Making a mockery of jihad
By Asghar Ali Engineer 

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Recent terror attacks in India and abroad have created an impression that jihad 
is central to Koranic teaching. First of all, as we have asserted repeatedly, 
jihad does not mean war in the Koran as there are other words for it like qital 
and harb. Jihad has been used in the Koran in its root meaning: to strive for 
betterment of society, to spread goodness (maruf) and contain evil (munkar). 

But supposing jihad means war, as some Muslims believe, even then it still 
isn't central to Koranic teachings. The word "jihad" occurs in the Koran 41 
times though not a single verse uses it in the sense of war. The four most 
fundamental values in the Koran are justice ('adl), benevolence (ihsan), 
compassion (rahmah) and wisdom (hikmah). Thus, the Koran is an embodiment of 
these values and a Muslim is duty-bound to practice them above all. 

One who fails to practice these values can hardly claim to be a true Muslim. 
Jihad is not even obligatory in Islamic jurisprudence whereas these values are 
indicative of a Muslim's character and hence quite important. It can be said 
that compassion is most central to Koranic teachings. The words "compassion" 
and "mercy" in their various forms occur in the Koran 335 times. 

There is great emphasis in the Koran on justice in all social and political 
matters and it uses three words for justice - 'adl, qist and hakama. These 
three words occur 244 times in the Koran. To seek revenge is human weakness, 
not strength. Thus, a devout Muslim tends to forgive, like Allah who forgives 
his servants if they sincerely repent. Those who are waging jihad in the form 
of terror attacks are bent upon seeking revenge whereas a good Muslim would 
tend to forgive just as Allah does. 

In sharia law, jihad can be declared only by the state or those empowered by 
it. Terror attacks, on the other hand, are planned and executed by a few 
individuals unrepresentative of any state or state institution. So their 
attacks cannot be legitimate by any Islamic or sharia law. That is nothing but 
committing the murder of innocent people. Also, according to Islamic laws, in 
jihad no non-combatant can be attacked, much less women, children and the 
elderly and no civilian property can be destroyed unless it is being used for 
military purposes or for purposes of combat. 

It can be seen that the rules laid down for war by Islamic laws are no 
different from modern laws of warfare or the Geneva conventions. But terror 
attacks are a gross violation of all these Islamic rules and there is no way 
these attacks can be characterized as jihad. The terrorists are described by 
the media as jihadis. This is a gross misuse of the word as there is no word 
like "jihadi" in the Arabic language. It is in fact "mujahid" and it is used in 
a laudatory sense - one who devotes oneself to a good cause like fighting 
against social evils. 

The Koran advises Muslims: "And cast not yourselves to destruction with your 
own hands and do good (to others). Surely Allah loves the doers of good." This 
advice of the Koran not to throw oneself to destruction with one's own hands is 
important and relevant even today. What did the September 11, 2001 attack 
result in? Did al-Qaeda not invite great disaster to the entire Islamic world, 
especially in Afghanistan and Iraq? Did they not throw themselves into 
perdition with their own hands? What good did that attack do to anyone? Was 
there any wisdom in that rash and ruthless attack? 

Revenge only satisfies our ego and injures the ego of the enemy and thus the 
war of attrition continues. What terrorists are doing is seeking revenge, and 
from a weaker position. Every attack brings nothing but disaster for themselves 
and others. Various verses quoted to justify jihad are generally taken in a 
literal sense and ignore the value system of the Koran. It is a well-known fact 
that be it al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization, they do not represent 
any government or larger Muslim organization. They succeed in mobilizing some 
angry youth who are carried away by "Islamic" rhetoric and commit terrorist 
attacks taking lives of innocent people. These attacks violate all Koranic 

Seventh century Arabia cannot be compared to conditions in the contemporary 
world. Today's world is radically different from that period and we should go 
more by Koranic ethics than injunctions about war. There are several 
institutions now available for arbitration, reconciliation and solving 
disputes. One should not rush to resort to violence. 

In the Indian context, one cannot avenge violence by terrorist attacks on 
innocent Hindus and Muslims in marketplaces. It is the same sin which was 
committed against innocent Muslims. Wisdom requires that one should patiently 
mobilize public opinion through democratic means, win over the hearts of common 
people and expose evil forces. 

One hopes that the misguided Muslim youth resorting to violent actions will 
realize the futility of terror attacks and renounce such sinful and criminal 
acts, concentrating instead on excelling in learning and acquiring a superior 
moral character. 

Did not the Prophet say that the "ink of a scholar is superior to the blood of 
the martyr"? 

Asghar Ali Engineer is an acknowledged authority on Islam and director of the 
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai. 

(This article first appeared on Used with permission.) 

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