Jihad in Islamic Law

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Jihad جهاد in Arabic literally means "struggle" coming from the Arabic verb جاهد jaahada meaning to "strive." Jihad fi sabil Allah جهاد في سبيل الله is thus literally "struggle/striving on the path of god." Historically, the use of the word jihad has been very wide semantically, with applications from war to spiritual discipline to reform and many, many things in between. Despite these wide and varied applications, though, the main meaning of jihad in Islamic law from the origins of the religion to the classic period to the present day continues to be armed struggle. To scholars, this was either to expand the realm of Islamic political dominance or to defend Islamic lands from infidels, with the expansion of Islamic political dominance being part-and-parcel to a social and political system which advances the interest of the Muslim religion and induces the peoples conquered in this warfare to convert to Islam. This socio-political system, that of the dhimma, is intimately connected to the institution of "jihad at-talab" جهاد الطلب the "jihad of request" involving the three-option offer that an Islamic force must make before commencing hostilities against an infidel enemy: 1. Conversion to Islam. 2. Payment of the jizyah and subjection to Islamic political dominion and the strictures of the dhimma. 3. Fighting until death.

Jews and Christians were required to pay the jizyah while pagans were required to either accept Islam or die.[1] Upon payment of the tax (jizya), the dhimmi would receive a receipt of payment, either in the form of a piece of paper or parchment or as a seal humiliatingly placed upon their neck, and was thereafter compelled to carry this receipt wherever he went within the realms of Islam - failure to produce an up-to-date jizya receipt on the request of a Muslim could result in death or forced conversion to Islam of the dhimmi in question[2].

Scholars from as early as the Umayyad period interpreted the Quran as legitimising expansionist warfare. Modernist scholars emphasise the hostile environment in which the verses were revealed and dispute the traditonal interpretations, including their extensive use of the doctine of abrogation.

Jihad in the Qur'an and Sunnah

Jihad in the Qur'an

The words "jihad" and "fighting" (قتال--Qitaal) appear frequently in the Medinan surahs of the Qur'an. In his academic book on this topic, Reuven Firestone documents in detail the traditional interpretations of such verses. Regarding the key fighting verses in general, Firestone notes the lack of consistent tradition in commentaries on how to interpret them, while the legal literature fits the verses into an evolutionary schema of increasing permission to fight, from defensive purposes all the way to aggressive warfare. Firestone himself considers the verses to be inconsistent and to reflect different factions of believers who sought to influence Muhammad with their views on fighting, noting the abundant evidence in the Quran itself that there were groups strongly disinclined to fight. Disregarding the traditional chronology of verses, which is inextricably tied to the evolutionary model of later interpretation, he groups verses according to these factions.[3]

Many modern academic scholars are influenced by the traditional evolutionary model regarding permission to fight, though other academics, as well as modernist Muslim scholars (from as early as the 19th century) and increasingly, Muslims scholars more widely are emphasising the Quran as the primary historical source for this period, which later historical material should be interpreted in light of rather than the other way around.

According to Patricia Crone, modernist muslim scholars cast the conflicts fought by Muhammad as "defensive or pre-emptive", as did some earlier scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah.[4] These modernist Muslim scholars do not regard the Quran as anywhere giving a general dispensation for expansive warfare, which like some academic scholars, they argue was a later reinterpretation to legitimise the emerging Arab empire.

In her article "War" for the Encyclopedia of the Quran, Crone says fighting is legitimised in the Quran for self defence, including pre-emptively (Quran 9:8 and Quran 60:2), as well as for the defence of others (Quran 4:75) and against treaty breakers (Quran 9:13-14). She says that throughout the Quran it is stressed that fighting must stop when the enemy does so and the language of forgiveness is reiterated amidst the often militant language. To Crone, the only verse which seems to endorse aggressive warfare is Quran 9:29, though this perhaps can be read as a continuation of Quran 9:1-23 concerning the treaty breakers.[5]

Modernists stress the oppressive environment and danger faced by the early community, pointing out that the Quran itself mentions a number of times that the believers were forced to migrate to Medina. According to the first letter of 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr (d. 713 CE), the believers first migrated to Abyssinia before returning to Mecca, and later migrated to Medina due to what he calls al-fitnah al-ūlā and al-fitnah al-ākhira (the first and final trials of persecution), respectively. Similar terminology was used at a later time in reference to the Islamic civil wars in the early decades after Muhammad's death.

