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The fallacy of defensive war in Islam


Summary: Thinking that they are defending the image of Islam, some naïve Muslim activists claim that Jihad is waged merely for self-defence. Contrary to this defeatist and apologetic mentality, Islam goes to war to seize political power and eliminate the dominance of any system other than itself.

Author Biography: ABUL A’LA MAUDUDI was a leading Muslim thinker of the 20th Century.

In common parlance the word jihad equates with holy war in English. For a considerable time now unfriendly interpreters have been adding spin to it as if it were nothing but pure zealotry — giving an image of a horde of religious fanatics surging forward, swords in hands, beards tucked under their lips, and chanting Allah Akbar (God is great).

To intensify this imagery, their eyes are shown as filled with blood. Wherever they see an infidel (non-Muslim) they lay their hand on him and force him to declare that there is no deity except Allah or face execution. The spin masters have thus painted us masterly with their tag: “This nation’s history smells of blood.”

Ironically, our picture makers are our old well-wishers who have themselves been involved in an unholy war for the past many centuries against the poor and the wretched of the earth. History reveals a very ungainly picture of Westerners: equipped with all kinds of deadly weapons, they have thrown themselves on the peoples of the world establishing markets for their goods, searching for raw material resources, looking for lands to colonize, and minerals to exploit so that they can fuel their never-ending lust for other people’s wealth. Their war is not for God but for greed to satisfy the demands of their baser selves.

For them, it is enough of a reason for their bloodletting pursuits if others have resources to enrich them. Worse, they have annexed other people’s lands where they have settled their surplus manpower. Some people even qualified themselves for such punitive action if their geographical areas provided access to a territory that they wanted to overpower.

What we, Muslims, have done is now history while the West’s accomplishments are part of the contemporary scene witnessed by humanity every day. Asia, Africa, Europe, America — which part of the world is left unsoiled with the blood of the innocents owing to the West’s unholy war?

Horrible as it is, it redounds to their painting skills that they have brushed us in such exaggerated colours. Ghastly as it may be, they have succeeded in concealing their own ugly face behind ours. And so great is our naivety that when we see our portrait thus made we are so terrified that we forget to see the faces of the painters behind it. Worse, we become apologetic, pleading: “Your Excellencies, we do not have anything to do with war; we are as peaceful a missionary as the Buddhists and the priests are. All we do is to refute a few beliefs and replace them with some others. Weapons are not our business. We do, however, admit that occasionally when someone comes to beat us we counter him against our will. But now we have discarded even our right to self-defence. To please your Excellencies we have officially proscribed weapon-wielding jihad. Now jihad is an effort waged with our mouths and pens. To fight with weapons is your prerogative.”

Misgivings about jihad

Rhetoric aside, when we try to analyze the causes that have made jihad for God’s sake an ungainly proposition for the non-Muslims as well as Muslims, we find two primary misconceptions behind it. The first lies in the fact that Islam has been misconceived as just another religion. The second centres around the fact that the Muslims are being viewed as a nation in the sense that this noun is generally perceived. Thus, two misconceptions have distorted not only the concept of jihad but have also damaged the whole complexion of Islam, giving Muslims a very bad image.

In common parlance, religion is nothing but a combination of a few articles of faith, and a few worship rituals. In this sense religion is doubtless a matter of private concern. One has the right to choose any faith one likes. One can also follow one’s conscience in worshipping any deity one wants. And if one feels comfortable with it, one can even become part of the effort to spread it across the globe engaging others in polemics.  This kind of faith does not need a sword for support. The proponents of traditional religion may rightly ask: “Do you want to beat people into embracing your faith?” This is a valid question that will inevitably be asked if one reduces Islam to a religion, in the common nuance of the word. In fact, once Islam is reduced to just another faith, then jihad invalidates itself in the overall scheme of Islam.

Likewise, what is a nation other than a homogeneous group of people which assumes distinction from other groups on account of its shared belief in some foundational values. In this sense a group having become a nation may rise in arms only for two reasons: when others attempt to deprive it of its legitimate rights or when it invades others to divest them of their rights. In the first situation, it has the moral ground to fight back; but even then some pacifists may disapprove.

The second situation lacks moral content to justify armed invasion. None, other than a ruthless dictator, tries to justify such aggression. Indeed, intellectuals and statesmen of modern-day empires like France and Britain would not try to justify it.

The essence of jihad

 Thus, if Islam is a religion and the Muslims are a nation, then jihad loses its most significant qualities that make it an important part of Islamic worship. Strictly speaking, Islam is neither a mere religion in the common sense, nor is the denomination “Muslim” the name of a nation. So what is Islam?

