Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Jihad and International Law

While on the subject of Islamic radicalism, I thought it worthwhile to point you to an important article published by Professors Shaheen Sardar Ali and Javaid Rehman in Oxford's Journal of Conflict & Security Law entitled The Concept of Jihad in Islamic International Law.
Particularly important is the discussion of differing interpretations of jihad. The authors identify three current theories of jihad: (1) a permanent state of belligerence against non-believers; (2) jihad as just war and a state of self-exertion and passivity; and (3) the third way of coexistence, in which peace is the normal relationship between Islamic and non-Islamic states.

Regarding the first interpretation, the authors write: "According to this significantly popular interpretation, the totality of jihad ideology represents a religiously sanctioned aggressive war to propagate or defend the faith.... One proponent of this theory [argues] ... that ... 'The Muslims are, therefore, under a legal obligation to reduce non-Muslim communities to Islamic rule in order to achieve Islam's ultimate objective, namely the enforcement of God's law (the Sharia) over the entire world. The instrument by which the Islamic state is to carry out that objective is called the jihad (popularly known as the 'holy war') and is always just, if waged against the infidels and the enemies of the faith.'"

Regard the second interpretation, "the jihad ideology is exclusively one of self-exertion and peaceful co-existence.... [T]he advent of Islam (especially if compared with its historical epoch) brought forth a peaceful revolution. Islam set peace as the perfect social and legal ideal. War was strictly regulated and limited by compulsory legal rules based on sacred texts and equitable principles. Many Muslim scholars cite Quran and Hadith texts to put forward the argument that in the Islamic tradition (unlike popularly held belief), war is an aberration and a condition which may be resorted to only under unavoidable circumstances."

The authors espouse a third view. "It is submitted that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and on a historical plane one might argue that Islamic doctrine of war changed course in keeping with imperatives of time and circumstances: A critical feature in this regard is the contextualising of jihad. Originating from the premise of peaceful propagation of the Islamic faith and resort to war only as a measure of self-defence, the doctrine went through a change when persecution of Muslims by the Makkans lead to their emigration to Madina. [J]ihad (in the sense of use of force) was established and permitted to protect Muslims and to ensure their right to practice their religion.... The 'age of coexistence' or the third age in Islamic international law coincides roughly with the formative stage of international law as we know it today. In the age of coexistence, which continues to this day, peace has come to be more widely recognised as the 'normal' relationship between the Islamic and non-Islamic states, and treaties of amity no longer need to be of fixed duration."
The article is quite useful in conceding that there is today a "significantly popular interpretation" of jihad in which Muslims are required to adopt a state of permanent belligerency with non-believers. It has always struck me as odd that many prominent Westerners simply ignore this strong strand of Islam that is so antithetical to international law. This approach is not an aberration, but one popular and accepted version of Islamic jihad. Having said that, it is quite encouraging that the authors identify competing notions of jihad that are compatible with international law.
We can only hope that in the ideological battle within Islam, the view that Muslims must permanently battle non-believers does not prevail.

An abstract of the article is available here. Full text requires a subscription.

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