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50 Common Misconceptions about Islam-IX

IX. Jihad


1. Jihad can be waged without State Authority


Some people are of the view that groups and organizations can wage jihad and state authority is not a must for it.

This misconceived view has only arisen in recent time. There is a consensus among all authorities of Islam that only a Muslim State has the authority to wage jihad. This condition is so explicit and categorical that all the scholars of this ummah unanimously uphold it. Sayyid Sabiq, while referring to this consensus, writes:


من الفروض الكفائية ما يشترط فيه الحاكم مثل: الجهاد وإقامة الحدود

Among collective obligations, there is a category for which the existence of a ruler is necessary e.g., jihad and administering punishments.[61]


‘Uthmani, a Hanafite jurist, writes:


ولا يخفى أن الأمير الذي يجب الجهاد معه كما صرح به حديث مكحول إنما هو من كان مسلما ثبتت له الإمارة بالتقليد إما باستخلاف الخليفة إياه كما نقل أبو بكر رضي الله عنه ’ وإما ببيعة من العلماء أو جماعة من أهل الرأي والتدبير قلت: فلو بايع العلماء أو جماعة  من المسلمين رجلا  لا يقدر على  سد الثغور  وحماية البيضة وجر العساكر و تنفيذ الأحكام بشوكته و بأسه ولا على إنصاف المظلوم من الظالم بقدرته وسطوته لا يكون ذلك أميرا ولا إماما  ’ وإنما هو بمنـزلة الحكم ومبايعة الناس له منـزلة التحكيم ولا يجدي  تسميته إماما أو أميرا في القراطيس وأفواه الناس فإن مدار الإمارة والإمامة على القوة والقدرة دون التسمية والشهرة فقط ’ فلا يجب على عامة المسلمين مبايعته ولا إطاعة أحكامه ’ ولا الجهاد معه

It is obvious from the Hadith narrated by Makhul[62] that jihad becomes obligatory only in the presence of a ruler who is a Muslim and whose political authority has been established either through nomination by the previous ruler similar to how Abu Bakr transferred the reins [of his khilafah to ‘Umar] or through pledging of allegiance by the ulema or a group of the elite …in my opinion, if the oath of allegiance is pledged by ulema or by a group of the elite to a person who is not able to guard the frontiers or defend the honour [of the people] or organize armies or implement his directives by political force nor is he able to provide justice to the oppressed by exercising force and power, then such a person cannot be called “amir” (leader) or “imam” (ruler). He, at best, is an arbitrator and the oath of allegiance is at best of the nature of arbitration and it is not at all proper to call him “amir” (leader) or a “imam” (ruler) in any [official] documents nor should the people address him by these designations. The reason for this is that the basis of leadership and rulership is power and authority and it does not hinge only on the fact that he gets famous by this name. It is not imperative for the citizens to pledge allegiance to him or obey his directives, and no Jihad can be waged alongside him.[63]


Ibn Qudamah, a Hambalite jurist, writes:


وأمر الجهاد موكول إلى الإمام واجتهاده ويلزم الرعية طاعته فيما يراه من ذلك

And the matter of jihad rests with the ruler [of a state] and his ijtihad. The opinion he forms in this regard must be obeyed by the citizens of his country.[64]


Mawardi, a Shafi‘ite authority, while enumerating the obligations of a Muslim ruler says:


والسادس : جهاد من عاند الإسلام

And his sixth obligation is to conduct jihad against those who show hostility against Islam.[65]


In the words of Farahi:


In one’s own country, without migrating to an independent piece of land, jihad is not allowed. The tale of Abraham (sws) and other verses pertaining to migration testify to this. The Prophets life (sws) also supports this view. The reason for this is that if jihad is not waged by a person who holds political authority, it amounts to anarchy and disorder.[66]


While commenting on the underlying reasons that form the basis of state authority for jihad, Amin Ahsan Islahi, writes:


The first reason [for this condition] is that God Almighty does not like the dissolution and disintegration of even an evil system until a strong probability exists that those who are out to disintegrate the system will provide people with an alternative and a righteous system. Anarchy and disorder are unnatural conditions. In fact, they are so contrary to human nature that even an unjust system is preferable to them....this confidence [that a group will be able to harmonize a disintegrated system and integrate it into a united whole] can be reposed in such a group only as has actually formed a political government and has such control and discipline within the confines of its authority that the group can be termed as al-jama‘ah [the state]. Until a group attains this position, it may strive [by religiously allowable means] to become al-jama‘ah – and that endeavour would be its jihad for that time – but it does not have the right to wage an “armed” jihad.


