By Maulana Dr. Waris Mazhari
Islamophobia has become an almost universal phenomenon today. The media is awash with stories of hate-crimes and prejudice directed against Muslims. In this regard, Muslims must ask themselves, ‘What is it that makes so many people fear Islam and think of Muslims as monsters? How far are Muslims themselves responsible for this?’
If we approach the issue dispassionately, in a spirit of genuine introspection, Muslims are bound to realize their own culpability in creating and sustaining Islamophobia. This stems from our wrong religious and political views and actions based on them. We will be forced to recognize that many aspects of traditional Muslim political thought that are based on human Ijtihad or reasoning have lost their significance in today’s context and that they require fresh thinking. However, a large and influential section of Muslims continues to refuse to consider rethinking these issues in the light of changing contexts and demands, in the process creating ever more problems for Muslims themselves.
In this regard, one central issue that needs to be urgently addressed are some dominant and conventional understandings of jihad, which some self-styled Islamic ideologues deploy to give sanction to almost every sort of violence. Because of the unbridled violence in the name of Islam unleashed by some so-called Islamic groups in various countries, many people have come to think of Islam as an inherently violent and cruel religion. This is definitely one of the major factors for contemporary Islamophobia.
In seeking to understand and counter growing Islamophobia, Muslims bear in mind that the misinterpretation of the concept of jihad by some self-styled Islamic groups is definitely one of the major causes of this worrying phenomenon. The fact of the matter is that in traditional Muslim jurisprudence or Fiqh, as developed by Muslim scholars down the centuries, the concept of jihad has not been fully or satisfactorily clarified and continues to be characterized by several weaknesses and limitations. Many Muslim scholars today acutely feel this problem.
Certain conventional notions of jihad are rooted in the Fiqh tradition that goes back to the period of Muslim political dominance, which impacted on all aspects of Muslim political jurisprudence. According to the noted scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, with the passage of time the Fuquaha or scholars of Muslim jurisprudence, did not give the same sort of focus to Islamic politics as they did to other branches of Muslim jurisprudence. Consequently, many aspects of Islamic political jurisprudence that were in need of rethinking in the light of changes in the spatio-temporal context were not rethought. This is one reason why some of these conventional understandings of jihad failed to be re-thought in the light of changing contexts.
The term ‘jihad’ has a very wide connotation. The noted scholar, Imam Raghib, explains in his Al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Quran, that jihad relates to making strenuous efforts in any matter. He outlines three types of jihad: jihad against external enemies; jihad against Satan; and jihad with one’s Nafs or baser self. However, it is crucial to note that in present times, the notion of jihad has come to be seen exclusively in the sense of Qital, or physical jihad against external enemies, although Qital is actually just an exceptional form of jihad. Furthermore, Qital is permitted only in defence, and, that too in last resort, when there is no option left.
It must be remembered that jihad in the sense of Qital is allowed only in defence, and not in offence or aggression. Further, there does not seem to be any justification—from the point of view of reason, religious belief and the Shariah—to engage in jihad in the sense of Qital just to end Kufr or denial of the Truth or to destroy its supremacy. The Quran (2:190) says:
And fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression—for surely, God does not love aggressors.
However, despite this, the notion of offensive jihad emerged as Muslims became politically dominant, reflecting the mindset of the medieval period as well as certain political interests. It soon became deeply-entrenched, so much so that it became such a seemingly inseparable part of Islamic jurisprudence that no need seemed to have been felt to review or rethink it. Recently, though, the noted scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi penned a two-volume treatise on ‘the Jurisprudence of Jihad’ (Fiqh al-Jihad), where he tried to clarify that in Islam, jihad (in the sense of Qital) is permissible only in defence. Needless to say, if one accepts as legitimate the concept of offensive jihad in traditional Fiqh and regards that even in the absence of any aggression on the part of an enemy, a non-Muslim government can be targetted in order to expand the domain of an Islamic government, end Kufr and to bring lands ruled Kufr under the sway of an Islamic state, it would be simply impossible to even conceive of the possibility of Muslims living together peacefully with people of other faiths.
Besides the issue of jihad, there are several other issues that Islamic groups that give topmost priority to politics focus on, which have made people—not just non-Muslims, but many Muslims, too—look at them with apprehension and concern. Many of the so-called Islamic revivalist movements that have emerged in recent years have been bereft of Islamic wisdom and vision. Their peculiar psyche is essentially a reaction to Western imperialist assaults on, and occupation of, Muslim lands. They gave foremost priority to taking revenge on their enemies through Qital. Today, there are organizations and movements right in the very of the West, like the Hizb ut-Tahrir, which press the demand for the establishment of Islamic rule and the Caliphate and the enforcement of the laws of the Shariah in the West itself. Given this, that Islamophobia is such a pressing problem in the West is not at all surprising.
It can hardly be denied that in order to address the problem of Islamophobia, there is an urgent need for rethinking certain aspects of conventional Muslim religious and political thought. Without the terror and turmoil unleashed in the name of jihad in Pakistan and some other countries being clearly condemned by the Ulema and other Muslim intellectuals, it is simply not possible for Islamophobia to be effectively countered. After all, Islamophobia, based on hatred for Muslims, and the violent, terror-driven activities in the name of jihad in many countries, which are a complete violation of Islamic principles, feed on each other. The one cannot exist without the other.
Maulana Dr. Waris Mazhari is a graduate of the Dar ul-Uloom Deoband, and a Ph.D in Islamic Studies from the Jamia Millia Islamia. He presently teaches Islamic Studies at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. He has written extensively on madrasas and madrasa reforms.