Jihad: Concept, history and Contemporary Application
by Sheikh Ali Gomaa
The concept of Jihad in Islam is one of the topics that causes the most confusion and is surrounded by a loud cacophony equating Jihad with mass murder and random shooting sprees.
All concepts have roots in a group of beliefs that nourish the concept into full bloom. To understand the concept of Jihad we need to take a broader look at the message of Islam and the Prophetic tradition. Muslims consider Prophet Muhammad to be the carrier of the last revelation from God to all mankind. This concept gives rise to the universality of Islam which does not confine itself to place or time and more importantly does not target a particular race or ethnicity. Islam transcends the boundaries of space, time and race to encompass all of humanity in its fold.
Muslims maintain that the most important characteristic of the Prophet Muhammad, which is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, is that he is a “mercy” to the worlds. The idea that the Prophet Muhammad was sent by God to be a mercy to the worlds reinforces the universal characteristic of the message of Islam as the Prophet is not a mercy to Muslims alone but to all the worlds; people, animals, plants, stones, indeed to all creatures.
This overarching characteristic of the Prophet being a mercy to all the worlds, as Muslims stress always, encompasses all the concepts and ideologies which stem from Islam and are promoted by it, including the concept of Jihad.
The Linguistic Origin of Jihad
The word Jihad comes from the root j / h / d, which in Arabic means to exert the most effort. This definition is general as one can exert effort in studying or fulfilling goals and ambitions in a variety of areas.
In Islam the idea of exerting effort has two levels, a major level and a minor one. The major level of Jihad is jihad al-nafs or struggling against one’s lower self and its demeaning lustful desires. This Jihad is the hardest because it needs discipline and hard work. The lesser, or minor Jihad, is al-qitaal or armed struggle. This latter meaning is subject to strict rules and regulations in Islamic Law.
The Concept of Jihad in Quran and Sunnah
Being one of the major aspects in the Islamic doctrine, the importance of Jihad is reflected in the extensive discussion of its rules and application both in the Quran and the Prophetic traditions. The relevant Quranic verses and traditions deal with different facets of this issue revealing the beliefs and motivations of those who participate in Jihad as well as the restrictions and regulations governing their activities. In conducting close examination of the jihad verses, we need to have some consideration to the time of the revelation of these verses. The majority of the Quranic verses pertaining to jihad originated after 2 A.H., at the time of the Battle of Badr. The earlier verses pertinent to jihad addressed a different understanding of jihad and helped to create a foundation for future developments in Islamic Jihad. At the very beginning of revelation in Makkah, the Muslim community was at the early stage of growth and development. A segment of the early revelation of the Makkan period spoke directly of the jihad of the heart- the inner struggle to follow the way of Islam and strive to please God. The early Muslims of Makkah received hope through the following words:
“For those whose hopes are in the meeting with God (in the Hereafter, let them strive); for the Term (appointed) by God is surely coming: and He hears and knows (all things). And if any strive (with might and main), they do so for their own souls: for God is free of all needs from all creation. Those who believe and work righteous deeds, -from them shall We blot out all evil (that may be) in them, and We shall reward them according to the best of their deeds.” (29: 5-7)
In this verse and similar other verses the focus was on developing one’s self and struggling against personal lusts and whims to strengthen their personal faith. Another important message that was prevalent at the early stage of revelation is the message of assurance which was necessary as the early Muslims needed to build confidence in themselves and their new faith even while they rejected the beliefs of their families. At this stage Muslims were not commanded to take arms yet they were seeking a sign of deliverance. God assured the believers with a promise of future triumph when He says
“…With God is the decision, in the past and in the future: on that day shall the believers rejoice-with the help of God. He helps whom He will and He is Exalted in Might, Most Merciful” (30: 4-5).
Qur’anic Verses and Prophetic Traditions on Jihad
The Quranic revelation in Makkah which lasted for 13 years focused solely on the issue of peaceful proclamation of the absolute unity of God by Prophet Muhammad in the pagan-dominated town of Makkah. The Quran at this period imparted the preliminary knowledge of the Reality and gave brief answers to the common arguments that had misled people to engage in idol worshipping. The Quran laid down as well the basic principles of morality. These messages consisted of short and concise sentences couched in an effectively fluent language that suited the taste of the people to whom they were first addressed. The eloquent literary style of the Quran was so appealing that it touched their hearts. Although universal truths were enunciated in these messages, they were given a local color supported by arguments, examples, and illustrations from the environment these people were quite familiar with. These early revelations were confined to the tribal history, traditions, monuments, beliefs and morality. Therefore in the early stage of the message, the Quran addressed those people who were totally ignorant of Islam and therefore naturally it had to teach them the basic articles of faith. But towards the end of revelation, the Quran was primarily concerned with those who had accepted Islam and formed a community for carrying on the work delegated to them by the Prophet.
In other words, the early Quranic chapters were focused on monotheism and the famous example is the chapter of Ikhlas in which God the Almighty says:
“Say: He is God, the only One, God, the Everlasting. He did not beget and is not begotten and none is His equal” (112: 1-4).
At the very beginning, Prophet Muhammad was divinely asked to relate the divine message to his immediate family and close companions only. Therefore in the first four years of the Islamic message the original Muslim community combined of a number of social outcasts, slaves, family relatives and close companions. The discrete period of the Islamic message lasted for a few years before the divine decree of going public with the Islamic message and calling people to the way of God. Once the Islamic message got public, the persecution from the elite of the tribe of Quraysh followed suit as they thought of the new message as a threat to their old traditions vested interests and prestigious position among the Arabs. Muslims were heavily subjected to all sorts of violence, transgression and torture in order to convert them back to the customary pagan worship. During the whole Makkan period which lasted for 13 years, Muslims were commanded not to respond in retaliation or act in self defense against persecution. They were rather asked to maintain patience and endure transgression peacefully. When the persecution against Muslims reached an intolerable level, the Prophet was commanded to emigrate to Medinah after he miraculously survived an assassination attempt.
When the Prophet with his companions resided in Medinah, they were aiming at securing the borders of Medina from offensive attacks along with forming allies with Arab tribes to neutralize their position and to halt them from forming coalitions with the Quraysh tribe. At this point, Jihad in the sense of armed struggle or Qital in Arabic was deemed necessary to secure the newly born state. During the last nine years of the Prophet’s life, jihad was pursued and the Prophet participated in twenty seven campaigns. The Quranic revelation n at this period was concerned with the discourses and commandments that were required for every occasion. Therefore, some of the proclamations were fiery rhetoric and other verses were in the form of edicts. Some of the revelations adopted the method of a teacher, trainer and reformer espousing the principles and methods for organizing a community, building a state and develop a great civilization. Other verses in this period addressed issues pertinent to the new Muslim community, their life affairs and worship. Some verses taught Muslims how to fulfill their obligations as vicegerent for the Lord. These verses included instructions and guidelines for their guidance, and warned them against their weaknesses and exhorted them to sacrifice with their lives and properties in the way of God. The revelations taught Muslims the needed moral lessons both in defeat and victory. Other verses addressed the way of dealing with the hypocrites, the unbelievers, the people of the Book, the belligerent powers and their allies.
