On the authority of 'Abd al Khayr bin Thabit, on the authority of his father, on the authority of his grandfather, who said: "A woman came to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) named Umm Khalid, wearing a veil, in order to ask him about a son of hers who had been slain in the way of Allah Almighty....The Prophet of Allah (PBUH) said to her:
'Your son has the reward of two martyrs.' She asked: 'Why?" He said: 'Because he was killed by People of the Book.' (Transmitted by Abu Dawud)
You should yearn for an honourable death and you will gain perfect happiness. May Allah grant myself and yours the honour of martyrdom in His way!
Unless an enemy threatens the Umma - the Muslim nation, Jihad is not ordinarily Fard al Ayn - an obligation incumbent on every individual. But it is Fard Kifaya - a community obligation. And any individual who is called to war must come. As al Banna notes:
And in Al-Mughni of Ibn Qudama of the Hanbali school, who said:
'Jihad is a fard kifayah. If a group of people engage in it, the remainder are released. It becomes a fard 'ayn under three conditions:
If two armies meet and two lines of soldiers confront one another, those present are forbidden to leave the battlefield, and it becomes a fard 'ayn on each one to remain at his station.
If the unbelievers attack a territory, it is a fard 'ayn on its population to fight and repel them.
If the Imam calls a group of people to arms, then they must join his military forces. And he should at least announce Jihad once every year.'
A Jihad a year brings you virgins dear.
December 20, 2007
By Menahem Milson*
The Arabic word jihad has gained wide currency in the media worldwide. Since the 1990s, various countries around the world have seen numerous terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims calling themselves "jihad fighters" the most deadly of them being the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001.(1) But what exactly is this concept of jihad, which has so much impact on life in the world today?
THE MEANING OF THE WORD JIHAD
Let us begin with the meaning of the word jihad as it is understood by the "ordinary" contemporary speaker of Arabic (and also by Muslims who are not Arabs) I refer to the meaning of the word in "common parlance," to use a British legal term, or in what the Jewish sages called "the language of ordinary people." In the language of ordinary people, jihad means war against the enemies of Islam. Since this interpretation often arouses controversy or objection among academic experts, I present here a word-for-word translation of what is said about the concept of jihad in a standard 11th grade textbook used in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority:
"Jihad is the Islamic term equivalent to the word 'war' among other nations. The difference is that jihad is [war] for the sake of noble and exalted goals, and for the sake of Allah whereas other nations' wars are wars of evil for the sake of occupying land and seizing natural resources, and for other materialistic goals and base aspirations."(2)
It should be noted that the literal meaning of the word jihad is not "war." Jihad is the nominalized form of the verb jahada, which means "to strive," "to exert oneself." The textbook from which the quote is taken presents this etymological information, but what it stresses and what is relevant to this investigation is the accepted meaning of the word in Muslim culture and history, and, of course, its accepted meaning today.(3)
THE PLACE OF JIHAD IN THE MUSLIM WORLD VIEW
To properly understand the place of jihad in the Muslim world view, it is important to keep in mind that Islam has been, from its very beginning, not only a religion but a political community the nation of Islam (ummat al-Islam). Muhammad was not merely a prophet communicating the word of God, but a political leader and military commander. Hence, any victory by the army of a Muslim state over non-Muslims is perceived as a victory for Islam itself. According to Islam, Allah promised the Muslims victory and superiority over all other religions worldwide. Allah validated this message with the Battle of Badr, in Ramadan of 624 CE, in which 300 Muslim warriors under Muhammad's command vanquished the 950-strong army of the Quraysh tribe a military feat which played a crucial role in shaping the Islamic consciousness.(4)
This victory was not an isolated event. Rather, it was the harbinger of an impressive series of victories that led to the rise of a Muslim empire stretching from India to the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, the notion of Islamic superiority became engrained in the Muslim religious consciousness. "Islam is superior and cannot be surpassed" this saying, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, reflects the Muslim sense of superiority, and this self-perception remained unshaken for many centuries, even when the political and military reality no longer supported it.
According to the traditional Muslim outlook, humanity is thus divided into two groups: the followers of Islam who are called "believers," and all non-Muslims, who are called "infidels." It is the duty of the Muslims to propagate the one true faith Islam throughout the world. Should the infidels refuse to embrace Islam, jihad is the means to vanquish them.
Among the infidels, Islam distinguishes between two main groups: idolaters or polytheists (who, in Arabic, are called al-mushrikun those who place others alongside Allah) and the "People of the Book" (ahl al-kitab), that is, Jews and Christians. Islam recognizes that the Jews and Christians have received divine revelation and divine laws (hence "People of the Book"), but maintains that they distorted the word of God and the holy scriptures, and are thus infidels.
