Pulse Media


Moral duty

Muslim Scholars Speak Out

Saturday 28 July 2007, by Tariq Ramadan

The concept of “jihad” has different meanings and a scholar such as Jalal ad-Dîn as-Suyutî (15th century), while studying its scope, highlighted 80 different dimensions, uses and objectives related to its place in Islamic teachings. Its root “ja-ha-da” means “making an effort”, “exerting oneself” in order to promote good or to resist wrongdoing, evil or oppression. Every individual trying to resist her/his own negative temptations is engaged in “jihad” and the first time the word is used in the Qur’an (25:52), it refers to an intellectual and spiritual resistance by the means of the Qur’an itself.

In all its dimensions, the essence of “jihad” is “to resist” in the name of justice and dignity. When there is an armed aggression, Muslims have the right to protect themselves and to defend their rights. Here “jihâd” means “qitâl” (armed struggle). The use of violence and weapons must be adjusted to the nature of the aggression itself: an armed aggression may justify an armed resistance if there is no other way to come to a peaceful agreement. But the use of violence and weapons must be proportionate and never target innocent people, women, children, the elderly, and even fruit trees as Abû Bakr, the first successor of the Prophet, stated following Muhammad’s teachings. Jihad never means “holy war” in order “to impose” or “to propagate” Islam everywhere. In fact jihâd and qitâl mean exactly the opposite of what we commonly think: rather than being the justifying instruments of war, they are the imposed measures to achieve peace by resisting an unjust aggression.

In specific situations – when one faces an army and has no weapons or other means to resist – it may be understandable and justifiable to consider sacrificing one’s life in attempts to reach the armed soldiers. Here we are not far from a kind of suicide but it is related to three specific conditions: 1. It must be in a time of declared war; 2. when no other means of resisting are available; 3. the targets must be exclusively the army of the enemies and its armed soldiers. Today’s suicide bombers who are killing innocent people are not only not respecting the Islamic teachings as to the ethics of war but are in fact indulging in anti-Islamic actions.

I would like to react to the above text and give my view of the idea of resistance.
I am not muslim. In fact I am not a follower of any faith. I would describe myself best as a humanist. In a moral sense then, humanity as a whole has a duty to fight against injustice wherever it takes place. I don't believe it is merely the duty of muslims to resist injustices done to them, just as it wasn't merely the duty of Spanish to resist fascism, of Europeans to resist against nazism or of the South Africans to resist Apartheid. Indeed, we not only have the right the resist, but we have the moral duty to do so, as shows the military duty to refuse an illegal order.
Now, I could never condone, let alone call for violence against individuals unless it was in self-defence. The question then is what would be categorised as self-defense. In any case, I would call for non-violent forms of resistance and/or acts of sabotage before violent ones.
The question is what is susceptible of being an effective act of resistance? Furthermore, while I would obviously never call for violence against innocent individuals, the question remains: who is innocent? Some might say no-one is innocent (little reference there for french rockers!). What seems clear to me, is that the citizens of many countries are to varying degrees responsible for the injustices done to inhabitants of other regions, often far-flung ones. After all, we (yes, you guessed it: it's us I was hinting at) benefit from the oppression of others through our oil and consumer fixes.
In that sense, it seems the logical conclusion, is that not only can we expect to be targets of what are commonly known as 'terrorist' acts, but this can also be morally justified if it is accepted, that by doing nothing to end the oppression while continuing to enjoy it's economic fruits we allow and encourage the oppression to continue.
I don't think suicide is a thing you can justify or not. Someone who commits suicide is usually someone who is desperate or someone who has little or nothing to live for. Living under oppression or any kind causes suicide.
The problem in the age of information is the moral double standard displayed not only by politicians (who would expect otherwise) but specifically by those who are supposed to inform us: the media. In the world of big news corporations, the terrorists are the guerilla fighters opposed in a war to the first world leaders and their cohorts. Those guerillas who do the first world's dirty work are resistants (to the nazis, the french resistance was a 'terrorist' force), freedom fighters or occasionaly 'mujahideen' (how very romantic). Sometimes certain individuals can be 'freedom fighters' one day and 'terrorists' the next, like others can be our 'strongmen' one day and evil dictators the next. But, I digress.
In the world of CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera when a friendly state or guerilla outfit murders it's opponents it's not news. Yet when an enemy state does the same it's top of the agenda. When a client state kidnaps individuals suspected of 'terrorism', it's unworthy of mention. Yet when an armed force opposed to this client state kidnaps a soldier of said state all hell lets loose and we near hear the end of it. When a client state terrorises it's called 'defence' and when the terrorised revolt it's called 'terrorism'.