Keeping in mind the concept of “mercy” which forms the backbone and root of all Islamic legislations and rulings, one must understand that Jihad is no different. God in the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad in his prophetic traditions have laid out the purpose of Jihad and set the rulings and foundational bases which condition this concept and through which it can be defined as Jihad. In the second year of the Medina period, Muslims for the first time were granted the permission for military jihad. The permission was revealed through a verse just a few months before the Battle of Badr. The verse says:
“Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, God is competent to give them victory. [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right - only because they say, “Our Lord is God .” And were it not that God checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of God is much mentioned. And God will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, God is Powerful and Exalted in Might. (22: 39-40)
This verse emphasizes the integral component of justice in conducting jihad. Muslims were forcibly evicted from their homes due to the heavy persecution by the elite of Quraysh. Most of them left their homes and were totally deprived of their worldly goods and lacked the means to start a new life. Although Muslims had strong reasons for conducting Jihad, God placed huge emphasis on maintaining justice against those who wronged the Muslims.
Although Muslims had to resort to armed struggle to secure their lives and protect the newly born state, the Quran presented engaging in warfare as an “unwanted obligation” which has to be carried out with strict observance of particular humane and moral guidelines and which must not be resorted to except when it is absolutely inevitable. God indicated in the Quran that He disapproves of wars ignited by the disbelievers; He says
“Each time they kindle the fire of war, God extinguishes it. They rush about corrupting earth. God does not love corrupters.” (5:64)
Muslims were asked not to engage in wars until fighting becomes compulsory. Muslims were asked to fight only when the other party attacks and no other alternative remains except war. God says “But if they cease fighting, God is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful (2:192).
In other words, God granted Muslims the permission to get engaged in warfare for only defensive purposes. In other verses Muslims were warned against the use of excessive violence or unnecessary provocation. God says
“Fight in the way of God against those who fight you, but do not go beyond the limits. God does not love those who go beyond the limits.” (2:190).
After the revelation of these verses, several battles were conducted but none of which the Muslims were the inciting party. Prophet Muhammad formed a secured and peaceful social environment for Muslims and non Muslims alike by signing the peace agreement of Hudaybiyah which conceded to the pagans of Quraysh most of their requests. The party which violated the terms of the treaty and breached the peace agreement was Quraysh by their upfront hostility. With the rapid increase in the number of Muslims in Medinah, the Prophet developed a great army against his pagan enemies. With mustering this great force if the Prophet wished, he could have wielded his sword towards them yet he entered Makkah in the eighth year after Hijra (migration to Madina) with his army without any bloodshed and in a spirit of tolerance. If the Prophet wished he could have taken revenge for all the persecution that the Muslims suffered and endured patiently during the last 13 years in Makkah but he granted his pardon and full amnesty to all Makkans who were taken aback by the Prophet’s utter compassion and tolerance. Due to the overarching mercy of the Prophet, Makkans embraced Islam willingly and could not help but admiring the nobility of the Prophet’s impeccable character.
Islam taught the believers that the life of human beings is sacred and should be dealt with as such. God says in the Quran: “if any one kills a person-unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land- it would be as if he killed the whole people, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people.” [5: 32]
The Quran forbids murder whilst extolling the sanctity of human life, “life, which God has made sacred” [6: 151]
God also says in the Holy Qur’an:
Fight in the cause of God those who fight you but do not transgress limits; For God loveth not transgressors. [2: 190]
In his commentary, Imam al-Taher Ibn ‘Ashur reported through Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Umar Ibn ‘Abdul ‘Aziz and Mujahid that this verse is definite and has not been abrogated. He went on to say: “the purport is to fight those who are set to fight you, i.e. do not attack the old, women or children.”
Suleiman Ibn Burayda narrated through his father that whenever the Prophet used to send an army to battle, he would brief its commander and remind him to fear God in his actions and those with him and say: “Fight in the name of God, fight those who fight you from among the disbelievers and do not exceed your limits, do not transgress, deceive, mutilate [the dead] and do not kill a child.” [Al-Tirmidhi].
Ibn ‘Umar (may God be pleased with them both) said: “I saw the messenger of God (pbuh) circling the Ka’ba saying: ‘How great and sacred you are, and how pleasant your fragrance! By He in whose hand is the life of Mohammed, the sanctity of a believer, his property, life and to think well of him is greater in the sight of God than yours.’” [Ibn Majah]. Furthermore, the Prophet reported to have said: “The first cases to be adjudicated against on the Day of Judgment will be those of bloodshed.” (Bukhari), and his strikingly stark threat that: “Whoever kills one (non-Muslim) under contract (of Muslim protection) will never smell the scent of Paradise.” (Ibn Majah).
Through the discourse about Jihad, we can outline the moral aspect of jihad in both the Quran and the prophetic traditions and six categories can be defined. These are: obligation to fight in the cause of God, reward for fighting, reward for martyrdom, divine aid against the enemy, criticism of the hypocrites, and exemptions from fighting. These categories represent the spiritual and emotional status of those Muslims conducting Jihad.