The People of the Book are granted special status in Islam, and their fate is different from that of the polytheist infidels. The Muslims are commanded to fight them until they either accept Islam or agree to pay the poll tax (jizya). The basis for dealing with them is laid down in the Koran in the "jizya verse": "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizya out of hand, in a state of submission..." (Koran 9:29). By paying jizya, the People of the Book indicate that they submit to Muslim rule and accept the status of protected people, called in Arabic ahl al-dhimma.(5)
Just as humanity is divided into two into believers and infidels the world itself is also divided into the abode of Islam (dar al-Islam), namely the region under Muslim rule, and the abode of war (dar al-harb), referring to all lands not yet under Muslim rule, which must be conquered by the sword, i.e., through jihad.
However, jihad, important though it is, is not regarded as a personal obligation (fard 'ain) incumbent upon each and every Muslim. In this, it differs from the "five pillars of Islam" the declaration of faith (shahada), prayer, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca, and the payment of zakat (alms tax) which are personal obligations of every individual believer. According to the shari'a, jihad is a collective duty (fard kifaya) of the Muslim nation, or community, as a whole. It is the Muslim ruler who decides when and against whom to declare jihad. When a Muslim ruler declares jihad, it becomes a personal obligation for those whom he orders to take part in the war.
There is only one situation in which jihad becomes a personal obligation of each and every Muslim even without an order from the Muslim leadership namely when non-Muslims attack Muslims or invade a Muslim country. Bin Laden and the adherents of extremist Islam claim that this is the situation today: Islam is under attack, both physically and ideologically. The infidels Christians and Jews are invading the lands of Islam: Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, they maintain that waging jihad has become a personal obligation incumbent upon all Muslims, wherever they may be.
Even in the modern era, when the balance of power tipped decisively against the Muslims and in favor of the European states, jihad did not recede from the Muslim consciousness. The notion that any confrontation between Muslims and non-Muslims constitutes jihad was so deeply ingrained in Muslim thought that the Muslim rulers of North Africa in the beginning of the 19th century referred even to the actions of Muslim pirates who used to attack "infidel" ships from ports on the North African coast as "jihad."
Let me enumerate several military conflicts between Muslim and European forces during the 19th century that were defined by the Muslim side as jihad: In 1830, the Algerian leader 'Abd Al-Qadr bin Muhyi Al-Din declared jihad on the French invaders; in the mid 19th century, the Dagestani leader Shamil launched a (partly successful) jihad war against the forces of Czarist Russia; in 1881, the Sudanese Mahdi declared jihad upon the British; in 1912, Sheikh Sayyed Ahmad Al-Sanusi declared jihad against the Italians in Libya; and in 1914, when the Ottoman Empire joined the war alongside Germany and Austria, Sultan Muhammad V declared jihad upon the Entente Powers, though this obviously did not cause all the world's Muslims to join the Ottoman Empire in its war against England, France and Russia.
SELF-SACRIFICE FOR THE SAKE OF ALLAH
Jihad is obviously closely linked to the concept of self-sacrifice in battle for the sake of Allah (shahada). Shahada means "martyrdom,"(6) and any Muslim who is killed in the course of war with non-Muslims is a shahid (martyr), whether he was engaged in active fighting or not. Every Muslim man, woman, or child whose death came about, directly or indirectly, through the actions of the enemies of Islam is a shahid. Actively pursuing jihad and seeking a martyr's death (istishhad) is especially laudable.
Willingness to sacrifice oneself in battle is no small matter, and Koranic verses dealing with war for the sake of Allah (al-jihad fi sabil Allah) reflect the fact that Muhammad's warriors in the early days of Islam were often reluctant to risk their lives, for Allah rebukes them: "You who believe! What (excuse) have you that when it is said to you: 'Go forth [into battle] for the sake of Allah,' you should cling to the earth; are you contented with this world's life instead of the hereafter?... But the goods of this world's life compared with the hereafter is but little" (Koran 9:38). The reward promised to those who sacrifice themselves for Allah is one of the means to overcome the natural fear of death: "Allah hath purchased of the believers their lives and their property; for theirs [in return] is the garden [of Paradise]..." (Koran 9:111). Moreover, the Koran stresses that those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of Allah are not really dead: "Reckon not those who are killed for the sake of Allah as dead; nay, they live [and] are provided sustenance from their Lord" (Koran 3:169).
