Freedom of Religions

The Concept of Jihad in Islam

56 The Review of Religions – October 2004 to imply that the Qur’an contra- dicts itself when it says: ‘There should be no compulsion in re l i g i o n .’ They ask how the Qur’an can stand for tolerance when it rebukes unequivocally the non-believing pagan Arabs at the time of Muhammad (sa)?5 The Qur’an, however, stresses that an individual’s spiritual destiny is strictly between him and God without interference from outside. True religious belief requires both intense personal commitment and individual consent. We read: And if Allah had enforced His Will, they would not have set up gods with Him. And We have not made thee a keeper over them, nor art thou over them a guardian. (Ch.6: V.108) At another place we read: And if thy Lord had enforced his Will, surely, all who are on earth would have believed t o g e t h e r. Wilt thou, then, f o rce men to become believers? (Ch.10: V.100) One notes how the case of the non-believing Arabs is not with man, but with God. They are immune from punishment (from their fellow beings) and compulsion in relation to their religion and practices.6 In pure Islamic teaching, it is irrational to show religious intolerance because it is tantamount to associating partners with God, which for a Muslim is the most egregious sin man can commit. With the rising influence of Islam in Arabia by 628 CE, Jewish and Christian tribes on the southern frontier of the Roman Empire intrigued to turn the Chosroes of Iran and the Governor of Yemen against Islam. They met resistance from Muslim forces in Khaiber, a town near Madinah.7 A m i d severe struggles between the Muslims, and Jews and Christians, Muhammad(sa) sent a series of letters to various kings surrounding the Arab peninsula declaring his intentions for peace The Concept of Jihad in Islam 57The Review of Religions – October 2004 and co-operation. Among these letters included one written in 628 CE to the monks of the St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. In it, he issues a ‘Charter of Privileges’ offering secure protection of fundamental human rights to Christians living in the Muslim empire. He declares: This is a message from Muhammad, son of Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christian- ity, near and far, that we are with them. Ve r i l y, I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them because Christians are my citizens; and, by Allah, I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their mon- asteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my sincere charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting church to pray. Their chur- ches are to be respected. They are neither to be prev- ented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation of Muslims is to disobey this covenant until the Last Day of Judgment.8 The text demands scrutiny. At the outset, the Holy Prophet(sa) appeals broadly to Christians living not only under Muslim rule, but also ‘near and far’ around the world. One gets the sense here that his pronounce- ments, though buried in a letter The Concept of Jihad in Islam 58 The Review of Religions – October 2004 to a monastery, are nonetheless meant for a much larg e r Christian audience. Obversely, his reference to all Muslims defending Christians, ‘servants, helpers, and followers’, shows the onus he places upon his Muslim audience. His immed- iate audience, namely Christian monks living within the Muslim empire, earn the title of ‘citizens’ of the Holy Prophet (sa). The import of this word should not be underestimated. By referring to non-believers as ‘citizens’, Muhammad(sa) sets up the possibility of diverg e n t religious interests living peacefully under a Muslim State. Citizenship implies an adherence to the customs and practices of the supreme governing body of a State; yet it also connotes an independent voice that has a deliberative stake in the functions and operations of government. His use of the term certainly rings of the latter connotation, particularly when understood with respect to his remaining declarations in the letter. Christians, as concerned citizens, are awarded a protective status9 in a Muslim state. He states that he ‘holds out against anything that displease t h e m’ meaning he assumes a responsibility to take heed to their concerns. This responsibility is not outlined in any constitution or written document, but rather is constructed ‘by Allah’ as a part of his covenant to Muslims. Prophet Muhammad( s a ) n e x t proceeds to outline the Qur’anic injunction of refraining from compulsion in religion. He cites several potential compulsive acts, such as removing judges, damaging Churches, forcing one to fight or travel, or even forcing a Christian to marry a Muslim. Here, tolerance, as he explains, extends beyond civil to social matters; it is used in positive, sweeping terms. He negates the value of such acts and, in doing so, lauds the St. Catherine monks for regarding their covenants; his own covenant, namely the charter of privileges is a ‘sincere The Concept of Jihad in Islam 59The Review of Religions – October 2004 response to all that they hate’. Historian and critic Marmaduke Pickthall comments on the intentions behind the letter thus: The Charter which he granted to the Christian monks of Sinai is extant. If you read it you will see that it breathes not only goodwill, but also actual love. He gave to the Jews of Medina, so long as they were faithful to him, precisely the same treatment as to the Muslims. He never was aggressive against any man or class of men; he never penalised any man, or made war on any people, on the ground of belief but only on the ground of conduct. The story of his reception of Christian and Zoroastrian visitors is on record. There is not a trace of religious intolerance in all this.10 Prophet Muhammad’s call for religious tolerance is couched in his repeated use of the phrase ‘covenant’. Muslims are not only commanded to grant necessary privileges to their Christian brethren, but are also bound by God to uphold such a compact. The enforcing power behind the compact is God Himself. The Holy Prophet( s a ) regards the covenants of Muslims and Christians alike because they implicate Divine backing. This is the sum and essence of how tolerance works in Islam: that by appealing to a higher spiritual sovereign, namely God, a Muslim’s respect and accord for d i fferent religions becomes a sublime virtue rather than a civil necessity. When understood in this context, the scholarly concept of jihad as ‘holy war’ or ‘aggressive conversion’ is rendered suspect. In 632 CE, the Holy Prophet(sa) delivered his final sermon to 10,000 followers. In it, we