Jihad as an Inherent Part of Islam
The concept of jihad, as explained in the Encyclopedia of Islam (1960-1986), stems from the fundamental principle of Islam’s universality: “this religion, along with the temporal power which it implies, ought to embrace the whole universe, if necessary by force.” The Muslim’s religious and universal mission, therefore, as explained by Ibn Khaldun, is the “the obligation [to convert] everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.” According to the jurist Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058–1111), considered by some historians as the single most influential Muslim after the Prophet’s death,
“Everyone must go on jihad (i.e., warlike razzias or raids) at least once a year … one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them.… If a person of the Ahl al-Kitab [People of the Book: Jews and Christians] is enslaved, his marriage is [automatically] revoked, and his wife becomes the rightful property of a Muslim. One may cut down their trees.… One must destroy their useless books. Jihadis may take as booty whatever they decide … the Jihadis may steal as much food as they need.”
The first legitimate jihad after the Prophet’s death, according to various Islamic scholars, occurred when Muhammad’s successor, Abu Bakr, suppressed the many Arab tribes who rejected his authority. Bakr’s intransigent and belligerent response towards those who refused his governance, historically known as the ridda (apostasy) wars (632-33), paved the way for the Arabs to attack and conquer most of the areas bordering the Arabian Peninsula: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, etc. These jihadist conquests (from 634 to ca. 740) transmuted the Middle East by causing a linguistic shift from Aramaic and Greek to Arabic and transforming Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism to Islam (over a period of centuries), thereby creating an Islamic empire that would last until the fall of the Ottoman dynasty in 1924.
Just as it was with both the early community of believers and the later caliphate-state, jihad (or holy war) is used today by Islamists in order to herald in a new society of nations. The goal is universal governance according to the norms of the sharia, where non-Muslims are given the choice to convert to Islam or submit to a poll tax (jizya) or die:
And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way.—Sura 9, 5
While the world is justly concerned about the acts of jihadist violence, it has been led by neoconservative and progressive politicians and the mainstream media, as well as by many of my own Catholic leaders to believe that, with the exception of the Iranian state-sponsored terrorism, the acts of terror carried out by Muslims are sparse and provincial. Consequential to this has been the denial of the jihadist doctrine as a juridical development of Islamic sacred texts. In an attempt to sustain this position, Islam has been compared to Christianity as a religion that promotes human dignity. This is a far cry for the truth. While the Christian faith sees every human being equal before God, regardless of race, gender, or status in society, Islam calls for religious, ethnic, and political cleansing, since not all are equal or pleasing to Allah. Under the pretense that the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad are indistinguishable from those of Jesus, many Westerners perceive the violence carried out by Islamists, such as ISIS, Boko Haram, or other jihadists, as an anomaly of Islamic observance.
When we claim that Christianity and Islam are similar to one another, what we essentially do is give analytical priority to the classification of “religion” as constituted by the historical experiences of both Western and Eastern Europe. We can then conclude that there is a categorical equality in value between them that makes it significantly important to speak of Islam in paradigmatic terms of Christianity. If this is the case, we forbear to give sufficient attention to whether there are inherent, fundamental, or categorical qualities with regard to Christianity that render it essentially different from Islam, different to the point that it so severely diminishes the utility of the analytical classification of religion as a meaningful analysis for Christianity or any other religious entity. As author William Kilpatrick explained, for decades, both Catholic and Protestant leaders have contented themselves to accept the “common ground thesis” — the comforting belief that the Christian faith and the Islamic faith share much in common. As a result, a lot of Christians have been lulled into complacency about the threat from Islam. If they want to avoid the fate of Christians in North Africa, the Middle East, and various other Muslim regions they need to get a better grasp on what Islam really teaches.
- This is an excerpt of my book Islam – Religion of Peace?: The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up
Mario Alexis Portella is author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up
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