Craig Considine is the deep thinker who earlier likened Muhammad to George Washington, by doing what he does in this article: ignoring everything that didn’t fit: Muhammad’s ordering the murders of those who had mocked him, Muhammad’s polygamy, Muhammad’s marriage to nine-year-old Aisha, etc. “A New Perspective of ‘Jihad’ in Christianity and Islam,” by Craig Considine in the Huffington Post, August 5:
Politicians and anti-Muslim activists frequently take to audiences and websites to criticize the term “jihad” as a form of Islamic supremacism, oppression, and violence. Muslim extremists, on the other hand, argue that “jihad” refers to a “holy war” against non-Muslims. Viewing the term “jihad” though these frameworks alone, however, would be playing into the hands of extremists who forego the other elements encompassed by the term “jihad.”
Considine begins by employing a staple of Islamic supremacist and Leftist rhetoric: that only “anti-Muslim activists” (note the pejorative term again, as if opposing jihad violence and Islamic supremacism were somehow actually hateful toward a group of people, which makes as much sense as calling foes of the Nazis “anti-German”) and “Muslim extremists” think jihad has to do with warfare against unbelievers. This idea can only be sustained by ignoring the fact that jihad warfare against unbelievers is taught by all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
Shafi’i school: A Shafi’i manual of Islamic law that was certified in 1991 by the clerics at Al-Azhar University, one of the leading authorities in the Islamic world, as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy, stipulates about jihad that “the caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians…until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” It adds a comment by Sheikh Nuh “˜Ali Salman, a Jordanian expert on Islamic jurisprudence: the caliph wages this war only “provided that he has first invited [Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians] to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)…while remaining in their ancestral religions.” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.8).
Of course, there is no caliph today, and hence the oft-repeated claim that Osama et al are waging jihad illegitimately, as no state authority has authorized their jihad. But they explain their actions in terms of defensive jihad, which needs no state authority to call it, and becomes “obligatory for everyone” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.3) if a Muslim land is attacked. The end of the defensive jihad, however, is not peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims as equals: ‘Umdat al-Salik specifies that the warfare against non-Muslims must continue until “the final descent of Jesus.” After that, “nothing but Islam will be accepted from them, for taking the poll tax is only effective until Jesus’ descent” (o9.8).
Hanafi school: A Hanafi manual of Islamic law repeats the same injunctions. It insists that people must be called to embrace Islam before being fought, “because the Prophet so instructed his commanders, directing them to call the infidels to the faith.” It emphasizes that jihad must not be waged for economic gain, but solely for religious reasons: from the call to Islam “the people will hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the troubles of war.”
However, “if the infidels, upon receiving the call, neither consent to it nor agree to pay capitation tax [jizya], it is then incumbent on the Muslims to call upon God for assistance, and to make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels, and it is necessary to implore His aid upon every occasion; the Prophet, moreover, commands us so to do.” (Al-Hidayah, II.140)
Maliki school: Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), a pioneering historian and philosopher, was also a Maliki legal theorist. In his renowned Muqaddimah, the first work of historical theory, he notes that “in the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.” In Islam, the person in charge of religious affairs is concerned with “power politics,” because Islam is “under obligation to gain power over other nations.”
Hanbali school: The great medieval theorist of what is commonly known today as radical or fundamentalist Islam, Ibn Taymiyya (Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, 1263-1328), was a Hanbali jurist. He directed that “since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought.”
This is also taught by modern-day scholars of Islam. Majid Khadduri was an Iraqi scholar of Islamic law of international renown. In his book War and Peace in the Law of Islam, which was published in 1955 and remains one of the most lucid and illuminating works on the subject, Khadduri says this about jihad:
The state which is regarded as the instrument for universalizing a certain religion must perforce be an ever expanding state. The Islamic state, whose principal function was to put God’s law into practice, sought to establish Islam as the dominant reigning ideology over the entire world….The jihad was therefore employed as an instrument for both the universalization of religion and the establishment of an imperial world state. (P. 51)
Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, Assistant Professor on the Faculty of Shari’ah and Law of the International Islamic University in Islamabad. In his 1994 book The Methodology of Ijtihad, he quotes the twelfth century Maliki jurist Ibn Rushd: “Muslim jurists agreed that the purpose of fighting with the People of the Book…is one of two things: it is either their conversion to Islam or the payment of jizyah.” Nyazee concludes: “This leaves no doubt that the primary goal of the Muslim community, in the eyes of its jurists, is to spread the word of Allah through jihad, and the option of poll-tax [jizya] is to be exercised only after subjugation” of non-Muslims.
Are all these authorities and scholars “extremists” or “anti-Muslim activists”? Considine would have you think so.
