“ BUT AS FOR THOSE WHO STRIVE HARD IN OUR cause, we shall most certainly guide them to Our paths, and God is indeed with the doers of Good” (Sura 29: verse 69)
“And fight in God’s cause against those who have initially waged war against you, and do never commit aggression, for verily, God does not love aggressors” (Sura 2: verse 190)*
“It may well be that God will bring about affection between you and those whom you are now facing as enemies; and God is All-powerful, and God is Much-forgiving and Mercy-giving” (Sura 60: verse 7)
From the Prophet’s Traditions
Returning from a battle, Prophet Muhammad said, “We have come back from the minor ‘jihad’ [struggle] to the major ‘jihad’, the human being’s struggle against his(/her) own whims” [brought out by al-Bayhaqi]
“The one who struggles [al-mujahid] is who struggles against his(/her) own self [and its whims] for complying with God’s directions” [brought out by al-Trimidhi & Ibn hibban in “(al-Sahih)”].
The word “jihad” has become one of the most used words in the United States’ press since September 11, 2001. This word is Arabic in its origin, and has been mostly misunderstood by the non-Muslims, and even by many Muslims as well.
It has been translated into English as “holy war”, something which often suggests using force to impose Islam on others, rather than a legitimate self-defense. However, “jihad” actually means in Arabic “making all possible effort” or “striving hard” and struggling. This is by no means restricted to war and military fighting, for which the specific word used in Arabic is “qital”. Both words are used in the Quran. The wider perspective and connotations of “jihad” may be clearly felt in these verses:
“And as for those who strive hard in Our cause, We shall most certainly guide them to paths that lead to Us, and, behold, God is indeed with the doers of good” [29:69]
“And strive hard in God’s cause with all the striving that is due to Him; it is He who has favored you from among others [by His message] and has laid no hardship on you in [this] religion, the creed of your forefather Abraham…”[22:78].
In his prominent commentary “Fat-h al-Bari” on al-Bukhari’s collection of the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, the prominent scholar Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852H./1449] indicated that “jihad” is not limited to military fighting against an enemy, but it refers to striving hard and struggling against one’s own self, against impulses of the devil, and in enjoining the doing of what is right and good and forbidding the doing of what is wrong and evil in the society.
Once a young man came to the Prophet pledging jihad in God’s cause; the Prophet asked him, “Is any of your parents alive?” The young man answered, “Yes both”. The Prophet asked again, “Are you sincerely looking for God’s reward?” The young answered, “Yes.” The Prophet said to him, “Go back to your parents, and do ‘jihad’ in caring for them and being nice to them.” [brought out by al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and al-Nisa’i].
During Prophet Muhammad’s stay in “Makka,” (Mecca) for almost 13 years after receiving God’s message in the year 610, he and the believers in his message faced different actions of hostility and oppression. The Quran repeatedly emphasized patience and self-control (in more than 70 verses), and urged forgiveness and meeting what is bad by what is better (in more than 20 verses). One of God’s attributes is “The All-Peace” [59:13], and He describes His guidance as “the paths of peace” [5:16}. Paradise in the eternal life to come is “the abode of peace” [6:127, 10:25].
However, when the aggression of the rejecters of the message culminated to planning for confining or killing or expelling the Prophet [8:30], he and the believers in his message had to migrate to Yathrib in the year 622. The belligerent plans against Muslims in their new city “al-Madina, Medina” did not stop, and by then only they got God’s permission to defend themselves:
“Permission [to fight back] is given to those against whom war has initially been waged…, those who have been driven out from their homes against all right…”[22:39],
“And fight in God’s cause against those who have initially waged war against you but never commit aggression, for verily God does not love aggressors” [2:190].
Fighting has to be strictly conducted against those who are actually fighting, and non-combatants should never be a target. Those who are wounded and those who surrender from among the enemy must be nicely treated.
Any inclination towards peace has to be positively met: “And if they incline to peace, incline you to peace as well, and place your trust in God” [8:61].
