Mar 232014

Statements by scholars dating back to the 3rd century Hirji have claimed that the following verse, which has become known as “the verse of the sword,” has abrogated, i.e. annulled, many Qur’anic verses:

When the Inviolable Months have passed away, kill the polytheists wherever you find them. Seize them, besiege them, and wait for them at every place of observation. If they repent, observe prayer, and pay the obligatory alms then let them go their way. Allah is forgiving, merciful. (9.5)

The significance of these reports is the nature of the alleged abrogated verses. The latter include numerous verses that call on the Muslims to be tolerant, forgiving, and patient, and to display such positive attributes toward non-Muslims that allowed Muslims to live peacefully with various religious groups for 1,400 years. Although the alleged abrogating function of verse 9.5 has been dismissed by most scholars, it has become very popular among Muslim terrorist groups and individuals who use it to justify their atrocities.

There are a number of fundamental problems with this abrogation claim, which I will summarize here. For those who are interested in a more detailed analysis of this issue with references to primary sources and other works, there is a dedicated chapter in my book Abrogation in the Qur’an and Islamic Law.

First, only by taking 9.5 completely out of context it maybe be claimed that it has abrogated verses that command the Muslims to show tolerance to non-Muslims. To see how blatant that distortion is, I have quoted 9.5 with the verses that surround it:

A proclamation from Allah and His Messenger to people on the day of Greater Pilgrimage that Allah is clear of the polytheists, as is His Messenger. If you repent that is better for you but if you turn away then know that you are not beyond the power of Allah. And give [O Muhammad!] glad tidings of a painful chastisement to the disbelievers. (9.3) Except those of the polytheists with whom you have a treaty and they did not break its terms or aid someone against you, so abide by their treaty until their term. Allah loves the pious. (9.4) When the Inviolable Months have passed away, kill the polytheists wherever you find them. Seize them, besiege them, and wait for them at every place of observation. If they repent, observe prayer, and pay the obligatory alms then let them go their way. Allah is forgiving, merciful. (9.5) If anyone of the polytheists seeks your protection [O Muhammad!], then protect him so that he may hear the Word of Allah, and escort him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know. (9.6) How can there be a treaty with Allah and with His Messenger for the polytheists, save those with whom you [O you who believe!] made a treaty at the Inviolable Mosque? So long as they are true to you, be true to them. Surely, Allah loves the pious. (9.7) How [can there be any treaty for the others] when if they would get an advantage over you they would not honor any relation or treaty with you? They satisfy you with their mouths while their hearts refuse. Most of them are backsliders. (9.8) They have purchased with the verses of Allah a little gain, so they have turned away from His way. Surely, evil is what they do. (9.9) They do not honor any relation or treaty with a believer; these are the transgressors. (9.10) But if they repent, observe prayer, and pay the obligatory alms, then they are your brethren in religion. We detail Our verses for the people of knowledge. (9.11) If they break their oaths after their treaty and assail your religion, then fight the heads of disbelief. Surely, they have no binding oaths, so that they may desist. (9.12) Will you not fight a people who broke their oaths, set out to drive out the Messenger, and attacked you first? Do you fear them? Allah is more worthy of your fear, if you are believers. (9.13)

I have analysed these verses in my book Jihad in the Qur’an. The verse immediately before 9.5 commands the Muslims to honor any peace treaty they had with disbelievers. Then verse 9.6 shows that Islam does not consider a peaceful disbeliever an enemy. The Qur’an even commanded the Prophet to give protection to any polytheist who sought his help.

Verse 9.7 commands the Muslims to honor their treaty with the polytheists as long as the latter honored it. God considers this to be an act of piety: “Allah loves the pious.” He reminds the Muslims in verses 9.8-10 that the polytheists used to break their peace treaties whenever they felt they had the upper hand and that they showed a similar disregard for their relations with the Muslims. He explains that the polytheists made peace with their mouths but did not embrace it with their hearts.

Muslims were commanded to forgive the polytheists, live with them in peace if the latter honored peace, and forgive and consider them brothers if they convert to Islam (9.11). God then emphasizes that the aim of fighting the heads of disbelief is to make them desist and establish peace (9.12).

Finally, verse 9.13 urges the Muslims to fight aggression, reminding them of the background of the conflict with the disbelievers. First, it was the polytheists who broke the treaty they had with the Muslims. Second, like the Meccans who forced the Prophet to immigrate to Medina, the polytheists were trying to expel him from Medina. Third, it was the polytheists who attacked the Muslims first.

Second, there are verses in other places in the Qur’an commanding the Muslims to establish peace with any party that wants peace (e.g. 4.90, 8.72). The Qur’an even has clear references to the Prophet continuing to make peace with people who repeatedly violated their peace treaties with the Muslims:

Surely, the worst of beasts in Allah’s sight are those who are ungrateful as they would not believe. (8.55) Those with whom you [O Muhammad!] have made a covenant yet they break their covenant every time and do not act piously. (8.56) Therefore, should you get hold of them in war, make of them an example that would disperse [the gathering army of] those who are behind them that they may be mindful. (8.57) If you fear treachery from a people, then throw back to them [their treaty] on equal terms. Surely, Allah does not love the treacherous. (8.58) Let not those who disbelieve think that they can outstrip [Us]. Surely, they are not impregnable. (8.59) Prepare [O you who believe!] for them what you can of force and horses tethered, to frighten thereby Allah’s and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know but Allah knows. Whatever you spend in the way of Allah will be paid back to you in full and you shall not be wronged. (8.60) If they incline to peace then incline [O Muhammad!] to it, and rely on Allah. Surely, He is the Hearing, the Knowing. (8.61) If they intend to deceive you, then surely Allah is sufficient for you. It is He who supported you with His help and with the believers. (8.62)

Third, verse 9.5 is claimed to have abrogated even verses commanding the Muslims to be patient in general, not specifically when dealing with the polytheists or their enemies! This shows the false nature of the claims of abrogation involving this verse in general.

Fourth, those who argue that 9.5 has the power to override other verses ignore the fact that this verse targeted certain groups of polytheists, as they apply it to all idolaters. They make an even bigger mistake by claiming that it applies to all non-Muslims, including even the Jews and Christians. Yet the verse talks about the “mushrikīn,” which is the term the Qur’an applies to the polytheists of Arabia, whereas the Qur’an calls the Jews and Christians “Ahl al-Kitāb” or the “People of the Book.” Even when referring to Jews and Christians behaving like “mushrikīn,” the Qur’an still calls them “Ahl al-Kitāb,” as in verse 29 from the same chapter as the verse of the sword.

Fifth, in addition to the fact that scholars have disagreed on how many verses are supposed to have been abrogated by 9.5, the number of claims of abrogation by 9.5 grew over time. This clearly shows that the claims were based on the opinions of certain later scholars rather than sources that go back to the Prophet or even his Companions or the Successors.

Sixth, if 9.5 really abrogated tolerance and forgiveness for the disbelievers, it would have abrogated all of the many verses that promote such concepts. Yet even when considering all the verses that are claimed to have been abrogated by 9.5, there are still many other verses that command the Muslims to live peacefully with the disbelievers left uncovered by abrogation claims.

It should now be clear that the claim that verse 9.5 has abrogated other verses, let alone such a large number of them, is absurd. Even the title “the verse of the sword” is a late invention. While “the verse of alms” has been given this name by scholars because it talks about almsgiving and other verses have been given names after words that occur in them, the expression “the verse of the sword” is very much a misnomer because the term “sword” is not found in the verse. Even more telling is the fact that this word does not exist anywhere in the Qur’an!

Copyright © 2014 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Jul 302009

This is the “Preface” to the third edition of the book Jihad in the Qur’an (Third Edition)

My wife, Shetha, and I moved from Iraq to the UK in 1992. I quickly came to love so many things about the new culture I was joining. Among other things, democracy, freedom of speech, and human rights are great. They were clearly manifested in the free media. It was a complete contrast to the state-controlled media we left back in our country of origin. There, both the educated and the illiterate knew that what was in the newspapers and on radio and TV is what the dictatorial regime wanted people to believe. People, therefore, sought news and information from foreign media, such as the BBC World Service and Voice of America.

But I soon realized that that the freedom of press in the UK, and the West in general, was at times being mistaken for and equated to accurate reporting if not explicitly then implicitly. It is not that people did not know that the media can, for instance, be manipulative and that while it is not run by the state it is still influenced by powerful individuals and groups. The British in particular have a healthy, natural dose of cynicism in general anyway. But they still relied on that same media for most of the information on what goes on in various parts of the world. Yet I found so much persistent misinformation and misreporting about things I knew very well, either because there were about the country I came from or the Middle East, which I also was very familiar with.

Islam is one aspect of that other world that the British and Western media has failed to portray accurately. The religion that I had chosen to embrace in my early twenties in Iraq had developed a very negative image in my new home. Not that this was a complete surprise, but reading about something is one thing and experiencing it is another.