In Islam, “jihad” has several different components, which include personal struggles, such as the struggle against an addiction; social struggles, such as the struggle to become tolerant of others; and occasionally a military struggle, if and when necessary in self-defense. When asked, “What is the major jihad?” Muhammad replied: “The jihad of the self (struggle against the personal self).” Contrary to the rhetoric and misinformation about “jihad” in anti-Islam networks, Muhammad did not say that the violent struggle was the most important form of “jihad.”
I have never seen any “anti-Islam network” claim that Muhammad said that “the violent struggle was the most important form of ‘jihad,'” but I am sure Considine has his sources. In any case, Islamic jihadis certainly insist that the hadith Considine is quoting about the greater and lesser jihad is spurious, and it does not, in fact, appear in any of the major hadith collections, the ones that Muslims consider most reliable (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and an-Nasai). Nonetheless, the Shafi’i manual quoted above, ‘Umdat al-Salik, among others, accepts it, and devotes a paragraph to the greater, spiritual jihad. Then it devotes many pages to the lesser, martial jihad, to the spoils of war, the treatment of the conquered dhimmis, etc. So while the lesser jihad may indeed be lesser in name, it nonetheless exists, and is often given greater attention in Islamic jurisprudence than its supposedly greater counterpart.
The hype in America and abroad over “jihad” has brought me to consider the term through a Christian perspective. In this piece I seek to do two things — explore how forms of “jihad” are present in Christianity and pinpoint different ways of looking at “jihad” in Christian and Islamic texts. Doing so can help find common characteristics of “jihad” so that Christians and Muslims can build bridges of mutual understanding and tolerance.
Although the term “jihad” is not literally used in Christian scripture, the idea of struggling is at the very heart of Christianity. There are a number of instances in the New Testament which provide guidance for Christians who are struggling with different problems or dilemmas in their lives.
One major aspect of the Christian “jihad” is the practice of non-violence. When the Roman soldiers arrested Jesus and brought him to Pontius Pilate, the man who contributed to Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my [disciples] would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18: 35-36). Violence, therefore, is antithetical to Jesus’ teachings. He did not require his followers to take up arms to show commitment to his teachings. Indeed, it was quite the opposite. In Matthew (26:53), Jesus told his followers that “… for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Jesus, as you can see, encouraged his disciples to struggle against the desire to use force when frustrated or antagonized.
Similarly, Islamic holy scripture also encourages Muslims to struggle against the use of violence. The Quran (5:32), for example, notes that “…. If anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land it would be as if he slew the whole humanity: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole humanity.” In another Quranic (2:190) passage, Muslims are told to “Fight in the case of God those who start fighting you, but do not transgress limits (or start the attack); for God loveth not transgressors.” It is clear that these two passages echo the Christian “jihad” of struggling in the name of non-violence.
Note that like virtually everyone else who ever quotes Qur’an 5:32, Considine doesn’t mention to whom it is addressed (the Children of Israel), or the exceptions at its heart (although he does quote them — “unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land”) or what follows it, Qur’an 5:33. Qur’an 5:33 gives the penalty for that exception in 5:32, “spreading mischief in the land”: “The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter” (5:33). To represent this mandate to crucify people and amputate limbs as “struggling in the name of non-violence” is simply ludicrous.
And as for the idea that defensive jihad is the only form of violent jihad, which Considine assumes throughout this article and alludes to again in quoting Qur’an 2:190, it completely ignores the offensive jihad that many Muslim thinkers since the beginning of Islam have considered to be the final and crowning stage of the Qur’an’s teaching on jihad. Muhammad’s earliest biographer, a pious Muslim named Ibn Ishaq, explains the progression of Qur’anic revelation about warfare. First, he explains, Allah allowed Muslims to wage defensive warfare. But that was not Allah’s last word on the circumstances in which Muslims should fight. Ibn Ishaq explains offensive jihad by invoking a Qur’anic verse: “Then God sent down to him: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction,’ i.e. until no believer is seduced from his religion. ‘And the religion is God’s’, i.e. Until God alone is worshipped.”
The Qur’an verse Ibn Ishaq quotes here (2:193) commands much more than defensive warfare: Muslims must fight until “the religion is God’s” – that is, until Allah alone is worshipped. Ibn Ishaq gives no hint that that command died with the seventh century.
The great medieval scholar Ibn Qayyim (1292-1350) also 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.”
In other words, he initially could fight only defensively — only “those who fought him” — but later he could fight the polytheists until Islam was “fully established.” He could fight them even if they didn’t fight him first, and solely because they were not Muslim.
