Islam, Jihad, and Terrorism
Jihad: one of the most misunderstood concepts in Islam
by M. Amir Ali, Ph.D.
"Islam" and other various Islamic terms and concepts are grossly misunderstood in the West. Muslims can hardly find anyone to blame but themselves because (a) they have failed to live by the Islamic tenants in our times, and (b) they have failed to promote understanding of Islam in the West through outreach projects. This brochure is a humble attempt to briefly explain the terms given in the title. The Institute of Islamic Information & Education (III&E) has published almost fifty brochures and several articles for promoting understanding of Islam among Muslims and non-Muslims equally. Please write to the III&E or visit their web site for more information.
Some of the Islamic Terms
Islam: means a commitment to live in peace through submission to the Will of God (Allah).
Muslim: is a person who makes a commitment to live in peace through servitude to Allah.
Jihad: means "struggle" and "strive" against evil thoughts, evil action and aggression against a person, family, society or country. Jihad may be a "justifiable war", borrowing the Christian term.
Mujahid: is a person who engages in Jihad for the sake of Allah according to the Quran (Muslim's source book for guidance) and Sunnah (the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Mujahidin is the plural of Mujahid.
"Islamic terrorism": There is no such phrase or term in the Islamic source books of the Quran or the Sunnah and has no place in Islam.
Sunnah: Sunnah is the preferred way of the Prophet Muhammad that includes his teaching. The sources of the Sunnah are authentic Hadith (reports of the Prophet's sayings, doings and approvals) collections.
The True Meaning of "Jihad"
Jihad is usually associated with Islam and Muslims, but in fact, the concept of Jihad is found in all religions including Christianity, Judaism and political/economic ideologies, such as, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, etc. Islam defines Jihad as striving and struggling for improvement as well as fighting back to defend one's self, honor, assets and homeland. Also, Jihad is interpreted as the struggle against evil, internal or external of a person or a society. Jihad, in Islam, means doing any or all but not limited to the following:
Learn, teach, and practice Islam in all aspects of one's life at all times to reach the highest and best education in order to benefit oneself, family and society.
Be a messenger of Islam everywhere, in every behavior and action.
Fight evil, wrongdoing, and injustice with all one's power by one's hand (action), with one's tongue (speech), or at least with one's heart (prayer).
Respond to the call for Jihad with money, effort, wisdom and life; yet, never fight a Muslim brother, a Muslim country, or a non-Muslim society that respects its treaties and harbors no aggressive designs against Islam or Muslims.
Suicide under any pretext is not condoned as Jihad in Islam.
Converting people to Islam by force or coercion is never Jihad but a crime, punishable by law.
The concept of Muslim men rushing out to kill themselves to get "70 dancing virgins" in Paradise, is really quite silly.
The fact of the matter is, the "companions of Paradise" are mentioned as being pure and so much above anything we might imagine on earth, so as to indicate to us they are perpetually "virgin" and are not "touched" by men or devils.
The words "perpetual virgin" even in English, should give anyone the understanding these are not such as we have known on earth.
There can be no mistaking the meaning in the Arabic language as to the purity and innocence of these companions.
The Levels of Jihad
A personal struggle within one's self to submit to Allah, fight evil within one's self, achieve higher moral and educational standards - Inner Jihad.
Jihad against evil, injustice and oppression within one's self, family and society - Social Jihad.
Jihad against all that prevents Muslims from servitude to God (Allah), people from knowing Islam, defense of a Muslim society (country), retribution against tyranny, and/or when a Muslim is removed from their homeland by force - Physical Jihad or an armed struggle.
The Quran defines physical Jihad as being the highest level of Jihad that one can undertake. Its reward is eternal Paradise. Muslims also know that all humans are accountable for what they have done during their life on this earth. Muslims will be asked about what they did with their lives and their level of submission to Allah on the Day of Judgment.
Does Jihad mean Holy War?
