JIHAD? BUT WHAT ABOUT OTHER VERSES IN THE QUR’AN?
Asghar Ali Engineer
The terror attacks in India as well as abroad have created an impression that jihad is central to Qur’anic teaching. First of all, as we have asserted repeatedly, jihad does not mean war in the Qur’an as there are other words for war like qital and harb. Jihad has been used in the Qur’an in its root meaning i.e. to strive and to strive for betterment of society, to spread goodness (ma’ruf) and contain evil (munkar).
But supposing that jihad did mean war, as some Muslims, especially those who want to use it for their own political agenda, believe. Even then jihad is not that central to Qur’anic teachings. The word jihad occurs in the Qur’an 41 times (though not a single verse uses it in the sense of war) there are other key words in Qur’an representing values. As we have pointed out in a previous article there are four most fundamental values in Qur’an i.e. justice (‘adl), benevolence (ihsan) compassion (rahmah) and wisdom (hikmah).
These are also Allah’s names in the Qur’an i.e. Allah is Just, Benevolent, Compassionate and Wise. Thus the Qur’an is embodiment of these values and a Muslim is duty bound to practice these values above all. One who fails to practice these values can hardly claim to be true Muslim. Jihad is not even obligatory in Islamic jurisprudence whereas these values are indicative of a Muslim’s character and hence quite important.
In Qur’an compassion is quite central and Allah’s names Rahman and Rahim (Compassionate and Merciful) are among the most important names. A Muslim begins his/her work by invoking Allah’s names Rahman and Rahim (i.e. I begin in the name of Allah Who is ‘compassionate and Merciful). Thus it would be seen that Compassion is most central to Qur’anic teachings and the words compassion and mercy in their various forms occur in Qur’an 335 times as against jihad only 41 times.
The word ihsan (i.e. to do good to others) occurs in the Qur’an 194 times which also greatly outnumbers jihad. Similarly the word wisdom and its derivatives occur 101 times. Qur’an lays great emphasis on wisdom as wisdom is superior to reason in a way. Reason is also quite important but at times it can be misused by human beings whereas wisdom includes reason and values put together. Qur’an advises Muslims again and again to use wisdom. It asks Muslims to call people to Allah also with wisdom, not with threats or force. One cannot invite anyone to the ways of Allah by use of force, coercion or threat but with wisdom and kind words.
Also, there is great emphasis in Qur’an on justice in all social and political matters and Qur’an uses three words for justice i.e. ‘adl, qist and hakama and all these three words put together are mentioned 244 times in the Qur’an. Thus the Qur’an clearly shows that justice with all is highly necessary which clearly implies that no innocent person will be punished in any case.
Also, Allah is thirty three times described in the Qur’an as Ghafur al-Rahim i.e. Forgiver and Merciful and not one who seeks revenge. To seek revenge is a human weakness, not a strength of character. Thus a devout Muslim tends to forgive like Allah who forgives his servants if they sincerely repent. Those who are waging ‘jihad’ in the form of terror attacks are bent upon seeking revenge whereas a good Muslim would tend to forgive alike Allah forgives. It is true Allah punishes oppressors (zalimun) but no individual or a group of individuals not representative of community or state can dispense punishment. Only Allah or state or its representatives of states can dispense with punishment.
That is why in Islamic jurisprudence (Shari’ah law) jihad can be declared only by state or those empowered by the state, no one else. Terror attacks, on the other hand, are planned and executed by few individuals unrepresentative of any state or state institution. So their attacks cannot be legitimate by any Islamic or Shari’ah law. That is nothing but committing murder of innocent people. Also according to Islamic laws in jihad too no non-combatant can be attacked much less women, children and old persons and no civilian property can be destroyed unless it is being used for military purposes or for purposes of combat.
It will be seen that rules laid down for war by Islamic laws are no different from modern laws of warfare or the Geneva Conventions. But terror attacks are gross violation of all these Islamic rules and there is no way these attacks can be characterized as ‘jihad’. These terrorists are described by media as jihadis. This is also a gross misuse of the word as there is no such word as jihadi in the Arabic language. It is in fact mujahid and the word mujahid is used in laudatory sense – one who devotes oneself for a good cause like fighting against social evils etc. At times it is also used for a warrior but in that sense it used for a brave person who is not only fearless but also wages war only for a good cause and fights only on the front, not hit and run kind.
