The Qur’an says:
"O ye who believe! Remain steadfast for Allah, bearing witness to justice. Do not allow your hatred for others to make you swerve to wrongdoing and turn you away from justice. Be just; that is closer to true piety." – (The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 5:8)
The Qur’an also clearly states:
to take one’s life without justification is as if he has taken the lives of all humanity
(The Holy Qur’an chapter 5 : verse 35)
Jihad is the notion of striving which is derived from the Arabic word jahada which means “to lift” or to “make an effort”.
The concept of jihad is a predominant view in Islam which encompasses every aspect of one’s struggle against the temptations of life, including the battle with the ego and the desires of the soul.
The jihad, in the first thirteen years for the Muslims of Mecca (623 - 632 CE) meant strictly practicing non-violence. The Holy Qur’an ordered them to:
Restrain your hands and establish regular prayers and pay Zakat. (The Holy Qur’an Chapter 3: Verse 77)
In 623 a revelation from the Prophet allowed Muslims to defend themselves from the aggressive and violent acts of the Meccan forces, who had persecuted every Muslim and their families as well as martyring many others. The Muslims mobilised themselves into well - organised militant groups in Medina and as a result took up arms to defend their territorial rights:
Permission is given to those against whom war is made, because they are oppressed, and God is able to help them. These are the people who are expelled from their homes without cause because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’.
(The Holy Qur’an Chapter 22: Verse 39)
The Medinan Muslims engaged in a militant struggle to force the Meccans into a treaty which saw almost ten years of peace in which time Islam spread amongst the Arab tribes unhindered and consequently the pagan Meccans submitted to the will of the Muslims without a drop of blood being shed.
The revelation came that changed the jihad from a defensive struggle to an offensive one:
Fight against those among the people of the book who do not believe in God and the Last day, who do not forbid what God and His messenger have forbidden, and who do not consider the true religion as their religion until they are subdued and pay jizyah.
(The Holy Qur’an chapter 9: verse 29)
This directly changed the way the new Muslim empire viewed itself. Within a few decades the Arabs had attained newfound wealth never imagined and a civilization that was exemplary and one to emulate in centuries to come.
The concept of an “offensive” jihad cannot be any act of aggression, which is clearly forbidden. More importantly, in the minds of the Muslims, theirs was not a material gain but one in which justice and morality were preserved. The common misconception of jihad meaning holy war is still popular today, this concept is alien to Islam and the early conquests were not holy wars.
Modern Islamic reformer Khaled Abou Fadl states categorically that:
Islamic tradition does not have a notion of holy war. Jihad simply means to strive hard or struggle in pursuit of a just cause. Holy war (Ar. al-harb al-muqaddasah) is not an expression used by the Qur'anic text or Muslim theologians. In Islamic theology war is never holy; it is either justified or not.
Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutb born in 1906 in his essay on jihad advocates that in order to obtain a just society one must be free to choose his faith and to attain such freedom, Islamic states were required to use force. He says:
The very purpose of this movement (Islam) is to set human beings free from the yoke of human enslavement and make them serve the One and Only God.
It is true that the early Muslims embarked on a Just War in which it saw the liberation of certain areas as an obligation. This was not only to ensure the survival of Islam but to create a lasting and just peace.
Majid Khadduri in Islamic Concept of Justice, notes that:
The state was the instrument with which Islam sought its ultimate objective; the establishment of God’s will and justice over the world.”
Wright in the Nature of Conflict says, “Islam began a career of conquest in the Seventh century with the thesis that it was the only true faith and was necessarily in conflict with all other religions. This was represented by the doctrine of the jihad or the perpetual war of the “world of Islam” (Dar al-Islam) with the “world of war” (Dar al-Harb).
This concept stated that the world was split into two divisions or abodes: the abode of Islam (Dar al Islam) and which may be called pax Islamica consisting of the territory over which Islamic justice ruled supreme and the rest of the world, Dar al-Harb, or the abode of war, over which public orders prevailed.
According to Qutb a Muslim must enter a movement and perform jihad to restore the true religion in the world. But Qutb stresses that there is a distinction between a jihad to free the world and the idea of enforcing Islam on the world. Religion was and still is to be carried out by peaceful means as:
there should be no compulsion in the spread of the word of God.
(The Holy Qur’an chapter 2: verse 257)
He says, “Islam in order to translate this ideal into reality, does not forcibly compel people to accept its faith but provides them with a free atmosphere to exercise their choice of faith.”
