A few weeks ago I published an article in FrontPage entitled “The Million Dollar Qur’an Challenge,” in which I laid claim to the million dollars offered by Islamic apologist Jamal Badawi, according to NorthJersey.com, to anyone who could show that the Qur’an teaches religious warfare.
But alas, the Jihad Watch learjet has gone back to the shop and there will be no more trips to Gstaad, for Dr. Badawi has sent me a message explaining that the reporter got his challenge wrong. I am not surprised, as I have more than once fallen prey to blundering and/or malicious reporters. Dr. Badawi’s letter follows, interspersed with comments from me. The bold type in his letter is in the original.
I apologize for the long delay in putting this up; pressing personal matters including a death in the family have made it impossible for me to draft a detailed reply to this sooner.
Dear Mr. Spencer,
Greeting of peace and thank you for your two recent emails concerning my presentations; one reported by www.NorthJersey.com on Feb. 14, 2005; and one in late 2003 reported by The Minneapolis-St.Paul Star Tribune and commented on by you in www.frontpagemag.com, which you sent to me on Feb 17, 2005. I am glad that this is the first time you communicated with me directly to seek clarification of my views on Muslim/Non-Muslim relations as stated in both presentations. Let me first a make correction to the NorthJersey”s report. I have never equated “religious war” with Jihad. In fact, I repeatedly said that Jihad is not “holy war”. The common error of translating Jihad into “holy war” seems to have influenced the reporter’s perception of what I said.
Speaking as someone who has been misquoted and misrepresented by reporters many times, I know how easily that can happen.
What I promised was to pay $1 Million to “anyone who can show me a single verse in the entire original Arabic Qur`an that ever used the Arabic equivalent of the term “holy war”, which is “Harb Muqaddasah”. That offer was repeated so many times in public, even on national television in Canada. I have yet to hear from anyone to prove the inaccuracy of my statement.
Nor will you ever, of course, because it is absolutely true, for what it’s worth: the Qur’an never speaks of harb muqaddasah. I discuss this in my book Onward Muslim Soldiers, noting there that Khaled Abou El Fadl, among others, has tried to argue that because the Qur’an does not speak of harb muqaddasah, that therefore Islam has no doctrine of holy war. I believe this is assuming too much, as I will illustrate below.
All the material you emailed to me did not meet that challenge.
That is correct. I was responding to the challenge as represented by the reporter, not to this one.
I was not joking when I made [and am still making] that offer. Nor was I joking when I stated that no verse in the Qur’an, understood in its proper textual and historical context sanctions waging war against others for the sole reason that they are non- Muslims.
On this we disagree, but I will respond as you make your points below.
The ultimate source of Islam is the Qur’an followed by the authentic teaching [Sunnah] of the Prophet. Opinions of scholars or actions of Muslims in history are to be evaluated and judged based on these two primary sources, not the reverse.
Apparently you used the term “religious wars” to mean any verse about war that says anything about God, disbelief in God, supporting the cause of Satan versus the cause of God.
While I did not actually argue that any verse about war that says anything about God must therefore make the war religious, I do think that saying that one group of warriors is fighting for the cause of God and another for that of Satan (cf. Qur’an 4:76, etc.) constitutes a war that is at least in some strong degree religious in character “” particularly when the enemies are consistently and repeatedly described as “unbelievers” (cf. Qur’an 2:191, 8:12, 9:5, 47:4, etc. etc. etc.).
Others may see the term as waging war against other religions because of their “wrong” beliefs. This is the meaning I referred to when I used the expression “holy war”, which is its lexical meaning. A person may fight others because of their aggression with the view that injustice is against God’s commands, and remembers God whether in periods of peace or war. This “religiosity” as a motive to resist oppression and injustice does not make his actions a “religious war” in the sense explained earlier [holy war].
So we are to suppose that in 9:29, the fact that the People of the Book “believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth” constitutes “oppression and injustice” that must be “resisted” by Muslims? For in that verse the Muslims are commanded to fight the People of the Book who do not do those things. Does the non-acceptance of Islam therefore in itself constitute “aggression” against Muslims?