In the sections below, important Quranic themes and verses are examined, along with their interpretations by traditional Muslim scholars, Islamic modernists and modern academic scholars. Early Islamic historical literature is also discussed in relation to the interpretations of the verses.

Early fighting verses

There was a consensus among commentators that Quran 2:217 was revealed following a caravan raid which was controversial in terms of whether or not the sacred months in which fighting was prohibited had finished.[6] This raid was the first expedition mentioned by 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr in his letters about the early history of Islam. These letters are regarded as an important early source and the relevant letters are summarised in a later section in this article. In that verse, the Quran justifies killing in the sacred months in the context of the "fitna" (trial of oppression) and forced migration of the believers to Medina.

There was considerable discussion about the scope of the obligation to fight mentioned in the previous verse, Q 2:216, especially on whether it was a collective obligation (fard kifiya) that could be met by just a group of believers without involving everyone. In this regard, Quran 9:122 was also a key verse ("And the believers should not all go out to fight [...]").[7]

216 Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.
217 They ask you about the sacred month - about fighting therein. Say, "Fighting therein is great [sin], but averting [people] from the way of Allah and disbelief in Him and [preventing access to] al-Masjid al-Haram and the expulsion of its people therefrom are greater [evil] in the sight of Allah. And fitnah is greater than killing." And they will continue to fight you until they turn you back from your religion if they are able. And whoever of you reverts from his religion [to disbelief] and dies while he is a disbeliever - for those, their deeds have become worthless in this world and the Hereafter, and those are the companions of the Fire, they will abide therein eternally.

"Fight them until persecution is no more, and the religion is for Allah"

Q 2:190-94 is regarded as a particularly important passage in terms of the principles for fighting.

190 Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.

191 And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.
192 And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
193 Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah. But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.
194 [Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.

Mohammad Khalil in his academic book on Jihad describes the views of medieval commentators as well as modern interpretations of the key verses.[8] Khalil notes that the conditional instruction to end hostilities when the enemies "cease" in Q 2:193 was reinterpreted by medieval exegetes to mean that they have ceased not only fighting but also their disbelief.[9]

This was in line with their interpretation that fitna here means shirk, associating partners with Allah (or kufr, disbelief), based on narrations recorded by al-Tabari attributing this view to Ibn Abbas and several of the tabi'un (successor generation). Javad Hashmi, an Islamic modernist and academic, notes the defensive principles apparent in the passage, and argues that in this context fitna simply means religious persecution, pointing to the related verse Quran 2:217 quoted above which seems to define fitna in terms of obstruction of worship (though it also says "and disbelief in Him"[10]).[11] Quran 2:190-191 in the above quote and Quran 8:34-39 quoted below seem also to support the interpretation that fitna here refers to oppression.

Medieval commentators interpreted fitna as shirk/kufr and the command to fight in Q 2:193 and Q 8:39 in terms of religious expansionism, supported by a famous hadith shown below. Some scholars like Ibn Taymiyyah interpreted that hadith narration in a more limited sense through the Quran, in terms of fighting those who are waging war but not if there is a peace treaty. Modernists typically question its authenticity altogether (in line with the modern academic view that hadiths in general cannot be relied upon at face value).

It is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah, and he who professed it was guaranteed the protection of his property and life on my behalf except for the right affairs rest with Allah.

Hashmi argues that "the religion is for Allah" in 2:193 and "the religion, all of it (l-dīnu kulluhu), is for Allah" in Q 8:39 should be understood not in a religious hegemonic sense, but rather in terms of the oppressed believers (hence, "fitna") not being forced to commit shirk, to include pagan gods besides Allah in their religion. His interpretation is one also mentioned by al-Tabari and Ibn Ishaq. [11] Looking at the preceding verses, Q 8:34-38 (shown in the quote below), a case can be made either way for this or for the traditional interpretation. In further support of his interpretation, Hashmi has also argued that wiping out pagan religion would not have been a viable goal at that early, post-migration time period. In support of the timing, it may also be worth noting that the first of 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr's letters states that Q 8:39 was revealed before Muhammad called the remaining Muslims in Mecca to migrate. Later in the same surah, Quran 8:72 has a command to help believers who did not migrate but who seek help in the religion (fī l-dīni) lest there be fitna. In the Quran, l-dīn, usually translated "the religion", probably refers to active rites of worship, especially at the sanctuary.[12]

34 But why should Allah not punish them while they obstruct [people] from al-Masjid al- Haram and they were not [fit to be] its guardians? Its [true] guardians are not but the righteous, but most of them do not know.

