Defensive or offensive Jihad: History, exegesis vs. contemporary propagation

Part two: stages in Jihād development.

A Palestinian boy looks on during an Islamic Jihad rally 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian boy looks on during an Islamic Jihad rally 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
a) Defensive Jihād ordered
Muhammad’s teachings initially contained a single theme, namely; to be grateful for Allah’s direction and guidance. Muslim exegetes described the steady escalation of conflict between Muhammad and the Quraysh: at Mecca, Muhammad remained moderate in regard to war, preaching to Arabs as a Da`wah, on the spiritual level. Being small in number, the followers of Muhammad would have been wiped out if they had tried to retaliate. His main order to his followers was not to retaliate, whatever the circumstances are. This is in accordance with the Arab culture symbolized by the proverb: “kiss the hand of your enemy when he is stronger of you; and cut it off when you become stronger.”
Muhammad tried hard to convince the Arabs that all of his words were true and that they can be testified through the evidence of the People of the Book. He told the Arabs what happened to those who did not listen to the prophets, using examples such as the deluge generation and Noah, the Sodom people and Lot, and, the Pharaoh destiny. Yet, the Arabs of Mecca resisted Muhammad’s preaching, instead treating him as a crazy person or a storyteller. He responded that it is the same as the Book of Moses, kept beneath the Tablets of Testimony. As a result, the people of Mecca mocked him as they believed he was uttering the stories of the Jews (Isrā’iliyāt).
When Muhammad found that his life was threatened and that it was gravely dangerous to his community to continue staying in Mecca, he fled with his followers to Yathrib (al-Madinah, Muhammad’s city). There, he hoped to find a much more open and tolerant approach to his religion, seeing as there were Jewish tribes there. The Hijrah meant that the believers had to abandon their blood relations of Quraysh, and to accept the protection of tribes to whom they were not related by blood. It was really an unprecedented move in the social life of the Arabs. The move to Medina signified a revolutionary change to the conditions of the Muslims. In Mecca, the Muslim community had no permission to take up arms against their oppressors, whereas in Medina, they were proclaimed as an Ummah and were granted a divine right to transform war into a religious obligation.
b) Jihād war requested
The idea of Jihād as a legitimate, justifiable war against infidels originated between March 623 and August 623. The verse sanctioning fighting was: "Permission is granted to those who fight because they were oppressed." This phrase is considered the Jihād declaration against infidels (2:216-7). Hence, war became a religious obligation, under well-defined limits.
The first battle was in Badr, in March 624. Since fighting in a holy month was considered as violation of Arab conduct, his believers hesitated. However, Muhammad drew his winning card: fi-sabīlillāh: "Everything at possible and will can be done for the sake of Allah" (2:217). Their victory in Badr marked their first over the infidels, and Muslim exegetes labeled it as the "Day of the Deliverance" (Furqān). Jihād became the most important slogan, and the Jews were the first victim: demonstrated through the deportation of the Banu Qaynuqa` tribe from Medina.
The second war, in Uhud, March 625, was almost a military defeat. Muhammad took advantage to fight the hypocrites, and ordered the deportation of the Jews from the Banu Nadir tribe. To conceal the defeat, Muhammad placed strong emphasis on ideological commitment to fighting Jihād wars in the way of Allah, by repeated promises of rewards. The enemies were clearly marked: the idolaters, the Kuffār and the hypocrites (Munāfiqûn).
The third battle, 'The Trench' (Ghazawāt al-Khandaq), and the only defensive battle in the history of Islam, testified Muhammad's creativity and his abilities of statesmanship, brinkmanship, and coercive diplomacy. It was symbolized by the slogan Din Allāh bi-Sayf (the religion of Allāh is through the sword). The Quraysh troops were defeated, and Jews of the Bani-Quraythah tribe paid the price: they were massacred and beheaded.
c) Offensive Jihād commanded
From the year 626 until the year 743, the offensive holy war, Jihād fi sabilillāh, became a custom, characterizing the most important phenomenon of Islam. Jihād, as a holy war against the infidels, became the accepted instrument and grand strategy of Islamic policy. The spirit of Jihād was to rearrange matters according to their religious values.