Islam is a revolutionary concept and a way of life, which seeks to change the prevalent social order and remould it according to its own vision. Based on this definition, the word `Muslim’ becomes the name of an international revolutionary party that Islam seeks to form in order to put its revolutionary programme into effect.  Jihad  signifies that revolutionary struggle involving the utmost use of resources that the Islamic party mobilizes in the service of its cause.

Like other revolutionary concepts, Islam avoids common words already in currency and opts for a more precise terminology so that its radical aspects stand distinct. As part of  this special terminology,  jihad  serves a clear purpose. Islam deliberately discards words denoting war. Instead, it uses the word jihad, which is the equivalent of the English word “struggle”. The Arabic word, however, is far more expressive and carries broader connotations, as it stands for exerting one’s utmost endeavour to promote a cause.

One may ask why the old words were discarded and new expressions coined? The answer lies in the fact that the word `war’ has always been used for armed conflict between nations and empires aiming to achieve personal or national interests, devoid of any ideology or higher principles. Since Islam is not concerned with such mundane considerations, it dropped the old vocabulary altogether. Nor does Islam feel itself bound by a national concern. It has no interest in who occupies a particular piece of land. The only thing that matters for Islam is the well-being of humanity, for which it has its own particular perspective and action plan. Wherever there are governments opposed to its perspective, Islam aims to change them, regardless of where they function and the people they govern.  Its ultimate objective is to establish its way of life and to put in place governments that implement its programme. Islam wants space — not a piece of the earth but the whole planet.

It has no wish to monopolize resources for the benefit of a particular community; on the contrary, it wants to give all humanity spiritual and moral elevation through the implementation of its unique programme. To make it happen, it marshals every bit of manpower and material resource. Islam gives the name jihad to such cumulative efforts. 

This includes efforts to change people through verbal advocacy. It also includes the possible armed struggle to end an oppressive system and establish justice. Spending money for the cause and physical exertion are also jihad. 

For God’s cause

 Islamic jihad is not the mere exertion of effort; it has to be for God alone. Thus, it is imperative that jihad be undertaken only for God’s cause, or to use the Arabic phrase, `f ī sab ī lillā h’. This is a special phrase that belongs to the particular repertoire of terminology that I have mentioned. Literally translated, it means `in the way of God. ’ True as this translation is, some narrow- minded people imagine that coercing others to accept Islam falls under this heading. Such understanding only betrays their rigidly narrow concepts. The fact remains that in the Islamic lexicon it has much wider connotations and implications.

For example, any work that involves collective well-being with no worldly considerations is for God. That is why a charity dispensed by a person for a moral or material return is not altruistic. If, however, the intention is to please God by helping the poor, it will fall within the purview of fisab ī lillā h. Thus, this term is specific to those works that are unsoiled by selfish considerations, solely motivated by the desire to help improve the human situation. And that in doing so will please God the Exalted, who is the end-all of all human endeavours. This is the sole reason for adding the condition of fi sab ī lillāh.

Meaning thereby that when a person aims at replacing a system of life with Islam he should have no self-centred considerations. In other words, he should not seek to replace Caesar with another Caesar. Nor should his struggle for the mission bear even a shade of seeking wealth, fame, or honour for himself. Instead, his whole effort and sacrifice should be directed toward establishing a just system for humanity, and to please no one but God. Says the Qur’ān: “Those who believe fight in the cause of God, and those who reject the faith fight in the cause of evil. Fight, then, against the friends of Satan. Feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan.” (4: 76)

The word taghūt [as used in the verse above] has its root in tughyān, which means crossing the limits. When a river swells outgrowing its banks, we say it is flooded. Likewise, when a person goes beyond his limits and uses power to become god over humanity or garners for himself monetary and other benefits then he follows the way of taghūt.  Opposed to this is fighting in the way of God to establish His laws of justice, and which calls for a sense of altruism not found elsewhere. Thus says the Qur’ān: “As for that happy life in the hereafter, We grant it only to those who do not seek to exalt themselves on earth, nor yet to spread corruption. The future belongs to the God-fearing.”  (28: 83)

Aĥadīth (saying of the Prophet) say that a person asked the Prophet, “What does fighting in the way of God mean? One person fights for booty, other fights to prove his bravery, and a third fights for enmity toward someone or because he has a bias for his nation. Among them whose fight is in God’s way?” The Prophet’s reply was as follows: “Nobody’s. The fight fī sabīlillāh is only of a person who has no other considerations but that the word of God prevails.”

Another ĥadīth says, “If a person fought and had the intention to secure for himself even a camel’s halter, he would lose his reward.” God accepts only that deed which is performed solely for Him without any personal or group considerations. Thus, the conditionality of fī  sabīlillāh  is crucial from the Islamic viewpoint. For every living being (animal or human) is engaged in the  jihad  of survival with the full vigour of its existence.

Among the radical concepts of the revolutionary party named “Muslim” the most foundational is to engage every rebellious force that comes in Islam’s way: fight them, muster everything possible to replace them. But make sure that you do not become rebellious instead. Your mandate is contingent on your cleansing the world of rebellion and wickedness and subjecting it to God’s laws of justice and fair play.

After spelling out jihad’s meaning and its link with fī   sabīlillāh, I will now deal with Islam’s revolutionary message so that you may understand the reason for waging jihad as a tool for the spread of Islam.

Islam’s revolutionary message

One can summarize the Islamic message as follows:  “Mankind, worship your Lord who has created you and those who lived before you, so that you may become God-fearing.”  (Q2: 21) Islam does not address itself to the farm holders and the moneyed class of industrialists, or to the peasants and industrial workers, but rather to the whole of mankind. Its audiences are human beings (not classes): for if you are subservient to someone other than God, then you should give this up. If you crave to be a deity over humanity, then push this out of your mind for none has the right to exalt himself over others. You must all enter into God’s servitude as equals.

Thus, the Islamic call is universal, inviting a total change. It is to God alone that the right to rule belongs, and none else. Expressed differently, nobody has the authority to become the master of others, dictating to them what he thinks is right and wrong. To acknowledge anyone as such is to attribute Godhead to him, which undoubtedly complicates the human situation.

What causes distortion in the true human self and derails humans from the God-given straight path is that they lose sight of Him in their lives and thus forget their true nature. The result it formulates is equally disastrous. On the one hand, some people, class or group rise with claims to divinity and by virtue of their power reduce others into their servitude. On the other hand, because of this tendency to oust God from our lives and the consequent distortion of our true nature, a large number of people surrender themselves to the divinity of the powerful, accepting their right to decide for them. This, as I said, is the source of oppression in the world: Islam makes its first strike at this apparatus of divinity. It says loudly and clearly:  “Pay no heed to the counsel of those who are given to excesses — those who spread corruption on earth instead of setting things to rights.”  (26: 151-152) 

“Contain yourself in patience with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His countenance. Let not your eyes pass beyond them in quest of the beauties of the life of this world. Pay no heed to any whose heart We have left to be negligent of all remembrance of Us because he had always followed his own desires, and whose case has gone beyond all bounds.” (18: 28) 

“Those [are the ones] who debar others from the path of God and would have it crooked, and who deny the life to come.” (11: 18)

Islam asks people: do you want to continue with a servitude forced upon you by this small and petty multitude of deities or do you want one God who is all-powerful? If you refuse to return to the worship of one God, you will never liberate yourselves from the slavery of these hordes of self-made gods. They will overpower you one way or  the other and cause disruption throughout human life.  “She said: `Whenever kings enter a country, they corrupt it, and turn the noblest of its people into the most abject. This is the way they always behave.’”  (27: 34)

“Yet, no sooner does he turn his back than he strives to spread corruption in the world, destroying crops and progeny. God does not love corruption.” (2: 205)

Without elaborating upon it further, I will be brief in presenting to you the fact that Islam’s advocacy of God’s oneness was not toward a religion, which invites people to certain articles of belief constituting a faith. In fact, it was a social revolution that gave a direct blow to the stratified classes, which had institutionalized themselves into a priesthood, a kingship, moneylenders, feudal lords and cartel owners reducing people to bondage.

In some places they had even become gods unto themselves asking people in the name of their birth or class right to surrender themselves to their worship. In other places, while making use of  the masses’ ignorance, the ruling regime had carved for them artificial gods and  built temples inducing them to accept their claims to divinity, under the patronage of those gods.

Thus, when Islam, opposed to idol worship and polytheism, invited humanity to worship one true God, the people in power and those who supported them and shared the privileges arising from power felt threatened. Hence why whenever a prophet raised the call of “My people, worship God alone, for you have no God other than Him,” it triggered opposition towards him. The power elite along with the exploitative classes combined to crush the message, for they knew it was not merely a metaphysical proposition but a call for social change. In its very first reverberation they smelled rebellion of a political nature.

Characteristics of the call for an Islamic change

There is not a shadow of doubt that all the prophets were revolutionary leaders. And the most revolutionary among them was Muĥammad (peace be upon him). However, what separated the prophets from the rest of the revolutionaries is their balanced approach towards life, their untainted sense of justice and equality. The non-prophet revolutionaries, despite their being well intentioned, had a tilted sense of justice and equality.

Either such revolutionaries came from the oppressed classes or they rose with their support. Small wonder then that they viewed everything from a class perspective. Their vantage was coloured by their class bias and not by humanity considerations or impartiality. They swung between hatred for a particular class and their bias for the class that supported them. Hence why their solution for oppression was reactive, leading them to fall into the same trap and making them a new class of oppressors. For them to formulate a balanced collective system was an impossible proposition.

Contrary to this, no matter how much the prophets and their companions were persecuted, their revolutionary movement remained free from resentment and bitterness. This was possible for they worked under the direct supervision of God, the Exalted, who does not suffer from any human weakness nor does He have a particular relation with any class of people or a grudge against anyone. This is why the prophets viewed things with justice. Their sole desire was to make sure that humanity’s interests were served by bringing about a system in which people could exercise their due rights while living within legitimate means, and by creating a perfect balance between individual and societal interests.

This perhaps explains  why the prophet-led movements never turned into class warfare. Their reconstruction programme was not designed to impose one class over another. Rather, they followed the course of justice in a manner that people had equal space for their material and spiritual growth.

The need for jihad and its objective

In this short presentation it is difficult for me to spell out the entire socio-political order of Islam. Keeping within the constraints of my subject, I wish to emphasize the point that Islam is not merely the amalgamation of certain dogmas and rituals but rather a comprehensive code of life that seeks to blot out all oppressive modes of life and introduce its own programme for human welfare.

To meet this end, Islam seeks a wider audience by embracing humanity and not just a particular group. In fact, it even goes to the extent of inviting oppressors, including kings and the super rich, to come and live within the legitimate bounds fixed by their Creator. If they accept the truth, it says, they will have peace and security. Here, there is no enmity toward human beings. If there is hostility, it is towards oppression, social disorder, and immorality.

In other words, it is towards those who by taking what is not theirs, transgress their natural limits. Besides, whoever embraces this message no matter to what class, race, nation, and state he or she belongs, will have  equal rights and status in the Islamic society, creating thus that universal revolutionary party which the Qur’ān describes as “Hizb Allāh”, or what is also known as the “Islamic party” or “the Muslim ummah.”

The moment this party comes into being, it takes up jihad to pursue the objectives of its creation. This should not be surprising for it is logical to the demand of its existence — that it will strive to replace paganism in human life with a balanced code of social reconstruction that the Qur’ān alludes to as kalimatullāh, or God’s word.

Thus, sluggishness on its part to any change in the current administrative set-up aiming at substituting it with Islamic governance will deny it its justification to continue, for that is the sole purpose of its inception. Explaining the reason for its birth, the Qur’ ān says: “You are the best community that has ever been raised for mankind; you enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid what is wrong, and you believe in God.” (3: 110)

 It is not a party of preachers and missionaries but rather of divine enforcers. Its mission is to blot out, by force if necessary, oppression, moral anarchy, social disorder and exploitation so as to finish the so-called divine role of self-styled gods and replace evil with good.  “Fight them,” the Qur’ān says, “until there is no more oppression, and all submission is made to God alone.”  (Verse 39) 

“Unless you do likewise, there will be oppression on earth and much corruption.” (Verse 73) 

“He it is who has sent forth His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, to the end that He may cause it to prevail over all religions, however hateful this may be to those who associate partners with God.” (9: 33) 

Thus, this Muslim party has no choice but to go for and control the power centres, for the simple reason that an oppressive immoral civilization derives its sustenance from an immoral governmental set-up. Likewise, a righteous state apparatus cannot be implemented unless the reins of government pass from the mischief-makers to the peacemakers.

That being the case, not to talk of reforming the world, this party will not be able to live up to its convictions if the ruling system is tied to some other mode of thought. For example, a person of a socialist bent will not be able to live by the norms of his preferred system if he resides under the capitalist systems of Britain and the United States. Likewise, if a Muslim seeks to live in a non-Islamic ambience, his desire to live a Muslim life will be hard to realize. This is due to the fact that the laws he considers defective, the taxes he considers wrong, the matters he considers illegitimate, the culture he considers ridden with immorality, the education system he considers horrible will be imposed upon him and his family, and he will not find a way out.