In Islam, there is no such thing as holy war. This terminology was generated in Europe during the Crusades and their war against Muslims. Islam recognizes Jews and Christians as the "People of the Book" because they all follow the Prophet Abraham, believing in Moses' and Jesus' teachings. For many centuries, Muslims have peacefully coexisted with Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths, maintaining social, business, political and economic treaties. Islam respects all humans and faiths as long as there is no religious oppression, forbidding Muslims from serving Allah, preventing others from learning about Islam, and not respecting treaties. For more information on the topic of Jihad see the brochure Jihad Explained or request brochure #18 from the III&E, the publisher of this article.
Who is authorized to call for Jihad as a war?
Jihad must be performed according to Islamic rules and regulations and only for the sake or in the service of Allah. The physical or military Jihad must be called by a Muslim authority, such as, a president or head of a Muslim country after due consultations with the learned leadership.
What Does Islam Say about Terrorism?
The term "terrorism" does not exist in the Quran or the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. If the terms "terrorist or terrorism" are derived from a verb used in the Quran, such as 5:33 describing a "Muslim's" terrorist acts, it is in condemnation and prescribes most severe punishment. Islam is a religion and a way of life that does not separate politics from religion. Islam is a religion of mercy, unity and most importantly peace with one's self and others, to defend not to fight. Allah said in His Book the Quran:
"God does not forbid you from showing kindness and dealing justly with those who have not fought you about religion and have not driven you out of your homes, that you should show them kindness and deal justly with them. God loves just dealers." [Noble Quran 60:8]
"Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not begin aggression, for God loves not aggressors." [Noble Quran 2:190]
"If they seek peace, then seek you peace and trust in God for He is the Hearer, the Knower." [Noble Quran 8:61]
" and let not the hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is next to piety; and fear Allah, for Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do." [Noble Quran 5:8]
"But (remember that an attempt at) requiting evil may, too, become an evil: hence whoever pardons (his foe) and makes peace, his reward rests with Allah- for, verily He does not love transgressors." [Noble Quran 42:40]
"The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! He between whom and thee there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a bosom friend. [Noble Quran 41:34]
Some of the Prophet Muhammad's Teachings (Sunnah)
He prohibited Muslim soldiers from killing women, children and the elderly, or cut a palm tree, and he advised them, "do not betray, do not be excessive, do not kill a newborn child."
"Whoever has killed a person having a treaty with the Muslims shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise, though its fragrance is found for a span of forty years."
"The first cases to be adjudicated between people on the Day of Judgment will be those of bloodshed." Killing is the second major sin in Islam.
"Truly your blood, your property, and your honor are inviolable."
"There is a reward for kindness shown to every living animal or human."
Islam and Human Rights
The Quran and Sunnah encourage Muslims to respect the life and property of all mankind.
In an Islamic State these rights are considered sacred, whether a person is Muslim or not.
Islam protects honor, forbids insulting others, and/or making fun of them.
Islam rejects certain individuals or nations being favored because of their wealth, power, and/or race.
All Muslims believe that Allah created all humans free and equal, only to be distinguished from each other on the basis of God-consciousness or piety and never on the basis of race, color or ethnicity.
Islam is a practical religion that respects all human beings and it was revealed for all mankind. Its message is that of peace and submission to Allah. Muslims believe in all the Prophets mentioned in the Bible, and the Quran. The Quran shares many moral teachings of the Old Testament and the New Testament. These three religions (and their books) were founded upon the revelations by One True God, Allah. For more information on this topic please see the brochure Human Rights In Islam or ask for brochure #7 from the III&E, the publisher of this article.
Jihad in the Bible
Let us see what the Bible has to say about Jihad in the meaning of war and violence. The following verses are from the Bible, New International Version (NIV), 1984
"Do not allow a sorceress to live. Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death. Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed." [Exodus 22:18-20]
"This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.' The Levites did as Moses commanded and that day about three thousand of the people died." [Exodus 32:27-28]
"The LORD said to Moses, 'Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. (Moses ordered) "Now kill all the boys. And kill every women who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man." [Numbers 31:1-18]
(Jesus said) "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them - bring them here and kill them in front of me." [Luke 19:27]
"He (Jesus) said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one." [Luke 22:36]
Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness. If an individual Muslim were to commit an act of terrorism, this person would be guilty of violating the basic tenants of Islam.