Prophet Muhammad spoke in several recorded traditions about the necessity of fighting only in the cause of God. Abu Musa al- Ash’arai narrated: A Bedouin asked the Prophet: “A man may fight for the sake of booty and another may fight so that he may be mentioned by the people and a third may fight to show his position (i.e. bravery); which of these is regarded as fighting in God’s cause?” The Prophet said, “He who fight so that God’s word should be superior, fights for God’s cause”. Another tradition reported that “If a man engaged in battle entertains in his heart a desire to obtain out of the war only a rope to tie his camel, his reward shall be forfeited.” In other words if any object or objective should replace the desire to fight for the cause then the actions of the mujahid cannot be considered as jihad. Muslims have been encouraged for instance to fight in order to defeat oppressive forces and rescue the oppressed as has been related in the following Quranic passage:
“And why should you not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill treated (and 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. Those who believe fight in the cause of God, and those who reject faith fight in the cause of Evil. So fight against the friends of Satan: feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan.” (4:75-76)
Thus while the Quranic verses revealed to the early Muslims after the Battle of Badr clearly encouraged them not to fight merely for the sake of wealth or fame, the mujahidin were also offered strong motivation through the reward that would come from God. Even the Muslim who performed his other religious duties with diligence was prompted to seek the additional reward of participation in jihad. If a mujahid is killed in the course of the battle, he becomes a martyr shahid whose reward is even greater. God says in the Quran
“Think not of those who are slain in God’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord; they rejoice in the Bounty provided by God.” (3:169-170)
Therefore martyrs are assured the greatest of all possible rewards. The reward for one who is shahid is so great that, according to one hadith narrated by Anas ibn Malik in which the prophet said “Nobody who dies and finds good from God in the hereafter would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again for the sake of God. (al- Bukhari). The expectation of the great reward of martyrdom has motivated Muslim fighters to go into battle fields often in such manner as would surprise their opponent, who may not have similarly strong incentive. This has been noted in current times as a major difficulty in defeating Muslim armies.
The History of Jihad
Jihad in Makkah
During the Makkah period, the Muslims were not prepared to defend themselves physically against the oppression of the Quraysh. The only means of survival for the Muslims at that time were personal jihad which is patient struggle against adversity along with migration to other places where Muslims would be able to practice their religion away from persecution and aggression. Five years after the first revelation, a small group of Muslims, eleven men and four women, migrated to the Christian nation of Abyssinia in order to escape persecution and gain religious freedom. Soon afterwards a much larger group of about 83 people followed the first group. Quraysh from its side was adamant on opposing the new divine message so in response it sent two gift- laden ambassadors to the Negus, the King of the Abyssinians, to plead for extradition of the Muslims. After hearing the argument of the migrants stated by Ja’far ibn Abu Talib, The Negus replied, “Of a truth, this and what Jesus brought have come from the same niche.” Then he dismissed the ambassador of Quraysh and refused to turn the Muslim migrant in.
After the sheer disappointment faced by Quraysh, they started a new phase of persecution with the aim of abolishing the new religion. The leaders of Quraysh agreed to impose an economic and social boycott on all members of Banu Hashim and Banu al-Muttalib clans, which were related to the Prophet. This move placed even higher pressures on Muslims because even their non Muslim relatives faced the hardship of the boycott. The boycott continued for three consecutive years during which both Muslim and non Muslim members of these two clans lived in total isolation in a small quarter of Makkah receiving only small portions of food from some members of Quraysh who did not wish to see them starve to death. Finally several of Quraysh leaders denounced the boycott agreement and persuaded others to end the restrictions against the clan of Muhammad. Therefore the boycott ended only three years before the emigration to Madinah. Ending the boycott was seen as the only victory granted to Prophet Muhammad in his struggle during the period of Makkah. In that year lady Khadijah, the Prophet’s wife and his uncle Abu Talib died and the Prophet lamented their death as both of them formed a source of support, comfort, strength and encouragement. After Abu Talib’s death, the level of persecution took an even higher level as Abu Talib used to protect the Prophet from the vengeance of Quraysh. The Prophet found it necessary to seek support outside Makkah borders and for this reason he travelled north to the city of Taif where he met the chiefs of the tribe of Thaqif, offered them the message of Islam and asked for their support. But they rejected his message and asked their children and servants to chase him out of the city by throwing stones and pebbles on him until his blessed feet swell up from the constant bleeding.
For the first nine years of the Prophet’s mission, his struggle produced nothing but rejection, disappointment and sorrow. The first glimpse of victory during the period of the personal jihad came in the tenth year. It was customary for the Arabs to annually pay their tributes to the Ka’bah and perform pilgrimage as part of their pre Islamic religious ritual. Prophet Muhammad used to approach the visiting pilgrims each year and invite them to the message of Islam. In 620 C.E he met with a delegation from Yathrib which later was called Medinah and began to build his reputation among the residents of that city. The political and the social structure in Yathrib was divided among two Arab tribes, al- Khazraj and al- Aws, and the Jews who lived in that city. Previously both tribes formed alliances with each other against the Jews, maintaining political dominance. The two tribes however recently become involved in a strife and conflict among themselves. When the Prophet approached them during their visit to Makkah, the teachings of Islam and the passages they heard from the Quran left its deep effect on them. An important battle between the two rival tribes occurred in 620 in which al- Aws emerged victorious yet both tribes suffered huge losses and they began to seek a leader who would unite them. Prophet Muhammad was the perfect leader for the two tribes and at the time of the pilgrimage in 621 C.E., six men, who had been of al- Khazraj, met with Prophet Muhammad in Makkah and returned to Yathrib to tell the others there about the Islamic message. In the following year twelve men from Yathrib met with Prophet Muhammad at a placed called al-‘Aqabah and entered into a covenant which is known as the “first pledge of ‘Aqabah.” When the delegation went back to Yathrib, Prophet Muhammad sent Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr with them to teach them about Islam and the Quran.
At the time of the pilgrimage of 622 C.E the Prophet met again with Arabs from Yathrib at ‘Aqabah. This time, seventy-three men and two women were present. While the first pledge of Aqabah was a declaration of faith in Islam, the second pledge of Aqabah was political in nature, forming an alliance between the Muslims of Makkha and the Muslims of Yathrib. They pledged to obey the Prophet in health and sickness, in fortune and misfortune, to tell the truth wherever we might be and at all times and to fear none but God. Although the pledge was made in the outskirts of Makkah in a total discretion, the Quraysh however soon learned about the agreement and were eager to chase them. Quraysh failed miserably in hunting the people of Yathrib who allied with the Prophet because of the huge number of the non Makkans who were present at the time of pilgrimage. Thus by the time the Makkans knew about the new non Makkan Muslims who were involved in the covenant, almost all had escaped safely back to their city.
Quraysh assured itself that after the failed attempt of the Prophet to seek allies in Taif, the Islamic message will soon fade away and his power will subside but with the conversion of Arabs in Yathrib to Islam and the subsequent alliances with Prophet Muhammad caused a genuine concern for Quraysh. At the time when Quraysh were meticulously planning to destroy the Islamic message at its infancy, Prophet Muhammad was planning as well and advised Muslims in Makkah to discreetly migrate to Yathrib alone or in small groups so as not to cause suspicion. Quraysh soon knew about the migration attempts and pursued the escaping migrants who faced torture and imprisonment from Quraysh. Although the fierce efforts to halt the flow of Muslim migration by Quraysh, the gradual migration continued and Quraysh well understood that the violent reaction from their part could cause an actual fighting among different clans, because many of the non- Muslims remained faithful to their Muslim kinsmen. The Muslims of Yathrib who were called al Ansar (the helpers) were of great assistance to the migrating Makkan Muslims who are better known as Muhajirun. During the whole period of migration, Prophet Muhammad remained in Makkah.