For several years, the idea of writing a book that dispels some of the common misconceptions about Islam was on my mind. I was particularly interested in writing about the unfair and misleading association of Islam with violence and aggression. After the terrorist attacks of the 11th of September 2001 and subsequent sad events, I decided that I should not postpone this project any longer.

The first edition of this book came out in 2002 and a revision was released two years later. In the past five years, so much happened but not much changed, as far as the subject of this book is concerned. Islam is still being singled out for the link to terrorism, those who are keen on this link would not say what terrorism is, and atrocities against Muslims and violence by others are often carefully given different labels. Also, atrocities continue to be committed under the name of jihad. The third edition of the book remains as relevant today as its first edition was seven years earlier.

In the second edition I added more material and improved the readability of the book. In this edition I have also added some new material but I have also removed more content that I do not see as necessary. For instance, the first chapter of the first and second editions discussed in detail how the image of Islam has been distorted by both Muslims and non-Muslims. While I think making references to this fact in certain places in the book remains necessary, I do not find having a complete chapter wholly justified.

By clearly presenting 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 for Muslims and those who will be on their way to Islam.

Second, it would convince non-Muslims that Islam is a peaceful religion that is easy to coexist with. It is a religion under which various religious groups, including Christians and Jews, always lived peacefully and with their religious rights fully protected.

Unfortunately, the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims in the world has been widening. Equally sad is the fact that many do not know that although this conflict involves Muslim believers, it does not owe its origin to the religion of Islam. I, like many others, feel a sense of personal responsibility to help in bridging the growing gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. Such attempts, if done properly, are one form of jihad, as we shall see in this study.

Like all of my other writings, this book has benefited greatly from the insightful and detailed feedback of my wife Dr Shetha Al-Dargazelli. Shetha’s support and help have been instrumental in allowing me to write my books.

The comments of my friend Mr Tariq Chaudhry have allowed me to improve the book significantly.

I would like to acknowledge the help of a number of people who reviewed drafts of the earlier editions of the book and provided valuable feedback. I would like to thank my brothers Duraid and Faiz, and my friends Dr Howard Hall, Mr David Barnes, and Mr David Mercer. I would also like to thank all readers and reviewers whose feedback made me write and improve this new edition. 


Copyright © 2009 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Jul 302009

This is the “Introduction” to the third edition of the book Jihad in the Qur’an

There has been much disagreement and differing views about what Islam really teaches. This debate has not raged between Muslims and non-Muslims only, but different Muslim groups have also adopted contradictory views, so no wonder that non-Muslims do not share one common understanding. Jihad is one of those hotly contested Islamic concepts, having generated so much disagreement and diametrically opposed interpretations. In the Western media, jihad is often used in Islamophobic contexts where it is presented as denoting the killing of innocent people, often non-Muslims, by militant Muslimsfor a political cause. An additional slant occasionally put on this definition makes this killing the fate of those who resist being forced into embracing Islam. Yet many Muslims argue, as this book does, that jihad is a concept about spiritual development that has no more to do with violence than, say, nationalism or democracy. These have also been abused to justify committing all kinds of violence, including starting devastating wars. There are a number of causes for the development of such contrasting views of jihad.

First, although the Qur’an is the only sacred book of Islam, it is not the only source used to derive Islamic teachings from. The other main source is the compilations of sayings and doings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, known as “hadith.” These reports — which are also referred to as “sunnah,” which means “way of life” — were first recorded almost 100 years after the Prophet and contain inconsistent and even contradictory accounts. Different Muslim groups disagree about which compilations are more authentic, with the two biggest branches of Islam, Sunnism and Shiasm, adopting different sources of hadith.

But even scholars within any one school of thought or denomination differ on the authenticity of various alleged Prophetic sayings and doings! Yet all agree that many sayings and actions attributed to the Prophet have been fabricated by various people over time for a variety of purposes. Nevertheless, hadith has been extensively used for interpreting and extrapolating the Qur’an and as the second source of legislation in Islam. For instance, punishment by stoning is not mentioned in the Qur’an, but its adherents argue that its reports in hadith establish its legitimacy. Similarly, the Qur’anic concept of jihad has been understood in various ways by different groups and individuals partly due to their influence by hadith.

This is why I focus in this book on studying the concept of jihad in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the undisputed source of Islam and authority on all of its aspects. With its exclusive emphasis on the Qur’an, this book sets itself apart from other studies of jihad which, at best, mix with the Qur’an secondary religious and historical sources or, at worst, focus on them. I have quoted a few 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 reveals a picture of jihad that is very different from its common image.

This source of misunderstanding jihad has claimed both Muslim and non-Muslim victims.

Second, in some Muslim countries and communities, the elite of religious leaders have adopted misguided views of Islamic concepts such as jihad. The potentially devastating influence of these twisted views is then realized by uninformed, often poorly educated, followers. These followers are separated from the reality of their religion by the scantiness of their knowledge of Islam — something that is sustained by their passive surrender to their misleading leaders. Their understanding of, say, jihad, is whatever they are taught by those leaders. This poor leadership is, at times, the result of genuine ignorance and poor understanding of Islam and, at others, the consequence of deliberate manipulation of Islamic teachings for power and personal gains.

There is a substantial difference between the effects of the ignorance of the average Muslim and the person who takes a pseudo educational and/or leading role in society. The latter creates a much wider audience, possibly of non-Muslims as well as Muslims, for his distorted version of Islamic teachings. This problem is made worse by the fact that so many Muslims inherit and accept a passive attitude toward self-education, relying uncritically and almost entirely on the teachings of whatever past or contemporary clerics or scholars they happen to know or learn about. Like any student, the seeker of knowledge needs teachers, but it is equally important that these teachers are genuine. The Qur’an enjoins on the Muslim seeking knowledge proactively. This involves more than total and uncritical reliance on the opinions of a couple of scholars. All of this is best illustrated in this Prophetic saying: 

He who initiates a good practice will earn a reward for that and a reward equal to the rewards of those who follow it, without the latter’s rewards reducing. He who initiates a bad practice will earn a sin for that and a sin equal to the sins of those who follow it, without the latter’s sins reducing. (Musnad Ahmad, saying 19719)

This tradition emphasizes the big responsibility of the teachers and the effect that they can have on society. At the same time, it does not take away the responsibility from those who follow pseudo teachers. A genuine learner would carefully scrutinize any claim made by a book, teacher, or any source of information. Commitment to seeking knowledge is an intrinsic part of Islam, and one aspect of this commitment is the careful examination of the available sources of information.

This source of misinformation about jihad has influenced mainly susceptible Muslims who follow such false leaders. But the West has also treated such leaders as legitimate presenters of jihad. Western media could have been a lot better informed about Islam and fairer in presenting it, but it has not been more culpable than those ignorant Muslims that it uses as sources of information on Islam.

Third, from its early days, Islam was subjected to deliberate distortion by followers of competing religions, mainly Christianity and Judaism. This propaganda continued down the centuries, although religion became only one of its drivers. Political and economic interests as well as a sense of cultural superiority have maintained those myths about Islam and make them deep-rooted in the Western mind. This is what the author of Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages says: 

There can be little doubt that at the moment of their formation these legends and fantasies were taken to represent a more or less truthful account of what they purported to describe. But as soon as they were produced they took on a literary life of their own. At the level of popular poetry, the picture of Mahomet and his Saracens changed very little from generation to generation. Like well-loved characters of fiction, they were expected to display certain characteristics, and authors faithfully reproduced them for hundreds of years. (Southern, 1978: 29)

Some Western commentators have tried to ignore this centuries-long trend of misinformation to try and suggest that the issues the world, by which they mean the Western world, currently has with Islam and Muslims are issues of today. Acknowledging that hostility to Islam has always occupied some space in the Western psyche would not produce an interesting and simplistic enough theory that explains international conflicts for those who prefer simplicity to accuracy and truth. For instance, in an article expressively titled The Age of Muslim Wars, professor Samuel Huntington, advocate of the controversial “Clash of Civilizations” theory, made the following sweeping statement: 

Contemporary global politics is the age of Muslim wars. Muslims fight each other and fight non-Muslims far more often than do peoples of other civilizations. Muslim wars have replaced the cold war as the principal form of international conflict. These wars include wars of terrorism, guerrilla wars, civil wars and interstate conflicts. These instances of Muslim violence could congeal into one major clash of civilizations between Islam and the West or between Islam and the Rest.

Throughout history, the West continued to see Islam in negative images that reflected what was considered to be bad and evil at the time. Myths about Islam took different forms in different periods in history. The inferiority of Islam was always considered a fact, though its supposed proof changed with time. Karen Armstrong (2001: 43) cites a couple of modern stereotypical images of Islam: 

We constantly produce new prototypes to express our apparently ingrained hatred of “Islam.” In the 1970s we were haunted by the image of the immensely rich oil sheikh; in the 1980s by the fanatical ayatollah; since the Salman Rushdie affair, “Islam” has become a religion that spells death to creativity and artistic freedom. But none of these images reflects the reality, which is infinitely more complex. Yet this does not stop people from making sweeping and inaccurate judgements.

