Deviations in the Concept and Practice of Jihad

Maulana Waris Mazhari (tr. Yoginder Sikand)

Posted Apr 26, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Deviations in the Concept and Practice of Jihad

By Maulana Waris Mazhari

(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)

The term jihad has numerous meanings and connotations. It cannot be restricted just to one meaning, although this is how some people erroneously understand it. In its general sense, the term encompasses all efforts, at both the individual and the collective level, for the reformation of the self and society, for general human welfare and for acquiring the pleasure of God. In its particular sense, the term also includes efforts that involve the use of power, if need be, to combat opponents and enemies. Jihad, in this particular sense, is referred to in the Quran by the term qital. Islam allows for jihad in the sense of qital only in defence. In all other senses, jihad is a peaceful struggle that aims at following God’s path and conveying the message of God to others. It is in this sense that the noted classical Islamic scholar, Syed Sharif Jurjani interprets jihad as ‘inviting [others] to the True Religion’ (huwa ad-dua‘o ila din al-haq).

Jihad does not only mean fighting against the enemy. In his Zad ul-Ma‘ad the noted classical scholar Allama Ibn Qayyim mentions 13 different types or forms of jihad, of which six relate to struggling against one’s baser self (nafs) and the devil; three relate to struggling against those who promote wrongful innovations and evil; and four relate to struggling against evil-doers and hypocrites. Thus, a total of nine forms of jihad, he explains, relate to struggles conducted within, or that are internal to, the Muslims. The other four forms of jihad relate to struggle on the external front, including jihad by one’s heart, by one’s tongue, by one’s wealth and by sacrificing one’s life.

Although it is a principal form of jihad, lamentably few Muslims pay attention to the jihad against one’s baser self. In particular, radical self-styled Islamists, who never tire of raising slogans calling for Islamic global domination, wholly ignore this imperative. For them, or so it appears from their actions, jihad is limited simply to qital.

In the Quran, God says:

‘And those who strive in Our [Cause]—We will certainly guide them to our Paths: for verily Allah is with those who do right’ (29: 69).

Elsewhere in the Quran, God says:

‘Therefore listen not to the unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness with the []Quran]’ (25: 52)

According to Abdullah Ibn Zubayr, a noted companion of the Prophet, the first-mentioned Quranic verse, which deals with God’s reward for those who engage in jihad, refers to acting in the best way on the basis of knowledge. The second-mentioned Quranic verse clearly instructs the Prophet to engage in jihad with the deniers of the truth using the Quran as a weapon. This, obviously, is a peaceful form of jihad, a non-violent effort to convey the message of Islam to others.

The Prophet Muhammad is quoted as having said: ‘The mujahid [one who engages in jihad] is he who, in obedience to God, wages jihad against his baser self, and the true emigrant (muhajir) is he who abandons mistakes and sins’ (al-mujahidu man jahada nafsahu fi ta‘at Allah wa al-muhajiru manhajara al-khataya wa al-zunub). Similarly, according to another hadith report, the Prophet is said to have referred to the jihad against one’s own baser self as the ‘greater jihad’ (jihad al-akbar).

Elaborating on this, Allama Ibn Qayyim writes:

‘Engaging in jihad externally with the enemies of God is a minor branch (furu’) of jihad against the baser self (jihad bin nafs) […], This is why jihad against the baser self is superior to jihad conducted against the external enemy.’

Islam does not consider armed jihad, in the sense of qital, to be a permanent or continuous phenomenon. It can be engaged in only in certain contexts and must be conducted according to certain rules and under certain conditions. On the other hand, other, that is non-violent, forms of jihad, are forms of struggle that one must constantly engage in. The former type of jihad is considered a collective duty (farz ul-kifaya). If engaged in when needed by some people, the entire community is absolved of responsibility for engaging in it. On the other hand, most of the latter forms of jihad are a duty binding on all believers (farz al-‘ayn).

A crucial issue, and one that radical self-styled Islamist groups generally ignore, are the stringent conditions under which jihad, in the sense of qital, can be engaged in if the need so arises, and the rules of conducting such jihad. If the requisite conditions are not met and the appropriate rules are not followed, even if the aims of an armed struggle are met it cannot be considered to be a jihad or an Islamic action. Such an action cannot receive the blessings and assistance of God, even if it might seem to be a successful venture in the eyes of those who engage in it.

I do not here intend to discuss the various terms and conditions governing jihad, which are dealt with in considerable detail in the books of fiqh. My focus here is on those conditions ignoring which most recent and contemporary Islamic movements that claim to be engaged in jihad have met with utter failure.

One of these basic conditions is proper preparation, which the Quran refers to using the term idad. Obviously, no jihad can be successful without proper preparation, in terms of planning, manpower, weapons and so on. The Prophet and his companions did not believe that they could, or should, fight without proper planning, manpower, and weapons. In Mecca, when Muslims were cruelly persecuted but lacked the appropriate means to take on the oppressive Quraish pagans, God instructed them to ‘hold back their hands [from fighting]’ and to ‘establish regular prayers’ (4:77). When the companions of the Prophet, tired of the persecution that they had to endure, approached the Prophet and sought permission to engage in armed jihad, he declined, and answered, ‘We are less in numbers’. On several occasions the companions of the Prophet chose to withdraw when they were heavily outnumbered by the enemy. Instead of condemning them for this, the Prophet supported their decision, saying that they were not those who flee (furrar), but, rather those who return to attack (kurrar). The Prophet thus did not advocate any short-cut method when the need for jihad arose, realizing the importance of numbers, weapons and proper training and planning, without which, he knew, a jihad could not be successful.

