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Regarding Jihaad


Islamic precepts suggest under what circumstances a jihad can take place.  Equally important but less well understood is a related question:  Under what circumstances should jihad be suspended if its intended purposes are not being met?  The situation in Kashmir provides specific context to this important question.

There is no evidence to date that the jihad waged against the Indian presence in Kashmir is succeeding, but there is ample evidence of casualties among women, children, and other noncombatants.  There is also growing evidence of a readiness among Kashmiris for a suspension of hostilities and human rights abuses.  Under these circumstances, do Islamic precepts mandate a continuation of jihad or its suspension?

Question from United States of America

It would be advisable, in my opinion, to first understand the directives of Islam governing Jihad, remaining absolutely independent of the situation prevalent in Kashmir. We should first try to understand the directives for Jihad in the Islamic Shari`ah[1] and then, by applying these directives of the Shari`ah on the practical situation prevalent in Kashmir (or any other area), see whether the directives of the Shari`ah are being followed by the freedom movements in these areas or whether these directives are even applicable to the situations prevalent in these areas.

Let us first try to understand the issue purely from the perspective of understanding the directives of the Shari`ah.

In our present times, the term 'Jihad' has generally been used to imply 'killing the opponent (non-Muslim) using any means, whatsoever'. This implication of the term, if seen in the light of the Qur'an as well as the life of the Prophet (pbuh) does not seem to be accurate. On the contrary, if seen in the light of the Qur'an and the Seerah[2] of the Prophet (pbuh), we come to the conclusion that Jihad is not merely fighting against non-Muslims for whatever reasons and in whatever manner; it is, in fact, a war declared under specific circumstances[3] carried out by an organized Muslim state.

To fully comprehend the directives of the Shari`ah relating to the institution of Jihad, it is imperative to find answers to the following questions:

  1. As an entity, who is the addressee of the verses related to Jihad? Is it the Muslim individuals? Is it a group of Muslims? Or is it an organized collectivity (a Muslim state)? In other words, who, precisely, is given the directive of waging a war[4] against another people?

  2. Can a group of trained and armed Muslims initiate a war for absolutely any reason or are there any reasons specified in the Shari`ah for which a war can be declared on another people?

  3. Are there are any directives of the Shari`ah relating to the ethical and moral behavior of the collectivity as well as the individuals participating in a war to which they should adhere during the times of war, whether within the battlefield or outside it.

In the following paragraphs, we shall try to give comprehensive answers to the stated questions.

The Addressee of the Directives Relating to Jihad

The first question relates to the determination of the addressees of the directives relating to Jihad. This, in other words, is an attempt to determine the entity, which is responsible to carryout the directives relating to Jihad.

If seen in the light of the nature of the directive as well as the timing of its implementation in the Qur'an, one can easily derive that it addresses, not the Muslim individuals or any groups thereof, but the organized collectivity of the Muslims. In other words, the directive of Jihad, like all other directives of Islam pertaining to the collectivity of the Muslims[5] is addressed to the Organized Muslim state[6]. This, in other words, implies that the first and the foremost condition - unanimously acknowledged as a necessary condition by all classical Muslim jurists - for any aggressive action against a people to qualify as Jihad is that it should be carried out and implemented by an organized Muslim state.

Another issue relating to the addressees of the directives of Jihad is the recommended balance of power between the Muslim state (planning aggression in the name of Jihad) and the other state (against which an aggressive action is being planned). This issue is especially pertinent, from the Islamic perspective, because the Qur'an has given clear guidance in this regard. The Qur'an promises God's help for any Muslim army, which is fighting for a just cause, even if the power-balance of the Muslims and their adversaries is one to two. That is the Muslims are half as strong as their adversaries[7]. If seen closely, this verse, on the one hand, provides a glad tiding for the Muslims that even if they are half as powerful as their adversaries and are fighting for a just cause, God shall help them and, as a result, they shall be successful. However, on the other hand, this verse also implies that if the power-balance between the two armies is more than 1:2 (that is the Muslims are less than even half as strong as their adversaries), then the Muslims, rather than declaring any wars, should first improve this power-balance and bring it to at least the minimum recommended 1:2.

Thus, from the above explanation, it is clear that:

  1. It is only a Muslim state (not individuals or groups of individuals), whose aggression against another people, for a just cause, can qualify as 'Jihad'.

  2. A Muslim state has been promised God's help and subsequent victory, if it is fighting for a just cause and if its relative power-balance (with its adversary state) is not less than 1:2.

The Purpose of Jihad

According to the Qur'an, a Muslim state has been directed to fight against persecution[8]. This is the only reason for which a Muslim state can take an aggressive armed action against another people. The Qur'an has stressed this point in its verses relating to Jihad as well as those relating to taking another person's life.

It is obvious that Qitaal (or Jihad) invariably results in the loss of lives and property. Taking a human life or even giving life is not a trivial matter. If any of our decision entails even the possibility of taking a human life (as would obviously be the case in declaring war), especially in the name of Islam, we must at least have a clear permission of our Lord to take life for the particular purpose for which we are declaring that war. Without such clear permission, it is quite possible that our decision may not be correct and, if that is indeed the case, we are held responsible for all the loss of life and property that occurs consequent upon our decision. We must keep in mind that, according to the Qur'an, taking even one life for a cause not authorized by God shall follow the same consequence as that of killing the whole of mankind. The Qur'an has clearly declared:

Whoever killed even a single soul - except being a punishment of murder or that of spreading unrest in the land - is as if he killed the whole of mankind. (Al-Maaidah 5: 32)

It is due to the extremely grave consequences of taking a human life, as have been mentioned in the cited verse, that we should be overly careful in finding out whether or not we have been allowed by an express directive of the Almighty to take life for the particular cause for which we are planning or even contemplating to declare a war.

Thus, Muslim states, when they are in a position to do so, have been ordained by the Qur'an to fight only against persecution (injustice, oppression etc.). Muslim swords are raised only against the oppressors and persecutors, irrespective of whether the oppressor is a Muslim or a non-Muslim.

Some Ethical Issues Relating to Jihad

The Qur'an and the narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) have pointed a number of ethical issues relating to Jihad - whether relating to the situations inside the battlefield or outside it. Some of the most important among these issues are:

  1. Jihad is a declared war against another people. Jihad does not cover any covert or hypocritical actions of a Muslim state against another. Thus, Jihad does not cover actions like secretly sponsoring terrorist activities against the adversaries, even if such adversaries are, in the opinion of the Islamic state, guilty of persecuting its citizens or any particular segment of its citizens.

  2. A Muslim state cannot carryout Jihad, against an adversary state, in violation of any mutual or international agreements. This ethical condition, according to the Qur'an[9], would remain applicable even if the adversary state is clearly guilty of persecuting its citizens and even if the persecuted Muslims have called upon the Muslim state for help.

  3. While in a state of war against another nation, Muslims cannot, under any circumstances, make the non-combatant peoples of that nation (including men, women and children not taking part in the war) a target of their attacks[10].

  4. Finally, a Muslim has been strictly admonished against showing cowardice and spinelessness in the battlefields[11].

The aforementioned are some of the important ethical teachings of Islam relating to the matter under consideration.

Keeping the preceding explanation in perspective, it should be clear that "Jihad", in the Islamic Shari`ah, "is a declared warfare against injustice and oppression carried-out by an organized Islamic state, under the strict compliance of all ethical teachings of Islam, relating to it."

The above, in my opinion, is the gist of the teachings and the directives of Islam relating to Jihad. As far as whether or not a particular aggression of a Muslim group should be termed "Jihad" is concerned, it is a matter related to the application of the teachings explained in the preceding paragraphs. It is obvious that if the aggression under consideration complies with the teachings of Islam stipulated above, it would lie within the folds of Jihad, otherwise not. Thus, it is for the Muslims to make an opinion regarding whether or not the term can/should be used for the various Muslim freedom movements in the world.

Is There any Room for Retrenchment?

You have asked:

Under these circumstances, do Islamic precepts mandate a continuation of jihad or its suspension?

As I understand it, please correct me if I am wrong, your question pertains to whether the Muslim army can adopt a policy of retrenchment, or even surrender, if the situation seems absolutely hopeless.

The answer to this question, in my opinion, is quite obvious. Jihad, under no circumstances, is synonymous with suicide - whether individual or collective. Jihad is (at least should) always be carried out for a purpose. Martyrdom should indeed be a desire of every Mujahid[12], but it is never the purpose of Jihad. Thus, if the situation becomes absolutely bleak and there is absolutely no hope for success, then there is no point in wasting precious human lives. Carrying on to fight, under such circumstances, would be an extremely unwise decision and would, therefore, not find its approval from Islam. The Qur'an while admonishing individuals to strictly refrain from showing cowardice in the battlefield has made an exception to the situation where the Muslim army, as a whole, adopts the strategy of moving back[13]. This is a clear evidence to the effect that under such circumstances as you have mentioned, the Shari`ah does not prohibit the Muslim army from adopting a policy of retrenchment.

September 2, 2000

[1] That is the law of Islam, based solely on the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh).

[2] That is the life of the Prophet (pbuh).

[3] Besides any defensive war.

[4] The word 'war' has generally been used as synonymous to Jihad.

[5] As, for example, the implementation of the punishments recommended for various crimes.

[6] The word 'state' in this article has been used in its generally understood meaning as "a form of human association distinguished from other social groups by its purpose, the establishment of order and security; its methods, the laws and their enforcement; its territory, the area of jurisdiction or geographic boundaries; and finally by its sovereignty." (Encyclopedia Britannica)

[7] Al-Anfaal 8: 66

[8] The Qur'an has clearly placed the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions (ra) in an exceptional position. The Jihad of the Prophet (pbuh) as well as that of his companions, after his demise, was based on their exceptional position. For details regarding the basis of the Jihad of the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions, please refer to a few of my earlier responses to related questions,  titled "The Initial Spread of Islam and the Law of Jihad", "A Comment" and "The meaning of Al-Baqarah 2: 143 and Al-Hajj 22: 78 and Their Implications on the Law of Jihad".

[9] Al-Anfaal 8: 72

[10] Al-Baqarah 2: 190

[11] Al-Anfaal 8: 15 - 16

[12] i.e. a person taking part in Jihad.

[13] Al-Anfaal 8: 15 - 16

Answer published by Moiz Amjad