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Jihad and the Modern World

Jackson Sherman

Commentary

Born in Philadelphia, Sherman Jackson studied at the University of Pennsylvania where he received his doctorate in 1990. Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Jackson specializes in Islamic law and jurisprudence and is President of Shariah Scholars Association of North America. His publications include Islamic Law and the State: The Constitutional Jurisprudence, The Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam, and Islam and the Black American.

Tackling the contentious issue of jihad (exerting oneself for the sake of God), Jackson, in papers delivered in 2001 and 2002, stresses that Qur’anic verses commending conflict were revealed in a context in which new converts to Islam faced the loss of their customary security of tribal protection in a setting of endemic warfare. Embracing the new faith meant vulnerability to the enmity that their tribe, should it choose hostility against the Muslims, might exhibit against them. As Jackson states: “the Qurān was not introducing the obligation to fight ab initio” but was “simply responding to a preexisting state of affairs [of conflict]” to preserve “the physical integrity of the Muslim community . . . when fighting . . . was understood to be the only way to do so.” If the intention was to war against Jews and Christians, then the Prophet would not have been indebted to a Jew at the time of his death, nor would his companions have married Jewish women. In the modern period, Jackson argues, one must note that when Muslims say that their faith is a religion of peace they do not mean it is pacifist but rather that Islam can live in coexistence with other religions. To be able to do so, however, it is not sufficient to assert this. Coexistence must spring from the actual practice of non-Muslims avoiding hostility toward the Muslims, so that the Muslim people as a whole will recognize the reality of peaceful relations and wish to perpetuate it. In a fascinating section on Sayyid Qutb, Jackson provides an immanent critique of Qutb’s position to show that the latter, on the basis of his own methodology—resting on a conception of the dynamic (haraki) principles of Islam—would have to change his conclusion that Muslims must be in a perpetual state of war with non-Muslims.

I. Introduction

“Islam is a religion of peace.” This is certainly the mantra that has inundated us from almost every quarter since the horrifying events of September 11, 2001. From president George W. Bush to local, national and even international Muslim spokespersons, the peaceful nature of Islam has been reiterated time and again. Of course, this has not gone unchallenged. Skeptics, polemicists, even opportunists of various stripes, have repeatedly warned against accepting too uncritically what they hint at being a “new-found, politically correct” depiction of a religion that includes, inter alia, a scripturally mandated institution of armed violence and a holy book that exhorts its adherents, at least on the face of it, to “slay ‘them’ wherever you find them.”1 Qur'ân, 2: 191. All translations of Qur'ânic material in this essay will be my own. Today, years after the tragedy, emotions and rhetoric on both sides have subsided a bit. But there is still a perduring suspicion among many Americans—including many Muslim Americans—when it comes to the question of Islam, violence and the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims.

I shall limit myself to only one of the products of the modern encounter between the Muslim world and the West, namely the claim that Islam is a religion of peace. I propose to explore the credibility of this claim via a treatment of jihad, as the religiously sanctioned institution of armed violence in Islam. I shall focus on jihad not from the perspective of jus in bello, i.e., the rules and regulations governing the conduct of combatants in war, but rather from the perspective of jus ad bellum, the causes and justifications for going to war. My aim shall be to determine the normative role, function and status of jihad not in the abstract but, first, as an institution at Islamic law, and, second, in the very particular context of the modern world. This latter concern implies, of course, that context and circumstances are relevant to the enterprises of interpreting and applying the rules of Islam. . . .

IV. Jihad

In 1991, professor Fred Donner of the University of Chicago published an insightful article under the title “The Sources of Islamic Conceptions of War.” This was part of an edited volume entitled Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions.2 ed. J. Kelsay and J. T. Johnson (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), 31–70. In this article, professor Donner began by questioning the propriety of relying solely on the Qur'ân, the Sunna or the books of Islamic law for an understanding of the substance and the logic underlying the medieval Muslim concept of jihad. Rather, according to professor Donner, the Muslim valuation and articulation of jihad were just as much, if not more, a product of history as of religion. This insight yielded two extremely important implications. First, just as Islamic theology, philos-ophy and jurisprudence had been informed by perspectives brought by Hellenized and other converts from the world of Late Antiquity, so had jihad, in its classical formulation, been informed by such Roman-Byzantine concepts as “charismatic victoriousness,” according to which God would aid the expansionist endeavors of the empire against all enemies of the religion or the state.3 Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions, 34. Second, and more important, the whole Qur'ânic rationale undergirding the verses on jihad could be seen as resting on a particularly intractable reality in 7th century Arabia. Speaking of this reality, professor Donner writes,

In this society, war (harb, used in the senses of both an activity and a condition) was in one sense a normal way of life; that is, a “state of war” was assumed to exist between one's tribe and all others, unless a particular treaty or agreement had been reached with another tribe establishing amicable relations.4 Ibid., 34. Emphasis added.