35 And their worship at the (holy) House is naught but whistling and hand-clapping. Therefore (it is said unto them): Taste of the doom because ye disbelieve.
36 Indeed, those who disbelieve spend their wealth to avert [people] from the way of Allah. So they will spend it; then it will be for them a [source of] regret; then they will be overcome. And those who have disbelieved - unto Hell they will be gathered.
37 [This is] so that Allah may distinguish the wicked from the good and place the wicked some of them upon others and heap them all together and put them into Hell. It is those who are the losers.
38 Say to those who have disbelieved [that] if they cease, what has previously occurred will be forgiven for them. But if they return [to hostility] - then the precedent of the former [rebellious] peoples has already taken place.

39 And fight them until there is no fitnah and [until] the religion, all of it, is for Allah. And if they cease - then indeed, Allah is Seeing of what they do.

Non-aggression / defensive principle

Khalil highlights Q 22:39-40 and Q 4:75 as early Medinan verses calling for fighting in self defence and the defence of others.[13] According to the traditional exegesis of the Qur'an in Sunni Islam (for example, Ibn Kathir), the first verse revealed to Muhammad about fighting was Q 22:39. In Q 22:40 even synagogues and churches are considered worthy of protection.

Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory.
[They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right - only because they say, "Our Lord is Allah." And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.
And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children who say, "Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?"

In line with this general principle, a number of verses state that fighting must stop if the enemy does so. Such verses include those discussed in this article (Quran 2:193, Quran 4:90, Quran 8:39, Quran 9:3).

Perhaps in slight tension with the principle is Quran 47:35. Surah 47 dates to soon after the migration from Mecca (verse 13 refers to the believers being driven out) and the first fighting verses had already been revealed (alluded to in verses 20-21). Verse 35 says, "So do not weaken and call for peace while you are superior; and Allah is with you and will never deprive you of [the reward of] your deeds." The surrounding verses are concerned with those who have reverted to disbelief and those who do not want to spend in the cause of Allah. A noteworthy verse on the conduct of war occurs in the same surah, Quran 47:4, which states that captives should be freed or ransomed until the war lays down its burdens.

Proportionate retaliation principle

Javad Hashmi, as well as noting the non-aggression principle apparent in many fighting verses such as those quoted above, proposes that another prevalant fighting principle in this context is that of qisas, or proportionate retaliation.

The basic proportionate retaliation principle in the context of killing is given in Quran 2:178-179. Patricia Crone similarly noted that retaliation generally must be proportionate in Quran 22:60 and Quran 42:39-41.[5]

Hashmi too notes that the latter passage brings in the equal retaliation principle, while also praising the alternative of forgiveness in verse 43. His thesis is that there is a concept of proportionality associated with fighting in the Quran. He notes that the principle is also apparent in verses such as Q 2:191 and Q 2:194 discussed above. Often a preference for forgiveness and patience is expressed alongside this principle.[14]

And those who, when tyranny strikes them, they defend themselves,

And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation - his reward is [due] from Allah. Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers.
And whoever avenges himself after having been wronged - those have not upon them any cause [for blame].
The cause is only against the ones who wrong the people and tyrannize upon the earth without right. Those will have a painful punishment.

And whoever is patient and forgives - indeed, that is of the matters [requiring] determination.