According to such obvious and unambiguous rules, one can objectively see with the prominent Egyptian jurist, the late Abd al-Wahhab Khallaf 9d.956) that later conquests which came after the early period of Islam represented merely wordly and monarchial expansion, and were not committed to the teachings of religion.(1) Illusion has prevented for a long time an objective and realistic evaluation of such historical “glories”, which might have positives but also have negatives as all human instinctively-directed actions.
The 11th of September 2001, has been a milestone in world history, which may be compared in its enormously profound and universal impact with the conversion of Constantine the Great (d.337) to Christianity by the year 313 and the issuing the Edict of Milan extending toleration in the Roman Empire to Christians, the migration of Prophet Muhammad to Yathrib (al-Madina, Medina) in the year 622, or the Conquest of Constantinople in the year 1454 by the Ottoman Sultan Muhammad (Mehmet II, d.1481). It has been an eyeopener for Muslims and non-Muslims of the whole world to contemplate deeply what Islam really means in world relations, how its teachings about “jihad” should be rightfully understood and how they can also be misunderstood and abused, as they have actually been by Muslims and non-Muslims as well.
Islam repeatedly urge continuous reflection, contemplation, and rethinking, since the movement in the Universe, as well as the human development in this world: individually and socially, biologically and psychologically, spiritually and intellectually, are always going on and human change never stops. We have to do our best in using God’s greatest gift to the human being:
“the mind” in responding to the continuous change: “and that which is of benefit to humankind abides on earth” [13:17].
A Misunderstanding or An Abuse
Jihad is an Islamic Arabic term which is misunderstood by many people. Sometimes, this misunderstanding increases through deliberate abuses by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. While some Muslims rulers use the term to justify their personal ambitions, or to turn the minds and hearts of their oppressed people to another target, others who may be against Islam and Muslims try to twist the word in order to give the impression that Islam and Muslims are, in principle, inclined to confrontation and aggression, and thus they are not expected to be a constructive element in world peace.
The root of the Arabic noun “jihad” is the verb “jahada” which means “to make a great effort”, or even “a tiring effort”. As an Islamic term, it can be used in the struggle for self-defense against an attacking enemy, or in the struggle against egotistic whims which are always afflicting the human psyche. Both meanings come out throughout the Quran.
As for striving hard for the moral and spiritual development the Quran reads:
“And strive hard [jahidu] in God’s cause with all the striving that is due to Him” (22:78)
“And as for those who strive hard in Our cause, We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead to Us, for, behold, God is indeed with the doers of good” (29:69).2
The known English translation of “jihad” as “holy war” is mistaken and misleading. First, it fails to indicate the spiritual struggle; and second, it may imply a use of force waging a war to impose Islam on others, which is in absolute contradiction with the proper concept of jihad as self-defense against an initiated aggression, and of the faith as free acceptance and conviction. Islam has to be voluntarily embraced by free will and full conviction by any who chooses to be a Muslim. Any faith imposed by compulsion or bribery is valueless with regard to the embracer, and is a wrongdoing with regard to the imposer, since the Quran sharply states: “No Coercion should ever be in matters of faith” (2:256). One can only enjoy the merits, and then be accountable for the responsibilities as well, of any faith, when he/she accepts the faith with free will and full conviction.
Declaring war against non-Muslims all over the world in order to force them to be Muslims, or to be subjects of the Muslim state, contradicts the Arabic language, the Islamic teachings and the early historical practice which has represented the genuine example and proper implementation of Islam. Some later dynasties which were tempted by power and were deviated from Islamic principles within their own selves and their own kingdoms, tended towards expansion, annexation of others’ lands and subjection of other peoples by force. However, this cannot be counted as Islamic practice which observes God’s guidance and law. “jihad”, just as any other moral or legal concept, may be twisted and abused in practice, while the right and authentic significance of it has to be always searched for in the original sources which brought the concept into being, and in our case they are the verses of the Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad.
