Save a Life, Save All Humanity--Take a Life, Kill All Humanity
What the Islamic scriptures really say about jihad and violence.
Are the terrorists who cite the Qur'an distorting the spirit of the religion or depicting its emphasis accurately? Here are several of the Qur'an passages most frequently cited, and analysis from Islamic scholars.
On Jihad or "Holy War"
Chapter 2, verse 190: Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors.
This portion of the Qur'an was written in about 606 C.E., when the Prophet Muhammad and his followers were under attack in the city of Medinah, saysImam Yahya Hendi,
a Qur'anic scholar who is the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University. There, they had established their own state. But various coalitions of non-Muslim tribes--including Christians, Jews, atheists and animists--continued to go to war with them. This portion of the Qur'an explains their reasoning behind striking back.
The passage actually refers to a defensive war. "You fight back. You go as far as it takes to stop the aggression but you do not go beyond that. So if you have to, you go as far as fighting verbally to get someone out of your home--but you don't shoot him after he is out. You don't keep going on with it--only if you are attacked, if there is an oppression applied to you. The idea is that justice prevails. You don't fight because you enjoy fighting, but because there is an oppression.
"It could be military force or [in today's world] it could be media force, writing against you. But when the hostilities are over and the enemy offers a peace treaty, you should submit. Muslims are obliged to submit to a peace treaty offered by the enemy. You don't keep fighting."
Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, imam of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, says the word jihad has its origin in the verb jahada which means to struggle, to fight. The word has a few different connotations, since struggle can occur on several levels.
"Muslims understand these levels based not only on the words of Allah in the Qur'an, but also on the authentic statements of the Prophet Muhammad as recorded in our oral traditions, preserved as hadith," he says. According to 'Abdur-Rashid, there are three levels of jihad:
Personal Jihad: The most excellent jihad is that of the soul. This jihad, called the Jihadun-Nafs, is the intimate struggle to purify the soul of satanic influence--both subtle and overt. It is the struggle to cleanse one's spirit of sin. This is the most important level of jihad.
Verbal Jihad: On another occasion, the Prophet said, "The most excellent jihad is the speaking of truth in the face of a tyrant." He encouraged raising one's voice in the name of Allah on behalf of justice.
Physical Jihad: This is combat waged in defense of Muslims against oppression and transgression by the enemies of Allah, Islam and Muslims. We are commanded by Allah to lead peaceful lives and not transgress against anyone, but also to defend ourselves against oppression by "fighting against those who fight against us." This "jihad with the hand" is the aspect of jihad that has been so profoundly misunderstood in today's world.