Surah 9 (at-Tawbah)

Surah 9, al-Tawbah, was traditionally revealed the year after the conquest of Mecca, though Hashmi, crediting Cheragh Ali (d. 1895), argues that the opening of the surah was more likely revealed soon after the treaty of Hudaybiyya was violated by the Meccans, but before what turned out to be a peaceful conquest of the city.[15] Hashmi argues that the principles discussed above are evident even in the opening verses of surah al-Tawbah.[16] Similarly, Khalil notes that the early part of the surah has various qualifiers congruous with the restraining principles of earlier passages.[17]

In this opening section, Q 9:5 became known as 'the verse of the sword' by some scholars and gives instructions against the mushrikeen who broke the treaty:

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

The same language (capture them and kill them wherever you find them) is directed at the hypocrites in Quran 4:88-90, with reprieve for those who do not want to fight the believers or who flee to a place where they are protected by treaty. Unlike in Q 9:5, they do not need to convert to Islam, which is a condition not present in earlier fighting verses. A similar phrase appears also in Q 2:191, in the passage discussed above where they need only cease fighting and oppression. In the early part of surah 9, patience has run out for those proven untrustworthy to abide by their treaties. They must repent and join the religion (or perhaps just observe prayer and zakat[18]), individually seek protection, or die.

Khalil writes that Q 9:5 was interpreted by scholars in the Umayyad and Abbasid imperial centres as abrogating certain earlier verses and opening the door for expansionst warfare against pagans, not just the treaty breakers who are explicitly the target of the verse. In contrast, scholars who did not live near these centres or lived at later times did not hold such a view and had a far more conservative opinion on abrogation generally.[19] A minority extreme view was that all peaceful passages were abrogated.[20] See also the introductory discussion in List of Abrogations in the Qur'an.

Here are some views on the verse in the classical commentaries of Ibn Kathir and al-Qurtubi:

وَهَذِهِ الْآيَةُ الْكَرِيمَةُ هِيَ آيَةُ السَّيْفِ الَّتِي قَالَ فِيهَا الضَّحَّاكُ بْنُ مُزَاحِمٍ: إِنَّهَا نَسَخَتْ كُلَّ عَهْدٍ بَيْنَ النَّبِيِّ(٩) ﷺ وَبَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ، وَكُلَّ عَهْدٍ، وَكُلَّ مُدَّةٍ.

This holy verse is the verse of the sword, which Dahaak bin Muzaahim said of it "Verily it has withdrawn every covenant/treaty between the prophet, Allah's prayer and peace be upon him, and between any mushrik (polytheist/non-muslim), every covenant and every bond of aide."
Tafsir ibn Kathir on surah 9:5

Al-Qurtubi has this to say

...فَاقْتُلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ﴾ عَامٌّ فِي كُلِّ مُشْرِكٍ، لَكِنَّ السُّنَّةَ خَصَّتْ مِنْهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ بَيَانُهُ فِي سُورَةِ "الْبَقَرَةِ"(٣) مِنَ امْرَأَةٍ وَرَاهِبٍ وَصَبِيٍّ وَغَيْرِهِمْ﴿ حَيْثُ وَجَدْتُمُوهُمْ﴾ عَامٌّ فِي كُلِّ مَوْضِعٍ﴿...

"Fight the unbelievers" meaning: a general decree concerning every mushrik (polytheist). But the Sunnah has narrowed its application in the declaration of surat-al-baqarah (surah 2) verse 3, excluding women, monks, children and other (non-combatants)......"Wherever you find them" meaning: a general decree for all places
Tafsir of Al-Qurtubi on surah 9:5

Another verse, Q 9:29, was associated with the expedition to face the Byzantines in northern Arabia at Tabuk in 630 CE.[21] Tabuk is not mentioned in the letters of 'Urwa (discussed below), though later traditional sources claim there were rumours that the Romans (Byzantines) were going to invade. There are possibly some problems with the chronology of this expedition and the battle of Mu'tah in Jordan against their Ghassanid vassals in 629 CE.[22]

This verse also became the basis of the Dhimma and the tax of the Jizyah, the systems of financial and social apartheid to be instituted against Jews and Christians (and also Zoroastrians) in order to secure the supremacy of Islam in the Dar al-Harb

Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture - [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.

Quran 9:30-35 continues the theme against the Jews and Christians in vitriolic fashion regarding their theology, and condemns the greed of their scholars and monks, though does not allege physical aggression from them (v. 32 states that "They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths [...]").

Quran 9:36-37 returns focus to fighting the mushrikeen treaty breakers. Modernists would observe here the defensive and equal retaliation principles.

