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What does Islam say about Jihad, Holy War?
Posted by Rev. Jeff Dixon, Senior Equipping Minister at Covenant Community Church on Jan 2, 2002, 20:38

War With an Unseen Enemy
Covenant Community Church Special Edition CORE Study Series

Since the Attack on America on September 11, 2001 our nation has become a very different place. There have been moments where people have asked tough questions about their faith, security, and future. Here at CCC we have addressed that topic like everyone else, but as the days have passed there are a new set of questions that are emerging about terrorism, the Islamic faith, and this “holy war” that the “talking heads” on network news keep mentioning. With that in mind, this document was created to help provide some answers, insight, and hope about some of these issues. What you are going to read is an overview, compiled from a number of sources, and designed to help provide some simple answers to very complicated religious, political, and global questions. Hopefully you will find it to be a useful resource as you read the paper and listen to the news.

What is Islam?

Islam «ihs LAHM or ihz LAHM», is the name given to the religion preached by the Prophet Muhammad in the A.D. 600's. Islam is an Arabic word that means surrender or submission. God is called Allah (in Arabic, pronounced ah LAH), which means The God. A person who submits to Allah and follows the teachings of Islam is called a Muslim.

Muhammad was born about A.D. 570 in the Arabian city of Mecca. Muslims believe that in about 610, he began to receive revelations from Allah that were transmitted by the angel Gabriel. These revelations took place in the cities of Mecca and Medina over about a 22-year period. They were assembled in a book called the Quran «ku RAHN», sometimes spelled Koran. The Quran is the holy book of the Muslims, who believe it contains God's actual words. The Quran and the Sunna «SOON uh», the example of the words and practices of Muhammad, make up the foundation of Islamic law.

Islam is the world's second largest religion, Christianity is the largest. Over 1.1 billion people follow Islam. Today, Muslims live in every country in the world. Although Islam began in Arabia, more than half of the world's Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia. The countries with the largest Muslim populations are Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. About one-fourth of all Muslims live in the Middle East. They make up the majority of the population in the European country of Albania and nearly half the population in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Muslims rank as the second largest religious group in Belgium, France, and Germany. Several million Muslims live in the United States.

Teachings and Practices of Islam

The central concept of Islam is tawhid «taw HEED», the oneness of God. For Muslims, there is one God who is the lord of the universe. People owe worship and obedience to God before any other thing. God is one, the creator, the all-knowing. In relations with humanity, God is the lawgiver, judge, and restorer of life after death.

Prophets. According to the Quran, God has provided guidance for human beings in the teachings of prophets, who have appeared in many nations throughout history. In Islam, prophets do not foretell the future. Instead, God selects the prophets to urge people to worship God alone and to teach them to live according to God's commandments. The Quran mentions 25 prophets by name. According to tradition, God chose thousands of prophets beginning with Adam, the first prophet in Islam, and ending with Muhammad, the final prophet. The Quran teaches that the Prophet Abraham was the first monotheist (believer in one God).

The messengers of God in Islam include Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad.

Muslims believe that children are born without sin and that all people can lead themselves to salvation once God has shown them the way. Believers in Islam achieve salvation by following the revealed books of God's messengers. Muslims believe in heaven and hell, where people go after death based on their actions during life.

The Sunna of Muhammad

In Islam, Muhammad is the final messenger of God, sent to confirm the authentic teachings of previous prophets. God also sent him to correct the alterations that followers of previous religions had introduced into God's original teachings. For Muslims, Muhammad's mission includes all humanity and is not limited to a specific region, group, or community. Therefore, his life serves as a model for all men and women. The example of Muhammad's sayings and acts, the Sunna, is presented in written collections called the Hadith «hah DEETH».

The Quran is Arabic for the “recitation”. This is Islamic scripture. It contains the law of Moses, the Psalms of David, the Injil, and these are secondary to the scripture given by Allah to Muhammed. Wherever the Bible contradicts Isalm, a Muslim believes the Bible is incorrect. A Sura is like a chapter and serves as a division in the Quran.

Islam, The Quran, and Violence

What responsibility does Islam bear for these acts? What does the Quran say about violence?
The word Islam, which means "surrender," is related to the Arabic salam, “peace.” When the Prophet Muhammad brought the revealed scripture called the Quran (“recitation”) to the Arabs in the early 7th century , one of his main purposes was precisely to stop the kind of indiscriminate killing we saw on September 11th.