The Koran does not merely promise the martyr a reward in the world to come; a number of Suras in the Koran contain descriptions of the pleasures of Paradise food, drink and beautiful women. The Muslim traditionists and commentators greatly elaborated on these descriptions, providing, for example, details about the physical and spiritual characteristics of the black-eyed virgins of Paradise.(7) Every man who enters Paradise is rewarded with 72 such brides.
The distinction of martyrs, compared to other Muslims, lies primarily in the fact that they are guaranteed the privilege of Paradise: The act of falling in battle for the sake of Allah washes away every violation or sin they have committed during their lives. Moreover, the shahid enters Paradise right away, without enduring the "torments of the grave" ('adhab al-qabr), whereas an ordinary Muslim who does not have the privilege of dying as a martyr must wait for the Day of Judgment, and only then providing he is sufficiently virtuous do the gates of Paradise open before him.
The following excerpts show how pervasive is the belief in the pleasures that await the martyr in the world to come:
Al-Risala, the Hamas mouthpiece, published the last statement of Sa'id Al-Hutari, the terrorist who carried out the June 1, 2001 suicide bombing near the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv. Al-Hutari says: "I shall turn my body into pieces and bombs that will pursue the sons of Zion, blow them up, and burn the remains [of their bodies]." Addressing his parents, he tells them not to weep over his death, saying, "There is nothing greater than to give one's soul for the sake of Allah on Palestinian soil. Mother, utter cries of joy; Father and brothers, hand out sweets. Your son is awaiting his betrothal to the virgins of Paradise."8 Indeed, following the death of a shahid, the family does not erect a "mourners' tent," but holds a celebration similar to a wedding celebration: sweets are served and the mother of the "groom" utters cries of joy.
Reports in the Palestinian press likewise reflect the acceptance of these beliefs as a familiar and established reality. Journalist Nufuz Al-Bakri, for example, reported the death of the shahid Wael 'Awwad as follows: "The mother of Wael 'Awwad, from Dir Al-Balah, never planned to hold a second wedding for her eldest son, after he married his fiancée Miyada on August 10, 2001 in a simple ceremony attended only by the family. But Wael's real wedding day arrived yesterday, when the angels of [Allah] the Merciful married him, along with the [other] martyrs, to the black-eyed [virgins], while all around rose the cries of joy that his mother had dreamt of on the day of his wedding [to his fiancée]."(9)
Hamas official Ashraf Sawaftah told of a ceremony honoring 'Izz Al-Din Al-Masri, who carried out the suicide bombing at the Sbarro pizza parlor in central Jerusalem in August 2001: "His relatives handed out sweets. [They] received their son as a bridegroom who was being married to the black-eyed [virgins], not as one who had been killed and was being laid in the ground."(10)
The uncle of Nassim Abu 'Asi, who died in an attempted terrorist attack, said that whenever Nassim was asked why he was not married, he would always reply, "Why would I relinquish the black-eyed [virgins] to marry a woman of clay [i.e. of flesh and blood]?"(11)
Hamas leader 'Isma'il Abu Shanab once explained to a foreign reporter: "This is part of the Islamic belief. One who dies a martyr's death is rewarded [in Paradise]. If a shahid who died for the sake of Allah dreams of the black-eyed virgin, he receives her."(12)
The children in the Hamas education system are taught, beginning in kindergarten, that martyrs are rewarded with 72 virgins in Paradise. After touring Hamas schools in Gaza, Jack Kelley of the American daily USA Today wrote that, in one of the classes he visited, an 11-year-old was speaking before the class, saying: "I will turn my body into a bomb that will tear the flesh of the Zionists, the sons of apes and pigs I will tear their bodies into little pieces and cause them more pain than they could have ever imagined." The teacher responded by saying, "May the virgins give you pleasure!" A 16-year-old youth told Kelley that "most boys cannot stop thinking about the virgins of Paradise."(13)
The terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks also believed that the black-eyed virgins were among the rewards awaiting them in Paradise. A letter of instructions found in the vehicle of Nawaf al-Hazmi contained two mentions of the wide-eyed virgins: "...Do not show signs of discomfort of anxiety, be relaxed and happy. Rest assured that you are carrying out an operation that Allah desires and of which He approves. When the time comes, Allah willing, you will enjoy the virgins of Paradise... Know that Paradise has been bedecked with the finest decorations in anticipation of your coming, and that the black-eyed [virgins] are calling to you..."(14)
The chief mufti of the Palestinian Authority police, Sheikh 'Abd Al-Salam Abu Shukheydem, also mentioned the virgins as one of the rewards of the martyr: "From the moment he sheds the first drop of blood, he does not feel the pain of his wounds, and he is forgiven all his sins; he sees his seat in Paradise; he is spared the torment of the grave and the great horror of Judgment Day; he marries the black-eyed [virgins]; he vouches for 70 of his family members; he receives a crown of honor inlaid with a precious stone that is more valuable than this entire world and everything in it."(15) The phrase "he vouches for 70 of his family members" refers to another reward of the martyr, less known than the black-eyed virgins but nevertheless very significant: a shahid is allowed to bring 70 of his relatives into Paradise, by his own choice and recommendation. This exceptional privilege confers prestige on the shahid and special status on his family.