Quraysh anticipated that the Prophet might attempt to migrate to Medinah as his followers did and they well understood the threatening consequences of this transitional move. The migration of the Prophet to Medinah in Quraysh’s perspective would then put the Prophet in a position of certain leadership within a community dedicated to the cause of Islam. Quraysh started to think of different ways of holding the Prophet back from migration to Medinah. They thought of forcefully retain Prophet Muhammad in Makkah however this might cause the Muslims living in Yathrib to attack in defense of Prophet Muhammad. Murdering the Prophet came to their mind but feard the violent reaction from Muhammad’s clans of Banu Hashim and Banu al Muttalib who would seek revenge for his blood. Finally they settled on the appointment of a delegate from each clan who would carry a sharp sword and all of the delegates together would join to assassinate Prophet Muhammad.
At the time when Quraysh hatched this plot, the Prophet learned about it and was waiting for the right moment for his own migration. He chose his lifelong friend, Abu Bakr to accompany him in his migration journey. In order to allow sometime for the two to travel before their absence was noted, ‘Ali ibn Abu Taleb agreed to sleep in Prophet Muhammad’s bed. The delegate of Quraysh kept watching the Prophet’s front door all night long peeking through a hole and was content when they saw that his bed was occupied while they prepared for the assassination. Before dawn Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr were on their way to start their journey to Yathrib. They traveled for over 200 miles and spent four days in Qiba near Yathrib before entering the city where Prophet Muhammad built a mosque and Ali met them at Qubaa and they all entered Yathrib two weeks after leaving their homeland of Makkah. After the arrival of the Prophet to Yathrib, it was known as the city of the Prophet or the Medinah.
Jihad in Medinah
Jihad was decreed in its combative sense in the second Hijri year with the aim of administering justice and fairplay. As the message of Islam was addressed to all people across the globe, it was necessary at some point to get involved in warfare against those who were raising arms to conduct offensive attacks on the newly born state.
When Muslims settled in Medina and no longer had the fear of Quraysh, they were able to openly establish the practice and preaching of Islam within the city. A state of conflict continued to exist between Makkan Muslims and Qurayish. The heat of the conflict did not abate by the physical migration of Makkan Muslims, it took even more aggravated forms. The Muslims’ migration to Medinah was a contributing factor to the open conflict which would follow between the two parties as during the whole Makkan period which lasted for 13 years, Muslims were in a position of weakness and lacked the resources to confront the Qurayish. The migration provided the Muhajirin with the resources necessary to challenge the Quraysh and resolve the conflict.
The battle of Badr was the first battle which occurred nineteen month after the hijrah or migration to Medinah. During this period the Muslims conducted several reconnaissance missions. The first three encounters included only small groups of Muslims and involved no fighting. Seven months before the Battle of Badr, Prophet Muhammad led his first military expedition which comprised of about two hundred men. The expedition involved no fighting and a non- aggression pact was sealed with some of the nearby Arab tribes of Banu Damra ibn Bakr ibn Kanana.
The igniting flame which sparked the Battle of Badr was that Prophet Muhammad sent an expedition led by ‘Abdullah ibn Jahsh al- Asadi with specific instructions of watching Quraysh from a distance and report back to the Prophet their moves. The instructions indicated no military involvement or engagements in conflict. When the Muslims reached their designated destination, they encountered a merchandise caravan of Quraysh and the Muslim leader decided to intercept the caravan and attack it though the Prophet’s specific instructions confined their mission to be only reconnaissance.
The Prophet found himself in a difficult situation as the month of Rajab in which the interception of Quraysh’s caravan occurred was one of the prohibited months according to Arab traditions in which fighting was not allowed. God revealed Quranic verses to resolve this difficult situation and asserted that Quraysh were the aggressors who had driven the Muslims from Makkah, usurped their properties, denying them free practice of their religion. Therefore any action taken by Muslims to restore their lost property and regain their dignity would be considered lawful even during the prohibited months.
The Prophet learned about another important caravan that was coming from Syria to Makkah with the leadership of Abu Sufyan who was one of the fierce opponents of Muslims in Makkah. The Prophet decided to intercept the caravan accompanied by only a small force of around 300 men in the second year of hijrah. Abu Sufyan understood that there was an open war between them and the Makkan Muslims and sent out spies ahead and soon knew that Prophet Muhammad was set out to intercept the caravan. Abu Sufyan needed some reinforcement so he sent a messenger to Makkah who before arriving to Makkah cut off the ears of his camel, broke its nose, turned its saddle sideways, tore his own robe in front and in back and entered the city shouting “O People of Quraysh, your wealth and trade are being lost. Abu Sufyan and the caravan are being intercepted by Muhammad and his companions. Perhaps you may still catch them. Help. Help”. In response Quraysh hurriedly prepared an expedition to save the caravan and all the nobles of Quraysh took part in it.
The Prophet learned about the Makkan expedition and realized the shift of the nature of their mission from being a raiding campaign to a military one. He wanted to make sure that the Muslim troops are committed both the Ansar and the Muhajirin. Both groups confirmed their loyalty and readiness to engage in battle against Quraysh. After being reassured of the support of the Muslim troops, Prophet Muhammad set out to learn more about the movements of Quraysh and moved to a place called Badr where the actual conflict occurred. The caravan of Quraysh which was meant to be intercepted managed to escape and when Quraysh learned about the safety of the caravan, they had second thoughts about engaging in an open conflict with the Muslims. The leaders of Makkah differed among themselves and some of them thought of going back but were afraid of their reputation among Arabs that they might interpret their retreat from conflict to be out of fear. Abu Sufyan suggested for the Makkans to return back while Abu Jahl was adamant on pursuing fighting against Muslims. The two forces became engaged in battle and Muslims gained victory though their relatively small number in the face of Quraysh whose number reached around 1000.