The second reason is that the import of power that a group engaged in war acquires over the life and property of human beings is so great that the sanction to wield this power cannot  be given to a group the control of whose leader over his followers is based merely on his spiritual and religious influence on them  [rather than being based on legal authority]. When the control of a leader is based merely on his spiritual and religious influence, there is not sufficient guarantee that the leader will be able to stop his followers from fasad fi al-ard [creating disorder in the society]. Therefore, a religious leader does not have the right to allow his followers to take out their swords [that is to wage an armed struggle] merely on the basis of his spiritual influence over them, for once the sword is unsheathed there is great danger that it will not care for right and wrong and that those who drew it will end up doing all [the wrong which] they had sought to end. Such radical groups as desire revolution and the object of whom is nothing more than disruption of the existing system and deposition of the ruling party to seize power for themselves play such games – and they can, for in their eyes disruption of a system is no calamity, nor is cruelty of any kind an evil. Everything is right to them [as long as it serves their purpose]. However, the leaders of a just and righteous party must see whether they are in a position to provide people with a system better than the one they seek to change and whether they will be able to stop their followers from doing such wrong as they themselves had sought to root out. If they are not in that position, they do not have the right to play games with the life and property of people on the basis of their confidence in mere chances and to create greater disorder than the one they had sought to end.[67]


Here some people justify that in some cases Islam allows jihad without state authority by citing the skirmishes carried out by Abu Basir against the Quraysh. This is a misinterpretation of facts: It is known historically[68] that after the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Abu Basir defected to Madinah. However, according to the terms of the treaty, he was duly returned back to the Quraysh by the Prophet (sws). He was sent back in the custody of two people of the Quraysh. On the way back, he killed one of his two custodians and again defected to Madinah. When he arrived in Madinah, the Prophet (sws) was angry with what he had done. Sensing that the Prophet (sws) would once again send him back to the Quraysh, he left Madinah and settled at a place near Dhu al-Marwah, where later on other people joined him. From this place, they would attack the caravans of the Quraysh.

If these guerrilla attacks are analyzed in the light of the Qur’an, the basic thing which comes to light is that whatever Abu Basir and has Companions (rta) did was not sanctioned at all by Islam. The Qur’an says that the actions and deeds of a person who had not migrated to Madinah were not the responsibility of the Islamic state:


وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَلَمْ يُهَاجَرُوا مَا لَكُمْ مِنْ وَلَايَتِهِمْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ حَتَّى يُهَاجِرُوا ( (8 :72

And as to those who believed but did not migrate [to Madinah], you owe no duty of protection until they migrate. (8:72)


Not only did the Qur’an acquit the newly founded Islamic state of Madinah from the actions of these people, we even find the following harsh remarks of the Prophet (sws) about Abu Basir when he returned to Madinah after killing one of  his two custodians:


وَيْلُ أُمِّهِ مِسْعَرَ حَرْبٍ لَوْ كَانَ لَهُ  (بخارى ، رقم : 2734)

His mother be cursed, if he is able to find some supporters he is bound to ignite the flames of war. (Bukhari, No: 2734)


So, one can safely conclude that jihad without state authority is terrorism and is totally prohibited in Islam. Moreover, clandestine attacks on a country even with state authority are not allowed. jihad must be openly declared against the enemy country. If a peace treaty has been made with it, then it should first be openly declared null and void. Similarly, non-combatants of the enemy country should never be targeted. No one has the right to take the life of innocent civilians.



2. Jihad is only for Self-Defence


There are some scholars who believe that all wars fought by the Prophet of Islam were defensive. Muhammad (sws) never carried out unprovoked attacks. Sir Thomas Arnold is one prominent authority who holds this view. He writes:


There are no passages to be found in the Qur’an that in any way enjoin forcible conversion, and many that on the contrary limit propagandist efforts to preaching and persuasion. It has further been maintained that no passage in the Qur’an authorizes unprovoked attacks on unbelievers, and that, in accordance with such teaching, all the wars of Muhammad were defensive.[69]


It seems that this view point has emerged because of a misunderstanding of certain verses of the Qur’an. Following is a typical verse[70] that is quoted in support of this stance:[71]


وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا (190:2)

Fight in the way of Allah with those who fight against you and do not transgress bounds. (2:190)


The verse apparently says that Muslims should only fight their enemy when the enemy initiates the attack. However, if the context of the verse is kept in consideration, this seems to be an erroneous interpretation. The verse is not talking about war in general. It is talking about war in the vicinity of the Baytullah and that too in the forbidden months. The succeeding verses read:


وَلَا تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِنْدَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّى يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ فَإِنْ قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ (192:2)

But do not initiate war with them near the Baytullah unless they attack you there. But if they attack you, put them to the sword [without any hesitation]. (2:192)


الشَّهْرُ الْحَرَامُ بِالشَّهْرِ الْحَرَامِ وَالْحُرُمَاتُ قِصَاصٌ فَمَنْ اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ فَاعْتَدُوا عَلَيْهِ بِمِثْلِ مَا اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ ( (194:2

 A sacred month for a sacred month; [similarly] other sacred things too are subject to retaliation. So if any one transgresses against you, you should also pay back in equal coins. Have fear of Allah and [keep in mind that] Allah is with those who remain within the bounds [stipulated by religion]. (2:194)


So, in other words, verses like 2:190 have a specific context and do not relate to jihad waged in general.

Moreover, the propounders of the view that jihad is only for self-defence must reflect on other verses of the Qur’an which explicitly ask the Muslims to wage offensive war. Perhaps the most explicit of these verses are 4:75 and 9:29.



3. Qital is a lesser Jihad


There is a persistent notion among many Muslims that fighting in the battlefield is something very inferior to fighting against one’s desires. While the former is termed as jihad-i asghar (the lesser jihad), the latter is called the jihad-i akbar (the greater jihad).

This notion is not true. It is generally understood that the terms jihad-i asghar and jihad-i asghar are supposedly attributed to the Prophet (sws). However, this attribution does not have a sound basis. The chain of narrators of this narrative is very weak. Authorities of Hadith like Ibn Hajar, Ibn Taymiyyah and al-Bani have convincingly challenged the authenticity of this narrative[72]. So, one can safely conclude that there is no such thing as a greater jihad or a lesser one.

It needs to be appreciated that the word jihad is used in the Qur’an to connote striving in the way of Allah. One particular form of such a struggle is that in which one might have to take up arms for Allah’s cause. This is also termed as qital. In other words, striving in the way of Allah in whatever form one is able to in accordance with the needs that arise is what is required from a believer. Whether striving in His way in a particular form is more superior than some other one has not been indicated in any authentic source.



4. Islam was spread by the Sword


In the early period of Islam, we find that the Islamic rule was extended by the Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws) to a large part of the world. In an astounding series of conquests, country after country fell to the sword of Islam. It was not long before the Muslim empire stretched from the shores of the Mediterranean in the west to as far as Indonesia in the east.[73] Some people ask the question: “Why did they impose Islam on these countries? Is this not Arab Imperialism?”

The fact that all these conquests took place is established history and hence cannot be denied in any way. However, the thesis that it was “Arab Imperialism” that accounted for these conquests is something which cannot be condoned. While looking at the spread of Islam in the early period, one must resort to the basis which the Qur’an itself offers for these conquests:

It needs to be appreciated that those who are Divinely invested with the status of shuhada ‘ala al-nas (witnesses to the truth before people) are “employed” by the Almighty to punish people who deny the truth in spite of being convinced about it. According to the Qur’an, Muhammad (sws) and his nation: the Ishmaelites, were invested with this status.

Consequently, the conquest of the followers of the Prophet (sws) at that time were not basically aimed at spreading Islam as such. Their basic objective was to subjugate and punish people who had deliberately denied the truth. Moreover, Muhammad (sws) himself initiated their task by writing letters to eight heads of state and thereby demarcated the areas where the Companions (rta) could go.

Summing up, it can be said that it is erroneous to conclude that Islam was spread by the sword. The whole exercise of the Companions (rta) was a continuation of the mission of Muhammad (sws) and no independent endeavour. This mission is governed by a specific practice of the Almighty according to which He punishes people who deny the truth even though they are fully convinced about it.



5. Regarding the Basis for Jihad


In this regard, it needs to be understood that, after the departure of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta), apart from self-defence, the only legitimate reason for an Islamic state to undertake jihad is to curb oppression and persecution in some other country, whether Muslim or Non-Muslim. The Qur’an says:


وَمَا لَكُمْ لَا تُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَالْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنْ الرِّجَالِ وَالنِّسَاءِ وَالْوِلْدَانِ الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْ هَذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ الظَّالِمِ أَهْلُهَا وَاجْعَل لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ وَلِيًّا وَاجْعَل لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ نَصِيرًا (4 :75)

And why is it that you not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated and oppressed -- men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Yourself one who will protect and raise for us from Yourself one who will help!” (4:75)


Again, this should be resorted to when all diplomatic means fail. Moreover, Muslims should be in a position to successfully combat the enemy, otherwise the whole venture would be no more than a suicide. Again whether or not a country is in a position to wage war is a decision that should be taken by the elected representatives of the state and of course as human beings the possibility of error is always there.

