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Is Jihad Terrorism?

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The word Jihad has been frequently used by politicians, publications [1] and media outlets. Its uses have mostly, if not always, been associated with terrorism and wanton destruction.[2] Even during the aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11, 7/7 and the recent Mumbai Attacks, many western commentators labeled them as acts of Jihad. However, is Jihad terrorism? Does it involve wanton destruction and the killing of innocents en masse? Significantly, answers are required to the oft repeated question: what is Jihad?

This article aims to show that terrorist attacks and indiscriminate killing are antithetical to the Islamic concept of Jihad.

Fighting: A Human Reality

There have been many anthropological studies on war and fighting, and the conclusions are very similar. Not only have humans been fighting and killing for millennia, the act of fighting and killing is a human reality. The reasons for fighting and war differ. Some of these reasons include land, fame, fortune, religion, independence and resources. Humans have also fought to defend themselves and others, or to attack their enemies. In summary, war and fighting are human phenomena that are not specific to any particular race, ideology or religion.

In the modern world there are many wars, and they are mostly over resources. An example is the US and UK fighting for oil and strategic dominance in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fighting & Islam

Islam, being a practical way of life, realises that humans fight and engage in war. Islam sets down rules for war, which are to be followed if Muslims go to war, examples include fighting for just reasons, no killing of innocent people, no killing of women and children, no burning of crops or trees, only fight those that fight you, and no wanton destruction. Abu Bakr who was the Prophet Muhammad’s first successor and is considered to have been his closest companion said:

“Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic (or humanitarian) services; leave them alone.”

Many would argue that this is in contrast to certain Western nations when they invade countries; they tend to destroy the infrastructure of the countries causing more deaths than bullets and bombs (even the BBC reports that so called ‘smart bombs’ are not so smart, with only 40% hitting targets.[3] Civilian deaths in the US/UK invasions are evidence of this). Then contractual awards are given to western companies to rebuild the infrastructure, making the invaded country pay for it – Iraq is a striking example.

Whilst certain western powers wage war and invade for what everyone knows to be for resources and places of strategic value, in Islam war is not waged for these reasons; it does not invade to rob, steal and make lands poor – quite the opposite.

Jihad

The term most commonly used to describe Muslims fighting is Jihad, but it has been used politically to create fear of Islam and Muslims. Jihad has been linked to terrorism, however when the corpus of Islamic reference material is analysed, this cannot be further from the truth.

Jihad is when Muslims go to war, and it has its rules relating to it. Primarily there are two types of Jihad, defensive and progressive. Defensive is when Muslims rally to fight and expel armies from their lands which have been invaded. This concept is similar to article 51 of the UN Charter which states:

“Nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs….”[4]

Examples include when the Crusaders invaded Palestine in 11th/12th century, and when the Mongols invaded Central Asia, Persia, Iraq and Syria in the 13th century. This defensive Jihad is to push the occupiers out and has nothing to do with terrorism; in reality it is a basic human right.[5]

Progressive Jihad is practically undertaken by a legitimate Islamic State (no such state exists today) and is initiated for three main reasons. The reasons include removing oppression, defending the weak and implementing the justice of Islam. This is evident in Islamic history, John of Nikiou in 690 CE, who was a Coptic Bishop in Nikiu (Egypt), states,

“When Muslims saw the…hostility of the people to the emperor Heraclius because of the persecution wherewith he had visited all the land of Egypt…people began to help the Muslims.”[6]

Additionally, oppression and all forms of genocide would justify progressive Jihad.

Progressive Jihad has three parts to it. It first invites the people to accept Islam by explaining the Islamic belief and what Islam has to offer them. This is done by dialogue and discussion and can take some time. After this, the Islamic State then invites the people to live within the state and enjoy peace, justice, security and protection. Historically many non-Muslim peoples have opted for this option. This is in exchange for a small yearly tax.[7] The famous letter from a Rabbi, after Europe’s persecution of the Jews, found in Phillip Mansel’s book “Constantinople ”, reflect this reality,

“Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of. We possess great fortunes; much gold and silver are in our hands. We are not oppressed with heavy taxes and our commerce is free and unhindered. Rich are the fruits of the earth. Everything is cheap and every one of us lives in peace and freedom…”[8]