As Salaam Islamic Center’s name is based on the Principle of Peace
The significance of the name As Salaam is one of God’s names in the Quran is “The All-Peace” or “The Source of Peace” (59:23), and that the Quran calls the Heavens and Paradise “the abode of peace”: “And God invites [the mankind] unto the abode of peace” (10:25), “Theirs [those who take God’s message to heart] shall be at the abode of peace with their Lord.” (6:127)
In the Heavens, peace will be the greeting word: “and the angels will come unto them from every gate, saying: Peace be upon you” (13:23-24), “on the Day when they meet Him, their greeting will be: Peace…” (23:44; also:10:10, 14:23, 16:32, 39:73, 50:34, 56:26…)
“Islam” and “peace, (salaam)” come from the same Arabic root, since Islam aims to secure peace within one’s ownself and with all others:
“O You who have attained to faith! Enter wholly into peace and do not follow Satan’s footsteps” (2:208)
“Now there has come unto you from God a light, and a clear divine writ, through which God shows unto all that seek His goodly acceptance, the paths of peace” (5:15-16)
Peace “salam”, is always spread by Muslims through their greetings in this world “as-salaam alaykum”. Besides, they are taught by the Quran to “develop cooperation for furthering virtue and God-consciousness, and avoid all what may further evil and enmity” (5:2)
They have always to resist any temptation of arrogance and greed, and to treat others’ hostilities with self-control, broadmindedness and good heart:
“…but since good and evil cannot he equal, repel evil with something that is better; and thus someone between whom and yourself has been enmity, may then become as a close true friend. Yet, only those who have self-control and patience will attain it; only those of great good fortune will achieve it” (41:34-35), “Those shall receive a twofold reward for having been patient and self controlling, and having repelled evil with good…, and whenever they heard frivolous talk they turned away from it saying: ‘Unto us shall be accounted our deeds and unto you your deeds. Peace be upon you; we do not seek out such as are ignorant [and go through a futile argument,].’” (28:54-55; see also: 25:63, 43:89) It is remarkable that the Quran uses the word “repel strongly (idfa’)” in meeting the evil-doing and offence with what is better, since such a reaction requires the power of self-control, strong will and decisiveness. Those who enjoy such merits and reach such an achievement are “those of great good fortune”.
Through the Quran, “patience” is emphasized 69 times, and “forgiveness” more than 15 times. Even when self-defense becomes inevitable, several doors are opened for belligerent individuals and groups to incline to peace: any enemy who seeks the protection of Muslims should be given protection and brought to wherever he can feel secure [9:6]. Whenever nay fighting group inclines to peace, Muslims have to respond positively. “And if they incline to peace, incline you to it as well, and place your trust in God…And should they seek but to deceive you, behold, God is enough [security] for you…”(8:61). According to the principles of Islamic law “Shari’a”, any judgment has to be based only on outward evidence, whatever the inner intentions may be.
The Quran reminds Muslims to keep always in mind that if they act kindly towards an enemy today, he(/she) may turn into a friend tomorrow (41:34). Once more the Quran points out: “It may well be that God will bring [mutual] affection between you and those whom you are now facing as enemies; and God is All-powerful, and God is Much-forgiving and Mercy-giving” (60:7). Maintaining good relations with others indicates how genuine is the faith of the believer in God who is the All-Merciful and Most-Gracious.
In his well known commentary on the Quran, Ibn Kathir (d.774H/1369) concluded his comment on the verse 29:69 by a quotation related to the early Muslim authority al-Sha’bi (d.103H/721), citing an impressive saying of Jesus(3) which came out in the known Gospels as the following: “If you do good to them which do good to you, what thank have you?” [Luke 6:33]. God provides sustenance for all His creatures, and sends His messages to the whole humankind as universal mercy and grace, which should be represented in the behavior of the believers of these messages: “He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain to the just and the unjust” [Matt,.5:45], “To all these as well as those [the believers in God and the eternal life to come, as well as the non-believers] do We freely provide from your Lord’s gifts, and God’s giving is never confined to one kind of people” [Quran 17:20].
