Monday, November 8, 2010

What is jihad, really?

By Donald Sensing

Part 1 of 3

In India, responding to a question, President Barack Obama displayed a view of Islamic jihad that at best is amazingly naive. According to The Hindu newspaper, a student "invited his opinion on jihad during his town hall style meeting at Mumbai's St. Xavier's college."

“The phrase jihad has a lot of meaning within Islam and is subject to a lot of different interpretations, but I will say that first Islam is one of the world's great religions. More than a billion people practise Islam and an overwhelming majority view their obligations to a religion that reaffirms peace, fairness, tolerance. I think all of us recognise that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted by violence,” Mr. Obama said.

He saw isolating these “distorted notions” as the challenge before us. He stressed on practising universal principles, irrespective of one's religion or opinion of a religion.

“Whatever may be your religion we can treat each other with respect as per some of the universal principles.
The obvious question is, "What exactly are the 'universal principles' that will require adherents of Islam to act like liberals in love of tolerance and brotherhood regardless of religion? Those are Western principles, and a fairly late development in the West, that mainline Islam has never adopted and simply rejects today.

So here is part one of a three-part series on what is jihad as Islam defines it, not as tolerant, live-and-let live Western politicians imagine it to be. Whatever jihad is, it does not include tolerance. What exactly is jihad and where does it fit into Muslim theology?

The root of "jihad" is judh, Arabic for "striving." Jihad in Muslim theology is striving to defend or advance Islam or increase one's faithfulness to Islam. Jihad is not peripheral to Islam. It stands at its very center. Jihad is central to Muslim soteriology, its theology of salvation. Jihad is theologically joined at the hip to sharia, Islamic law, for it is sharia that both commands jihad and justifies jihad.

Muslim scholars and jurists distinguish between "greater jihad" and "lesser jihad," a distinction going back to Muhammad himself. Jihad, says, has been conceptually corrupted in modern years both by Western usage to mean only holy war and by numerous Islamic groups, contending for power and influence, who have also overemphasized its military component.

According to Farida Khanam, the Arabic word jihad, by itself,
... does not connote the sense of reward or worship in the religious sense of the word. But when the word jihad became a part of Islamic terminology, the sense of reward or worship came to be associated with it, that is to say, if struggle is struggle in the simple sense of word, jihad means a struggle which is an act of worship, the engagement of which earns reward to the person concerned. As the Quran says: "Strive for the cause of God as you ought to strive" (22:78).
Jihad certainly does mean warfare to defend or advance Islam. But not just any war Muslims wage is jihad. Unless a war has been declared jihad by recognized clerical authority, it's just warfare, not jihad. However, in historic Muslim theology, jihad more generally means striving toward equilibrium of Islamic character both within individuals and among the Muslim umma (the people of a Muslim society). Says al-Islam,
Muslims as both individuals and members of Islamic society must carry out jihad, that is they must exert themselves at all moments of life to fight a battle both inward and outward against those forces that if not combatted will destroy that equilibrium which is the necessary condition for the spiritual life of the person and the functioning of human society. This fact is especially true if society is seen as a collectivity which bears the imprint of the Divine Norm rather than an antheap of contending and opposing units and forces.
So how did jihad come to be associated with Islamic warfare? Tajuddin B. Shu`aib explains.
[F]or Muslims to wield weapons in a war in which Islam itself is defended - as the [Saudi 1979] anti-Soviet fatwa declared - is literally an act of worship. The Muslim jihadi has the right to expect reward proportionate to his sacrificial worship. In military jihad, the ultimate sacrifice is to die, which deserves the ultimate reward, immediate entry by the slain jihadi's soul into Paradise. This doctrine springs from the words of Mohammed himself, who during the battle of Badr told his soldiers, "I swear by the One in whose hand Mohammad's soul is, any man who fights them today and is killed while he is patient in the ordeal and seeks the pleasure of Allah, going forward and not backing off, Allah will enter him into Paradise."
Jihad, then is actual worship in Islam. But jihad is not simply a variety of worship. Jihad forms the very core of Muslim worship. Jihad can be violent or nonviolent. Waging war to defend or advance Islam is "lesser jihad," the kind that Islamist terrorists claim to be doing. It gets the headlines, but "greater jihad" is the more pernicious threat to the West. I explained why in, "The Threat of a Greater Jihad."

In my next installments, I’ll explain why jihad is irreducibly required for salvation in Muslim theology and why jihad requires the supremacy of sharia, Islamic law, over the social, domestic and political systems of society.


Part 2

Part 3

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