A friend asked me to reply to this message he received on an email list. Since these themes are constantly repeated, I thought I’d share my response with you.
Here is the message:
In the case of Islam, one must look at the Qur’an; authentic traditions of Muhammed, the principles of the various classical legal schools, and, in the case of the Shiites, traditions of their 12 Imams to say “this is what Islam essentially says.”
Now, if we look at any of these sources, we find that Islam DOES NOT prescribe or condone the taregting of civilians; terrorist activity; or genocide. Classical Islam does allow for, or even prescribe, offensive jihad, or wars of expansion. HOWEVER, offensive jihad can, according to traditional Islamic jurisprudence, ONLY be declared by the “Commander of the Faithful.” For the Sunnis, that was the caliph, and the caliphate was abolished at the end of World War One. For the Shias, that is the Imam, and the last Imam has been in “occultation” or absent from visible view for the past 1100 years or so.
There are numerous ways in which the actions of Al Qaeda and others contradict classical, traditional, orthodox Islamic jurisprudence.
Would that it were so, but the writer of this message seems to have a knowledge of Islam that is sketchy at best. And a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. My response:
Re targeting of civilians:
“It is not permissible to kill women or children unless they are fighting against the Muslims.” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.10).
“It is not permitted to kill women and children in battle, nor elsewhere, as long as they are not fighting…” (Mawardi, Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah, 4.2).
The idea of civilians (“women and children”) fighting making it permissible to kill them has led modern jihad terrorists to justify 9/11 etc. by saying that everyone who was killed there was aiding the American war effort against Islam — and that therefore killing them was ok.
“The term ‘civilians’ does not exist in Islamic religious law….I’m familiar with religious law. There is no such term as ‘civilians’ in the modern Western sense. People are either of Dar Al-Harb [House of War] or not…” Dr. Hani Al-Siba’i, director of the Al-Maqreze Centre for Historical Studies, London, July 8, 2005.
Re offensive jihad:
Under ordinary circumstances, what he is saying is true: only the Commander of the Faithful can declare offensive jihad. That’s why jihadists are so keen to reestablish the caliphate. Osama even had Mullah Omar of the Taliban proclaimed “Emir al-Momineen” (Commander of the Faithful) in 1996.
Also, the concept of defensive jihad requires no caliph. Jihad is ordinarily fard kifayah: an obligation on the community as a whole, which if some discharge, others are freed from. However, when a Muslim land is attacked, it becomes fard ayn: obligatory upon everyone individually. Abdullah Azzam, a founder of Al-Qaeda, and others have argued that jihad is now fard ayn because of the West’s attack on Islam (Azzam was murdered, probably by Osama, in 1989, so he wasn’t talking about Iraq).
This places every Islamic jihadist action in the context of the defense of Muslim lands, and so justifies today’s jihad according to classical, traditional, orthodox Islamic jurisprudence.
If Osama’s contemporary jihad violates “classical, traditional, orthodox Islamic jurisprudence,” then let’s see moderate Muslims refute his arguments using classical, traditional, orthodox Islamic jurisprudence. If they have done so, please send me their articles. I’m at email@example.com.