Jihad: War of Aggression or Self-defense
Jihad: War of Aggression or Self-defense
Jihad is the most misunderstood and much talked about concept. Does it suggest waging war on another people? Is it a war of aggression or a war of self-defense? Is such a war is waged to protect oppressed and persecuted humankind, whether Muslims or non-Muslims in the neighborhood or in a far-flung area? Does Jihad permit Muslims to wage a military expedition for expansion or to conquer a land or to subjugate non-Muslims or force peaceful non-Muslims neighbors to submit to its rule even if such non-Muslims in no way created any trouble for the Muslim state or attempted or instigated to create a rebellious and seditious condition in the Muslim land, treason and subversion, violated or severed a treaty obligation?
Muslims history bears no testimony and description - not of a single case - in which Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) led an aggressive assault. All historical account show that each tribe with which the Muslims fought had earlier besieged and assailed the Muslims first or had aided and assisted such an aggressor. In particular, there is absolutely no proof that suggests that Prophet Muhammad ever offered a peaceful neighboring tribe the choice between accepting Islamic rule or war. Bernard Lewis commented: “In fact state-sponsored persecution or forced conversion of non-Muslims was quite rare in the Islamic world” [Bernard Lewis. The Jews of Islam. Princeton NJ. Princeton University Press. 1984. 27-62]. This has however not stopped prejudiced and unfair historians and writers and Western academicians from searching the vast hadith literature – compilation of the sayings, actions and what Prophet Muhammad has approved by way of not opposing certain thing happening in front of him - and the Prophet’s sirah – biography - in support of war of aggression to establish Islamic rule.
The expeditions that the Prophet led do not entail that Muslims are required to impose Islamic rule on all non-Muslims. His military and political decisions were always in agreement with the general ban of Quran against unprovoked aggression. Why then some scholars blamed Islam for aggressive war? It is one thing to fight against a tyrant aggressor and it is all together a different matter to impose a war on a peaceful people for submitting to Muslim rule. The life of Prophet Muhammad does not support such a contention for he never led an attack against a peaceful neighbor who refused to accept Muslim rule. Recorded history depicts that Prophet never fought the pagan tribes who were peaceful and nonviolent and did not break treaty obligation rather Muslims fought on their behalf.
Why then some researchers embarked on such prejudiced and biased conclusion that Muslims if become powerful will take up arms to impose their culture on the non-Muslim world? What prompted some scholars to think that clash of civilization between the Muslims and West is inevitable if Muslims ever become powerful and strong in military science and technology? Why and how the West reached such biased and flawed conclusion? This needs to be studied afresh.
In this write up an attempt shall be made to pick up those verses of the Quran that are quoted, often out of context, by the Western scholars and researchers to justify their conclusion that Muslims are committed to take up arms to impose their way of life on others and try to explain those verses of the Quran in which some researchers try to find out apparent contradiction. We shall then examine the sirah - the biography of the Prophet - particularly those relating to military expedition, war and intra tribal relations.
To grasp the precise meaning of the verse of the Quran we shall use English rendering of the Quran by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Marmaduke Pikthall, Muhammad Asad, Sayyid Qutub and joint English translation of the meaning of the noble Quran by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali.
Let us now examine the text of the Quran where war has been made lawful in self-defense. Al Quran states: To those against whom war is made, permission is given to fight because they were wronged and verily Allah is Most Powerful for their aid. They are those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right, for no cause except that they say Our Lord is Allah. [Al Quran 22 (Surat Al Hajj):39-40].
This two verses revealed in the backdrop of the war situation created as a result of the hijrah – migration to Madinah - pin point the attitude of Islam as best explained in the Quran towards war – just and rational.
The Quran also urges the Muslims to fight tyrant and oppressive people. Al Quran states: And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women and children whose cry is: Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors and raise for us from You one who will protect and raise for us from You one who will help [Al Quran 4 (Surat An Nisaa): 75].
The above quoted verses of the Quran make it clear that war is only permissible to correct a wrong and when oppressed and persecuted or on behalf of the oppressed or persecuted and ONLY on self-defense.
