Jihad and Traditional Islamic Consciousness – Part One

S. Abdullah Schleifer

It was the religious scholars, the ‘ulama, who addressed themselves from the earliest period to the recurrent and fundamental problemconfronting Sunni political thought – Islamizing the sate that it might be a pillar of Islamic society as both emerged in the years (and subsequent centuries) that followed the collapse of the Rashidun Calphate, while simultaneously defending the legitimacy both of that state and of their won religious and juridical activites (as adherents of that state) from sectarian attack.“1”

o Sunni theorists, the Prophet’s community in Medina and the Rashidun (who inherited leadership of that community) – the four “rightly-guided” successors (khulafa’) to Muhammed’s non-prophetic role as political military Commander of the Faithful (amir al mu’minin), responsible for the defense of the community, leading the community in prayer and judging (i.e., rulling) according to the shari’a, which governed the practices of the community -constitute the orthodox model of an Islamic society and an Islamic state in which a combined religious-military-political (juridical) authority (referred to as caliphate, amirate or imamate) implemented sovereignty of shari’a.

If much of the history of Islamic political institutions is an account of the devolution of this integral authority into separate institutions, the task of Sunni Islamic political theory has largely been to sustain the intention of the lost model – implementing the sovereignty of shari’a by theoretical reintegration of these separate institutions in an on-going, flexible response to the changing historic circumstances. “2”

This sense of lost but ideal unity of authority was symbolically preserved until recent years (and still is, in the most traditional districts of Islam) in the practice of the khatib who preaches to the entire community assembled for obligatory congregational Friday prayer – a responsibility undertaken by the amir in the earliest years, who may also have led the prayer that follows, in his capacity as imam of the community -taking in his hand a wooden sword or a staff (equally representing the sword, the lance or the bow) up upon the steps of the minbar (pulpit) for the duration of the sermon.“3”

When the Prophet founded his community (umma) in Medina, the community was synonymous with Islamic society – dedicated companions and followers of the Prophet who had experienced what has been described as “total conversion” and who dated that conversion either in fact or spirit back to the time of a hard pressed and austere religious movement.“4” And the community as a whole, as mujahidun, was at the disposal of the Prophet as a fighting force – it was, in other words, also synonymous with the Muslim Army. 

But by the earliest years of the Rashidun Caliphate, the Prophet’s community was no longer synonymous with either the Army (now garrisoned Bedouin legions, most effectively led by the more worldly Meccan later-adherents to Islam) or Islamic society, enlarged first by the massive conversion of Arabia and soon after by growing number of converts most barely familiar with the doctrine and practices of Islam – as well as the masses of protected non-Muslims in Persia and the conquered Asian and North African provinces of Byzantium, standing as a vast reservoir of still more eventual converts in the coming centuries.“5” 

The Islamic state does not originate in the Prophet’s community but in the Army that conquered the empire and administered it in the name of that community. The Ummayyad triumph in the civil war ending the Rashidun Caliphate signals the transfer to political authority(and with it, however begrudgingly, religious authority) from the leadership of the Prophet’s community to the leadership of the Muslim Army as emerging state: a victorious military institution shaped by the pre-Islamic social traditions of its bedouin brigades and Meccan officers, by the varieties of Asian imperial practice (first inherited along with the wealth and bureaucracy of Persia and Byzantium, and recurring in later centuries in the form of Mongol and Turkish practices) and by raison d’etat as well by the Muslim identity and the beliefs of its leaders. 

It is helpful in understanding this rapid series of transformations always to bear in mind that the “state” as we use the word, in discussing the Islamic state, is not the state of classical or Western political theory but rather the commander, the army he commands, and the administration that is attached to him. His “state” (dawla) in a sense is his dynasty.“6” As an Islamic state, what endures is not the state itself, a turn of dynasties, but the primacy of shari’a over state. 

The alternative for the `ulama (who conceived of themseIves, and are so described in hadith, as the direct or spiritual heirs of the Prophet’s community in Medina) in the earliest years of Ummayad rule was to refuse to acknowledge the religious-political authority of this new state, to refuse to recognize it as the Islamic state. But the implications of such opposition were already apparent in the disorders that plagued Imam Ali during his struggle against the Umayyads and were confirmed in the chaos and atrocities that accompanied subsequent uprisings against the new state and which threatened the unity of the community.“7”

The importance of preserving that unity, in contrast to other universal movements, is in itself a reflection of the role that the central doctrine of at-tawhid has always played in the traditional political consciousness of Sunni Islam.

It is to this worldly, emerging universal state that the new umma of the emerging Islamic society must turn for the implementation of shari `a in order to practice the most outward requirements of religious life, since it is this state which has inherited the religious-political responsibilities of the Rashidun Caliphate, if not its inner spiritual legitimacy. 

In this context – Islamization as the sacralization of state and society for the sake of the shari’a practice of the most outward requirements of Muslim life – the ‘ulama whether as jurists, hadith collectors or Quranic commentators, or eventually as theologians, concentrated upon the – juridical dimension: interpretation of the shari `a in order to subject the activities of the state and society (outward by definition) to religious and ethical considerations.

This determined that the earliest expositions on jihad would be of its most outward dimesion as armed struggle. To that can be added Gibb’s suggestion that in the earliest phase of this period, the momentum of ‘the wars of conquest was the contributing factor in the `ulama’s formulation of the jihad as a code of military conduct guiding the conduct of the ruler and his army (in other words, the state) to the neglect of the other dimensions of jihad.“8”

Initially treated as a chapter within the section of the Law known as ‘uqubat – the penal code – the Law of Fihad became an independent subject of study known as siyar, expeditions, treating in detail any number of conceivable juridical relations (diplomatic, commercial, penal, personal status, as well as military) between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.“9”

The jurists were to recognise two broad categories of jihad – against Unbelievers (what we shall characterize as the external jihad) and an internal jihad strictly limited with the passage of time (for reasons to be discussed below) to armed struggle against sedition or subversion (fitna) that could could take a variety of forms within the community.

As the most occasional form, jihad is understood by the Muslim jurists as fard kifaya, a general duty upon the community as a whole that is satisfied as soon as there are a sufficient number of male Muslims to fight on behalf of the community, and an individual duty – fard’ayn – upon every Muslim within the vicinity of an invasion, man, woman and child.

Juridical classification of jihad within the category fard kifaya based upon passages in the Qur’an which indicate that the community’s duty to perform jihad can be satisfied by a portion of the community tended to reinforce the on-going professionalization of the jihad – a situation crystalized in the saying of Abu Yusuf (chief Q,adi during the Abbasid reign of Harun arRashid): “No army marches without permission of the Caliph”.“10”

But the ‘ulama never lost sight of either the ultimate responsibility for jihad or its ethical and spiritual implications, even when limited to the form of armed struggle. 

Thus while the jurists stressed the impracticality of the entire community abandoning farm, workshop, marketplace and court for distant jihad, they also insisted upon the superior rewards that await those who do fulfil the community’s obligation on the field of battle.“11”

The hadith in which the Prophet is reported to have warned that the farmer’s plough made people lowly – a puzzle since the Prophet and many Companions had practiced agriculture and had praised the product of subsistence farming – was interpreted by the jurists to describe not the vocation of farming but only “those so absorbed in agriculture that they abstain from jihad and thus become a prey to their enemies”.“12”

In North Africa and Muslim Spain where the front line with Christendom never achieved the sort of stand-off stability that developed between the Muslims and Byzantium after the first century of Islamic conquest, the jurists paid particular note to the “highly meritious act” of the volunteers serving in a frontier fort – the ribat – which maintained consciousness of jihad as an individual act as well as an aspect of statecraft.“13”

As jurisprudence of a personal rather than territorial character, siyar also addressed itself to the wide variety of juridical relations between Muslims and non-Muslims (as individuals and as communities), not only within the territorial domain of the shari’a system (dar al-Islam) but also beyond that domain (dar al-barb), which gave also to siyar all of the characteristics of an Islamic Law of Nations.“14”

In addition to the obvious requirements of jihad to defend the community from invasion, or the threat of invasion, or to defend Muslims living in non- Muslim territory and oppressed by non-Muslim rule, or to punish rulers who violate their treaties with the Muslim or to guarantee “the free access of their subjects to Islam” (a significant claim when considered later in the context of Modernist Apologetics) the books of siyar establish two broad principles: first, jihad is the ultimate weapon and duty of the Imam in fulfilling the universal mission of Islam; second, the universal mission of Islam is to restore social order by imposing the sovereignty of shari’a byjihad if necessary; not to compel that (personal faith) which cannot be compelled-“15” 

In summary, the books of siyar declare it is the duty of the imam when dar al-islam (the Muslim territory) is free of internal strife and has sufficient .or victory, to invite the neighbouring non-Muslim rulers to embrace Islam. If they do so (which by definition also meant acknowledging hari’a as the law of their land) then they are to be confirmed by the Imam in their rule and jizyah (poll tax) is collected from their now protected non-Muslim subjects, who pay this tax for the protection provided their lives, property and houses of worship by the Muslim Army in which they are never liable to serve. If they refuse, they are to be fought. 

Ibn Rushd, whose own siyar (written in the 12th century) surveyed the earlier literature of all the Sunni schools, notes significant disagreement among the jurists over a third option – truce.“16” 

Malik, Shafi’i and Abu Hanifa (founders of three of the four enduring schools of Sunni Law) all maintained that the Imam could conclude a truce with non-Muslims if he deemed it in the interest of the community and without any other operative conditions. Others, including some of their followers, insisted that the non-Muslim ruler pay tribute as condition for truce; and some of the jurists were prepared to allow the Imam to pay tribute to the non-Muslim ruler for the sake of a truce if this should be forced upon the Muslims by political-military contingencies.

Ibn Rushd comments that the cause for the considerable debate as to the nature of this truce is to be found in apparently contradictory verses; some jurists having argued that the peace verse, If they incline to make peace, incline thou to it, and set thy trust upon Allah,“17” supplements the militant verses of Qur’an of which the most comprehensive are:

….slay the idolaters, wherever ye find them, and take them (captive) and beseige them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free.


Fight against such of those who have been given the Scriptures as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messeneer, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the jizyah
readily, being brought low. “18”

The first first of these verses was addressed to the Arabian Unbelievers who excluded from the option of “protected community” offered in the second, militant verse. The minority of jurists, according to Ibn Rushd, believed the supplementing action of the “peace verse” allowed the Imam latitude to extend the truce if the non-Muslims remain peaceful. But the prevailing opinion among the jurists was that the “peace verse” was abrogated in any binding sense by the later, more militant verses whereby the principle is that non-Muslims must be fought until they accept, Islam or pay jizyah (protected status under shari’a).“19” 

1) H. A. R. Gibb, “Al Mawardi’s Theory…,” p. 154 (see Footnote 14, Introduction).
2) Ibid. pp. 153-155; Yusuf Ibish, “The Political Doctrine of al-Baqillani, pp. 24-25 (see Footonte 14. in Induction, above).
3) Edward Lane, The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Everyman’s Library (London: Dent. 1 ~i reprint of 1860 edition), pp. 86-87. For mention of the use of the word “sword” in 19th century Cairo mosqnal see Nabil A. Faris and Robert Potter Elmer, translators and editors, Arab Archery, “A Book the Excellence of the ~Y and Arrow (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945), p. 9.
4) Gibb, “An Interpretation of Islamic History,” in Shaw and Polk, eds., Studies p. 5.
5) Gibb, “The Evaluation of Government in Early Islam,” in Studies…,” pp. 34-36.
6) Bernard Lewis, “Islamic Concepts of Revolution, in P.,J. Vatikiotis, ed., Revolution in the Middle East (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1972) pp. 30-3.
7) Gibb, “An Interpretation ,” pp. 7-9; SEI, s.v. “Shia,” “Khawaridj.”
8) Gibb, “Religion and Politics in Christainity and Islam,” in J.H. Poretor, ed., Islam and Internationc. ~
t lions (London: Pall Mall Press, 1965), pp. 6-7.
9) Hamidullah, Muslim Conduct of State, pp. 63-66; Khadduri, War and Peace…, pp. 42-48.
10) Hamidullah, Ibid. p.168.
11) Sarakhsi, cited by Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zahra, “The Jihad (Striving)…, “pp. 54-55.
12) Ibid.
13) Khadduri, War and Peace…, pp. 81-82; see discussion by the 9th c. Maliki jurist Ibn Abi Zayd cW ,~,t1,
wan, cited by Johan Alden Williams, ed., Themes of Islamic Civilisation (Berkely; University of California 1971), pp. 266-267.
14) Khadduri, War and Peace pp. 44-48. `
15) Hamidullah, The Muslim Conduct of State, p. 176.
16) Hamidullah, ibid., pp. 176-179; Khadduri. War and Peace…, pp. 14-18.
17) Ibn Rushd, in R. Peters, Jihad in Medieval and Modern Islam, pp. 21-23 (see footnote 13, Introdv -ruin
18) Qur’an VIII:61.
19) Qur an IX:S, IV:29. The Islamic Quarterly, London 
Fourth Quarter 1983