As an historian of Late Antiquity and early Islam, professor Donner could substantiate this view on the basis of several historical sources. The Qur'ân itself, however, confirms this reality and confers the additional advantage of providing a glimpse into the early Muslim perception of the world around them. It should be noted in this context that it matters little whether we accept the Qur'ân as divine revelation or not. For whether it came from God or Muhammad or anywhere else, it certainly reflected the social, historical and political realities of 7th century Arabia.

Several verses of the Qur'ân depict Arabia's general “state of war.” For example, “Do they not see that We established a safe haven (in the Sacred Mosque) while people all around them were being snatched away?”5 29: 67. Similarly, “And remember when you were a small, marginalized group in the land living in fear that the people would snatch you away.”6 8: 26. The 106th chapter appears to be devoted entirely to the twin themes of societal fear and security:

For the comforting of Quraysh [the tribe of the Prophet], the comfort of (being able to complete) the winter and summer caravans. Let them, then, worship the Lord of this House, Who banished their hunger with food and their fear with security.

It was, indeed, Arabia's endemic “state of war” that drove the pre-Islamic Arabs in desperation to institute the so-called Forbidden Months (al-Ashhur al-hurum), a pan-Arabian treaty of non-aggression, subsequently ratified by the Qur'ân, that outlawed all acts of war initiated during the 11th, 12th, 1st and 7th months of the lunar year. This particular sequence was pegged to the time of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which took place in the 12th lunar month. The Forbidden Months gave potential pilgrims ample time to travel from their homes to Mecca, spend the needed time carrying out the rites of the pilgrimage, and then make it back to their homes unmolested by any and all raiders or brigands. The 7th Forbidden Month provided the same for those who wished to travel to Mecca during the off-season for a “lesser pilgrimage.”

Other verses in the Qur'ân suggest that part of the reason many of the Prophet's contemporaries hesitated to follow him was their fear that they would lose the support of their tribes and allies and thus be rendered fair game for all attackers. For example, Qur'ân 28:57 reads: “They say, ‘If we follow the guidance with you we shall be snatched from our land.’” Similarly, 3:173 describes the nascent Muslim community as “Those whom the people warned, ‘Verily all the people have lined up against you, so fear them!’” These and numerous other verses clearly indicate that war, as an activity or a condition, was the assumed status among groups in the Prophet's 7th century Arabia. In a sense, one might say that Arabia only survived as an entity by virtue of a primitive version of the Cold War “balance of terror.”

The fact that certain groups and individuals in Arabia feared losing the support of their tribes is actually much more germane to our discussion than appears at first blush. For the dynamic underlying this fear actually explains an often overlooked aspect of the Qur'ânic discourse and rhetoric on jihad. Far from depicting the early Muslims as a brave and warlike people, one of the most consistent Qur'ânic criticisms of them is directed at their unwillingness to fight. It is in fact this need to overcome this unwillingness that explains in large part the pungency and urgency of the Qur'ânic injunctions to fight. “Fighting is prescribed for you, but you despise it.”7 2: 216.

Say [O Muhammad], If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your close associates or moneys that you have earned or businesses whose stagnation you fear or homes with which you are pleased are more beloved to you than God and His Messenger and waging jihad in His path, then wait until God sends forth His command. And God does not guide a people who are corrupt.8 9: 24. You shall not find a people who (truly) believe in God and the Last Day maintaining loving relations with those who strive to undermine God and His Messenger, be the latter their fathers, sons, brothers or close associates.9 58: 22.

In a similar vein, this time showing a sense of indulgence:

God does not forbid you to have friendly, mutually respectful relations with those who have not attacked you because of your religion and have not turned you out of your homes. God simply forbids you to take as your patrons those who attack you because of your religion or turn you out of your homes or conspire with others to turn you out of your homes.10 60: 8.

What these (and numerous other verses) depict is the early Muslims’ deep sense of divided loyalties between Islam, on the one hand, and “the old order,” at the center of which stood the tribe, tribal alliances and the presumed state of war, on the other. What the early Muslims had trouble accepting was not fighting in general (to which they were as used as anyone else in Arabia) but fighting that pit them against kith and kin. Ultimately, their wish was that they would be able to reconcile the old and the new order in such a way that enabled them to enjoy the benefits of both. From the Qur'ân's perspective, however, this could not be done without lending support, directly or indirectly, to the very forces whose existence and way of life included an active ideological and military opposition to Muhammad. Thus, the Qur'ân sets out to break the early Muslims’ emotional, psychological and even material dependency on the “old order” by forcing them to affirm their commitment to Islam by way of a willingness to fight—in accordance with the existing norm—for the life and integrity of the new religion.

