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Hirabah versus Jihad 

[Dr. Crane grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and graduated with a B.A., summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Northwestern University in 1956 and a J.D. (Doctor of Laws) from Harvard Law School in 1959.  From 1963 to 1968 he was personal adviser to Richard M. Nixon, who appointed him in January 1969, to be Deputy Director for Planning in the National Security Council.  In 1981, President Reagan appointed him U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. Previously a hidden Muslim, he openly embraced Islam in 1981, left government service, and since then has worked as a full-time Islamic scholar and activist.  He has authored or co-authored a dozen books and more than a hundred professional articles on long-range global forecasting, comparative legal systems, and the role of religion in society.  As an advisor to the Center for Understanding Islam, he continues his research on Islam as part of the effort of American Muslims to present the true message of enlightened Islam.]

What is Hirabah?

The term hirabah refers to public terrorism in a war against society and civilization.  In legal terminology it is defined as “spreading mischief in the land,” but its precise meaning, as defined by Professor Khalid Abou el Fadl, is “killing by stealth and targeting a defenseless victim in a way intended to cause terror in society.”  This is the Islamic definition of terrorism.  It is the very opposite of jihad.

The term hirabah comes from the root hariba, a verb that means to become angry and enraged.  By derivation the nown harb (pl. hurub) means variously “war” and “enemy.”  Over the centuries, and especially during the Crusades, the hurub al salibiya, extremists have extended the meaning of this term, harb, to demonize all non-Muslims.  They came to designate the entire world not controlled by Muslim rulers as the dar al harb, the House of the Enemy or the House of War, as distinct from the dar al islam, the House of Islam.

The modern extremist, Sayyid Qutb, perverted the teachings of his mentor, Hassan al Banna, by proclaiming: “There is only one place on earth that can be called the House of Islam, and it is that place where an Islamic state is established and the shari’ah is the authority and God’s laws are observed. … The rest of the world is the House of War.“ 

Over the centuries, there have always been scholars, particularly those politically funded, who have designated the fundamental dichotomy as the realm of Islam, dar al islam, versus the dar al zulm, the realm of evil (resembling Mordor in The Lord of the Rings), or versus dar al kufr, the land of those who are going to hell because they deliberately reject the truth.  This type of extremism, found in all civilizations, is the psychological origin of both personal and state-sponsored hirabah.

The majority of Muslim scholars have always welcomed the diversity inherent in the unity or tawhid of the universe, including its different races and religions, in accordance with the clear teachings throughout the Qur’an.  They speak of the dar al ijaba, the land of those who have accepted Islam, in contrast to dar al da’wa, the land of those who still need to be educated about Islam; or dar al taqwa, the land of those who stand in loving awe of Allah, in contrast to dar al ahd, the land of those with whom one has treaties of friendship and cooperation. 

What is Jihad?

Western polemicists in recent years have latched on to the phraseology of Muslim extremists to distort the mainstream teachings of Islam.  They translate jihad as Holy War, when, in fact, only fringe elements among Muslims consider that war, even a carefully circumscribed just war, can be holy. 

The Qur’an refers to jihad only in terms of intellectual effort to apply divine revelation in promoting peace through justice: Wa jihidhum bihi jihadan kabiran, “Strive with it [divine revelation] in a great jihad” (Surah al Furqan, 25:52); and Wa tammat kalimatu rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “The Message of your Lord is perfected in truth and justice” (Surah al An’am 6:115).

Two other forms of jihad were identified by the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, namely, the jihad al akbar or greatest jihad to purify oneself, and the jihad al saghrir or lesser jihad to defend the human rights of oneself and others.  Some Muslims today refer to various other kinds of jihad or effort, such as jihad al tajdid or effort to renew, revive, or “modernize” Islam.

Countering Muslim Terrorism

There is no such thing as Islamic terrorism, but there have always been Muslim terrorists.  Today there are many alienated extremists who rely on their own resort to violence in protest against perceived injustice, rather than relying on the jihads of akbar, saghrir, and kabir, with the help of Allah and ecumenical cooperation in peacefully building a better world.  In effect, these extremists rely on and worship themselves.  They are exhibiting the most serious crime condemned in the Qur’an, which is the root of almost all the other crimes, namely, arrogance.  They are committing the crime of hirabah, which is the attack on the very roots of civilization, and justifying it in the name of Islam.  There can be no greater evil and no greater sin.  If there is to be a clash of civilizations, a major cause will be the muharibun, those who commit inter-civilizational hirabah. 

There is only one effective cure for such hirabah.  This is cooperation by the heretofore silent majority of both Muslims and those of other faiths in a jihad to marginalize extremism by putting their own houses in order through the pursuit of peace through justice.


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