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The non-correlation between Jihad and Terrorism


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By Shaykh Muhammad Imdad Hussain Pirzada, April 2004

Over the last few years, Islam has been specifically linked with terrorism. The Western media has painted a somewhat distorted picture of Islamic teachings, particularly the philosophy of Jihad, and has sought to correlate terrorism as an integral part of Islam. It is unfortunate that the leaders of Muslim nations are apologetic cowardly in their response. Muslims find themselves feeling confused with the onslaught of anti-Islamic propaganda and the lack of conviction from their own leaders.

The reality is that there is no link or correlation between Jihad and terrorism. In fact the two terms are diametrically opposed to one another. A detailed study of the principles of Jihad as expressed in the Qur’an and Sunnah, in accordance to the historical context, and in view of its prerequisites and etiquettes will clearly highlight that Jihad in Islam is only permitted to prevent terrorism. Therefore, to equate Jihad with terrorism is wholly inaccurate.

The Historical Background of Jihad

When the Beloved Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) began propagating the message of Islam to the Makkans, they left no stone unturned in attempting to cause maximum distress and anxiety upon him and his followers. Such was the extent of the physical, intellectual and spiritual harm caused by them that the Muslims were compelled to flee Makkah and migrate to Madinah. But even there, the infidels did not lessen their brutality and tyranny against the Muslims. For example, they incited ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Ubay to stir trouble with the Muslims, they united with the Jews of Madinah to make peace amongst Muslims untenable, and then intended to invade Madinah. The Muslims thus had no other viable option but to defend themselves in the form of Jihad. It was only then, Allah (swt) granted the Muslims permission to fight and combat the barbaric infidels. (Note that every war the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) participated in was wholly defensive, and were in no sense of the word offensive).

To dispel many misconceptions concerning Jihad, particularly the false claim that Jihad is offensive and aims at territorial gain, it is worth focusing on the first three wars in Islam. The infidels and their allies tried to eliminate Islam by forcing the Muslims out of their homes. The Muslims were then compelled to pick up the sword to defend themselves and their homes. For instance, the Battle of Badr took place only thirty miles away from Madinah, the Battle of Uhud was only twelve miles away and the Battle of Trench occurred just on the outskirts of Madinah. To combat the infidels’ evil, malicious and heinous intentions, Allah (swt) permitted the Muslims to fight them, but even then, in a gracious and humane manner.

The Etiquettes and Prerequisites of Jihad

Allah had permitted Muslims to counter attack violence with violence, but only under strict prerequisites. To understand the Qur’an’s position on Jihad, it is imperative to answer three questions; (i) what is the purpose of Jihad? (ii) who is Jihad waged against? (iii) what are the conditions of Jihad? The Qur’an and Sunnah explicitly answer these three questions.

(i) The purpose of Jihad is to raise the banner of truth and to save humanity from the infliction of tyranny. It is not legitimate to wage Jihad for the purpose of looting, plundering, financial gain, nationalism or simple animosity, or other futile purposes which are not befitting to the believers.

(ii) Jihad is waged against those who initiate war against Muslims or plan to do so. The Qur’an states this fact very clearly: “And fight in the path of Allah (swt) with those who fight you and do not transgress. Verily Allah (swt) does not like the transgressors” (Qur’an 2, 190) “Allah (swt) does not forbid you regarding those who did not fight you in the matter of religion, nor drove you out of your homes that you show them kindness and deal with them justly. Surely Allah (swt) loves those who do justice. Allah (swt) forbids you only about those who fought you in the matter of religion, and drove you out of your homes or helped others in driving you out, that you take them for friends. And whoever takes them for friends, it is they who are the wrong-doers.” (Qur’an 60, 8-9)

(iii) There are strict etiquettes and conditions of Jihad which are to be fulfilled at all times. This includes when the battle is in full swing; where emotions spiral out of control, when the tense atmosphere causes humans to lose any sense of humanity, and when rage spreads like wild-fire in the veins of all soldiers. Transgression is strictly prohibited in any form, for Allah does not like those who transgress. Islam forbids Muslims from harming women, children, disabled, the ill, elders, farmers, ordinary workers, clerics and leaders of any religion, as long as they do not participate in battle. History testifies that Muslims always honoured these etiquettes and numerous examples exist where the Muslims flawless behaviour in the battlefield has astonished observers.

We challenge those who are against Jihad and those who accuse Islam of terrorism to present just one nation or group who have never violated any rules in a war, and have acted fairly and justly throughout. Nowadays, cities and urban areas are carpet-bombed minutes after the announcement of war. Women, children, disabled are not spared in war and safe-havens are not longer such. Hospitals, places of worship and schools are targeted without an eyebrow being raised.

Surat at-Tawbah and Terrorism

At first, the only enemies of Islam were the infidels of Makkah, but as Islam spread to Madinah and other areas, numerous tribes and nations declared war against Muslims. Thus, the last eight or nine years of the Prophet’s (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) life was spent defending Muslims from external threats. Hence, all rulings and principles revealed concerning Jihad must be appreciated in this context. If they are not, then this a gross misinterpretation of the Qur’anic rulings. With this in mind, there are a handful of verses in Surat at-Tawbah which incite Muslims to cut all ties with infidels and to kill them, in response to which Allah promises His mercy and endless bounties.

Many non-Muslims interpret these verses as incitement to terrorism, unrest and mutual hatred. In fact, they demand that this Surah should not be taught in Muslim educational institutions. On Thursday 18th March, the Daily Jang (London) reported that according to the Minister of Education, the Pakistani Government was looking closely into perhaps omitting the translation of Surat at-Tawbah in schools and educational institutes. If the Pakistani Government had taken advice and consulted with the scholars and intellectuals then they would have been told that it is impossible to understand the verse outside its context. When the Surah is read from beginning to end then one will realise the context is the dishonoured behaviour of the infidels and the Battle of Tabuk. In the heat of battle and in the uncontrollable rage of war, each and every nation incites its subjects to act in the same way the Qur’an urged the Muslims to fight.

The objection of non-Muslims is akin to the famous question raised about verse 43 of Surat an-Nisa. The verse states, ‘O Believers! Do not approach prayer while intoxicated’. Could someone selectively quote the first part of the verse (Do not approach prayer) and then argue that the Qur’an orders Muslims not to pray? Of course not. The whole verse has to be read for it to make sense. Otherwise, one will be guilty of distorting the interpretation of the Qur’an beyond recognition.

To reinforce this point, consider the following references, the first from the Bible and the second a speech ascribed to the Wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill;

a. “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the Earth! No, rather, a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”. (The Living Bible, British Edition, 1975, Matthew, 10, 34-35).

b. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory- victory at all costs, victory, however long and hard the road may be”. (Winston Churchill speaking in the House of Commons, 13 May 1940, Modern World History, p 123)

At first sight, one could easily assume that Jesus and Winston Churchill were terrorists. But naturally they weren’t. Instead, when we look at the context of the two quotes, we will find both statements made perfect sense for its time and circumstances. Jesus was warning his people that if they did not forsake their distorted beliefs, then they would have to part from their close relatives. Churchill was speaking as he declared war against Germany.

In exactly the same manner, Surat at-Tawbah was revealed in wartime and must be read and appreciated in this specific context.

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