When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City building, no American or Christian was labeled as a terrorist or was the target of hate crimes. When Irish Christians carry out acts of terrorism against each other and on the British Isles, the Christian religion is not blamed but individuals or their political agenda. Unfortunately, the same is not true for American Muslims and Arabs. The vast majority of Muslims or Arabs have no association with the violent events around the world yet Islam is invoked with terrorism. It is unfair to 1.5 billion Muslims of the world and religion of Islam.
Criteria of guilt
Innocent until proven guilty in an open court is an accepted universal principle of justice along with liberty and freedom for all humankind. However, the U.S. failed to practice the same principles for those who are not U.S. nationals. Even worse, the U.S. is creating military tribunal for secret trials because there may be inadequate evidence to prove Arabs and Muslims guilty in open courts.
May Allah bless us all and purify our hearts from all misunderstanding, malice, hate and anger.
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JIHAD AND TERRORISM
The terms, Islam, Jihad and terrorism have been used to relate to each other in modern society especially the use of Jihad and terrorism as synonyms. Contrary to this notion Jihad and terrorism are two different concepts and do not interrelate at any given point. It is important for Non-Muslims to understand that terrorism is the complete opposite of Jihad and is not recognized nor accepted in Islam religion. Jihad in Islam is a struggle towards the path of Allah and is under guidance of the Qur’an. Islam does not just merely view it as a struggle but one that is directed and guided in the cause and teachings of Allah (Lewis 2003, 113-119). On the other hand terrorism goes against Qur’an teachings involving violence and destruction of property. Jihad and terrorism are different concepts however nowadays, these two terms have become identical because they are mainly based on the illegal use of force or violence from the side of one person or an organized group against people or property with the intent to intimidate, coerce society and cause pain and suffering to others while using Islam religion to justify their actions.
Jihad has popularly been defined as a ‘holy war’. Its actual meaning is a struggle both within one self against human desires and aspirations as well as others. Islam preaches Jihad as the struggle towards the path of Allah. It is meant to make Allah’s word supreme, spreading His religion and defending the honor of the Islamic nation. Jihad is an obligation and Allah commands it; to fight against oppression of all Muslims. Other definitions include striving against one’s self evil desires, to improve a society, for self-defense in the battlefield and fighting tyranny and oppression (Gabriel 2002, 85-90). Jihad in the battlefield according to Islam is sort as a last resort and is only used to defend freedom following clearly stated guidelines from the Quran. It should always be under guidance from the Qur’an teachings otherwise it is not Jihad but rather violence which Islam prohibits. People who engage in Jihad in accordance to Allah and rules of Sunnah in light of Prophet Muhammad are referred to as Mujahidin (Bergen 2001, 44-65).
Terrorism as opposed to Jihad is an act of terror and violence on innocent people with the aim of instilling fear as well as the unlawful use of force to intimidate or coerce a government. It involves destruction of human life and dignity, property, finances, essential elements of living to achieve economic gains and spread propagandas that serve political ends. Terrorism is a crime, both in the international conventions and the Sharia law which call for people to fight against. It is ideologically motivated and indiscriminately targets innocent civilians (Piazza 2009, 64). Terrorist acts are highly condemned in Islam and do not exist in the Qur’an teachings. Islam is a religion of peace that preaches unity and although it provides guidelines for war, it is for defense and not to fight. These acts of terror are committed by people who view themselves as victimized by some historic wrong. Most Islamic terrorists who comprise of Muslim groups and individuals profess that their acts are guided and motivated by the interpretations of the Qur’an. However teachings in Islam command them not to kill children, women, old people or ill-treat prisoners of war. Terrorism is fueled by materialistic and territorial gains often associated with political injustice, occupation or invasion (Lewis 2003, 137-160).