Clearly, this source of distortion of jihad has affected non-Muslims.

Four, while it can be seen as one form of the third cause, I would list “double standards” as a separate source for the distorted image that the West has successfully cultivated and maintained of Islam. Treating Islam and Muslims one way and others in a different way contributed to the development of the misunderstanding of jihad among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It prevented the latter from taking an objective view about jihad, but it also alienated many Muslims, driving some of them to extremism and ultimately terrorism in which they use the concept of jihad to justify their atrocities. The decades-long devastating injustice that the Palestinians have endured as a result of Israeli aggression, which has received full support from the West, has been the source of a considerable amount of suffering and unrest for the whole world. Many terrorists have been driven to committing atrocities as a result of seeing this kind of injustice being inflicted for years on millions of people they identified with.

One common form of double standards is to link evil committed by Muslims to Islam but not do the same in the case of other groups and beliefs. Ancient and modern history provides so many examples of national, political, and religious leaders, representing various political persuasions and religious faiths, inciting violence against their opponents and those who did not share their beliefs. Yet not all those political philosophies and religions get tarnished because of what individuals who believed in them did or said. Christianity is one case in point. The massacre of many thousands of Muslims at the hands of Christians in places such as Serbia, Kosovo, and Chechnya did not earn the religion of those who committed atrocities any association with terrorism. Of course, any such connection would have been wrong and unfair, but the same logic should be applied in the case of Muslims who commit evil acts. Alas, it is double standards in its ugly display.

Those double standards are also behind the insistence of those who supposedly oppose “terrorism” on using this term without defining it! Defining terrorism would expose those who would like to use the term conveniently, showing them at least as terrorist sympathizers but at times as terrorists themselves.

Take “suicide bombing” as another example. Suicide bombers often indiscriminately kill innocent people, and it is right to condemn such atrocities. But is it really worse than, say, cluster bombs? Israel has used the latter regularly, killing many more than suicide bombing has done. Yet the use of cluster bombs does not evoke as much negative image, abhorrence, and condemnation. What about the use of depleted uranium against Iraq and its devastating effect on the population? But even traditional weapons can be worse than suicide bombing. And what about raining tons of traditional bombs, as the USA, Israel, and their allies do in their wars? Why would this not be seen as appalling and criminal as “suicide bombing”? The reason is the same that lies behind not defining “terrorism.” Self-righteousness and self-interests are the main drivers for these and all forms of double standards.

These are the four main causes for the very different views of the reality of jihad.

The objective of this book is to explain the concept of jihad according to the Qur’an. Naturally, the book quotes extensively from the Qur’an. In some places it may even read like a commentary on Qur’anic verses.

Because of the nature and structure of the Qur’an, which I discuss in Chapter 1, the relevant verses about jihad are found throughout the Qur’an. By collating all those verses and looking at them together, it is possible to see in those verses common themes and complementary meanings that might not be visible when the verses are studied separately.

I have tried my best to make this book self-contained, requiring no knowledge of the Qur’an or Islamic history and thought. All necessary information and explanations are given where needed to make this focused study an easy read.

Here is a brief look at the book’s seven chapters and two appendices.

Chapter 1 provides necessary background information for the investigation of the concept of jihad. It first gives a brief biography of Prophet Muhammad. Next, it introduces the Qur’an — the book that was revealed to the Prophet and is the sacred book of the religion of Islam. The chapter concludes by explaining Islam. This term denotes the one religion that God revealed to all the prophets He sent.

In Chapter 2, 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 in practicing Islam. Qur’anic Jihad can be divided into “armed jihad” and “peaceful jihad.” The former, temporary form of jihad refers to the 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. 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 “qital” when talking about fighting an enemy. This Arabic word means “fighting.”

Armed jihad is examined in Chapter 3. It was fourteen years after the revelation of the Qur’an before God granted the Muslims permission to fight back aggression and defend themselves. The ultimate aim of armed jihad is peace. God has attached many strings to His permission to the 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 not, for instance, for forcing people into Islam. Chapter 4 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 5. Another cause for this misunderstanding is confusing the terms “jihad” and “qital.”

After examining various aspects of jihad in the Qur’an in the previous chapters, jihad in today’s world is investigated in Chapter 6. Peaceful jihad is as essential a 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. The concept of jihad has been misused and abused by various Muslim individuals and groups. Some have portrayed it as the means to establish an Islamic state. Others have used it to justify their or other Muslims’ vengeful responses to aggression. The term jihad is also often used today by various Muslim groups to describe their role in any armed struggles. Many have failed to understand that armed jihad applies only in particular circumstances.

Misunderstanding today’s world can only worsen the consequences of that mix of misunderstanding and ignorance. The double standards of the West, its tolerance of the suffering of Muslims in various parts of the world, and its involvement at times in injustices against Muslims have contributed directly to the abuse of the concept of jihad by some under the name of Islam.

The Qur’an 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, one other major form of jihad today is the struggle to remove all misconceptions about Islam and educate people about this great religion. This is as important a duty on every Muslim as any of the fundamentals of Islam.

Chapter 7 summarizes the conclusions drawn throughout the book and reaffirms the reality of jihad.

The book has two appendices. Appendix A lists all Qur’anic verses that contain any variation of the term jihad. A short chronology of the life of Prophet Muhammad is given in Appendix B.

For easy reference, the book includes an index of all of Qur’anic verses quoted or cited in the book and another index of names and subjects.

The book uses a number of styles. Each Qur’anic verse has been followed by a combination of two numbers identifying its sura or “chapter” and its position in that chapter. For instance, the combination 4.172 refers to chapter 4, verse 172.

Although I have consulted some English translations of the Qur’an, the translations in this book are mine. I always use my own translations of the Qur’an as translation is an act of interpretation, reflecting the translator’s understanding of the text. For Biblical quotes, I have used the King James Version.

Square brackets have been used to enclose explanatory texts that are needed to clarify the translation. Alternative texts, such as the English meaning of a term that is quoted in its Arabic origin, are enclosed in parentheses.

The book uses a number of different printing styles. Different fonts have been used for the main text, Qur’anic verses, and Biblical passages. Roman transliterations of Arabic terms are in italics.



Copyright © 2009 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Jan 112009
Until a few months ago, when the current economic downturn started, most Western politicians and media had no doubt that the main challenge that the world was facing is terrorism. This became the indisputable view after the atrocities of the 11th/September/2001. The term “terrorism” had been already conjuring up an image involving Arab and Muslim groups and individuals, but the attack on the USA gave this racial and religious association of terrorism full legitimacy. For many, it became completely clear that the world was facing a global war between the forces of good and the evil of terrorism. These people had no doubt as to who the terrorists were and who represented the righteous. The American president, George W. Bush, summarized this “obvious” identification of the two camps when he addressed the rest of the world on the 6th/November/2001 as follows: “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” America and its allies were the goodies, and their enemies were the badies. Simple and straightforward; isn’t it?

There is a fundamentalist religious undertone to this naive and over-simplistic view that splits the world into two contrasting parties. Many do not know that Bush’s words are based on the following saying that the Gospels of Matthew (12:30) and Luke (11:23) attribute to Jesus: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” People differ on whether Jesus could have said such a thing, but no one would argue that what he meant would have had nothing to do with taking side in a war. Jesus was not a man of war. He was the Messiah, but the Messiah was not the king that the Jews thought would come to rescue them from the heathen Romans and restore the glory of Israel. This distorted image of the Messiah started to develop in the 6th century BCE after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel and Judea, and it gained more momentum in the following centuries as the turbulent Jewish history was unfolding. The reality is that the awaited Messiah was a man of peace who came to reaffirm the message of God. There is nothing in Jesus’ history to suggest that he sought any political agenda or resorted to violence, which is why most Jews at the time did not accept his messiahship. So whether the words above are truly his or, like other sayings in the Gospels, falsely ascribed to him, they could not have had anything to do with taking side in violent conflicts. Bush’s indirect quote of the Gospels, however, is a typical aspect of religious fundamentalism where sacred texts are quoted to give authority to fundamentalist narrow views.

But there is a more sinister dimension to Bush’s declaration. It gave the term “terror” the meaning of being whatever America fights! America was going to war, and that war was against terrorism. If you wanted to know who the terrorists were, wait and see whom the USA was going to launch a war against. Throughout history, warring politicians, whether secular or religious fundamentalists like Bush, almost always claimed that they were on the right side and were fighting evil. Nothing new there. Defining what is perceived as the biggest threat and challenge facing the world as being “what one fights and/or is against” is not a first either as far as Western, and mainly US, politicians are concerned. But the blatantly self-referential way in which Bush expresses this view makes it look rather innovative and more affirmative. Only someone who is completely indulgent in self-righteousness can make such a proclamation. It is extremely concerning that the leader of the world’s only superpower should think in this way. But the real calamity for the world is the number of Western leaders who followed suit.

