Jihad - Qital - Harb - Holy War?

Part 1 Introduction

Nigeria Muslims Bomb Christian Churches Christmas Day 2011



For the vast majority of non Muslims the word "jihad" is associated with "Islamic terrorism" with violence, paramilitary activities, hijackers, suicide bombers and the like. Consequently jihad is frequently translated "holy war"; holy because associated with Islam and Allah not, of course, because war is inherently holy.

To translate "jihad"with "holy war" is incorrect as it only highlights one specific aspect of jihad which includes warfare but is not limited to it. There is peaceful jihad and there is armed jihad. Mainstream Muslims would also assert that there is no such thing as "Islamic terrorism". The fundamental question we shall be asking ourselves is: "Do the concepts evoked by the words "jihad", "qital" (fighting), "harb" (war) and "Islamic terrorism" have any justification, explanation or precedents in Islamic canonical texts? Is what we witness today in the Islamic world the harvest that Muhammad 1 has sown or is it entirely a modern phenomenon, a deviation from true Islam? The number and diversity of disturbing events and the variety of locations throughout the world in which they take place raise the legitimate question: "Is Islam itself in some way responsible or do we have a manipulation of religion by certain individuals and groups? The crucial question is: "Is Islam a religion of peace or violence or is it a "miracle of rare device", a unity of opposites as in the poem of Samuel Taylor Coleridge "Kubla Khan" 2, where the river sleepily meanders in a tranquil and idyllic environment above but when it flows underground becomes violent and unpredictable prophesying war?

Although I am aware that these terrorist activities we read about in many countries of the world are set in diverse sociopolitical contexts I have chosen to discover if there is a common denominator, common roots that transcend the particular logic of politics inherent in each situation. I needed to discover if they were symptoms of a hidden illness, a darker reality embedded or enshrined in the sources of Islam. I am, of course aware that many Muslims attempt to explain these events in terms of sociopolitical phenomena of the specific area, and often as some sort of by-product of colonialism. But is this demonising of history and outside forces merely one of many ways to divert attention from the sources, from the religion of islam itself? As these acts of terrorism are perpetrated in name of Islam I thought it opportune to study the Islamic religion in search of answers. That which confirmed me in my choice was that individual jihadists and jihadist organisations quoted freely from the Qur'an to justify their views and actions. It became incumbent on me to initiate this research and share the results with whoever might be interested. I am aware that much that I am going to say will come as a surprise to many, among whom some Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims dissociate themselves from terrorism, they denounce terrorism and the only jihad of which they are aware and live by is the peaceful jihad with, at most, some vague idea of jihad as a form of defence against those attacking their territory or their religion.

It is not my intention to distort Islam in any way, but to present the facts objectively in so far as that is possible. However, the choice of the theme of jihad necessarily entails a selection of certain aspects of the Islamic vision to the exclusion of others and that selection needs to focus on violence, fighting, war and struggling in its various forms with greater emphasis placed on physical fighting due to the objective of these pages, which is an attempt to explain why and how modern "terrorism" can or cannot be sustained in the name of Islam. Jihad is central to the Islamic faith, it is one of those transversal subjects, all inclusive, universal and valid for all time. At the same time, paradoxically it is conditioned by time and events. This paradox is due to the fact that Islam is both a sociopolitical system as well as a system of faith. It is in the practice and doctrine of jihad that politics and faith converge. Faith cannot develop independently of jihad but neither can jihad develop independently of faith. They are inseparable and exist in a delicately balanced system. The history of Islam is also a history of establishing this balance, consolidating it and handling people, groups and events that have, wittingly or unwittingly disturbed or threatened to disturb that balance. jihad was born out of necessity and later became a religious duty. This is how Islam was founded and the way it developed. The history of Islam is, in a sense, the history of the doctrine of jihad. This doctrine was only gradually developed over time and in an attempt to rationalise practice and theory, politics and faith. That doctrine is still being developed and refined and the balance is frequently disturbed and restored.

We cannot ignore the fact that Islam is not just a religion but also a complete religious, social and political system; it is not a religion as we in the west would understand this word and therefore our mindset has to adapt to include this reality. Religion and politics are one and inseparable and aspects of each continually interact to create the Islamic vision, which is personal, social, political and global. Any attempt to separate them will create a distortion of the whole system with consequential imbalance and reaction.

I am convinced that we must consider a religion on the basis of the common values of humanity, on the basis of its genuine respect for and development of man, all men, the whole of man, spirit, soul and body and its respect for  human life in all its forms and stages. Furthermore, we must not confuse religion that shows us the way to perfection with those who profess that religion, journeying along that path of perfection but who frequently fall short of the mark, this is part of human nature. The same is true also of groups, movements and institutions. We cannot judge Islam by the behaviour of people. It must be judged on its sources which shape the spirit, soul and body of its followers.

Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups who appeal to Islamic sources do not respect life but that is not necessarily a reflection of the religion they profess and in whose name they claim to act. Convinced as I am that man was created in the image of God, God cannot guide man, through revelation, on the path of self destruction or of the destruction of others. I was therefore surprised to read in the Qur'an the following words: "God leads astray whom he wills" (Q.6:39) 3

"Is there anything in the Islamic sources to encourage, explain or even justify those ideas or actions conducive to the destruction of our fellow human beings for whatever reason?" This is the basic question we hope to answer. With this in mind let us proceed to examine the concept of jihad.



1  Muhammad ibn `Abdullah, transliterated as Muhammed, Mohammad, Muhammad or Mohammed. ca. 26 April 570 – 8 June 632 (Monday, 12th Rabi' al-Awwal, Year 11 A.H.). Muhammad means "praiseworthy" and occurs four times in the Qur'an. He was born in city of Mecca and became a merchant, able statesman, ruthless social and political reformer and warrior. According to Muslim belief he was the final messenger sent by God to instruct people in the way of Allah in continuity with all previous prophets in the Giudaen-Christian tradition.

He is referred to by many titles: prophet, messenger, servant of God ('abd), announcer (bashir) (Q. 2:119), witness (shahid) (Q. 33:45) bearer of good tidings (mubashshir), warner (nathir), (Q. 11:2) reminder (mudhakkir), (Q. 88:21) one who calls [unto God] (dā‘ī), (Q. 12:108) light personified (noor) (Q. 5:15), and the light-giving lamp (siraj munir) (Q. 73:1), the enwrapped (al-muzzammil) in Q. 73:1 and the shrouded (al-muddaththir) in Q. 74:1, "Seal of the Prophets".

2 For the complete text of this poem please see the following page: Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "Kubla Khan".

3 This translation is similar to the French where we find the words "Allah égare qui il veut", and the Italian, "Dio svia chi vuole". It is not an isolated verse as the same concept can be found in Q. 2:7, 17. See also the verse 4:90 in perhaps what is the most reliable translation, that by A. J. Arberry: "How is it with you, that you are two parties touching the hypocrites, and God has overthrown them for what they earned? What, do you desire to guide him whom God has led astray? Whom God leads astray, thou wilt not find for him a way".These are the more classical translations. Arbery's translation is free from any perceptible bias.

It must also be pointed out that other English translations have a version of the same verse conveying a radically different meaning, that God does not lead astray but allows man to choose to go astray: "whomever God wills, He lets go astray; and whomever he wills, He places upon a straight way" (Muhammad Asad); "whom Allah willeth, He leaveth to wander: whom he willeth, He placeth On the way that is straight" (Abdullah Yusuf Ali). In general Yusuf Ali's translation of the Qur'an is less reliable as it suffers from an anti-semitic bias, especially in his commentaries. His translation was actually banned from use in the Los Angeles district schools but approved, unsurprisingly, by the Saudi government.

Muhammad experienced compulsion as he was forced to read the words received via the archangel Gabriel on the occasion of the first presumed revelation. The above translations overriding freedom of choice might well be a consequence of that initial experience. There is compulsion, at least of a sort, in the religion of Islam. It seems to be that it is the Islamic God who chooses who will be guided and man's use of his free will seems to be overridden. Translations meant for the western mindset attempt to reinterpret texts and adapt translations to conform. All this is meant to render the Qur'an more palatable to the western mind. In effect, however, those who do not know classical Arabic do not have access to what Islam considers the literal and unadulterated word of God. One might also legitimately ask to what extent Islam is truly a universal religion if there cannot be universal, unhindered and genuine access to the primary sources in the form of accurate translations of the original.

It is often thought that it was impossible to translate the Qur'an and until recently and translations were even forbidden. This explains the titles of the various translations, which instead of the simple title "Qur'an" we have titles such as "Towards Understanding the Qur'an" and "The Message of the Qur'an". These titles betray the fact that what we have in English are not translations but interpretations of the Qur'an, the words of God are intermingled with those of man and it is not easy to distinguish between the two. One of the great advantages or drawbacks (according to one's perspective) of this is that the more embarassing aspects are either mitigated or camouflaged - a sort of disguised censorship for the western world.

For the Christian it is not God who leads astray, but Satan. To read that it is God who leads astray creates a horrific, stunning and blaspemous effect on the reader as the work of Satan is attributed to God! This should be true also for the Muslim as it was Satan who led astray the first human couple: "And We said: "O Adam, live in the Garden, you and your wife, and eat abundantly of whatever you wish but do not approach this tree, or else you will be counted among the wrong-doers." But Satan caused both of them to deflect from obeying Our command by tempting them to the tree and brought them out of the state they were in ... (Q. 2:35,36).

It is therefore very difficult, to say the least, to accept verses such as the one quoted above and similar verses such as 2:7: "Allah has sealed their hearts and their hearing, and a covering has fallen over their eyes" and 2:26: "Thus He [God] causes many to go astray just as He directs many to the Right Way." The words that follow do not help either: "And he therefore causes to go astray only the transgressors". These last words are actually meaningless.

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