I would also like to throw some light on the word jihad as understood and explained in Islamic literature. If these Qur’anic values are important and they are undoubtedly then real jihad would be to cultivate and promote these values with utmost efforts and the sufi saints considered real jihad only in this sense. After all Islam came in this world through the Prophet to combat all social evils then prevalent in Arab society in general, and in Mecca, in particular.
Since primary importance in Qur’anic teachings is for these values, a true Muslim would devote himself/herself to fight all evils in the society which negate these values. The Prophet (PBUH) devoted his entire life in practicing and promoting these values. He was, therefore, rightly described in the Qur’an as Rahmatun lil ‘Alamin (i.e. mercy of the worlds) because mercy can prevail in the world only if one eliminates all these evils.
The Islamic history during the Prophet’s life is to be seen in two important phases i.e. the Meccan phase for first thirteen years after Muhammad (PBUH) became Prophet and then 10 years in Madina after his migration. In Meccan phase the Prophet and his followers were most oppressed minority and yet the Prophet did not ask his followers to use violence in any form. On the contrary, Qur’an repeatedly advised the Prophet and his followers to bear all hardships patiently and not to despair.
The Prophet bore with utmost patience all the hardships, even insults and humiliations and carried on his mission. His followers were subjected to great hardships but he always advised them to be patient and penitent. Thus the Prophet (PBUH) guided Muslims how to behave in such adverse conditions and how to ensure peace despite such hardships. But when conditions became unbearable he advised some of his followers to migrate to Ethiopia and later he himself migrated to Madina with some of his followers.
Thus the Meccan model of Islam can be very useful for those Muslims who are facing similar situation in parts of the world. As the Qur’an lays great stress on hikmah (wisdom) one has to imply wisdom and carve out a proper strategy of survival rather than take plunge into violence and throw themselves into peril. The Qur’an advises Muslims “…and cast not yourselves to destruction with your own hands and do good (to others). Surely Allah loves the doers of good.” (2:195)
This advice of the Qur’an not to throw yourself to destruction with your own hands is important and relevant even today in similar situations. See what the 9/11 attack on New York towers resulted in? Did Al-Qaida not invite great disaster to the entire Islamic world, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq? Did they not throw themselves in perdition with their own hands? What good did that criminal attack do to anyone. Was there any wisdom in that rash and ruthless attack?
The Qur’an repeatedly advises Muslims to use wisdom. Was there any wisdom in that attack on the New York trade towers? How can one be Muslim without following Qur’an in every sphere of life? To launch such attacks recklessly will bring nothing but disaster for Muslims and Islam. On the contrary the Qur’an advises Muslims to do good to others instead of throwing themselves into perdition (tahlukat).
The Qur’an is clearly advising Muslims to win over the hearts of others by doing good to others and thus ward off evil from them. Also, both the peace of Hudaibiyah (name of the place where the Prophet signed a peace treaty) and the behavior of the Prophet (PBUH) after the conquest of Mecca are shining example of exemplary conduct of a great and generous leader. It is in this sense that Qur’an describes the Prophet as uswah husnah i.e. good role model for all.
Both at Hudaybiyah and in Mecca after the conquest the Prophet (PBUH) rather than dictating terms or seeking revenge showed great generosity towards his enemies and won over their hearts. At Hudaybiyah the Prophet had enough strength to dictate terms to the unbelievers of Mecca but instead he accepted certain humiliating terms dictated by them. Ultimately the treaty benefited Muslims. But it required wisdom of the prophet to enter into such a treaty which was apparently humiliating but proved to be otherwise.
Similarly after the conquest of Mecca the Prophet forgave the worst of his enemies who had insulted and humiliated him and oppressed in most inhuman ways his followers. That won over his worst enemies and all of them embraced Islam. Had he chosen to seek revenge which was customary in the Arab culture, another bloodbath would have resulted and Islam would not have won so many adherents. Thus moral victory is far superior to seeking revenge. Revenge only satisfies our ego and injures the ego of the enemy and thus a war of attrition continues.