Islam comes from the word Salaam which means peace. Followers of Islam are Muslims who believe in the submission to the will of God (Allah) and only believe in Him. It is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity. Muslims believe that Allah sent a number of prophets including, Abraham, Moses and Jesus to humankind to teach people how to live in accordance to His law. They believe the final prophet was Muhammad. Their laws are based upon the holy book Qur’an and have five basic pillars of Islam; the declaration of faith, praying five times a day, giving money to charity, fasting and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Asad 1982, 10-28). Muslims believe that Allah expects unity of Him and accountability after death. Islamic teachings are guided by peace and forbid any engagements of cruelty and violation of human rights. Qur’an states that Allah bestows honor on all human beings irrespective of their race or nationalities. Islamic teachings thus do not permit any Muslim to fight against Non-Muslims based on the fact that they do not follow Islam. Islam respects people and their faith as long as they are not oppressing them or forbidding them from serving and learning about Allah (Gabriel 2002, 157-166).
The concepts of Jihad and terrorism have been misunderstood with a high percentage of Non-Muslims associating the two to having the same meaning. Currently, extremists widely link the notion of terrorism with the notion of Jihad in an attempt to justify their activities. Jihad has one goal and that is a struggle towards the path of Allah while terrorism is directed to Innocent civilians for material or territorial gain with no regard to religion (Sookhdeo 2004, 23-36). Terrorism is directed to innocent civilians using explosions, kidnappings, gunning people down or extreme cases of burning them alive. Jihad is not driven by such heinous acts and is not permitted to the innocent who include children, women and the old since these acts have no place in the noble concept of Islam. Jihad can only be authorized by a recognized authority in the Islamic religion to deter oppression and is declared openly, it is only limited to combatants and is bound by strict rules of engagement. On the other hand terrorism is committed by group sects or individuals on their own accord and involves a lot of secrecy, indiscriminately involved in killing innocent civilians with little to no regard of human life and it is not bound by any rules (Sookhdeo 2004, 23-36).
The differences mentioned above give a clear defining difference between Jihad and terrorism and the two should not be misinterpreted to meet individuals or groups malicious gains disregarding Islamic religion. Islam demonizes any justification of modern day terrorism as evil and cruel to humanity. There is a representation especially in the western countries of Islam as a barbaric and crude religion that gives itself the right to cause harm, suffering and destruction to humanity. However this is not the case defined in the Qur’an and neither does it represent Islam (Sookhdeo 2004, 23-36). The use of Islam as a form of legitimization by some organizations that would otherwise be considered criminals is manipulation used to justify unlawful actions. The term Jihad has been used by sects and gangs who participate in terrorist activities in the name of Islam. Research study shows that most of them claim to be torchbearers and fight in order to promote Islam. The irony is that the claim to uphold justice is born on roots of injustice.
Those who terrorize people claiming to be Muslims do not adhere to the teachings of their religion which is a religion of peace with tolerance towards other faiths and beliefs. The rule of engagement in Jihad which is mostly used to disguise terror activities is inclined towards attainment of peace. It involves military conflicts and only directed to the fighting troops not civilians, neither is it a lee way for Muslims to engage in unlawful violence and violations of human rights. Physical Jihad is not used to compel people to embrace Islam and in cases where the enemy offers peace it should be accepted immediately. Acts committed by individuals or particular groups form a specific community should not be used to judge the community as a whole. Not all Muslims are terrorists and thus should not be judge in regard to other people’s heinous acts. Most terrorists are Muslims driven by different factors that are not based on their religion as no religion can advocate for mass human murders and suffering (Hoffman 2006, 81-130). Islam is an easy target to justify their actions which is opposed to its teachings. However it is important to not too that the Muslim community have failed to live in light and concept of promoting the meaning of Jihad. Using religion to justify mass murders, human suffering and destruction of property is an even worse crime than the act itself.
Jihad is a form of defense and obligation which dates back to the invasion of the Afghanistan by the Red Army in December 1979. It was led by guerillas who wanted to be seen as heroes fighting the infidel’s regimes. The Mujahidin toughened up in war and adopted the new techniques of fighting from their opponents which included discharging explosives and tracking people. The expansion of their activities worldwide progressed in the early 1980s with Mujahidin militants regrouping in Pakistan and Afghanistan (Kepel and Peter 2003, 92-95; Kepel 2002, 136-158). Some of these groups are what formed the terrorists’ groups’ popular known today in modern society such as the Al-Qaeda. They were characterized by extreme religious fanatics with unquestionable authority who quoted the Qur’an and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad to justify their illegal activities. Most of the guerrilla activities were manifested in Egypt, Algeria and Bosnia until the mid1990s.
They later on targeted the west to expose their weakness seeking to inspire the Muslim community to take part in Jihadist (Asad 1982, 29-48). The Jihadist guerrilla warfare did not succeed in finding a consensus but this did not prevent the eventual and widespread development of terrorism. 1996 saw terrorism become the main tactic of Jihadist movements with a supreme icon figure of Osama bin Ladin. The period that followed saw the transition of Jihadist Guerillas to the phase of terrorism which involved massacres (Kepel and Peter 2003, 104). It adopted misdeeds as suicide attacks and bombings with specific aims.
The Islamic world has been characterized with hostility in regard to modernity and secularism of the Islamic state. The pillar of the classical Islamic political thought was represented by the Caliphate. A caliphate is a form of Islamic government involving political and religion and the leader is the successor of Prophet Muhammad. Modernity brought with it the abolition of the Caliphate where Muslims are free to choose their own governments (Brown 2004, 211). This however was not easily embraced well by the Islamic culture as it meant adopting the European systems. Islam has no connection to the government in the new world of independent states. This resulted in a gap in doing away with the old worn out systems and embracing new governments. The idea of an Islamic state was taken up by radicalized Muslim movements commonly know as the Muslim Brotherhood. Their ideologies rested on development of an Islamic state that derived all its teachings from the Qur’an though not clear how this state would look like and how it would be governed (Brown 2004, 212-213).
Islam modernity and state created a power vacuum which resulted in the development of radicalized movements who were in favor of their culture. The Muslim Brotherhood had two innovations including Jihad and Martyrdom as well as modern Jahiliyya. Jihad and martyrdom are the leading factors to the end and rejection of nationalism. According to the movements Jihad is a God given tool and an obligation meant to be embraced by all Muslims. They related to suicide bombing and learning the art of death as is required by the Qur’an. Jihad and terrorist movements have their basis in the notion of Islam modernity and the state and were a response to maintain a caliphate Islamic world (Brown 2004, 215).
The rise of jihadist and terrorist movements has also been motivated by the concept of orientalism. It is the domination of the west, restructuring and having authority over the east. The world consists of the Westerners and the Orientals where the westerners dominate the orients occupying their land, controlling their internal affairs and using their treasures for their own gain or that of other western countries. The orients are described as being gullible, devoid of energy and minds that cannot grasp even the simplest of things as compared to the Europeans (Said 1978, 34-35). Orientalism expresses the strength of the west magnifying the weakness of the orients which resulted in the division of the two coexisting in tension from radical differences. The act of domination and invasion had an impact on the orient countries fueling the development of jihadist movements to protect their people from oppression (Said 1978, 46-47).
The Islamic orient has been the center of attention in the media. With the development of technology, media has reinforced the stereotypical treatment that has been directed to the orients. Life of Muslims in the West especially in America is disheartening. They are not politically recognized and when they are it is only as a nuisance or an oriental (Said 1978, 12-28). Mass media has become a primary source of information in the modern society and disseminated information has great effects on people. The media has over time inaccurately and unjustly presented Muslims and Islam as a violent community and religion responsible for terrorist attacks. It manipulates citizens fueling prejudice against the Muslim community with articles that use dramatic tones of mere suspicions and accusations (Asad 1982, 29-48).
There are numerous campaigns in the West which are against Islam and Muslims and though Muslims try to defend themselves, they cannot compare to the dominance of the western media. The media portrays them as terrorists posing a threat to their security. This in most countries has led to Islamophobia and little has been done to change or respond to the negativity (Hoffman 2006, 197-200).
There are a number of terrorist groups in the Muslim community comprising of sects or individuals who profess Islamic motivations or particular interpretations of the Qur’an to justify their acts (Pape 2005, 136-158). They include the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) it is a Jihadist group based in the Middle East whose main goal is to mobilize the Muslim population. They commit violent acts against humanity through mass murder, genocide and slavery. The Boko Haram is another Jihadist movement in Northeastern Nigeria who attack villages killing the inhabitants with guns or burning them alive. They are commonly known for destroying schools and burning students due to their opposition to western education (Farrall 2011, 128-138). The Hezbollah is another terrorist group aimed at expelling all sorts of western presence especially the Americans in Lebanon. The Taliban are involved in drug and human trafficking and have their origins in the struggle against the Soviet carried out by the United States in Afghanistan. Finally the Al-Qaeda group founded by Osama bin Laden justifies their violence as a form of uniting Muslims in global Jihad as an interpretation of the Sharia law. It is extremely influential and carries out suicide missions using suicide bombers (Agbiboa 2014, 27-34).
Though religion has been a major factor in contributing to historical conflicts and modern terrorism, war and fighting are human phenomena that are not specific to specific races or ideologies. Corrupt religion has attracted criticism with God being used to justify various forms of cruelty from burning and stoning adulterers to crucifying Jesus Himself. Terrorism has been influenced by military and economic inferiority which is supported by moral superiority of religion. Religion is not the only cause of conflict but it is important to note that mass murders or war are fought in the name of a greater being bigger than one self. Terrorists may use Islam to justify their acts but this has nothing to do with religion (Hoffman 2006, 81-130). The Qur’an recognizes defensive warfare of Jihad but not what is today distorted to terrorist bombings. Terrorists are enemies of peace and must be combated. Islam emphasizes on love for mankind, showing mercy and sympathy which are opposite of terrorist actions.
Muslims denounce terrorism quoting the Qur’an that states when one kills an innocent person it is as if they have killed all humanity. They have repeatedly condemned the horrible murders comparing them to barbarism. Contrary to the sentiments of terrorists as it being an act of freedom for Muslims, Muslims regard them as criminals whose souls belong in Hell. Following the rise of terrorist activities in recent times, there have been many instances when Muslims have shown that they do not support these acts (Sookhdeo 2004, 149-162). This is shown in social media sites proclaiming that murder and terrorism are not Islam; during the September 11 attacks they donated blood for the victims. There is no religion not only Islam that can allow violence and bloodshed of innocent civilians in the name of God.
Jihad and terrorism are two controversial concepts that have been misunderstood and used by terrorists to tarnish Islam by justifying crime. The representation of Muslims as terrorists is wrong. This only leads to escalation of racism and Islamophobia. There is a need for effective awareness programs aimed at educating the Non-Muslim community on Islamic concepts which are guided by peace. The media should be one of the platforms used since it is influential and shapes people’s opinions (Gabriel 2002, 41-50). People need to understand the Islamic concept of Jihad and the political factors driving the acts of terrorism to stop blaming an entire community and religion. History explains far more devastating acts of Mussolini and Hitler who were Christians and these acts were condemned as acts against humanity. However they were not tagged to a specific religion as is the case of Islamic terrorism. Islam does not condone the killing of innocent people no matter how legitimate a cause is. Terrorizing innocent people is not Jihad and neither is it recognized in Islam teachings.
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