Explaining Jihad: Speaking Truth to Power

June 27, 2007 § 10 Comments

Looking to the title of this article I presumed that some, wading through the vast sea of Google searches, may have crossed this title and felt appalled that someone would attempt to explain jihad. I considered this title for nearly a day and eventually decided that, Explaining Jihad was the best fitting title for what we are about to indulge here. I will briefly address the classic tenor of jihad and move on to address the intentions and action that purport to be jihad. And though I may meet a substantial amount of opposition in this effort, I may likewise, by the mere ratiocination of this article’s claim, make a reasonable case in the minds of many.

Islam is a religion that has relied on the authenticity of its teachings as one of its main points of reasoning. Whether that authenticity is in divine writ or the recorded traditions of its prophet (may peace be upon him) this authenticity must remain intact in order to protect the deep-seeded roots within the hearts and minds of Muslims. However, today it is less known to the general population that the traditional method to protect our religion and our hearts from corruption was through a successive transmission of authenticity. In the past the transmission of knowledge was established through a chain of authority. Typically, if you were a a student of an Islamic scholar you may or may not be given the authority to transmit and expound on his or her (there are many accounts of female scholars in Islam) work. However if one has been given permission to teach based on the Islamic scholar’s teachings this position creates authenticity and a formidable position against opponents.

Unfortunately, in our present day society the malaise of authority and subsequently, the post-colonial condition of Muslim countries has created an opportunity for sinister developments with destructive consequences. One of these consequences is the perversion of the Islamic concept, jihad. For the record jihad taken from its triconsonantal root (J – H – D) means “to struggle” or “exert effort”. [1] It is this meaning that is at the heart of each use in the Qur’an. The classic Islamic scholar Al-Jurjani (d. 816/1413) in his Ta’rifat wrote that, jihad is “inviting to the truth” (al-dua’ ila al-haqq). This position is also supported by the Prophet himself (peace be upon him) who said,

“The greatest jihad is speaking truth to unjust power.” [2]

In fact in Islamic disquisition, there are two manner of jihad, the lesser and the greater. These two types have been discussed by American Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf, in the appendix (part B) of his translation of Imam Tahawi’s al-Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah, where he writes,

“The lesser jihad entails calling others to the truth and defending oneself from those who oppose that call; it also means using state-sanctioned martial forces to move from a condition of disequilibrium to one of harmony and balance. The greater jihad is the internal struggle with one’s own self in opposing its appetites and impulses until it is in submission to God.”

In this brief discourse, Imam Hamza also refers to a verse of the Qur’an which has been the axon of discussion and a classic debate concerning the legitimacy or illegitimacy of an armed struggle. Historically and in modern times it is used to encourage both the extremists aggrandizing their respective position seeking legitimacy, such as in the case of suicide bombing. [3] And also by the traditionalists who attempt to isolate extremist’s arguments and anchor them outside the context of legitimacy in Islam. Thus marginalizing the argument of the extremists in order to prevent senseless violence. The verse reads,

“and that you struggle (tujahiduna) in the way of God with your possessions and your lives.” (Qur’an, 61:011)

Imam Hamza also points out that although there are two types of jihad, there are also “varying levels” of jihad as well. And this he notes is one of the outstanding features of traditional Islamic exegetical and theological discourse. For example, he refers to a excerpt from the noted theologian and exegete, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 606/1210) who states,

“Jihad, after these two basic divisions [i.e., the greater and lesser jihads], is of three types: a person vis a vis his own self, which involves suppressing his ego and denying it its destructive lusts and appetites; a person vis a vis the generality of humanity, which involves not craving their possessions, and it involves being compassionate and merciful with them; and finally, a person vis a vis the world which involves taking it as a provision for the Hereafter. Hence, there are five types of jihad.”

In addition, I think that it must be noted that these references are not apocryphal text or aberrant views of sectarian Muslims. No, these scholars are in fact the classic scholars of the Qur’an and Sunnah. With that said, I believe I have covered the classic tenor or the usage of jihad as promised. And that my point concerning the misappropriation of the word jihad has been made and if not then at least I have proved that jihad in its literal sense has a broad spectrum of implications.

