Oct 122008
This article is from the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.

Muslims need to recognize that the world they live in today has barely any resemblance to the world at the time of Prophet Muhammad. Today’s world is immeasurably more complicated. Modern struggles, conflicts, and challenges, therefore, are also more involved and complex than their equivalents in the far past.

In the wars in which the early Muslims were involved, differentiating between the good and the evil parties was straightforward. Prophet Muhammad and his followers wanted only to follow their faith. The disbelievers did not only decide not to embrace Islam, in which case no problem would have occurred, but they also brutally persecuted Muslims. This aggression was the cause of the wars that broke out between Muslims and their enemies. Many Muslims tend to classify any war between Muslims and non-Muslims as a war between good and evil, right and wrong, faith and infidelity. Consequently, they classify the fighting of the Muslims as armed jihad, though they use the general term “jihad.” This simple model of classifying warring parties and identifying the case for armed jihad applied perfectly to the wars that the early Muslims were involved in. Then, the peace seeking Muslims stood for everything right and good, and their aggressive enemies represented everything wrong and evil. This is why Allah granted Muslims the right to armed jihad in the first place, as made clear in the following verses which I discussed elsewhere

Permission [to fight] has been granted to those against whom war is waged, because they are oppressed; and surely, Allah is well capable of assisting them [to victory] (22.39). [The permission is to] those who have been driven out of their homes without a just cause, only because they say: “Our Lord is Allah.” Had it not been for Allah repelling some people by others, then certainly cloisters, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which Allah’s name is much remembered would have been pulled down. And surely Allah will help him who helps His cause; surely, Allah is Mighty, Invincible. (22.40)

But even then, not every violent aggression by disbelievers against Muslims necessarily counted as a cause for armed jihad. For instance, as I have already pointed out elsewhere in my comment on verse 8.72, an aggression by disbelievers who had a peace treaty with the Prophet against Muslims who had declined to immigrate to al-Madīna did not count as a cause for armed jihad for the Muslims of al-Madīna: 

Surely those who believed, immigrated, and jāhadū [did jihad] with their properties and selves in the way of Allah, and those who gave shelter [to the immigrants] and helped them, these [the immigrants and the helpers] are close friends of each other. Those who believed but did not immigrate, you [O you who believe!] have no duty of close friendship toward them until they immigrate; and if they seek help from you for the purpose of religion, then help is incumbent on you, except [helping them] against a people between whom and you there is a treaty; and Allah sees what you do. (8.72)

This is a clear-cut case where violent persecution of some Muslims for their faith by non-Muslims was classified by Allah as incomparable to the case of the aggression of the disbelievers against the Muslims of al-Madīna, hence did not call for armed jihad. Given the far more complicated nature of today’s violent conflicts, there is even more reason not to hasten to liken modern armed conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims to the wars that Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslims fought against the disbelievers. In fact, we can read warnings of such complication to come in the Qur’an itself which refers in this verse to inter-Muslim conflicts: 

And if two parties of the believers fought each other, mediate [O you who believe!] between them; but if one of them acts wrongfully toward the other, fight the party that acts wrongfully until it returns to Allah’s command; then if it returns, mediate between them with justice and act equitably; surely Allah loves the equitable. (49.9)

This verse talks about a war between two factions of Muslims. Allah here orders the other Muslims to mediate between the warring parties and broker a peace. If one faction then rejected the reconciliation and peace and insisted on fighting unjustly, then other Muslims are ordered to fight those aggressors. The principle underlying this divine command is very simple and straightforward. By rejecting peace and insisting on their unjust war, those Muslims would have acted exactly like the disbelievers who launched unjust war against Muslims. Should the war against those in the wrong convince them to stop their aggression, Muslims must mediate between those who were at war.

The verse above highlights the fact that Muslims can be on the wrong side of a conflict. In fact, they can go astray to the extent of unjustly fighting other Muslims and of having other Muslims, under the instructions of Qur’an, fighting against them.

It is an undeniable fact that a number of conflicts in recent times have involved Muslims fighting each other, with other Muslims being victimized by the war. This is one way of looking, for example, at the Iraqi-Iranian war in the 1980s, and the violent history of Afghanistan during and after the expulsion of the Soviet occupation army. It is also true that some of those conflicts involved non-Muslims fighting on the side of each one of the warring parties, or at least providing them with various forms of support. Throughout their eight-year long war, both Iraq and Iran were aided by Western governments and intelligence agencies that they publicly described as their enemies, or even enemies of Islam. In such situations, it is simply impossible to say that the party that is fighting a just war is that of the Muslims, or that the wrongful side is that of the non-Muslims. Both fighting sides were Muslims, and both were supported by non-Muslims. If this situation is not complicated enough, a war may involve more than two warring parties each of which includes people with different affiliations. This is particularly true of civil wars, such as Afghanistan’s and the one that kept on breaking out every now and then in Northern Iraq after the Gulf war in 1991.

One essential condition for applying armed jihad is the availability of clear evidence on aggression by one party against another. This is not the case in many of today’s complicated conflicts. Let’s remember the following verse: 

O you who believe! When you travel in the way of Allah, investigate and do not say to any one who offers you peace: “You are not a believer,” seeking riches of this world, for with Allah there are abundant spoils. You too were such before, then Allah conferred favors on you. Therefore, investigate. Allah is aware of what you do. (4.94)

Note the emphasis that Allah puts on seeking evidence before taking action. The Muslim must not resort to armed jihad before being absolutely sure that peace is not an option, and that armed jihad is indeed fully justified. If the Muslim has any doubts whether there is a case for armed jihad, then he must not carry out any armed action until all doubts had gone and he has become totally certain that armed jihad is justified.

I have already noted that one major reason for the ease with which some Muslims declare armed jihad is the widespread misunderstanding of jihad in general and armed jihad in particular. One equally influential factor is the underestimation of the high status of peace in the Qur’an.


  Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

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