But why did Bush and other Western politicians prefer this way of defining terror? Why not go for a definition that explains terrorism for what it is, not as simply being what the US and its allies do not like? The answer is that any such definition would not only apply to the individuals and groups that the US and its allies would like to be called terrorists, but it would also apply to “friendly allies” — more specifically, Israel. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of the activities of Israel that are associated with its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands knows that any definition that would try to capture indiscriminate atrocities against innocent people and the terrorizing of children, women, and elderly people would make Israel a terror state, its leaders terrorists, and its supporters firmly connected to terrorism.

Writing this article was triggered by yet another Israeli military campaign that is supposedly be against Palestinian militants but one that all know is causing one massacre after another of innocent civilians. Even if Israel argues that at times it acts in self-defence, no one can dispute the fact that it has taken the expressions “disproportionate response” and “collateral damage” to a new level. When the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in July 2006, Israel launched a devastating attack on Lebanon that caused massive damage, killed over a thousand civilians and injured many more, and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Only Israel can get away with anything like this, and it can do that because it has the unfettered support and unlimited blessings of the US.

The history of the Jewish state is shamelessly one of a very long series of acts of aggressions. The people of Palestine have seen their lands stolen, their livelihood destroyed, and their loved ones killed in their hundreds of thousands over the years. There is hardly any atrocity one that can think of that Israel has not committed. Ironically, Israel has even been doing to the Palestinian people what the Nazi did to the Jews. A few months ago I was in Berlin and, like everyone else, saw the Berlin Wall. People see it, and rightly so, as a symbol of fallen tyranny. They would tell you, also rightly, that we should not allow such a situation to develop again. Yet a similar wall has been built by Israel to effectively imprison the Palestinians. It has made the Palestinians live in one big concentration camp. That camp, furthermore, can be invaded at will at any time by the Israeli army. It is true that Israel has not been exterminating Palestinians like the Nazi did to the Jews, but its killing machine has had devastating effects. History is useful only when the lessons we learn from it help us avoid the mistakes of the past and develop a better future. Symbols such as the Berlin Wall and atrocities such as the holocausts must be learned from. Yet the one thing that Israel seems to have learned is how to exclude the Palestinians from the benefits from the learning of such lessons.

The US and other Western countries are very close allies and supporters of Israel, so whatever Israel does is justified one way or another by its allies. This is why Hamas and Hezbollah are called “terrorist” organizations but Israel is presented as a “victim” of terrorism regardless of what it does. But does this not sound very harsh on developed countries like the US and Britain that talk all the time about beautiful concepts such as democracy and human rights and have developed institutions based on these concepts? How can one explain why these countries behave in what looks like completely immoral way with respect to the Palestinian problem? Of course, one simple answer is self-interests. The fact that the US is a democracy and has self-styled itself as the “leader of the free world” does not mean, for instance, it would not support authoritarian regimes against emerging democratic movements in those countries when the dictators are better suited for US interests. The history of the US foreign policy is full of such examples.

The US and other Western countries see Israel as a strategic ally in a region that is extremely important because of its resources and the need of those developed economies for those resources. But why is Israel in particular that partner? Any other country could have been made to play that role. The answer takes us back to the realms of religion. Christians believe that Jesus’ second coming would take place after the dispersed Jews have gathered again in the land of their forefathers, that is Palestine. Jews share this idea, although they believe that Jesus was an imposter and that the real Messiah has yet to come: 

Jewish Zionism and Christian Zionism have both found in the establishment of the modern state of Israel a sign for the coming of the Messiah, although they believe that each other’s Messiah is false! Strengthening the state of Israel, helping and encouraging Jews from all parts of the world to immigrate to Palestine, and usurping more Palestinian lands became noble religious duties for the Zionists. (from my book The Mystery of the Historical Jesus).

This is where the support for Israel historically came from. Of course, the support for Israel of many countries has now moved on to be about other mutual interests. But for the US, a country whose politics is dominated by fundamentalist Christianity and Christian Zionism, the religious significance of the establishment of Israel remains a major reason for its commitment to the Jewish state. US Christian “charities” pour billions of dollars into Israel to allow it to expand further and build yet more settlements on stolen land. These organizations, whose money brings only misery to the lives of numerous innocent people whose only guilt is that they are non-Jewish living in Palestine, are not called “terrorists.” On the other hand, organizations that try to help the victims of the confiscation and Israelization of the land and the campaigns to bring forward Jesus’ supposed advent can be easily linked to “terrorism” and banned.

Religious fundamentalism can be something that affects one’s life only. Any individual is free to adopt whatever beliefs they like and do what they like with their own life. But when the fundamentalism of any movement starts to affect the lives of other people and tries to force them violently to live in a particular way, the term “extremism” becomes a more accurate label. This applies to the form of Christian fundamentalism that links the second coming of Jesus to the establishment of Israel and the Jewish fundamentalism that links the coming of the Messiah to the formation of Israel. What the innocent people of Palestine have been suffering from is Jewish and Christian extremism.

I personally believe in a two state-solution for the tragedy in Palestine. But I do not mean by a Palestinian state what committed Zionists mean. I am talking about a substantial state for the Palestinian people, not two corner zones at the mercy of a vicious powerful neighbor. East Jerusalem must be given back to the Palestinians. Most Zionists, Christian and Jewish, would see giving any part of Jerusalem, if not any part of Israel, as a move against their faith — something that would delay the coming of their respective Messiahs.

I am not writing this article to suggest in anyway that there are no forms of Islamic extremism. Al-Qaeda and similar thinking organizations are extremists. Extremism is ugly regardless of its affiliation. The problem, however, is that the Christian West has been decidedly blind to the fact that for decades the world has been suffering much more from Christian and Jewish extremism than Islamic extremism. This is the painful truth that Bush and those who share his beliefs cannot get themselves to acknowledge. It is true, of course, that the Palestinian problem has triggered reactive Islamic extremism and terrorism, which must never be justified. But the reality is that the problem itself is one created by Jewish and Christian extremism and terrorism, and these have been given legitimacy by the West. Until and unless those in power in the West come to terms with this fact and its shameful history, the world will continue to suffer, regardless of how many times Israel’s atrocities are called “self-defence” and Palestinian reactions are termed “terrorism.”

What is required of Christian and Jewish extremists and Zionists amounts to a rebirth. These are the newborn Christians and Jews that the world really need, not the ones that Zionism has been giving birth to.

Copyright © 2009 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Sep 012007
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 were almost continuously at war, i.e. involved in armed jihad, with enemies of the new religion, ever since the second year of the immigration of the Prophet to al-Madina. That particular period witnessed the revelation of most of the verses that mention jihad. To be more precise, twenty four of the thirty verses that contain one variation or another of the term “jihad” were revealed in al-Madina. The fact that four fifths of the verses that mention jihad are Madinite has been commonly taken to mean that the word jihad and its variations in all of those twenty four Madinite verses refer specifically to armed jihad. This is actually a serious misinterpretation.

There is a simple reason for the appearance of the term jihad significantly more in Madinite than in Meccan chapters. In al-Madina, jihad took the additional form of armed jihad, something that had an enormous impact on the life of Muslims as individuals and as a community. Armed jihad was crucial in establishing Islam itself and building its base of converts, as it provided the early and future followers of the religion with the freedom and security they needed to practice it. Muslims’ engagement in armed jihad was vital for the survival of their religion and, of course, their own survival.

Armed jihad does not involve a struggle against external enemies only, but also a great deal of struggle against the lower self. The compulsory duty of armed jihad continuously put the Muslims face to face with death for the sake of their religion — an enormous test that they could have chosen to bypass by simply abandoning their faith. Muslims needed a great deal of support and help from Allah to succeed in their armed jihad on both external and internal fronts. They needed divine support to defeat their much larger and better equipped external enemies. They were equally in need of Allah’s support to defeat their inner enemies: their lower selves. The lower self would try to weaken the Muslim’s determination to adhere to his religion and offer all sacrifices needed. These sacrifices could be as substantial as involving all of one’s possessions, or even one’s life. The lower self would find him excuses as to why he shouldn’t involve himself in armed jihad.

The help that a Muslim needed to overcome the weaknesses that emerged inside him at such difficult times came partially in the form of additional strength that Allah bestowed on him. Another form of the divine support was Qur’anic verses that praise those who partake in armed jihad and promise them good, and at the same time warn against the failure to discharge that most important religious duty. This is why the term jihad is mentioned in the Madinite chapters four times more than in Meccan ones.

