Is Jihad Only For Self-Defence?

Question

There are some scholars who believe that all wars fought by the Prophet of Islam were defensive. Muhammad (sws) never carried out unprovoked attacks. Please comment.


Answer

There are indeed scholars who hold this view Sir Thomas Arnold is one prominent authority who holds this view. He writes:

There are no passages to be found in the Qur'an that in any way enjoin forcible conversion, and many that on the contrary limit propagandist efforts to preaching and persuasion. It has further been maintained that no passage in the Qur'an authorizes unprovoked attacks on unbelievers, and that, in accordance with such teaching, all the wars of Muhammad were defensive.9

It seems that this view point has emerged because of a misunderstanding of certain verses of the Qur'an. Following is a typical verse10 that is quoted in support of this stance:11

وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا

Fight in the way of Allah with those who fight against you and do not transgress bounds. (2:190)

The verse apparently says that Muslims should only fight their enemy when the enemy initiates the attack. However, if the context of the verse is kept in consideration, this seems to be an erroneous interpretation. The verse is not talking about war in general. It is talking about war in the vicinity of the Baytullāh and that too in the forbidden months. The succeeding verses read:

وَلَا تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِنْدَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّى يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ فَإِنْ قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ

But do not initiate war with them near the Baytullāh unless they attack you there. But if they attack you, put them to the sword [without any hesitation]. (2:192)

الشَّهْرُ الْحَرَامُ بِالشَّهْرِ الْحَرَامِ وَالْحُرُمَاتُ قِصَاصٌ فَمَنْ اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ فَاعْتَدُوا عَلَيْهِ بِمِثْلِ مَا اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

A sacred month for a sacred month; [similarly] other sacred things too are subject to retaliation. So if any one transgresses against you, you should also pay back in equal coins. Have fear of Allah and [keep in mind that] Allah is with those who remain within the bounds [stipulated by religion]. (2:194)

So, in other words, verses like 2:190 have a specific context and do not relate to Jihad waged in general.

Moreover, the propounders of the view that Jihad is only for self-defence must reflect on other verses of the Qur'an which explicitly ask the Muslims to wage offensive war. Perhaps the most explicit of these verses are 4:75 and 9:29.

9. Thomas Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, 4th ed. (Lahore: Ashraf Publications, 1979), 451.

10. Maulvi Chiragh Ali, Jihad, 1st ed. (Karachi: Karimsons, n.d.), 17.

11. For a complete list of verses that are used by the advocates of this stance, see Maulvi Chiragh Ali, Jihad, 1st ed. (Karachi: Karimsons, n.d.), 225-227.

About the Author

Dr. Shehzad Saleem


Born in 1966 Shehzad Saleem has been under the tutelage of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi since 1988 and is currently a Research Fellow and one of the Vice Presidents of Al-Mawrid. He has a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from UET Lahore, Pakistan and holds a PhD in the History of the Qur’an from the University of Wales, UK.

Special Area of Interest
  He recently (2014) completed a fifteen year research work on the History of the Qur’an, a part of which constituted his doctoral thesis (the thesis portion is available at: http://www.al-mawrid.org/index.php/books/view/collection-of-the-quran-a-critical-and-historical-study-of-al-farahis-view).  The work addresses some nagging questions related to the revelation, collection and transmission of the Qur’an. These questions include narratives found in our legacy on the alleged incompleteness of the Qur’an, scribal errors found in it,  its variant readings, chronology of its compilation, order of the surahs, and manuscript studies.

Books Authored
  1. Common Misconceptions about Islam
  2. Playing God: Misreading a Divine Practice
  3. Islam and Women: Misconceptions and Misperceptions
  4. Essays on Character Building, Lessons on Character Building
  5. Qur’an Workshops on Character Building (including a separate Teacher’s Guide)
  6. Lessons on Character Building
  7. Selections from the Qur’an
  8. Selections from the Bible
  9. Selections from the Hadith

He has also compiled a modular textbook on Qur’anic Studies, which was taught by him to graduate students (1999-2001). The textbook is available in course format at
  www.studying-islam.org. It comprises course topics as: Revelation of the Qur’an, Theme of the Qur’an, History of the Qur’an, Arrangement of the Qur’an, Language of the Qur’an, Interpreting the Qur’an.

Translations
  He has translated some works of Amin Ahsan Islahi (d. 1997) and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi into English. These include:

1. Volumes 6, 7,  8 and 9 of Tadabbur Qur’an 
  2. Mizan (Islam: A Comprehensive Introduction)
  3. Al-Islam (Islam: A Concise Introduction)
  4. Selected Essays of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
  5. Volumes 1 and 5 of Al-Bayan 

QnAs
His answers to various questions received about Islam can also be accessed at the Renaissance website at: http://monthly-renaissance.com/issue/writers.aspx?option=queries&id=1

Websites
He is the Founding Editor of the monthly research journal, Renaissance which was initiated in 1991. In 1999, its website www.monthly-renaissance.com was launched.

He launched the Studying Islam www.studying-islam.org website in 2003, which offers online courses on Islam. Through technical help, he has developed an online software (Qur’an for All) at the Studying Islam website to teach the translation of the Qur’an to those who can read the Arabic text but cannot comprehend its meaning.

He also set up websites about the life and works of the Qur’anic scholars Hamid Uddin Farahi (www.hamid-uddin-farahi.org)  and Amin Ahsan Islahi (www.amin-ahsan-islahi.org)  in 2010 and 2013 respectively

He has also built a text based website on the exegesis Tadabbur i Qur’an (www.tadabbur-i-quran.org)  in 2013.

He also founded a website on the life and works of the biblical scholar Abdus Sattar Ghauri (www.abdus-sattar-ghauri.org)  in 2014

He uses his personal facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=562019607)  to write on personality development issues.

Lectures
  He is a guest speaker at various public forums. Some of the topics he regularly speaks on include:

1. Misconceptions about Women in Islam
  2. Pardah and Gender Interaction
  3. Non-Muslims and the Qur’an
  4. Question on the Qur’an by Serious
  5. Misconceptions about Islam
  6. Muhammad (sws): The Misunderstood Prophet of Islam
  7. Marriage and Married Life
  8. Fast and Fasting
  9. Basic Morality
  10. Islam and Islamic Welfare State
  11. Misconceptions about Divorce in Islam
  12. Misconceptions regarding Jihad of the Companions of the Prophet (sws)
  13 Imbalanced Religious Attitudes

He conducts activity-based Qur’anic Workshops for adults and sessions on Character Building and Personality Development for teenagers. Topics include:

1. Spending in the Way of God 
  2. Pride and Arrogance
  3. Remembering God  
  4. Civic Sense
  5. Kindness to Parents
  6. Gratitude
  7. Forgiveness
  8. Moral Courage
  9. Truthfulness 
  10. Showing Off
  11. Humility
  12. Sympathy
  13. Sinful Speech 
  14. Honesty
  15. Justice

Some of his talks and lectures on or about Islam can be viewed at:
  www.youtube.com/shehzadsaleem         www.dailymotion.com/drshehzadsaleem
  www.youtube.com/shehzadsaleemurdu, www.dailymotion.com/drshehzadsaleemurdu

A facebook page, Dr Shehzad Saleem’s Video Talks (https://www.facebook.com/Dr-Shehzad-Saleems-Video-Talks-309627932402929/?ref=br_rs)  also displays his talks

Answered by this author