Memories of Islamic conquest and the Crusades in the middle ages have been refreshed by the recent September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The spread of Islamic extremism in response to the enduring campaign against terrorism by the United States has associated Islam with terrorism. This does not only create the perception that links Muslims with violence, but also the perception that Islam itself, in a special way (as compared to other religions), is inherently violent or has a unique propensity for violence. This perception does not only ignore the Islamic faith and morality that has continuously inspired Muslims around the world to work for peace and justice. It also ignores the fact that there is no religion in the world that is “pure” or free from violence. Even Buddhism, which is often seen as the most peaceful religion, has been a driving force in the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict in Sri Lanka and a supportive institution of the oppressive military regime in
In order to clarify this misperception, it is essential to understand Islam’s sacred teachings, the Qur’an and the practices of Muhammad as well as how various groups within Islam understand them in the current geo-political and social context. What rationale makes a religious group or individual come to a decision to engage in war or violence? Or in other words, what situations bring religious people to come to a belief that war or violence is religiously justified? And more importantly, what arguments and situations can prevent or constrain them from engaging in war or violence?
Needless to say, ideology is not the only source of a decision for violence and non-violence. Even those Muslim groups with a fundamentalist mindset are not monolithic; they operate in different strategies that range from political activism, nonviolent missionaries, militancy, and armed struggle or terrorism. Geo-political and geo-strategic factors have often been the most powerful determinants to drive an Islamic group to violence. Muslim Brotherhood, for example, initially conducted political activism, however, repression and dissatisfaction with Anwar Sadat’s policies led some of its activists to assassinate Sadat. Differently, in Pakistan, Abul A’la Al-Maududi’s Jemaat Islami, which held the same ideology as Hassan Al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, remained nonviolent until his death. This evidence supports John L. Esposito’s argument that Islamic radicalism and extremism are not just driven by religious zealotry, but also by frustration and anger at U.S. policy. In the same vein, Oli
However, this does not mean that ideology does not have a role in driving human beings to commit or to eschew violence. Ideology, according to Ted Robert Gurr’s analysis of civil violence, “serves to define and explain the nature of the situation, to identify those responsible for deprivation and to specify courses of action.” Ideology provides legitimacy, moral support, and rationalization of violence and nonviolence.
In the context of Christianity and the Western tradition, a primary rationale or moral justification of war and violence is the just-war theory. This theory is based on the writings of western philosophers and theologians like Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Reinhold Niebuhr. Just-war theorists looked at how Christians are occasionally constrained to break the law for a higher purpose; therefore, they believe that they could undertake violent actions for a just cause. With regard to just cause, the occasion, and violent action that are justified in Christian just-war theory makes three interconnected sets of criteria for justification of war and violence.
The first criterion is called bellum justum. This requires: (1) that war is conducted to outweigh a higher potential of harm, (2) the probability of success must outweigh the probability of defeat, and (3) all possible alternatives for peace must be exhausted prior the decision to resort to violence. The second criteria, called jus ad bellum, comprises the authority and cause to initiate just-war: (1) war must be initiated by a competent authority; (2) just cause must be individual or collective self defense or protection of one’s rights. The last criteria, jus in bello, deals with the conduct of a just war: (1) It should use proportional utility and (2) it should discriminate in its targets and tactics (noncombatants must be protected).
Moral Justification of Violence in Islam
Throughout the Qur’an, one will easily find passages that command and give permission to fight back against the aggressors. This ranges from offensive war to defense war. In offensive matters, the Qur’an, for example, commands: “Fight in the name of God and the path of God. Combat those who disbelieve in God.” In defensive matters, the Qur’an says: “To those against whom war is made, permission (to fight back) is given to those who have been driven from their homes for no other reason than saying Our Lord is God” (surah al-Hajj 22:39-40). However, in other places the Qur’an gives a strong emphasis on peace being preferable to war and violence. The Qur’an says: “Oh you who believe…let not the hatred of some people who (once) have prevented you from the sacred mosque lead to transgression (and hostility on your part) help one another in righteous and piety” (QS. 5:2). In the same vein, Allah commands to do whatever possible to avoid war and violence, “Repel evil with which is the best,
However, Muslim understanding of these verses is diverse. Mainly they understand them in two ways: jihadi and just-war. The first category is the militant concept of jihad. The prominent theoretician of this paradigm is Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyah (d. 1328 CE) followed by his successors like Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Abd al-Salam Faraj, Al-Mududin, and others. They believe that holy war is permitted either in offensive or defensive situations. They refer to the historical practice in which war has been a means for the establishment of an Islamic state in which the ruler was a Muslim. This is part of the obligation to “command good and forbid evil.” This is especially the case in the condition where there is the authority of a Muslim ruler in so called dar al-Islam (the territory of Islam). A Muslim ruler has the authority to initiate war, conquer the dar al-kufr, (the territory of the infidels), to establish the rule of God. They ignored the injunction against compulsion in religion
In situations where Muslims are not in power, violence or war can still be a legitimate means to fight back. Sanction for self defensive war is given in two situations: (1) when Muslims are tyrannized, and (2) when Muslims are driven from their homes unjustly only because they practice Islam (QS: 22:39-40).