The battle of Badr was significant not only as the first battle of Islam, but as the event that helped establish Islam as a true force in Arabia. This victory was much needed for the future growth of Islam as anything less than triumph over Quraysh in this battle would be seen as death to the new religion at its infancy. The victory of the Islamic forces proved devastation to the Quraysh, who remembered their dead and vowed vengeance. A year passed by before Quraysh initiated an attack against the Muslims in order to regain the prestige lost at the battlefield of Badr. When Quraysh launched a counter attack on Muslims in the Battle of Uhud, Muslims suffered a serious casualty in the fighting due to the disobedience of the Muslim archers who went against the Prophet’s specific instructions of not leaving their position until he commands them to do so. The archers left their designated place on the top of the mountains after seeing that Muslims turn out victorious over the other party. When Quraysh noticed that Muslims lost its shield when the archers left their position, they swiftly returned and launched an attack upon the Muslim forces. Over all casualities in the Battle of Uhud were fewer than that of Badr as 65 Muslims were killed and 22 Makkans dead. This battle was of great significance to Quraysh as they avenged for their loss at Badr.
After the Battle of Uhud, Abu Sufyan had called out, “your meeting place is Badr next year.” So the Prophet asked one of the companions to reply back saying “Yes it is an appointment between us”. The Muslims were anxious to compensate their loss and awaited for Quraysh at Badr for eight days but Abu Sufyan after gathering 2000 fighters and marched to Badr for two days, he changed his mind and decided that the risks of the intended confrontation were not worth the possible benefits. Without a military encounter, the Muslims erased the disgrace of their loss at Uhud through the forfeiture of Abu Sufyan.
After returning to Medinah, the Prophet learned that an army from Ghatafan in Najd was being raised against the Muslims. The Prophet led a group of 400 and through a surprise attack the Muslims were able to make the enemy retreat without engaging in battle. During the first four years in Medinah, the Muslims had several encounter with Quraysh and other Arab tribes. The first few years in Medinah were vital for laying the foundation for a significant Muslim presence in Arabia.
It was customary for various tribes from throughout Arabia travelled to Makkah to perform pilgrimage at the Ka’bah which at that time was surrounded by more than 360 idols. The Quraysh as keepers of the Ka’bah had a moral obligation to allow the Arab tribes to participate in the pilgrimage to the Ka’bah and worship the idols of the Arabic religion. In the year 6 A.H. Muslims were not military strong enough to liberate the Ka’bah from idol worshipping yet the Muslims yearned to visit the sacred house of Ka’bah and the Prophet led about 1400 Muslims to Ka’bah with the intention of performing the lesser pilgrimage or umrah. The Quraysh as guardians of the Ka’bah though by Arab customs did not prevent anyone from making pilgrimage, they were afraid that Muslims might be using pilgrimage as a cover up for launching a military attack. Therefore Quraysh sent 200 men to intercept Prophet Muhammad and his companions who were dressed in their traditional white garments for pilgrimage and wished no fighting. The Muslims carried no weapons except for the sheathed sword which was usually carried by the traveler. When the Prophet was informed that Quraysh had gathered a force to fight the Muslims and prevent them from entering Makkah, he ordered the Muslims to take an alternative route to avoid a confrontation with the Makkans. The Prophet reached a place called Hudaybiyyah beyond which the Prophet’s camel knelt down and refused to move any further. The Prophet commented on it and said “It has not refused and such is not its nature, but the One who restrained the elephants from Makkah is keeping it back. Today whatever condition Quraysh make in which they ask me to show kindness to kindred I shall agree to”. Quraysh sent many delegates to be assured of the non fighting intention of the Prophet and to be certain of the Prophet’s intention, Quraysh sent ‘Urwa ibn Mas’ud al Thaqafi who after meeting the Prophet was convinced of the Prophet’s sincerity and went back to Quraysh reporting the situation and said “I have been to Chosroes in his kingdom, and Caesar in his kingdom, and the Negus in his kingdom, but never have I seen a king among a people like Muhammad among his companions. I have seen a people who will never abandon him for any reason, for form your own opinion.”
Quraysh continued their deliberations and sent a second delegate to negotiate with the Prophet and a short time later forty or fifty of the Quraysh went out and attacked the Muslim camp with stones and arrows. They were captured by Muslims and were freed. Finally the Prophet decided to send one of his companions to meet with Quraysh and he settled on ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan. When ‘Uthman entered Makkah, he met with the leaders of Quraysh and related the Prophet’s desire to perform ‘Umrah so Quraysh offered ‘Uthman to perform pilgrimage himself but he kindly declined their offer unless the Prophet had the same opportunity. Quraysh was adamant on refusing to allow Prophet Muhammad to enter Makkah and tried to reach some agreement. In the meantime ‘Uthman was kept in Makkah as a prisoner and he was gone for such a long time that Muslims believed that he had been killed.
‘Uthman finally came back to the Prophet and related Quraysh’s refusal of allowing the entry of Muslims to perform pilgrimage. Quraysh from its part sent a final delegate to the Prophet to conclude negotiations and this event resulted in the Treaty of Hudaybiyya. The Prophet made several concessions to Quraysh including delaying the pilgrimage until the following year and promising to return any Makkans who sought asylum with the Muslims without the permission of their guardians. The second condition caused difficulties for certain Muslims who after converting to Islam were forced to remain in Makkah. The peace treaty conducted at Hudaybiyya was described in the Quran as a victory for Islam. Soon after the Prophet went back to Medinah, he sent his delegations to Heraclius and Chosroes, leaders of the Byzantine and Persian empires respectively with letters inviting them to Islam. Similar letters were sent out to the Negus, the Archbishop of Alexandria, the King of Yemen, the King of Bahrain and the King of Syria.
The Peace Treaty allowed the signatories to seek alliances with other parties. The Muslims became allies with the tribe of Khuza’ah while the Quraysh made an alliance with the Banu Bakr. These two tribes had been mutual enemies for several years. The tribe of Banu Bakr thought that with the help of the new ally it was time to avenge their vendetta against the Khuza’a. Banu Bakr launched a surprise attack on Khuza’a and several men of them were killed. When the Prophet learned about the breach of the treaty, he set out to mobilize Muslims troops to head to Makkah. The Prophet led about 10,000 Muslims towards Makkah in 8 A.H. The Muslims camped only four miles away from Makkah. The Prophet divided the army into four sections and commanded all to avoid fighting or the shedding of blood. As the Prophet was about to march, he heard Sa’d ibn Ubada saying, “Today is a day of war, sanctuary is no more.” When the Prophet heard this, he replaced Sa’d as commander and appointed his son instead and said “Today is a day of Mercy”. The battle was fought shortly with only twelve or thirteen Makkans dead while one Muslim was killed. When the Prophet entered the Ka’bah he was riding his camel lowering his head to an extent that it almost touched the back of his camel out of feelings of awe and reverence to God who granted him victory and returned him back to the Sacred House of the Ka’bah. The moment was immemorial as the Prophet while standing by the Ka’bah gazed at the crowds before him and said “O Quraysh, what do you think that I am about to do with you?” They replied, “Good. You are a noble brother, son of a noble brother.” He said, “Go your way for you are all pardoned”.
