Understanding Jihad: Definition and Methodology – Part One

S. Abdullah Schleifer

Modern scholarship, in accord with traditional Islamic jurisprudence, has generally treated jihad in the context of military action as the one form of war which is permissible in principle in Islam; as the instrument of Islam’s universal mission and, if need be, in the defence of Islam; and as an individual duty and collective obligation upon the community of Islam.“2”

Among modern Muslims this subject has been one of great sensitivity since the accusations that Islam “converted by the sword” and is little more than a “warrior’s cult” lacking spiritual and ethical depth pervaded so much of the polemical literature largely produced by Christian missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries writers who were often closely associated in ultimate outlook if not in person to many of the modern Western scholars of Islamica.“3”

This sensitivity is not only a factor in the consciousness of some modern Muslims and reflected in their political thought as it bears upon jihad (and as such shall be surveyed by this study), but it has also hindered the efforts of modern Muslim scholars as well as political writers in seeking the essence (and thereby the significance) of jihad within traditional Muslim consciousness, acceptable to whatever fashions of contemporary Western thought, be it the pacifist or dynamic evangelical witness of rationalist Victorian Protestantism that seems to have weighed so heavily upon Muslims receiving modern educations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries or the more recent requirement of a “revolutionary ideology.”“4”

For while this is a study of modern Islamic political theory, it is in the very nature of that modernity that we must turn to the pre-modern, or traditional, consciousness, to determine the essence of jihad before we can interpret the significance of its treatment in modern Islamic political thought. Yusuf Ibish and Seyyed Hossein Nasr have observed that modern Muslim consciousness is marked by a profound sense of loss that Islam in its most outward. political dimension has been vanquished by Western conquest and a result the unity of Islamic consciousness, a reflection of the central doctrine in which all dimensions of life and thought are subject to the Will and Unity or Oneness of God, has been disrupted on the plan of temporal existence and thought.“5”

In other words, there is no way of determining the integrity of the concept of jihad within any particular strand of modern Islamic political thought in itself given the fact of modernity as the rupture of Islamic Consciousness.

The extensively examined history of that on-going disruption, recorded conquests, juridical capitulations, cultural and economic penetration, etc., is not the subject of this study. It is however assumed as the Determining experience that separates modern Islamic political thought from the pre-modern, or traditional. From the perspective of this thesis, some of the most relevant work has been done at this point in the recent Military political studies published by Ross E. Dunn. John S. Habib, and B.G. Martin.“6”

In contrast to modern Islamic political theory which lends itself far more easily to the intemporary categories of the humanities and social sciences precisely because of the rupture of Islamic Consciousness, pre-modern thought as it bears on jihad must be derived from the totality of Islamic thought.

The most apparent strand would seem to be Islamic: political philosophy where, Muhsin Mahdi suggests, jihad could be identified with the “just war” waged by al-Farabi’s virtuous ruler to establish the virtuous regime, but only in the most provisional sense given in Mahdi’s reading of al-Farabi’s denial that any religion has a universal mission.“7”

The very “apparentness” should also be a warning. Not only, as Leo Strauss observes, because “political philosophy is not the same as political thought in general. Political thought is coeval with political life,”“8” but because Islam is an all-inclusive social order based directly upon revealed Law. This precludes from the outset, as Ernest L. Fortin notes, “any sphere of activity in which reason could operate independently of the divine Law,”“9” and it is the rationalistic, autonomous aspect of Islamic philosophy that has had the least impact in the formation of Islamic Consciousness. “10” 

Majid Khadduri has extensively examined the treatment of jihad as subject of Islamic Jurisprudence, as has Muhammad Hamidullah to a lesser extent, in the context of international relations, and both have interpreted the traditional juridical treatment of jihad as an Islamic “Law of Nations.”‘ “11”

