By Adnan Adil
Jihad has a much wider meaning in Islam than merely waging war and creating bloodshed. It can mean either the struggle of a man against evil, in one’s own self or waging a war to establish a just society. Nowhere in the Quran or the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), does Jihad mean taking the lives of unarmed, innocent people as violent extremists have been doing.
Encompassing the broader sense that includes struggle against one’s own self, Chapter Hajj, Verse 78 of the Quran says: “And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive (with sincerity and under discipline.)”
Since violent extremists have distorted the meaning of jihad, there is a need to understand the proper meaning of this aspect of jihad in the light of the Quran’s teachings. The Quran does contain verses directing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to wage war against pagan Arabs, but only under certain strict terms and conditions. Violent extremists have taken these verses out of the context and given a spin to them to suit their ideology.
The Quran’s Chapter Al-Baqarah, Verse 190 says: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.” The next verse in the same chapter says: “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; but fight them not in 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.”
The rule of waging jihad against pagans or forcing them to convert was limited to Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) time
Other verses of the Quran on war are subject to this broader principle and explain other aspects of Qital (war). For example, in Chapter Al-Baqarah, Verse 216, God emphasises the significance of war to the believers so that they could overcome their reluctance. It reads: “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that you love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know that.”
Verse 193 of the same chapter again reiterates the same principle, with an emphasis that “let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.”
The above-mentioned verses of the Quran clearly lay out the aims and objectives of a holy war or jihad that can be fought, to eliminate oppression or persecution and for establishing justice. Thus, jihad can neither be fought for glory or worldly gains nor in conditions where there is no persecution of Muslims in a society.
In Chapter Al-Tawbah, Verse 5, the Quran forbids waging of war in certain months and exhorts the believers not be lenient with their foes once these months are over. The verse says: “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
In the same context comes the Verse 4 of Chapter Muhammad. In Verse 29, Chapter Al-Tawbah, the Quran provides the option to the non-believers of Arabia that they can pay a certain amount of tax (Jizya), a kind of token of their loyalty to the Islamic state, to avoid war. These verses of Surah Tawbah and Surah Muhammad ought not be taken out of context of peculiar conditions the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was facing as a ruler of newly-created state of Medina and the overall situation of the Arabs where Muslims were facing persecution at the hands of pagans. It will be wrong and misleading to apply the words of these verses to carry out aggression against any non-Muslim community. The application of verses of chapter Tawbah, as its words clearly enunciate, was restricted to pagan Arabs.
The verses of Quran related to war (Qital) need to be viewed in the context of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s life and mission. Before announcing a war against a people, the Prophet (PBUH) extensively preached or proselytised to them. He was a messenger of God and his status and responsibilities as a messenger could not be compared with ordinary Muslims. The rule of waging jihad against pagans or forcing them to convert to Islam was limited to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and after him ordinary Muslims cannot act on it. In status, privileges and duties, a believer cannot be equal to the last messenger of God.
Moreover, there are at least 14 verses in the Quran which clearly provide freedom of religious belief to men and women. The verses of jihad should not be read in isolation but in juxtaposition of these verses emphasising free will in choosing one’s faith.
Muslims can wage only defensive wars when an aggression is committed against a Muslim or Muslim community. The Quran does not allow believers to take up arms and shed blood on earth as aggressors to occupy lands or to convert people to Islam or to shed bloodshed in the countries where Muslims enjoy freedom of practicing their faith. Jihad is aimed at ending oppression and persecution and that too by an Islamic state, not by individuals and deviant groups.