find mention of some important corollaries for religious toler- ance. Of key significance is the section that reads: All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no The Concept of Jihad in Islam 60 The Review of Religions – October 2004 superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim that belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves … Remember, one day you will appear before God, the Creator, and you will answer for your deeds.11 For religious tolerance to work, the Holy Prophet(sa) here implies that a Muslim must fully acknowledge and commit to social and civic equality. By making the distinction between ethnic and racial equality, he demonstrates the complexity and universality of the equality he desires in a Muslim state. Racial and ethnic equality pre-suppose the existence of diverse groups within a single nation. But his grounding of this value after his initial declaration, ‘All mankind is from Adam and Eve’, shows the intimate connection he places between religion and equality. Equality flows from the recognition of the fundamental religious precept that man comes from Adam and Eve. He suggests that superiority is wholly exclusive from religious affiliation; it depends on ‘piety and good action’, which are religion-blind. The ‘b ro t h e r- hood’ among Muslims cannot be misconstrued as intolerance to other religious groups. That is, to maintain solidarity, Muslims cannot employ force against non-believers or ‘non-members,’ but rather should allow them to commit ‘freely and willingly’ to Islam if they desire. Any action to the contrary is ‘an injustice to [ t h e m s e l v e s ]’ and presumpt- uous of God’s unique capacity to judge man. The Concept of Jihad in Islam 61The Review of Religions – October 2004 Here, the use of the phrase ‘injustice to yourselves’ deserves consideration. He suggests that intolerance of another’s belief system brings more harm to oneself than to another because it forces a Muslim to relinquish the core teachings he or she lives by, rendering one a hypocrite rather than a righteous believer. In other words, religious intolerance is a self-defeating act that breeds hypocrisy. The Holy Prophet(sa) concludes by admonishing Muslims to remember their covenants and accountability to God. Again, just as in his letter to the Christian monks, he elevates the status of one’s covenants, treating them as binding contracts. For the Holy Prophet(sa), tolerance for human life and possessions ‘had the same sacredness which belonged to sacred days, sacred months, and sacred places.’12 A Muslim’s covenant entails a corroboration of civic equality, citizenship, and religious tolerance, values antithetical to a construal of jihad as ‘holy war’ or ‘aggressive conversion.’ Indeed, from the examples during the time of the Holy Prophet(sa), it is clear that jihad was not a concept used to convert non-Muslims to Islam or to wage a holy war. Character- ising Muhammad’s treatment of non-Muslims, the Qur’an reads: And it is by the great mercy of Allah that thou art kind t o w a rds them, and if thou hadst been rough and hard- h e a rted, they would sure l y have dispersed from around thee. (Ch.3: V.160) Islam, in its purest practice as demonstrated by Muhammad(sa), advocates religious tolerance. In fact, religious tolerance proves to be the very crux by which the entire Islamic system of governance rests.13 The funda- mental teaching of religious tolerance in Islam supplants the concept of jihad to create a spiritually rich frame-work for The Concept of Jihad in Islam 62 The Review of Religions – October 2004 morality and governance in Islam. It is a framework that is tragically tainted by militant Islamists and frequently the scholars who study them. References 1. Maulawi Sher Ali, The Holy Q u r’an, Islam International Publications, UK, 1997. 2. Islam regards the breaking of treaties or agreements as grounds for aggression. The Arabic word Dhimmah means literally ‘covenant,’ ‘treaty, ’ or ‘obligation.’ The expression Ahl al-Dhimmah refers to non-Muslim people with whom the Muslim State has made an agreement and who pay poll tax to the State, in return for which the State is responsible for their security and freedom. Those non- Muslims who paid no respect to such a treaty proved treacherous or perfidious and were, thus, attacked by the Muslims. See commentary note in Ref.1, p.397. 3. In Ch.22: Vs.41-42, one notes how Islam regards the importance of freedom of conscience. Any assault on this freedom threatens the sanctity of a Muslim’s life. A call to arms in Islam is contingent upon a direct and clear threat to one’s freedom of conscience; in other words, it is grounded in the idea of preserving one’s basic moral right. 4. Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, Life of M u h a m m a d, Islam International Publications, UK, 1990. 5. Adolph L. Wismar, A Study in Tolerance As Practised by Muhammad and His Immediate Successors (New York: AMS Press Inc., 1966), 5. 6. David Little and others, eds., Human Rights and the Conflict of Cultures: Western and Islamic Perspectives on Religious Liberty (Columbia: The Concept of Jihad in Islam 63The Review of Religions – October 2004 University of South Carolina Press, 1988), 29. 7. See W. M. Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 189. 8. The text of this letter may be found online from < h t t p : / / w w w. a l h e w a r. c o m / labibkobti.html>. 9. Watt points out the limits of protection granted to minorities in an Islamic State and asserts that the sword spread Islam. See W. M. Watt, Islamic Political Thought: The Basic Concepts ( E d i n b u rgh, UK: Edinburg h University Press, 1968), 50. Here, however, he concedes: “On the whole there was more genuine toleration of non- Muslims under Islam than there was of non-Christians in medieval Christian States” (51). 10. Marmaduke Pickthall, Tolerance in Islam. The fifth of eight lectures given at the invitation of the Committee of Madras Lectures on Islam in 1927. Reprinted in Pickthall’s Islamic Culture (Hyderabad, India: Islamic Culture Board, 1927), 25. 11. B a s h i r-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, Life of Muhammad (UK: Islam International Publications, 1990), p.161- 162. 12. Ibid., p.163. 13. The term Mushawarah or ‘consultation’ in verse 3:160 sets the basis for administration and republic- anism in the Islamic State. The idea of deliberative decision-making and consent are essential components of Islam. It is important here to note that such basic governing principles follow directly after a historical reference to the religious tolerance employed by the Prophet Muhammad(sa). 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