In sum, by revealing those verses in which the believers are commanded to wage jihad, the Qur'ân was not introducing the obligation to fight ab initio. On the contrary, the Qur'ân was simply responding to a pre-existing state of affairs by effectively redirecting energies that were already being expended. Moreover, peace, i.e., the repelling of aggression, rather than conversion to Islam was the ultimate aim of this fighting. This is clearly indicated by several verses, scattered throughout the Qur'ân, that clearly envision a terminus ad quem other than conversion or annihilation: “If they incline towards peace, then you incline thereto, and place your trust in God;”11 8: 61. and, “Fight them until there is no oppression and religion is solely for God. And if they desist, then let there be no aggression except against the transgressors.”12 2: 193. Even more elaborately, this time speaking of a group of “interlopers” who had made a career of playing both ends against the middle, now supporting Muhammad, now colluding against him,

They wish that you would reject faith as they have, so that you would all be equal. Do not accept them as patrons until they migrate to join you in the path of God. If they refuse to migrate, then seize them and slay them wherever you find them, and do not accept them as patrons nor as helpers. Except for those who arrive at the home of a tribe with whom you have a treaty, or who come to you in a state of contrition that will not permit them to fight you or to fight against their own . . . If they avoid you and do not fight you and declare themselves to be in a state of peace with you, then these people We do not give you permission to fight.13 4: 89–90.

Based on this admittedly narrow sample, it seems clear that the raison d’être behind the Qur'ânic injunction to fight was clearly connected with the very specific necessity of preserving the physical integrity of the Muslim community at a time and place when fighting, sometimes preemptively, sometimes defensively, was understood to be the only way to do so. To be sure, Qur'ânic injunctions to fight often take on the appearance of a call to Holy War, i.e., war based solely on a difference of religion. But this is simply because the only people Muhammad and the early Muslims had to fear were non-Muslims. As de Tocqueville writes of 19th century France, “The unbelievers of Europe attack the Christians as their political opponents rather than as their religious adversaries.”14 Democracy in America, 2 vols. (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 1: 314. Emphasis mine. To the casual observer, however, such a conflict, though politically motivated, would simply show Christians on one side and unbelievers on the other, a Holy War to most eyes, if there ever was one. Yet, when the Prophet Muhammad died in Medina, at the height of his power, he died in debt to a Jew. Famous Companions of his, men like Hudhayfah b. al-Yamâm, married Jewish women. The second Caliph, ‘Umar, under whose reign the Muslim empire expanded more than it did under any other reign, was killed by a Christian in Medina. Clearly, on these facts, if the unbelief of the unbelievers rather than their real or perceived hostility towards the Muslims had been the object of those verses in which the Muslims were commanded to “slay them wherever you find them,” certainly Muhammad and his Companions would have understood this, and at the time, there would have been nothing to prevent them from carrying this order out.

In sum, even before the Prophet Muhammad, Arabia was characterized by an overall “state of war.” The advent of the Prophet's mission only altered this by altering the categories with which the various groups and individuals identified. From this point on, in the absence of a peace treaty (which the Qur'ân both sanctioned and sanctified) there would exist only the blurriest of distinctions between “non-Muslims” and “hostile forces.” This is the backdrop and raison d’être against which all the Qur'ânic material on jihad must be read.

Turning to the post-Prophetic era, classical jurists unanimously divided jihad into two main modalities. The first we may refer to as “aggressive jihad,” which is pro-active and, according to the majority, constituted a communal requirement to be carried out at least once every year. The second modality was the “defensive jihad,” which was waged whenever Muslim lands were attacked. This jihad was actually a much more serious affair than its counterpart, inasmuch as many of the stipulations and restrictions governing aggressive jihad were dropped in the case of defensive jihad. For example, the Muslim ruler did not have to announce the obligation to join the defensive jihad nor conscript soldiers for its prosecution. Similarly, all those groups who were normally exempt from participating in the aggressive jihad, e.g., women, minors, the elderly, young men who had not been granted permission by their parents, were required to participate in defensive jihad.

For our purposes of trying to determine the credibility of the claim that Islam is a religion of peace, we may ignore the defensive jihad. For no one would accuse Islam, or any other religion for that matter, of not being a peaceful religion simply because it insisted on defending itself. We shall thus restrict the remainder of our discussion to the aggressive jihad.

