These days the American scholars and academics are having repeated discussions on the meaning and significance of jihad in Islamic tradition. There are those scholars who are genuinely interested in understanding the meaning and significance of jihad and those who, with agendas of their own, want to either deliberately distort meaning of jihad or select Islamic sources selectively to prove their pre-conceived meaning. Some of them do it with malicious intention, no with academic objectivity. This trend has existed for centuries but has again been accentuated in post 9/11 of 2001.
We have before us an article "Jihad and the Professors" written by Daniel Pipes and published in Commentary of November 2002. The author is bent upon proving that jihad in Islam is nothing but an "armed warfare" against non-Muslims. Nothing else could be admissible. No amount of different meanings given by respectable academics is admissible. It is explained away as an attempt "to advance their agenda within Western, non-Muslim environments". Mr. Pipes has no regard for conscientious opinion of many Muslim scholars and even some Muslim clerics. For him jihad is only armed conflict with non-Muslims. In fact Pipes even says that it is not even defensive war but offensive and aggressive warfare against non-Muslims.
In the beginning of his above article he quotes opinions of many Muslim and other sympathetic non-Muslim scholars but only to refute them. For example, David Little, a Harvard professor of religion and international affairs, had stated after the attacks of September 11, 2001 that jihad "is not a license to kill," while to David Mitten, a professor of classical art ad archaeology as well as faculty adviser to the Harvard Islamic Society, "true jihad is the constant struggle of Muslims to conquer their inner base instincts, to follow the path of God, and to do good in society." He also quotes Iranian professor Roy Mottahedeh saying " a majority of learned Muslim thinkers, drawing on impeccable scholarship, insists that jihad must be understood as a struggle without arms."
Mr. Pipes also tells us that he surveyed more than two dozen experts and only four of them admitted that jihad has any military component whatsoever and even they, Pipes says, "with but a single exception, insist that this component is purely defensive in nature. Vaslerie Hoffman of the University of Illinois is unique in saying that, "no Muslim she knew would have endorsed such terrorism [as the attacks of September 11], as it goes against Islamic rules of engagement." Then she comments "No other scholar would go so far as even this implicit hit that jihad includes an offensive component."
He also quotes John Esposito of Georgetown, perhaps the most visible scholar of Islam, holds that "in the struggle to be a good Muslim, there may be times where one will be called upon to defend one's faith and community. Then [jihad] can take on the meaning of armed struggle." He quotes another specialist holding this view is Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im of Emory, who explains that "War is forbidden by the shari`ah [Islamic law] except in two cases: self defense, and the propagation of Islamic faith." And Pipes also quotes Blake Burleson of Baylore to the effect that "in Islam, an act of aggression like September 11 'would not be considered a holy war'.
He surveyed more scholars as to their opinion of jihad. Many of them, a large contingent indeed, deny that jihad has any military meaning whatsoever. For Joe Elder, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, the idea that jihad means holy war is "a gross misinterpretation." Rather, Elder says, jihad is a "religious struggle, which more closely reflects the inner, personal struggles of the religion." Another scholar Dell De Chant, a professor of world religions at the University of South Florida, jihad as usually understood means "a struggle to be true to the will of God and not holy war."
Daniel Pipes quotes opinions of many more academics all of whom maintain that jihad is internal struggle to be a good Muslim and not a military offensive of any kind. The Qur'an hardly uses the word jihad for war or for fighting with arms. It mostly means striving in the way of Allah and striving hard. For example the verse 2:218 says, "Those who believed and those who fled (their houses) and strove hard (jahadu) in Allah's way- these surely hope for the mercy of Allah." Similarly in 29:6 Qur'an says, " And whoever strives hard(jahada), strives for himself. Surely Allah is Self sufficient, above (need of) (His) creatures."