The last statement of Hanadi Jaradat, who carried out the October 2003 suicide bombing at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, sheds light on the perception of martyrdom in general, but especially on this aspect of the martyr's reward. This document, posted on the website of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, reads as follows:
"The Exalted One [i.e., Allah] said [in the Koran]: 'Reckon not those who are killed for the sake of Allah as dead; nay, they live [and] are provided sustenance from their Lord' [Koran 3:169]. Verily, Allah's words are true.
"My dear family, whom the Master of the World will reward as He promised us all in His Holy Book... Allah promised Paradise to those who persevere in all that He has brought upon them and what a good dwelling Paradise is.
"Therefore, reckon my sacrifice in anticipation of the reward that Allah, may He be praised and exalted, will [grant] you in the hereafter. [My life] is not too great a sacrifice for the sake of the religion of Allah. I have always believed in what is said in the Holy Koran, and I have been yearning for the rivers of Paradise, and I have been yearning to see the glorious light of Allah's face. I have been yearning for all these ever since Allah bestowed guidance upon me "(16)
The expression "reckon my sacrifice in anticipation of the reward that Allah... will [grant] you in the hereafter" recurs four times in Jaradat's letter addressing her family, her loved ones, her father, and her mother. This expression referring to the special privileges conferred upon a shahid's family is familiar and clear to any Muslim.
THE CULTURE OF DEATH
On February 16, 2003, an Islamist website posted the contents of an audiocassette of a sermon by Osama bin Laden. The sermon naturally created an uproar in the media. Particular attention was paid to the last sentence, which was especially curious and somewhat alarming. In this sentence, bin Laden quoted a few lines from a poem:
"O Lord, when death arrives, let it not be upon a bier covered with green shrouds,
"Rather, let my grave be in the belly of an eagle, tranquil in the sky, among hovering eagles."
Various commentaries appeared in the media by experts in various fields such as Middle East specialists, intelligence experts, experts on counter-terrorism, and so on who proposed different interpretations. Some suggested that these words hinted at an imminent aerial attack, along the lines of 9/11, with the eagle symbolizing the hijacked airplane flown by suicide terrorists. Others maintained that the eagle symbolized not the attack itself but the target of the attack not the aircraft, but the United States, whose emblem is an eagle. Some termed this sermon "bin Laden's testament" based on an apparent reference to the expressed desire for burial in "the belly of an eagle."
These interpretations, however, are way off the mark. When we at MEMRI translated the sermon in full, it became apparent that bin Laden was referring neither to an American eagle nor to a hijacked airplane. The poet quoted by bin Laden yearns to die a hero's death as a shahid (martyr) on the battlefield and to be consumed by an eagle, which would then bear him up to heaven, where he would reach the throne of Allah. The eighth-century Arab who authored the poem was a member of a fanatical militant sect of Islam.(17)
I have mentioned bin Laden's sermon in order to highlight two central characteristics of modern jihadist Islam. The first is identification with the early generations of Islam, the first hundred years of its Islamic history. It is impossible to understand contemporary extremist Islam if one does not regard it as a religious movement whose members strive to follow the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions in this early period of Islam. They believe that if they act out of faith and readiness for self-sacrifice, like the Islamic warriors of the Prophet's era, they will prevail over armies superior to them in both numbers and equipment. Early Islam the era of Islam's far-reaching conquests is the exemplary era of Islam and the source of their inspiration.