What terrorists are doing is seeking revenge and that too from a weaker position and thus every attack brings nothing but disaster for themselves and others. Allah certainly does not like those who only seek revenge to satisfy their egos. Conducting the ummah’s affairs with wisdom would be far more beneficial to Muslims as a whole. This does not mean surrendering to unjust powers but it does mean that the fight for justice must be carried out through collective wisdom to minimize danger to the cause of Islam and Muslims.
There is also the question of methodology for interpreting the Qur’an. The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) over a period of 23 years and most of the verses were revealed in response to certain situations and the relevant verse has to be understood in the context in which it was revealed. Every text has a context and only context can explain how to understand the text. And when interpreting the text it is also necessary to judge whether context has changed and similar conditions prevail.
Various verses quoted to justify ‘jihad’ are generally interpreted in a literal sense which ignores the value system of Qur’an. It is not only context but also the value system of the Qur’an which must be kept in mind while applying the injunction contained in any verse. When the Qur’an was being revealed the revelation was from Allah and was being revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) and both were fully aware of the value system and hence they knew when war becomes absolutely necessary.
But when human beings other than the Prophet apply Qur’anic injunctions it is a very different thing. Ordinary Muslims are neither infallible nor thoroughly immersed in Islamic values because unlike the Prophet they are not a real role model (uswa-e-husnah). And when someone applies these Qur’anic injunctions without any consensus of the ummah behind it, it is all the more unacceptable. This is what these terrorists are doing.
It is a well known fact that be it Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization, they do not represent any government or larger Muslim organization. They succeed in mobilizing some angry youth who have no maturity or wisdom and are carried away by ‘Islamic’ rhetoric and commit terrorist attacks taking the lives of several innocent bystanders. These attacks violate all Qur’anic values.
Apart from this the conditions as obtained in 7th century Arabia cannot be compared to the conditions in the contemporary world. In those days violence could be met only with violence. The Arabs had their age old tribal traditions of qisas (retaliation) and the Qur’an, looking to the context permitted qisas with the strict condition that it be strictly in equal measure in the interest of justice but also advised if you forgive it is better.
In those days there were no other institutions available and the Qur’an permitted only defensive war and banned aggression even against enemy. And as the example of peace of Hudaybiyah shows, war should be avoided wherever peace is possible even on enemy’s terms and the Meccan example shows instead of qisas one should better forgive and win over the hearts of the enemy. Both these models are part of the Prophet’s sunna and Muslims should follow Prophet’s sunna.
And today’s world is radically different from 7th century Arabia and today we should go more by Qur’anic ethics than injunctions about war. Today several institutions are available for arbitration, reconciliation and solving disputes. One cannot rush to resort to violence. All Muslim countries are members of United Nations Organization and without referring any international dispute to it no other action should be contemplated.
The extremist organizations can point out that UNO is dominated by the USA and other western nations and one cannot get justice from it. It is entirely true but then this also has to be continuously exposed and the world should know how UNO works in the interests of the USA, rather than in the interest of justice. It is also known that the USA committed aggression against Iraq despite the UNO refusing permission to wage war against Iraq. This action exposed the USA and the world at large knows today how helpless the UNO is before powers like the USA.
If one wants to really solve the problem peacefully, violence will only damage the cause and make world opinion also adverse. The greatest strength of any cause in the contemporary world is favorable public opinion. One must try and win public opinion. Non-violent action is much likely to win public opinion rather than violent actions. Killing innocent people through terror acts can never be effective against a very powerful enemy. And it also makes public opinion very adverse.
Today the media is very powerful in creating public opinion and non-violent actions will certainly impact the media people. Unfortunately the youth being impatient with the democratic processes and under the illusion of following Qur’anic traditions rushes to resort to so called jihad and antagonizes the world opinion. And what they do not understand is that other Muslims, including Muslim countries, have to face adverse consequences because of their criminal actions.
Such thoughtless violence as committed by al-Qaida and other terrorist groups in Pakistan has created an image of Islam as a violent religion, a religion of jihad, though the value system of Islam gives precedence to compassion and respect for human life and dignity. While Buddhism is being equated with compassion, and Christianity with love and peace, Islam is being equated with jihad and violence. Should these Muslim youth not deeply reflect what adverse image of Islam they have helped create?
These youth are so brainwashed by certain vested interests that they think jihad is obligatory on Muslims and that jihad is the only way out. These youth are totally ignorant of the Islamic value system and importance of moral superiority over superiority of weapons. The examples of Hudaybiyah and peaceful Meccan conquest clearly show moral superiority ultimately matters. The most powerful can be disarmed before the might of moral stand.
In our own time Gandhiji showed the effectiveness of truth and non-violence. The mighty British Empire had to bow down before the might of truth and non-violent action. Unfortunately many think non-violence is cowardice and is born out of weakness. It is very erroneous view. It is only most courageous and truthful person who practices non-violence. Violence is borne out of anger and revenge, not out of truthful stand.
The Prophet of Islam once defined jihad as ‘telling truth in the face of a tyrant ruler’ Telling truth in the face of a tyrant ruler requires tremendous courage and a coward will only kneel on his knees before a tyrant. One who is convinced of truth (Haq in Qur’anic terminology) will stand by it most courageously and endure all hardships patiently. The Muslims in the Meccan period of Islam endured unimaginable hardships with greatest degree of patience and most steadfastly. They were never provoked into violent action.
Meccan Muslims are the best example of how to endure hardships in the face of most challenging situations. Today we have so many Muslim majority countries and the Muslim youth have to put pressure on the rulers of their countries to unite and fight against injustices being perpetrated by the USA and other powers. If the rulers are pro-US and do not take action they must launch public agitation peacefully. It will expose those rulers who serve their personal interests rather than the Muslim ummah.
One can argue such agitations do not produce immediate results and no one knows what effect it will have on the ruling class. This argument is partly true. But then one would like to ask how effective are terrorist attacks? Do they succeed in achieving the desired goal? One has no such example. And again, violence against whom? So far there is not a single example that such violent attacks have forced the US or any other power to change their policies. Violence invites greater counter-violence and it becomes a vicious circle. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan (and now also in India) hundreds of innocent people have died and yet violence has been going on.
It becomes more of an ego fight than fight for any cause. Wisdom (which is one of the important values in the Holy Qur’an) requires that one should thoroughly and objectively assess the situation before adopting any strategy. Those resorting to terrorist violence are no match to the superior military might of these western nations they are fighting against or any government for that matter. And in an armed struggle they cannot involve the masses. The violent actions, on the other hand, alienate the masses from violent groups for their arbitrary attacks.
Thus, a wiser course would be to fight democratically mobilizing public opinion in their favor. The Meccan model of Islam is far more useful than any other model. The verses relating to war in the Qur’an were revealed in Madina because Muslims were being attacked by Meccan kuffar (unbelievers) again and again and in those days the only course of action available was to defend themselves. The Islamic history is witness to the fact that all the battles fought by the Prophet were defensive in nature.
And if the USA attacked Iraq and Afghanistan it was for the armies of these countries to defend themselves or devise other strategies, in case of defeat. It does not give license to any group to launch violent attacks. And these groups cannot attack the innocent civilians of their own countries.
In the case of India one cannot avenge communal violence by such terrorist attacks on innocent Hindus and Muslims in market places. It is the same sin which communal forces committed against innocent Muslims. Wisdom requires that one should patiently mobilize public opinion through democratic means and win over the hearts of common Hindus and expose communal fascist forces in the eyes of public.
One hopes the misguided Muslim youth resorting to such violent actions would realize the futility of terror attacks and renounce such sinful and criminal acts and instead concentrate on excelling in learning and acquiring superior moral character thus truly following transcendent Qur’anic moral precepts. Did not the Prophet say ‘ink of a scholar is superior to the blood of the martyr?’
(Islam and Modern Age, October 2008)
Institute of Islamic Studies