However, many groups that may belong to this category tend to have a xenophobic mentality that leads them to an overbroad understanding of defensive parameters. They would, for example, define the contemporary world where Muslims are repressed in many places, Islamic law is not applied, and their belief in a Christian-Jewish anti-Islamic conspiracy as dar al-harb. Therefore the obligation of holy war is applicable. Terrorism is legitimate against American facilities or a regime that oppresses Muslims.
Islamic Just-War Theory
In the current situation, where Muslims are scattered in a nation-state system, the idea of offensive war or conquest no longer exists. Muslim attention is paid to those who live under oppressive regimes, like in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, and Maluku. Muslims with this perception would not necessarily be directly involved in the armed struggle to defend their oppressed brothers, but would accept or understand armed struggle as legitimate. They condemn terrorism but support armed struggle to free Muslims from the oppression of a local regime. These people are sympathetic to the Palestinian intifada, but condemn Al-Qaeda. They find support for this view in the Qur’an.
Study of the Quranic conduct of war will find similar criteria to Christian just-war theory. The Qur’an mentions several situations that allow Muslim to take up arms (bellum justum). This includes situations where Muslim are wronged or expelled from their homes. This refers to the same verse used by the jihadis (QS 22:39:40) and other verses that allow Muslims to fight back and take up arms to defend themselves against aggressors. In surah 2:190, for example, the Qur’an commands: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you. But do not transgress limit.” With these criteria, Muslims would find situations where violent self defense is unavoidable.
These verses also imply jus ad bellum or that war must be carried out for a right intention, namely to liberate Muslims from aggressors. In the conduct of war (jus in bello), violence should be proportional (22: 60), and there should be discrimination of targets, especially civilian noncombatants, women, slaves, the environment, the elderly and religious building should not be targeted (2:190), and always open to a peaceful solution; war should always be the last resort (8:59).
The primary character of this category is the view that war and violence are: (1) only legitimate in self defense, (2) excessive violence should be avoided, and (3) that violence with a purpose to impose faith on others is not legitimate. However, people with this view sometimes tend to understand the criteria in ways that allow taking up arms in a thoughtless manner. This mindset can lead people to rush toward declaring criteria of “unavoidable violence” and “last resort.” This view looks at examples of war in Islamic history and overlooks nonviolent strategies exemplified by Muhammad, especially in the period of his life in Mecca.
This model may also refer to medieval Muslim theorists who, according to Rabia Terri Harris, understand the Islamic law of war as a rationalization of an imperial “fact on the ground.” These people, according to Harris, make an analogy between the suffering of Muslims today and the beleaguered vulnerable community around the prophet. They analyze the prophet’s successful jihad to find strategies that will again liberate the oppressed. This, in Harris account, is an inappropriate analogy. The current situation lacks much resemblance to the community of the prophet. They “produce real oppression for the sake of imagined liberation . . . or redefining ‘the enemy’ to signify something the Prophet never would have allowed.”
Islamic Active Nonviolence
Unlike just-war theory, active nonviolence condemns the use of physical violence and sees many nonviolent ways for resistance and self defense. Gene Sharp, from the Albert Einstein Institute, lists 198 strategies of the nonviolence movement. Seeing these rich strategies of nonviolence would broaden people’s perspective of the possibility of nonviolent ways to fight against injustice and oppression. This would prevent people from making a rushed decision to resort to violence.
In Islam, the Qur’an always emphasizes nonviolence as the preferable option to end injustice and oppression. In surah Fushillat 41:34, for example, Allah commands Muslims to do whatever possible to find a better way to repel evil. He says, “Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel (evil) with what is the best, then you will find that your enemy will become you warmest ally.” In another place, the Qur’an recommends that those who are weak and oppressed should refuse to obey an unjust ruler (4:97).
