Jugglers of Jihad

Every religion has to juggle with certain of its beliefs or practices that seem untenable to those outside the faith. For Christianity in these days of libertinism, certainly the doctrines of biblical, sexual morality need to be explicated reasonably. And certainly there are the old standard theological questions dealing with the Trinitarian nature of God and with the Incarnation. Islam, too, has its own set of issues to wrestle with.

Primary among them, in this day and age, is the call to jihad. It’s fascinating to watch Muslim apologists juggle with the meaning of this term. Some tell us, for instance, that the root meaning of jihad is “struggle or exertion,” which is true. They claim that its primary application in Islam is to the spiritual struggle against sin and temptation in the heart of the believer, which is false. Others acknowledge that historically, jihad has applied to fighting unbelievers, but only in cases of self-defense, which also is false. Still others argue that jihad once had a central place in the worldview of Islam, but that in our modern day context it is only a vestigial concept which plays no key role in the religion today, which again is also false. Part of what clouds the picture presently is that Shariah law prescribes that the only one authorized to call the Muslim community to offensive jihad is the Caliph. Since the last generally recognized caliphate ended in 1924 with the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, Islam has had no caliph to rule and direct the ummah (the worldwide Muslim community). Yet we see multiple Muslim groups which claim that they are engaged in legitimate jihad against the infidel world, principally the West. How is this possible?

Within Islamic legal theory, while the call to conquer new territory is up to the sole discretion of the Caliph, the mandate to fight those who have waged war on the Islamic world is a standing obligation of all able-bodied Muslims. Many of the jihad efforts we have witnessed in the last thirty years have been justified by the claim that the non-Muslim (especially Western) world has initiated hostilities against Muslim societies through globalization of immorality by means of Hollywood, the internet, universal human rights agendas, etc., and by the imposition of US and other allied troops on Muslim territories. Jihad, thus, becomes a defensive struggle and needs no authorization.

For those unsure that jihad holds a central place in Islamic thought, let me share a few pertinent facts. Shariah law, codified by the 10th C AD, contains a major section dealing with the implementation of jihad – do’s and don’t’s on the battlefield and against enemy forces. It is clear in the reading of Shariah that jihad deals exclusively with warfare, both defensive and offensive. The moral struggle of the heart is not considered. Since orthodox Muslims understand Shariah to be the full and final divine law, not open to change, the view of jihad as “holy war” is enshrined in Islamic legal thinking. The four Sunni schools of law that contributed to the shaping of Shariah together anchored this jihad section on 95 verses found in the Qur’an, verses which according to traditional scholars are still in full force. This is the largest number of Qur’anic verses cited as support for any section of Shariah.

The word jihad or its cognate forms appears 28 times in the Qur’an (which is about the size of the New Testament). Certainly some of these appearances do not refer to warfare, but when the term is combined with the phrase “fi sabil Allah” (in the way of, or for the cause of Allah), it unmistakably means the use of force to defeat the enemies of Islam. A sister word that appears in the Qur’an even more often is qital (and its cognates), some 33 times. Qital means more literally to go to battle, fighting with a weapon to defeat the foe. There can be no question that Allah in the Qur’an commands Muslims to wield the sword against his enemies.  Sura 2:216 even has Allah declaring that “qital was preordained for you (Muslims), something in Allah’s mind even before sending Muhammad into the world.

The biographies of Muhammad detail his involvement in over 70 raids or battles, sometimes leading the charge, sometimes commanding his forces as a general. He showed no aversion to killing or to seeing his soldiers killed in battle. In general, the biographies of the prophet as well as the Hadith reports concerning Muhammad and jihad revel in his military prowess and ruthlessness against enemies.

And those enemies were numerous. The Qur’an lists at least five groups against whom jihad is to be waged:

  • Those who attack Muslims first
  • Infidels (kuffar – this word means not so much unbelievers as “anti-believers,” i.e., those who have rejected Muhammad and his claims)
  • Polytheists (mushrikun – those who have committed idolatry by associating something in the creation with the one and only God)
  • The People of the Book – Jews and Christians who have rejected Muhammad and his message (both groups are cursed by Allah in the Qur’an and doomed to torture in hell
  • Stubborn Muslims and hypocrites – separatists, cowards, defectors, traitors, apostates

Why would anyone rally to Muhammad in this call to jihad? Well, Muhammad promised the rewards of shared booty from those defeated – a great way to amass earthly wealth with relatively little effort (for those not killed in battle) – and for those who died, Allah’s promise was that they would inherit the Gardens of Paradise and all the sensual pleasures a hedonist could imagine. And of course, it’s always fun to be on the winning side – after a few setbacks, Muhammad’s band started winning numerous battles, and these victories convinced many able-bodied Arabs that they were losing out by not joining the parade. Before long, Muhammad had amassed a following far superior to any other on the Arabian peninsula. The armies of Islam became an unstoppable force in the region.

