Journal of World History 14.1 (2003) 93-95
[Access article in PDF]
Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam: A Reader. By RUDOLPH PETERS. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1996.204 pp. $39.95 (cloth); $16.95 (paper).
Although this book contains the author's previously published chapters in his other works, it makes a welcome addition in the current global political situation arising from the September 11 tragedy. Rudolph Peters reminds us that jihad is neither war nor terrorism, though warriors and terrorists who might feel nationalist or holy about their causes can use the jihad rhetoric pretty much the same way as the Euro-American media irresponsibly uses the term "jihad" as "holy war." Peters clarifies the different notions that users associate with jihad, and highlights various aspects of jihad from several texts and against different contexts of war and peace.
As the book is primarily a reader, it gives us a selection of pertinent Quranic verses and ahadith (precepts and practices) of Prophet Muhammad (570-632), and rulings from Muslim scholars and jurists like Ibn Rushd (Averros, d. 1198), Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), and Muhmud Shaltut (d. 1963), the modernist Reactor of Al-Azhar University in Cairo. This combination of several strands of modernist and fundamentalist perspectives reveals how complex the concept of jihad in Islam is. Most jihad doctrines were, however, first debated and formulated in the second half of the eighth century, thanks mainly to Abdurrahman Awza'i (d. 774) and Muhammad al-Shaybani (d. 804).
Historically speaking, to the vast majority of Muslims, both laypeople and scholars, jihad means "to strive, to exert one's self, to struggle"; it is not just confined to "jihad of the sword" but it also means "jihad of the tongue" and "jihad of the pen." The term is used, without its religious urgency, pretty much as the English word "crusade," which originally meant Christians' holy wars against Muslims (e.g., a crusade against drugs or illiteracy).
The idea of jihad is pre-Islamic in its nature, says Peters. Islam regulated its wanton practice. Muslim religious leaders and their followers in South Asia and the Middle East remained divided over the means and ends of jihad. They range from cooperating with the West in the quest for higher secular education and coexistence with non-Muslims to outright rejection of even Muslim dictatorial regimes that were based on non-Islamic Western capitalist or communist foundations.
Going on a jihad was a collective, and not an individual, obligation. It did not allow disabled and sick persons or even able-bodied persons who must care for their old parents or people with enormous debt the [End Page 93] payment of which is a personal obligation. The enemy was dealt with according to the situation. Prisoners of war were either enslaved or released on ransom, but not slaughtered. Scholars of religion and the pious people were spared and not enslaved.
Citing relevant ahadith, Peters reminds us that Muslim commanders, unlike their rivals, had to observe the "etiquette of war," which obliged them not to kill women, children, old men, monks, scholars, and noncombatant enemies. The main purpose of jihad was not to grab land and natural resources of other tribes, but to bring them to Islam. The tribes did not even have to convert to Islam as long as they remained in peace with Muslims, and agreed to pay jizya (non-Muslim tax) while living in the abode of Islam, the defense of which was not required of them. Jihad was not the first but the last resort to break a hostile tribe's animosity toward Islam.
The significance of the book lies in its presentation of the differences and dissensions among Muslim scholars over controversies of jihad. The vast majority of them, however, treat jihad as an imposed obligation in which "enemies must not be tortured nor must their bodies be mutilated" (p. 35). The big bulk of literature that Muslim modernists have produced is with the view to either instructing Muslims on the nature and advisability of jihad or mobilizing Muslims to jihad especially...