The third and final course of action after the first two have been followed is war. This war is called Jihad and in cases of genocide and extreme oppression it may be the first and only part of the process. It is the final part of a foreign policy used by the Islamic State, and as mentioned it has its rules, like no wanton destruction and killing of innocent people. When an Islamic State goes to war, it is not for money, land, or riches, but to show people the justice and security of Islam. Heinrich Graetz, a 19th century Jewish historian expressed the ‘favourable circumstances’ under Islamic rule,

“It was in these favourable circumstances that the Spanish Jews came under the rule of Mahometans, as whose allies they esteemed themselves the equals of their co-religionists in Babylonia and Persia. They were kindly treated, obtained religious liberty, of which they had so long been deprived, were permitted to exercise jurisdiction over their co-religionists…”[9]

This is unlike some western states, where Politicians claim they are fighting for so-called universal values, but in reality are fighting for resources and areas of strategic value. For example David Milliband, the British Foreign Secretary, said,

“Our party was created to fight for democracy and equal rights in our own country. We know we have further to go. But if we want to protect ourselves from terrorism at home, we need to defend and advance democracy and human rights abroad.”[10]

Judging by the current reality of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, nothing can be further from the truth. Islamic foreign policy however is truthful about its goals and history bears testimony to this. This is why Jews fled Spain in the Inquisition and ran to the Muslims of Istanbul who welcomed them, because they knew justice lived in Islamic lands. Zion Zohar, a Jewish Historian, expressed similar sentiments in his book ‘Sephardic & Mizrahi Jewry’:

“Thus, when Muslims crossed the straits of Gibraltar from North Africa in 711 CE and invaded the Iberian Peninsula, Jews welcomed them as liberators from Christian Persecution.”[11]

Jihad is seen by western peoples and nations as barbaric and this is propagated to the masses, by politicians and the media, to portray Muslims as bloodthirsty killers. An Islamic State would commit to progressive Jihad, and will use war as a last resort – when diplomacy fails – to really liberate people from oppression. In addition to remove the tyranny of injustice and to show the people what Islam really is and how Islam can truly make their lives and society better – even if they do not become Muslim.

The Islamic belief is not forced upon people once land is taken, 1400 years of history bears testament to this [12]. This is evident in the early testimonies of Christian leadership. Ishoyabth who was patriarch from AD 647 to 657, writes,

“The Arabs, to who God gave the dominion over the world, behave to us as you know. They are not hostile to Christianity, but praise our religion, honour priests and saints, and help the Churches and Monastries.”[13]

The Qur’an & Fighting

The Qur’an discusses fighting and Jihad, the language used is emotive and can be seen as aggressive. However, the intended effect of these verses in the Qur’an are meant to evoke action, therefore in the context of fighting and war, the Qur’an would not say “Tickle their toes” or “Give them flowers”. What must also be realised is that the language is couched in restraining expressions such as “…and God does not love the transgressors” and “…be mindful of God”[14] thus instilling an awareness of God in such actions and to remind that the essence of Jihad is to remove oppression.

In the Qur’an, Jihad is a noble concept that is considered as a mercy from God. Without it there would be no mechanism to protect Muslims and Non-Muslims, remove oppression and implement justice. In today’s reality of death and destruction, due to oppressive western foreign policy, some people argue that this concept needs to be revived to today [15].

The Results of Jihad

U.S. Brig. General William Looney’s following statement is an apt description of Western foreign policy,

“If they turn on the radars we’re going to blow up their goddamn SAMs (surface-to-air missiles).They know we own their country. We own their airspace… We dictate the way they live and talk. And that’s what’s great about America right now. It’s a good thing, especially when there’s a lot of oil out there we need.” [16]

Whereas the Islamic view describes another paradigm,

“And what is the matter with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and for the oppressed among men, women and children who say, ‘Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper’?”[17]

Everyone wants to remove oppression and injustice. Islam does exactly that via Jihad and this can be seen in Islamic history. Contemporary pseudo-Islamic nations can not be used as a reference for Jihad and Islam as they do not implement and manifest the Islamic system. This is evident when their constitutions are analysed. It can only be concluded that Muslim world Governments implement and promote a system that is antithetical to Islam.