Less ambitional but of great value is Rudolph Peters’ treatment of similar material (in his case the chapter on jihad from Ibn Rushd’s legal handbook Bidayat al-Mudjtahid in Ibn Rushd’s capacity as Qadi, not as philosopher) since it is accompanied for comparative purposes by Peters’ notes and translation of a contemporary treatise on jihad by the modernist VIM Mahmud Shaltut.“12”

The jurists also considered jihad as an element among the conditions of legitimate rule in the Sunni theories of Imamate. These works most approximate self-conscious political thought within an intrinsically Islamic (rather than classic, or Aristotelian) context and as observed by both H, A. R. Gibb and Yusuf Ibish, are definite responses to political life.“13”

Just as there is no political thought separate from religious thoughts, so in at-tawhidh shaped consciousness, there is no aspect of religious thought necessarily separate from political thought. As Muhammad Aziz Ahmed observes, a traditional Muslim “is shocked to think of religion and politics; he only thinks in terms of Islam.”“14”

Jihad is an Islamic phenomenon and this study attempts to comprehend pre-Modern Islamic Consciousness on its own terms -deriving its primary sense of meaning, as Maurice Natanson advises, from “the meaning the activity has for the one who performs it;” “15” in this case, to rethink past thought in the mode of historical sympathy, which Donald M. Lowe has defined as “the understanding of meaning in context.” “16”

The limits we have set to that definition are doctrinal orthodox Sunni Islam, self-defined ijma (consensus); geographic Western and Central Asia; and historic within a comprehensive religious culture, its institutions and thought, that as Gibb notes had largely defined itself in full by the 14th century; a culture in which “the religious institution” and “religious thought” could by no means be said to be exclusively defined or necessarily dominated by a juridical mode of thought.“17”

What can be said with certainty about Modern Islamic Political Theory is that it shares with traditional Islamic Consciousness a belief that the purpose of political life is defined by religion, not vice versa (that is, finally, what determines modern political thought to be “Islamic” and not “Arab Nationalist” or even “Muslim” in the communal sense of liberal democratic pluralist politics),“18” although this “belief’ is a highly ethical, embattled conviction in modern thought in contrast to its easy participation in the metaphysical assumptions of traditional Islamic Consciousness.

The modern conviction is self-conscious and embattled precisely because the overall trend is so clearly to the contrary. The on-going secularization of the political and economic life of the Muslim peoples, as Seyyed Hossein Nasr observes, “is in total contrast to the Islamic conception, which has sacralized man’s daily life including of course, his political and economic activies and institutions. ““19”

Mircea Eliade conceives of sacralization as the axiom of all religious experience:

Whatever the historical context in which he is placed, homo religious always believes that there is an absolute reality, the sacred, which transcends this world but manifests itself in this world, thereby sanctifying it and making it real. He further believes that life has a sacred origin and that human existence realizes all of its potentialities in proportion as it is religious that it participates in reality.
… Needless to say, there is nothing corresponding to this on the level of the profane experience life. For non-religious man, all vital experiences whether sex or eating, work or play have been desacralized. This means that all these physiological acts are deprived of spiritual significance…“20”

Frithjof Schuon, in his discussion of the theophanic phenomenon of consciousness is still more concise: “. . . to sacralize; it is to open the natural to the supernatural whence it proceeds ontologically; it is to make the natural element a means of supporting an awareness of the supernatural.” “21” 

Arthur Jeffery derives sacralization in Islam from ahrama which he translates as “to declare a thing sacred” in his discussion of the rites of ihram “puting oneself in the sacred state”) that precede pilgrimage to Mecca,“22” and again applies the concept in his discussion of the most basic Islamic invocations, the basmala which he describes as being “freely used on by pious Muslims . . . as a phrase of sacralization.” “23” The is thesis of this study that jihad is the instrument of sacralization of the social-political order in Islam.

Part One of this study will first attempt to define the essence of jihad in traditional Islamic consciousness and then to survey the elaboration of its meaning in relevant Islamic institutions and thought through the pre-modern period (within the doctrinal, geographic and historic limits outlined above) to establish the thesis.

Part Two will review the understanding of jihad in Modern Islamic Political Theory in light of this thesis.

Part Three: the Case Study of the Life and Thought of Sheikh ‘Izzid Din al-Qassam’ will illustrate the relevance of the thesis to comprehension of Sheikh ‘Izz-id-Din’s own understanding and actual undertaking of jihad and the reason and manner in which both his understanding and his undertaking has been so misconceived by his contemporaries.

Part I
Jihad and Traditional Islamic Consciousness

According to the classical lexicons the jihad is of three kinds: struggling against a visible enemy, against the devil, and against the nafs (the lower or passionate soul or self), which are all included in the term following two versions from the Qur’an. “24”

And strive for Allah with the striving which is His right.

Go forth, light armed and heavy armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah.

The movement in this definition is from the outward and most visible and occasional in time and space back to the inward and continuous which is the movement of all things Islamic.“25” As an example, worship of Allah is an outward and obligatory duty performed at fixed times and in a defined and visible manner (but even here requiring for efficacy an inward attitude) and simultaneously the very purpose of Man’s existence in this world, acknowledged in the practice of dhikr’illah the invocation of His Names at all legitimate times, places and events.“26”

This may outwardly be understood only as recommended formulae in conformity with pious convention and good manners to be rewarded in the hereafter; inwardly the Invocation sacralizes phenomena, as noted earlier, and with proper intention serves as a method for the attainment in this life of ma’rifa (intuitive knowledge) of God.
What this suggests is that the outward (and occasional) and the inward (and continuous) are not isolated levels or rigidly defined relationships but multiplicities of related and re-relating meanings, of which the Arabesque and the geometric method of Islamic design may be considered as visible metaphors, and which is expressed in the very complexity with which Allah defines His own Unity:

He is the First and the Last and the Outwardly Manifest and the Inwardly Hidden; and He is Knower of all things. “27”

It is in its most outward (and thus most apparent) and in its most obligatory (and thus, invariably, most occasional) form that Jihad came to be used by the Muslims to generally signify the sacralization of combat ; the holy war particularly as understood in the use of the expression: jihad fi sabil Allah fighting in the way of God, or for His sake, in the cause of Religion. “28”

And it is in this sense that jihad is most commonly used throughout the Qur’an and hadith reports of the sayings and behaviour of the Prophet Muhammad, preserved by his Companions, transmitted in the collections and understood by Muslims as a sacred commentary upon the Qur’an itself. The customary practices of the Prophet and his Companions contained in the hadith constitute the sunna of the Prophet and his community which, with the Qur’an, is the Sunni criterion for orthodoxy.
In the chronology of the Qur’an, divine permission to fight (gital) is first given to the Muslims in response to persecution:

Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged: and Allah is indeed Able to give them victory.“29”

and as a means to end discord and preserve the moral order threatened by the sedition of the unbelievers:

And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter“30”

But fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.

Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress the limits; for God loveth not transgressors.“31”

The limits include a strictly defensive posture in the vicinity of the Kaaba, where the Muslims could fight only if attacked, similar reservations about fighting during the sacred months, and precise conditions for allowing temporary safe conduct to certain classes of unbelievers, as well as more general, ethical limits to combat. But recourse to fighting for men at all times is acknowledged and commanded throughout the Qur’an in accounts of the earlier prophets as a barrier to the forces of corruption and to affirm the Truth:

And if Allah had not repelled some men by others the earth would have been corrupted. But Allah is the Lord of Kindness to (His) creatures.

For had it not been for Allah’s repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the Name of Allah is oft mentioned, would surely have been pulled down . . . “32”

In this context the jihad is declared as an instrument for the establishment of an Islamic social order that differentiates between the popular idolatry of Arabia and a position within that social order for peoples possessing sacred scripture:

Fight them until there is no more seditious unbelief and religion is for Allah. If they desist in their unbelief there is no enmity, save against the wrong-doers.

That when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah Is Forgiving, Merciful.

Fight against such of those have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.“33”

In these circumstances fighting is a binding, sacred duty on Muslim thought he dislike it, and the Prophet is commanded to exhort the Believers to fight,“34” which he does in declarations that leave little room for ambiguity as to the uses of jihad as the instrument for an Islamic social order.“35”

1) For the most comprehensive sense of the verb: “He strove, labored, toiled; exerted himself; or his power, efforts, endeavours, ability; employed himself vigorously, strenuously, laboriously, diligently, studiously, seculously, earnestly, with energy; was diligent, studious, took extraordinary pains.” Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon, Vol. II (1865), p. 473.
2) E. Tyan, “dijhad”, Encyclopadia of Islam, 1st ed., Vol. II (1965), pp. 538-540; Majid Khadcluri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (Baltimore: John Hopkins 
University Press, 1955), pp. 51-54. 
3) See as recent an example as Samuel M Zwermer. , “The Sword of Muhammad and Ali,” .Moslem World, XXI (April, 1931), pp. 109-121. See Moulavi Cheragh Ali, A Critical Exposition of the Popular jihad (Karachi: Karimsons, 1977, reprint of the original 1885 Calcutta edition), for an anthology-like collection ofextracts from the work of Orientalists and / or missionaries hostile to Islam.
4) In addition to the above cited work of Cheragh Ali, see also the chapter on jihad in Muhammed Ali, The Religion of Islam (Cairo: The Arab Writer Publishers and Printers, n.d.), pp. 545-599; Ameer Ali, TheSpirit of lslam (London: Methuen, 1965), reprint of the 1922 edition.
As for Islam as revolutionary ideology, see Ali Shari’ati, On the Sociology of lslam, Hamid Algar, trans. (Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1979) Shari’ati’s work is not surveyed in this study since his references are almost entirely Shia, but his treatment of Islam as revolutonary ideology is the most thought out, transformational ellbrt available in English to date. Given Shari’ati’, popularity , with Iran’s “revolutionary Islamic- youth’ in the decade preceding the Iranian Rvolution, his work is of exceptional historic significance. On the other hand it could also he argued that Shari-ati’s uses of an Islamic technical vocabulary and Islamic subject material does not, justify classifying his Fanonist neo-Matrix thought as Islamic.
5) Yusuf Ibish lectures on Islamic Political Thought. American University of Beirut. Syyed Hossein Nasr, ideas and Realities of Islam (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1966;. pp. 29-33, 36-38 [hereafter referred to as Ideals).
6) Ross E. Dunn, Resistance in the Desert (London: Crown Helm Ltd., 1977); JohnS. Habib, Ibn Sa’ud’s Warriors of Islam (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978) B.G. Martin, Muslim Brotherhoods in 19th century Africa (Cambrige: Cambridge University Press, 1976).
7) Muhsin Mahdi, “Alfarabi”, in L. Strauss and J. Cropsey, eds., History of Political Philosophy (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co. 1972), pp. 196-197.
8) Leo Strauss, “Introduction”, in L. St rauss and J. Cropsey), eds., History of Political Philosophy, p.1.
9) Ernest L. Fortin, “St. Thomas Aquinas”, ibid., p.226
10) Seyyd Hossein Nasr, Three Muslim Sages (Delmar, New York: Caravan Books, 1976), reprint of 1964 Harvard University Press edition, pp. 49-51.
11) Majid Khaddutr, The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybani’s Siyar (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1966); “International Law”, in M. Khadduri and H.J. Liebesny, eds, Law in the Middle East (Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute, 1955), I, pp. 349-372; Muhammed Hamidullah, Muslim Conduct of State (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1945).