According to Khalil, various Muslim scholars have related these and other verses in surah al-Tawbah each to either a perceived threat from the Byzantines (Q 9:29) or to nearby Arab enemies (9:36, 9:73, and 9:123), especially in light of Q 2:190 ("Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight you, but do not transgress"). In contrast, according to scholars of what Khalil calls the abrogationist-expansionist paradigm these verses in surah al-tawbah supported expansionist warfare.[23] Such scholars devised a particularly convoluted abrogational scheme to deal with Q 2:190.

Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them. And fight against the disbelievers collectively as they fight against you collectively. And know that Allah is with the righteous [who fear Him].
O Prophet, fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh upon them. And their refuge is Hell, and wretched is the destination.

They swear by Allah that they did not say [anything against the Prophet] while they had said the word of disbelief and disbelieved after their [pretense of] Islam and planned that which they were not to attain. And they were not resentful except [for the fact] that Allah and His Messenger had enriched them of His bounty. So if they repent, it is better for them; but if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And there will not be for them on earth any protector or helper.

O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous.

Surah 5, al Maidah, traditionally (and from internal evidence, according to Hashmi) was revealed after the conquest of Mecca. Hashmi points out that here we still see warnings to not aggress and to be just towards those who had previously driven the believers out (Quran 5:2 and Quran 5:8).[24] The surah contains nothing about fighting, though generally is very critical of most Jews and Christians.

The spoils of war

Quran 33:26-27 is traditonally about the battle of Khaybar in 628 CE. The believers are here said to inherit the land and homes of those who had supported "the companies" in the previous verses. Quran 33:50 of the same surah makes intercourse lawful for Muhammad with "those your right hand possesses from what Allah has returned to you [of captives]".

Surah 48, al Fath (the victory) celebrates the treaty of Hudaybiyah. In verses Quran 48:18-21 many victories and much booty is promised now (following the victory over Khaybar) and in the future. Mecca was spared by the treaty, despite religious obstruction at the kaaba (verses 21-25). Verse 29 states that "Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those with him are forceful against the disbelievers, merciful among themselves."

Quran 8:65-69 occurs in surah al-anfal, which as mentioned below contains a number of fighting verses as well as appeals to the Meccans to cease fighting and oppression, traditionally following the battle of Badr. Verses 67 to 68 are noteworthy in this context for enjoining the believers to be patient and not yet take captives until their prophet "inflicts a massacre in the land", rebuking them for having taken some already. Verse 69 tells them instead to enjoy what they have lawfully taken as booty.

Terrorising the enemy in battle

A few verses tend to draw attention in modern times due to the word l-ruʿ'ba, commonly translated as fear or terror. Quran 3:151 states, "We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve for what they have associated with Allah of which He had not sent down [any] authority. [...]"). Hashmi stresses that this surah mentions a post-Badr context and that the surrounding verses are intended to reassure the believers who are feeling weak and under threat.[25] Certainly these verses are intended to raise the confidence and steadfastness of dispirited believers, though at the same time, the verse in question condemns the enemy for their theological claims. This is a theme of Surah Imran more broadly, which extensively condemns most (though not all) of the people of the book for leading believers astray on religious matters.

Surah al-Anfal, Quran 8:12-13 says, "[...] I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip. That is because they opposed Allah and His Messenger [...]" (Quran 59:2-4 is a similar passage, traditionally about the expulsion of Banū al-Nadīr from Medina). Quran 8:60 in the same surah states, "And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know [but] whom Allah knows. [...]". However, the next verse adds, "And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah". Similar appeals to the Meccans to cease fighting or oppression occur in Quran 8:19 and Quran 8:39 of that surah.

Other Quranic themes on fighting and jihad

Quran 61:4 states that Allah loves those who fight in his cause, while Quran 61:10-11 says that those who "strive in the cause of Allah with their wealth and lives" will be saved from a painful punishment. Complaining about the dubious faith of the Bedouins, Quran 49:15 says, "The believers are only the ones who have believed in Allah and His Messenger and then doubt not but strive with their properties and their lives in the cause of Allah. It is those who are the truthful."

Quran 4:95 declares a great reward and Allah's preference for the mujahideen compared to believers who stay behind. Similar sentiments are expressed in Quran 3:157 and Quran 9:20, for example. Those who are left alive after others die in combat with the unbelievers should not mourn them, for they are yet alive with Allah in paradise enjoying pleasures beyond human comprehension (Quran 3:169).

