Jihad – The Reality
By Samra Mursaleen
Jihad is arguably the most misunderstood Islamic concept in the western world yet surprisingly few scholars have been able to explain it sufficiently so as to convince the western audience of its non-violent reality. This is why Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri’s recent visit to the US has been critical to this discourse. An invitation by Professor John Esposito of Georgetown university, led Dr Qadri to visit the university in Washington D.C. and deliver a comprehensive lecture on the concept of Jihad at the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding. The audience comprised of US-government officials, cadets from US Army, Navy and Air Force as well as academicians, policy makers and representatives of various organisations and agencies.
In the lecture, Dr Qadri was able to explain how jihad can never be defined as an act of criminality or violence. He explained that in the Holy Qur’an, thirty one verses out of the thirty five verses where Jihad has been used has done so with no reference to warfare or fighting neither in the text or the context of the verse. Moreover he explained that technically warfare is not known as jihad; rather it means to struggle, exert and put your full efforts into a good cause.
He stated that there are five types of jihad, the first one being jihad bin nafs which means self-purification and struggling against the evil inclinations of one’s soul. The second type is jihad bil ilm which means striving to spread knowledge and he used the Alwaleed Bin Talal centre as one example of an institution that is involved in jihad bil ilm because it serves the interest of inter-faith harmony and dialogue through the dissemination of beneficial knowledge. The third type is jihad bil amal which entails struggling for social reform and democracy and fighting peacefully against corruption and social evils. The fourth type of Jihad that he spoke about was jihad bil maalwhich entails acts of charity; spending money for the elimination of poverty and resolving the economic deadlock of the poor. The fifth type of jihad is jihad bil Qitaal which means just warfare carried out in ones defence or a ‘defensive strategy against aggression’ which can only be carried out after five specific conditions have been fulfilled, none of which are offensive. He emphasised that if any of the conditions are unfulfilled then the war becomes an unjust and offensive war which can no longer be deemed as jihad and as a result the act becomes criminal.
The five conditions for jihad bil Qitaal that Dr Qadri spoke of are the following; firstly no individual or a group of individuals can take up arms but only the state can declare a defensive war; secondly there can be no killing of non-combatants, therefore suicide bombings that are carried out against civilians are unlawful. Here Dr Qadri noted this act to be unlawful for two reasons; firstly the act of committing suicide itself is unlawful and secondly it is unlawful to kill non-combatants. The third condition is that the war should have a ‘just’ cause; the Holy Quran specifies a ‘just’ cause as being one of self defence.
“And fight in the cause of Allah against those who impose war on you. (Yes,) but do not exceed limits. Surely, Allah does not like those who exceed limits.” (Sura al-Baqara, 2:190).
The other being fighting against violence, brutality and terrorism, which in the Holy Quran has been described as ‘fitna’. So a just war is permitted here in order to eliminate this fitna and to restore peace and harmony. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
“And keep fighting against them until the disruption and mischief is totally eliminated and Din practically becomes subservient to Allah alone (i.e. peace, security and human rights are completely restored). But if they desist, then offensive action is not permissible except against the wrongdoers (transgressors).” (Sura al-Baqara, 2:193).
Thirdly a just war would be permitted in order to help the oppressed whose human rights are being violated. Allah says:
“What has happened to you (Muslims) that you do not fight in the cause of Allah (to eliminate violence and aggression), whereas those helpless (oppressed and tyrannized) men, women and children who, (depressed by plunder and carnage) call out (for their freedom): ‘O our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose (affluent and influential) people are oppressors, and appoint for us some guardian from Your Presence, and make someone our helper from Your Presence.” (Sura al-Nisa’, 4:75).
Dr Qadri mentioned this as being in parallel to the UN Security Council resolutions (1199 to 1244) which were passed in the cases of Iraq in 1990/92 and in Kosovo. Here an act of collective intervention took place in order to stop the abuse of human rights there. Fourthly a just war would be permitted in a situation where a treaty of peace between two states is breached by one and a state of war is resumed. A pre-emptive war can thus be carried out against the other state in self defence. Allah says:
“And, (O people of Truth,) continue your fight against these (chieftains of oppression and terrorism for the establishment of enduring peace), until there does not (remain) any disruption and Din (the system of compliance with law and promoting the phenomena of life) is devoted to Allah alone. And if they desist, then Allah is surely seeing well (the action) that they are accomplishing.” (Sura al-Anfal, 8:39).
The fifth condition is that there should be proportionality. There cannot be a transgression of the limits for example no killing of civilians, no cutting down trees, no destroying places of worship, no killing of women, children, patients, priests, religious scholars, diplomats, and no acts of brutality with the dead.
Thus a clear distinction can be seen between the act of terrorism and the act of jihad bil Qitaal, a just war in defence. Notably, Dr Qadri also mentioned that the criteria and definition of jihad bil Qitaal is in no way different to the UN charter’s approval of a just war. Furthermore, Dr Qadri stated that nowhere in the Holy Quran have the two words, Jihad and Qitaal ever been used together in any one verse. In fact there are just four verses which mention ‘just war’(Qitaal) with the word jihad, but not in the same verse only in the same context.