Al Quran further elaborated the principle of self-defense: Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight you but do not transgress limits for Allah does not love transgressors. And slay them whenever you catch them and turn them out from where they have turned you out for persecution is worse than killing … But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving Most Merciful [ Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 190-192].
Al Quran states: And fight them on until there is no more persecution …. But if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah):193].
Al Quran states: If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress you likewise against him. But fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah):194].
Al Quran states: Others you will find that wish to be secure from you as well as that of their people. Every time they are sent back to temptation, they succumb thereto. If they withdraw not from you nor give you guarantees of peace besides restraining their hands, seize them and slay them whenever you get them. In their case We have provided you with a clear argument against them [Al Quran 4 (Surat An Nisaa):91].
Al Quran states: But if the enemy inclines towards peace, you also incline towards peace and trust in Allah. Verily He is All-Hearer, the All-Knower [Al Quran 8 (Surat Al Anfal):61].
Al Quran states: Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion and did not drive you out of your homes. Verily Allah loves those who deal with equity. It is only as regards those who fought against you on account of religion and have driven you out of your homes and helped to drive you out that Allah forbids you to befriend them. And whosoever will befriend them, then such are the wrong-doers [Al Quran 60 (Surat Al Mumtahinah):8-9].
Al Quran states: Let there be no compulsion in religion [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah):256].
Thus it is clear from the above quoted verses of Al Quran [Surat Al Hajj:39-40, Surat An Nisaa: 75, Surat Al Baqarah: 190-194, Surat An Nisaa: 91, Surat Al Anfal: 61, Surat Al Mumtahinah: 8-9 and Surat Al Baqarah: 256] that fighting is only allowed on self-defense, in defense of victims of cruelty and oppression and there is no question for the use of aggression as a means to force non-Muslims states to accept Islamic rule. Al Sarakhsi put forth the position of al Thawri, shared by many other juristic authorities such as ibn Umar, Ata, Amar ibn Dinar and Ibn Shibrimah that fighting is not an obligation unless the initiative comes from the enemy [Dr. AbdulHamid A. AbuSulayman. Towards an Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Methodology and Thought. pp9 & 23. IIIT, USA].
In fact the debate whether Jihad is a defensive war or a war of aggression is unwarranted for those who advocate war base their argument that an aggressive war becomes an obligation on the Muslims if they are not allowed to preach their religion which in to day’s world is very difficult nay impossible. The comment made by Prof. Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi, Dean of the Faculty of Shariah and Islamic Studies, University of Qatar in this connection is most pertinent. He said: “No force can stand in our way today if we act in earnest and devote our efforts to conveying our dawah to the whole world. The spoken, written and televised word can be spread all over the world in all languages by radio, television, books, messages, the press and the Muslim communities in all countries of the world” [Prof. Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi. Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase. p121. Awakening Publications. UK]. To this we may add the scope provided by internet.
Still then some scholars tried to malign Islam arguing that Islam believes in military expansion and often quotes verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 5 which has been revealed against the backdrop of violation of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah. This verse revealed seven years after migration of Muslim to Madinah from Makkah states: But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war; but if thy repent, and establish regular prayers and pay zakah then open the way for them for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful [Al Quran-9 (Surat At Tauba): 5]
But a glimpse at the context shows that this verse is directed against those who, through deceit and treachery, break their solemn pledges and formal treaties with the Muslims. This becomes clear if verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 5 is read together with preceding verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 4 which states: But the treaties are not dissolved with those pagans with whom you have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided anyone against you. So fulfill your engagements with them to the end of their term for Allah love the righteous [Al Quran-9 (Surat At Tauba): 4]
Al Quran further elucidate and clarify: As long as these stand true to you, stand you true to them for Allah does love the righteous [Al Quran 9 (Surat At Tauba):7].
