What jihad is; what it isn't
Reuters News Agency
Cairo — A senior Afghan cleric said on Tuesday the ruling Taliban would
launch a jihad against the United States, but officials of the Islamic
movement quickly said that he was in no position to declare a holy war.
The final decision lies with a council of clerics due to convene this
week, officials said.
Afghanistan, which has given refuge to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, the
top suspect in last week's devastating attacks in New York and
Washington, could be a target in case of a U.S. military reprisal,
possibly sparking a Taliban jihad in retaliation.
But what does the term really mean?
WHAT JIHAD IS
The Arabic word jihad is often translated as "holy war," but a more
accurate translation is "holy struggle." Islamic scholars say the term
"holy war" was actually coined in Europe during the Crusades to mean a
war against the Muslims.
In a purely linguistic sense, the word jihad means struggling or
striving. There are two different, unrelated words that mean war.
In a religious sense, as described by the Koran and teachings of the
Prophet Mohammed, jihad means striving for the benefit of the community
or the restraint of personal sins. It can refer to internal as well as
external efforts to be a good Muslim or believer. Scholars say it
primarily refers to efforts to improve oneself.
Jihad is a religious duty.
If jihad is required to protect the faith against others, it can be
performed using anything from legal, diplomatic and economic to political
means. If there is no peaceful alternative, Islam also allows the use of
force, but there are strict rules of engagement. Innocents — such as
women, children, or invalids — must never be harmed, and any peaceful
overtures from the enemy must be accepted.
Military action is therefore only one means of jihad, and is very rare.
To highlight this point, the Prophet Mohammed told his followers
returning from a military campaign: "This day we have returned from the
minor jihad to the major jihad," which he said meant returning from armed
battle to the peaceful battle for self-control and betterment.
In case military action appears necessary, not everyone can declare
jihad. The religious military campaign has to be declared by a proper
authority, advised by scholars, who say the religion and people are under
threat and violence is imperative to defend them. The concept of "just
war" is very important.
The concept of jihad has been hijacked by many political and religious
groups over the ages in a bid to justify various forms of violence. In
most cases, Islamic splinter groups invoked jihad to fight against the
established Islamic order. Scholars say this misuse of jihad contradicts
Examples of sanctioned military jihad include the Muslims' defensive
battles against the Crusaders in medieval times, and before that some
responses by Muslims against Byzantine and Persian attacks during the
period of the early Islamic conquests.
WHAT JIHAD IS NOT
Jihad is not a violent concept.
Jihad is not a declaration of war against other religions. It is worth
noting that the Koran specifically refers to Jews and Christians as
"people of the book" who should be protected and respected. All three
faiths worship the same God. Allah is just the Arabic word for God, and
is used by Christian Arabs as well as Muslims.
Military action in the name of Islam has not been common in the history
of Islam. Scholars says most calls for violent jihad are not sanctioned
Warfare in the name of God is not unique to Islam. Other faiths
throughout the world have waged wars with religious justifications.
Wednesday, September 19, 2001
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