“Holy war” or “religious war” is not the equivalent of Jihad. Jihad is an Arabic term derived from the root “J-H-D” which means, literally, to strive or exert effort. It is the same root from which the legal term “Ijtihad” is derived since Ijtihad refers to the exertion of intellectual effort by scholars so as to come up with an informed religious opinion on a new issue or problem. The term Jihad and similar terms derived from the same root are used in the Qur’an and Hadeeth in various meanings. Firstly, it is used in the context of prayers, doing righteous deeds and self-purification; inward Jihad or struggle against evil inclinations within oneself [Qur’an, 22:77-78; 29:4-7]. Secondly, it is used in the context of social Jihad, or striving for truth, justice and goodness in one’s relationship with other humans. Examples of this usage include charity to the needy [49:15]. Thirdly, it is used in the context of battlefield, which is often called, more specifically, qital, meaning fighting. That later form; the combative Jihad, is allowed in the Qur’an for legitimate self-defense in the face of unprovoked aggression or in resisting severe oppression on religious or other grounds. In fact, the first verses in the Qur’an that allowed self-defense [22:39-40], were not revealed until the early Muslim community had endured more than thirteen years of suffering and aggression at the hands of the idolatrous Arabs.
I am well aware of the many meanings of jihad in Islam, as I have discussed at Jihad Watch and elsewhere many times. And I discuss in detail the evolution of the Qur’an’s teachings on jihad warfare in Onward Muslim Soldiers. What concerns me here is how you would respond, Dr. Badawi, to Muslims who argue on the grounds of the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad against your assertion that “the combative Jihad, is allowed in the Qur’an for legitimate self-defense in the face of unprovoked aggression or in resisting severe oppression on religious or other grounds.”
For example, in an article entitled “The True Meaning of Jihad,” which was posted in 2003 at the website Khilafah.com, which is affiliated with the jihadist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, one Sidik Aucbur cites the example of Muhammad against those who would argue that jihad is purely defensive:
Moreover some will say that Jihad was only defensive; this is incorrect. A quick study of the Life of the Prophet (SalAllahu Alaihi Wasallam) shows us something different:
“¢ The Battle of Mut”ah was instigated by the Muslims against the Romans the Muslims were 3,000 faced against a Roman army of 200,000.
“¢ The Battle of Hunayn was inevitable shortly of the Muslims had conquered Makkah.
“¢ The Battle of Tabuk was also instigated to finally destroy the Romans.
We see from the ijmaa (Consensus) of Sahaba [the companions of Muhammad], that they too instigated Jihad, through As-Sham, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and North Africa. Moreover, the status of Martyr in Islam is of the highest, so how can it be that Jihad is reduced to anything lower that that.
Another example comes from the Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb, who ascribes the idea that jihad is only a struggle for self-defense to Western Orientalists! “This narrow meaning,” says Qutb, “is ascribed to it by those who are under the pressure of circumstances and are defeated by the wily attacks of the orientalists, who distort the concept of Islamic Jihaad.”
Qutb’s views on offensive and defensive jihad are not innovative: he follows the Shafi”i school of Sunni jurisprudence, which mandates that “jihad had for its intent the waging of war on unbelievers for their disbelief and not merely when they entered into conflict with Islam” (See The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybani’s Siyar, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1966, p. 58).
But what about the Qur’an’s command to Muslims not to “begin hostilities”? In his monumental, multi-volume commentary on the Qur’an, In the Shade of the Qur’an, Qutb explains Sura 2:190 (“begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors”) not as a command to Muslims to avoid attacking their opponents, but rather as a warning not to attack civilians “who pose no threat to Muslims”: –˜Aggression,– says Qutb, “implies attacks on non-combatants and peaceful, unarmed civilians who pose no threat to Muslims or to their community as a whole.” He pointedly avoids saying that this verse limits jihad to self-defense. In fact, according to Qutb the very nature of the call to Islam rules out the idea that jihad could only be for self-defense. “Since the objective of the message of Islam is a decisive declaration of man’s freedom, not merely on the philosophical plane but also in the actual conditions of life, it must employ Jihaad. It is immaterial whether the homeland of Islam “” in the true Islamic sense, Dar ul-Islam “” is in a condition of peace or whether it is threatened by its neighbors.”
Qutb speaks harshly of modernist and moderate Muslims who would recast jihad as a struggle for self-defense. Even while they “talk about Jihaad in Islam and quote Qur’anic verses,” he says, they “do not…understand the nature of the various stages through which this movement develops, or the relationship of the verses revealed at various occasions with each stage.” This leads to further errors: “Thus, when they speak about Jihaad, they speak clumsily and mix up the various stages, distorting the whole concept of Jihaad and deriving from the Qur’anic verses final principles and generalities for which there is no justification. This is because they regard every verse of the Qur’an as if it were the final principle of this religion.”