This view was supported by the great scholar and jurisprudent, Imam al-Shafi who believed that the expansion of the state carried out by jihad, was an entirely different matter. Imam al-Shafi who laid down a framework for Islam’s relationship with non-Muslims and formulated the doctrine that jihad had for its intent for the waging of war on unbelievers; for their disbelief and not only when they entered into conflict with the Islamic state.
However, prevailing interpretations based on the notion that Islam is a political community endowed with a public order designed to govern its internal affairs as well as to conduct its relationship with others in accordance with a scale of justice determined by the will and Justice of God, see the doctrine of the jihad as obsolete and in a state of dormancy.
In early Islam scholars like Abu Hanifa (founder of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence) and Shaybani made no explicit declarations that the jihad was a war to be waged against non-Muslims. On the contrary they stressed that tolerance should be shown to unbelievers, and prescribed war only when the non-believers came into conflict with Islam.
Islam prohibited all kinds of war except in the form of jihad in defence of your faith. Jihad was not necessarily a requirement for all able-bodied Muslims to fight, Jihad could be made in the form of your actions, or your words and even in your heart. The only legitimate war was a just war. All other wars were prohibited.
The classical doctrine of the jihad made no distinction between defensive and offensive war, for in the pursuance of the establishment of God’s sovereignty and justice on Earth the difference between defensive and offensive was irrelevant. However, although the duty of the jihad was commanded by God, (Qur’an chapter 61:10-13) it was considered to be binding only when the strength of the believers was theirs. That is when Islam was in the ascendancy.
When Islamic power began to decline, the state could obviously no longer assume a preponderant (greater in number) attitude without impairing its internal unity.
The ultimate objective was to establish peace and justice with communities which acknowledged the Islamic public order, Islam regulated its relationship with other states through the branch of law called the Siyar. The Siyar was a set of rules with the same textual sources as the sharia, possessing its own scales of justice based on Islamic principles and its experience with other people.
Vryonis, writes in The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor;
By 10th C jihad wars had expanded the Muslim empire from Portugal to India. Subsequent Muslim conquests continued in Asia, as well as on Christian eastern European lands. The Christian kingdoms of Armenia, Byzantium, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, and Albania, in addition to parts of Poland and Hungary, were also conquered and Islamized. When the Muslim armies were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683, over a millennium of jihad had transpired.
This great achievement still bewilders many scholars today. There are many who use this point to illustrate that Islam is a violent religion and that jihad is based on offensive battles of expansion.
However, the early expansion of the Muslim Arabs, were not offensive imperialistic manouvres as historians like Vyronis, Lewis, Cook and commentators like Pipes have interpreted. The Arabs were compelled to protect themselves from threatening empires like Egypt, Persia and Byzantine. It was obligatory for Muslims to fight polytheists and to purge the Arabian peninsula of polytheism. The world was seeped in ignorance and practiced barbaric customs. It was incumbent on Muslims to free the oppressed people from the shackles of barbarism and allow people to develop in an environment of spiritual freedom. In the context of the time, this was seen as permissible. Even under latter ruling empires such as the Ottoman’s the expansion of the Islamic state was based on defensive wars or pre-emptive attacks against aggressor states such as Austria-Hungary and Serbia.
It is a simple case of just looking at Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Armenia where the Christians retained their faith and their identity more freely than under the Catholic Genoese or Venetians or under the Orthodox Byzantines. The subject people preferred the just rule of the Ottomans than their own Christian counterparts. The saying goes “better the Sultans turban than the Pontiffs cap”.
The complex nature of European developments of violence, however, was inevitably exported to Islamic societies in the early 20th century.
Berman in his book Terror and Liberalism espouses the view that Europe’s secularization led to a violent pathway. The advent of Liberalism meant total freedom that resulted in murder and suicide. In citing Tariq Ramadan and Albert Camus, he states there are fundamental clashes in view between European and Islamic approaches to violence through totalitarianism:
Ramadan observes that in looking for the roots of totalitarianism in mythology and literature, Camus confined himself to the myths and literary classics of the West. Civilisation to Camus meant Western culture and did not mean Islam.
However, both philosophers, he claims, “recognized that totalitarianism and terrorism are one and the same. If only we could discover the roots of totalitarianism, we would have discovered the roots of terror.”
