Reclaiming Jihad—A Qur’anic Critique of Terrorism
Author: ElSayed M.A. Amin
Publisher: The Islamic Foundation, Leicestershire, UK
Kube Publishing Ltd, MCC, Ratby Lane, Markfield, Leicestershire, LE67 9SY
UK. Tel: 01530 249-230
Fax: 01530 249-656. Email Yosef Smyth (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Reviewed by: Roshan
The horrors committed in the name of Islam by terrorist groups who claim to be engaged in jihad have occasioned a flood of writings by Muslim scholars concerned at the attempts of extremists to define and represent Islam. This insightful book is an incisive critique of the claims of these extremists and their distorted interpretations of the Quran.
Amin is well qualified for the task he seeks to engage in. He works as Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and is a member of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs. Having studied at Al- Azhar since the age of 10, he has a deep grounding in the Islamic scholarly tradition.
Amin stresses that Islam does not condone terrorism and that, in fact, it prescribes stern punishment for it. At the same time, he says, “Unfortunately, terrorism is promoted today by some extremist Muslims who falsely attribute it to Islam and more specifically to the Quran. They depend on some superficial and ideologically-driven readings of some classical and modern Quranic interpretations […]”
This book sets out to examine the issue of terrorism from a Quranic perspective. As a term, ‘terrorism’, as understood in its various current international definitions, is not explicitly mentioned in the Quran, Amin informs us, but, he says, it is important for Muslims to ascertain the attitude of the Quran towards it. The killing of innocents and other forms of corruption are major aspects of terrorism. These acts are sternly condemned in the Quran. Therefore, terrorism can be safely said to be condemned by the Quran.
Extremist Muslim groups claim that the terror they are engaged in is Islamically-justified jihad. For this purpose, Amin says, they misinterpret the teachings of the Quran. One Quranic verse that they misinterpret is 8:60, which they claim allows for aggressive action, as opposed to armed deterrence. The verse reads as follows:
“Prepare whatever forces you [believers] can muster, including warhorses, to frighten off God’s enemies and yours, and warn others unknown to you but known to God. Whatever you give in God’s cause will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged.”
This verse, Amin says, actually calls Muslims to prepare for defensive purposes sufficient to deter enemies. However, he notes, some Muslims (as well as non-Muslims) have mistaken this verse as a call for terrorism. He points out that this verse was originally revealed in reference to the imminent outbreak of war between Muslims and others and that it ordered Muslims to prepare for the unavoidable battle. The classical exegetical understanding of the verse, he says, remains linked to this warring situation, and so implicitly rejects the absolute use of strength or power beyond this context, especially when innocents are targeted in terrorist attacks.
The same Quranic verse (8:60) also speaks of turhibuna or ‘to frighten off’. Failure to understand the context of this verse has led some—not just non-Muslims but Muslim extremists, too—to argue that Islam supports terrorism and the intimidation of others, Amin says. Several Quranic exegetes have understood turhibuna in this verse very differently, though, he points out. For instance, he refers to a modern exegete who believes that turhibuna here should be restricted to existing or imminent military confrontation, and that it is not legitimate to direct turhibuna towards those who are not at war with Muslims. Nor, this exegete says, should it be used to cause destruction or unjust killing.
Extremist Muslim groups claim that their violence is Islamically-sanctioned jihad. The word ‘jihad’ indicates making great efforts for, or striving for, something. At the same time, many people, including many Muslims themselves, Amin notes, interpret the ‘technical meaning’ of jihad in terms of armed struggle against non-Muslims. In this way, he writes, the meaning of jihad moves from its broad linguistic definition to the limited sense of armed struggle against non-Muslims. In this way, jihad has wrongly come to be conflated by many with war.
Amin notes that the military jihad-related verses in the Quran have been given exclusivist interpretations by extremists who read them out of their contexts. The Quran indicates that fighting can be launched by Muslims only in self-defence and that they cannot initiate hostilities. They are not allowed to fight non-combatants or to respond to aggression disproportionately. Muslim extremists completely ignore this, however. This may be related to the fact that many medieval Muslim scholars mistakenly saw war as the norm for relations between Muslims and others. As Amin notes, “According to the classical jihad theory, all unbelievers are seen as the avowed enemies of Muslims, and Muslims are therefore obliged to fight them until they embrace Islam or pay the poll-tax (jizyah).”
The medieval exegetes of the Quran who assumed war to be the norm for relations between Muslims and others were influenced by their historical circumstances in interpreting the Quran, Amin writes. Accordingly, they adoption of a dichotomous division of the world, into dar al-islam (‘The Abode of Islam’) and dar al-harb (‘The Abode of War’) (Incidentally, these terms are not mentioned in the Quran). They adopted an exclusivist attitude to people of other faiths and claimed that verses in the Quran that call for peace between Muslims and others had been abrogated. Reflecting this same misunderstanding, Amin notes, contemporary radical Muslim ideologues falsely claim that Islam calls permanent offensive war with those who do not submit to it and in order to bring the whole world in conformity with it.
At the same time, though, Amin says, several modern exegetes of the Quran offer a very different understanding of the Quranic verse 2:193 and of what it means for the norm for relations between Muslims and others. They see this verse as sanctioning only defensive fighting, rejecting the notion of offensive jihad. They view peace, not war, as the basic principle underlying relations between Muslims and others. In contrast to radical ideologues as well as adherents of the classical theory of jihad, they stress that military jihad is permissible only to remove aggression and religious persecution (fitnah) against Muslims.
In this regard, Amin helpfully adds that one should understand all the Quranic verses that are thought by extremists to promote aggression against non-Muslims in the context of the hostility faced by the first generation of Muslims from pagan Arabs, and not as a general attitude towards non-Muslims. Seen in this context, acts of terror against innocent civilians by radical groups who invoke skewed interpretations of the Quran are thus completely anti-Islamic.
Amin insists that terrorism has no room whatsoever in Islam, and that it is a grave crime. Although the Quran does not refer to modern-day terrorism, it does refer (5:33-34) to a crime that shares much in common with it. Hence, he says, what the Quran lays down with regard this crime should be applied to cases of terrorism as well. The passage under discussion reads as follows:
“Those who wage war against God and His Messenger and strive to spread corruption in the land should be punished by death, crucifixion, the amputation of an alternate hand and foot, or banishment from the land: a disgrace for them in this world, and then a terrible punishment in the Hereafter, unless they repent before you overpower them—in that case bear in mind that God is forgiving and merciful.’
Given that the ideologies of extremist Muslim groups are based on certain misinterpretations of the Quran, Amin appeals to moderate Muslim scholars to rise to the challenge. If they fail to do so, he says, “the ferocity of the unfounded ‘arguments’ of al-Qaeda […] will allow the terrorists to continue to monopolize the religious conversation.” It is imperative, he seems to suggest, for Muslim scholars to counter the false interpretations of the Quran of the extremists and to communicate its true message. As the title of this book rightly suggests, the concept of jihad needs to be reclaimed from the terrorists who falsely claim to be engaged in it, and terrorism in the name of Islam needs to be countered through a Quranic critique of terrorism.
Category: Book Review