Another motif that runs through this part of bin Laden's sermon is death for the sake of Allah. This too is a prominent motif in jihadist Islam, which is manifest, for example, in the motto of the Hamas movement: "Allah is our goal, the Messenger our model, the Koran our constitution, jihad our path, and martyrdom for the sake of Allah our aspiration." At an end-of-year ceremony in a Hamas kindergarten in Gaza, the children, dressed in camouflage uniform, enthusiastically chanted this slogan.(18)
Islamic zealots speak boastfully of their "love of death," contrasting themselves with their enemies (in particular the Jews), who love life. In this context, they frequently quote the words spoken by the Muslim military commander Khaled bin Al-Walid to a Persian commander on the eve of the battle between the Muslim and the Persian armies: "I am bringing with me warriors who love death, while you love life."(19)
REACTION TO THE DECLINE OF MUSLIM POWER
The engrained belief in Muslim superiority was seriously shaken during the 19th century, when the Ottoman Empire suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the Russians, and when various Muslim-ruled lands fell under non-Muslim rule: Algeria and Tunisia were conquered by the French, Egypt and Sudan by the British, and the majority of the Balkan countries achieved independence from the Ottomans. In World War I, the Ottoman Empire was totally defeated by Christian powers, and subsequently, in 1924, Turkey's reformist secular leader Kemal Ataturk abolished the Caliphate. To Muslim eyes, it appeared that history had deviated from its predestined course.(20)
It was the disturbing recognition that Muslim power was inferior to that of Europe, the West, or Christendom (however the "other side" is perceived) that shaped the outlook of modern Muslim intellectuals, both extremist and moderate. The question that faced, and that continues to face, Arab intellectuals and political leaders was how the Arab peoples, which constitute the heart of Islam both historically and ideologically, could regain their rightful place in history.
Ideological and political answers to this question are of two kinds. First, there are the answers proposed by the Islamist school of thought. The Islamists argued that the decline in Muslim power did not stem from any flaw in Islam, but rather from the fact that the Muslims had abandoned Islam. Their maxim was: "There is no fault in Islam; the flaw lies with the Muslims." According to them, when Muslims return to the original, pure Islam, all the ills of Muslim society will disappear, and the Muslim nation, led by the Arabs under the banner of Islam, will be in a position to fulfill its historical mission. They call to return to the Islam of the early generations, known in Arabic as al-salaf. This stream is therefore called "Salafi Islam." The Salafi stream is represented in the Arab world by two movements: The first is Wahhabism, founded by Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (17031792) in the middle of the 18th century, which is the dominant school of Islam in Saudi Arabia; the second is the Muslim Brotherhood, established in 1928 in Alexandria, Egypt, which today has branches in other Arab countries as well.
Answers of a different kind were proposed by the nationalist school of thought.(21) The concept of nationalism took root in the Arab world in general, and in Egypt in particular, in two different forms: local nationalism, defined by country, and pan-Arab nationalism, based on the unity of language and culture throughout the Arab world. In the contest between local, single-state nationalism and pan-Arab nationalism, the latter had a much stronger appeal, due to the close connection between Arab identity and Islam. The proponents of pan-Arabism believed that the unification of all Arabs would enable the Arab countries to regain their rightful place in history. The influence of pan-Arabism grew after World War II and peaked in the 1950s and 1960s. Gamal 'Abd Al-Nasser's Arab Socialism and the Ba'th movement were both based on the concept of pan-Arab nationalism as the foundation of the Arabs' collective identity. The ideological and political differences between the nationalists on the one hand and the Salafists on the other (both the Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood) were vast.
Salafism both that of the Wahhabis and that of the Muslim Brotherhood derives its inspiration from the works of 14th-century scholar Ibn Taymiyya, who called to purge Islam of all impurities, stressing the centrality of jihad as a personal obligation of each and every Muslim in times when Islam is under threat. According to Ibn Taymiyya, a Muslim ruler who commits grave sins or applies alien laws (i.e., non-Islamic laws) is no better than an apostate (murtadd) and should be put to death. Hence, war against such rulers is a religious duty, namely jihad.(22)
The 1967 Six-Day War, bringing with it the collapse of the Nasserite vision, was a cataclysmic event for the Arabs: an utter defeat, which naturally had religious significance. As far as the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists were concerned, the collapse of the Arab armies, although distressing, was understandable and even justified. In their eyes, it was the Arabs' punishment for having abandoned Islam, and it offered an opportunity for repentance and rectification. For the Muslim Brotherhood and the other Islamists, the 1967 military debacle even more than the defeat of 1948 proved the worthlessness of secular Arab nationalism, Nasserist and Ba'athist alike. The slogan "Islam is the solution" was now being proclaimed with greater force. But the way towards implementing this slogan in practice had not yet been found. The Islamists had great difficulty in living up to their own ideals when it came to jihad against the infidels inside and outside the Muslim world. It took unique historical circumstances to bring about the return of jihad.
