Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Jihad defined

Okay, on those same lines. I am relatively ignorant on the subject, but a world religions class and a book on the history of Islam (Reza Aslan's "No god but god") compel me to try and share what I understand of the subject.

The image of Islam as a "warrior religion" probably has roots in papal propaganda from the Christian Crusades. Back then, every religion was a religion "of the sword." Aslan's words: "Muslim armies that spread out of the Arabian Peninsula simply joined in the existing fracas; they neither created it nor defined it..."

The term Jihad has several meanings; the primary definition is that of an internal struggle of the soul to overcome sinful obstacles separating an individual from God. This struggle is often intertwined with external conditions, such as oppression by a state. Thus, a secondary meaning of Jihad is "any exertion against oppression or tyranny." The Qu'ran identifies war as either just or unjust, but never "holy war."

The evolution of this external Jihad led to the evolution of a code of conduct in times of war. This Islamic code includes: combatant/noncombatant distinctions, the outlawing of prisoner torture, the outlawing of sexual violence, the outlawing of the killing of diplomats, and the order to only fight defensively, not offensively. A code many nations certainly could heed.

The idea of killing nonbelievers and nonconverters defies much of Islamic belief according to the 13th century Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyya. The Qu'ran says "there can be no compulsion in religion" (2:256) and "To you your religion; to me mine." (109:6). The prophet Mohammed believed that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all held different chapters of the one "mother book" of God, and that no chapter was correct alone.

The term Jihad, in the 20th century, was wrought into new definitions by individuals, not by the whole of Islam. I must already be on some government watch list, so I'm not going to go there. But I think it is important that we as a country understand just what we are up to in Iraq, including understanding the terrorists so often referred to in the "war on terror."

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