SPEAKING FREELY Making a mockery of jihad
By Asghar Ali Engineer
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Recent terror attacks in India and abroad have created an impression that jihad
is central to Koranic teaching. First of all, as we have asserted repeatedly,
jihad does not mean war in the Koran as there are other words for it like qital
and harb. Jihad has been used in the Koran in its root meaning: to
strive for betterment of society, to spread goodness (maruf) and contain
But supposing jihad means war, as some Muslims believe, even then it still
isn't central to Koranic teachings. The word "jihad" occurs in the Koran 41
times though not a single verse uses it in
the sense of war. The four most fundamental values in the Koran are justice ('adl),
benevolence (ihsan), compassion (rahmah) and wisdom (hikmah).
Thus, the Koran is an embodiment of these values and a Muslim is duty-bound to
practice them above all.
One who fails to practice these values can hardly claim to be a true Muslim.
Jihad is not even obligatory in Islamic jurisprudence whereas these values are
indicative of a Muslim's character and hence quite important. It can be said
that compassion is most central to Koranic teachings. The words "compassion"
and "mercy" in their various forms occur in the Koran 335 times.
There is great emphasis in the Koran on justice in all social and political
matters and it uses three words for justice - 'adl, qist and hakama.
These three words occur 244 times in the Koran. To seek revenge is human
weakness, not strength. Thus, a devout Muslim tends to forgive, like Allah who
forgives his servants if they sincerely repent. Those who are waging jihad in
the form of terror attacks are bent upon seeking revenge whereas a good Muslim
would tend to forgive just as Allah does.
In sharia law, jihad can be declared only by the state or those empowered by
it. Terror attacks, on the other hand, are planned and executed by a few
individuals unrepresentative of any state or state institution. So their
attacks cannot be legitimate by any Islamic or sharia law. That is nothing but
committing the murder of innocent people. Also, according to Islamic laws, in
jihad no non-combatant can be attacked, much less women, children and the
elderly and no civilian property can be destroyed unless it is being used for
military purposes or for purposes of combat.
It can be seen that the rules laid down for war by Islamic laws are no
different from modern laws of warfare or the Geneva conventions. But terror
attacks are a gross violation of all these Islamic rules and there is no way
these attacks can be characterized as jihad. The terrorists are described by
the media as jihadis. This is a gross misuse of the word as there is no word
like "jihadi" in the Arabic language. It is in fact "mujahid" and it is used in
a laudatory sense - one who devotes oneself to a good cause like fighting
against social evils.
The Koran advises Muslims: "And cast not yourselves to destruction with your
own hands and do good (to others). Surely Allah loves the doers of good." This
advice of the Koran not to throw oneself to destruction with one's own hands is
important and relevant even today. What did the September 11, 2001 attack
result in? Did al-Qaeda not invite great disaster to the entire Islamic world,
especially in Afghanistan and Iraq? Did they not throw themselves into
perdition with their own hands? What good did that attack do to anyone? Was
there any wisdom in that rash and ruthless attack?
Revenge only satisfies our ego and injures the ego of the enemy and thus the
war of attrition continues. What terrorists are doing is seeking revenge, and
from a weaker position. Every attack brings nothing but disaster for themselves
and others. Various verses quoted to justify jihad are generally taken in a
literal sense and ignore the value system of the Koran. It is a well-known fact
that be it al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization, they do not represent
any government or larger Muslim organization. They succeed in mobilizing some
angry youth who are carried away by "Islamic" rhetoric and commit terrorist
attacks taking lives of innocent people. These attacks violate all Koranic
Seventh century Arabia cannot be compared to conditions in the contemporary
world. Today's world is radically different from that period and we should go
more by Koranic ethics than injunctions about war. There are several
institutions now available for arbitration, reconciliation and solving
disputes. One should not rush to resort to violence.
In the Indian context, one cannot avenge violence by terrorist attacks on
innocent Hindus and Muslims in marketplaces. It is the same sin which was
committed against innocent Muslims. Wisdom requires that one should patiently
mobilize public opinion through democratic means, win over the hearts of common
people and expose evil forces.
One hopes that the misguided Muslim youth resorting to violent actions will
realize the futility of terror attacks and renounce such sinful and criminal
acts, concentrating instead on excelling in learning and acquiring a superior
Did not the Prophet say that the "ink of a scholar is superior to the blood of
Asghar Ali Engineer is an acknowledged authority on Islam and director of
the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai.