented in modern times between the West and the Islamic world, and seething anger among Muslims worldwide against the United States, it is difficult indeed to discuss objectively concepts with such emotive resonance as terrorism and Jihad. But the attempt to do so has never been more important. ... It is unfortunate that in the West a putative validation of terrorism has come to be understood as incarnated in the Arabic word Jihad. And in the Islamic world, far too many today understand Jihad as justifying, indeed demanding, the taking of the lives of innocent civilians in countries or cultures against which Arabs and Muslims may have very real and painful grievances. Misperceptions, and rampant ignorance, reign almost everywhere. Especially in the United States and the Arab world, there is today an enormous need for an intellectual and spiritual ?Jihad,? or effort, to readdress soberly the whole issue of terrorism, and the significance of the concept of Jihad over the entire span of Islamic history.” Terrorism, Jihad, and the Struggle for New Understandings, Dr. Antony T. Sullivan

The Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese manual on the art of living, reads:  ” Weapons are the tools of fear… a decent person will avoid them except in the direst necessity and, if compelled, will use them only with the utmost restraint ....Our enemies are not demons but human beings like ourselves. The decent person doesn’t wish them personal harm. Nor do they rejoice in victory. How could we rejoice in victory and delight in the slaughter of people? Enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if attending a funeral.” (c. 550 B.C.E.)



The Just war theory that has found its way into International law is based on the Christian teaching of just war first promulgated by the Catholic Church.  Here is the Catholic Just War Doctrine:


Just War (2307-17)  “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. Despite this admonition of the Church, it sometimes becomes necessary to use force to obtain the end of justice. This is the right, and the duty, of those who have responsibilities for others, such as civil leaders and police forces. While individuals may renounce all violence those who must preserve justice may not do so, though it should be the last resort, “once all peace efforts have failed.” [Cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et spes 79, 4]

As with all moral acts the use of force to obtain justice must comply with three conditions to be morally good. First, the act must be good in itself. The use of force to obtain justice is morally licit in itself. Second, it must be done with a good intention, which as noted earlier must be to correct vice, to restore justice or to restrain evil, and not to inflict evil for its own sake. Thirdly, it must be appropriate in the circumstances. An act which may otherwise be good and well motivated can be sinful by reason of imprudent judgment and execution.

In this regard Just War doctrine gives certain conditions for the legitimate exercise of force, all of which must be met:

1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;  2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;  3. there must be serious prospects of success; 4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition” [CCC 2309].

The responsibility for determining whether these conditions are met belongs to “the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.” The Church’s role consists in enunciating clearly the principles, in forming the consciences of men and in insisting on the moral exercise of just war.

The Church greatly respects those who have dedicated their lives to the defense of their nation. “If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace. [Cf. Gaudium et spes 79, 5]” However, she cautions combatants that not everything is licit in war. Actions which are forbidden, and which constitute morally unlawful orders that may not be followed, include:

- attacks against, and mistreatment of, non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners;  - genocide, whether of a people, nation or ethnic minorities;  - indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants.

Given the modern means of warfare, especially nuclear, biological and chemical, these crimes against humanity must be especially guarded against.

In the end it is not enough to wage war to achieve justice without treating the underlying causes. “Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war” [CCC 2317]. The Church has no illusions that true justice and peace can be attained before the Coming of the Lord. It is the duty of men of good will to work towards it, nonetheless. In the words of the spiritual dictum, we should work as if everything depended upon our efforts, and pray as if everything depended upon God. Catholic catechism definition of just war


Some of the Qur’anic verses which lay out the purpose and nature of war include the following:

To stop oppression: “To those against whom war is made, permission is given to fight, because they are oppressed. Verily, God is Capable of aiding them. They are those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of what is just, for no other reason than that they say, “Our Lord is God.” Had God not restrained one set of people by means of another, monasteries, churches, synagogues, temples and mosques wherein God’s name if oft-mentioned would have been destroyed. God will certainly aid those who aid His cause.

(Qur’an, Chapter 22:39-40). Notice the mention of all houses of worship.

In self-defense:

“Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits by aggressing; surely God does not love transgressors.”

(Qur’an, Chapter 2:190.) Notice that permission is given to fight in self-defense, but not to transgress.

Peace is a desired state:

“If they incline toward peace, then seek you peace also. And place your trust in God, for God hears and knows all things.” (Qur’an, Chapter 8:61).

In the Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying:

“Do not kill women or children or non-combatants and do not kill old people or religious people (he also mentioned priests, nuns and rabbis). Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees and do not poison the wells of your enemies.”

...  The Prophet also said: “Whoever unjustly harms a Christian or a Jew will not even smell the scent of paradise.”

Muslim extremists get their textual interpretations by taking verses in the Qur’an out of their social-historical context, not considering the time, place, and specific circumstances in which these verses were revealed. The commonly quoted verse that follows must be understood in its proper context, namely during the struggle of the early Muslims against the specific group of Makkans who fought, persecuted and killed them first in Makkah, and then after they established a state in Medina, where early Muslims fought back for the first time. These verses can neither be used to justify killing non-Muslims, nor targeting innocent civilians.

“Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war. But if they repent, and establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity, then open the way for them, for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. If any among them asks for asylum, grant it to him so that he may hear the word of God. Then escort him to his place of security. This is because they are without knowledge.”

*Note that even in this social-historical context, not only were the perpetrators given a chance to repent, but that if they sought asylum, it must be granted. source

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall theylearn war any more?.”

(The Old Testament: Isaiah 2:4)

Peace is the central teaching of rabbinical Judaism (teachings based on the writings of early Jewish scholars). However, Judaism is not a pacifist religion. The idea of Holy War occurs in the Hebrew Bible, but it was not about making others Jewish, but about survival. ... The idea of ‘Just War’ is clearly expressed both in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 20:10-15,19-20) and in the later rabbinical tradition. So while revenge and unprovoked aggression are condemned, self defence is justified. Jews have been victims of dreadful persecution, usually at the hands of Christians, for nearly two thousand years, culminating in the Holocaust during the Second World War (1939-1945). On the other hand, defending modern Israel and dealing justly with the Palestinians places thoughtful Jews in difficult dilemmas. Just War concept in the world’s religions

Part I http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_i/
Part II http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_ii/
Part III http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_iii/
Part IV http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_iv/
Part V http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_spiritual_jihad_against_terrorism_part_v/