The Purpose of Jihad in Islam
The purpose or the aim of combative Jihad as laid down in Islamic Law is as follows:
1- Self defense and fighting back against aggression.
2- Alleviating religious persecution and establishing freedom of religion so that people may have the opportunity to think freely and practice their religious convictions.
The Conditions and the Rulings for Jihad
1- The nobility of purpose, meaning that no personal interests or private gains should be the aim behind which Jihad is being waged.
2- Fighting should be only against warriors not defenseless civilians who are not in the battlefield and are not equipped or trained to be engaged in combat.
3- The killing or harming of women and children is strictly prohibited. Al-Bukhari and Muslim reported through Abdullah ibn Umar (may God be pleased with them both) that a woman was found dead in one of the battles fought by the Prophet (pbuh); thereupon he condemned killing women and children. Another phrasing of the hadith states: “The Messenger of God (pbuh) forbade killing women and children.” Imam al-Nawawi said: “There is a scholarly consensus on putting this hadith in practice as long as the women and children do not fight.” [Sharh Muslim 12/48].
4- Preserving the lives of captives and treating them humanely.
5- Preserving the environment which includes the prohibition on killing animals or cutting trees or destroying harvest or polluting rivers or wells or demolishing houses.
6- Preserving religious freedom for clergy as well as worshippers in their homes, churches or synagogues.
7- Killing and attacking people by surprise is prohibited. Abu Hurairra (may God be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “A believer is not to kill [others]. Faith is a deterrent to killing.” Ibn al-Athir said: “Killing [here] means taking others by surprise and killing them while they are unprepared.” [Al-Nihaya fi Gharib al-Hadith wa al-Athar 3/775]. The hadith means that faith is a deterrent to attacking others suddenly while they are unprepared. The Prophet’s words: “A believer is not to attack [others] by surprise” is a clear prohibition against deception in combat.
8- Permission to enter a country is considered a non-verbal security agreement not to cause corruption in the host country. Imam al-Khurqī said in his Mukhtasr: “Whoever enters lands in safety is not allowed to cheat them of their money.” Commenting on this statement, Ibn Qudama said that it is prohibited to betray them [non-Muslims in non-Muslim countries] because there is an unspoken covenant to enter in safety on the condition that the person who seeks permission to enter a foreign country does not betray or oppress them. So whoever enters our lands in safety and betrays us violates this security agreement. This is prohibited because it involves treachery which is forbidden in our religion.” [Al-Mughn̄i 9/237].
9- The enemy must be from among those whom Muslims are permitted to fight as compared to the enemy with whom Muslims have a truce. It is impermissible to attack the enemy under the cover of night because it is a violation of the security pact between them in terms of lives, wealth, and honor.
10- It is impermissible to use human shields save in a state of war and under specific conditions detailed by jurists. [Bahr Ra`iq 80\5, Hashiyat ibn ‘Abn Abdin 223\3, Rawdat al Talibin 239\10, Mughni al Muhtaj223\4, Mughn̄i ibn Qudama 449\8, 386/10].
Who Has The Right To Call For Jihad and Declare War?
1- In Islamic Law, war in only declared and launched with the authorization of, and under the banner of, the Muslim ruler; it is imperative that the decision to declare war be based on his own reasoning and his subjects must obey him. A ruler is authorized to declare war due to his knowledge of evident and hidden matters, the consequences of actions and the interest of his people. For this reason, a ruler is authorized to declare war and agree to domestic or international treaties as soon as he assumes office. In turn, he does not issue decisions based on [personal] whims.
The Muslim ruler declares war only after consulting specialists in every relevant field such as technical and military specialists and political consultants who are indispensable to military strategy. The luminary al-Bahutī said in Sharh Muntahā al-Iradāt: “It is prohibited to [launch an] attack without the ruler’s permission because he is responsible for making the decision of declaring war. [This is because] he has access to all the information pertaining to the enemy. [His permission is mandatory] except if [Muslims] are taken by surprise by non-Muslim enemies and fear their threat. [Only] then is it permissible to fight the attackers without the ruler’s permission because of the general benefit therein.”
2 - Breach of international agreements and treaties: Islamic states must abide by the agreements and treaties that they have acknowledged and entered into of their own accord; standing firmly with the international community towards achieving global peace and security [only] to the extent of the commitment of the signatory countries. God says:
O you who believe, fulfill [all] contracts [5:1]
In the above verse, the term ‘contract’ refers to all commitments between two parties on a particular issue. In his interpretation of the above verse, the erudite Tunisian scholar, ibn ‘Ashur says: “‘Contracts’ in this verse refers to one of a genus denoting the totality [of contracts]. It includes covenants that Muslims made with their Lord such as to follow the shari’ah … pacts of allegiance between the believers and the prophet [pbuh], not to associate partners with God, steal, or commit fornication … agreements between Muslims and non-Muslims … and agreements between one Muslim and another” [Al-Tahriir wa al-Tanwīr, 6/74].
Amr ibn ̔Awf al-Muzna, may God be pleased with him, narrates that the prophet [pbuh] said: “Muslims are bound by the conditions [they stipulate] except those that are unlawful or those that make unlawful matters lawful.” [reported by al-Tirmidhi].
Commenting on this hadith, al-Jassass said: “It is a general obligation to fulfill all the conditions man holds himself to as long as there is nothing (in Islamic law) to restrict them.” [Ahkam al-Qur`an, 2/418].
Ali, may God be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet [pbuh] said: “The protection granted by the weakest Muslim to a non-Muslim is tantamount to that of the entire [community]. Whosoever violates it incurs the curse of God, the angels, and all the people.” [Reported by al-Bukhari].
Abdullah ibn ̔Umar, may God be pleased with them both, narrated that the Prophet [pbuh] said: “The signs of hypocrisy are four: when he is entrusted with something he betrays the trust, when he speaks he lies, when he makes a promise he breaks it, when he quarrels he behaves in an immoral manner. Whoever possesses all four is a hypocrite and whoever possesses one of them possesses an element of hypocrisy until he gives it up.” [Reported by Bukhari in his Sahih].
Umar ibn al-Hamq al-Khaza̔ī narrated that the Prophet [pbuh] said: “If a man entrusts another with his life and is killed by him, I have nothing to do with the murderer, even if the murdered man were a non-Muslim.” [Reported by al-Bayhaqi]. Consequently, the parties to international treaties and agreements are committed to end war and enjoy a state of peace by virtue of the agreement they entered into. God Almighty says:
And if they incline towards peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon God. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing. [8:61].