A careful reading and analysis of verse 9 (Surat At Tauba):5, 9 (Surat At Tauba): 4, 9 (Surat At Tauba):7, and verses 22 (Surat Al Hajj):39-40, 4 (Surat An Nisaa): 75, 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 190-194, 4 (Surat An Nisaa):91, 8 (Surat Al Anfal):61, 60 (Surat Al Mumtahinah):8-9, 2 (Surat Al Baqarah):256, quoted above will show that there is essentially no contradiction between these verses. While verse 9 (Surat At Tauba):5 for all intents and purposes deals with treaty violators and not a permission to engage in military engagement for territorial aggrandizement, seize or expansion, other verses just mentioned and quoted above prohibit military aggression. Thus it is established that while it is permissible to deal with treaty violators, general military engagement is not permissible to conquer a land or to impose Islamic culture and Muslim rule and forceful conversion to Islam.
Some earlier commentators of the Quran however resorted to theory of naskh – abrogation - to justify that verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 5 indeed permits military aggression against a non-Muslims that refuse to surrender to Islamic rule. This group of scholars in order to justify their argument and interpretation and to reconcile the apparent contradiction between verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 5 and other verses that prohibit aggression suggested abrogation of as many as 114 verses spread over as many as 54 surahs – chapters of the Quran - endorsing that peace was revoked by 9 (Surat At Tauba): 5, and 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 216. [Mohammad Arkoun. Rethinking Islam. Translated by Robert D Lee. Boulder Co. Westwiew Press. 1994]. Ibn al Arabi and Ibn Salamah believed that verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 5 had abrogated a total of 124 verses. Mustafa Abu Zayd says that he found the number of verses that were abrogated by the same verse to exceed 140 [Dr. AbdulHamid A. AbuSulayman. Towards an Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Methodology and Thought. p 44. IIIT, USA].
Verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 5 quoted earlier states: But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war; but if thy repent, and establish regular prayers and pay zakah then open the way for them for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. Verse 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 216 states: Fighting is prescribed upon you and you dislike it. But it is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knows and you know not.
But this theory of abrogation is defective in itself for there is no record in the authentic hadith that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) advocated such a view that certain verses of the Quran have been revoked permanently [Muhammad Asad. The Message of the Quran. pp 22-23. Footnote 87. Dar Al Andalus, Gibralter. 1980]. In the absence of conclusive proof that reaches up to the Prophet, the saying of any Companion of the Prophet, from juristic point of view, is only a personal opinion. Moreover, verses were revealed on specific occasion to address changing circumstances and social milieus. Often a verse of the Quran was revealed to further explain or elaborate a verse earlier revealed as in the case of drinking alcohol. The final injunction of the Quran on wine only complement the earlier revelations and in no way contradictory to the previous revelations. The Quran on occasions would revise prior instructions in the light of changed circumstances as in the case of verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 5 revealed against the background of violation of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah as explained earlier, but here again, since different commands deal with different circumstances and state of affairs, there is no reason to infer and construe a conflict between these. Hence there is no reason to conclude that a certain verse of the Quran has been rescinded or invalidated permanently by another verse. There is however no way to use Quran in support waging war other than self-dense or against oppression without taking the recourse of the theory of abrogation of the verses of the Quran.
The theory of abrogation was used to reconcile what apparently appeared to certain Muslim scholars contradictory, but a deep and piercing insight and close scrutiny will establish that there is no contradiction in the teaching of the Quran. In verse 4 (Surat An Nisa): 82 the Quran itself testifies that there is contradiction in the Quran. Verse 4 (Surat An Nisa): 82 states: Do they not ponder on the Quran? Had it from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much discrepancy.
Thus when interpreting the verses of the Quran, the context in which these verses were revealed must not go unnoticed or must not be ignored for then you run the risk of landing in wilderness and likely committing mistake considering an exception for a general rule and vice versa or to construct a conflict between verses where none exists.
