[ReadingRoom] Making a mockery of jihad
- 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 evil (munkar).
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 combat.
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 attack?
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.
In the 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 martyr"?
Asghar Ali Engineer is an acknowledged authority on Islam and director of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai.
(This article first appeared on www.newageislam.com. Used with permission.)
(Copyright 2008 New Age Islam.)