There are verses dealing with the exemptions of various types of people to jihad (e.g. Quran 9:91, Quran 48:17), fighting during the holy months (Quran 2:217), fighting in the territory of Mecca (Quran 2:191), prisoners of war (Quran 47:4), safe conduct (Quran 9:6), and truces with the enemy (Quran 8:61).

Compared with the sῑra-maghāzī literature

The Islamic sῑra-maghāzī literature (biographical/expedition narratives) present a picture of forceful conquest or aggressive expeditions towards the end of Muhammad's career or after his death. External sources on early Islam suggest a traumatic experience - in particular Shophronius (d. 639 CE) wrote in 636/637 disparingly of Saracen raids bringing death, plunder, and the destruction of fields, villages and churches, while Thomas the Presbyter (fl. 640 CE) wrote of the "Arabs of Muhammad" defeating the Romans in 632 CE, killing 4000 Palestinian villagers and ravaging the whole region.[26] It is also worth noting that according to others, archaelogical evidence suggests a less destructive picture.

In his book Muhammad and the Empires of faith Sean Anthony argues that while the Quran is the primary source, approached cautiously, there is also some value for the study of early Islamic history in the sῑra-maghāzī material. He argues that the initial, formative compilation of this material took impulse from the late Umayyad court (late 7th/early 8th century CE). The corpus of traditions existed independently of the court, but their formation into sῑra-maghāzī works was a product of political intervention. Anthony contends that "the rhetoric of empire in Late Antiquity profoundly shaped this corpus".[27]

The hadith and sῑra-maghāzī literature speak frequently of the dominion (mulk) of the prophet and his community (ummah). This triumphalist view of the emergence of the early Islamic community "served to sustain and legitimize that community's hegemony, the supremacy of its ruling elite, and the expansionist policy of the burgeoning polity."[28]

The concept of the Prophet's dominion became important to the early Caliphates. Quranic verses such as Quran 24:55 (quoted below) were interpreted from at least Umayyad times and by later scholars such as al-Tabari in terms of this triumphalist vision, along with verses such as Quran 4:54 which refers to the kingdom (mulk) bestowed upon the family of Abraham, Quran 22:78 which tells the believers that they were chosen to follow the faith (millah) of their father Abraham, and Quran 2:124-130 where Abraham is told that his covenant does not include wrongdoers among his descendants. Abraham and Ishmael then pray for a nation of submitters among their descendants with their own messenger (a few verses later, the believers are told to say that they follow the faith (millah) of Abraham, who was neither a Jew nor a Christian Quran 2:135).

Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their religion which He has preferred for them [...]"

Anthony writes, "Citations of this qur'anic theme of the righteous inheriting the lands of Abraham and, therefore, the lands and wealth of the sinful nations do not only appear in the sῑra-maghāzī literature; they are nearly ubiquitous in the narratives of the early conquests as well." Some of the Quraysh now ruled as the Umayyad caliphate, so the framing of Muhammad's kin as the righteous inheritors of Abraham served their political hegemony.[29]

For this and other reasons, Islamic modernist scholars urge intense skepticism of the aggressive / expansionist expeditions attributed to Muhammad and his companions in this literature (though it may be questionable to what extent this stretches credulity too far the other way). Preference is given to the letters of 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr (Aisha's nephew), which were in answer to historical queries from the Umayyad court.

The letters of 'Urwa are free from miraculous or other embellishments seen in later sources, and are taken to be an important early source on Muhammad by academic scholars like Sean Anthony, who translates them in full in Muhammad and the Empires of Faith. The letters broadly come in two recensions (preserved in the work of al-Tabari and some narratives also in other sources). Goerke, Motzki, and Schoeler have robustly defended the authenticity of the letters of 'Urwa as probably in some way originating from him, arguing that several traditions can convincingly be traced back to 'Urwa.[30]

'Urwa's first letter describes the persecution of Muhammad and his early followers, forcing some of them to flee to Abyssinia and later to Medina. The second letter concerns Muhammad's marriage to Aisha. His third letter concerns the battle of Badr. Before getting to that event he mentions a raid conducted on a Quraysh caravan at Nakhla by a small party, some of whom were companions sent by Muhammad (later biographies portray Muhammad as just sending them on an observational mission, but that the companions decided to raid the caravan in controversial circumstances). One man was killed and some captives were taken from the caravan. According to the letter, "It was this event that provoked the war between the Messenger of God and the Quraysh, and the first conflict in which they inflicted casualties on one another." The letter recounts that Muhammad later decided to raid Abu Sufyan and a small number of Quraysh on their return from a trading expedition in Syria. The latter were able to call reinforcements by the time they encountered Muhammad and his forces at Badr, but were nevertheless defeated. Badr was the first of nine major battles or seiges fought by Muhammad based on other early sources.