Nor do all contemporary Islamic thinkers believe that that command is a relic of history. According to a 20th century Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, “at first ‘the fighting’ was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory.” He also distinguishes two groups Muslims must fight: “(1) against them who start ‘the fighting’ against you (Muslims) . . . (2) and against all those who worship others along with Allah . . . as mentioned in Surat Al-Baqarah (II), Al-Imran (III) and At-Taubah (IX) . . . and other Surahs (Chapters of the Qur’an).” (The Roman numerals after the names of the chapters of the Qur’an are the numbers of the suras: Sheikh ‘Abdullah is referring to Qur’anic verses such as 2:216, 3:157-158, 9:5, and 9:29.)
Another element of the Christian “jihad” is to show love for those around you. Jesus wants Christians to “love your neighbor” and even beyond that, “love your enemies,” a point which arises in Luke (6:27). In Matthew (5:9), it is written that peacemakers are blessed, “for they will be called sons of God.” The New Testament demands that Christians struggle in the fight for peace, even if it means embracing your sworn enemies and those who wish to harm you.
The Quran also requires that Muslims search for ways of making peace instead of war. Muslims, for example, are required to speak well of others even if they are not believers of Islam. In the Quran (17:53-54), it is written that Muslims must “speak in a most kindly manner (unto those who do not share [your] beliefs).” There is also no way a Muslim can force others to believe in Islam, as the Quran (2:256) mentions that “there is no compulsion in religion.” The “jihad” in these contexts is one in which Muslims have to work on treating non-Muslims with respect and dignity.
The Christian “jihad” also requires that Christians do not retaliate “evil for evil.” Romans (12:17) demands that Christians “live at peace with everyone.” People who call themselves Christians, yet call for the demise of Islam and anything related to Muslims, should heed to the demand of this verse and search for ways to build bridges for peace instead of fanning the flames of hatred and bigotry. In a similar way, Muslims who call for violent “jihad” should remember that the Quran (4:9) asks Muslims to leave others alone if they leave Muslims alone: ” refrain from fighting… and offer [them] peace, then God gives you no way to go against them.”
The Saudi Sheikh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajid (1962-), whose lectures and Islamic rulings (fatawa) circulate widely throughout the Islamic world, counters this in a discussion of whether Muslims should force others to accept Islam. In considering Qur’an 2:256 (“There is no compulsion in religion,”) the Sheikh quotes Qur’an 9:29, as well as 8:39 (“And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism, i.e. worshipping others besides Allaah), and the religion (worship) will all be for Allaah Alone [in the whole of the world]”), and the Verse of the Sword. Of the latter, Sheikh Muhammad says simply: “This verse is known as Ayat al-Sayf (the verse of the sword). These and similar verses abrogate the verses which say that there is no compulsion to become Muslim.”
Of course, he’s a Wahhabi. The Wahhabi perspective is spreading throughout the Muslim world today, however, not solely because of Saudi billions, but because the Wahhabis argue their case on the basis of Qur’an and Sunnah — and using Qur’an and Sunnah, they would brush aside Considine’s claims with arguments similar to those of al-Munajid above. They may be wrong, but the “moderates” have never effectively countered them on those grounds.
The Christian “jihad” can be explored further in the wisdom left by Jesus’ disciples. Peter, for example, is considered “the rock” of Jesus’ church because he spoke about the struggle to maintain the Christian faith at all costs. In 2 Peter (3:14), he stated “… make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with [Jesus].” In this verse, Peter is highlighting one of the ultimate aims of Christianity — avoid wrongdoing and own sins. A true Christian such as Peter cared more for fixing his own transgressions rather than attacking others for their sins. He encouraged Christians to struggle with overcoming their personal dilemmas first before bickering and complaining over the errors of others. In essence, he believed progress is rooted in the individuals’ ability to change their attitude and behavior in struggling to adhere to the teachings of Jesus.
In addition to Peter, Paul of Tarsus, another disciple of Jesus, also embraced the Christian “jihad.” Paul made “every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19). In Timothy 6:12, he encouraged Christians to “Fight the good fight of the faith,” which can be interpreted as spreading peace and love in the spirit of Jesus. In addition, in 2 Timothy (4:7), Paul stated, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” There is an inherent non-violent tone in these statements. Never did he ask Christians to take up the sword or use violence as a means of showing faith in Jesus.
Moreover, in 2 Peter 1:5-7, Peter stated that a Christian must “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control’ and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance; godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” Peter’s emphasis on doing good and searching for knowledge mirrors the Quran’s frequent emphasis on “ilm,” which means “knowledge” in Arabic. Indeed, few religions in the world place so much emphasis on knowledge as Islam. “Knowledge” is mentioned more than 700 times in the Quran.