Even though fighting was common practice in the life of the Arabs then, armed jihad was a totally different experience. Arabs before Islam were used to fighting to gain worldly riches, defend them, or defend themselves. Fighting for the sake of Allah, which is what armed jihad is about, was obviously not something they were accustomed to. It is not only that armed jihad was not about gaining worldly spoils, but it also required from the Muslim sacrifices in both life and property. This is the ultimate sacrifice that certainly merited the help Muslims got partly in the shape of many verses on jihad.

An important fact to realize here is that even in those Madi nite verses, jihad refers to both armed and peaceful jihad. Let’s first look at some sample verses:

Those who believed, immigrated, and jahadu (did jihad) in the way of Allah with their properties and selves are much higher in degree with Allah; and those are the winners (9.20).

O you who believe! Bow down, prostrate yourselves, serve your Lord, and do good that you may succeed (22.77). And jahidu (do jihad) [O you who believe!] in the way of Allah jihadihi (the kind of jihad that is due to Him). He has chosen you and has not laid upon you a hardship in religion; it is the faith of your father Abraham. He [Allah] has named you al-Muslimin (the Muslims) earlier and in this [the Qur’an], so that the Messenger be a witness over you, and you be witnesses over the people. Therefore keep up prayer, pay the obligatory alms, and hold fast to Allah; He is your Master; so how excellent a Master and how excellent a Supporter! (22.78).

O you who believe! Act dutifully toward Allah, seek means of nearness to Him, and jahidu (do jihad) in His way that you may succeed (5.35).

These and other Madinite verses talk about jihad in general; there is no reason to suggest that they refer only to fighting in the way of Allah.

There are some Madinite verses that mention jihad clearly in the context of talking about particular instances of armed jihad. For instance, this verse refers to Muslims who asked the Prophet for permission not to take part in armed jihad:

Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day do not ask you [O Muhammad!] that they do not yujahidu (do jihad) with their properties and selves. And Allah is aware of the dutiful (9.44).

The following verse refers to Muslims who chose not to join other Muslims in their armed jihad and didn’t go with their brethren to battle:

Those who were left behind were glad to stay home and not join the Messenger of Allah. They were averse to yujahidu (do jihad) with their properties and selves, and said [to other Muslims]: “Do not go forth in the heat.” Say [O Muhammad!]: “The fire of hell is far hotter,” if they understand (9.81).

Verse 9.86 below refers to those who sought permission from the Prophet not to take part in armed jihad with the Muslims. Verse 9.88 contrasts this with the jihad of the Prophet and those who believed with him:

And when a chapter is revealed, stating: “Believe in Allah and jahidu (do jihad) with His Messenger,” the wealthy ones among them [the Muslims] ask permission of you [O Muhammad!] and say: “Let us be with those who stay home” (9.86). They are content to be with those who stayed home, and a seal is set on their hearts so they do not understand (9.87). But the Messenger and those who believe with him jahadu (do jihad) with their properties and selves; and it is these who shall have good things, and it is these who shall be successful (9.88).

In the following set of verses, verse 9.73 clearly refers to armed jihad by the Prophet and Muslims against disbelievers and hypocrites who betrayed the Muslims and sought unsuccessfully to harm them:

O Prophet! Jahidi (do jihad) against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh to them; their abode is hell, an evil destination (9.73). They swear by Allah that they did not speak [evil]. And they certainly did speak the word of infidelity, disbelieved after they embraced Islam, and set out to do that which they failed to attain; they did not hold grudge except because Allah and His Messenger enriched them out of His grace. If they repent, therefore, it will be good for them; and if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the hereafter, and they shall not have on earth any close friend or helper (9.74).

While the verses above mention the term jihad in the context of talking about particular events of armed jihad, this doesn’t mean that jihad is reduced in those verses to armed jihad only. The failure to fight in a battle is a failure to do “armed jihad” and, ultimately, a failure to take part in “jihad” as a whole — the Qur’anic term for both armed and peaceful jihad.


Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved


Aug 222005
This website is dedicated to content about the Qur’an, so an article about the London bombings of the 7th/July/2005 may not look appropriate. However, there are two reasons that make me think that this is still the right home for such an article. First, terrorist atrocities such as those committed in London are often made, unfairly, to reflect on Islam and Muslims. Second, the carnage in London places a duty on Muslims, particularly in Britain, to contribute to the debate to understand and stop such acts.


It Is Not Islam

I should start first by stressing that Islam is a peaceful religion and is in no way responsible for any act of terrorism. Many people have already spoken and written extensively about this, and I myself have also contributed a book about the concept of Jihad in the Qur’an after the terrorist attack on New York and Washington in 2001. I would like here to only stress that any objective observer can only conclude that linking Islam to terrorism is attributed to one or more of the following causes:

1) Ignorance of Islam — both its history and thought.
2) Ignorance of ancient and modern history of human violence — both religious and non-religious.
3) Outright hostility to Islam for various reasons.
4) Inability to properly establish logical links between causes and effects.

If the 1st, 3rd, and 4th points may be contentious for one reason or another, the 2nd surely calls on an objective judge: history. The history of religious and secular violence shows that there is no justification to single out Islam and accuse it of being a violent religion.

The Myth of Their Hatred for “Our Values and Way of Life”

If Islam is not the cause, then what drove those individuals to carry out outrages such as the 11th of September attack that killed almost 3,000 innocent people? More intriguing is the case of the London bombers. What motivated individuals who were born, brought up, and educated in Britain to kill scores of innocent people in the capital of their country?

This, it goes without saying, is the one question that just about everyone in Britain, and many more elsewhere, have been asking. Prime Minister Tony Blair was first to offer an answer. In his first comment three hours after the attack, he accused the attackers of seeking to destroy “our values and our way of life”, and later on the same day he promised that the British people “will hold true to the British way of life.” The inaccurate and misleading nature of this fantastically rushed explanation of the terrorists’ objective is very reminiscent of the weapons of mass destruction argument that Blair used to take Britain into Iraq.

Blair’s quick movement to position the terrorist bombings as an attempt against our way of life and values is understandable, but not excusable. Anyone with common sense almost immediately thought of the Iraq war and how much it might have contributed to the perpetration of this carnage. This is a major problem for Blair, because before his adventure in Iraq the Prime Minister claimed that the country needed to go to war because Britain’s security was at stake because of Iraq’s WMD — an argument that he never abandoned even after he himself accepted that those weapons were a myth. He then kept on insisting that this war has made Britain, and the whole world, more secure. Even those who believed him until now would find it difficult to continue to do so — certainly not when London’s streets start to bear chilling similarity to those of Baghdad. Blair had to move quickly to blame the London bombings on something else, to avert any link between them and the Iraq war.

Because of his Iraq adventure, Blair is now part of the problem of terrorism that the country is facing. He is in no position to be part of the solution. He confirmed this by blaming the bombings on the attackers’ hatred for our way of life and values. A different Prime Minister would have certainly found himself in a much better position to respond to the London bombings rationally, without fearing that his own credibility would be at stake if he applied common sense when discussing the causes of the problem. This danger of terror on British soil is in need of real leadership, and Blair’s recent history would just not allow him to act as a genuine leader. Instead of leading the nation in a difficult time, he chose to mislead it, again.

Blair’s fundamental problem here is the same one he had when he was building a case for joining the USA in their war against Iraq: he set out to challenge facts with fallacies. Lies and unsubstantiated claims may be maintained for a long time, but they will have to bow down one day to facts and reality. In the case of the Iraqi WMD, this has already happened. Blair’s poor dismissal of the role of the war on Iraq in what happened in London is equally doomed, with experts and non-experts alike taking the common sense view that the Iraq war has played a significant role in what London suffered.

The suicide bombers in Palestine have been killing themselves and Israelis not because they do not like the Israeli lifestyle. Bin Laden and his followers never said that they bombed and will continue to bomb America because the American electoral college system is not to their liking. The terror that is infesting Iraq now is not the result of the terrorists’ objection to the democratization of Iraq. Similarly, the Leeds terrorists did not blow themselves and tens of people up simply to protest against our food, drink, cinemas, and other aspects of our lifestyle. None of these and similar terror groups were formed and continue to operate around the agenda of changing the British or American way of life.

The number of people who attempt to commit atrocities in the UK is very small in comparison with those who travel to get involved in violence in the places of violence, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, and Palestine. This clearly shows the cause and objective of these acts of violence. Angry young people do not go to fight in Iraq in order to change the British way of life. The intelligence of the British people certainly deserves more acknowledgment and respect than Mr Blair’s argument shows.

What do Iraq and Palestine in particular have in common that can be linked to the two of them producing the largest number of suicide bombings and other forms of savageries? Certainly, not a like or dislike to particular form of democracy or a specific way of life, but a well known source of violence called occupation. The overwhelming majority of attacks in Iraq are targeting foreign troops and Iraqi policemen and army personnel who are considered as collaborator with the occupier. Of course, in the lawless state that Iraq has become and it being on the brink of civil war, ethnic and religious tensions have also flared up and have become a significant factor in the cycle of violence. The atrocious violence in Iraq has nothing to do with how Londoners live in their city. It has a lot to do, however, with the decision of London politicians to invade and occupy Iraq.