THE RETURN OF JIHAD
The takeover of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Tehran and the taking of American hostages by Iranian students on November 4, 1979 was greeted throughout the Muslim world as a victory of Islam over the infidels. Iranian students had managed to humiliate the great American superpower and had thereby confirmed the Islamist belief that, by acting fearlessly in the name of Islam, Muslims could defeat the infidels. The fact that this was a victory by Shi'ites, a minority group in the Islamic world, did not detract from the sense of achievement among Muslims in general. In the grand division of the world into two camps believers and infidels there was a near-universal Muslim solidarity with Khomeini's Iran.
For the Saudi regime, however, the prestige earned by the Islamic Revolution in Iran posed a problem. After all, it is the House of Saud, the Defender of the Two Holy Places (i.e., Mecca and Medina), that should rightfully be the guardian of the true Islam that is, Sunni Islam in accordance with the Wahhabi doctrine. In their view, it was they who deserved to lead the Islamic awakening not the heretical Shi'ite Ayatollah Khomeini, whom they considered not much better than an infidel. The religious aura of the House of Saud was a political asset in the pan-Arab and international arena, and even more so within its own kingdom. In order to preserve its religious status, it had to win the struggle for primacy as the champions of Islam throughout the world. Therefore, in response to the challenge posed by the Iranian Revolution, the Saudis took a dual course of action: They embarked upon jihad against the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and they launched a far-reaching operation for the propagation of Islam.
To achieve the latter goal, they invested billions of dollars through Islamic charities in order to build mosques and religious seminaries (madrasas) throughout the world. Obviously, these madrasas and mosques were venues for Wahhabism, disseminating the doctrine of Ibn Taymiyya. The propagation of Wahhabi Islam worldwide served an internal purpose as well, countering charges of moral laxity directed against the Saudi regime. It would not be an exaggeration to say that, beginning in 1979, there has been a process of "Wahhabization" throughout the world. Although this process cannot be quantified, its effects are evident in far-flung Muslim communities, from Manchester to San Diego, from Shanghai to Oslo.
The 1989 Soviet debacle in Afghanistan was a great victory for Islamism. A decade after Khomeini's Islamic revolution in Iran, Sunni Islam triumphed over the infidel Communist power. The U.S. believed at the time that they had effectively manipulated Islam to deal a blow to the Soviets, but for the Islamists this was only a single battle in the global drama that would unfold until the ultimate victory of Islam, which would include the defeat of the U.S.
A series of terrorist operations during the 1990s signaled the direction and goals of the Islamists: jihad against the "infidel power" the U.S.(23)
On February 23, 1998, Osama bin Laden and four of his aides, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued their "Declaration of Jihad against the Crusaders and the Jews," which was a declaration of all-out holy war against the U.S. and its allies. The unique significance of this declaration lay in the fact that bin Laden and his associates had pronounced this jihad to be the personal obligation of each and every Muslim throughout the world. They based their decision on the teachings of medieval Muslim authorities, primarily Ibn Taymiyya, maintaining that the circumstances, which the declaration describes, warranted this unusual decision. The declaration stated: ""Killing the Americans and their allies both civilians and military personnel is a religious duty for every individual Muslim who can do this, in any country in which he can do this."
Islamist jihad has two goals, both global. One of these is to wage war against the main infidel power, the U.S., and all of its allies. Israel and the Jews are singled out in bin Laden's jihad declaration as allies of America. It presents the 1991 Gulf War as an operation by "the Crusader-Zionist alliance." It further states that one of the goals of the U.S. in its campaigns in the Middle East is "to help the tiny Jewish state and to distract attention from the fact that it is occupying Jerusalem and murdering Muslims."
The other goal is to topple the evil regimes in the Muslim countries, because their leaders are only outwardly Muslim. It is thus a religious obligation to fight them, depose them, and establish a truly Islamic regime in their place. The ultimate goal of jihad is to impose Islam on the entire world as the only true religion. This fundamental stance of Islam is manifested in bin Laden's call on the American people to embrace Islam, thereby putting an end to the war in Iraq.(24) Bin Laden reminds the Americans that "the biggest and most irreversible error one can commit in this world is to die without surrendering oneself to Allah, namely, to die without embracing Islam."
Osama bin Laden's declaration of jihad is not an isolated document. Similar calls and even stronger ones are made regularly in Friday sermons that are broadcast live on Arab television across the Arab and Muslim world, and even in the West. These sermons include exhortations to slaughter Jews and Americans because "Allah has commanded the killing of the infidels."(25) From the Islamist perspective, Muslims are in a no-holds-barred war of jihad.
The phenomenon of jihad, and the idea of self-sacrifice in battle for the sake of Allah (shahada), which is closely linked to it, are not easy to comprehend. In some liberal circles in the West, Islamic terror in Europe is often claimed to be the consequence of economic and social factors, such as the frustration, unemployment, and economic hardships suffered by second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants in Europe.