Therefore, jihad does not mean “holy war”. [4] Nor can persons or leaders of groups make the call to Muslims to defend truth, as we previously discussed is one of the meanings of the lesser jihad, by committing “unlawful warfare” or hirabah as per Islamic discourse. Consequently, there have clearly been attempts by Muslims to utilize the historical text and psychological bonds that exist to inspire resistance, avoiding a discussion on intent, and rationalize that resistance to present day Muslims of the post-colonial Middle-East.

In conclusion, despite the bitter consequences of the modern world on the Middle-East – European colonization, the subsequent nationalist regimes and finally internal decay within the Muslim world – this does not change the purpose of Islam nor does it alter the meaning of the Qur’an. And therefore a condition of hirabah could never equate the lesser jihad despite aberrant claims that seductively suggest just that. Ibn Taymiyyah said,

“Islamic warfare is always defensive, because the basis of relationship with the non-Muslims is peaceful coexistence (musalamah); if one reflects deeply on the causes of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) military expeditions, one will find that ll of the were of this type.”

While I think the above explanation does shed light on the misapplication, whether intentional or unintentional, of the Islamic term jihad, I also think it is appropriate to close this article with an approximately ten minute statement by Imam Zaid, [5] an American Islamic Scholar, recently featured on Bill Moyers – in which you may also briefly spot me attending a lecture – as he discusses hirabah and its violent implications.

[1] al-Tahawi, Abu Ja’far. al-Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah. Trans. Hamza Yusuf. United States: Zaytuna Institute, 2007. 89.
[2] al-Sijistani, Abu Dawud, Kitab al-ta’rifat. Riyadh: Dar al-Salam, 1999. 610.
[3] Abdullah, Abdul-Hakim. “An Islamic View of Suicide Bombing.” Hakim Abdullah/Wa Salaam (2007): 25 Jun. 2007 .
[4] Jackson, Abdul-Hakim. “Jihad in the Modern World. Seasons. Spring (2003): 31-48.
[5] Shakir, Zaid. “An Islamic View of Suicide Bombings”. Classical Islamic Political Theory. Zaytuna Institute, CA 2006.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Advertisements

§ 10 Responses to Explaining Jihad: Speaking Truth to Power

  • […] Click here. Powered by Gregarious (21) […]

  • Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah
    I pray that you are in the best of health & imaan.
    This is a short message to notify you that this entry has been selected for publishing on I J T E M A; a venture to highlight the best of the Muslim blogosphere.
    To find out more about I J T E M A, and how you can further contribute, please click here.
    May Allah bless you for your noble efforts.
    Wa’salam

  • brnaeem says:

    Salaam Hakim,

    Very nice post. We can never get enough of these types of reminders.

    However, I must note that your post does come off a tad tilted against the military aspect of jihad, providing only one mention, in a quick quote by Imam Hamza “it also means using state-sanctioned martial forces to move from a condition of disequilibrium to one of harmony and balance.”

    I think that any presentation of our traditional legacy of jihad ought not to undermine the military side, as that is a clear necessity when confronted with injustice.

    Obviously, as you duly noted, we must at the same time distinguish our concept of jihad from the hirabah currently practiced by too many.

    But, we must be careful not to hamstring our understanding of jihad and its military form rendering it useless in the face of tyranny.

    Finally, what did you mean when you said: “Consequently, there have clearly been attempts by Muslims to utilize the historical text and psychological bonds that exist to inspire resistance, avoiding a discussion on intent, and rationalize that resistance to present day Muslims of the post-colonial Middle-East.”?

    WA-
    Naeem

  • Hakim says:

    salaam brnaeem,

    Thank you for you comment, you said:

    “I must note that your post does come off a tad tilted against the military aspect of jihad”

    Indeed, I did suppress the military aspect of jihad because that is what is automatically assumed in minds of many. I wanted to get away from these assumptions for a moment and concentrate of its etymological and liturgical context.

    My reasonings for this are simple. The word jihad was used in the Qur’an as a reference to ones “struggle” in the way of God during the Meccan period. Which is before the advent of a sanctioned armed “struggle” in the way of God. Therefore, I think it is important to have a sound understanding of the Qur’anic and etymological use of this word prior to indulging is historical and modern contexts. Does this make sense to you?

    You also asked what I meant by,

    “Consequently, there have clearly been attempts by Muslims to utilize the historical text and psychological bonds that exist to inspire resistance, avoiding a discussion on intent, and rationalize that resistance to present day Muslims of the post-colonial Middle-East.”