As I intimated above, the aforementioned “state of war” was not restricted to Arabia. It characterized the pre-modern world in general. In his book, Violence and Civilization, Jonathan Fletcher writes of Europe in the Middle Ages: “individual lords had to engage in warfare to save themselves and their families. If they did not, then sooner or later they would be overtaken by another lord and have to submit to his rule or be killed.”15 As late as the 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville would reveal vestiges of this perspective in the United States. Relating the fears about how the country would be affected if Indians monopolized the Western frontier, he cites a contemporary view to the effect that “It is . . . in our interest that the new states should be religious, in order that they may permit us to remain free.”16 Democracy, 1: 307. In other words, according to this understanding, only Christians would permit other Christians to remain free. In the case of the Muslim empire, an identical assumption would collude with the presumed “state of war” and produce a sense of mission that was reinforced by the overall medieval thirst for conquest. Jihad, for its part, like the Roman-Byzantine “charismatic victoriousness,” would lend itself well to these ambitions and these concerns.

Still, the Muslim conquests were neither for the sole purpose of conversion nor annihilating the infidel. In addition to the fact that non-Muslims paid higher taxes—and thus non-conversion operated to the financial advantage of the state—the rules of jihad stipulated that non-Muslims remained free to practice their religion upon payment of the so-called jizya, or “income tax,” in exchange for which the Muslim state incurred the responsibility to protect them from outside attack. While the imperial quest for empire invariably informed the policies of every Muslim state, Muslim juristic writings continued to reflect the logic of the “state of war” and the assumption that only Muslims would permit Muslims to remain Muslims. They continued to see jihad not only as a means of guaranteeing the security and freedom of the Muslims but as virtually the only means of doing so. For even peace treaties were usually the result of one's surrender to demands that had been imposed by a real or anticipated defeat by the sword.

To take one example, the juridical writings of the Spanish jurist Ibn Rushd the Elder (d. 520/1122), a major legal authority and grandfather of the celebrated Averroës of Western fame, clearly reflect the influence of the perceived “state of war.” Because Ibn Rushd perceived it to be impossible for Muslims to live as Muslims outside of Muslim lands, he insisted that it was forbidden for Muslims to take up residence abroad. In fact, he even banned travel to non-Muslim countries for purposes of commerce, going so far as to urge the ruler to build check-points and light-houses to stop Muslims from leaving the lands of Islam. As for individuals in non-Muslim countries who converted to Islam, Ibn Rushd insisted that they were religiously obligated to migrate to a Muslim polity. On this understanding, it comes as no surprise that Ibn Rushd endorsed the traditional doctrine on aggressive jihad as a communal obligation. During the course of his discussion, however, it becomes clear that his ultimate consideration was the security of the Muslims rather than either conquest or conversion. After exhausting the point that jihad is a communal obligation, Ibn Rushd comes to the following conclusion:

So, whenever we are placed beyond the reach of the enemy and the outlying districts of the Muslim lands are secured and the gaps in their fortifications are filled, the obligation to wage jihad falls from all the rest of the Muslims.17 Al-Muqaddimât, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dâr al-Fikr, n.d.), 1: 374 (on the margins of al-Mudawannah al-kubrâ).

The purpose of jihad, in other words, is to provide for the security and freedom of the Muslims in a world that kept them under constant threat. This may be difficult for many, especially Americans, to appreciate today. But we should remind ourselves that throughout the Middle Ages, while one could live as a Jew in Morocco, a Christian in Cairo, or even a Zoroastrian in Shirâz, one could not live as a Muslim in Paris, London or the Chesapeake Bay. Indeed, the “Abode of Islam/Abode of War” dichotomy, cited ad nauseam by certain Western scholars as proof of Islam's inherent hostility towards the West, was far more a description of the Muslim peoples of the world in which they lived than it was a prescription of the Islamic religion per se.18 Indeed, the concept and function of the “Abode of Islam/Abode of War” dichotomy has been grossly exaggerated and often misrepresented. For example, the towering Shâfi‘î jurist Abû al-Hasan al-Mâwardî (d. 450/1058) includes among the definitions of the “Abode of Islam” (Dâr al-Islam) any land in which a Muslim enjoys security and is able to isolate and protect himself, even if he is unable to promote the religion.

As we proceed to our discussion of the legal status of jihad in modern times, I should like to clarify the meaning of the claim that Islam is a religion of peace. “Religion of peace” does not imply that Islam is a pacifist religion, that it rejects the use of violence altogether, as either a moral or a metaphysical evil. “Religion of peace” connotes, rather, that Islam can counten-ance a state of permanent, peaceful coexistence with other nations and peoples who are not Muslims. In other words, contrary to the belief that Islam can only accept a world that is entirely populated by Muslims and, as such, Muslims must, as a religious duty, wage perpetual jihad against non-Muslims, Islam can peacefully coexist with non-Muslims. This position is no more than the result of an objective application of principles of Islamic jurisprudence which no jurist or activist, medieval or modern, has claimed to reject.