What, then, are the results of the Islamic foreign policy?

Reinhart Dozy, an authority on early Islamic Spain, explained the results of Jihad in Islamic Spain,

“…the unbounded tolerance of the Arabs must also be taken into account. In religious matters they put pressure on no man…Christians preferred their rule to that of the Franks.”[18]

Thomas Arnold, commenting on an Islamic source, states that,

“…the Christians called down blessings on the heads of the Muslims, saying, ‘May God give you rule over us again and make you victorious over the Romans; had it been they, they would not have given us back anything, but would have taken all that remained with us.’” [19]

Ulick R. Burke, a prominent historian specializing in the history of Spain, reached a similar conclusion,

“Christians did not suffer in any way, on account of their religion, at the hands of Moors…not only perfect toleration but nominal equality was the rule of the Arabs in Spain.’[20]

Adam Smith, the 18th century founding father of the modern capitalism, explains the impact of Islamic rule,

“The ruin of the empire of the Romans, and, along with it the subversion of all law and order, which happened a few centuries afterwards, produced the entire neglect of that study of the connecting principles of nature, to which leisure and security can alone give occasion. After the fall of those great conquerors and the civilizers of mankind, the empire of the Caliphs seems to have been the first state under which the world enjoyed that degree of tranquility which the cultivation of the sciences requires. It was under the protection of those generous and magnificent princes, that the ancient philosophy and astronomy of the Greeks were restored and established in the East; that tranquility, which their mild, just and religious government diffused over their vast empire, revived the curiosity of mankind, to inquire into the connecting principles of nature.” [21]

Bernard the Wise, a pilgrim monk, visited Egypt and Palestine in the reign of Caliph al-Mu’tazz (866-9 CE). He stated that,

“…the Christians and the Pagans [i.e. Muslims] have this kind of peace between them there that if I was going on a journey, and on the way the camel or donkey which bore my poor luggage were to die, and I was to abandon all my goods without any guardian, and go to the city for another pack animal, when I came back, I would find all my property uninjured: such is the peace there.”[22]

Reading the above, the reader must now ask “Does this sound like terrorism?”

The Cause of Terrorism

The history of terrorism and political violence demonstrates that it is cross-cultural, cross religion and is driven by a number of factors often born out of a sense of political injustice, occupation or invasion. An academic study by Professor Robert Pape, an Associate Professor at Chicago University, published in his book ‘Dying to Win: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism’ [23], demonstrates that the advent of suicide bombing is not unique to Muslims but is rather a generic human issue driven by a number of political factors rather than theological beliefs.

The study included the first complete database of every suicide attack around the world from 1980 to early 2004. The study found that:

• The world leader in suicide attacks was the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka – a Marxist, secular group.
• Two thirds of Muslim ‘suicide bombers’ have been from countries where US forces have or are still maintaining military forces.
• The presence of US forces is creating suicide attackers in Iraq which was a country that had never previously had a suicide attack in its history prior to the 2003 invasion.

According to the study, political injustice provides a possible reason for the proponents of such attacks to justify such actions. It is therefore crucial that acts of political violence are analysed as a separate issue based upon the individuals who choose to engage in them.

The Professor states,

“The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions. . . . Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland” [24]

Regarding the July 2005 bombings in London, the British government was forewarned that its involvement in the catastrophic US invasion of Iraq had increased Britain’s vulnerability to the threat of retaliation. The leaked report from the UK’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), which predated the attacks, warned:

“Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the UK”.

In April 2005, a report drawn up by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) entitled “International Terrorism: Impact of Iraq” was even more explicit, stating:

“We judge that the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term. It has reinforced the determination of terrorists who were already committed to attacking the West and motivated others who were not.”

It is essential to understand what role Western foreign policy has played in exacerbating the sense of political injustice and in driving individuals to undertake acts of political violence against those they perceive as aggressors. This is not a justification, but it does set a context for a discussion to find answers to contemporary political problems.

