A taxonomy of Jihad.

AuthorZaidi, Manzar

JIHAD DERIVES FROM THE ARABIC root j h d, signifying intense struggle or effort. Besides denoting an armed struggle, it has the connotations of a moral struggle within one's own self. It thus carries the hermeneutical meaning of a moral endeavour directed towards one's own improvement or self-elevation on a moral plane which Muslim jurists of eminence have been quoted as calling Jihad-e-Akbar or bigger jihad. On the other hand, preparations and participation for defence against an armed conflict in consequence of foreign aggression has been known as Qitaal or Jihad-e-Asghar. Ever since the dawn of Islam till the demise of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam has passed through two critical phases: 1) the sojourn of his stay in the hostile environments of Mecca, 2) followed by a relatively peaceful period during the post-hijrat or post-hijra period in Medina. The latter proved to be a crucible for conversion from pastoral feudal nomadic society to the city state of Medina, hitherto unknown to the Arabs. The Meccan phase was a preparation for the following period, when the Prophet's followers were shedding off their earlier habits and taking a turn towards austerity, veracity, better discipline, and a humane approach towards the poor and the needy. Things changed to the extent that the inhabitants of Medina known as Ansaar willingly shared their erstwhile simple and austere belongings with the immigrants from Mecca, commonly known as Muhajreen. This sociopolitical and socio-economic transformation did not stop there, because it became more or less socially obligatory for every member of the Ansaar community to adopt a Muhajir as a brother, sharing his entire belongings with him at the rate of 50%.

Quranic verses therefore, consist of divine injunctions keeping the existing socio-political, socio-economic, and socio-religious milieu in view i.e. the survival stage and the blossoming stage, the latter being when Islam started playing a prominent role in its capacity as an internationally emerging socioeconomic and socio-cultural movement. It was enjoined upon all Muslims to surrender 2.5% of their annual savings in cash, and in certain mentionable commodities as Zakaat, yet they were expected to give away everything beyond their immediate requirement i.e. Khairaat to the poor and the needy in the name of Allah i.e. God. Hence circumstances drew a clear line of demarcation between the first phase, when Islam was in its formative years and passing through its phase of infancy, and a second phase when it had already established its stronghold in the city state of Medina. The Quranic verses correspond temporally with the Prophet's stay in Mecca and subsequent migration or hijrat to Medina. In the former, Islam was in its nascent phase and the verses stress a moral struggle. In the latter, Medina was taking on the form of a chieftaincy in the process of becoming a nation state, which was being threatened by violent extrinsic forces. Greater emphasis on moral struggle and stress on self-improvement during the earlier phase signifying Jihad-e-Akbar are ascribed to the Meccan phase. Clear instructions for Qitaal or Jihad-e-Asghar, in the event of an armed assault on the part of the enemy, mostly relate to the second post-hijra period in the city state of Medina. Thus some of the Medinite verses speak of armed struggle in relatively unambiguous paradigms, "[T]hose of the believers, who stay home, other than the disabled, are not equal to those who strive in the path of God with their goods and persons. God has placed those who struggle with their goods and persons on a higher level than those who stay at home."

However, even when war seemed inevitable, the rules of warfare were subjected to a substantial jurisprudential discourse. Legal restrictions of an absolute nature were placed upon the Muslims during their conduct of war. Muslim armies could not, under any circumstances, kill women, children, seniors, hermits, pacifists, peasants or slaves unless they were clearly demonstrated belligerent combatants, and then retaliation was only allowed in a proportionate self defense. Water holes were not to be poisoned, vegetation and property was not to be destroyed, and flame-throwers were not to be used except out of absolute necessity, and even then only to a limited extent. Torture, mutilation and murder of hostages were forbidden under all circumstances, and no extenuating circumstances could allow the use of these methods. Perhaps the most important part of this was the fact that the classical jurists arrived at these juristic decisions not simply as a matter of textual formalism, but as deeply moral or ethical assertions, which were the backbone of a civilized polity trying to woo others outside the fold of Islam. (2)

Many contemporary Muslim writers assuming the role of apologists for the irrational and illogical interpretation of Jihad by semi-literate or illiterate Jihadis, show a tendency of equating Jihad merely with the notion of moral struggle mentioned earlier. Academic discussion apart, Jihad is one of the concepts of Islam and cannot be dismissed so summarily or defined away. In the absence of adjudication or Ijtihad, (3) Sunnah, Ahadith (4) and Ijmaa (5) a substantial Islamic literature amounts more or less to a dictate of Sharia, unless it is changed on the basis of further adjudication i.e. Ijtihad. Innumerable decisions were taken by jurists in the past but slowly and gradually this process came to an abrupt end on the assumption that the guidelines already provided should suffice. One basic fallacy in this approach was that the need for adjudication always existed in a society which had been in a state of flux and requirements of every age were different from the ones preceding it. According to Muslims, Quran was the last revealed book and the Holy Prophet was the last prophet. The Islamic injunctions were valid for all times to come. Hence, acceptance of the challenge of social change could only be left to Mujtahideen i.e. jurists who had been discharging this obligation for centuries. With the closing of the gates of Ijtihad, the centuries of intellectual evolution that had characterized the hitherto progressive Islamic juristic discourse, suffered an irreversible setback.

As a result of this ossification in the contextual paradigm, the moral Jihad has been reduced to a mere abstraction. The closing of the gates of Ijtihad would thus usher in the era of what Karen Armstrong (6) calls, the "conservative spirit." This implied going back to the basics since in a medieval agrarian society like the Islamic one, preservation of ways of life depended upon conservation and protection of finite resources. This defined the life-parameters of the people in any primarily agrarian society. Innovation, creativity etc. were seen as dangerous since they could potentially threaten the status quo by depletion of scarce resources. An agriculture based medieval economy relied heavily on conservation of existing resources since there were only so many of them available. This tendency crept into the cultural patterns of people in almost any agrarian society in medieval times since radical innovation could be potentially dangerous by using up the cherished finite resources. The western civilization using the industrial revolution as a catalyst, moved onwards since increased production would itself be self sustaining. The Islamic world on the other hand, retained the conservative spirit and Islamic jurisprudence followed suit. Taqlid, or following, was designated as a model stifling the gateway to constant renewal of faith to emerging challenges. Thus, this lack of continuity of intellectual thought manifesting itself in the non-renewal of the practice of Ijtihad signalled a marked deterioration in the interpretation of Jihad-e-Asghar.

The absence of adjudication or Ijtihaad (consensus of eminent Muslim Jurists) for resolving newly emerging issues or problems (masail) in the light of sharia over the centuries, has lent rigidity to these contextual paradigms with the unfortunate effect of the moral jihad becoming a rather...

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