We have seen that a perennial “state of war” informed both the Qur'ânic and the classical articulations of jihad. In effect, this “state of war” constituted what Muslim jurists refer to as the custom or prevailing circumstances underlying the law. The assumed relationship, in other words, among nations and peoples in both the Qur‘ân and pre-modern Islamdom was one of hostility. In such a context, jihad emerged as the only means of preserving the physical integrity of the Muslim community. The 20th century has introduced, however, major changes to this situation. Beginning with the Covenant of the League of Nations after WW I and culminating in the signing of the United Nations Charter after WW II, the territorial integrity of every nation on earth has been rendered inviolable. In effect, this development dismantled the general “state of war” and established peace as the assumed and normal relationship between all nations. This was an unprecedented development in the history of the world, certainly as Muslims had known it. For, again, the assumed relationship between Muslims and the peoples surrounding them had always been one of hostility. This fundamental difference between the prevailing reality of pre-modern and modern times both justifies and requires a different interpretation and application of all scriptural and juridical injunctions that command Muslims to wage jihad against non-believers. Contrary to the situation dictated by a prevailing “state of war,” under a “state of peace,” there is no obligation to wage aggressive jihad. Classical law manuals do not reflect this view (Ibn Rushd being the exception that proves the rule); nor should one expect them to. For not only was peace not the prevailing medieval order, it was part of the medieval “unimaginable.” By contrast, numerous modern jurists, from Rashîd Ridâ to ‘Abd al-Wahhâb Khallâf to Wahbah al-Zuhaylî, have confirmed Islam's commitment to peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims.19 See, e.g., Muhammad Rashîd Ridâ, Tafsîr al-manâr, 12 vols. (Beirut: Dâr al-Kutub al-‘Ilmîyah, 1420/1999), 10: 257–91; ‘Abd al-Wahhâb Khallâf, al-Siyâsah al-shar‘îyah (Cairo: Matba‘at al-Taqaddum, 1397/1977), 64–84; Wahbah al-Zuhaylî, al-Fiqh al-islâmî wa adillatuh, 9 vols. (Damascus: Dâr al-Fikr, 1417/1996), 9: 925–41.

To be sure, this manner of argument will appeal to many liberal-minded observers, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. It is in fact a common practice among those who argue for change and reform in Islam to insist that this or that change wrought by modern developments requires a different interpretation and/or application of Islamic law. It should be noted, however, that the shift from a “state of war” to a “state of peace” is much more easily achieved on paper than it is on the ground. And, according to the relevant principle of Islamic jurisprudence, the only changes in prevailing circumstances that can serve as a cause for changes in the law are those that are actually realized in the lives of the people. The fact that a community of lawyers or Muslim intellectuals, based on the state of discussion in their respective fields, conclude that the world has shifted from a “state of war” to a “state of peace” is not sufficient to establish this as a probative change in custom. This is clearly established by al-Qarâfî in a passage dealing with the effect of custom on the status of expressions used as formulae for divorce:

It is not enough that the jurist believes that a particular expression has become customary (as a formula for divorce). For his belief of what has become customary may stem from his training in the madhhab and his persistent study and disputation in the law. Rather, for an expression to become customary is for the common folk of a particular locale to understand one thing only whenever they hear it, not from the mouth of a jurist but from one of their own and according to their use of this expression for this particular purpose. This is the “becoming customary” that is sufficient to transform the literal meaning of an expression to a legally binding meaning based on custom.20 Tamyîz, 243. Divorce in traditional Islamic law was not a judicial proceeding but was initiated by the husband's uttering a “pronouncement of divorce.” in these pronouncements were not dictated by scripture, much ink was spilled over the question of which expressions constituted “pronouncements of divorce.” This is the point of al-Qarâfî's argument.

Two important implications emerge from this. First, the shift from the “state of war” to the “state of peace” cannot be simply asserted but must be confirmed on [the] ground. As such, there may arise disagreements among Muslims regarding the obligation to wage jihad, not over whether or not jihad remains an obligation even under a “state of peace,” but over whether or not an actual “state of peace” exists. Second, the major powers, especially the United States as the lone superpower, bear an enormous responsibility towards the world community, inasmuch as their policies and actions, more than those of others, have the capacity to confirm or undermine the newly established and admittedly fragile “state of peace.” To the extent that powerful nations flout Article I of the UN Charter, they actually contribute to the re-emergence of the medieval “state of war,” with all that that implies in terms of relations among nations.