This explanation, based on concepts familiar to the secular Westerner, appears to make sense and is therefore readily accepted. Indeed, many liberal-minded researchers and commentators, who see 'the West' as historically guilty vis-à-vis the Third World, are not prepared to accept an explanation linking terrorist activities with jihad and religious extremism, which they construe as disparagement of Islam. Therefore, they prefer explanations that deny or at least blur the connection between suicide terrorist attacks and the Muslim identity of their perpetrators. The problem with such an approach is that, when we look at the profiles of Islamic terrorists in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere, we see that they do not belong to the population evoked by this explanation, namely those suffering from unemployment and economic deprivation. Neither the perpetrators of the Madrid train bombing on March 11, 2004 nor the 19 Al-Qaeda members responsible for the September 11th attacks were uneducated, unemployed young men. Without recognizing that the Islamist belief system is at the root of all these terrorist acts, we cannot possibly understand the nature of these acts or the motives of their perpetrators.
MUSLIM PROTEST AGAINST JIHADIST ISLAM
In the preceding sections I have described the phenomenon of modern jihad and its early Islamic roots. It is now necessary to present the limits of its power and influence.
Islamist terrorism has won sympathy in the Muslim world, but the Islamist call for universal jihad has had only limited success. The extremist Islamic organizations are all clandestine, and the Arab regimes, in the interest of self-preservation, fight them in various ways including some attempts to delegitimize them from the Islamic religious point of view. The Egyptian and Saudi Arabian media publish abundant information about the struggle of officially ordained clerics against extremist Islamic groups. Bin Laden's call for all-encompassing jihad has thus clearly failed to move the entire Muslim world. In fact, even some of the extremist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt do not subscribe to the idea of global jihad waged here and now, and against all infidels, within and without.(26) On October 1, 2007, Saudi Mufti Sheikh Abd Al-'Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. The fatwa stated that setting forth to wage jihad without authorization by the ruler is a serious transgression, and that young Saudis who do so are being misled by dubious elements from both the East and the West who are exploiting them in order to accomplish their own aims, and who are actually causing serious damage to Saudi Arabia, to Islam, and to the Muslims.(27) This fatwa is a clear example of the ideological struggle led by the Saudi authorities and a group of Wahhabi religious scholars against the jihadist propaganda.
In addition to the authorities' struggle against this propaganda, there is an ongoing ideological struggle by the educated circles against extremism in Islam in general, and against jihad with its culture of death in particular. Muslim thinkers and writers who strive for social and cultural reform in their countries are calling to abandon the jihad ideology and to desist from fostering hatred of other religions and cultures. Some of these reformist writers have a clearly secular worldview, such as Syrian philosopher Sadiq Al-'Azam, or Arab-American psychiatrist and author Wafa Sultan. Most of the active reformist thinkers, however, do not follow an openly secular doctrine but call for adjustments to Islam to fit it to modern life.
The Jordanian-born historian Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi, who resides in the U.S.; the Saudi director-general of Al-Arabiya TV and former editor-in-chief of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed; the Egyptian intellectual Sayyed Al-Qimni; Professor of Psychology at Al-Zaytouna University in Tunis Iqbal Al-Gharbi; Tunisian poet and civil rights activist Basit bin Hassan; Ahmad Al-Baghdadi, Professor of Political Science at the University of Kuwait; Syrian journalist Nidhal Na'isa; former dean of Islamic Law at Qatar University Dr. 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari; and Egyptian playwright 'Ali Salem are only some of the figures prominent in the ideological struggle against the jihadist culture.(28)
This ideological struggle whether it is fought by the official clerics or by writers and other independent circles is no simple matter, because jihad is a religious duty, and the reverence for the martyrs of jihad (the shuhada of Islam's first generation al-salaf al-salih) is shared by all Muslims. This makes the ideological struggle against the Islamists, who evoke the authority of "the pious forefathers," all the more difficult. Arab regimes face an inherent ideological contradiction: On the one hand, their security forces battle the jihadist organizations, while on the other, state-funded schools and mosques continue to disseminate the idea of jihad for the sake of Allah. The conflict within Islam over the issue of jihad is essentially a conflict over the path that Muslim societies should follow either hostile isolation and war vis-à-vis everything non-Muslim, or integration into the modern world.
*Menahem Milson is professor emeritus of Arabic Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and MEMRI's academic advisor.