It is beyond question that jihad as “holy war” is woven into the fabric of Islam and can’t be stripped from it without unraveling the whole garment. So what we are left with is apologists who seek to convince us that jihad doesn’t mean what it means, or that it doesn’t apply any longer. While they continue juggling, suicide bombers don their jackets, knife-wielding terrorists shout Allahu akbar, imams preach Friday messages urging Muslims to kill the infidels, front organizations plan for the infiltration of non-Muslim societies and the ultimate implementation of Shariah law.

The purpose of circus jugglers is to entertain and offer distraction. In this present civilizational circus, I think we’ve been distracted enough. It’s time to leave the tent and get back to reality.


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5 Responses to Jugglers of Jihad

  1. Jim Cahalan says:

    Another great article Mateen! Your blogs help all of us who read them understand what the US, and I suppose the world, are up against. I hope that our Attorney General, (who has said that her highest concern is speech that could be considered as condoning violence to Muslims), will not view speaking the truth about Islam as hate speech. On a side note, its interesting to wonder why her highest concern isn’t Islamic Terrorism. Oh, that’s right, our government does not recognize that Islamic Terrorism exists so how could you be concerned about it.


  2. Martha says:

    This is so very, very helpful. I’m curious about your thoughts on whether limiting immigration of Muslims is wrong because it imposes a religious test. From reading your work, it looks like Islam is more of a political movement.


  3. trailman1943 says:

    Hi Mateen. Recently my wife and I visited Larry and Pat Dickinson in Maryland and were delighted to learn from them about your blog. I’ve subscribed and have read all of the entries. Thank you so much for your postings about PCUSA and Progressive Christianity. Even though those postings are now several years old they helped me clarify some struggles that I was having with a local church we attended for a few months.
    We moved from Colorado Springs to southeastern Wisconsin to be closer to children and grandchildren who had moved to Chicago. (My son Matthew works for The Navigators and accepted the position of Area Director for all of The Navigator’s ministries at Chicago-area universities.) At the time we moved, First Pres in Colorado Springs had just migrated to the ECO denomination. We were both weary of the seemingly endless discussions about gay issues and were eager to find a new church.
    One day new friends invited us to their church, a UCC one. It was small as are most churches in this area with only about 75 members in worship any Sunday. We met several other couples that first Sunday and they and the pastor were very friendly and welcoming. I did squirm a little when we sang the Doxology and the last line was “…Creator, Child, and Holy Spirit.” I also noticed in the printed materials that the church placed a lot of emphasis on being an open and affirming church. I was curious how that message would play out.
    I didn’t have to wait very long. The issues that excited the pastor were gay and LGBT rights, undocumented workers, black lives matter, poverty, economic disparity, justice, race, gender, abortion, climate change, etc. Now as an old former wannabe hippy who once was smitten with Liberation Theology some of these issues did interest me so we didn’t bolt from the church right away. The pastor was very well educated, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and she gave great sermons. But, eventually we had to admit that her path was one we didn’t want to take so we left the church. The dramatic and shocking break came the day that the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a recent amendment that said marriage was between a man and a woman only. On that day local counties began issuing same-sex marriage licenses and our pastor showed up at the local courthouse in her robes offering to marry on the spot any and all same sex couples.
    Our leaving happened before I read your blog. The points you raised about the fundamental beliefs of Progressive Christianity brought clarity to our decision and have helped us understand our discomfort with that church. So, thank you very much for reminding us to seek true north and not just magnetic north. We’re still church shopping but with a better understanding of what we’re seeking. Peace…Rod and Patty Podszus


    • mateenelass says:

      I’m truly thrilled to hear from you and get reconnected! Your friendship as I “got launched” at at FPC in the Springs was one of shining gifts of my ministry there — I’m so glad you were chairing the Adult Ed Committee at that time! I’m glad to know you are in WI as well. Our daughter Brittany and her husband live in western WI, right near the border with MN, and our son Strider and his wife live in the western suburbs of Chicago. I know those still a significant distance from where you are, but perhaps we could meet somewhere in the middle sometime when we are out visiting! I’ll contact you by email.

      Thank you for sharing about your spiritual journey — and for letting me know that my written thoughts have provided you some help and clarity! May the Lord guide you surely to the church family He wishes you to become part of!


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