In present times, in many countries some Muslims are engaged in armed conflicts in the name of ‘Islamic jihad’. The fact of the matter is that no movement can become a genuine jihad simply because its flag-bearers give it that label. An action can be considered an authentic Islamic jihad only if and when it is fully based on the conditions that Islam has laid down in this regard. If a movement does not fully meet the conditions laid down in Islam for a jihad, it will not be a jihad, but, rather, what is condemned in the Quran as fasad or persecution, chaos and strife. Those who are engaged in such an action will not gain the rewards meant for those who participate in an authentic jihad. Rather, they will only deserve God’s punishment.
I have discussed in considerable detail in several of my books the various conditions necessary for jihad in the sense of qital or physical war. Here, I wish to clarify just one point. And that is that jihad in the sense of qital does not have the same status as individual acts such as prayer and fasting. Rather, it is an act that has wholly to do with the state.
This status of jihad in the sense of qital is very clearly explained in the Quran and Hadith. For instance, the Quran (4:83) ordains that if an atmosphere of fear is created because of an enemy, then one should not begin to take action against it on one’s own. Rather, one should turn to those who are in authority—that is, people who are in-charge of the government. The latter will properly gauge the situation and take necessary steps. This verse tells us that in the event of fear (a situation of war), it is not legitimate for members of the general public to act on their own. The only thing they can do is to leave the matter with the rulers and assist the latter in whatever actions they may take.
Likewise, according to a hadith report contained in the Sahih al-Bukhari, the Prophet is said to have declared that the leader is a shield; war is undertaken under his leadership; and protection is procured through him. This indicates that military defence must always be conducted under the ruler’s leadership. The general Muslim public must only obey their rulers in this regard, and, leading them their support, must help them in their efforts.
This issue is one on which there is a consensus among the fuqaha or scholars of Muslim jurisprudence. Almost no faqih or Islamic jurisprudent of note has any objection to it. According to the unanimous consensus of the fuqaha, only an established government can declare war. Or, as it is said in Arabic ar-raheelu lil imam, which is to say the declaration of war is the sole prerogative of the ruler. Non-government actors, including individuals and groups, do not have the right to make such a declaration.
In present times, in various places Muslims have launched and are engaged in violent confrontations with governments in various countries. But almost wholly without exception, these are not authentic Islamic jihads, but, rather, what is called fasad or strife. This is because none of these so-called jihads has been launched by an established government. All of them have been launched and are being carried out by what in today’s parlance are called Non-Governmental Organizations. If some of their so-called jihadi activities enjoy the support of some Muslim government, this support is being provided in a clandestine and undeclared manner. However, according to the shariah, for a Muslim government to engage in
jihad, it must openly and explicitly announce this. It is impermissible, according to Islam, for a Muslim government to engage in qital or war without an open declaration of war.
The violent activities presently engaged in by Muslims in various parts of the world in the name of jihad are of two types: guerilla war or proxy war. Both of these are, without any doubt, wholly illegitimate in Islam. Guerilla war is illegitimate in Islam because it is conducted by non-governmental actors, and not an established government. And proxy war is considered illegitimate because it is engaged in by a government without making an open declaration of hostilities.
Islamic jihad, properly understood, is a constructive and continuous action or process. It continues uninterrupted in the life of a person who has surrendered herself or himself entirely to God. It has three aspects:
1. Jihad-e Nafs: This is the struggle against one’s nafs or baser self and one’s base desires, and the struggle to remain steadfast in the path that is pleasing to God.
2. Jihad-e Dawah: This is the struggle to convey the message of God to all of humankind, based on genuine concern for the welfare of all. This is an exalted task, and so it is called jihad-e kabir or ‘great jihad’.
3. Jihad-e Ada: This is the effort to face the opponents of the Truth, and to keep protect and keep established the True Religion in all circumstances. In the past, this jihad was essentially a peaceful one, and so it remains now as well.
In this sense, then, jihad is a peaceful struggle, and not, in essence, a violent one.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan heads the New Delhi-based Centre for Peace and Spirituality. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org A prolific writer, many of his writings can be accessed on http://www.cpsglobal.org/articles/mwk and on www.spiritofislam.co.in