(1) Some of the other attacks were the February 26, 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center; the March 1995 assassination of the American diplomats in Pakistan; the bombing at the Saudi military base in Riyadh in November 1995; the June 1996 bombing at the American barracks in the Saudi town of Dhahran; the double bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar Al-Salam in August 1998; the attack on the U.S.S. Cole near Aden in October 2000; the March 2004 Madrid bombings; the July 2005 bombings in London; and the deadly bombings in Bali tourist resorts in 2002 and 2005.
(2) Al-Thaqafa Al-Islamiyya (Islamic Education), Ministry of Education, Palestinian Authority, Ramallah, 2003, p. 208.
(3) Jihad can refer not only to actual war, but also to the struggle between good and evil within an individual's soul. This metaphorical understanding of jihad was developed by the Sufis, the Muslim mystics, in the ninth century CE, based on a hadith (oral tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad. On the basis of this hadith, spiritual jihad was termed "the Greater Jihad" (al-jihad al-akbar), while jihad on the battlefront was termed "the Lesser Jihad" (al-jihad al-asghar). However, this understanding of jihad did not supersede the original, historical understanding of the term to mean war against the infidels as a duty incumbent upon every Muslim.
(4) In Muslim tradition, Ramadan is not only a month of fasting but a month of victory. In the October 1973 war, the codename of the Egyptian-Syrian offensive, which began on the tenth day of Ramadan in the Muslim year of 1393, was "Operation Badr," after the victorious battle of Badr. The war itself is called the Ramadan War (harb ramadhan) in Arabic.
(5) It should be noted that there is a significant discrepancy between Muslim law and what most Muslim leaders did in practice. The far-ranging Muslim conquests brought large populations of different religions not only Jews and Christians under Muslim rule, and all were granted the status of dhimmi. The Muslim scholars found pretexts to allow this, thus granting religious justification for what was essentially a practical necessity.
(6) For the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that the word shahada has three meanings: a) "testimony" or "bearing witness"; b) the Islamic pronouncement of faith; c) self-sacrifice in battle for the sake of Allah, that is, martyrdom, also known as "the greater shahada."
(7) In the Koran, they are called hur 'ayn. Islamic scholars and commentators have discussed this expression at length, and it is generally agreed that the virgins have wide, black eyes.
(8) Al-Risala (PA), July 7, 2001.
(9) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 4, 2001.
(10) Al-Risala (PA), August 16, 2001.
(11) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 11, 2001.
(12) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 17, 2001.
(13) USA Today, June 26, 2001.
(14) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 30, 2007.
(15) Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 17, 1999.
(17) See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 476, March 5, 2003, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP47603, "Bin Laden's Sermon for the Feast of the Sacrifice." The poet quoted is Al-Tirimmah ibn Al-Hakim Al-Ta'i (660743 CE).
(18) See MEMRI TV Clip No. 1468, "Graduation Ceremony at the Islamic Association in Gaza on Hamas TV," May 31, 2007, http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/1468.htm.
(19) This historical incident appears in numerous medieval Muslim sources. The version given here is taken from the chronicle by Jarir Al-Tabari (d. 923), from the chapter describing the events of the 12th year following the hijra.
(20) The decline of the Ottoman Empire was a protracted process, which began long before it reached the awareness of the Ottoman elites. Admittedly, as early as the beginning of the 18th century, as a result of the 1699 Karlovitz agreement, the Ottomans could not avoid the realization that the balance of power between the Muslims and the Christian world had shifted against them and that a reform in the system was therefore necessary. However, the sense of crisis did not become widespread among the Muslim elites until the turn of the 19th century.
(21) It is significant that the concept of nationalism as a foundation for collective identity came to Islam from the Western culture.
(22) Though all Salafis regard ibn Taymiyya as a religious authority and source of inspiration, not all of them interpret the duty of jihad in the same way. The largest differences concern their perception of intra-Muslim jihad, i.e. jihad against Muslim leaders.
(23) See Endnote 1.
(24) See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1709, "Osama Bin Laden's Video Message to the American People," September 11, 2007, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP170907.
(25) See MEMRI Special Report No. 25, 'Contemporary Islamist Ideology Authorizing Genocidal Murder," January 27, 2004, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sr&ID=SR2504
(26) Pressure on the part of the Egyptian authorities has caused most of the members of the Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya movement to abandon their claim that it is every Muslim's obligation to fight any government that is outwardly Muslim but that fails to apply Muslim religious law.
(27) The mufti's speech was published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), in Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), and in Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) on October 2, 2007.
(28) Ample material on reformist opponents to jihad can be found on MEMRI websites www.memri.org and www.memritv.org.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent, non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East. Copies of articles and documents cited, as well as background information, are available on request.
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Source of Jihad