Books Review


By Richard Bonney, Foreword by Sheikh Dr Zaki Badawi, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 , ISBN: 1403933723 Reviewed by: Naqi Husain Jafri

The frequency with which jihad is used in print media brings out both the ease and mastery of users and tension in the mind of readers. No other Qur’anic term has been used, misused and appropriated as jihad by votaries and dissenters alike. The subtitle of the book ‘From Qu’ran to bin Laden’, though catchy for publishers, brings out the ambivalence of the issues involved in the ongoing debate i.e. from the scriptural clarity to farcical confusion. Bin Laden, who has been blamed for the tragedy of 9/11 and recently 7/7, is the same Osama earlier identified and chosen by the CIA and American Presidency during Reagan’s regime to mobilize and organize a full scale jihad against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the godless government of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Before Osama could be dumped as undesirable embarrassment in the wake of the liberation of Afghanistan in the underworld mafia style he emerged again to give a call for the return of American troops from the Holy Land of Hijaz after the first Iraq war. His official shelter in Afghanistan after the coming to power of the Taliban continued to irritate the Western powers as they refused to recognize the government headed by Mullah Omar. The attack of 9/11 and the continued support to the acts of terror by the Al Qaeda has put Osama bin Laden in the list of the permanent accused for crimes against humanity. The communiqués purported to be the statements of bin Laden telecast from time to time by the Al Jazeera channel form the context of his views on jihad, which to the author have become some kind of a ‘text’ to examine the issue of jihad afresh.

A Concordance of the Qu’ran (Berkeley, 1983) is cited by the author as one of his sources. In the said reference Alfred Morabia informs that “there are 35 verses in the Qu’ran out of which 22 refer to general effort, 10 to warlike activity, and 3 are of spiritual tone.” In the same reference Abdulrahman Muhammad Alsumaih is quoted as saying that “there is no significant difference between the words jihad and qital (fighting), which are used with the same meaning in the Qu’ran”. Mawdudi rejects this interpretation and avers that “in the terminology of shariah, qital and jihad were two different things. Qital is applied to the military venture undertaken against the armies of the enemies. Jihad is applied to the total effort mounted by the whole nation for the success of the objective for which the war began. During the struggle, qital may stop at times, and may also be suspended. But jihad continues till the time when that aim is achieved for which it began.”

An important feature of the book under review is the examination of the meaning and connotations of jihad from the earlier times to the present day. ‘Text and Meaning’, ‘Contextual Theorists and State Systems’, ‘Ideological Interpretations and Context’ and ‘Distortion of the Text’ are the four major sub-sections of the book. While the first section analyzes the meaning and connotations of the term in the Qu’ran and the Hadith and the developed ideology of jihad through historical times including the period of Crusades. The second part i.e. the Contextual Theorists…examines the defensive jihad in response to the Crusades and the Mongol invasions particularly in the light of the seminal writings of Ibn Taymiyah. The debate is then taken up to the writings of Muhammad ibn Abd al –Wahab and Wahhabism. The third chapter ‘Ideological Interpretations’ discusses the position of Sunni political jihadists of the twentieth century i.e. Mawdudi, Hasan al- Banna and Syed Qutb. The Shia depiction of jihad and martyrdom (shahadah) has also been discussed in the backdrop of Iranian Revolution. The last chapter offers an analysis of Palestine-Israel dispute, Hizbullah’s legitimation of martyrdom operations in Lebanon and the Palestinian Intifadah.

The first jihad against ‘unrighteousness’ informs Bonney, was the khariji revolt against their Imam and Caliph. This is indeed significant to recall that the Kharijis are the pioneers of the doctrine of takfir, classifying believers as unbelievers. … “They believed that jihad should be waged against those who did not accept their view of Islam.” Bonney further contends that modern militant Islamists are in fact “following the tradition against kharijis”. To accept Bonney’s contention is indeed problematic. However, it may be said in support of the author that the kharijis are the first to practice intolerance of a kind that was not witnessed before. From that intolerance, which is intensely uncompromising and doctrinal in nature, emanates a kind of exclusivity that rejects everything else. Historically they are the first to declare believers as non-believers. The present day votaries of exclusivism should indeed be embarrassed to discover that they are the successors of kharijis.

The Foreword by Sheikh Dr Zaki Badawi adds to the quality of the scholarly presentation by the author who is conscious of his limitation as a Christian writer. Badawi says “ Richard Bonney correctly depicts the jihad as two concepts which co-exist : one, is the Muslim’s struggle against his or her own lower nature, the struggle within the self (jihad al-nafs) ; the other, more political concept, is the Muslim view of the ‘just war’.

Notwithstanding the catchy title of the book, Richard Bonney has done a commendable job by tracing the exegetical, the traditional, the historical, the jurisdictional and the political aspects of the meaning and connotations and the context of the growth and development of jihad in the last 1400 years.

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