In the Qur'an jihad has always been used in the sense of 'making efforts' or 'striving hard', not making war. Jihad in the sense of war, is a post-Qur'anic usage. This itself is an interesting area of research as to when and how the word jihad came to be used in the sense of war. In Arabic language jihad does not mean war. For war there are other words like harb or qitaal. The Qur'an also uses these words for war. Thus we find the use of the word harb in the sense of war in verses like 9:107, 5:33, 2:279, 5:64, 8:57 and 47:4. In all these verses the word harb and its derivatives have been used for war.
And the word qital has been used in Qur'an in 167 verses. If we consult Arabic lexicon we will find that the words jahada and jaahada signify that a person strove, laboured or toiled; exerted himself or his power, or efforts, or endeavors, or ability; employed himself vigorously, diligently, studiously, sedulously, earnestly, or with energy; was diligent or studious, took pains or extraordinary apins. These meanings are derived from well-known lexicons like Lisan al-Arab, Qamoos of Firozabadi and Lane's Arabic English lexicon etc. This is the classical usage of the word and also its usage in the Qur'an.
However, Daniel Pipes is not at all convinced of this meaning of jihad despite array of opinions of eminent scholars and Islamic thinkers. Mr. Pipes, maintains that jihad means nothing but war irrespective of what was its original usage and what is its usage in the Qur'an. He does not even refer to the Qur'anic usage of the word. He quotes only from the post-Qur'anic sources to substantiate his case.
Thus Pipes says, "In pre-modern times, jihad meant mainly one thing among Sunni Muslims, then as now the Islamic majority. It meant the legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims (known in Arabic as dar al-Islam) at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims (dar al-harb). In this prevailing conception, the purpose of jihad is political, not religious. It aims not so much to spread the Islamic faith as to extend sovereign Muslim power (though the former has often followed the latter.) the goal is boldly offensive and its ultimate intent is nothing less than to achieve Muslim dominion over the entire world."
If Pipes had carefully studies the Islamic history he would have known that Muslims, right from earliest times never used war (not jihad in any case) for spreading faith. Faith can never be spread with the help of sword or gun. It is only political sovereignty, which can be imposed through sword. But as far as Qur'an is concerned it does not permit war or aggression for any purpose, not even for spreading political sovereignty, much less for spreading the faith. There is not a single verse in the Qur'an for using arms for any purpose except for defensive purpose. And even while defending, the Qur'an advises Muslims not to transcend certain limit.
The verse 2:190 is quite categorical about it. "And fight (qaatilu) in the way of Allah those who fight against you but be not aggressive. Surely Allah loves not the aggressors" (emphasis supplied). Thus both things are clear here. You fight only those who fight you and do not be aggressors as Allah does not love aggressors. Those who accuse Islam of being a religion of aggressors and fighters do so either out of ignorance of the text of the Qur'an or do so maliciously.
There are several verses in the Qur'an about war and fighting but if read in proper context in which these verses were revealed, it becomes quite clear that they were all revealed in the background of aggression by the unbelievers of Mecca. It should also be noted that the unbelievers of Mecca, called kafirs or kuffar (Arabic plural) were not fighting against the Prophet of Islam and has followers just because the Prophet was attacking idol worship. The motives of conflict with Muslims were very complex. And the Prophet's objective was also not simply to oppose idol worshipping. That was not the only evil prevailing in the Arab society of his time.
It is very important to understand all this for developing proper perspective on Islam and its teachings. Such oversimplified approach that the conflict was mainly on the question of idol worshipping, distorts the issue and gives rise to the belief that Islam urged Muslims to do away with idol worshipping even with the help of sword.
The Qur'an considers religious beliefs a matter of conscience and there can be no compulsion in matter of religion as the Qur'an puts it in 2:256 (la ikrah fi' al-din). Every one can believe and worship God the way one wants (2:148). Where is then the question of spreading the faith with sword?