British ministers have been warning that any attempt to understand the terrorist bombings in London in a way different to Mr Blair’s explanation, is to play in the hands of terrorists. There is also the suggestion that linking the bombings to the Iraq war is to somehow justify the atrocities. None of these claims is true. Understanding the causes of violence does not mean condoning it or doing what the terrorists want us to do. It is the sensible response of any intelligent person to find a solution to an extremely serious problem.

It is so arrogant and patronizing of Blair and his government to use such a preposterous and intimidating approach to prevent people from thinking about the causes of terrorism. These politicians have abandoned their responsibilities at a time of crisis in order to protect their political careers; nothing more and nothing less. The country will certainly continue to try and understand what happened and its causes.

Extending the Myth with the “Evil Ideology” Claim

The Prime Minister argued on the 16th/July/2005 that these terrorists are driven by an “evil ideology”. Any ideology that permits the killing of innocent people is surely evil, but Blair’s use of the term “ideology” has other, subtle goals. By blaming an ideology, Mr Blair attempted to isolate this terrorism from anything that has been happening in the world, in particular in Iraq, and position it as a fundamentally religious problem. He would like us to believe that the problem is one of a perverted understanding of Islam that is being used to force us to change our way of life. He can, thus, claim that the solution is simply to tackle this interpretation of Islam. This terrorism, according to Blair, is a localized problem that exists within Islam and the Muslim community and there is no need to consider any other external causes. This is simply absurd.

To his credit, Blair did emphasize that this ideology is as distant from Islam as the Irish Christian terrorism from Christianity, but his analysis all but nullifies such a passing, fair remark. His explanation makes this terrorism a completely Islamic problem, and Muslims are mainly the ones who have to sort it out. This convenient and overly simplistic view of what lies behind the London bombings will not help much in addressing the problem. By framing the problem as completely Islamic — in order to avoid talking about significant contributory factors, such as the Iraq war and Western foreign policies in general — Blair has attempted to distract attention from finding a fundamental and genuine solution.

Islam has had minorities of followers develop extremist ideas and interpretations. But all religions share with Islam this phenomenon. To talk about an “evil ideology” only when the terrorists call themselves Muslims or when they commit their crimes under the name of Islam is to implicate Islam.

The fact is that any act of terrorism and genocide could be linked to an ideology. The terrorism of the Irish Protestants and Catholics may be linked to ideologies. The acts of terrorism, genocide, and ethnic cleansing that were committed by Christians, with the well known backing of the Church, in the former Yugoslavia, which resulted in the killing of tens of thousands of Muslims may also be linked to an ideology. The decades long killing of numerous Palestinians and the systematic stealing of their lands by Jews who descended on Palestine from all parts of the world may also be associated with an ideology. The violent policies of the fundamentalist Christian US administration in Afghanistan and Iraq that have led to the death of numerous people, and the keenness of these fundamentalists on making sure that Palestinian territories remain in the hands of its usurpers, also have ideological dimensions. Apart from the people who perpetrated any of acts of violence above, almost everyone else would consider such ideologies to be evil.

Another fundamental flaw in Blair’s analysis is the claim that terrorism by Muslim individuals is causally linked to an evil ideology. In other words, it is this “evil ideology”, whatever it is, that caused those terrorist atrocities. True, terrorists have their own perverted version of Islam that gives them the right, or even imposes on them the duty, to behave in this brutal way. The same holds true for terrorists who act under the name of Christianity, Judaism, and other religions and thoughts. But these ideologies are formed and sought in order to provide religious and ethical backing to their respective campaigns of terror. These ideologies are not the causes of terrorism, but they are used by terrorists to add legitimacy to their violence. The real causes of terrorism are responsible for making such ideologies needed, sought, and popular among the individuals and groups that adopt them. Fighting an ideology will not defeat the causes of terror it is associated with. Even its intellectual defeat can only trigger the emergence of a new ideology to support the violence.

Blair is wrong in both assumptions of his claim. First, the terrorism that is perpetrated by people who label themselves as Muslims is not the only form of terrorism that may be linked to an ideology. Such an ideology, I must also stress, has nothing to do with Islam. Second, this terrorism is not caused by its associated ideology. While the latter is used by terrorists to legitimize their violence, it is more of a result than a cause.

Blair’s claim that the recent terrorist acts in London and elsewhere are all about a bunch of disaffected Muslims getting their religion wrong is a poor attempt to protect his personal standing, rather than a genuine attempt to solve an extremely serious problem. We need serious efforts to identify and understand the causes of terrorism. We have to resist the manipulative attempts of politicians, such as Blair, and the media to equate the attempt to understand terrorism with justifying it. This is essential for finding a solution.

The Real Drive of Terrorism

The main drive for the London bombers, and other related terrorist acts, is a deep sense of anger and frustration at the role of the West in the injustices and grievances that Muslims have been facing in a number of places in the world. This has received recently a big new momentum and efficacy by the war on Iraq. These feelings, but not the violent actions, are normal human reactions to injustice, humiliation, occupation, murder, and various other forms of human suffering. The overwhelming majority of people who have these feelings do manage and control them properly. But in some individuals they develop into a strong desire for violent action, to inflict revenge, impose their idea of justice, or achieve similar objectives.

Terrorists, such as the London bombers, conflate completely different places and fail to deal with the stark differences between them. In Britain, where they physically live, they experience peace, safety, respect for human rights, and very high living standards. In the other places where they are only mentally present, it is war, death, oppression, extreme violation of human rights, and a very poor quality of life. Convinced, rightly or wrongly, that Britain is at least partly responsible for the blights of the Muslims in those places, and failing to manage that anger and channel it in a positive way, the terrorists end up trying to make Britain live the same blight of those countries. Instead of acting to spread peace and prosperity from Britain to those blighted places, the terrorists import from there war and devastation to Britain. There is no justification for this criminal behavior; but living in denial of the causes of such crimes is also unjustifiable.

The failure of an individual to manage anger and pain is not restricted to this specific case of terrorism, nor even to terrorism only. This is a common human failure that can occur to various individuals and can be witnessed in a variety of circumstances and contexts, leading at times to homicide, suicide, or both, as in the case of suicide bombing. An existing ideology is called upon, or a new one is invented, to justify the irresistible desire to commit violence. The ideology is not the cause of the violence, but it acts as a facilitator, as it helps the terrorist get rid of any internal tension that he may feel between his inclination to take deadly actions and values that he holds or is told that he should hold that denounce such acts. By relieving him from this pressure, the ideology makes it easier for the would-be terrorist to become one.

Is this more likely to happen to Muslims, in which case there would be a case for looking more carefully for a special ideology? Certainly not. Circumstances similar to those that recruited terrorists such as the London bombers have led and can lead to violent actions by individuals and groups of various beliefs and ideologies, and even to wars involving whole nations. It is ignorance or double standards that suggest that some Muslims, as opposed to non-Muslims, are particularly violent or prone to violence. Decades long of extreme miseries, such as those of the Palestinians, can lead to violence regardless of the beliefs or nationality of its victims. This is how the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, articulated this fact on the 20th/July: “Under foreign occupation and denied the right to vote, denied the right to run your own affairs, often denied the right to work for three generations, I suspect that if it had happened here in England, we would have produced a lot of suicide bombers ourselves.” This is the reality that undermines any attempt to link terrorism such as we recently saw in London to any particular ideology, or to the even more absurd suggestion that those terrorists are against “our values and our way of life”.

In fact, we do not need to think of any hypothetical scenario in order to put the London bombings and other terrorist acts committed by Muslims in perspective. While the suicide bombers in Palestine have caused a large number of innocent casualties, the number of innocent Palestinians killed by the Israeli army and armed settlers living on stolen land is manyfold that number. Every time a suicide bomber kills Israelis, more Palestinians are killed by the Israelis, more are made destitute in the occupied lands, and more suffering is added to people who have already been living as refugees in their own country for decades. Yet despite the disproportionate use of firepower, and the fact that the Israelis use even air force against what are effectively refugee camps, Mr Bush, Mr Blair, and other Western leaders are completely obsessed by suicide bombers, and utterly unwilling to acknowledge that this violence is actually much less devastating than the organized violence by the state of Israel and its advanced weaponry.