Prophet Muhammad received revelation in three consecutive periods – the Makkan period during which the Muslims suffered in the hands of the pagan Arabs but still then did not resort to confrontation and open hostility. The second period starts from the hijrah – migration to Madinah from Makkah commonly known as first Madinan period, the period that covered the arrival of the Prophet to Madinah until the signing the treaty of Hudaybiyah during which Prophet tried to organize the Muslims community to use force in answering force and discourage the enemies from attempting to use violence against the Muslims. The third period, the period from the day of signing of the treaty of Hudabiyah until the death of Prophet, the period commonly known as second Madinan period during which the Muslim community got fully organized to deal with opponents and the new Muslim state dealt with patience and understanding towards its enemies and neighbors.
Now to suggest that the legal ruling during the second phase of Madinan period after signing the treaty of Hudaybiyah and the conquest of Makkah is only valid might create obstacles for the future generations of Muslims. The concept of naskh – the abrogation of earlier by the later revelation may make it difficult for the future Muslims to survive for the abrogation might nullify or limit the scope of the applicability of the legislation of the Quran. We need not forget that new political and international situations may arise which did not at all take place during the life time of the Prophet
Moreover, as Dr. AbdulHamid A. AbuSulayman puts it, “if the meaning of Islam is restricted to the interpretation of events which occurred during a time of hostilities near the very end of the Prophet’s era; while the rest of the whole spectrum of the Quranic and Sunnah texts and the experience of the earlier Makkan and Madinan periods are ignored, then it will not be possible in the future for mankind to pursue justice or even to survive” [Dr. AbdulHamid A. AbuSulayman. Towards an Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Methodology and Thought. p 45. IIIT, USA].
It would also be wrong to suggest that Muslim would always remain the ruling class and they therefore need not worry about the teaching of the Quran prior to the period of signing of the treaty of Hudaybiyah. The teachings of Islam should be considered as a whole keeping the higher objectives, purposes and principles of shariah uppermost. Individuals and societies in different times and places will differ according to their circumstances, opportunities, needs and challenges and therefore their response are also likely to be different. Al Zuhayli commented: “The position of the classical jurists that war is the permanent basis (for international relations) is not an authority that is binding on anyone. It has no support from the Quran and the Sunnah. It is merely a decision (ruling) of temporary effect” [W al Zuhali, Athar al Harb. p135. Quoted in Dr. AbdulHamid A. AbuSulayman. Towards an Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Methodology and Thought. p 85. IIIT, USA]. The question of abrogation of the certain verses of the Quran therefore does not arise for Islam is the last deen to deal with the ever changing milieu, now and in future.
Verses 9 (Surat At Tauba): 29 & 123 are sometimes quoted to justify for aggression against non-combatant states not in any way involved in aggression against Islamic states in order to bring such countries under Islamic rule. Verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 29 states: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth from among the People of the Book, until they pay jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued. Verses 9 (Surat At Tauba):123 states: O you who believe! Fight the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find harshness in you and know that Allah is with those who fear Him. Some scholars are of the view that such an interpretation of the two aforementioned verses are in conflict with the context of revelation and against the very sprit of the preceding verses and would require large scale abrogation which is a subject of great dispute among the scholars. They argue that verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 29 should not be considered in isolation from the other verses of the Quran rather be studied as an integral part of the Quran as a whole and particularly read together with verse 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 190-194 quoted above that permits war only on self defense [Muhammad Asad. The Message of the Quran. p 261. Footnote 40]. Muhammad Abduh in his commentary of the Quran also holds the same view [Manar X. 332]. Muhammad Asad commenting on the words “nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger” of the verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 29 observed that what Allah has forbidden is “unprovoked war” [Muhammad Asad. The Message of the Quran.. p 261. Footnote 41].Dr. AbdulHalmid A. AbuSulayman commenting on the words “feel themselves subdued” (Arabic word used is saghar) of the verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 29 observed that subdued or saghar is “not intended to apply automatically to all non-Muslims. Saghar is not an attitude and punishment for choosing a different belief, but for a hostile and treacherous attitude against Muslim peoples and in opposition to justice and to the Islamic obligation to protect man’s right to safety and freedom of belief” [Towards an Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Methodology and Thought. p 50]. Commenting on the words “fight the unbelievers who are near to you” in verse 9 (Surat At Tauba):123 Moulana Mawdudi noted that these words for all intent and purpose point towards the hypocrites, the enemy within the Muslim society. This becomes clear if verse 9 (Surat At Tauba):123 is read together with the succeeding verse [Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi. Towards Understanding the Quran. p 274. Footnote 121. Vo. III. The Islamic Foundation, UK].