Elaborating on Qitaal or ‘Just War’ he explained a critical point whereby the companions of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, were for thirteen years forbidden to carry out any armed resistance (a defensive, just war) against their persecutors who had long been oppressing them and carrying out acts of aggression against them, for all of that time. Rather they were commanded to bear the persecution with patience. Then when the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, migrated to Medina, the first verse revealed to him was in Surah 22 (al Hajj), verse 39 whereby it stated that God had permitted the companions to carry out an armed resistance against those who had already imposed war on them. The verse says:
“Permission (to fight against mischief, disruption and oppression) is granted to those against whom (aggressive) war is waged, because they were oppressed and Allah is doubtlessly All-Powerful to help them (the oppressed).”
Critically it was only in the fourteenth year after the proclamation of Prophethood that God allowed the Muslims to carry out what was a defensive war against their persecutors. A further six years passed when the second verse permitting a defensive war was again revealed after the non-Muslim Makkans broke the Treaty of Hudaybia. This Treaty of Peace between the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him (and the Medinans) and the Makkans, was a ‘No War’ Pact for ten years. After the breach by the Makkans, God revealed in the Quran that the Muslims could fight against those who had already started a war against them, thus again permitting a defensive war. Dr Qadri reminded the audience that defensive warfare has always been the right of nations throughout history. Significantly Dr Qadri also stated that all 80 wars that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was forced to participate in, directly or indirectly, were all defensive.
Speaking at the US Institute of Peace, a prestigious think-tank, Dr Qadri added that jihad offers a guarantee for the establishment of global peace and a welfare-oriented commonwealth of nations and that it is so called ‘jihadist’ groups who have misused the concept for their own evil agenda. Subsequently at the Global Peace and Unity Event in London, Dr Qadri spoke again about Jihad’s popular perception being totally different to its reality. He explained that its literal and etymological meaning is exertion, strengthening, striving and to put extreme effort into countering evil and achieving good for the pleasure of God and His Prophet, peace be upon him. He also declared that those who commit acts of terrorism on any pretexts have no link with the Prophet, peace be upon him,or the Holy Quran or Islam rather they are to be regarded as a criminals who are out of the ambit of Islam. He declared that Islam stands for peace, tolerance, mutual understanding and dialogue, harmony, mercy, compassion and human dignity. He explained that it condemned violence, militancy, terrorism and brutality. In his words, “At the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, when human dignity was virtually non-existent, when a system of brutality prevailed worldwide and when racial, religious and tribal discrimination was the norm, Islam stood for the poor, the oppressed, the orphans, women and children, irrespective of their race, culture and religion. Islam came to unify the world, to promote peace and human dignity.”
In his closing words Dr Qadri urged listeners to look into the real message of Islam given by the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and cited a Hadith from Bukhari and Muslim where the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, relates a story of an Israelite woman who was punished by God with hellfire because she had killed a cat by depriving it from food and water. In another Hadith, again in Bukhari and Muslim, the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, related that a lady was rewarded with paradise for saving a dog’s life by providing water for it. After hearing this the companions asked the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, whether they would be rewarded if they too performed similar acts of kindness to animals, to which the Prophet, peace be upon him, gave an affirmative answer and declared that any act of kindness shown to any living being would be rewarded on the day of judgement.Dr Qadri explained that If Islam has condemned the violent killings of animals then it would undoubtedly condemn the killing of non-combatant human beings.
Movingly Dr Qadri cited a hadith whereby the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, declared the safety and security of the people of Nejran, (a majority of Christians and Jews); with the words; “God is the Protector and Muhammad the Messenger is the Guardian of all lawful rights on the people of Nejran. Those who are present and those who are absent, their lives are safe, their families are secure, their affiliates are secure, their possessions are secure, their houses are secure and their families are secure. They will have freedom of religious expression, bishops and priests will not be removed from their posts and all worshippers will be given full protection. They will not be oppressed and no person in my community will be allowed to commit any crime or acts of injustice against these people because Allah and His Prophet have provided them with security”.
In relation to the present Dr Qadri explained that Muslims living in the West who enjoy all legal, constitutional and judicial rights; financial privileges and socio-economic support would be committing gross acts of criminality and contravening the teachings of Islam if they were to attack the non-Muslim population through any terroristic means. He added that Muslims who do wish to do so should migrate to their ‘homeland’.
More recently Dr Qadri was invited to the prestigious World Economic Forum in Davos 2011 notably the only Islamic scholar to be given this request, to speak on the topic of the ‘reality of terrorism’. In his well received discourse, he stressed the importance and the pressing need for the understanding of the Islamic concept of Jihad in its correct perspective and further elaborated on its real meaning in the context of the modern world.
In all four highly anticipated events, Dr Qadri effectively clarified all misconceptions about jihad and brought to light its beautiful reality using detailed evidence from the Quran and the Sunnah. It has undoubtedly been a great and imperative contribution to the discourse.
The writer is a lecturer in Law.