Unauthorized Calls for Jihad: a Juristic Perspective
Among the loud unauthentic voices of some self claimed scholars who vehemently call Muslim youth to rally for Jihad, a moderate voice of reason is most needed. We have to place the issue of calling for jihad or declaring war -which includes the deployment of Muslim soldiers to war zones- in its appropriate juristic frame work in order for us to have a deeper understanding of the issue at hand.
Jihad in a combative sense in principle is a collective obligation [fard kifaya]: It is one of the collective duties of the community as a whole. Imam al Nawawi explained in his book “Sharh al Nawawi ‘ala Muslim” that Jihad nowadays is a collective obligation unless non Muslim armies occupy a Muslim land in which case the residents of this land have to perform jihad and if the people of the occupied land are unable to repel the aggression, their neighboring countries should rise up to their defense.
The organization of jihad is the responsibility of the rulers and military personnel, who from their appointed positions are best able to calculate the consequences of such a crucial decision. Rulers examine the extent of the necessity that calls for defensive jihad.
All the aspects of the decision for combative jihad and their ramifications are examined and are subject to a scientific and factual study which carefully balances the benefits with the disadvantages. The enterprise must be free from negligence, weakness, superficiality, or heedless emotions. No single group or person may initiate jihad on their own as this is considered transgression and may constitute more harm.
In certain cases Jihad becomes an individual obligation [fard ‘ayn] in countries where Muslim sanctuaries are attacked and their security threatened and is a duty upon the citizens to defend their country as Ibn ‘Abdeen stated in his commentary.
Defensive jihad is not obligatory upon all Muslims; it is a communal obligation for those residing outside the territories under attack. If they are unable to repel the enemy, jihad becomes an individual obligation upon Muslims in neighboring countries according to Ibn‘Abdeen.
Implementing the legal ruling concerning this manner requires:
-Following the valid means which is the responsibility of those in authority who are aware of the political and military aspects, able to assess the need of jihad and calculate the ramifications, interests and disadvantages associated with the regional considerations and international treaties and are aware of the balance of international power. All of this requires:
- Special considerations and meticulous military and political studies which have exhausted the possibility of a peaceful resolution which God Almighty commanded. He said: “But if they incline towards peace, you [Prophet] must also incline towards it, and put your trust in God: He is the All Hearing, the All Knowing” [Al-Anfal, 61];
- Preserving the security of Muslim countries, their citizens and interests.
- The ability to face and endure the choice of war.
- Jihad must be formally declared and clearly defined to prevent Muslims from falling prey to notorious organizations that may exploit their emotions and take advantage of their zeal to serve suspicious goals in the name of jihad.
Free Choice versus Coerced Conversion
The concept of “free choice” is central in the teachings of Islam as God stated in the Qur’an that “there is no coercion in religion”. Muslims grasped this concept well and realized that God does not want the mere submission of bodies but the real surrender of hearts. The heart is the main target of God’s Message because mercy is the all encompassing nature of Islam and the heart is where it resides.
In contemplating these stipulations we would find that none of the current incidents of terrorism which happen to involve Muslims claiming to be performing Jihad are actually Jihad because they fail to meet any of the above laid down conditions. The sole aim of stipulating these conditions is to ensure that the concept of mercy and justice are at the forefront of the Muslims’ hearts and minds while conducting warfare.
The aim of Jihad is not to steal people’s property or to shed their blood or to alter their values and force them to convert. The aim is to free people from persecution so they may have the opportunity to think freely and choose their religion based on informed decisions.
All of these terrorist attacks have probably one thing in common: the cowardice of the perpetrators who betray and target civilians and cause nothing but the bloodshed of innocents; Muslims and non-Muslims.
What breaks the heart the most is that while Jihad in Islam teaches Muslims to be noble knights who defend the rights of the weak and fight back against transgressors who are warriors in combat, today we find the people who claim that they are performing Jihad and attach themselves to this noble concept are those who are the furthest from Islam and Jihad in letter and spirit.
The true noble knight Jihadist is the one who lays the foundation of justice and freedom for all people regardless of their personal religious convictions. Therefore, the concept of Jihad being a legitimate war is a true and well-defined one even by our modern definitions of just wars according to the United Nation’s charter on warfare.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the role model who applied the different concepts of mercy, justice and freedom laid down in the Qur’an. He showed Muslims how to conduct and abide by these concepts practically.
Engaging in Warfare: An Interfaith perspective
It is innate in human beings to preserve their lives and fend off death. The survival instinct causes human beings to defend what belongs to them even if this leads to struggle and combat in order to survive.
This primitive level of fighting for the basic needs of life such as food or shelter can become more sophisticated and develop into a higher level of war, such as the wars that are waged for gaining freedom or restoring dignity or fighting oppression.
Moving to the holy books and divine scriptures, namely the Torah and the Bible, we find that new reasons were being added to wage war; reasons that are more advanced in nature and more civilizational in purpose. These types of wars are not waged to secure food for the next day, they are waged with the aim of alleviating injustice and securing freedom of worship for all people and helping those who are helpless and destitute. Humanity has witnessed a shift in the paradigm of conducting wars, they now aim to move away from fulfilling the needs of the “self” towards fulfilling “divine ideals” for which people are ready to sacrifice their lives.
This shift in paradigm of conducting wars continued in the tradition of Islam and took the name of “Jihad”. In Jihad one finds himself or herself more than ready to sacrifice his life for his religious beliefs and values and for fulfilling a higher calling that advocates alleviating injustice and persecution and establishing freedom of religion and thought.
When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) immigrated to Madinah and established the nascent Muslim state after suffering 13 years of violent opposition and anguish, the tribe of Quraysh in Makkah was angry at the huge success that the message of Islam had achieved without coercion or bloodshed. The tribe of Quraysh felt threatened by the new power of Islam which would undermine their authority in Makkah where idol worship was the center of religious life and where Quraysh were the religious leaders whom people from the rest of Arabia would come to visit and present their offerings.
Muslims patiently endured persecution for 13 years in Makkah and abided by the Prophet’s command to not respond to the aggression which they endured at the hands of the Makkan idolaters. When the Muslims immigrated to Madinah and established their new state, they found themselves in a position where they had to defend the boundaries of their nascent state against the attacks of Quraysh which hoped to destroy this new religion in its infancy. It was at this time that God permitted Muslims to fight back those who fight them and to protect themselves against aggression. This indicates that jihad in the sense of armed struggle was not a self- embedded concept which originated with Islam. It is more likely that the circumstances which the nascent Islamic state was born into gave rise to Jihad.