The Quran was revealed in the context of an all-out war. Several passages deal with the conduct of armed conflict. Warfare was a desperate business in Arabia. An Arab chieftain was not expected to take prisoners; it was a given that he would simply kill everybody he could get his hands on. Muhammad knew that if the Muslims were defeated they would all be slaughtered to the last man or woman.

Sometimes the Quran seems to have embodied this spirit. Muslims are ordered by God to “slay [the enemy] wherever you find them (4:89). Muslim extremists like Bin Laden like to quote these verses, but they do so selectively, never quoting the exhortations to peace and forbearance that in almost every case mitigate these ferocious injunctions in the verses immediately following. Thus “If they leave you alone and offer to make peace with you, God does not allow you to harm them.” (4:90) That is the next verse.

Therefore the only war condoned by the Quran is a war of self-defense. "Warfare is an awesome evil" (2:217), but sometimes it is necessary to fight in order to bring the kind of persecution suffered by the Muslims to an end [2:217] or to preserve decent values [22:40]. But Muslims may never initiate hostilities, and aggression is forbidden by God [2:190] .While the fighting continues, Muslims must dedicate themselves wholly to the war in order to bring things back to normal as quickly as possible, but the second the enemy sues for peace, hostilities must cease. [2:192]

The Pillars of Islam

The Five Pillars of Islam. Every action performed in obedience to God is considered an act of worship in Islam. Most devout Muslims take care in their daily lives to respect their parents and elders, to be kind to animals and human beings, and to do their daily tasks to the best of their ability. The formal acts of worship called the Five Pillars of Islam provide the framework for all aspects of a Muslim's life. The pillars consist of (1) shahada, (2) prayer, (3) almsgiving, (4) fasting, and (5) pilgrimage.

Shahada is the first pillar and is considered the basis of all other pillars of the faith. Shahada «shuh HAHD uh» is an Arabic word that means an act of bearing witness. It consists of two statements: "I bear witness that there is no God but Allah," and "I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah." The first statement declares that there is only one God and that God alone is worthy of worship. The second statement says that Muhammad is God's messenger. For Muslims, the second statement also includes a declaration of belief in Muhammad's interpretation of Islam, as expressed in the sunna.

Prayer. Muslims are required to pray five times a day—just before dawn, at midday, in midafternoon, just after sunset, and at night. Prayer, called salat «suh LAHT», is the most important demonstration of a Muslim's devotion to God

Almsgiving is required as a way of assisting the poor. The Arabic term for almsgiving is zakat, which means purification. Muslims "purify" their wealth by giving a certain percentage of it to the needy and recognizing that all things ultimately belong to God. Zakat is paid once a year, in the form of a tax. Unlike tithing, Muslims are required to give 1/40th of their income as charitable contributions.

Fasting. Every Muslim must fast in the month of Ramadan «RAHM uh DAHN», the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is lunar, so each month follows the phases of the moon and lasts 29 or 30 days. As a result, Ramadan falls at different seasons of the year. Muslims believe that the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad during Ramadan about A.D. 610.

Pilgrimage. The Quran commands Muslims to make a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able to make the journey.

Osama bin Laden

What kind of Muslim is Osama bin Laden? What is the background of his movement?
Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia, where a particular form of Islam, Wahhabism, is practiced. Wahhabism was an 18th century Muslim reform movement, not unlike Puritanism in Christianity. It wanted to get back to the sources of the faith, get rid of errors and additions, and all foreign influence. Thus Wahhabis wanted to eliminate the practice of Sufism, the mysticism of Islam, which developed after Muhammad’s time. It was deeply opposed to Shiite Islam, another later development. And Wahhabis wanted to rid Islam of all foreign influence.

Bin Laden believes that the Saudi rulers are corrupt and that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not living up to the purity of the Islamic ideal. Like most Sunni fundamentalists, he has been influenced by the Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by President Jamal Abdul Nasser in 1966.