The fourth letter details the treaty of Hudaybiya between the Medinans and Meccans in 928 CE, the topic of Quran 60:10-12. The fifth letter details the fairly bloodless conquest of Mecca enabled by a Meccan violation of the treaty after they had sent arms to an allied clan who were fighting another clan allied to Muhammad. It also describes a battle at Hunayn in 630 CE, briefly mentioned as one of many victorious battles in Quran 9:25-26. This battle was against two Arab clans, Hawazin and Thaqif, who had camped at Hunayn in preparation to attack the believers in Mecca, having previously thought that Muhammad was coming for them when he left Medina on his way there. The tribes were defeated and their women, children and cattle taken as booty. Muhammad led his troops straight on to al-Ta'if where he beseiged the Thaqif stronghold for two weeks. Afterwards, he freed the captives from the battle at Hunayn as they had accepted Islam. Delegates from Thaqif gave their allegiance and secured a treaty with Muhammad when he had returned to Medina. The remaining letters concern a range of topics not relevant to this article.[31]

Islamic Modernists tend to count all of the battles as defensive, especially in the overarching context of the danger from the Meccans. Khalil cites modern academic scholar Ahmed al Dawoody (who also taught at the famous al-Azhar University in Cairo) for arguing in his book, The Islamic Law of War, that all Muhammad's major battles and sieges were defensive in nature (Dawoody defines these as Badr, Uhud, the Ditch, Khaybar, Hunayn and Ta'if). Such a view is, of course, contested. Khalil quotes Reuven Firestone as an example of a contrasting view who maintains that "it was Muhammad and not the Meccan Quraysh who initiated the battles" between them.[32]

According to the sῑra-maghāzī literature, near the end of his life Muhammad also launched expeditions to the north in an attempt to fight the Byzantines at Tabuk, and, following the killing of his emissary bearing an ultimatum letter to Harith ibn Abi Shamir, King of Damascus, also against their Ghassanid vassals, resulting in the battle of Mu'tah, and to the south to destroy the idol of Dhu'l Khalasa. As discussed above, there are difficulties with the details of some of these accounts causing doubt and uncertainty among historians. The northern expeditions seem consistent with the ideology that the Ishmaelites were the righteous inheritors of the lands of Abraham, which they interpreted from certain verses of the Quran as mentioned above, and is seen in the ultimatum reportedly sent from the Ishmaelites to Heraclius, recorded by a Christian historian writing in the 660s CE. The northern expedition stories could be a back-projection of this ideology, though both are reported as failures rather than triumphs (the Byzantines were nowhere to be seen at Tabuk, and the Ghassanids won at Mu'tah).

Jihad in the Hadith

Academic scholarship is generally quite skeptical as to the reliability of hadiths, though in some cases modern methods are able to verify the transmitter by whom a narration was first widely circulated, or in other ways assess the plausibility of a narration. An enormous amount of hadith material exists concerning topics relating to Jihad. A famous example places Jihad in the way of Allah as the best deed after the confession of faith.

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle was asked, "What is the best deed?" He replied, "To believe in Allah and His Apostle (Muhammad). The questioner then asked, "What is the next (in goodness)? He replied, "To participate in Jihad (religious fighting) in Allah's Cause." The questioner again asked, "What is the next (in goodness)?" He replied, "To perform Hajj (Pilgrim age to Mecca) 'Mubrur, (which is accepted by Allah and is performed with the intention of seeking Allah's pleasure only and not to show off and without committing a sin and in accordance with the traditions of the Prophet)."