This resembles Gandhi’s practice of civil disobedience. In Gandhi’s philosophy power originates from below, from the obedience of the powerless. Therefore, disobedience is the most powerful means to end oppressive power. The concept of jihad also resembles Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha. A. Rashied Umar, examined the Qur’anic term of jihad as a comprehensive concept. It embraces the instruction of peaceful persuasion (16:125) and passive resistance (2:193; 4:75; 8:39; 41:34) as well as armed struggle against oppression and injustice. More than that, jihad does not always mean holy war, but also personal spiritual struggle to purify the soul and refine the deposition. Muhammad called this the greatest jihad. This suggests that spiritual strength and belief in truth is the most powerful weapon. In Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha, commitment and firmness in truth is the power of nonviolent action.
Another Qur’anic concept that shows Islam’s strong emphasis on non-violence is fasad (violence). According to the Qur’an, God does not love fasad (QS 2:205). With reference to this verse, Wahiduddin Khan defines fasad as “action which results in disruption of a social system, causing huge losses in terms of life and property.”
In the previous verse, the Qur’an also recommends hijroh, migration, as a strategy to fight against oppression, “When angels take the soul of those who die in oppression against their souls, they say: in what (plight) were ye: they reply: ‘weak and oppressed were we in the earth.’ They say: was not the earth of Allah specious enough for you to move yourselves away (from evil)? Such men will find their abode in hell—what an evil refuge!”
Hijroh was also a strategy chosen by Muhammad when he was in an unbearable situation in Mecca. Living under Meccan oppression for a long time, Muhammad consistently resisted in nonviolent ways. Imam Shirazi described Muhammad’s praxis of nonviolence when he was in Mecca: “What do you say about the messenger of Allah, Muhammad? Did he want to harm the people of Mecca? History bears witness that the messenger of Allah used to fully tolerate all the insults and deplorable treatments at the hands of his opponents. Abu Lahab used to pour sheep’s fat on the prophet’s head while he was praying; another infidel spit in his face; another used to throw filth into his food. One occasion Abu Jahal fractured the prophet’s head with a bow; another; and another . . . after all this the messenger of Allah used to pray for these people saying, ‘O Allah, guide my people for they are ignorant.’”
This is in line with a verse in the Qur’an that says: “And if you forgive, it is closest to righteous” (2:237). The prophet has also said: “Shall I inform you of the best morals of this world and hereafter? (they are) to forgive he who oppresses you, to make a bond with he who severs from you, to be kind to he who insults you, and to give to he who deprives you.”
However, when oppression was unbearable, instead of taking up arms in rebellion, Muhammad chose to migrate, first to Ethiopia and then to Medina. Muhammad chose this way, especially because of the consideration that he and his people were in a weak position. As Gandhi called civil disobedience “the nonviolent weapon of the weak,” Muhammad realized that nonviolence was the best way to fight against the Quraish in Mecca. In the Shafii tradition (a school of Islamic jurisprudence), rebellion is condemned as a strategy to resist tyrannical rulers. Even in the worst situation, it was also recommended that living under a tyrannical (zalim) ruler is better than chaos or a state without a ruler. Rebellion is also explicitly forbidden in the Qur’an: “God commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin. He forbids all shameful deeds, injustice and rebellion. Thus does he instruct that you may receive admonition” (16:90). In this respect, Muhammad once said “and the best wor
Classical Islamic jurisprudence also puts the need of consistence between one’s intention, means, and goal. This implies that the intention and goal to achieve peace and justice must be conducted by just and peaceful means.
Armed struggle against a lawful ruler is considered fintah. During the caliphate era, rulers used Islamic jurists to repress their political opponents. During the Abbasid era, for example, it was persecution of the caliph that drove Fatimiyah (a sect in Shi’ah) to take up arms against the caliph. In a compilation of hadith in Shahih Bukhori, there is a detail of discussion entitled “Kitab al-Fitan.” In this chapter the Prophet has observed that in the later times there would be tyrannical and unjust rulers, but Muhammad asked Muslims to not take up armed struggle against a tyrannical ruler. He recommended that Muslims should rather move to the mountains with their goats and camels. “Goat and camels,” according to Wahiduddin Khan, imply opportunities in a non-political field. This suggests that Muslims should avoid a clash and confrontation against a tyrannical ruler; instead, they should use nonviolent political action. This injunction is also found in later Muslim ulama. Imam Nawawi
Unfortunately, many Muslims, especially those who were co-opted by the regime, used this injunction to oppose peaceful resistance movements against a tyrannical and corrupt regime. This is evident, for example, in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Farid Esack, a progressive South African Muslim, says that opposition to the anti-apartheid movement did not only come from the apartheid regime, but also from conservative religious leaders. For example, one cannot finds a single statement in the Qur’an justifying apartheid, however, conservative Muslims in South Africa resisted the anti-apartheid movement based on an argument of the illegitimacy of disobedience to the lawful authority and the need to avoid fitnah.