Qutb devised a program of action, which included a withdrawal from the world, a period of preparation and finally an offensive against the enemies of Islam. His quarrel with the United States is not, however, over theological differences. He resents what he regards as its partisan and one-sided support for Israel, this Bin Laden regards as an act of war against the Arab peoples. He is not simply concerned with fighting the United States. He also wants to get rid of regimes that he regards as apostate in the Muslim world: his targets include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Shiite Iran. He is not fighting democracy or freedom per se. He simply wants the United States out of the region, and is fighting a war against what he regards as American imperialism. This makes him a frightening enemy because his cause is real to him.

The ideology of Qutb and bin Laden is unIslamic, because Islam condemns violence, aggression and killing, and, like Judaism, holds that to kill even one person is in a sense to kill the whole world. The Quran will permit only a war of self-defense. It holds that killing is always a great evil, but that sometimes it is necessary to fight in order to preserve decent values. This is similar to the mainstream Western ideal of the just war: in World War II the allies deemed it necessary to fight Hitler.

Jihad or Gihad….the holy war?

Afghanistan's purist Islamic Taliban rulers have formally declared a ''jihad'' against the United States after U.S. retaliation for the devastating attacks in New York and Washington. Make sure you follow the line of reasoning here. The terrorists attack the US, the US retaliates...the US has provoked the Taliban into declaring a holy war….

Afghanistan, which hosts the top U.S. suspect, Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, has been a target of reprisal.

But what does ''jihad'' really mean?


-- The Arabic word ''jihad'' is often translated as ''holy war,'' but a more accurate translation is ''holy struggle.'' Islamic scholars say the term ''holy war'' was actually coined in Europe during the Crusades to mean a war against the Muslims.

-- In a purely linguistic sense, the word ''jihad'' means struggling or striving. There are two different, unrelated words which mean war.

-- In a religious sense, as described by the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, jihad means striving for the benefit of the community or the restraint of personal sins. It can refer to internal as well as external efforts to be a good Muslim, or believer. Scholars say it primarily refers to efforts to improve oneself.

-- Jihad is a religious duty.

-- If jihad is required to protect the faith against others, it can be performed using anything from legal, diplomatic and economic to political means. If there is no peaceful alternative, Islam also allows 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.

-- Military action is therefore only one means of jihad, and is very rare. To highlight this point, the Prophet Mohammed told his followers returning from a military campaign: ''This day we have returned from the minor jihad to the major jihad,'' which he said meant returning from armed battle to the peaceful battle for self-control and betterment.

-- In case military action appears necessary, not everyone can declare jihad. The religious military campaign has to be declared by a proper authority, advised by scholars, who say the religion and people are under threat and violence is imperative to defend them. The concept of ''just war'' is very important.

-- The concept of jihad has been hijacked by many political and religious groups over the ages in a bid to justify various forms of violence. In most cases, Islamic splinter groups invoked jihad to fight against the established Islamic order. Scholars says this misuse of jihad contradicts Islam.

-- Examples of sanctioned military jihad include the Muslims' defensive battles against the Crusaders in medieval times, and before that some responses by Muslims against Byzantine and Persian attacks during the period of the early Islamic conquests.


-- Jihad is not a violent concept.

-- Jihad is not a declaration of war against other religions. It is worth noting that the Quran specifically refers to Jews and Christians as ''people of the book'' who should be protected and respected.

-- Military action in the name of Islam has not been common in the history of Islam. Scholars says most calls for violent jihad are not sanctioned by Islam.

What do you do with Jesus?

When looking at any religion, there comes a moment when you have to look seriously at what a group believes about Jesus. While the intent of this document is to provide some background information on Islamic faith, it is important to point out that this is not a Christian group by any stretch of the imagination. To the Muslim, Jesus is merely one of the prophets of Allah. According to Muslim faith, the prophet Muhammad supercedes Jesus Christ. It is interesting to compare Muhammad and Jesus according to the Quran. Jesus did miracles, Muhammad did not. Jesus was sinless according to the Quran, but Muhammad sinned and needed forgiveness. Jesus was called Messiah and was born of a virgin, yet Muhammad is still supposed to be the greatest of the prophets. Obviously there is something missing in the Muslim faith, and that is a relationship with Christ.

References: (Sura 3:49, 5:110, 13:8, 6:37, 17:90-93, 3:46, 40:55, 42:5, 48:2, 3:45-57)

Items in this document compiled from World Book, World Almanac, Newsweek, Time, and Kingdom of the Cults, Appendix D, updated version

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