In fact the Qur'an was preaching a new way of life which was not acceptable to the kafirs of Mecca. In Meccan society of the Prophet's time there was no respect for morality and there was widespread corruption, moral corruption above all and total neglect of weaker sections of society. There was concept of tribal morality but in urban areas like Mecca a new society was emerging and new moral code was absolutely necessary. Also, the tribal code, even if followed meticulously, was far from enough for the new society emerging in Mecca.
The Qur'an gave a universal code of morality with emphasis on equality, justice, truth, non-violence (yes, there is great deal of emphasis on non-violence as a value in Islamic ethic), compassion and human dignity. These values, as can be seen, are quite universal and transcend narrow tribal limits. The pagan Arabs and their leaders rejected this universal morality, as they were too proud of their tribal code. Any one not belonging to their tribe could be fought against and considered inferior. And all non-Arabs were inferior to Arabs. There was no concept of human dignity.
The Meccan chapters of the Qur'an lay great emphasis on social justice and taking care of the weak. The powerful merchants of Mecca who had become international traders were neglecting even tribal morality, let alone accepting universal morality of the Qur'an. According to the tribal morality of Arabia the tribal chiefs should take care of orphans, widows and the poor. Even they were being totally neglected. The Meccan chapters of the Qur'an exhort them to take care of these weaker sections of society.
Also, the tribal chiefs of Mecca looked down upon the poor, the slaves and women. All those who were from lower strata of society had no worth for them. They looked down upon the Prophet as he was a poor orphan, too low in their esteem and now this poor orphan was claiming to be prophet and exhorting them how to behave. And, he was also exhorting them not to accumulate wealth (something they were very much after) and spend it for welfare of weaker sections of society in the name of Allah.
The tribal chiefs referred to as kuffar by the Qur'an were vehemently opposed to the Prophet for these reasons and not merely because the Prophet exhorted them not to worship idols. They could have gladly accepted worshipping one God if the Prophet had not insisted on giving up accumulation of wealth and living life of luxury these kuffar would have gladly accepted Islam. What they did not like was that the Prophet gave equal respect to slaves and treated them as dignified human being as per the Qur'anic injunction in 17:70 (We have given dignity to all children of Adam).
Thus this new morality of Islam wanted to create a new human person what is called in the Qur'anic terminology a mu'min - a believer, a faithful - a believer in and faithful to the Qur'anic values and morality. The leaders of Mecca were not prepared to give up life of luxury, life of ease and comfort and were too proud to accept equality of all human beings, of poor and rich, of slave and free beings, of man and women.
And the Prophet was not prepared to make any compromises on these issues. And all tribes had their own gods and goddesses and their identities were tied up with them. This led to social fragmentation and tribal wars. Islam wanted to end this by preaching unity of God and consequently unity of all human beings. While the Prophet would not compromise on this the kuffar would not accept this and hence the conflict between Muslims and them.
We should also bear in mind that in pre-Islamic society there was great deal of violence and it is this violence which continued when the Prophet began to preach. Some people who do not know the history of pre-Islamic Arabia or are prejudiced against Islam see violence as product of Islam. Nothing could be farther than truth.
The Prophet's (PBUH) mission was to establish a just and peaceful society. And the tribal chiefs of Mecca were a powerful obstacle in his project. Without justice it was not possible to have peace. When the Prophet talked of justice the powerful merchants of Mecca began to inflict violence on him and his followers. All weaker sections of society had rallied round the Prophet, the poor, the slaves, the women and the youth. The Prophet's clearest choice was justice and peace.
When the Prophet migrated to Madina due to severe persecution of his followers and to avoid violence and bloodshed the powerful of the Mecca pursued him to Madina and wars followed. The Prophet tried to win over the Jews by entering into a covenant with them and pagan Arabs (mithaq-e-Madina) to have peace in Madina the kuffar of Mecca secretly negotiated with the Jews and struck a deal with them. The wars followed and Jews broke the covenant of security and peace with the Prophet and tried to help the kuffar of Mecca. They even tried to eliminate the Prophet. Who is then to be blamed for violence that followed?