The guideline to give due consideration to one’s military might is found in the life of the Prophet (sws) also. According to the Qur’an, it was necessary in those times that the believers should be in a certain number before they launch an attack. Initially, the believer to enemy ratio was 1:10 (The Qur’an, 8:66). However, later, after large scale conversions to Islam in later years of the Prophet (sws), this was reduced to 1:2 (The Qur’an, 8:66). It seems that in both these situations, the Almighty would be providing the remaining support Himself for this noble cause of curbing oppression. The above ratios were meant for the time of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta). Today, of course, the overall extent of faith Muslims have cannot be compared to that found in the days of the Prophet (sws). Therefore, an Islamic State should realize that if it wants to wage jihad, its military might should never be less than half of the enemy’s military might if it wants to even expect Divine help.

Consequently, Muslim countries of today should keep consolidating and developing their military might to check any aggression from its enemies. The Qur’an says:


وَأَعِدُّوا لَهُمْ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ مِنْ قُوَّةٍ وَمِنْ رِبَاطِ الْخَيْلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدُوَّ اللَّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ وَآخَرِينَ مِنْ دُونِهِمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَهُمْ اللَّهُ يَعْلَمُهُمْ وَمَا تُنفِقُوا مِنْ شَيْءٍ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ يُوَفَّ إِلَيْكُمْ وَأَنْتُمْ لَا تُظْلَمُونَ (8 :60)

And muster against them all the men and cavalry at your disposal so that you can strike terror into the enemies of Allah and of the believers and others beside them who may be unknown to you, though Allah knows them. And remember whatever you spend for the cause of Allah shall be repaid to you. You shall not be wronged. (8:60)


[61]. Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh al-Sunnah, 2nd ed., vol. 3 (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1980), 30.

[62]. The complete text of the Hadith is:


عَنْ مَكْحُولٍ  عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ  قَالَ قَالَ  رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْجِهَادُ وَاجِبٌ عَلَيْكُمْ مَعَ كُلِّ أَمِيرٍ بَرًّا كَانَ أَوْ فَاجِرًا وَالصَّلَاةُ وَاجِبَةٌ عَلَيْكُمْ خَلْفَ كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ بَرًّا كَانَ أَوْ فَاجِرًا وَإِنْ عَمِلَ الْكَبَائِرَ وَالصَّلَاةُ وَاجِبَةٌ عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ بَرًّا كَانَ أَوْ فَاجِرًا وَإِنْ عَمِلَ الْكَبَائِرَ (ابو داؤد، رقم: 2533)


Makhul narrates from Abu Hurayrah who narrates from the Prophet: jihad is obligatory on you only in the presence of a Muslim ruler whether he is pious or impious, and the prayer is obligatory upon you behind every Muslim whether he is pious or impious even if he is guilty of the major sins and the prayer is obligatory on every Muslim whether he is pious or impious even if he is guilty of the major sins. (Abu Da’ud, No: 2533)

[63]. Zafar Ahmad ‘Uthmani, A‘la al-Sunan, 3rd ed., vol. 12 (Karachi: Idarat al-Qur’an wa ‘Ulum al-Islamiyyah, 1415 AH), 15-16.

[64]. Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni, vol. 8 (Riyad: Maktabah al-Riyad al-Hadithah, 1981), 352.

[65]. Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali Mawardi, al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1990), 52.

[66]. Farahi, Majmu‘ah Tafasir-i-Farahi, 1st ed. (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1991), 56.

[67]. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Da‘wat-i Din awr us ka Tariqah Kar, trans. Asif Iftikhar, 1st ed. (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1989), 241-242.

[68]. For details see: Bukhari, No: 2734

[69]. Thomas Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, 4th ed. (Lahore: Ashraf Publications, 1979), 451.

[70]. Maulvi Chiragh Ali, Jihad, 1st ed. (Karachi: Karimsons, n.d.), 17.

[71]. For a complete list of verses that are used by the advocates of this stance, see Maulvi Chiragh Ali, Jihad, 1st ed. (Karachi: Karimsons, n.d.), 225-227.

[72]. For details see Ibn Hajar’s Takhrij al-Kashshaf as annotation on Zamakhashri’s Kashshaff, 1st ed., vol. 3 (Beirut: Dar al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1997), 174-5; Ibn Taymiyyah, Fatawa, 2nd ed., vol. 11 (Riyad: 1399 AH), 197; al-Bani, Silsilah al-A%hadith al-Da‘ifah wa al-Mawdu‘ah, 1st ed., vol. 5 (Riyad: Maktabah Al-Ma‘arif, 1992), 478-480

[73]. For a detailed account of these conquests see: Baladhuri, Futuh al-Buldan, Qum, Manshurat al-Arummiyyah, 1404 AH.

 Source:    June 2007

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