These same circumstances surrounded the message of the Prophet Jesus who called the Jews to peace and reform yet they hunted him down and wanted to crucify him except that God saved his Prophet from his persecutors.
The Spread of Islam: Was it by Sword?
Some people claim that the spread of Islam across the world was done at the sword point but this couldn’t be any further from the truth. The spread of Islam outside the Arabian Peninsula was conducted in proportionate ratios with the natural development of Islamic advocacy. History proves that there is no abnormal increase in these ratios which might indicate incidents of mass conversions. After conducting a meticulous examination of the percentage of increase in the number of converts to Islam in countries outside the Arabian Peninsula since the first Hijri century until the 7th century, we figure out that after the first century the percentage of Muslims in Persia reached 5%, Iraq 3%, Syria and Egypt 2% and finally Andalusia less than 1%. The increase in the number of converts increased gradually from 25% then 50% along centuries to reach 75% at the end of the 7th century.
There are a number of major characteristics of the spread of Islam across the globe:
- No signs of eradication of people who refuse to convert.
- Slaves were given the opportunity and were elevated in rank to become rulers.
- Muslims did not conduct inquisitions or mass conversion tribunals.
- Christians, Jews and Hindus remained in their countries enjoying both freedom of worship and full citizenship.
- The region of Hijaz remained poor economic wise until the discovery of petroleum in modern time whereas colonial powers were shipping off goods and raw materials of the colonized countries and used them for their own industrial and economic development.
Jihad vs. Terrorism
Terrorism cannot be the outcome of any proper understanding of religion. It is, rather, a manifestation of the immorality of people with cruel hearts, arrogant souls, and warped logic. Islam by its nature is a religion of moderation, not of extremes. In his famous saying, the Prophet of Islam advised Muslims to always choose the middle ground and not seek extremes on either side. This moderation in religion means that one neither exaggerates; transgressing the limits set by God, nor neglects them altogether, thereby falling short of His expectations. While calling upon all Muslims to exercise moderation with all permissible things, Islam clearly and categorically rejects all forms of extremism, including ghuluww (excessiveness), tanatu‘ (zealotry) and tashaddud (extreme practices). These forms of extremism do not find a home in Islamic teachings, because Islam recognizes that extremism is morally flawed and unproductive. It is against human nature, and has always been a short-lived phenomena which does not work.
The problem faced by Muslims today – and indeed religious communities across the globe – relates to the issue of authority. In both Islam and other religions we are witnessing a phenomenon in which laypeople without a sound foundation in religious learning have attempted to set themselves up as religious authorities, even though they lack the scholarly qualifications for making valid interpretations of religious law and morality. In many cases, they have been facilitated in this by the proliferation of new media and irresponsibly sensationalistic journalism. It is this eccentric and rebellious attitude towards religion that clears the way for extremist interpretations of Islam that have no basis in reality. None of these extremists have been educated in Islam in genuine centers of Islamic learning. They are, rather, products of troubled environments and have subscribed to distorted and misguided interpretations of Islam that have no basis in traditional Islamic doctrine. Their aim is purely political – to create havoc and chaos in the world.
Unfortunately, terrorists often invoke the Islamic concept of “Jihad” to justify their crimes. This has led to much confusion and the tendency to misinterpret this important Islamic idea by linking it to violence and aggression. Military Jihad, by contrast, is the antithesis of terrorism. It is a just war of the sort that can be found in every religious law and civil code. As the Qur’an says, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but avoid aggression for God does not like the aggressor.” “But if they cease [fighting], then God is Forgiving, Merciful.” This statement has been repeated many times throughout the second chapter of the Qur’an and forms the fundamental parameters for the Islamic law of warfare: namely, that it is permissible only for the purpose of repelling an attack, and protecting one’s self, one’s home and one’s family.
Terrorism does not come close to fulfilling any of the many conditions which are necessary for a just Jihad. Among these is the fact that war can only be launched upon the authorization of the Muslim ruler, after consultation with specialists and consultants. Vigilantism has been clearly forbidden throughout Muslim history.
Similarly, terrorism involves killing people and taking them by surprise. The Prophet has instructed: “A believer is not to kill [others]. Faith is a deterrent to killing.” Similarly, he has said: “A believer is not to attack [others] by surprise.” Clearly, terrorists can only accomplish their goals by going against these Islamic teachings, which are fundamental to the type of chivalrous character Muslims must always exhibit, whether at wartime or during periods of peace.
Moreover, terrorism kills and harms women and children. A tradition of the Prophet relates that a woman was found dead in one of the battles. The Prophet found out about this, and thereupon forbade the killing of women and children. Another phrasing of this hadith states: “The Messenger of God (pbuh) forbade killing women and children.” The great scholar of Islam, Imam al-Nawawi commented on this: “There is a scholarly consensus on acting on this tradition as long as the women and children do not fight.” It is clear once more that this is counter to the practice of terrorists.
As such, it is clearly a mistake to label the terrorists practitioners of Jihad, or mujahidin. This is a lofty Islamic concept which bears no resemblance to the lawlessness practiced by terrorists.
The word commonly used in modern Arabic for terrorism, irhab, though an improvement, also poses its own set of problems. Indeed, irhab and the related Arabic root (r / h / b) often contain positive resonances for those conversant with classical Islamic vocabulary. For example, the Qur’an uses a word in the semantic range spawned by (r / h / b) to explain the proper awe with which humans ought to relate to God. “O Children of Israel, remember my favor wherewith I favored you; and fulfill my covenant and I shall fulfill your covenant, and have awe of Me.” [2:40]. Similarly, the Qur’an uses a related word (rahban) to refer to monks and monasticism (rahbaniyya), and their manner of interacting with the Divine. Finally, and more concretely, the root (r / h / b) is used to refer to a praiseworthy deterrence against those enemies who would seek to aggressively intimidate the Muslim community. “Make ready for them whatever force you can and of horses tethered that you may thereby awe the enemy of God and your enemy.” [8:60]. ...
TAM Editors note: This article on Sheikh Ali Gomaa’s site ends at this point. As soon as the issue is corrected, we will provide the entire text.
Sheikh Ali Gomaa is the former Grand Mufti of Egypt. Please visit Sheikh Ali Gomaa’s website http://www.ali-gomaa.com/ where you will find many such scholarly opinions on current issues of concern to Muslims from a traditional, mainstream Muslim view. You may also find many English articles by Sheikh Ali Gomaa on TAM, just type his name in the TAM search engine.
See Also: How mainstream Muslims understand the term “jihad” with a TAM article collection on the topic http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the-real-meaning-of-jihad