The Qur'an showed highest respect for the Jewish religion and even prayed in the direction of the Bait al-Maqdis which was a Jewish sacred place. What more the Prophet could have done to have peace. But it was his enemies who did not want peace in the society, the vested interests who thrive on exploitation and denial of justice always resort to violence.
In view of so much violence in the society the Qur'an also had to permit defensive violence. It is a fact of human history that justice could never be established in any society without fight against the powerful vested interests. Even America could not establish a democratic society without a fierce civil war. Freeing slaves was not an easy task. There was so much turmoil in American society even for conceding equal rights to blacks. The whites are not ready to concede equality to blacks even today in practice, though in theory American Constitution accords equality to them.
How difficult it must have been for the Prophet to establish peace in a violent Arab society where various kinds of interests were clashing, one can imagine. The Qur'an had to emphasize two different dimensions of peace - the external and internal. The external had to be met by defensive resistance, a comparatively easier project. But more difficult was to resist and control inner self and to transform ones inner self - a true jihad. If one cannot transform inner-self the external peace, even if established, cannot last longer. That is why in one of the Prophet's hadith we find that greater jihad (jihad-i-akbar) is to control ones inner-self.
It is just not true that Qur'an urges Muslims to fight aggressively against people of other faiths to spread Islam. This goes against the very spirit of Islam and its doctrine of freedom of conscience. It is important to note that Qur'an again and again repeats four words which also represent its value-system - `adl, ihsan, rahmah and hikmah (justice, benevolence, compassion and wisdom). Thus the Qur'an wants to establish a just society for benevolence of human beings with compassion and wisdom. Violence has no place in ushering in such a society.
Mr. Daniel Pipes asserts that jihad was always used to expand Islamic territories what he calls dar al-Islam and to extend control over non-Muslim territories or over dar al-harb. And this was considered jihad. He also asserts, but gives no citation or proof that the Prophet fought 78 wars of which only one was defensive. The burden of proof of course lies on Mr. Pipes. All Islamic scholars and classical theologians are unanimous that the Prophet never aggressed against others. He was forced to fight the battles. Even while conquering Mecca (in fact conquering is a wrong word, he just peacefully entered Mecca) he did not shed blood. He pardoned all his enemies. He pardoned even Hindah who had taken out liver from the body of Hamzah, Prophet's uncle who was great soldier of Islam, and chewed it. That was in keeping with the Qur'anic morality - to suppress ones anger and not to thirst for revenge.
To fight wars of aggression as Pipes alleges, is strictly forbidden by the Qur'an. And the prophet never violated the injunctions of the Qur'an. But it cannot be said of other Muslims. It is not my case that Muslim rulers did not aggress against other non-Muslim rulers. That might have even claimed it to be jihad to legitimize their wars of aggression. But any ones claim cannot make it jihad.
It is also important to note that the word jihad in the sense of armed fight is post-Qur'anic usage. Jihad, as already pointed out earlier, has not been used in this sense in the Qur'an. There may be this kind of usage however, in hadith literature but let us remember that ahadith contained in the six authentic collections (Sihah Sittah) were compiled centuries after the demise of the Holy Prophet. We know that meanings of words do undergo transformation with passage of time and they acquire new usage and new meaning.
Also, it is highly necessary to ascertain what scripture prescribes and how its followers behave. And also, one should not hold entire community guilty for what some members of the community do. The Christians also have not practiced what is prescribed by the Bible. Many Christian rulers have indulged in bloodshed on large scale but for this neither Christianity nor all Christians can be blamed.
It is not true that Muslims in modern times, as Pipes writes, are indulging in apologia for jihad. In earliest times in history of Islam there were Muslims who did not agree with those rulers who invoked jihad for their territorial aggrandizement. The Sufis, for example, never supported wars. They were peace lovers and were devoted to love of God and practiced it with great intensity. Most of the Muslims in our own times are opposing what happened on 9/11 with all sincerity. They are not doing so only to live in America as Daniel Pipes assumes unjustly.