12) Rudolf Peters, ed, and trans., .Jihad in Mediaeval and Modern Islam, “Nisaba Series” (Leiden: E J. Brill, 1977).
13) H.A.R. Gibb, “Al-Mawardi’s Theory of the Caliphate”, in S.J.Shaw and W.R.Polk, eds, Studies on the Civilition of Islam (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), pp. 151-165, Yusuf Ibish, The Political Doctrine of al’Baqillani (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1966), pp. 42-53.
14) Muhammad Aziz Ahmed, “The Nature of Islamic Political Theory”, Islamic Culture, XVII (January, 1943), p.39.
15) Maurice Natanson, The Journeying Self: A Study in Philosophy and Social Role (Reading MAss: Adison Wesley Publishing Co. 1970), p.39.
16) Donald M. Lowe, “Intentionality and the Method of History”m in M. Natanson, ed, Phenomenology and the social Sciences, II (Evanston: Northwestern University Press 1973), p.103.
17) H.A.R. Gibb, “Structure of Religious Thought”, in Shaw and Polk, eds. Studies …., pp. 208-218; “An Interpretation of Islamic History”, ibid., pp. 27-32.
18) Muhammad Asad, The Principles of State and Government in Islam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), pp.2-3.
19) Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islam and the Plight of Modern Man (London: Longmans, 1975), p.21 [italics mine].
20) Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, W.R. Trask, trans. (New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1959), pp. 202, 168. For additional uses of the concept of sacralizationn (and desacralization) by Eliades, see pp. 13-14, 23, 167, 193, and 203. Equally applicable in the analysis of religious-political thought and institutions in Jacob Neusner, “From Theology to Ideology: the Transmutation of Judaism in Modern Terms,” in Kalman H. Silvert, ed, Churches and States: the Religious Institution and Modernization (New York: American University Field Services,Inc., 1967), pp. 13-48. Less applicable is Gustav Von Grunebaum’s use of sacralization in his discussion of the “desacralized period of Fatimad rule”, in “The Nature of the Fatimid Achievement”, Colloque international sur l’Histoire du Caire (Cairo: Ministry of Culture 1972), p. 210
21) Frithjof Schuon, ” Aspects of the Theophanic Phenomenon of Consciousness”, Studies in Comparative Religion, XII (Winter/Spring, 1978), p.3.
22) Arthur Jeffery, ed and trans., A Reader on Islam (The Hague: Mouton 1962), p.497.
23) Ibid., p. 556. The basmasla is the phrase, bismillah-ir-rahman-ir-rahim, “In the Name of God, The Merciful, The Compassionate.” The use of this phrase as an act of piety before proceeding with any act is called tasmiya. 
24) Lane’s Lexicon, II, p. 473; Imam Abu-l-Qassim al-Raghib al-Ishani, al-Mufradat fi gharib al Qur’an, quoted in Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zahra, “The Jihad (Striving)”, The Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research (Cairo: al-Azhar, 1970), p. 49. Qur’an XXII:78;IX:42. Translations of the meaning of the Qur’an are based upon English language interpretations by Pickthall, Ali, Asad, Arberry and Lewis with reference to Lane’s Lexicon and the tafsir of al-Qurtobi who reports the opinions of the earliest tafsir (al-Tabari, Ibn Abbas, ect.) along with his own.
25) Nasr, Ideals, pp.58-65.
26) Nasr, Ideals, pp. 62-65
27) Qur’an, LVII:3.
28) Lane’s Lexicon, II pp. 473-474.
29) Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1961 ed. s.v. “Hadith”, “al-Kuran”, “Sunna” [Hereafter referred to as SEI]. 
30) Qur’an, II:191 (Yusuf Ali translation)
31) Qur’an, II:190 (Yusuf Ali translation)
32) Qur’an, II:251. (The reference is to Nabi Dawud (David) slaying Goliath and the hesitation of the Bani Israel, after Nabi Musa (Moses), to fight sabi’illah); Qur’an XII:40
33) Qur’an, II:193; IX:5; IX:29
34) Qur’an, II:126; VIII:65-66.
35) Sahih al-Bukhari, M.M.Khan, trans., 10 vols. (Medina: Islamic University, 1971), Book IV, Chapters 93-102 The Islamic Quarterly, London 
Third Quarter 1983