    This is simple. Without naming names, though an amusing proposition, we can safely say that some have hurled Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) to fuel their political views while simultaneously tugging at heartstrings that are deep rooted in Muslims particularly in Muslims who are suffering. The end result is like that of a politician making promises on the wings of flying elephants, they simply don’t exist. Which is why the strategies and outcomes of many military operations by some Islamic groups fall outside of an Islamic construct. I believe this is because they were never Islamic to begin with. What do you think of this?

  • brnaeem says:

    Salaam Hakim,

    I can see where your approach is rooted in confronting the misunderstandings of the word jihad. But once we succeed in establishing the ‘etymological and liturgical context’ of this most beautiful concept of jihad, are we going to do the same for qital? If those bent on smearing Islam ever come to terms with the full meaning of jihad, will they not inevitably move on to other insincere tactics such as quoting the verses of qital? So what then?

    Will we overanalyze ‘qital’ in hopes of finding an interpretation more acceptable to the west? (not saying that is your intent, but we must acknowledge that is the approach of too many apologists)

    I believe our approach must remain principled and balanced.

    We must also be aware of how this discourse on jihad is being framed. With the global war on terror, have we not become hyper-sensitive in discussing the wholisitc approach of jihad, sidestepping the military aspect while concentrating on the inner jihad. I really like this Dr. Sherman Jackson’s peice on Newsweek a few months back where he

    On your clarification, ‘Now I see!’ said the blind man. 🙂

    I wholly agree that too many political issues have been repackaged as Islamic issues and sold to the masses. But let us not outrightly reject the premise behind these sensitive struggles due to their being mishandled. How can we take back the fight against the injustices across the world, without ceding anything to this misguided lot of hirabis?

    WA-
    Naeem

  • Hakim says:

    Salaam Naeem,

    Thank you for engaging me in a discussion on this important issue. You wrote,

    “How can we take back the fight against the injustices across the world, without ceding anything to this misguided lot of hirabis?”

    I think this is happening of it own accord. As traditional political parties of the West depend more and more on big business, famous and wealthy supporters and lobbyists, they move further away from their civic duties. This will ultimately force individuals to look else where for support in what was traditionally the role of civil servants.

    And who will those individuals find to support them in civic interests of American and other nations? Grassroots organizations that focus primarily on the people. Organizations and/or entities that have their finger on the pulse of those suffering or looking to improve the quality of life while the traditional political parties destabilize. I am very sure that this is the case in America and I will be writing more about this.

    In closing I would like to mention a version from the Qur’an where Allah ta ‘ala says,

    “kuntum khair ummatin ukhrijat lilannas”

    astaghfirullah if I have mis-written Allah ta ‘ala’s words. I am going from memory. This will be the subject of my next article, insha’allah.

  • brnaeem says:

    BTW, my last comment got cut off on the Dr. Jackson article. Here is the link. He does a nice job in presenting the reality that Islam is not all peace nor is it all war.

    WA-
    Naeem

  • brnaeem says:

    My dear brother Hakim,

    “And who will those individuals find to support them in civic interests of American and other nations? Grassroots organizations that focus primarily on the people.”

    Oh how I wish that were true!! The skeptic in me seriously doubts that the people will ever get their heads out of their you-know-what and care about anything as long as their basic needs are being met (by basic I’m referring to entertainment, sports, and beer).

    Change doesn’t come about by content people. Its the oppressed who are the engine behind change. But I digress…looking forward to your post on this topic. 🙂

    WA-
    Naeem

  • Angela says:

    so why not go live in a Muslim country if you don’t like how we behave?

    • Seyfettin says:

      BismillaharRahmanirRahim

      Angela, this topic is far to complex for me now. Its an older post and I cannot respond to you how I would when I first wrote it.

      However, what I will say in response to your question is that Muslim countries in many cases are a worse place for Muslims to live. In many Muslim countries they make worship difficult for a believer.

      The best thing to do in these times is to head to the mountains with few belongings and seek a simple life. Simple living cleans the heart and only a clean heart will enter the Paradise.

      -Seyfettin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Explaining Jihad: Speaking Truth to Power at SEYFETTİN.

meta

%d bloggers like this: