Since moving from my native country of Iraq to the UK back in late 1992, I found myself developing a particular interest in observing and studying the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam in my new environment, and the West in general. I was saddened to see even the clearest and simplest facts about the religion that I was attracted to more than twenty years ago being distorted and lost amidst all kinds of misinformation. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding is found among lay people and intellectuals alike.
It was clear to me that much of the misperception of Islam in the West is propagated and enforced by media that have little interest, if any, in truth. It did not take me long to start identifying patterns of misreporting on Islam and Muslims. These include giving misleading information, imposing convenient blackouts on particular news, imbalanced reporting of facts, and even manipulating facts.
However, it was equally obvious that some Muslims play a major role in providing the Western media with pretexts to distort the image of Islam. While the media in the West could have been a lot better informed about Islam and fairer in presenting it, they are not essentially doing worse than the ignorant Muslims that they used as sources of information on Islam.
Having come from a country that was been under dictatorship for decades to a democratic country, I noticed a fundamental difference between the attitude of the people in the two different countries to their national and foreign media. When you live in a dictatorship, you know that your national media are fully controlled by the state. This simple fact is equally known to both the intellectual and the uneducated. Because of the little faith that people have in their media, seeking news and information from foreign media becomes common practice. In Iraq, for instance, most people listen to broadcast in Arabic by Western radio stations such as the BBC World Service, Voice of America, and Radio Monte Carlo, and develop their own views. Political opposition broadcasting from abroad is also interesting, if not necessarily for giving more reliable information than the state media, then certainly for national politicians being spoken about in a way strange, but enjoyable, to the listener’s ear.
There is no such public attitude in the West to listen to non-Western media. People in Britain, for instance, learn about what happens elsewhere in the world only through the British media, even when Britain is involved or has interests in the conflict or issue that is being reported. Those who take the trouble to check the news and views of the other side are unfortunately a minority. The problem mainly is that people think that because their media are not run by the state then it must be telling them the truth, or at least something pretty close to it. What people do not usually realize is that the media lose their reliability not only when run by a dictatorial state, but whenever put in the service of any interests other than the impartial reporting of facts. My personal observations have certainly left me with little faith in using the British and Western media in general as the sole source of information. They can certainly be very good sources of information, but one cannot rely on them only to know the truth. This unreliability can be clearly seen in the way the Western media have been portraying Islam.
For several years now I have been thinking of writing a book that dispels some of the common misconceptions about Islam. I have been particularly interested in writing about the unfair and misleading association of Islam with violence and aggression. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in the USA and subsequent sad events, I decided that I should not postpone this project any longer. I temporarily set aside another book I was writing to embark on this one. It seemed appropriate that I should write about the much misunderstood concept of “jihad” and the relevant concepts of “peace” and “war” in Islam. In June 2002, the first edition of this book was published (Jihad in Qur’an: The Truth from the Source (Malaysia: A. S. Noordeen, 2002)).
I have prepared this new edition of the book in response to the feedback that I have received on the first edition. One change that I have made is to remove from the main text of the book all Arabic text as some readers have found it distracting. Instead, I have included all the relevant Arabic Qur’anic text in Appendix D. I have also added considerable new material to this edition, mainly to clarify some points that I make in the book and to support its arguments.
In its endeavors to dispel fallacies about “jihad,” this book concentrates on investigating this concept in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the undisputed source of and authority on all aspects of the religion of Islam. With it’s exclusive emphasis on the Qur’an, this book sets itself apart from other studies of jihad which at best mix with the Qur’an, and at worst focus on, secondary religious and historical sources. The authenticity and value of these sources have always been matters of considerable controversy even among Muslim scholars. This situation equally applies to the existing compilations of sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad.
I have cited in the book some Prophetic sayings that are in line with Qur’anic verses I discuss. But I have consciously avoided using Prophetic sayings or any other sources to reach conclusions that the Qur’an does not explicitly support. Using only the Qur’an ensures revealing the truth of jihad, which happens to be very different from the common image of this concept.
Naturally, this book cites extensively from the Qur’an. In fact, it is aimed to read in many places like a commentary on Qur’anic verses. Because of the nature and structure of the Qur’an, addressed in Chapter 2, it is common that one subject is dealt with in different parts of the Book. It is necessary, therefore, that relevant verses are collated and looked at together. This approach, which I have followed in this study of jihad, enables the researcher to see in those verses common themes and complementary meanings that might not be visible when the verses are studied separately.
In this book, I needed to cite and comment on just over half of the Qur’anic verses that mention jihad. However, for completeness and reference, I have added an appendix that lists and categorizes all of the verses in which the term jihad or one of its variations occur.
Because of the depth and richness of its meanings, the Qur’anic text can be translated only with limited accuracy. All cited Qur’anic verses, therefore, have been fully referenced to make it easy to compare the suggested translation with other translations. Each cited Qur’anic verse has been followed by a combination of two identifying numbers. For instance, the combination 16.110 denotes the 110th verse of the 16th chapter.
I have also added in square brackets explanatory texts to further clarify the translation. Round brackets have been used to add alternative texts, such as the English meaning of a term that is cited in its transliterated Arabic origin. Transliterations of Arabic terms are printed in italics. A different font has been used for the translated Qur’anic text.
For those who can read the Qur’an in Arabic, Appendix D includes the Arabic text of all the verses cited in the book.
I have tried my best to make this book self-contained, requiring no previous knowledge of the Qur’an or Islamic history and thought. All necessary information and explanations are given where needed to make this in-depth and focused study an easy read.
