Jihad not just a word for war
It often describes quest for integrity
By TIMOTHY APPLEBY, The Globe and Mail
Thursday, September 20, 2001
The Prophet Mohammed would surely be appalled at how the Islamic concept of jihad can be hijacked.
On a wall in downtown Baghdad is a remarkable mural: A giant painting of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein leading his tanks into battle, alongside the horse-riding Kurdish warrior Saladin, who in 1187 led the forces of Islam in an ultimately successful holy war to drive Christendom out of the Holy Land.
Plenty of other modern-day Islamic tough guys, from Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomaini to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, have sought to capitalize on, and distort, Islamic theology in efforts to galvanize hostility toward the West. In 1992, the late Syrian president Hafez Assad was similarly inspired by Saladin, a statue of whom was constructed in Damascus.
But an examination of what is being called jihad shows that in only a handful of instances since Mohammed died in the seventh Century has it been invoked in a military sense, and most of those belong to the latter part of th 20th century.
Begin with Mohammed, who in the year 610 founded Islam in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia. In the wake of what he interpreted as divine revelation, a 20-year war erupted between his followers and fellow members of his Quraysh tribe, culminating in Mohammed's victorious return from exile.
On re-entering Mecca, according to Islamic tenets, the Prophet personally smashed hundreds of religious idols, exclaiming, "Truth hath come, and falsehood hath vanished."
That sounds a lot like holy war, references to which are sprinkled through the Koran, along with promises that its martyrs have an assured place in Paradise.
But still more relevant, perhaps, are other words Mohammed uttered to his followers shortly after. "This day we have returned from the minor jihad to the major jihad," by which he meant shifting from armed conflict to the peaceful, inner battle mankind must wage.
The difference is crucial in understanding the two very different applications of jihad through the centuries. One, the quest for self-control and moral integrity, should be part of a Muslim's daily life. The other, a call to arms, justified on grounds of self-defence, has been extremely rare.
Greater jihad, says Professor Ovey Mohammed of the University of Toronto's Regis College, means "striving for perfection against evil and temptation," working hard to benefit the community, and to cleanse oneself of personal sins.
Defending Islam against aggression, by contrast, constitutes the lesser jihad.
Islam clearly does allow the use of force, but there are strict rules of engagement. Innocents -- such as women, children or invalids -- must never be harmed, and any peaceful overtures from the enemy must be accepted.
Nor in any sense, according to scholars and believers, is jihad a declaration of war against other religions. The Koran specifically refers to Jews and Christians as "people of the book" who should be protected and respected. All three faiths worship the same God. Allah is the Arabic word for God, and is used by Christian Arabs as well as Muslims.
It is not by chance that Mr. Hussein and some other modern Arabs wrap themselves in the Saladin legend. The ultimately triumphant 200-year struggle against the Christian crusaders who invaded Palestine and slaughtered tens of thousands of Arabs and Jews remains by far the most famous example of sanctioned military jihad.
Before that, there had been some responses by Muslims against Byzantine and Persian attacks, during early Islamic conquests of the region. But the campaign launched by Saladin, culminating in the sacking of the Greek Orthodox city of Constantinople in 1210, is the victory most often invoked by Islamic militants in later centuries.
They include the Sudanese mahdi Mohammed Ahmad, who in 1882 declared a jihad in his battle against British colonialism. (A mahdi is a messiah, or a religious leader who assumes the role of a messiah.)
But it is the 20th century that has principally seen the evocation of Islam in the name of anti-Western sentiment, and most of the time the call has been grounded in politics rather than spirituality.
Ayatollah Khomaini, who in 1979 overthrew Iran's Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, never overtly declared holy war on "the great Satan," as he dubbed the United States, but many of his adherents did.
Lebanon's Islamic Jihad, which claimed the devastating bombings of the U.S. embassy and the Marines headquarters in Beirut in 1983 along with numerous hostage-takings of U.S. nationals, has been strongly linked to the pro-Iranian zealots who formed Hezbollah in 1985.