An Islamic perspective on Jihad
Jihad is the most abused term of Islam. It has been abused by one and all ranging from rulers to secret cults to justify and legitimize their actions in the name of Jihad and observing commandments of Islam. The corporate media has misused it to reinforce the stereotypical image of Muslims as violent people for whom the sword is still the dominant force. Imperialists and neo-colonialists under the garb of spreading Democracy in the world as well as carrying the “civilizing” mission of Globalization to every nook and corner of the world have intervened in countries directly or secretly where some cults claim to be carrying ‘Jihad’ and these western powers intervene to carry out the greater Jihad to free people from the obtrusive activities of these ‘Jihadis,’ resulting in greater violation of rights of the common masses. Thus as a result the world has become a violent place to live in.
The present book deals with the sensitive issue of Jihad, where striking balance amidst claims and counter-claims seems quite an uphill and difficult task though the author Yahya Nomani, a young scholar, is able to come out quite successfully in his maiden attempt, which clearly is a great feat. The book, originally in Urdu, has been rendered into English by Yoginder Sikand, a versatile if controversial writer.
In his preface to the book, Sikand writes, “This book…Written by a young scholar trained in a traditional madrasa… seemed to appeal to Muslims as well as non-Muslims alike. It was equally critical of the portrayals of Jihad by Islamophobic scholars as being alleged akin to terrorism as it was of radical self-styled Islamists, who believe it to be a license for indiscriminate slaughter of non-Muslims as well as Muslims who do not subscribe to their vision of Islam.” The book keeps the promise which Sikand enumerates.
In his Foreword, the author Yahya Nomani, opening the gates of Ijtihad regarding Jihad writes, “The changing times and conditions of the world and the transformation of the global scenario have created the urgent need for fresh interpretations of the concept of Jihad and to formulation of new regulations covering its crucial aspects. Many rules governing jihad depend on the prevailing international context and the conditions of human civilization.
The views about Jihad of many classical Islamic jurists or fuqaha and the Muslim Caliphs may have been appropriate for their own particular historical context, but today when the entire structure, international relations and global scenario have undergone tremendous changes, it has become difficult to understand those rules in today’s context. I hope this book will be considered a balanced contribution in this regard.”
It is the essence of this need which some rigid theologians, jurists and scholars will not understand and will try to impose those medieval Muslim connotations and rules of jurists of that period and society to our present one which results in a clash and makes Muslims seem violent, exclusive and reluctant to accept the realities of changed circumstances and times.
The book is divided into seven chapters, and a section of the book is devoted to reforming the contemporary extremist ideology regarding Jihad. This author rebuts the wrong notion of Clash of Civilizations as well as rebuffs the erroneous claim that the Muslim World should be at war with the rest of the world, though this erroneous belief is reinforced by the ongoing imperialist and neo-colonial offensives of the Western Powers.
Defining Jihad Nomani writes that “It must be remembered, mere fighting in defense against oppression does not constitute legitimate Jihad. Rather, jihad must be governed by a host of spiritual and moral principles and laws, observing which alone can qualify it to be truly called struggle in Allah’s path or “Jihad fi sabil Allah”. (p. 19) This aspect is frequently neglected by those who claim to be Allah’s soldiers. Nomani breaks fresh grounds in Jihad studies, which were a part of pristine Islam but were neglected and shaded in oblivion like making distinction among the oppressed on basis of religion and community, hence confining Jihad to Muslims only while Islam being universal in spirit, Jihad too is meant for the liberation of all, not only Muslims. Continuing in the same vein, Nomani deliberates about the Offensive Jihad, abiding treaties with people of different faiths and now in the present context between different countries. His novel exposition of the related things to Jihad like Maal e Ghanimat (spoils of War), Prisoners of War (POW) and making POWs slaves, and he critically rebuts the offensive Jihad unless there is severe persecution of people at the hands of State or other community, and explains that no pre-emptive attack is legal or legitimate in the eyes of Islam.
Nomani vociferously maintains that Jihad is only meant for putting an end to the persecution (Fitna), and not for gaining wealth, material assets, land and expanding or maintaining hegemony or Supremacy of a Nation. He deliberates that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his Caliphs never indulged in Jihad for these petty vested interests. Later Muslim rulers exploited the idea of Jihad for serving their own selfish interests at the cost of Islam, Muslims and Jihad. Nomani also criticizes the actions of some Muslims who indulge in killing of people who abuse Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through their writings or caricatures and incriminate against Islam, because they label these individual attempts of murder as “Jihad” though they break all the conventions of Jihad during their heinous murderous acts.
Nomani also speaks against those exclusivists who insist their stance of describing and inculcating hate of non-Muslims as an essential part of Muslim belief, and describes these acts of spreading hatred against non-Muslims, as a heinous crime which is against the very spirit of Islam, which seeks to build a peaceful world inculcating love, fraternity and harmony among all the creatures of the universe. He writes, “It is thus obvious and needs no explanation that a Non Muslim of good character is much better to have as a friend than a person who is Muslim in name alone and is actually a hypocrite and an opportunist”. (p. 124)
Overall, the book is a welcome addition to the burning topic of Jihad and helps clear various stereotypes and myths associated with the idea. The author deserves our appreciation for bringing out such a unique and novel book on a most misunderstood term of Jihad. The book is a must read for anyone who wishes to understand the application and implementation of Jihad in the present context and distinguish non-Jihad from Jihad. The translation is lucid and the book is available in attractive paperback with no printing or grammatical errors.The reviewer is a writer-activist based in Srinagar. sikandarmushtaq[@]gmail.]com