What does Qutb mean by the stages? In his jihad primer Milestones, Qutb quotes at length from the medieval scholar Ibn Qayyim (1292-1350), who, says Qutb, “has summed up the nature of Islamic Jihaad.” Ibn Qayyim outlines the stages of the Muhammad’s prophetic career: “For thirteen years after the beginning of his Messengership, he called people to God through preaching, without fighting or Jizyah, and was commanded to restrain himself and to practice patience and forbearance. Then he was commanded to migrate, and later permission was given to fight. Then he was commanded to fight those who fought him, and to restrain himself from those who did not make war with him. Later he was commanded to fight the polytheists until God’s religion was fully established.” Qutb summarizes the stages: “Thus, according to the explanation by Imam Ibn Qayyim, the Muslims were first restrained from fighting; then they were permitted to fight; then they were commanded to fight against the aggressors; and finally they were commanded to fight against all the polytheists.”
This view corresponds to that of Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, who argues in “Jihad in the Qur’an and Sunnah” that
…at first “the fighting” was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory- ( I ) against them who start “the fighting” against you (Muslims)… (2) and against all those who worship others along with Allah… as mentioned in Surah Al-Baqara (II), Al-Imran (III) and Tauba (IX)… and other Sarah (Chapters of the Qur’an). Allah (swt) made “the fighting’ (Jihad) obligatory for the Muslims and gave importance to the subject-matter of Jihad in all the Sarah (Chapters of the Qur’an) which were revealed (at Al-Madina) as in Allah’s Statement: “March forth whether you are light (being healthy, young and wealthy) or heavy (being ill, old and poor), strive [hard with your wealth and your lives in the Cause of Allah. This is better for you if you but knew.” (V.9:41). And He (Allah) said: “Jihad (holy fighting in Allah’s Cause) is ordained for you (Muslims) though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.” (V.2:216)
If the Muslims are not just fighting against those who fight the Muslims, then their warfare is not solely in self-defense. This is the view of jihadists today.
Are Qutb and Humaid and Ibn Qayyim (and many others) part of the “tiny minority of extremists”? Zafar Bangash, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought in London, calls Qutb “a man of impeccable Islamic credentials [who] made an immense contribution to Muslim political thought at a time when the Muslim world was still mesmerised by such western notions as nationalism, the nation-State and fathers of nations.” Qutb’s biographer claims that his subject is “the most famous personality of the Muslim world in the second half of the 20th century.”
How will you refute him? Why should Muslims believe Badawi and not Qutb, Humaid, or the rest? I eagerly await your explanation.
Also, the significance of the rapid expansion of the Islamic empire in the seventh century cannot be minimized: it illuminates what the earliest Muslims understood the Qur’an to be saying about what jihad really means and how it is to be practiced. In an astonishingly short period of time the Muslims conquered the Christian lands of North Africa and the Middle East, which were not threatening the Muslims in Arabia. These were aggressive wars started by the Muslims. If the Qur’an and the Prophet really taught that jihad is solely or primarily a spiritual struggle or one of self-defense, why did Muhammad’s own followers get it all so drastically wrong? How could such a titanic figure have failed so utterly to instruct his followers properly? It strains credulity to believe that the early Muslims completely misunderstood Muhammad’s teachings about jihad, as central as these teachings were to early Islam.
To understand the Qur’an properly, one must consider its historical and textual context.
Historical context: There are a few verses in the Qur’an which sanction fighting. These verses, however, when understood in their textual and historical context deal with specific war situations and must not be generalized to apply to peaceful co-existence. The description of the aggressors or oppressors as rejecters of faith or idolatrous people or People of the Book does not mean that they are to be fought against on account of being non-Muslims. Historically, these aggressors, happened to be non-Muslims. Combative Jihad when unavoidable is strictly regulated. Intentions must be pure and no selfish personal or nationalistic agenda should be the driving force. There must be a declaration of war by a legitimate authority after due consultation. No non-combatants should be hurt. All must refrain from looting and unnecessary destruction. Prisoners of war and the injured must be treated humanely.
I have answered much of this above. It doesn’t seem from 9:29 that the People of the Book who must be fought just “happened to be non-Muslims.” Muslims are instructed in that verse to fight them precisely because they are non-Muslims: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Moreover, the example of Muhammad militates against your interpretation, Dr. Badawi. Aucbur gives some examples above; there are many others. For example, why did Muhammad go to fight the Byzantines at Tabuk? “Ibn Shihab reported that Allah’s Messenger made an expedition to Tabuk and he (the Holy Prophet) had in his mind (the idea of threatening the) Christians of Arabia in Syria and those of Rome” (Sahih Muslim, book 37, no. 6670). Why did he want to threaten them? Had they threatened him or the Muslims? They had not. In making this act of aggression the Prophet was in line with the great Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir’s gloss on Sura 9:5″s “slay them wherever you find them”: “Do not wait until you find them. Rather, seek and besiege them in their areas and forts, gather intelligence about them in the various roads and fairways so that what is made wide looks ever smaller to them. This way, they will have no choice, but to die or embrace Islam.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. 4, p. 376).
That sounds like a religious war to me: “die or embrace Islam.” No mention of a “peaceful coexistence” option. How would you refute Ibn Kathir and other Muslims who make the same kind of argument?
Textual Context: The Qur’an prohibits compulsion in religion [2:256]. It teaches the Oneness of God, acceptance and respect of all prophets [2:285], broad human brotherhood [49:13], acceptance of plurality [5:48; 11:118], universal justice and fair dealing [4:134, 5:8]. It demands just, kind and respectful treatment of those who co-exist peacefully with Muslims [60:8-9]. Peaceful and respectful dialogue with the People of the Book and the emphasis on the common grounds with them is a repeated theme in the Qur’an [e.g. 3:64; 29:46, 5:5]. Those who erroneously claimed that all such definitive [Muhkam] verses has all been “abrogated” by what they called “the verse of the sword” were mistaken and failed to give any definitive evidence of their claims. They were refuted by both famous classical scholars like Al-Suyuti and Ibn Al-Jawzi as well as contemporary scholars like Subhi Al-Saleh and Abdullah Al-Judai` and many others. The concept of Naskh has been often misunderstood by some including Muslims too.
How would you respond to the specific argument that 2:256 (“there is no compulsion in religion”), made by an Islamic scholar here, has been abrogated?
Dr. Badawi, your argument against the doctrine of abrogation is not substantive; it’s just a list of names. Please provide reasons why Muslims should not take seriously the idea, as put forth by a Muslim above, that 2:256 has been abrogated by 9:5 and other verses. Such an argument, if you can really construct one, would be considerably useful in fighting today”s jihadists.
Meanwhile, one of the names you mention, Al-Suyuti, seems to be on the other side of this argument. Tafsir Al-Jalalayn, which is the work of Al-Suyuti with Al-Mahalli, explains why Surat At-Tauba (sura 9) does not begin with the customary invocation Bismallah Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim, “In the Name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful”: the invocation, it says, “is security, and [Sura 9] was sent down when security was removed by the sword.” Another early commentator, Ibn Juzayy (d. 1340) agrees that one of this verse’s functions is “abrogating every peace treaty in the Qur’an.”
Conclusion: Not a single verse mentioned in your communication or elsewhere in the Qur’an, when understood in its textual and historical context sanction fighting others on any ground other than aggression [actual or anticipated] or oppression. Should you require a verse-by-verse analysis, I will be glad to provide it as soon as I can, given my very busy schedule and frequent travels. It is about time that we all work toward peace, brotherhood, justice, real long-term security and peaceful co-existence, not withstanding theological and political differences. Again Peace be with you
Who defines aggression or oppression? How would you refute, for example, Osama bin Laden’s arguments that the umma has already been suffering for quite some time from Western aggression and oppression, thus justifying 9/11?
As for a verse-by-verse analysis, please refute the Islamic scholars whose comments on various verses I quoted above. I myself make no claims or interpretations of Islam of my own; I merely report on what Muslims themselves say. I will be most interested to hear how you refute this material, since it appears that moderate and peaceful Muslims have as yet made little or no headway in refuting the interpretations of the Qur’an and Sunnah that people like Osama and others use to justify what they are doing. Such a refutation is urgently needed today — if it can be made. But I have been studying Islam for over two decades and have yet to see it.
Finally, a word of clarification: I have been harshly criticized for not “supporting” the work of “moderates.” But in fact if moderate Islamic arguments such as the one you put forth in this letter are not strong enough to withstand the inevitable questioning they will receive not from Westerners, but from Muslims who are inclined to jihad, they are essentially worthless, except as comfort for jittery non-Muslims — but if Muslims can easily refute them then that comfort is essentially empty.
Please post. Thank you and my kindest regards.
March 6, 2005
And my regards to you too. I look forward to your reply to this.