In the Quran (58:11), God raises in rank “… those who have been given knowledge.” Muhammad also emphasized knowledge in a hadith, or saying of the Prophet, in which he said that “Seeking knowledge is a must for every Muslim, male or female, from cradle to grave in any part of the world.” Muhammad also stated in another hadith that “the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” Christians and Muslims, therefore, share a similar “jihad” in terms of their obligation to seek out knowledge and apply that knowledge in good faith for the betterment of humanity.
Jesus, like Muhammad, taught his disciples and future believers that struggling is a fundamental element of the Christian faith. He told his disciples to “strive to enter in at the narrow gate…”, which mirrors the popular Muslim notion of staying on the “straight path” and maintaining dedication to practicing Islam to the best of ones ability. Ultimately, Christians and Muslims are guided by their scripture to persevere in the face of their struggles. They are encouraged to struggle in this life, to maintain belief in God, in exchange for a higher reward when this life inevitably ends.
When Jesus told his followers to strive to enter in at the narrow gate, he never cursed other religions. But the Islamic concept of the “straight path” is another thing altogether. The final two verses of the Fatiha, the first chapter of the Qur’an and most important prayer in Islam, ask Allah: “Show us the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast favoured; not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.” The traditional Islamic understanding of this is that the “straight path” is Islam — cf. Islamic apologist John Esposito’s book Islam: The Straight Path. The path of those who have earned Allah’s anger are the Jews, and those who have gone astray are the Christians.
The classic Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir explains that “the two paths He described here are both misguided,” and that those “two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why ‘anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as ‘led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians.”
Ibn Kathir’s understanding of this passage is not a lone “extremist” interpretation. In fact, most Muslim commentators believe that the Jews are those who have earned Allah’s wrath and the Christians are those who have gone astray. This is the view of Tabari, Zamakhshari, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, and Ibn Arabi, as well as Ibn Kathir. One contrasting, but not majority view, is that of Nisaburi, who says that “those who have incurred Allah’s wrath are the people of negligence, and those who have gone astray are the people of immoderation.”
Wahhabis drew criticism a few years back for adding “such as the Jews” and “such as the Christians” into parenthetical glosses on this passage in Qur’ans printed in Saudi Arabia. Some Western commentators imagined that the Saudis originated this interpretation, and indeed the whole idea of Qur’anic hostility toward Jews and Christians. They found it inconceivable that Muslims all over the world would learn as a matter of course that the central prayer of their faith anathematizes Jews and Christians.
But unfortunately, this interpretation is venerable and mainstream in Islamic theology. The printing of the interpretation in parenthetical glosses into a translation would be unlikely to affect Muslim attitudes, since the Arabic text is always and everywhere normative in any case, and since so many mainstream commentaries contain the idea that the Jews and Christians are being criticized here. Seventeen times a day, by the pious.
Please note that I am not saying that the anti-Jewish and anti-Christian interpretation of the Fatiha is the “correct” one. While I don’t believe that religious texts are infinitely malleable and can be made to mean whatever the reader wants them to mean, as some apparently do, in this case Nisaburi’s reading has as much to commend it as the other: there is nothing in the text itself that absolutely compels one to believe that it is talking about Jews and Christians. And it is noteworthy that in his massive and evocatively named 30-volume commentary on the Qur’an, Fi Zilal al-Qur’an (In the Shade of the Qur’an), the twentieth-century jihad theorist Sayyid Qutb doesn’t mention Jews or Christians in connection with this passage. At the same time, however, the idea in Islam that Jews have earned Allah’s anger and Christians have gone astray doesn’t depend on this passage alone. The Jews have earned Allah’s anger by rejecting Muhammad (2:87-90), and the Christians have gone astray by holding to the divinity of Christ (5:17, 5:72).
The Hadith, the traditions of the words and deeds of Muhammad and the early Muslims, also contains material linking Jews to Allah’s anger and Christians to his curse, which resulting from their straying from the true path. (The Jews are accursed also, according to Qur’an 2:89, and both are accursed according to 9:30). One hadith recounts that an early Muslim, Zaid bin ‘Amr bin Nufail, in his travels met with Jewish and Christian scholars. The Jewish scholar told him, “You will not embrace our religion unless you receive your share of Allah’s Anger,” and the Christian said, “You will not embrace our religion unless you get a share of Allah’s Curse.” Zaid, needless to say, became a Muslim.
In light of these and similar passages it shouldn’t be surprising that many Muslim commentators have understood the Fatiha to be encapsulating these views. Thus it is an understatement to call Considine’s comparison of the straight path and the narrow way…unfortunate.
In essence, Christians and Muslims share a similar “jihad.” This “jihad” is one of non-violence, the love of humanity, the perfection of the soul, and the search for knowledge.
The Christians who face escalating violent persecution all over the Muslim world in the name of jihad will be so reassured to learn this.