When Muhammad moved to Medina and gained power as a political leader, he changed tactics to fight against the political threat of the Quraish in Mecca. He started using military power to defend his state. Having gained victory, he went to Mecca to liberate his people there; he came to Mecca without bloodshed. When he was in power, he abolished all tribal claims to vengeance among Muslims. He was a peacemaker. He endured torture, hunger, the killings of his loved ones by his enemies, but he remained a merciful person. This is in line with injunctions in the Qur’an which command, “Do not let your hatred of a people incite you to aggression” (5:2). And do not let ill-will towards any folk incite you so that you swerve from dealing justly. Be just; that is nearest to heedfulness” (5:8).
It is said that, throughout his lifetime, Muhammad was involved in battles more than eighty times. This, however, does not mean that he waged war throughout his entire career. This impression, according to Wahiduddin Khan, is not true. He argued that in his entire life, Muhammad only engaged in war on three occasions, all other actual facts of ghazwah (battles) were examples of avoidance of war. According to Khan:
There were only three instances of Muslims really entering in the field of battle—Badr, Uhud, Hunayn. But the events tell us on all these occasions, war had become inevitable, so that the Prophet was compelled to encounter the aggressors in self defense. Furthermore, these battles lasted only for a half day, each beginning from noon and ending with the setting of the sun. Thus it would be proper to say that the Prophet in his entire life span had actively engaged in war for a total of a day and a half. That is to say that the Prophet has observed the principle of nonviolence throughout his 23-year prophetic career, except for one and a half days.
In most of the occasions, Muhammad struggled to avoid war. Once, when twelve thousand troops of the Quraish reached the border of Medina with all intention to wage war, Muhammad and his companions dug a deep trench between them, thus successfully preventing the battle from taking place.
In his letter to the monk of Saint Catherine in the Mount Sinai, Muhammad expressed his peaceful spirit and avoidance of war:
This is a message written Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as covenant to those who adapt Christianity, far and near, we are behind them. Verily, I defend them by myself, the servants, the helpers, and my followers, because Christians are my citizens; by Allah! I hold against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be changed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. 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 (Christians) are my allies have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to obligate them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, this is not to take place without her own wish. She is not to be prevented from going to her church to pray. Their churches are to be
This suggests that in a situation of weakness, nonviolent resistance is to be preferred, however, in a situation of strength, launching an offense is not totally forbidden, but only in a situation when avoidance has become impossible. And this must be preceded by all efforts to avert war. However, this must be also understood in the context of Muhammad as a state leader. Several verses of the Qur’an, which talk about the ethics of warfare, were revealed in the context of deadly conflict. The Qur’an does not strictly limit violence or say that just-war is always evil, especially in the political and social situation of the seventh century when warfare was a desperate affair. Unfortunately, many Muslims manipulate this argument to justify terrorism.
Another example of Muhammad’s practice of nonviolence was the Hudaybiyah treaty. Hudaybiyah was a name of a place on the hill where Muhammad attempted to resolve the conflict with Meccan leaders and their allies by entering into a peace treaty during his stay in Medina. The terms of the treaty are mentioned in the Qur’an as sulh, an important concept in Islamic law. The purpose of sulh is to end conflict and hostility among adversaries so that they may conduct their relationship in peace and amity (QS. 49:9). This concept has been instructive in restorative justice and conflict intervention strategies.
These practices of nonviolent action by Muhammad suggest a strong preference for nonviolent solutions in every conflict. However, the practice of nonviolence needs broad knowledge and an awareness of nonviolent tactics before people can come to an understanding of a situation of “unavoidable violence.” Abdul Gaffar Khan, a Muslim tribal leader of the Pathans in Pakistan and Afghanistan, is an example of how awareness of nonviolent practices went along with the Islamic principle of nonviolence. Khan did not need a lot of cognitive theological justification for Islamic based nonviolent action. He did not get into a debate about when Islam permits and does not permit violence and war. The Qur’an’s great emphasis on peace was enough for him to mobilize his Pathan people to take nonviolent action against British colonial rule.