The Quran discusses in some detail the necessary prerequisites that a would-be mujahid group must fulfill, in terms of manpower, if it can be permitted to engage in armed jihad, failing which such jihad is not permissible as it would inevitably result in defeat. To begin with, the Quran mentioned that one believer could take on ten enemy soldiers (8:65), but, in the following verse this was abrogated, and one believer was said to be able to take on two enemy soldiers (8:66). In other words, for armed jihad to be considered permissible it is essential that the balance of power, in terms of manpower, between the Muslim army and the enemy army be at least 1:2. If this is not the case, then armed jihad is not permissible, as it is likely that the battle will end in the defeat of the Muslims. In such a situation, Muslims are to desist from fighting, and, instead, are expected to exercise restraint and steadfastness and refrain from hurtling themselves into destruction by fighting.

The above-mentioned two Quranic verses speak of the minimum balance of power, in terms of numbers of combatants, between the Muslim and enemy forces that might make armed jihad permissible. However, the noted Islamic scholar Imam Malik, quoted in Ibn Rushd’s Bidayat al-Mujtahid, views the question of balance of power in terms of the quality of the fighters rather than their numbers. He argues that although the Quran lays down that a single Muslim soldier can take on two enemy soldiers, if the former lacks weapons while the enemy’s forces are all well-armed, it is permissible for the former to withdraw from the battlefield even if he is faced with just one enemy soldier.

In today’s context, where numbers of soldiers count for little, and where wars are decided essentially by sophisticated weaponry and communications systems, the appropriate balance of power between Muslims and their opponents, without which armed jihad is impermissible, must be viewed in this qualitative sense that Imam Malik discusses. The Quran very clearly lays down that without a basic minimum balance of power and appropriate strength on the part of the Muslims, armed jihad is bound to result in defeat, which it warns Muslims against when it says: ‘[A]nd make not your own hands contribute to [your] destruction’ (2:195).

Certain other aspects of jihad are still not properly understood even by those who claim to be engaged in jihad, giving rise to enormous confusion. One such issue is internal jihad, that is jihad that is directed within the Muslim community itself, rather than against others—in other words, efforts to promote internal reform. Referring to this work of internal reform the Prophet Muhammad is quoted as having said: ‘He among you who sees any evil should try to change it with his hand, but if he is incapable of that then with his tongue, and if he is incapable of even that then with his heart.’

In his famous book Alam al-Muwaqain, Allama Ibn Qayyim discusses this work of internal reform and attacking social evils. He argues that if by attacking a certain social evil an even bigger evil is produced, it is impermissible to do so. This point seems to be totally lost on contemporary so-called jihadist movements active in different Muslim countries today, who, raising slogans of jihad, ‘Islamic Revolution’, and seeking to extirpate social evils through violence have generated untold strife and misery.

Another deviation in contemporary understandings of jihad is reflected in the fact that armed struggles for national liberation or for the defence of Muslim nations have been termed by their proponents as jihads. This is a completely wrong use of the term ‘Islamic jihad’, which applies only to those struggles that are fought in the path of God (jihad fi sabilillah), not for worldly or communal gains but to gain the pleasure of God. According to a hadith report, contained in the Sahih al-Bukhari, the aim of Islamic jihad is to proclaim the word of God (ailao kalimatillah). This clearly indicates that wars fought for fame, power, land and wealth or out of feelings of revenge have nothing whatsoever to do with jihad in the true sense of the term.

A basic condition of jihad, in the sense of qital, when the need to engage in it arises, is that it should be declared and led by an established leader. There is a near unanimity among the ulema that jihad cannot be declared by an individual other than by the leader. To argue, as some radical self-styled Islamists do, that because present-day Muslim governments are corrupt ‘rebels against God’ and because their countries are not ruled in accordance with the shariah, there is no need to secure permission from them for jihad is a result and a reflection of ideological deviation and corruption. Numerous hadith reports refer to the Prophet clearly forbidding revolt (khuruj) against established rulers. After the Prophet’s demise, the majority of his companions and their successors strictly abided by this rule even in the face of oppressive rulers because they knew that armed rebellion against them would create unwanted destruction, bloodshed and strife. Obviously, given the enormous powers of modern states today, such rebellion will lead to destruction on a much more deadly scale than before, and hence its being forbidden needs no explanation. For Muslim groups to attempt to do so can only lead to massive, irreparable damage to themselves and to Muslims in general.

Yet another issue about which confusion abounds is that of ‘offensive jihad’. Some radical self-styled Islamists claim that offensive armed jihad is permissible against non-Muslim governments even if these regimes permit their Muslim citizens to freely practice and propagate their faith, in order, as they put it, ‘to extirpate infidelity or to destroy its glory’. This is completely erroneous, indeed totally preposterous. The fact of the matter is that Islam permits only one form of jihad, in the sense of qital, and that is defensive jihad. The deviant and un-Islamic concept of ‘offensive jihad’ has become a source of great concern the world over, because of which non-Muslims increasingly look upon Muslims as a dangerous threat. The sooner this concept of ‘offensive jihad’ is debunked the better.

Maulana Waris Mazhari is the editor of the New Delhi-based monthly Tarjuman Dar ul-Uloom, the official organ of the Graduates’ Association of the Deoband madrasa. He can be contacted on .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore.