Making a mockery of jihad By Asghar Ali Engineer Recent terror attacks in India and abroad have created an impression that jihad is central to Koranic
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, Oct 13, 2008
Making a mockery of jihad By
Asghar Ali Engineer
Recent terror attacks in India and abroad
have created an impression that jihad is central to Koranic teaching. First of
all, as we have asserted repeatedly, jihad does not mean war in the Koran as
there are other words for it like qital and harb.
Jihad has been used in the Koran in its root meaning: to strive for betterment
of society, to spread goodness (maruf) and contain
But supposing jihad means war, as some
Muslims believe, even then it still isn't central to Koranic teachings. The word
"jihad" occurs in the Koran 41 times though not a single verse uses it
in the sense of war. The four most fundamental values in the Koran are
justice ('adl), benevolence (ihsan), compassion (rahmah)
and wisdom (hikmah). Thus, the Koran is an embodiment of these values and
a Muslim is duty-bound to practice them above all.
One who fails to
practice these values can hardly claim to be a true Muslim. Jihad is not even
obligatory in Islamic jurisprudence whereas these values are indicative of a
Muslim's character and hence quite important. It can be said that compassion is
most central to Koranic teachings. The words "compassion" and "mercy" in their
various forms occur in the Koran 335 times.
There is great emphasis
in the Koran on justice in all social and political matters and it uses three
words for justice - 'adl, qist andhakama.
These three words occur 244 times in the Koran. To seek revenge is human
weakness, not strength. Thus, a devout Muslim tends to forgive, like Allah who
forgives his servants if they sincerely repent. Those who are waging jihad in
the form of terror attacks are bent upon seeking revenge whereas a good Muslim
would tend to forgive just as Allah does.
In sharia law, jihad can
be declared only by the state or those empowered by it. Terror attacks, on the
other hand, are planned and executed by a few individuals unrepresentative of
any state or state institution. So their attacks cannot be legitimate by any
Islamic or sharia law. That is nothing but committing the murder of innocent
people. Also, according to Islamic laws, in jihad no non-combatant can be
attacked, much less women, children and the elderly and no civilian property can
be destroyed unless it is being used for military purposes or for purposes of
It can be seen that the rules laid down for war by Islamic
laws are no different from modern laws of warfare or the Geneva conventions. But
terror attacks are a gross violation of all these Islamic rules and there is no
way these attacks can be characterized as jihad. The terrorists are described by
the media as jihadis. This is a gross misuse of the word as there is no word
like "jihadi" in the Arabic language. It is in fact "mujahid" and it is used in
a laudatory sense - one who devotes oneself to a good cause like fighting
against social evils.
The Koran advises Muslims: "And cast not
yourselves to destruction with your own hands and do good (to others). Surely
Allah loves the doers of good." This advice of the Koran not to throw oneself to
destruction with one's own hands is important and relevant even today. What did
the September 11, 2001 attack result in? Did al-Qaeda not invite great disaster
to the entire Islamic world, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq? Did they not
throw themselves into perdition with their own hands? What good did that attack
do to anyone? Was there any wisdom in that rash and ruthless
Revenge only satisfies our ego and injures the ego of the
enemy and thus the war of attrition continues. What terrorists are doing is
seeking revenge, and from a weaker position. Every attack brings nothing but
disaster for themselves and others. Various verses quoted to justify jihad are
generally taken in a literal sense and ignore the value system of the Koran. It
is a well-known fact that be it al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization,
they do not represent any government or larger Muslim organization. They succeed
in mobilizing some angry youth who are carried away by "Islamic" rhetoric and
commit terrorist attacks taking lives of innocent people. These attacks violate
all Koranic values.
Seventh century Arabia cannot be compared to
conditions in the contemporary world. Today's world is radically different from
that period and we should go more by Koranic ethics than injunctions about war.
There are several institutions now available for arbitration, reconciliation and
solving disputes. One should not rush to resort to violence.
Indian context, one cannot avenge violence by terrorist attacks on innocent
Hindus and Muslims in marketplaces. It is the same sin which was committed
against innocent Muslims. Wisdom requires that one should patiently mobilize
public opinion through democratic means, win over the hearts of common people
and expose evil forces.
One hopes that the misguided Muslim youth
resorting to violent actions will realize the futility of terror attacks and
renounce such sinful and criminal acts, concentrating instead on excelling in
learning and acquiring a superior moral character.
Did not the
Prophet say that the "ink of a scholar is superior to the blood of the
Asghar Ali Engineer is an acknowledged
authority on Islam and director of the Centre for Study of Society and
Secularism in Mumbai.