The Sanctity of Life
Life is the gift of God, and any assault on the human life is the evil doing most condemned by God and by common sense. The early son of Adam who killed his brother has been severely denounced in the Quran [5:31]. A Prophet’s tradition gave that early murderer a share in guilt any following murder for his precedent [brought out by Ibn Hanbal, al Bukhari, Muslim, al-Tiridhi, al-Nisa’I and Ibn Majah]. The Quran states after mentioning the story of that early murder, that God has consequently ordained that “if anyone slays a human being – unless it be [in punishment] for murder or spreading damage on earth – it shall be as through he has slain all mankind; and if any one saves a life it shall be as though he has saved the lives of all mankind,” [5:32]. Even in case of the death penalty for a murder, the Quran opens a door to spare the life of the murderer through the acceptance of the victim’s close relative “as an alleviation from your Lord and an act of His grace” [2:178].
Self-control and rising above retaliation is more advantageous for the concerned parties and for the entire human society “And if you have to respond to an assault, respond only to the extent of the assault, and to bear yourselves with patience is indeed far better for those who enjoy the merit of forbearance, for verily, God is with those who are conscious of Him and are doers of good” [16:126, 128]. If such a waiver of a death sentence occurs from the concerned parties occurs, the jurists find it irrevocable.(4) On the other hand, it is mandatory for everyone to do his(/her) best to save any one whose life is threatened by a human assault or a natural danger.(5)
Life is sacred with regard to all living creatures, as long as they are not harmful to human beings. Muslims have a training for securing life while practicing pilgrimage in Mecca, as they should refrain from any hunting of animals or cutting trees there: “O you have attained to faith! Kill no game while you are in the state of pilgrimage… you are forbidden to hunt on land while you are in the state of pilgrimage” [5:95-6]. A Prophet’s tradition stresses this Quranic rule and adds a prohibition of cutting trees in Mecca [brought out by al-Bukhari]. The first Caliph Abu Bakr [ruled 11-13H/632-4] strictly prohibited his armies from cutting a fruitful tree, causing destruction to any developed or populated area, slaughtering needlessly a sheep or a camel, as well as from killing a woman, a child or an elderly person [brought out by Malik in al-Muwatta’]. Further, a Prophet’s tradition stresses the responsibility of killing unrightfully a bird however small it may be in any time [brought out by Ibn Hanbal], and strictly forbids taking any living creature as a target for practicing shooting [brought out by Ibn Hanabal, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nisa’I and Ibn Majah].
What is “Jihad”… And Why?
As it has been mentioned before, the translation of jihad as “holy war” mistakenly gives the impression that jihad aims to declare war against non-Muslims all over the world, in order to impose the Islamic faith or the Muslim political authority by force.
Jihad means striving hard, for spiritual and moral self-development, which represents in fact the greatest human struggle. The distinguished scholar and author Muhammad ibn al-Qayyim [d.451H/1350], has put the striving for spiritual and moral self-development and the resistance of the devil’s seducing incitements as the top level of jihad. Such a striving includes learning what is good, practicing it, cooperating with others in spreading it and enduring any suffering encountered throughout. It is inevitably tied to a determined and persevering resistance against egotistic and material impulses of ease and pleasure.(7)
As for the jihad in its military sense, Islam declares only a legitimate struggle to defend human rights, including the freedom of people and the freedom of faith:
“Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is initially being wrongfully and offensively waged; and verily, God is the Most Powerful for their aid; those who have been driven out from their homelands against all right for no other reason than their saying; ‘Our Lord is God’…” (2:39-40)
“And how could you refuse to fight in the cause of God and the utterly oppressed men and women and children who are crying:
‘O our Lord! Lead us forth [to freedom] out of this land in which the people [in power] are oppressors’…” (4:75)
It is obvious that the Quran considers “peace” as the general rule in the relations of Muslims with others, and requires for a legitimate “struggle” a divine “permission” which is given only to those whose human rights and freedom have been violated. Islam in such a case alone declares a legitimate struggle against oppression and in defense of freedom of people and faith:
“Hence, fight against them [the aggressors] until oppression is stopped, and faith in God is allowed free [for everyone within his[/her] own-self] towards God].” (2:193)
Further, one should keep in mind that human rights cannot be split, and a legitimate Muslim authority cannot claim to fight against external aggression and defend “the land” or “the people” while it is practicing horrible aggression within its own borders against individuals or groups among its own people for any religious, ethnic, or political difference:
“… for oppression is even worse than killing.” (2:191)
“… since oppression is more awesome than killing.” (2:217)