Zul Hijja / Muharram 1422 H
Volume 15-03 No:183
Jihad a term used in the holy Quran, generally signifies sustained struggle and endeavour in achieving one’s goals. In specific terms, it means struggling for the cause of Almighty Allah.
Despite the fact that several 100 years have gone by since the Crusades and interaction of the two Civilisations at academic, literary as well as religious levels, some Westerners continue to hold this incorrect notion. It qualifies that even legitimate struggles by Muslims to uphold their political rights and freedom from oppression can be considered as jihad.
It is common among some Muslims also to wrongly term every political struggle as jihad. The term used in the Quran for physical confrontation (war) against persecution and oppression is qital, meaning fighting back or fighting those who fight you. The concept of jihad can be best understood by referring to Verse 52 of Surah 25, wherein Almighty God bids Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) to carry on his struggle against non-believers. Likewise in present times, it is necessary for Muslims who have taken upon themselves to understand Islam, to avail of all contemporary means of communication.
Aggressiveness, arrogance and compulsion are not recommended as tools of jihad. Islamic scholars have ranked jihad as iman’s (faith) apex, and qital, the apex of jihad. Accordingly, qital is the highest stage of jihad, but not jihad itself as generally perceived.
Furthermore, qital should not be confused with qatl, which means to kill. Qatl, follows qital. In Islam, qatl before qital is disapproved by Almighty Allah.
As such, the terms jihad, qital and qatl are not one and the same in meaning or application. The permission to fight (qital) the pagans of Makkah was divinely granted to the holy Prophet and his followers in the last few days of the first year of Hijra: “And fight in the way of Allah, those who fight you, but do not trespass, for Allah has no love for the trespassers” (2:190).
After this divine order, wars, battles and conflicts no longer remained the same. The very purpose of war underwent a complete change and the holy Prophet made sweeping reforms in the mechanics of war.
From being a bloody exercise, guided by the blind impulse of subjugating others to values, religious beliefs and systems considered racially superior, war in Islam became a necessity thrust upon by its enemies, posing danger because they wanted to break pledges, and refused to respond to peaceful overtures to end tyranny and persecution (9:12,15). The sword had to be unsheathed to restore the freedom of all mankind as manifested in the Holy Quran. (2:193). Wars by the holy Prophet and his followers were never for territorial expansion or to exploit natural resources or commercial markets. Nor were they fought to establish trade zones for economic gains, or punish people and societies who come in the way of these expansionist plans. The holy Prophet sent 47 military expeditions. He himself commanded 27, known as (ghazwat), and in nine of these ghazwats, he fought in person and suffered injuries in the process.
His conduct as well as that of his army was exemplary, keeping war confined to the battlefields and armed opponents. Civilians, the aged, women and children, homes, places of worship, civic facilities, agricultural lands, farms and orchids were spared. So were foes who took shelter in places of worship. Scholars and Muslim historians concur that during the wars fought in the life time of the holy Prophet, the casuality figures stood between 500 and 600. Orientalists and others critical of how Islamic armies commit themselves to war and their battlefield conduct, forget that the actions were the result and not the cause of war. An objective study of Surahs 8 and 9 of the Quran and a perusal of the holy Prophet’s biography greatly help in forming an understanding of jihad, qital and qatl, and their sequence of practical application. The basics of war and peace in Islam are explained as follows: “Be ready against them all (adversary), with all means of power including steeds (modern weapons in present times) to create terror in them to deter them ...” (8:61). Another Verse says, “But if they incline to peace, you also incline to it and put your trust in Allah” (8:62).
Recent events, particularly since September 11, have shaken the world, not quite unjustifiably. At some levels, attempts at a re-definition of relationship between Islam and the west seems to have accelerated its pace at an unprecedented speed. It has provided opportunity to certain groups to step up their anti-Islamic activities to influence non-Muslim western people and western states.
True, the two civilisations, Islamic and western have distinctive features, as all civilisations of the world are supposed to have, yet an observer will not fail to miss that the two have a lot in common. It will be incorrect to assume that the divergence, whatsoever between the two, is irreconcilable and necessarily leads them to conflict, seeking to destroy each other. In fact, they can co-exist, perhaps enriching human civilisation for the benefit of all.
Each culture or civilisation possesses certain inherent characteristics. Some of them may be endowed with features of mutual recognition tolerance and accommodation, ensuring co-existence, while some others may suffer from a perception of superiority and intolerance. It is in the contact situation that the basic characteristics of a civilisation unfold themselves. The features of tolerance and co-existence or intolerance and dominance become manifest. Limiting ourselves to the civilisational features, we note that Islam stands out for peace with justice, equality, co-existence and a firm belief in accountability to the Supreme Power.
Compare this belief in the inherent equality of all human beings, as taught by the Quran, with the discriminatory character of not only the ancient civilisations, but also of contemporary societies. We may excuse the primitive tribes for identifying and designating the non-tribal outsiders with a term meaning ‘enemies’. Similarly the non-tribal folk societies all over the world are known to dichotomise human society as composed of themselves as ‘moral community,’ and the rest as ‘outsiders’ with whom contact must be avoided. The ancient Greek conceived themselves as ‘Helenese’ and others as ‘Barbarians’. The Aryans discriminated against non-Aryans and thought them as ‘yuvanas’ and ‘melechas’, meaning impure. The Chinese thought of themselves as the ‘Middle Kingdom’ and others as ‘outer Barbarians’, while the Jews regarded themselves as the ‘chosen’ and the rest as Gentile or Pagan. The West despite all its claims to modernity and rationalism continues to practice racial discrimination and most recent published evidences indicate that the concept of mankind in the writings of those who gave a call to the workers of the world to unite ‘was confined to Western humanity’. Quran alone stands out against all kinds of discrimination and firmly proclaims the inherent and inborn equality of all human beings.
The writer is former
The Asiatic Society, Kolkata.