1. The Counter View. The terrorist attacks of September 11 have put Muslim leaders and intellectuals, especially those in the West, on the defen-sive, a corollary to which has been a rush to extirpate all traces of violence from Islam. This is understandable, given the enormous pressure being applied by the media and government agencies in search of assurances from Muslims. But there is also a dangerous side to this approach. For it carries the potential to radicalize the Muslim masses by undermining the credi-bility of Muslim leaders and intellectuals, who come to be seen as being more interested in appeasing the government-media complex than in defending the integrity of Islam and Muslims. In the end, the very people who are being pressured by the government-media complex to explain away and provide alternatives to extremist and wrong-minded views end up losing the masses and thus consigning them to the very views that they are supposed to be displacing.

The views of the so-called Muslim Radicals cannot be simply ignored out of fear of bringing Islam under indictment. Nor can they be dismissed as the mindless rantings of a tiny, vociferous fringe or the politically motivated dribble of simpletons who just don’t understand the grand and glorious tradition of classical Islam. For, rightly or wrongly, these views constitute the going opinion in many quarters. And the authors of these views are often men of immense standing who wield enormous authority in the Muslim world and beyond. If the American government-media complex or American Muslim apologists can condemn or dismiss these views as extreme or unfounded, it should surely be no more difficult for the latter to dismiss their detractors as un- or insufficiently Islamic. Clearly, a more productive approach would be to search for ways of drawing Muslim Radicals into a logic that is both shared and esteemed by them and capable of serving as a basis for moving them beyond the blind and reckless rad-icalism that often characterizes their views.21 One should note that even if it should be concluded that jihad against America is a communal obligation, this would not justify the terrorist attacks of September 11. For the law of jihad does not condone terrorism, which Islamic law basically defines as publicly directed violence against which the reasonable citizen, Muslim or non-Muslim, is unable to take safe-keeping measures.

Given the limitations of space, I shall be able to engage the view of only one such Radical, by many accounts, the most important of them. This is the redoubtable Sayyid Qutb, chief ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966 and whose commentary, In the Shade of the Qur'ân, is perhaps the most widely-read Qur'ânic exegesis in the Muslim world. Indeed, for those who think that I might be conveniently avoiding Usâmah b. Lâdin, a child born in the Arab world twenty years from now will probably know little more of Usâmah than his name. At some point in his life, however, if religious, that child will probably be exposed to, if not imbibe, the writings of Sayyid Qutb. Whereas Usâmah b. Lâdin's effectiveness is linked almost exclusively to his ability to tap into the shared, negative experience of modern Muslims, Qutb grounds his views in a meticulously crafted methodology of Qur'ânic interpretation, which he holds up as the best, if not the only, way to read the Qur'ân. Perhaps more than any other Muslim thinker in modern times, his interpretive efforts have succeeded in sustaining the argument that the heirs of the classical tradition have bowed to the modern secular state's attempt to “domesticate” Islam, to borrow the term of Stephen L. Carter. According to Carter, in response to religion's higher calling, on the basis of which it may oppose the material interests of the state, “the state tries to move religion from a position in which it threatens the state to a position in which it supports the state.”22 This is largely the basis upon which Qutb has been able to appeal to the masses as an alternative to the classical tradition.

As a modern Revivalist, Qutb all but ignores the classical tradition of the madhhabs and relies almost exclusively on the Qur'ân. Based on his reading of Qur'ân 9: 29, he insists that waging jihad against the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) is a permanent, communal obligation upon the Muslims.

Fight those who do not believe in God and the Last Day and do not forbid that which God and His Messenger have forbidden and do not practice proper religion, among those who were given the Book until they pay the poll-tax and they are subdued.

According the Qutb, the ninth chapter, in which this verse appears, was among the last to be revealed. As such, this verse constitutes the last and final stage of development in the Qur'ânic doctrine on Muslim–non-Muslim relations. While Qutb was not a jurist trained in the classical tradition, contrary to the popular stereotype about Muslim Radicals, he was also not a literalist. Rather, he insists on a “dynamic” reading of the Qur'ân, reminiscent of the position of the classical jurists exemplified in the above-cited al-Qarâfî and Qûtah. According to this “dynamic” reading, the concrete circumstances on the ground are to inform both the interpretation and application of the text. In Qutb's own words,

The legal rules of Islam are, and always will be, subject to a certain dynamism in accordance with the Islamic approach. And it is not possible to understand the texts of scripture in isolation from this reality. Indeed, there is a fundamental difference between reading the verses of scripture as if they existed in a vacuum and reading them in their dynamic context in accordance with the Islamic approach.23 Fî zilâl al-qur'ân, 6 vols. (Cairo: Dâr al-Shurûq, 1417/1996), 3: 1631.