Ghaffar Khan recounted his Islamic-based nonviolent action: “I cited chapter and verse from the Qur’an to show the great emphasis that Islam had laid on peace, which is its coping stone. I also showed Gandhi how the greatest figures in Islamic history were known more for their forbearance and self-restraint than for their fierceness.” As a devout Muslim, Ghaffar believed in the power of nonviolence in Islam. He said “I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.” Khan emphasized elements of Islamic ethics that encourage nonviolence. He said, “It is my inmost conviction that Islam is amal, yakeen, muhabat (work, faith, and love) and without these the name of “Muslim” is sounding brass and thinking cymbal. The Qur’an makes it absolutely clear that faith in One God without a second,
With this spirit, Khan changed the fierce temperament of his Pathans into devout nonviolent activists. Bondurant noted how Khan’s people devoutly practiced nonviolent action:
Pathan women participating in non-violent action campaigns would frequently take their stand facing the police or would lie down in orderly lines holding copies of the Qur’an. The flag which commonly appeared in demonstrations on the Frontier was similar to the Indian National Congress flag used in satyagraha demonstrations excepting that the charkha (spinning wheel), central in the flag pattern, was replaced by the crescent of Islam. Slogans used in the Frontier campaign frequently included the Islamic cry: Allah Akbar! (God is the most great!)
There is no lack of Islamic values in nonviolent resistance, or a lack of historical examples of such practices in Islamic history. The Qur’an does not strictly condemn war and violence as always evil. Though it strongly emphasizes peace and nonviolent conflict resolution, and puts many restrictions on the ethics and conduct of war, it does not ignore the fact that sometimes people may be trapped in what may perceived as unavoidable violence. However, the definition of this situation depends on people’s knowledge of nonviolent options, which will be always preferred by Islam. The more people have the knowledge and skills of nonviolent action, the further they are from resorting to violence. The major task of humanity is to promote tactics of nonviolence so that people will not turn to the option of violence.
On the tradition of active non violence in Abrahamic religions, Imam Shirozi, has put “the prophets of Abrahamic religions have proven that nonviolence is a more powerful weapon than violence. Abraham’s nonviolence defeated the King of Nimrod’s violence, Moses’ nonviolence defeated Pharaoh’s violence, Jesus’ nonviolence defeated Herod’s violence, and the nonviolence of Muhammad defeated the violence of Pagan’s great knights.”
 John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
 Oliver Roy, The Failure of Political Islam (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.: 1994), 107
 Ted Robert Gurr, “Psychological Factors in Civil Violence,” in Anger, Violence, and Politics, ed. Ivo K. Feierabend, Rosalind L. Feierabend and Ted Robert Gurr (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972), 51.
 Adam L Silverman, “Just War, Jihad and Terrorism: A Comparison of Western and Islamic Norms for the Use of Political Violence,” Journal of Church and State (2002) http://web5.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/
 Silverman, 6.
 Rabia Terri Harris, “Non-Violence in Islam: The Alternative Community Tradition,” in Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, ed., Subverting Hatred: The Challenge of Non-Violence in Religious Tradition (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1998), 106.
 Gene Sharp, 198 Methods of Nonviolence, http://www.aeinstein.org/organizations.php3?orgid=88&typeID=15&action=printContentTypeHome
 A. Rashid Omar, “Islam and Violence,” The Ecumenical Review (April 2003): 5. http://web4.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/
 Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, “Non-Violence and Islam,” 2 http://www.alrisalah.org/Articles/papers/nonviolence.html
 Imam Shirozi, “The Islamic Government,” 11 www.shirozi.org.uk/non.html
 Shirozi, 4.
 Khan, 9.
 Khan, p. 7
 Farid Esack. (1977). Qur’an, Liberation and Pluralism: An Islamic Perspective of Interreligious Solidarity against Oppression. Oxfor, OneWorld. P. 43
 Khan, p. 9
 Islam 101, Tolerance, Respect, and Safeguard for Non-Muslims, http://www.islam101.com/terror/toleranceftf.htm
 Umar, 4.
 As quoted by Joan V. Bondurant in Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1958), 140
 Dr. Mohammed Abu-Nimer, “Civic Jihad: Islam and Non-Violence” (2003): 3. http://www.shoutmounthly.com/ispal-nonv/islamnonviolence.html
 Quoted by Eknath Easwaran, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, A Man to Match His Mountain (Tomales, California: Nilgiri Press, 1984), 63.
 Bondurant, p. 136
 Imam Shirozi, p. 9