By presenting clear, verifiable facts and dispelling unfounded fallacies about jihad, I pray that this book can achieve two goals for two different audiences. First, it would prove a useful source of information to Muslims and searchers for truth who are considering or will consider embracing Islam. Just like believers of any other faith, there are Muslims who lack proper knowledge of fundamentals of their religion.
Second, it would convince others who are not interested in adopting Islam as a religion for one reason or another that Islam is an exceptionally peaceful religion to coexist with.
Many would sadly acknowledge that the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims has been widening. Equally sad is the fact that many do not know that although this conflict involves believers in Islam, it does not owe its origin to the religion of Islam.
I, like many others, feel a share of personal responsibility to help in bridging this increasing gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. Such attempts, if done properly, are actually one form of jihad, as we shall see in this study.
Here is a brief look at the eight chapters and four appendices of the book.
Many Islamic concepts, such as jihad, and consequently Islam as a whole, have been the subject of much misunderstanding. Chapter 1 examines the causes behind the distorted image of Islam in the world. Non-Muslims are usually associated with misunderstanding Islam. Some Muslims, however, have actually played a major role in the misrepresentation of Islam, thus actively and effectively spreading misconceptions about this great religion. A Muslim who knows only little about Islam can cause considerably more damage to its image than an equally ignorant non-Muslim. The chapter also examines the role played by Western media in the development of the distorted image of Islam.
Chapter 2 takes a brief look at the early history of Islam, providing background information for the investigation of the concept of jihad in the following chapters.
In Chapter 3, the general meaning of the Arabic word jihad is first examined. This term refers to exerting efforts, involving some form of “struggle” and “resistance,” to achieve a particular goal. Qur’anic jihad is a special case of jihad where the efforts are exerted for the cause of Allah. Qur’anic Jihad can be divided into “armed jihad” and “peaceful jihad.” The former, temporary form of jihad refers to Muslims’ reaction to armed aggression. Peaceful jihad is mainly the Muslim’s permanent struggle against the evil desires within the self. It also covers the peaceful struggle against any form of evil in the world. Thus, the common belief that jihad means “holy war” is wrong and misleading. This misunderstanding reflects the failure to notice, among other things, that the Qur’an uses mainly the term “qit?l” when talking about fighting an enemy. This Arabic word means “fighting.”
Armed jihad is investigated in Chapter 4. The early Muslims lived about fourteen years after the revelation of the Qur’an before Allah granted them permission to fight back aggression and defend themselves. The ultimate aim of armed jihad is peace. Allah has attached many strings to His permission to Muslims to resort to arms in response to violent aggression. Muslims are prohibited from committing aggression. Their response must be measured and proportionate. Armed jihad must not be used for any purpose other than self-defense. It is certainly not for forcing people into Islam.
Chapter 5 studies peaceful jihad. While it covers the peaceful struggle against any source of evil, the main form of peaceful jihad is the person’s struggle against the inferior drives of his lower self. This kind of jihad is essential for spiritual development, so the Muslim must never abandon it. Various aspects of the struggle against the lower self are examined in this chapter.
Reducing jihad to its armed form only, thus ignoring peaceful jihad, involves misreading references to jihad in some verses as meaning armed jihad when they actually mean jihad in general, both armed and peaceful. This is explained in Chapter 6. Another cause for this misunderstanding is confusing the terms “jihad” and “qit?l.”
After examining various aspects of jihad in the Qur’an in the previous chapters, jihad in today’s world is investigated in Chapter 7. Peaceful jihad is an essential practice for the Muslim today as it was in the past. The Muslim, in fact, must live in a permanent state of struggle against his/her lower self.
The way armed jihad is being applied reflects much misunderstanding of this form of jihad and ignorance of the rules that govern fighting in Islam. Misunderstanding today’s world can only worsen the consequences of that mix of misunderstanding and ignorance. The double standards of the West and its tolerance of the sufferings of Muslims in various parts of the world have contributed directly to the abuse of the concept of jihad by some under the name of Islam.
The Qur’an exceptionally promotes and calls for peace. Muslims need to put more efforts in establishing peace. They can achieve with peace more than they can do using any other means.
In addition to the ongoing struggle against the lower self, the other major form of jihad today is the struggle to remove all misconceptions about Islam and educate people about this great religion. Spreading the truth is one main attribute of those who belong to what the Qur’an calls the “best nation.” The chapter concludes with a brief look at this Qur’anic concept.
Chapter 8 is a summary of the conclusions drawn throughout the book.
The book contains four appendices. Appendix A lists all Qur’anic verses that contain the term jihad or one of its variations. A short chronology of the life of Prophet Muhammad is given in Appendix B. Appendix C lists the transliteration conventions used in the book. Finally, Appendix D contains the Arabic text of all the verses that are cited in the book.
In addition to an index of names and subjects, an index of all of the Qur’anic verses cited in the book is also included for easier reference.
I would like to acknowledge the help of a number of people who reviewed earlier drafts of the first edition of this book and provided valuable feedback. Their insightful comments helped in improving the book considerably. I would like to thank in particular my wife Dr Shetha Al-Dargazelli; my brothers Duraid and Faiz Fatouhi; and my friends Dr Howard Hall, Mr David Barnes, Mr Tariq Chaudhry, and Mr David Mercer. I would also like to thank all readers and reviewers whose feedback made me write and improve this new edition.
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