In this particular case, however, Qutb insists that as an historical fact Jews and Christians have always proved themselves to be hostile to Muslims. As proof, he adduces several verses from the Qur'ân, which he takes to constitute scriptural evidence of the inherent beliefs and attitudes of Jews and Christians (rather than as a scriptural description of the attitude of particular Jews or particular Christians at particular places and times). In addition, he relates a series of historical events, from the Crusades to modern colonialism. From this it becomes clear that it is Qutb's belief that Jews and Christians (which one senses he uses as a catch-all for the West) are inherently hostile towards Muslims that informs his reading of 9: 29. This belief, moreover, is so strong and overpowering that it preempts all other possibilities, including those established by the Qur'ân itself. For example, at 5: 82, the Qur'ân states, “You will find those who are most closely drawn to the Believers in love to be those who say, ‘We are Christians.’” Similarly, speaking this time of both Jews and Christians, Qur'ân 3: 113–14 states, “They are not all the same. Among the People of the Book are those who stand at night reciting the words of God and prostrating. They believe in God and the Last Day, they command what is good and forbid what is evil and they strive in the path of righteousness. Indeed, they are among the righteous.”

What all of this suggests is that Qutb's understanding of the Qur'ânic doctrine on Muslim–non-Muslim relations is as informed by his own reading into the text as it is by his attempt to extract meaning from the text. For the Qur'ân clearly establishes a range of possible attitudes and behaviors on the part of Jews and Christians towards Muslims. Moreover, at least as many if not more exegetes, classical and modern, hold chapter five (which speaks of Christian love for Muslims) to be the last-revealed chapter as hold chapter nine to be so. As such, on purely formal grounds, one could just as rightly argue that chapter five reflects the final teaching on Muslim–non-Muslim relations. What brings Qutb to privilege 9: 29 and to construe it in the manner he does seems to be his historical assessment, based in part on his own experience, of the attitude of Jews and Christians towards Muslims. On this assessment, one would have to admit that whether we employ his “dynamic” method or the classical jurisprudence exemplified by al-Qarâfî, Qutb is certainly correct in the conclusion he draws. But it is equally true, on both approaches, that this conclusion could be overturned, assuming a different historical assessment. In other words, assuming that Jews and Christians are no longer active enemies of Muslims, or that there are political mechanisms in place that prevent them from acting on this hostility, even Qutb (or his followers), on his own methodology, could be convinced to modify his interpretation of 9: 29. In sum, assuming an overall “state of peace,” even Qutb might be forced to concede that there is no obligation to wage jihad against Jews and Christians.

Having said this much, there does appear to exist one potential stumbling block. This is Qutb's insistence that the only realities to which Muslims are obligated to respond in adjusting their interpretations and applications of scripture are those that are the result of Muslim efforts.24 For Qutb's entire discussion on 9: 29, see Zilâl, 3: 1619–50. In other words, developments such as the League of Nations or the United Nations, which were not the products of strictly Muslim efforts, are of no probative value in interpreting the Qur'ân or deducing the rules of Islamic law. To be sure, there is a glaring (and redeeming) weakness in this position. For even the most casual acquaintance with the sources of Islam reveals that this principle cannot claim to derive from the Qur'ân or the practice of the Prophet. Indeed, the Prophet can easily be shown to have endorsed all kinds of realities that were not the products of Muslim efforts, from the system of tribal alliances to the Forbidden Months to honoring pagan marriages contracted before Islam. In short, what matters in legal deliberations is, ceteris paribus, the concrete situation on the ground, not the agency via which that situation is brought into being. As such, the transformations effected by the U.N. Charter should be deemed no less probative than those effected by the pre-Islamic pagan Arabs.

V. Conclusion

I have argued that Islam is a religion of peace. I have based this argument on the assertion that a prevailing “state of war,” rather than difference of religion, was the raison d’être of jihad and that this “state of war” has given way in modern times to a global “state of peace” that rejects the unwarranted violation of the territorial sovereignty of all nations. Assuming the factual verity of this “state of peace,” even Radicals like Sayyid Qutb could be convinced of the veracity of my argument affirming Islam's fundamental commitment to peace. Ironically, however, it is precisely here that a superpower like the United States is put in a position to contribute directly to the Muslim valuation of jihad in the modern world. Lamentably, U.S. actions such as the 1999 bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan, its acquiescence in the face of Israeli incursions into south Lebanon and the Occupied Territories, its talk of an impending invasion of Iraq and its saber-rattling with Iran all undermine the credibility of any presumption of a new world “state of peace.” Still, I would argue, these unfortunate challenges notwithstanding, the principle of territorial inviolability continues to enjoy general recognition throughout the world community. And it is this general recognition that sustains my commitment to the doctrine that Islam is a religion of peace.