Some others scholars often quote verses 2 (Surat Al Baqarah):106 and 16 (Surat An Nahl):101 to support abrogation to justify hostility and aggression against non-combatant states not in any way involved in aggression against Islamic states in order to bring such countries under Islamic rule. Verse 2 (Surat Al Baqarah):106 states: None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar, know you not that Allah has power to do all things. Again verse 16 (Surat An Nahl):101 states: When We substitute one revelation for another, and Allah knows best what He reveals in stages. They say- You are but a forger. But most of them know not. But the context of the revelation of the verses 2 (Surat Al Baqarah):106 and 16 (Surat An Nahl):101 indicate that the annulled revelations of the two verses are connected with the period of earlier Prophets and not of Prophet Muhammad [John Burton. The Collection of the Quran. Cambridge University Press. 1977. 237-240. Also Muhammad Asad. The Message of the Quran. pp 22-23. Footnote 87].
Verse 9 (Surat At Tauba): 29 [Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth from among the People of the Book, until they pay jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued] is subject to limits and conditions laid down in verse 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 190 [Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight you but do not transgress limits for Allah does not love transgressors] - both the verses also quoted and discussed above – which allows war only on self-defense leaving no scope for the Muslims to be aggressive in war or impose Islamic rule on the non-Muslims. This has been clearly demonstrated by the last expedition of the Prophet Muhammad, a difficult journey to Tabuk, against the Byzantine on the basis reports that the Byzantine plans to attack the new Muslim state of Hejaj which later proved not to be authentic, Prophet returned without attacking them. Later investigation established that the objective of Byzantine concentration was not Muslims rather certain northern Arab tribes who had been allies to Byzantine but who were then defying Byzantine authority [Jeffery Lang. Even Angles Ask. amana publications. Maryland, USA. p128].
The saying of the Prophet reported by Bukhari and Muslim that: I have been ordered to fight against people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah and until they perform the prayers and pay the zakah [Quoted in An Nawawi’s Forty Hadith. Translated by I. Ezzedin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson Davies. The Holy Koran Publishing House, Damascus, Syria.1977. p 46] and verse 9 (Surat At Tauba):11 [But even so, if they repent, establish regular prayers and pay zakah, they are your brethren in faith. Thus do We explain the signs in detail for those who understand] have created confusion in some minds as if Islam believes in forceful conversion. Such conclusion is the result of the reading of the certain verse of the Quran in isolation with others. But if the aforementioned saying of the Prophet and verse 9 (Surat At Tauba):11 are read together with verse 9 (Surat At Tauba):5 [But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war; but if thy repent, and establish regular prayers and pay zakah then open the way for them for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful] which has been revealed against the backdrop of violation of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah and quoted earlier and verses 9 (Surat At Tauba):12-13 [But if they violate their oaths after their covenant and attack your faith, fight you the chiefs of unfaith for their oaths are nothing for them. That thus they may be restrained. Will you not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger and attack you first? Do you fear them? Nay, it is Allah Whom you should more justly fear, if you believe] the Islamic principle of war becomes crystal clear. Thus the question of forceful conversion at the point of sward or to impose Islamic culture and way of life on the non-Muslims by the ruling Islamic state is an exercise of the prejudiced mind lacking scholarly acumen. Karen Armstrong rightly pointed out - “Islamic law forbids Muslims to declare war against a country in which Muslims are allowed to practice their religion freely, and it strongly prohibits the killing of innocent civilians” [Karen Armstrong. Islam: A Short History. p190. The Modern Library. New York].
1st Februuary 2004HOME