The orders were clear-cut. Firstly, strike terror in the hearts of the non-believers; attack them and never turn back; be united in fighting and rouse the believers to fight with perseverance and continue fighting until the persecution stops and Islam is established. After that, kill anyone who opposes Muhammad; carry on killing and do not take prisoners until the land is subdued; then and only then, enjoy the war loot.
There was also the warning: Do not create friendships with the Jews or the Christians, and more importantly, if you retreat from the battleground, except for a strategic reason, Allah will punish you and send you to hell. The Shuhadā’ sins are erased as they go directly to paradise, a reward from Allah. Those who are killed in the way of Allah are not dead; they are alive. There is a great reward for fighting against the friends of Satan (the infidels and the hypocrites) and it is permissible to take women captives as concubines in addition to wives.
Muhammad phrased the Islamic law to underline the theory that the world was divided into two entities: the house of Islam (Dār al-Islām), which comprises of all areas dominated by Islam, and the house of war (Dār al-Harb), which comprises of all areas dominated by infidels, the regions where polytheism reigns, which are in complete and endless war with Islam. This was promised to the community of believers that Islam will dominate all other religions (9:33, 61:9; 48:28).
d) Total offensive Jihād under the Khulafā
After Muhammad’s death, on June 8, 632, at the age of 62, his four successors, al-Khulafā' al-Rāshīdûn, started with a long period of Islamic Jihād wars that extended to much of Western Asia, North Africa and parts of Europe. The official purpose of the policy of Islam established, nurtured and developed by Muhammad was to expand and spread the ideology of Jihād as the main instrument of foreign policy. The Arab empire under the Khulafā' carries on the doctrine of Jihād and the struggle to establish Allah's rule on earth, through continuous military efforts against the non-Muslims, until they either embrace Islam or agree to pay the poll tax in exchange for protection. The policy of Jihād was applied as one of the main keystones of the Islamic state.
The emphasis placed on Jihad from its earliest times is one of the most proven facts of early Muslim history. He who wishes to comprehend the Arab spirit of violence, that the sword has never stopped being employed in Arab politics, as well as the rebellious character of the Arabs, will find the fact that three out of the first four Khulafā' al-Rāshīdûn were murdered. Between 632, after Muhammad’s death, and 690, there were three large revolts, classified as all-out national internal wars, as well as the division of the Shi’ite from the Sunnah.
Khalid Blankinship puts it very clearly: in view of its ideology, the simplicity of its functions, and the actual course of its history, it is right to designate that the Islamic state through Umayyad times is the Jihād state par excellence. From 623 to 740, with three interruptions, the Muslim state was engaged in hostilities against all those who were defined as infidels, and who did not have a specific treaty or agreement with it.
The Jihād expansion achieved the original establishment of the Islamic state. This was followed by the subjugation of Arabia and the 'Fertile Crescent' lands of Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Persia. The Middle East, once a Christian region, became Islamic after a harsh and cruel onslaught of imperialist expansion and colonialist policy. The next wave of Jihād expansion, from 692 to 718 witnessed the conquest of the entirety of North Africa, Spain, India and North-West China in the east.
Jihād is no longer simply a defensive, yet aggressive strategy directed against all infidels. It also serves as the arbitrating line between Dār al-Islām and Dār al-Harb. Indeed, what we find in the Qur'ān is a gradual, developmental and staged strategy, according to Muhammad’s situation and achievements. In the first period he ordered withdrawal, forgiveness and summoning. In the second period, he ordered to fight Jihād in self-defense. In the third period, Muhammad ordered to fight Jihād war aggressively for territorial and religious expansionism (2:193; 9:5). The result was that most of the Arabian tribes came under Islamic rule by conversion.