The word Jihad has been frequently used by politicians, publications  and media outlets. Its uses have mostly, if not always, been associated with terrorism and wanton destruction.  Even during the aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11, 7/7, Mumbai attacks and most recently the Woolwich murder, many western commentators labeled them as acts of Jihad. However, is Jihad terrorism? Does it involve wanton destruction and the killing of innocents en masse? Significantly, answers are required to the oft repeated question: What is Jihad?
This two-part article aims to show that terrorist attacks and indiscriminate killing are antithetical to the Islamic concept of Jihad.
Fighting: A Human Reality
There have been many anthropological studies on war and fighting, and the conclusions are very similar. Not only have humans been fighting and killing for millennia, the act of fighting and killing is a human reality. The reasons for fighting and war differ. Some of these reasons include land, fame, fortune, religion, independence and resources. Humans have also fought to defend themselves and others, or to attack their enemies. In summary, war and fighting are human phenomena that are not specific to any particular race, ideology or religion.
In the modern world there are many wars, and they are mostly over resources. An example is the US and UK fighting for oil and strategic dominance in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fighting & Islam
Islam, being a practical way of life, acknowledges that humans fight and engage in war. Islam sets down rules for war, which are to be followed if Muslims go to war, examples include fighting for just reasons, no killing of innocent people, no killing of women and children, no burning of crops or trees, only fight those that fight you, and no wanton destruction. Abu Bakr who was the Prophet Muhammad’s first successor and is considered to have been his closest companion said:
“Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic (or humanitarian) services; leave them alone.”
Many would argue that this is in contrast to certain Western nations when they invade countries; they tend to destroy the infrastructure of the countries causing more deaths than bullets and bombs (even the BBC reports that so called ‘smart bombs’ are not so smart, with only 40% hitting targets.  Civilian deaths in the US/UK invasions are evidence of this). Then contractual awards are given to western companies to rebuild the infrastructure, making the invaded country pay for it – Iraq is a striking example.
Whilst certain western powers wage war and invade for what everyone knows to be for resources and places of strategic value, in Islam war is not waged for these reasons; it does not invade to rob, steal and make lands poor – quite the opposite.
The term most commonly used to describe Muslims fighting is Jihad, but it has been used politically to create fear of Islam and Muslims. Jihad has been linked to terrorism, however when the corpus of Islamic reference material is analysed, this cannot be further from the truth.
Jihad is when Muslims go to war, and it has its rules relating to it. Primarily there are two types of Jihad, defensive and progressive. Defensive is when Muslims rally to fight and expel armies from their lands which have been invaded. This concept is similar to article 51 of the UN Charter which states:
“Nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs…”  Examples include when the Crusaders invaded Palestine in 11th/12th century, and when the Mongols invaded Central Asia, Persia, Iraq and Syria in the 13th century. This defensive Jihad is to push the occupiers out and has nothing to do with terrorism; in reality it is a basic human right.  Progressive Jihad is practically undertaken by a legitimate Islamic State (no such state exists today) and is initiated for three main reasons. The reasons include removing oppression, defending the weak and implementing the justice of Islam. This is evident in Islamic history, John of Nikiou in 690 CE, who was a Coptic Bishop in Nikiu (Egypt), states,
“When Muslims saw the…hostility of the people to the emperor Heraclius because of the persecution wherewith he had visited all the land of Egypt…people began to help the Muslims.”  Additionally, oppression and all forms of genocide would justify progressive Jihad.
Progressive Jihad has three parts to it. It first invites the people to accept Islam by explaining the Islamic belief and what Islam has to offer them. This is done by dialogue and discussion and can take some time. After this, the Islamic State then invites the people to live within the state and enjoy peace, justice, security and protection. Historically many non-Muslim peoples have opted for this option. This is in exchange for a small yearly tax.  The famous letter from a Rabbi, after Europe’s persecution of the Jews, found in Phillip Mansel’s book “Constantinople ”, reflect this reality,
“Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of. We possess great fortunes; much gold and silver are in our hands. We are not oppressed with heavy taxes and our commerce is free and unhindered. Rich are the fruits of the earth. Everything is cheap and every one of us lives in peace and freedom…”  The third and final course of action after the first two have been followed is war. This war is called Jihad and in cases of genocide and extreme oppression it may be the first and only part of the process. It is the final part of a foreign policy used by the Islamic State, and as mentioned it has its rules, like no wanton destruction and killing of innocent people. When an Islamic State goes to war, it is not for money, land, or riches, but to show people the justice and security of Islam. Heinrich Graetz, a 19th century Jewish historian expressed the ‘favourable circumstances’ under Islamic rule:
“It was in these favourable circumstances that the Spanish Jews came under the rule of Mahometans, as whose allies they esteemed themselves the equals of their coreligionists in Babylonia and Persia. They were kindly treated, obtained religious liberty, of which they had so long been deprived, were permitted to exercise jurisdiction over their co-religionists…”  This is unlike some western states, where Politicians claim they are fighting for so-called universal values, but in reality are fighting for resources and areas of strategic value. For example David Milliband, the British Foreign Secretary, said,
“Our party was created to fight for democracy and equal rights in our own country. We know we have further to go. But if we want to protect ourselves from terrorism at home, we need to defend and advance democracy and human rights abroad.”  Judging by the current reality of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, nothing can be further from the truth. Islamic foreign policy however is truthful about its goals and history bears testimony to this. This is why Jews fled Spain in the Inquisition and ran to the Muslims of Istanbul who welcomed them, because they knew justice lived in Islamic lands. Zion Zohar, a Jewish Historian, expressed similar sentiments in his book ‘Sephardic & Mizrahi Jewry’:
“Thus, when Muslims crossed the straits of Gibraltar from North Africa in 711 CE and invaded the Iberian Peninsula, Jews welcomed them as liberators from Christian Persecution.”  Jihad is seen by western peoples and nations as barbaric and this is propagated to the masses, by politicians and the media, to portray Muslims as bloodthirsty killers. An Islamic State would commit to progressive Jihad, and will use war as a last resort – when diplomacy fails – to really liberate people from oppression. In addition to remove the tyranny of injustice and to show the people what Islam really is and how Islam can truly make their lives and society better – even if they do not become Muslim.
The Islamic belief is not forced upon people once land is taken, 1400 years of history bears testament to this . This is evident in the early testimonies of Christian leadership. Ishoyabth who was patriarch from AD 647 to 657, writes,
“The Arabs, to who God gave the dominion over the world, behave to us as you know. They are not hostile to Christianity, but praise our religion, honour priests and saints, and help the Churches and Monastries.”  Footnotes
 This is different from what many commentators describe as ‘political violence’ please access the following link that differentiates between theology and political violence http://hamzatzortzis.blogspot.com/2008/07/questions-is-islam-responsible-for.html or see section below in this article
 John of Nikiou, quoted by Petra M. Sijpesteijn, Egypt in the Byzantine World, Cambridge, 2007, P. 442.
 “Life as a Non-Muslim in the Caliphate”http://www.caliphate.co.uk/caliphate/nonmuslims.htm
 Philip Mansel. 1995. Constantinople : City of the World’s desire, 1453-1924. Penguin Books, p. 15
 H. Graetz, History of the Jews, London , 1892, Vol 3, P. 112.
 Zion Zohar, Sephardic & Mizrahi Jewry, New York, 2005, P. 8-9.
 “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects Taghut (evil) and believes in Allah has grasped the most trust worthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. ” Qur’an 2:256
 Caliph and their non-Muslim subjects: A critical study of the covenant of Umar. A. S. Tritton. Routledge Library Editions: Islam. 2008, p. 138-139