The Promethean view of life that is prevalent in Western society is based on the rebellious attitude of man. Ramadan explains that the basic difference between Muslim thought and Christian is that “In Islam there is no tendency to rebel. Submission is the road to social justice, to a contented soul, and to harmony with the world.” Islam’s greatest model of submission is exemplified in the compliance of Abraham the father of Islam. There was no rebellion, no questioning, strictly submission to the will of God:
Camus invoked the myth of Prometheus the Titan, who goes further than Abraham and in a spirit of radical action, takes that final step into full scale rebellion. Prometheus steals Zeus’ fire and gives it to man. He is punished horribly for his transgression – and yet the Titan’s transgression is man’s benefit.
The development of Europe towards the separation of religion from the affairs of the state was the turning point in which Islam and Christian Europe diverged.
“That was the new twisted impulse in Europe- the rebellion that begins with freedom and ends with crime.”
Berman believes that once Liberalism took root on the continent great leaps in progress occurred in the West. It “was due to one all-powering principle. It was the recognition that all of life is not governed by one single all-knowing and all-powerful authority - by a divine force.”
Modern day Islamic nations have inherited a libertarian view towards violence:
Then again during its first 500 years of world domination Europe did export innumerable customs and ideas to every corner of the globe; and having exported everything else, why should Europe have been unable to export its spirit of self destruction, too?
In the Twentieth century many European ideologies spread to Islamic societies; Marxism, socialism, fascism and in particular nationalism in the form of pan-Arabism. Whilst many of these ideologies never really made lasting impacts on these societies, modernity’s pressures and the shrinking world placed pressures on the systems that these nations were to operate under. The socialist movements of the early Twentieth century influenced Arab politics for the most part of their existence after independence from colonial rule but a concurrent movement which Berman refers to as Islamist was also developing with greater emphasis on social welfare and religious quality. They remained for the most part apolitical although their influence was great. These movements were inspired by scholars like Afghani, Maududi and Hassan Al Banna who started the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sayyid Qutb wrote in Milestones:
“In this unfortunate fashion the schizophrenic aspect of Christian thought… spread into the realm of scientific knowledge. Everything that Islam knew to be one the Christian Church divided into two.” This is why secularism would not work in Islamic societies as they could not see the difference between politics and religion, they were inexorably one.
He truly believed that Islam, if correctly followed, possessed the answer. Qutb described Islam as:
a religion that does not deny man any of his natural tendencies or instincts, or pretend to achieve human purity by suppressing or destroying man’s basic human needs. Rather Islam disciplines, guides and fosters these desires and needs in a manner that reinforces man’s humanity and invigorates his consciousness of, and relationship with God. It further seeks to blend physical and sensual tendencies with human and religious emotions, thus bringing together the transient pleasures and the immutable values of human life into one harmonious and congruent system that will render man worthy of being God’s representative on Earth.
He was very critical of the West and Christianity, especially in their dominance of Islamic societies and their resources.
Freedom in a liberal society seemed to Qutb no freedom at all:
Secularism has largely failed in Islamic societies. This hideous schizophrenia for Muslims has caused instability over the past decades and is a major contributor to the violence that plays out each day. While Muslim societies could theoretically establish peace in a secularized fashion, it is a recipe for conflict. In Iraq and Afghanistan as the war on terror continues we are witnessing this failure today.
The world is gradually realizing that it is a war of ERROR. And Australia’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan makes it doubly erroneous. We are complicit in the deaths of nearly a million Iraqis and thousands of Afghanis. The error in terror is fast becoming the dominant paradigm.
The War of Error started shortly after the attacks on the WTC buildings and the subsequent deaths of over three thousand of US citizens. In hindsight we may see that taking revenge against poor Afghanistan was a foolish step towards making the world more unsafe and unstable and then the invasion of Iraq totally tipped the scales and has made the region more volatile and unpredictable. Since the declaration by the US president that “you are with us or you are with the terrorists” we have seen bomb attacks in peaceful cities like Madrid, Istanbul, Indonesia, London and foiled attempts in Berlin. The errors have not ceased, we have had accidental bombings of wedding parties and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. And even our own soldiers have been coming home in coffins, now four in the past two years. The AWB scandal highlighted the corruption and the cruel undertaking to which the Australian government has committed our nation.
In Iraq there are gross injustices and violation of human rights, there is extreme poverty and the terrifying reality that almost every Iraqi faces on a daily basis; the bombings, shootings, unemployment, no access to education and a bleak future ahead.
The war of error is the greatest tragedy of this century and unless sanity prevails we will spiral further into anarchy and bedlam.
Islam seeks peace with God, this is not contrary to democracy.
In the West we seek peace without God.
To force Muslim societies to take the latter path could just be one more error in a chain of errors.