Rather than blame a whole community or its leanings towards Islam and its concept of Jihad, it is important to understand the political nature of the factors that drive such acts as opposed to solely attributing them to Jihad, which does not take account of the history of political violence across cultures, religions and ways of life.

Final Remarks

It has to be noted, that Muslims are simply human beings that believe in Islam, which is a comprehensive way of life that seeks to promote religious tolerance and social cohesion. The Islamic concept of Jihad is not indiscriminate terrorism, rather it is a mechanism that seeks to remove oppression and protect the innocent. In line with the teachings of classical Islam, Muslims do not – and should not – seek to violently attack non-combatants.

Muslims want to facilitate understanding and promote mutual peaceful coexistence. This however cannot be achieved without engaging in an open and honest discussion on what Islam really is. Outdated clichés of ‘Jihadi Terrorist’ can no longer quench the public’s intellectual thirst and a more nuanced and comprehensive discussion is now needed.

It was intended that this article would achieve just that.

References 

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Jihad-Incorporated-Guide-Militant-Islam/dp/1591024536/
[2] http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/597641/jihad-with-money.thtml
[3] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1184086.stm
[4] http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/chapter7.htm
[5] This is different from what many commentators describe as ‘political violence’ please access the following link that differentiates between theology and political violence http://hamzatzortzis.blogspot.com/2008/07/questions-is-islam-responsible-for.html or see section below in this article
[6] John of Nikiou, quoted by Petra M. Sijpesteijn, Egypt in the Byzantine World, Cambridge, 2007, P. 442.
[7] “Life as a Non-Muslim in the Caliphate”http://www.caliphate.co.uk/caliphate/nonmuslims.htm
[8] Philip Mansel. 1995. Constantinople : City of the World’s desire, 1453-1924. Penguin Books, p. 15
[9] H. Graetz, History of the Jews, London , 1892, Vol 3, P. 112.
[10] http://www.epolitix.com/latestnews/article-detail/newsarticle/david-miliband-speech-in-full/
[11] Zion Zohar, Sephardic & Mizrahi Jewry, New York, 2005, P. 8-9.
[12] “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects Taghut (evil) and believes in Allah has grasped the most trust worthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. ” Qur’an 2:256
[13] Caliph and their non-Muslim subjects: A critical study of the covenant of Umar. A. S. Tritton. Routledge Library Editions: Islam. 2008, p. 138-139
[14] The orders are always couched in restraining language, with much repetition of warnings, such as “do not transgress” and “God does not love the transgressors” and “He loves those who are conscious of Him”. These are instructions given to people who, from the beginning, should have the intention of acting “in the way of God”. Linguistically we notice that the verses in this passage always restrict actions in a legalistic way, which appeals strongly to Muslims’ conscience. In six verses (Quran 2:190-5) we find four prohibitions (do not), six restrictions: two “until”, two “if”, two “who attack you”, as well as such cautions as “in the way of God”, “be conscious of God”, “God does not like aggressors”, “God is with those who are conscious of Him”, “with those who do good deeds” and “God is Forgiving, Merciful.” It should be noted that the Qur’an, in treating the theme of war, as with many other themes, regularly gives the reasons and justifications for any action it demands.http://www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=IV0603-2947
[15] Observer Comment Extra “Imperialism may be out, but aggressive wars and colonial protectorates are back”http://observer.guardian.co.uk/worldview/story/0,,684308,00.html
[16] U.S. Brig. General William Looney (Interview Washington Post, August 30, 1999) Referring, in reality, to the brutal mass-murder of hundreds of civilian Iraqi men, women and children during 10,000 sorties by American/British war criminals in the first eight months of 1999.
[17] Qur’an 4:75
[18] Reinhart Dozy, A History of Muslims in Spain , 1861 (reprinted 1913, 2002), Delhi , P.235.
[19] T. W. Arnold , Preaching of Islam, London , 1913, P. 61.
[20] Ulick R. Burke, A History of Spain , London , 1900, Vol I, P. 129.
[21] The Essays of Adam Smith, London , 1869, P. 353.
[22] Christopher J. Walker, Islam and the West, Gloucester , 2005, P. 17.
[23]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dying_to_Win:_The_Strategic_Logic_of_Suicide_Terrorism
[24] Ibid