October 31, 2005

Jihad versus Violence

The following excerpt comes from Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl's article, "Peaceful Jihad." Dr. Khaled is a Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law. He was recently in Singapore, and Inabah magazine, a publication of Masjid Khadijah, was given permission to publish a number of his articles. (To read the entire article, click on the Inabah button at the top of Masjid Khadijah's website, then click on the Issue 21 icon. The article, in PDF format, is on pp. 18-20.)

I've chosen this particular excerpt because I think Dr. Khaled provides a very good distinction between the concepts of jihad and qital. The concept of jihad is often confused by non-Muslims with what we Muslims call qital, or fighting. Jihad and qital, as Dr. Khaled shows, are quite distinct concepts from each other and jihad, which is a positive value, should not be confused with qital.

I've also included two additional paragraphs to this excerpt because it helps to illustrate some of the limitations that are placed on qital that we Muslims are to follow:

"Jihad is a core principle in Islamic theology; it means to strive, to apply oneself: to struggle, and persevere. In many ways, jihad connotes a strong spiritual and material work ethic in Islam. Piety, knowledge, health, beauty, truth, and justice are not possible without jihad - without sustained and diligent hard work. Therefore, cleansing oneself from vanity and pettiness, pursuing knowledge, curing the ill, feeding the poor, and standing up for truth and justice even at great personal risk are all forms of jihad.

"The Qur'an uses the term jihad to refer to the act of striving to serve the purposes of God on this Earth, which include all the acts mentioned above. Importantly, the Qur'an does not use the word jihad to refer to warfare or fighting; such acts are referred to as qital. While the Qur'an's call to jihad is unconditional and unrestricted, such is not the case for qital. Jihad is a good in and of itself while qital is not. Every reference in the Qur'an to qital is therefore restricted and limited by particular conditions, but exhortations to jihad, like the references to justice or truth, are absolute and unconditional. Consequently, the early Muslims were not allowed to engage inqital until God gave them specific permission to do so. The Qur'an is careful to note that Muslims were given permission to fight because they had become the victims of aggression. Furthermore, the Qur'an instructs Muslims to fight only those who fight them and not to transgress, for God does not approve of aggression.

"In addition, the Qur'an goes on to specify that if the enemy ceases hostilities and seeks peace, Muslims should seek peace as well. Failure to seek peace without just cause is considered arrogant and sinful. In fact, the Qur'an reminds Muslims not to pick fights and not to create enemies, indicating that it is a Divine blessing when one chooses to make peace. God has the power to inspire in the hearts of non-Muslims a desire for peace, and Muslims must treat such a blessing with gratitude and appreciation, not defiance and arrogance.

"In light of this Qur'anic discourse, Muslim jurists debated what would consitute a sufficient and just cause for fighting non-Muslims. Are non-Muslims fought because of their act of disbelief or only becase they pose a physical threat to Muslims? Most jurists concluded that the justification for fighting non-Muslims is directly proportional to the physical threat they pose to Muslims. In other words, if they do not threaten or seek to harm Muslims, then there is no justification for acts of belligerence or warfare. Similarly, relying on precedents set by the Prophet, classical Muslim jurists held that non-combatants - children, women, people of advanced age, monks, hermits, priests, or anyone else who does not seek to or cannot fight Muslims are inviolable and may not be targeted."

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