Thus a person or a group who believes in a value system is forced by the logic of its truth to seek its establishment in place of the opposing value system. If he does not become part of the effort to change the situation, he will prove himself to be false in his faith. “May God forgive you (Prophet Muhammad)! Why did you grant them permission to stay behind before you had come to know who were speaking the truth and who were the liars? Those who believe in God and the Last Day will not ask you to exempt them from striving with their wealth and with their persons. God has full knowledge as to who are the God-fearing. Only those who do not truly believe in God and the Last Day ask for exemption. Their hearts are filled with doubt, and so do they waver.” (9: 43-45)

In the preceding words the Qur’ān gives a clear verdict that an Islamic party must strive to make its value system reign supreme for that is the only touchstone to validate its sincerity. Should it accept the supremacy of the opposite value system, the falsity of its claim starts to unravel itself. That such a group will eventually lose even its alleged faith in Islam is only natural, though this happens in phases. It starts with the tacit acceptance of the reigning value system as a compulsive situation which is hard to change followed by an imperceptible shift of feeling from discomfort to ease with a non-Islamic situation. So much so that you will become part of the auxiliary forces supporting the system. You will give your wealth and your life in the cause of sustaining the reigning value system and opposing the call of Islam.

At this point, there will hardly remain any difference between you and the unbelievers other than some hypocritical claims to belief in Islam. In a hadith, the Prophet clearly describes the consequence of such a state: “By Him who holds my soul in His hand, you will either call for goodness [to the people] and restrain them from evil and hold the hand of the evildoer and turn him toward the truth by force, or God’s natural law will move to its inexorable result: the evildoers will affect your hearts as well and like them you will become the accursed ones.”

The universal revolution

The discussion so far should clarify the point that Islamic jihad seeks to replace the dominance of non-Islamic systems. This revolution is not territorial but international, though as a starter the members of the Muslim party, wherever they live, should focus on that place. Their eventual goal should, however, be a world revolution for the simple reason that any revolutionary ideology, which is humanity specific and seeking universal welfare, cannot reduce itself to a particular state or nation. It is innate in its nature to embrace the whole world, for the truth refuses to be confined to geography.

For it, truth is indivisible: if it is truth on one side of a river, it is the same truth on the other side as well. No segment of humanity should be barred of its compassion. Wherever humans are oppressed, it must come to their rescue. Such is the dictate of its message. The Qur’ ān says the same: “And why should you not fight in the cause of God and the utterly helpless men, women and children who are crying, ‘Our Lord! Deliver us from this land whose people are oppressors, and send forth to us, out of Your grace, a protector, and send us one that will help us.’“  (Q4: 75)

Besides, split as the peoples are into national confines, human relations are universal by their nature. In fact, no state can live up to its ideological moorings if neighbouring states do not share its vision of humanity. For the spread of the Muslim party’s mission of improving the human situation, it is thus inevitable that the Islamic system should rise above the parochial outlook and embrace the universal. On the one hand, it should seek a global reach for its message inviting everyone to its fold for a better life.

On the other hand, depending on its power resource, it should force non-Islamic governments to clean their stables or face the cleansing sweep of Islamic governance.

This was the policy that the Prophet [peace be upon him] and his successors followed. Arabia, the birthplace of the Muslim party, was Islamized first, and this was followed by extending the Islamic call to neighbouring states. It was only when they refused to accept the call and set on a direct course of opposing it that military action was taken against them. The Tabūk Expedition was the beginning of this policy. After the Prophet, his successor Abū  Bakr engaged the non-Islamic empires of Rome and Persia. `Umar concluded the conquest.

At first, the Egyptians and Syrians took the new event in history as an extension of Arabian imperialism. Looking for its parallel in the past, they thought that like previous nations which annexed other lands to enslave their populations, it wanted to tread the same path. For this very reason the Egyptians and Syrians came out to fight the Muslims under the banners of Caesar and Kisr ā. But when they came to know the revolutionary message of the Muslim party they could not believe it: the Muslims were not the bearers of an aggressive nationalism; they were above national interests and had come to deliver them from the inhuman yoke of their tyrant rulers.

Those who were exploited thus felt themselves inclined toward the Muslim party and thus began a process of disenchantment in Caesar’s and Kisra’s camps. Where they were forced to fight the Muslims, they fought without any real zest, paving the way for those spectacular strings of victories in the early period of Muslim history. This is also because once the Islamic system was introduced and people saw it functioning they willingly joined the cadres of this international Muslim party and embraced its cause to facilitate its spread elsewhere.

Maududi presented this paper in Lahore in 1939.


0 #1 Katimbo 2012-08-09 13:50
check this out.