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Why Terrorism Is Not Jihad

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The Qur’ân makes it clear that it is permissible for people to fight back against those who attack them. Allah says: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.†[sûrah al-Baqarah:190]


Allah says: “And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? Men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors, and raise for us from Thee one who will protect; and raise for us from Thee one who will help’.†[sûrah al-Nisâ':75]


The Qur’ân also makes it clear that when the other party refrains from aggression, then it is not permissible to attack them. Allah says: “But if they cease, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in Allah. But if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.†[sûrah al-Baqarah:192-193]


It is permissible to fight against oppression and persecution. This does not only apply to Islam and Muslims, because everyone has the right to worship Allah. Allah says: “To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged – and verily Allah is Most Powerful for their aid – (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right – (for no cause) except that they say, ‘Our Lord is Allah’. Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and Masjids, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure.†[sûrah al-Hajj:39-40]


This clearly means that Muslims must fight to protect and defend people of other faiths, if they are in areas where the Muslims have effective power. All people must be free to worship Allah according to their own beliefs. They must be free to make their own choices. Allah says: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.†[sûrah al-Baqarah:: 256]


This brings us to the concept of jihâd. There is no such thing as “holy war†in Islam. This is a mistranslation of the word. Holy war is carried out to forcibly subject others to one’s religious beliefs. As we have seen, this is expressly forbidden in Islam. The word jihâd literally means struggle and applies to any colossal effort, not just to warfare. Jihâd may be against one’s own desires or evil inclinations.


Fighting in war can be jihâd, but under what conditions? Muslims fight in defense, but so do others. What makes such fighting a jihâd? The answer is that fighting only becomes jihâd if it is for the pleasure of Allah alone and according to the Law of Allah. Even fighting against people who attacked first will not be jihâd if the Muslims strike back in revenge. Jihâd has a self-restraint that has never been seen in any other form of warfare.


In the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), we have a practical example of how Islamic warfare – or jihâd – is to be carried out. When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) began calling the people of Mecca to Islam, he was met with stiff resistance. He was severely persecuted along with his followers. Some of them were tortured on account of their faith and even killed. The situation grew progressively worse until the Muslims were forced to flee. They emigrated to Madinah, a city to the north whose inhabitants had accepted Islam. In Madinah, the first Islamic community was established, and from there Prophet Muhammad continued his mission of calling the people to Islam.


The Meccans still wanted to stop Muhammad (peace be upon him) and put an end to Islam. On many occasions they attacked Madinah and the Muslims had to fight back. During these battles we can see how fighting in Islam was conducted.


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) forbade the killing of non-combatants. Ibn `Umar, a Companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), said: “I saw the body of a slain woman during one of the battles of the Prophet (peace be upon him), so he forbade the killing of women and children.†[sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]


Rabâh b. Rabî` was another companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He gave the following account of an incident that occurred during one of the battles: “We were with Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) during a battle and we saw people gathered together. He dispatched a man to find out why they were gathered. The man returned and said: ‘They are gathered around a slain woman.’ So Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: ‘She should not have been attacked!’ Khâlid b. al-Walîd was leading the forces, so he dispatched a man to him saying: ‘Tell Khâlid not to kill women or laborers’.†[sunan Abî Dâwûd]


Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) used to say the following words to his troops before sending them to war: “Go forward in the name of Allah. Do not kill an elderly person, nor a child, nor a woman, and do not exceed the bounds.†[ al-Muwatta’]


From all this, it is easy to see Islam’s position on terrorism. Terrorism is a form of warfare whereby innocent people are specifically targeted to instill fear in a population. Therefore, Islam’s view on terrorism comes from the Islamic position on warfare. It is clear from what preceded that even during war, when the Muslims are fighting an aggressive enemy, they are never allowed to target civilians. This is strictly prohibited by Islamic Law. The killing of innocents is murder, even during times of war. The one who intentionally kills these innocent people is a murderer who deserves the punishment for murder. Terrorism is categorically prohibited in Islam.


Throughout Islamic history, the Muslim’s treatment of others in times of war was exemplary. Abû Bakr, a Companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the first Caliph that came after him, sent an army to Syria to fight the aggressive Roman legions and went out to give them words of encouragement. He said: “You are going to find a group of people who have devoted themselves to the worship of Allah (i.e. monks), so leave them to what they are doing.â€


When `Umar, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the second Caliph, drove the Roman legions out of Jerusalem, the Muslims were welcomed as liberators. Even though the Muslims had conquered the land, they were not allowed to look upon the inhabitants of the land as their enemies. Their enemies were only the Romans who had aggressed against them. When `Umar entered Jerusalem as a conqueror, he came humbly and instead of dictating harsh terms to the people, brought a treaty that guaranteed the people of Jerusalem, who were predominantly Christian, their safety and freedom from all persecution. The following is from the treaty that he drafted for them:


“This is what `Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, grants to the people in peace. He grants them the safety of their persons, their churches, and their crosses… their churches will not be shut down nor destroyed. Nothing will be taken from them or from their crosses. They will not be compelled to abandon their faith nor shall any one of them be abused.â€

Jihâd can never be fought for worldly gain, for conquest, or even for revenge.


Muslims must only fight to protect the lives, property, and freedoms of people, especially their freedom to worship Allah when that freedom is forcibly attacked. They are never allowed to attack innocent people, even when they are themselves attacked by the countrymen of those innocents. Any people that go against this established principle of Islamic Law and murder civillians are fighting against Islam and everything that it stands for. It is ludicrous for them to call this fighting a jihâd, a word that means striving in the cause of Islam. They are in fact murderers in the light of Islamic Law and should be treated as such.

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