It is revealing that suicide bombing is particularly condemned and explicitly considered as worse than any other form of violence. True, the police and the army find suicide bombers more difficult to guard against and control, but unarmed civilians living in refugee camps are certainly even far more powerless toward army helicopters and war airplanes. Western politicians and media resent suicide bombing more than any other form of killing for two reasons. First, it is frustrating, because it is difficult to control, and deprives people the satisfaction of applying justice to the bomber. Second, it allows politicians and media to easily reject the violence of particular groups of people, but not the others; it allows the rejection of terrorist acts committed by Palestinians, but not those committed by Israelis. Ken Livingstone has noted that: “If a young Jewish boy in this country goes and joins the Israeli army, and ends up killing many Palestinians in operations and can come back, that is wholly legitimate. But for a young Muslim boy in this country, who might think: I want to defend my Palestinian brothers and sisters and gets involved, he is branded a terrorist. And I think it is this that has infected the attitude about how we deal with these problems.”

Advancing his theory that the terror of the London atrocities was ideology driven, Blair dismissed the almost universally held view that the Iraq war has played a role in this carnage. He argued that terrorist attacks such as those of the 11th/September/2001, and earlier atrocities, happened well before the Iraq war. It is amazing that the Prime Minister should resort to such a lame argument. Mr Blair is certainly aware that the Palestinian tragedy started almost 60 years ago; the deployment of American troops in Saudi Arabia that enraged many Muslims happened in 1990; this deployment was followed by a devastating war on Iraq; and this war itself was preceded and followed by brutal sanctions that went on to last for 13 years that killed countless innocent people. If the bombardment of Iraq in the gulf war lasted for about 45 days only, the other issues have gone on for years. The recent war in Iraq is only one other instance of a Western foreign policy that has been causing havoc in parts of the world. Additionally, Mr Blair surely knew that Bin Laden himself and his movement are both the creation of Western governments and intelligence agencies. Al-Qaeda is not the product of an ideology, but the illegitimate child of an irresponsible foreign policy.

The British Muslim and Britain

Whenever an atrocity is committed by Muslims, Muslims everywhere, and particularly in the West, are put under scrutiny, and probing and accusatory questions get asked: Do they really renounce violence? Is their Islamic identity in conflict with their national identity? Do they have real allegiance to their countries? And so on. No surprise, then, when the London bombings took place, these questions came to the front again. This is a failure of the media and politicians to separate between the many millions of Muslims and the few individuals who committed those crimes. The whole of the Muslim community is put on the back foot, and they have to confirm once again their identities, beliefs, and the fact that they are different from the terrorists and more like their compatriots. This is indeed a unique treatment.

For instance, when a black person is attacked or killed by racists, we do not see all white British people looked at suspiciously and asked to explicitly renounce racism. When Christian Serbs slaughtered thousands of unarmed Muslims, Christians in Britain were not put under pressure to come out and renounce this act of genocide. White people are not responsible for the racist actions of a small minority of them, and Christians in Britain should not be made to apologize for crimes committed by other Christians elsewhere. Similarly, British Muslims should not be made to stand trial for atrocities committed by Muslim individuals, whether in Britain or elsewhere.

Because of his interest in the affairs of Muslims elsewhere, the average British Muslim follows closely the news of the Muslim world and what is happening to fellow Muslims. He may not be an Afghani, Bosnian, Chechen, Iraqi, Kashmiri, Kosovan, or Palestinian, but he would be very interested in the state of his brothers and sisters in those and other places. This makes the average British Muslim far more knowledgeable about the affairs of these countries, including Britain’s foreign policies toward them, than the average British non-Muslim person.

There is nothing wrong in the British Muslim being interested in the welfare of Muslims elsewhere. It is, after all, a Muslim’s duty to be concerned about the welfare of all people everywhere – regardless of colour, race and religion. Moreover, it is not wrong for people to have a keen interest in the quality of life of people elsewhere, particularly if it was poor. The average British person would certainly be very interested in what happens in America, France, or Germany, if the people there faced any serious plight. The sympathy that the British, and people from around the world, showed for the Americans after the attack on New York and Washington is an example of this. Many people in Britain expressed their condolences and solidarity with the American people in various ways. No one can suggest that this sense of sympathy with the people of another country is non-British or wrong. Some British people even felt it imperative that Britain should join the so-called war on terror. Another more recent example is the phenomenal response of the British people to the victims of the Tsunami disaster. There are numerous examples that show the keenness of the British people on helping other peoples and nations.

If helping and caring for those who suffer injustice and degradation is what Britain is supposed to stand for as a bastion of human rights, democracy and freedom, then surely caring for Muslims in other parts of the world is perfectly British. In fact, standing up for justice is the patriotic thing to do for the welfare and future of this country. It is also the Islamic thing to do. Muslims are always required to stand up for justice, and Islam totally rejects any politics of identification. Muslims must always take the side of the weak and the oppressed, whatever their faith.

It is, therefore, perfectly British for Muslims in Britain to follow the news of Muslims in other countries and sympathize with them. The plights of many Muslims have been going on for decades. Keeping a close eye at what is happening to Muslims anywhere in the world has become very easy in this age of communication, although the experience itself has never been an easy one. Watching, hearing, or reading everyday about the killing of scores of innocent people, the driving of families from their homes, the humiliation of fellow Muslims, and similar serious mistreatments are very painful. These kind of sufferings call for sympathy for their victims regardless of their identity. What makes this sense of pain even worse for British Muslims is that Britain, their own country, is involved directly or indirectly in those plights.

Additionally, the Muslim in Britain is always made to feel that his country does not want to know about those tragedies. The British media is so biased and unfair in their coverage of events in places such as Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq that the British Muslim is forced to feel at times a sense of alienation. He loves Britain, but not its bombing or invasion of Iraq, or its role in imposing sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of powerless people. He loves Britain, but resents how the British establishment honors Israeli politicians who have been ruling, brutally and by force, a land stolen from its people. The British media and politicians recently cried their eyes out for the Zimbabweans who were bulldozered out of urban slums by Robert Mugabe’s eviction campaign. Evicting Palestinians, demolishing their homes, and stealing their lands have been Israeli policies for decades, but most of the media and politicians are just not interested.

There is also Britain’s support for oppressive Middle Eastern regimes that rule against the will of their people and the interests of their countries. When Britain takes a stance against a dictator it is not because of his dictatorship, but because he is considered to have interests that are not compatible with Britain’s. Saddam Hussein, who was completely demonized after his invasion of Kuwait, used to be a useful friend and ally during the Iran-Iraq war.

This is why the average British Muslim has an element of identity crisis. He is British and Muslim, but at times he struggles to harmonize both identities. The role of his country in some of the tragedies of his Muslim brothers and sisters elsewhere attempts to redefine Britishness in a way that puts it in conflict with his Islamic identity. British Muslims are keen on both identities, but many would find it at times difficult to maintain a complete harmony between the two. This results in a more complex and less harmonious identity, and a rather confused self-image.

But why would the British Muslim expect his country to behave differently? What makes him think that Britain must change some of its foreign policies to be more in line with his views as a Muslim? It is Britain’s declared principles and values that justify these expectations. Britain has one of the greatest democracies in the world. It is indeed something that every British should be proud and feel privileged to be part of. Britain is expected to stand with the oppressed, against the oppressor; support justice, and fight injustice; and promote freedom, and oppose dictatorship. Muslims who are suffering oppression and injustice in various parts of the world are entitled to, at least, moral support from Britain. This is what the British Muslim expects his country to do, because this is what Britain stands for. He cannot understand how Britain can become among the causes of the suffering of his brothers and sisters.

Resentment to their country’s role in Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq is not the feeling of Muslims only. Millions of British non-Muslims share this feeling. Anyone who knows enough about what a big tragedy Iraq has become and how Britain was dragged into an unwarranted war sees a complete detachment between his government’s action and Britishness. Anyone who knows the ongoing tragedy of Palestine would not accept that Britain’s relevant policies reflect the British values. Many of these people would tell you that the role that Britain has been made to play is incompatible with what it stands for, and that they completely dissociate themselves and their country from that role. Muslims may feel stronger about these ongoing tragedies, but both camps share fundamentally the same feelings.

This deep sense of betrayal is not something that can surface only when Muslims are at the receiving end of Britain’s foreign policy. If Mr Blair decides tomorrow to march troops to another, non-Muslim country and start a war that consumes so many innocent lives, both Muslims and non-Muslims would again stand against it. This response would not be only in defense of potential innocent victims that we do not know, but it would also be to defend Britain against the way it has been abused by politicians and their supporters in the media.

What does this tell us? Britain suffers from an identity crisis, whose effect can be seen on its Muslim citizens. This modern, democratic state which has great respect for human rights, freedom, and democracy pursues at times foreign policies that go against its very principles and values. Its long history of support for Israel, for instance, does not reflect the good values that this country stands for. Even after sixty years of continued Israeli oppression and persecution of the Palestinians, occupation of their lands, eviction of millions of them from their homes and turning them into refugees in their country and other countries, Britain is far more friendly with the Jewish state than the Palestinians. Britain was happy to go to war with Iraq because of WMD that did not exist, but it never broke its silence on Israel’s growing pile of nuclear weapons. It has also always shied away from directing any substantial criticism of Israel’s prolonged history of aggression. If the British media would cover the suffering of Palestinian victims in the same way it covers Israeli victims, there would be hardly any time or space left for any other news. It is fascinating to listen to British politicians discussing the violence in Palestine in terms of Palestinian terrorism and Israeli actions.