In the end, however, whether Islam actually functions on the ground as a religion of peace will depend as much on the actions of non-Muslims as it does on the religious understanding of Muslims. Muslims will have to make a more courageous and assiduous commitment to the principle that recognizes changes in circumstances as a basis for changes in the law, what Sayyid Qutb himself referred to as the “dynamic” method of interpretation. Muslims will also have to avoid the fallacy of assuming that the realities of yesterday pass automatically into today or that the factual or historical assessments of the Muslims of the past constitute authoritative doctrines that are binding on the Muslims of the present. As for non-Muslims, they will have to make a more conscious and sustained effort to conduct their military, economic and political affairs in a fashion that actually confirms the new world order of the United Nations Charter, by respecting the dignity and territorial integrity of Muslim and other nations, including variations on what the U.N. Charter refers to as “Trust Territories.”25 Article 77 reads: “(1) The trusteeship system shall apply to such territories in the following categories as may be placed thereunder by means of trusteeship agreements: (a) territories now held under mandate; (2) territories which may be detached from enemy states as a result of the Second World War; and (3) territories voluntarily placed under the system by states responsible for their administration.” They will have to refrain from acting in a manner that expresses or implies aggression and pushes the world back toward the dark ages of the “state of war.” For under the latter condition, the aggressive jihad of the premodern world will find both practical justification and religious sanction. In these our times of weapons of mass destruction, spiraling conflicts and renewed aggression, let us hope that all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, will recognize just how quickly we may be moving toward the abyss and, in light of this, seize the opportunity to make our respective contributions to a better, safer world.

Bibliography references:

Versions of this paper were delivered at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in December 2001, the University of Michigan–Flint in March 2002, and the University of Nevada–Las Vegas in April 2002.

15. J. Fletcher, Violence and Civilization: An Introduction to the Work of Norbert Elias (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997), 33. Emphasis not added.

22. Stephen Carter,God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 30.

Notes:

1. Qur'ân, 2: 191. All translations of Qur'ânic material in this essay will be my own.

2. ed. J. Kelsay and J. T. Johnson (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), 31–70.

3. Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions, 34.

4. Ibid., 34. Emphasis added.

5. 29: 67.

6. 8: 26.

7. 2: 216.

8. 9: 24.

9. 58: 22.

10. 60: 8.

11. 8: 61.

12. 2: 193.

13. 4: 89–90.

14. Democracy in America, 2 vols. (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 1: 314. Emphasis mine.

16. Democracy, 1: 307.

17. Al-Muqaddimât, 4 vols. (Beirut: Dâr al-Fikr, n.d.), 1: 374 (on the margins of al-Mudawannah al-kubrâ).

18. Indeed, the concept and function of the “Abode of Islam/Abode of War” dichotomy has been grossly exaggerated and often misrepresented. For example, the towering Shâfi‘î jurist Abû al-Hasan al-Mâwardî (d. 450/1058) includes among the definitions of the “Abode of Islam” (Dâr al-Islam) any land in which a Muslim enjoys security and is able to isolate and protect himself, even if he is unable to promote the religion.

19. See, e.g., Muhammad Rashîd Ridâ, Tafsîr al-manâr, 12 vols. (Beirut: Dâr al-Kutub al-‘Ilmîyah, 1420/1999), 10: 257–91; ‘Abd al-Wahhâb Khallâf, al-Siyâsah al-shar‘îyah (Cairo: Matba‘at al-Taqaddum, 1397/1977), 64–84; Wahbah al-Zuhaylî, al-Fiqh al-islâmî wa adillatuh, 9 vols. (Damascus: Dâr al-Fikr, 1417/1996), 9: 925–41.

20. Tamyîz, 243. Divorce in traditional Islamic law was not a judicial proceeding but was initiated by the husband's uttering a “pronouncement of divorce.” in these pronouncements were not dictated by scripture, much ink was spilled over the question of which expressions constituted “pronouncements of divorce.” This is the point of al-Qarâfî's argument.

21. One should note that even if it should be concluded that jihad against America is a communal obligation, this would not justify the terrorist attacks of September 11. For the law of jihad does not condone terrorism, which Islamic law basically defines as publicly directed violence against which the reasonable citizen, Muslim or non-Muslim, is unable to take safe-keeping measures.

23. Fî zilâl al-qur'ân, 6 vols. (Cairo: Dâr al-Shurûq, 1417/1996), 3: 1631.

24. For Qutb's entire discussion on 9: 29, see Zilâl, 3: 1619–50.

25. Article 77 reads: “(1) The trusteeship system shall apply to such territories in the following categories as may be placed thereunder by means of trusteeship agreements: (a) territories now held under mandate; (2) territories which may be detached from enemy states as a result of the Second World War; and (3) territories voluntarily placed under the system by states responsible for their administration.”

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