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Jihad: A Misunderstood Concept from Islam - Islamic Terms of Ratifying Peace

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Article Index
Jihad: A Misunderstood Concept from Islam
Jihad in History and Law
Jihad and Islamic Propagation
Forced Conversion?
Conditions for Combative Jihad
Islamic Terms of Ratifying Peace
Jihad Between Muslims
Dhikr: the Remembrance of God
Rebellion Against Rulers
Terms: What Jihad is, and is not
Footnotes
All Pages

Islamic Terms of Ratifying Peace

Allah said, “Enter into peace completely and do not follow the steps of Satan.” [2:208] The Prophet (saws) said, after establishing the Islamic state in Madina, that the way of the Muslims is one. No single group can autonomously declare war or fight, nor can any one group make peace by itself, but the entire Muslim nation must make peace. A peace treaty can be made by the nations’ leader and all subjects of the nation are bound by that decision, regardless of whether the leader was appointed or elected. The final decision is up to the ruler after his consultation with others.

If a state has no leader then it must select one, or all the neighboring states and nations must come

together and agree on a treaty with any foreign country. This applies as much to peace as it does to war. No individual or group may come forth and declare a Jihad: such will be a false Jihad. All Muslim nations and their leaders must come together for a decision of war or peace and that is the only accepted process. Naturally every community has the right to self-defense and in the case of Islam, where religion is the primary dimension of human existence, war in defense of the nation becomes a religious act. A lack of understanding of this quality of Islam, its non-secularism; has also contributed considerably to the fear that when Islam talks about war it means going to war to convert. This might be true in other cultures, but Islam must be allowed to speak for itself.

Al-Dardir says of this, “Jihad becomes a duty when the enemy takes [Muslims] by surprise”9. Said Ramadan al-Buti shows that fighting in this case is an obligation of the community as a whole. This is based on the Prophet’s r saying “He who is killed in defence of his belongings, or in self-defence, or for his religion, is a martyr”.10

This verse mentions a fundamental principle of Islam regarding Muslim/Non-Muslim relationships. Muslims are enjoined to act kindly and justly towards members of other faiths except in two circumstances; firstly, if they dispossess Muslims of their legitimate land-rights, and; secondly, if they engage in hostilities towards Muslims or show clear intent to do so (al-hirabah) because of their religion with a clear intention to destroy the Islamic nation as a whole. In the second eventuality, it is the duty of the Muslim ruler to declare the Jihad as a defensive action to repel such attacks.

It is evident from the Qur’an and other sources that the armed struggle against the polytheists was legislated in the context of specific circumstances after the Prophet (saws) had migrated from Makkah to Madina. There he secured a pact with the Jewish and Arab tribes of the city, who accepted him as the leader of their community. In the milieu of this newly-founded base of operations, under the governance of Divine legislation and the leadership of the Prophet (saws), Islam attained the status of a nation with its corequisite territory and the accompanying need to protect its self-interests. At that time the divine command was revealed permitting Jihad, but this occurred only after:

  • Persistent refusal of the Makkan leadership (the Prophet being in Madina at the time) to allow the peaceful propagation of Islam in Makkah. This is in fact the most basic reason for armed Jihad.
  • Continuous unabated persecution of Muslims remaining at Makkah after the Prophet’s r emigration to Madina triggered an armed insurrection against Qurayshite interests in the Hijaz.
  • Makkans themselves starting off military campaigns against the Muslims at Madinah with the sole objective of eradicating Islam.
  • Key security pledges being abrogated unilaterally by a number of tribes allied to the Prophet (saws), forcing him into a vulnerable position.

These conditions for Jihad involving armed struggle were then clearly specified in the Qur’an:

“And fight in the way of Allah those who fight against you, and do not transgress [limits] for Allah likes not the transgressors” [2:190] and “Will you not fight a people who have violated their oaths and intended to expel the Messenger while they did attack you first…?” [9:13]

The picture that emerges here is that the command to fight was given in relation to specific conditions. Thus the declaration of war is not an arbitrary act at all. A further implication here, as the Hanafi school in fact argues, is that war was declared by the Prophet (saws) as the head of the Islamic nation, and as such no one else can legitimately declare Jihad except a ruler who is head of an Islamic state. The duty lies squarely with the religious/political leadership to determine whether the conditions for Jihad exist and to then give the appropriate judgement.

In later times, the Muslims engaged in warfare to establish the “Pax Islamica” or Islamic Order. The legal and political order must flow from the divine imperative (Qur’an, Sunnah, etc.). It alone guarantees the rights of every individual by keeping in check all the dark psychic tendencies of man and so preventing him from indulging in anti-social behaviors, from political aggression, right down to the commonest criminal act. It is for this that the Qur’an calls on the believers to go forth in defense of those whose rights and liberty have been trampled by the unbridled tyranny of oppressors and conquering armies, or who are prevented from freely hearing the word of Allah espoused to them by preachers and educators. Allah says, “How should ye not fight for the cause of Allah and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: Our Lord! Bring us forth from out this town of which the people are oppressors! Oh, give us from Thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender!” [4:75]

No reliable evidence exists that Muslims ever intended or attempted to impose the specific rites and beliefs of Islam. The histories of Spain, India and the Balkans are concrete proof of this.

The idea, often postulated in the media, that Islam is hostile to non-Muslims simply because they are non-Muslims, is a major misconception.11 Beyond the conditions described above there exists no valid reason to hold any hostility towards them for the Qur’an states: “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not remove you from your homes (by force) and who do not fight you because of your religion, that you act kindly and justly towards them ...” [60:8] The reference in this verse is to the non-Muslims in general.