Britain’s foreign policy in the Middle East still reflects, at least partially, a very different Britain — one that is more reminiscent of the colonial empire and its Judo-Christian heritage. The stark conflict between this Britain of the past and the modern, democratic, secular, and just Britain reflects a dichotomous identity. This identity crisis has been further deepened by Britain’s unconditional association with a USA that, while claims to be the beacon of democracy, is led by a self-righteous Christian fundamentalist administration that has its own agenda. Blair’s near blind following of Bush has added more negativity to Britain’s image in the world and in the eyes of many of its citizens.

Nothing can better illustrate the schism in Britain’s identity than the fact that Britain is also a great country for Muslims to live in. Britain is not perfect, but there is no another country, whether Muslim or not, that treats its Muslim population better than Britain. This fact also points to one aspect of the stupidity and detachment from reality of the terrorists who targeted their capital. The welfare that Britain has offered them, and the freedom that it has generously given them to practice their religion, are not privileges that they can find easily elsewhere. Are Muslims in Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia or any other Islamic country treated better by the state than Muslims in Britain? The answer is a firm no. While it is true that Britain has double standards when it comes to its foreign policy, British Muslims who wage war against Britain because of these double standards are themselves practicing the same, simply because Britain remains a much better country for Muslims to live in than any Islamic country.

The Way Forward

As we have seen, the problem of terrorism in Britain can be simply described as a violent reaction by some Muslim individuals to Britain’s foreign policy in Muslim countries. Any solution has to consider both elements: the angry individual and Britain’s foreign policy. The attempt of politicians and the media to put the onus on finding a solution on British Muslims, and on them only, is both unfair and misguided. The British Muslim community can and must play its role in fighting any extremists within it, but it just cannot prevent individuals who are bent on terror from committing crimes. Additionally, it is not only the Muslim community, but the state also needs to take action to resolve the problem of terror. This action revolves around a number of issues.


Preaching Hatred and Violence

Within their societies, Western countries need to take effective action against those who preach messages of violence and hatred, such as those who do this under the name of Islam. Such individuals take advantage of the disillusion and anger of some young Muslims to provide them with the final push they need to turn to violence. They mentor and manipulate their victims.

However, most people find it difficult to understand why there are individuals preaching death and hatred in Britain with almost impunity. Whenever a terrorist act is committed, a new TV program on terrorism is produced, or a new media report on related issues is released, we find ourselves suddenly watching video and listening to audio recordings of public and private meetings, in Britain, held by British and non-British individuals preaching the worst messages under the name of Islam. You get the impression that these preachers seem to have a freehand in the country to say what they like. The British people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, have the right to ask why we have to be reminded each now and then of the presence of those preachers, and be given, in the course of this reminiscence, the impression that the country is powerless to do anything about them. The fact that there is material evidence on messages of violence and hatred that extremists have been preaching freely not only in private but also in public can only point out to a major failure of our law makers in their duties.

Recently, the Government gave itself the undemocratic power to lock up terror suspects indefinitely without putting them on trial, yet apparently it is still powerless in dealing with people standing on the street, in public, preaching the killing of others. Instead of taking the more difficult but proper action of enacting laws that can tackle the problem, politicians chose the easy option of replacing trying with sentencing. The Government would say that even this law has proven insufficient, but that is simply because it is the wrong law; it is a law to suspend the rule of law.

The Prime Minister, backed by cross-party support, has already signaled his intention to introduce new legislations to extend current laws to criminalize activities such as indirectly inciting terrorism. Clearly, the country does need laws to protect its citizens, but rushing laws quickly and shortly after a terrorist attack might well result in flawed legislations that unnecessarily infringe civil liberty, or allow prejudicial treatment of Muslims in general or particular ethnic groups within the Muslim community. The last thing we need is legislations similar to the American Patriotic Act which, while supposed to target terrorism and terrorists, has been used against people who oppose some US policies, particularly those who oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Fortunately, Britain has a far more politically aware population than the USA, but considerable care and vigilance would be needed as recent history has shown that British politicians can take the country in a wrong direction and against the will of its population.

Muslims have an equally important role to play in ensuring that preachers of violence, whether British or not, are held fully accountable for their words and actions. Muslims must take part in exposing those individuals, isolating them, and helping in bringing them to justice. It is a Muslim’s religious duty to condemn other Muslims who act in an oppressive, unjust, or violent manner, and not to excuse their behaviour or take their side merely based on the fact that they are “Muslim brothers”. This is one Qur’anic verse that commands the Muslims to support justice unreservedly: 

O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even if against yourselves, your parents, or your kin. Whether he is rich or poor, Allah will take care of him. Therefore, do not follow your low desires, lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, then surely Allah is aware of what you do (4.135).

 While new legislations might well drive such preachers underground, Muslims still need to show vigilance and be alert to the possible presence of such people among them. Britain has always been sensitive to ethnic and religious minorities, and it would help considerably if Muslims themselves took an active role in helping law enforcing agencies bring to justice extremist preachers. The preachers of violence are enemies of the religion and the Britishness of the British Muslim.

The Failure of Violence

Terrorists believe that their violent actions help oppressed fellow Muslims, and they often claim that Islam backs their action. In response to this, Muslims need to emphasize that the terrorists are wrong on both scores, and this is not difficult to show. The killing of innocent people has nothing to do with Islam. The Qur’an, the history of the Prophet Muhammad, and the history of Islam in general show that Islam always supported peace and never advocated the killing of the innocent.

With regard to the terrorists’ claim that their atrocities help Muslims, this is also so easy to refute. Just look at who suffered the most from the 11th/September attack in the USA. The “war on terror” that followed has so far claimed the lives of so many thousands of innocent Muslims. The Western media has done very little to inform people about how many whole families in Afghanistan and Iraq were bombed in their own homes, how many people were maimed, how many were made destitute, and how the lives of millions have been made a total misery. Even Muslims elsewhere, including those living in the West, have had to suffer consequences of that one act of terrorism, as they started to be treated with much more suspicion and prejudice. No one paid for the savagery of the 11th/September more than Muslims. Hammering this message home will undermine the argument of using terrorism to support any cause of Muslims anywhere.

Terrorism has targeted innocent people, but the response of the West has also ruined the lives of innocent people. No one comes out of this cycle of terror and death with any credit. Bush, Blair, and others involved in the ongoing “war against terror” are at pain to point out that their war is the right response to terrorism. The high death toll of innocent people, the destroyed lives of millions, and the destruction of whole countries are some of the facts that ridicule their extraordinary claim.

It is also a fact that Muslims have been the main victims and losers in any terrorist act that is committed allegedly to support them or under their name.

The Potential of Democracy

The alternative to violence is democracy. In order for democracy to work, people must engage in it, and for this to happen people need to believe in its effectiveness. They need to believe that democracy is a powerful vehicle for change and achieving their goals. People also need to learn how to use democracy. Many Muslims in Britain lack faith in how much they can achieve through democracy and the skills to use it.

It is not difficult to see why many Muslims in Britain have little faith in what democracy can do for them. British Muslims have grown to over 1.6 million, yet they have had little influence on issues that are very close to their hearts, such as Britain’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Islamophobia in the media today might be even worse than it ever was. There is the feeling that the establishment is just too difficult to change, and that British home and foreign policies are set to be the same regardless of Britain’s significant Muslim population. It is very difficult indeed to see what real difference Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims have made to Britain’s foreign policy. Muslims do feel that they are being told how they should become part of British society, but without being allowed the right to contribute to what this society stands for.

This lack of faith in what they can achieve through democracy is also related to the Muslims’ limited experience with democracy, engagement in it, and use of its institutions. A lot of first generation British Muslims originally came from countries that are or were under outright dictatorship or have a façade of democracy. It is only in Britain that they experienced real democracy.

British Muslims need also to develop the skills and knowledge needed to fully engage in British democracy and develop representative organizations that integrate well with British democratic institutions and allow them to express their needs and views. This way Muslims can ensure that their voice will be heard and be effective. It is true that democratic and political processes can take time to deliver results, but they can achieve a lot. It is vital to develop a strong and effective Muslim vote.

It is essential that British Muslims, particularly the young generation, believe and feel confident that they can change Britain’s foreign policy through democratic means and institutions. Any anger they may have at such policies would then result in positive, constructive, and peaceful actions. This would also close the door to manipulators who try to take advantage of the inexperienced youth and their anger.

In conclusion, the British Muslims are at the center of a faith related problem. But the faith in question is not, as many think, Islam. It is faith that British Muslims need to have in Britain, and faith that Britain needs to have in its Muslims.

Copyright © 2005 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Jan 042004
This is the “Preface” of the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.

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.



Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved