By Reza Shah-Kazemi
14 August 2015
As for those who exert themselves in Us,
We surely guide them unto our pathways
The principle expressed in this verse is indispensable for a correct understanding of the nature of jihad (holy exertion) in Islam; and it helps to establish a clear criterion by which the deviation of jihadist ideology can be gauged. The exertion or effort in question has to be in God, and not just for God; in other words, it must be conducted within a divine framework and thus be in harmony with all the spiritual and ethical qualities that pertain to that framework; only on this condition will God guide the Mujahideen along the appropriate paths, whether the exertion in question be conducted in the realm of outward warfare, moral and social endeavour, intellectual and scholarly effort, or, at its most profound, spiritual struggle against that greatest enemy, one’s own congenital egotism. In this conception of jihad, the end does not justify the means; on the contrary, the means must be in total conformity with the end: if one’s struggle is truly for God, it must be conducted in God—both the means and the end should be defined by divine principles, thus encompassed and inspired by the divine presence. The employment of vile means betrays the fact that the end in view is far from divine; instead of struggling for God and in God, the goal of any jihad in which the murder of innocents is deemed legitimate cannot be divinely inspired; even if decked out in the trappings of Islamic vocabulary, it can only emerge as a product of a thoroughly un-Islamic jihadist ideology.
In this light, it is wholly understandable that, in the aftermath of the brutal attacks of September 11, many in the West and in the Muslim world are appalled by the fact that the mass-murder perpetrated on that day is being hailed by some Muslims as an act of jihad. Only the most deluded souls could regard the attacks as having been launched by “Mujahideen,” striking a blow in the name of Islam against “legitimate targets” in the heartland of “the enemy.” Despite its evident falsity, the image of Islam conveyed by this disfiguration of Islamic principles is not easily dislodged from the popular imagination in the West. There is an unhealthy and dangerous convergence of perception between, on the one hand, those—albeit a tiny minority—in the Muslim world who see the attacks as part of a necessary anti-western jihad, and, on the other, those in the West—unfortunately, not such a tiny minority—who likewise see the attacks as the logical expression of an inherently militant religious tradition, one that is irrevocably opposed to the West.
Although of the utmost importance in principle, it appears to matter little in practice that Muslim scholars have pointed out that the terror attacks are totally devoid of any legitimacy in terms of Islamic law (Sharia) and morality. The relevant legal principles—that jihad can only be proclaimed by the most authoritative scholar of jurisprudence in the land in question; that there were no grounds for waging a jihad in the given situation; that, even within a legitimate jihad, the use of fire as a weapon is prohibited; that the inviolability of non-combatants is always to be strictly observed; that suicide is prohibited in Islam—these principles, and others, have been properly stressed by the appropriate sharÏ¢a experts; and they have been duly amplified by leaders and statesmen in the Muslim world and the West. Nonetheless, here in the West, the abiding image of “Islamic jihad” seems to be determined not so much by legal niceties as by images and stereotypes, in particular, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the potent juxtaposition of two scenes: the apocalyptic carnage at “Ground Zero”—where the Twin Towers used to stand; and mobs of enraged Muslims bellowing anti-Western slogans to the refrain of “All¥hu akbar.”
In such a situation, where the traditional spirit of Islam, and of the meaning, role, and significance of jihad within it, is being distorted beyond recognition, it behooves all those who stand opposed both to media stereotypes of Jihadism and to those misguided fanatics who provide the material for the stereotypes, to denounce in the strongest possible terms all forms of terrorism that masquerade as jihad. Many, though, will understandably be asking the question: if this is not jihad, then what is true jihad? They should be given an answer.2
Islamic Principles and Muslim Practice
Whilst it would be a relatively straightforward task to cite traditional Islamic principles which reveal the totally un-Islamic nature of this ideology of “Jihadism,” we believe that a critique on this plane of principle will be much more effective if it is complemented with images, actions, deeds, personalities, and episodes that exemplify the principles in question, thereby putting flesh and blood on the bare bones of theory. For the salience of intellectual argument, especially in the domain being considered here, is immeasurably deepened through corroboration by historically recorded cases where the spirit of authentic jihad is vividly enacted, and the pretensions of the self-styled warriors of Islam can be more acutely perceived in the light cast by true Mujahideen.
There is a rich treasure of chivalry from which to draw for this purpose in Muslim history. What follows is a series of scenes drawn from this tradition which might serve as illustrations of key Qur’anic and prophetic values which pertain to principled warfare. For it is one thing to quote Qur’anic verses—quite another to see them embodied in action.
As regards the virtue of chivalry itself, it is no exaggeration to say that, throughout the Middle Ages, the very name Saladin was a byword for chivalry, and this remains to some extent true even to this day. The contemporary chronicles—by Muslims and Christians alike—that describe his campaigns and his consistent fidelity to the noblest principles of dignified warfare speak volumes. Again and again, often in the face of treachery by his adversaries, Saladin responded with magnanimity. Suffice it to draw attention to his forbearance, mercy, and generosity at the moment of his greatest triumph: the re-conquest of Jerusalem on Friday, October 2, 1187, a memorable day indeed, being the 27th of Rajab—the anniversary of the Prophet’s laylat al-mi¢r¥j, his ascent through the heavens from Jerusalem itself. After detailing many acts of kindness and charity, the Christian chronicler Ernoul writes:
Then I shall tell you of the great courtesy which Saladin showed to the wives and daughters of knights, who had fled to Jerusalem when their lords were killed or made prisoners in battle. When these ladies were ransomed and had come forth from Jerusalem, they assembled and went before Saladin crying mercy. When Saladin saw them he asked who they were and what they sought. And it was told him that they were the dames and damsels of knights who had been taken or killed in battle. Then he asked what they wished, and they answered for God’s sake have pity on them; for the husbands of some were in prison, and of others were dead, and they had lost their lands, and in the name of God let him counsel and help them. When Saladin saw them weeping he had great compassion for them, and wept himself for pity. And he bade the ladies whose husbands were alive to tell him where they were captives, and as soon as he could go to the prisons he would set them free. And all were released wherever they were found. After that he commanded that to the dames and damsels whose lords were dead there should be handsomely distributed from his own treasure, to some more and others less, according to their estate. And he gave them so much that they gave praise to God and published abroad the kindness and honour which Saladin had done to them.3
Saladin’s magnanimity at this defining moment of history will always be contrasted with the barbaric sacking of the city and indiscriminate murder of its inhabitants by the Christian Crusaders in 1099. His lesson of mercy has been immortalized in the words of his biographer, Stanley Lane-Poole:
One recalls the savage conquest by the first Crusaders in 1099, when Godfrey and Tancred rode through streets choked with the dead and the dying, when defenceless Moslems were tortured, burnt, and shot down in cold blood on the towers and roof of the Temple, when the blood of wanton massacre defiled the honour of Christendom and stained the scene where once the gospel of love and mercy had been preached. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” was a forgotten beatitude when the Christians made shambles of the Holy City. Fortunate were the merciless, for they obtained mercy at the hands of the Moslem Sultan.… If the taking of Jerusalem were the only fact known about Saladin, it were enough to prove him the most chivalrous and great-hearted conqueror of his own, and perhaps of any, age.
Saladin, though exceptional, was but expressing essentially Islamic principles of conduct, as laid down by the Qur’an and the Prophet œ. These principles of conduct were exemplified in another telling incident which occurred some fifty years before Saladin’s victory: a mass conversion of Christians to Islam took place, as a direct result of the exercise of the cardinal Muslim virtue of compassion. A Christian monk, Odo of Deuil, has bequeathed to history a valuable record of the event; being openly antagonistic to the Islamic faith, his account is all the more reliable. After being defeated by the Turks in Phyrgia in 543 AH/1147 CE, the remnants of Louis VII’s army, together with a few thousand pilgrims, reached the port of Attalia. The sick, the wounded, and the pilgrims had to be left behind by Louis, who gave his Greek allies 500 marks to take care of these people until reinforcements arrived. The Greeks stole away with the money, abandoning the pilgrims and the wounded to the ravages of starvation and disease, and fully expecting those who survived to be finished off by the Turks. However, when the Turks arrived and saw the plight of the defenceless pilgrims, they took pity on them, fed and watered them, and tended to their needs. This act of compassion resulted in the wholesale conversion of the pilgrims to Islam. Odo comments:
Avoiding their co-religionists who had been so cruel to them, they went in safety among the infidels who had compassion upon them.… Oh kindness more cruel than all treachery! They gave them bread but robbed them of their faith, though it is certain that, contented with the services they [the Muslims] performed, they compelled no one among them to renounce his religion.5
The last point is crucial in respect of two key Islamic principles: that no one is ever to be forced into converting to Islam; and that virtue must be exercised with no expectation of reward. On the one hand, “There is no compulsion in religion”;6 and on the other, the righteous are those “who feed, for love of Him, the needy, the orphan, the captive, [saying] we feed you only for the sake of God; we desire neither reward nor thanks from you.”7
The Ontological Imperative of Mercy
Mercy, compassion, and forbearance are certainly key aspects of the authentic spirit of jihad; it is not simply a question of fierceness in war, it is much more about knowing when fighting is unavoidable, how the fight is to be conducted, and to exercise, whenever possible, the virtues of mercy and gentleness. The following verses are relevant in this regard:
Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you.8
Mu^ammad is the messenger of God; and those with him are fierce against the disbelievers, and merciful amongst themselves.9
And fight in the way of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression. God loveth not the aggressors.10
The Prophet œ is told in the Qur’an, “It was by the mercy of God that thou wast lenient to them; if thou hadst been stern and fierce of heart they would have dispersed from around thee.”11
Repeatedly in the Qur’an, one is brought back to the overriding imperative of manifesting mercy and compassion wherever possible. This is a principle that relates not so much to legalism or sentimentality as to the deepest nature of things; for, in the Islamic perspective, compassion is the very essence of the Real. A famous saying of the Prophet œ tells us that, written on the very Throne of God are the words, “My mercy takes precedence over My Wrath.” Mercy and compassion (ra^ma) express the fundamental nature of God. Therefore nothing can escape from divine mercy: “My compassion encompasses all things.”12 The name of God, ar-Ra^m¥n, is coterminous with Allah: “Call upon Allah or call upon ar-Ra^m¥n.”13 The divine creative force is, again and again in the Qur’an, identified with ar-Ra^m¥n; and the principle of revelation itself, likewise, is identified with this same divine quality. The chapter of the Qur’an named ar-Ra^m¥n begins thus: “Ar-Ra^m¥n, taught the Qur’an, created man.”14
This “ontological imperative” of mercy must always be borne in mind when considering any issue connected with warfare in Islam. The examples of merciful magnanimity which we observe throughout the tradition of Muslim chivalry are not only to be seen as instances of individual virtue, but also and above all, as natural fruits of this ontological imperative; and no one manifested this imperative so fully as the Prophet œ himself. Indeed, Saladin’s magnanimity at Jerusalem can be seen as an echo of the Prophet’s conduct at his conquest of Mecca. As the huge Muslim army approached Mecca in triumphal procession, a Muslim leader, Sa¢d ibn ¢Ub¥da, to whom the Prophet œ had given his standard, called out to Ab‰ Sufy¥n, leader of the Quraysh of Mecca, who knew that there was no chance of resisting this army:
“O Ab‰ Sufy¥n, this is the day of slaughter! The day when the inviolable shall be violated! The day of God’s abasement of Quraysh.” … “O Messenger of God,” cried Ab‰ Sufy¥n when he came within earshot, “hast thou commanded the slaying of thy people?”—and he repeated to him what Sa¢d had said. “I adjure thee by God,” he added, “on behalf of thy people, for thou art of all men the greatest in filial piety, the most merciful, the most beneficent.” “This is the day of mercy,” said the Prophet, “the day on which God hath exalted Quraysh.”15
The Quraysh, having full reason to be fearful, given the intensity—and the barbarity–of their persecution of the early Muslims, and their continuing hostility and warfare against them after the enforced migration of the Muslims to Medina, were granted a general amnesty; many erstwhile enemies were thereby converted into stalwart Muslims. This noble conduct embodied the spirit of the following verse: “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 were a bosom friend.”16
The principle of no compulsion in religion was referred to above. It is to be noted that, contrary to the still prevalent misconception that Islam was spread by the sword, the military campaigns and conquests of the Muslim armies were, on the whole, carried out in such an exemplary manner that the conquered peoples became attracted by the religion which so impressively disciplined its armies, and whose adherents so scrupulously respected the principle of freedom of worship. Paradoxically, the very freedom and respect given by the Muslim conquerors to believers of different faith-communities intensified the process of conversion to Islam. Arnold’s classic work, The Preaching of Islam, remains one of the best refutations of the idea that Islam was spread by forcible conversion. His comprehensive account of the spread of Islam in all the major regions of what is now the Muslim world demonstrates beyond doubt that the growth and spread of the religion was of an essentially peaceful nature, the two most important factors in accounting for conversion to Islam being Sufism and trade. The mystic and the merchant, in other words, were the most successful “missionaries” of Islam.
One telling document cited in his work sheds light on the nature of the mass conversion of one group, the Christians of the Persian province of Khurasan, and may be taken as indicative of the conditions under which Christians and non-Muslims in general, converted to Islam. This is the letter of the Nestorian Patriarch, Isho-yabh III to Simeon, Metropolitan of Rev-Ardashir, and Primate of Persia:
Alas, alas! Out of so many thousands who bore the name of Christians, not even one single victim was consecrated unto God by the shedding of his blood for the true faith.… [The Arabs] attack not the Christian faith, but on the contrary, they favour our religion, do honour to our priests and the saints of our Lord and confer benefits on churches and monasteries. Why then have your people of Merv abandoned their faith for the sake of these Arabs?17
This honouring of Christian priests, saints, churches, and monasteries flows directly from the practice of the Prophet œ—witness, among other things, the treaty he concluded with the monks of St. Catherine’s monastery in Sinai,18 and the permission given by the Christians of Najran to perform their liturgy in the holiest place in Medina, the Prophet’s own mosque;19 and it is likewise rooted in clear verses relating to the inviolability of all places wherein the name of God is oft-invoked. Indeed, in the verse giving permission to the Muslims to begin to fight back in self-defence against the Meccans, the need to protect all such places of worship, and not just mosques, is tied to the reason for the necessity of warfare:
Permission [to fight] is given to those who are being fought, for they have been wronged, and surely God is able to give them victory; those who have been expelled from their homes unjustly, only because they said, “Our Lord is God.” Had God not driven back some by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques—wherein the name of God is oft-invoked—would assuredly have been destroyed.20
Islam and the People of the Book: Tolerance or Terrorism?
The long and well-authenticated tradition of tolerance in Islam springs directly from the spirit of this and many other verses of similar import. We observe one of the most striking historical expressions of this tradition of tolerance—striking in the contrast it provides with the intolerance that so frequently characterized the Christian tradition—in the fate of Spanish Jewry under Islamic rule. Before looking at this particular case, we should note that, in general terms, active, systematic persecution of Jews and Christians is virtually unknown under Muslim rule. It is important to stress this fact in the strongest possible terms in the present context, and to debunk the pernicious lie that is circulating in our times—the lie that there is in Islam an inherent, deep-rooted, theologically sanctioned hostility to Judaism. One must not regard the present anger on the part of most Muslims against the policies of the state of Israel as being some kind of atavistic resurgence of a putative anti-Semitism ingrained in the Islamic view of the world. Today, it is the extremists on both sides of the tragic conflict in Palestine who share an interest in promoting this myth of an intrinsically and eternally anti-Jewish Islam; it is of the utmost importance to show the falsity of this notion.
One should also add here that it is not just the “moderates” on both sides who come together, for the sake of peace and justice, in opposing this false characterization of Muslim-Jewish relations; it is also the lovers of traditional, orthodox Judaism that come together, from all religions, to denounce, for the sake of veracity, that deviation from Judaism which Zionism is. Thus we find such groups as the Naturai Karta—traditional Jews opposed to Zionism on irrefutable theological grounds—joining hands with Muslim human rights groups to defend the legitimate rights of the Palestinians against the injustices perpetrated against them in the Holy Land. One must take care to distinguish, therefore, not only between Judaism and Zionism but also between legitimate opposition to particular policies of the state of Israel—policies that reflect and embody Zionist aspirations in different degrees—and illegitimate “jihad” against Jews or Westerners simply on account of the fact that they are Jews or Westerners. The first expresses a legitimate grievance; the second makes of this grievance the pretext for terrorism
As regards the refutation of the myth that Muslim-Jewish relations have traditionally been antagonistic and oppressive, a cursory perusal of the historical record suffices. Even so fierce a critic of Islam as Bernard Lewis cannot but confirm the facts of history as regards the true character of Muslim-Jewish relations until recent times. In his book, The Jews of Islam, he writes that even though there was a certain level of discrimination against Jews and Christians under Muslim rule,
Persecution, that is to say, violent and active repression, was rare and atypical. Jews and Christians under Muslim rule were not normally called upon to suffer martyrdom for their faith. They were not often obliged to make the choice, which confronted Muslims and Jews in re-conquered Spain, between exile, apostasy and death. They were not subject to any major territorial or occupational restrictions, such as were the common lot of Jews in premodern Europe.21
He then adds the important point that this pattern of tolerance continued to characterize the nature of Muslim rule vis-à-vis Jews and Christians until modern times, with very minor exceptions.
It is not out of place to note here that the phenomenon of anti-Semitism has absolutely nothing to do with Islam. It was, as ¢Abdall¥h Schleifer notes, “Church Triumphant”—that is, the Byzantine Church triumphed over the Roman Empire and founded its new capital in Constantinople in the fourth century—it was this Church that was to “unleash upon the world the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. For if we are to differentiate between the vicissitudes which any minority community may endure, and a ‘principled’ and systematic hostility, then one can boldly state, with the consensus of modern historians, that anti-Semitism originated as a Christian phenomenon.”22
The story of anti-Semitism in Europe—the violent episodes of what today would be labelled ethnic cleansing—is too well-known to need repeating here. But it should be borne in mind that at the same time as the Christian West was indulging in periodic anti-Jewish pogroms, the Jews were experiencing what some Jewish historians themselves have termed a kind of golden age under Muslim rule. As Erwin Rosenthal writes, “The Talmudic age apart, there is perhaps no more formative and positive time in our long and chequered history than that under the empire of Islam.”23
One particularly rich episode in this golden period was experienced by the Jews of Muslim Spain. As has been abundantly attested by historical records, the Jews enjoyed not just freedom from oppression but also an extraordinary revival of cultural, religious, theological, and mystical creativity. As Titus Burckhardt writes, “The greatest beneficiaries of Islamic rule were the Jews, for in Spain (seph¥r¥d in Hebrew) they enjoyed their finest intellectual flowering since their dispersal from Palestine to foreign lands.”24 Such great Jewish luminaries as Maimonides and Ibn Gabirol wrote their philosophical works in Arabic and were fully “at home’” in Muslim Spain.25 With the expulsion, murder, or forced conversion of all Muslims and Jews following the Reconquista of Spain—brought to completion with the fall of Granada in 1492—it was to the Ottomans that the exiled Jews turned for refuge and protection. They were welcomed in Muslim lands throughout North Africa, joining the settled and prosperous Jewish communities already there, while also establishing new Jewish communities.
It was at this time also that Jews were suffering intense persecution in central Europe; they likewise looked to the Muslim Ottomans for refuge. Many Jews fleeing from this persecution would have received letters like the following, from Rabbi Isaac Tzarfati, who reached the Ottomans just before their capture of Constantinople in 1453. This is what he replied to those Jews of central Europe who were calling out for help:
Listen, my brethren, to the counsel I will give you. I too was born in Germany and studied Torah with the German rabbis. I was driven out of my native country and came to the Turkish land, which is blessed by God and filled with all good things. Here I found rest and happiness.… Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of. We are not oppressed with heavy taxes, and our commerce is free and unhindered.… Every one of us lives in peace and freedom. Here the Jew is not compelled to wear a yellow hat as a badge of shame, as is the case in Germany, where even wealth and great fortune are a curse for the Jew because he therewith arouses jealousy among the Christians.… Arise, my brethren, gird up your loins, collect your forces, and come to us. Here you will be free of your enemies, here you will find rest.26
Given the fact that so much of today’s jihadist propaganda is directed against the Jews, it is important to stress that this tolerance of the Jews under Muslim rule is one expression of an underlying theological harmony between the two religions—a harmony that is conspicuously absent when one compares Christian and Jewish theology. Islam was never considered the messianic fulfilment of Judaism, as was Christianity; it was put forward as a restoration of that primordial Abrahamic faith of which both Judaism and Christianity were alike expressions. Islam calls adherents of both faiths back to that pristine monotheism; far from rejecting their prophets, the Qur’an asserts that all the prophets came with one and the same message, and that therefore there should be no distinction made between any of the prophets:
Say: We believe in God and that which is revealed unto us, and that which is revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was given unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have submitted. 27
The consequences of this acceptance of the pre-Qur’anic scriptures were far-reaching as regards theological relations between Muslims and Jews. As the Jewish scholar Mark Cohen notes, “Rabbinic exegesis of the Bible—so repugnant to Christian theologians—bothered Muslim clerics only insofar as it distorted pristine Abrahamic monotheism. Thus the Islamic polemic against the rabbis was much less virulent and had far less serious repercussions. The Talmud was burned in Paris, not in Cairo or Baghdad.”28
Therefore, the refusal of the Jews to follow the Sharia was not a challenge to Islamic belief; this was in contrast to the Jewish rejection of Christ as Messiah, which not only challenged a cardinal tenet of Christian dogma, it also deeply insulted Christian faith and sensibility. Whereas in Christendom, the Jews were reviled as the killers of Jesus, in Islam, the Jews were “protected” (as Dhimmis) by the very law (Sharia) that they refused to follow for themselves. To quote Cohen again,
More secure than their brethren in the Christian West, the Jews of Islam took a correspondingly more conciliatory view of their masters. In Europe, the Jews nurtured a pronounced hatred for the Christians, whom they considered to be idolators, subject to the anti-pagan discriminatory provisions of the ancient Mishnah.… The Jews of Islam had a markedly different attitude towards the religion of their masters. Staunch Muslim opposition to polytheism convinced Jewish thinkers like Maimonides of Islam’s unimpeachable monotheism. This essentially ‘tolerant’ view of Islam echoed Islam’s own respect for the Jewish ‘people of the Book.’29
In presenting this argument, one is not trying to “score points” for Islam against Christianity, nor simply to apportion blame for the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, nor to argue that there is an inherent and insuperable antagonism between Christianity and Judaism. Rather, the aim in making these points is to demonstrate the irony as well as the falsity of the claim that Islam is inherently anti-Jewish. Both theology and history point in the opposite direction: there is a profound affinity between the two faiths, both in theory and in practice. If there are theological problems that need to be resolved, and a history of intolerance to exorcise, the onus falls much more on Christianity than Islam. For Jews found sanctuary and dignity in Islam, not persecution; fleeing to the Muslim world from the not infrequent campaigns of Christian persecution, they were met with tolerance and respect. It is this that must be stressed in any discussion of the historical and theological background to contemporary Jewish-Muslim relations, given the grave challenges to these relations posed by the propaganda of the extremists on both sides, that is, the jihadists and the Islamophobes.
The tolerance extended by Islam to the People of the Book (and, indeed, all believers, including Hindus, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians) should be seen, again, not as arising only out of a sense of virtue or justice or expediency on the part of the majority of the rulers and dynasties throughout Muslim history—and thus as some kind of interesting historical prefiguration of modern, secular tolerance; rather, the fact that this phenomenon of Muslim tolerance is so clearly defined must be seen as organically connected to the spirit of the Qur’anic revelation, a spirit grasped in depth by traditional Muslims, and deliberately ignored or subverted by modern jihadists. This spirit is well expressed in the following verses:
Truly those who believe, and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans—whoever believeth in God and the Last Day and performeth virtuous deeds—surely their reward is with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve. 30
Of the People of the Scripture there is a staunch community who recite the revelations of God in the watches of the night, falling prostrate. They believe in God and the Last Day, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency, and vie with one another in good works. These are of the righteous. And whatever good they do, they will not be denied it; and God knows the pious. 31
The great tragedy of the current conflict in Palestine is that this Qur’anic spirit of tolerance, understanding, and justice is being subverted by the obnoxious propaganda of jihadists who attempt to justify, in Islamic terms, suicide-bomb missions aimed at civilians. Not only does this give ready ammunition to those who see Islam as an inherently intolerant and violent religion, as the source of terrorism, as the real enemy, it also poisons all of those authentic means of expressing grievance, of redressing wrongs, and of resisting oppression, that are available in the juridical and ethical framework of Islam, means which harmonize with and express the spirit of the Islamic revelation.
Dr. Reza Shah-Kazemi is a Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London. He is founding editor of Islamic World Report, and has written and edited several books and articles on such topics as the Qur’an and Interfaith Dialogue, Comparative Religion, Jihad in Islam, Sufism and Shi’ism. He is working on a new English translation of Imam ¢AlÏ’s Nahj al-bal¥gha; and his book, Justice and Remembrance: An Introduction to the Spirituality of Imam Ali, is due to be published by IIS/IB Tauris in the autumn of 2005. His doctoral dissertation, a comparative study of Shankara, Ibn ¢ArabÏ, and Meister Eckhart, is due to be published in the winter of 2005 under the title, Paths to Transcendence by World Wisdom Books.