Jihad in Early Islam

As discussed above, the sῑra-maghāzī literature contains an enormous amount of narrations on expeditions said to have been carried out by Muhammad and his companions. Historians increasingly filter this material through the lens of the Quran as the primary source for this period, and employ modern historical methods to assess its reliability in general and in specific cases, bearing in mind the political context in which they were compiled. A highly regarded compilation of evidence external to the Islamic tradition itself on the early Islamic conquests is Robert Hoyland's book Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam.[33]

Jihad in Classic Islamic Law

Islamic scholars had a lot to say about topics relating to Jihad, writing about how, when, where, why, and in what fashion Jihad may be undertaken.

Offensive Jihad

Offensive jihad, known in Arabic as جهاد الطلب "jihad at-talab" ("the jihad of request", referring to the invitation to Islam which must be sent to the opposing infidels before hostilities may commence), was a concept developed by medieval exegetes and is understood in the classical sources as an offensive, expansionist struggle. According to Muslim scholar Dr. Hawarey, 80% of the battles Muhammad participated in were offensive.[34] Modernist Islamic scholars consider the concept to be very much mistaken and linked to the imperial ideology of the early Caliphates.

Defensive Jihad

Medieval Islamic scholars also considered jihad integral to the defensive needs of the Muslim lands. To modernist scholars and some academic scholars, military jihad is on a Quranic basis always a defense against oppression and aggression.

Jihad in Modern Islam

In classical Islamic law (sharia), the term refers to armed struggle against any Kafir (Infidel),[35][36] while modernist Islamic scholars generally equate military jihad with defensive warfare.[37][38] In Sufi and pious circles, spiritual and moral jihad has been traditionally emphasized under the name of greater jihad.[39][40][36] The term has gained additional attention in recent decades through its use by various insurgent Islamic extremist, militant Islamist, and terrorist individuals and organizations whose ideology is based on the Islamic notion of jihad.[39][41][42][43]


  1. "Islam", Encyclopedia Britannica, New York, 17 August 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Islam. 
  2. Yeʼor, B. The decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 79, 2011. 
  3. Reuven Firestone, Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 64-69
  4. See page 159 in Patricia Crone, No Compulsion in Religion: Q 2:256 in Mediaeval and Modern Interpretation In Le Shi’isme Imamite Quarante ans apres: Hommage ‘a Etan Kohlberg. Edited by Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, Meir M. Bar-Asher and Simon Hopkins. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2009, pp. 131–78
  5. 5.0 5.1 A brief summary of Crone's Encyclopedia of the Quran article can be seenhere
  6. Reuven Firestone, Jihad p. 57
  7. Reuven Firestone, Jihad pp. 60-61
  8. Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Jihad, Radicalism and the New Atheism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017
  9. Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Jihad p. 12
  10. Hashmi awkwardly glosses this as [while] disbelieving in Him, but perhaps "and to disbelief in Him" is a more plausible alternative in keeping with his definition of fitna i.e. they turn people from the way of Allah and to disbelief.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Jihad, War and Peace in Islam by Dr. Javad Hashmi (Part 1) - Youtube.com, April 2020 (see 2 hours 12 to 22 minutes)
  12. Mohsen Goudarzi: Din, Islam, and Hanif in the Qur’an - youtube.com - 1 May 2023
  13. Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Jihad p. 9
  14. Jihad, War and Peace in Islam by Dr. Javad Hashmi (Part 1) - Youtube.com, April 2020 (see 1 hour 30 to 50 minutes)
  15. Jihad, War and Peace in Islam by Dr. Javad Hashmi (Part 1) - Youtube.com, April 2020 (see 2 hours 38 minutes)
  16. Jihad, War and Peace in Islam by Dr. Javad Hashmi (Part 1) - Youtube.com, April 2020 (see 2 hours 42 minutes)
  17. Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Jihad p. 14
  18. Jihad, War and Peace in Islam by Dr. Javad Hashmi (Part 1) - Youtube.com, April 2020 (see 2 hours 35 minutes)
  19. Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Jihad p. 13
  20. Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Jihad p. 16
  21. Reuven Firestone, Jihad p. 64
  22. See the twitter discussions here (2 May 2021) and here (7 December 2022) between historians Sean Anthony and Juan Cole
  23. Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Jihad p. 15
  24. Jihad, War and Peace in Islam by Dr. Javad Hashmi (Part 2) - Youtube.com, April 2020 (see 2 hours 14 minutes)
  25. On The Origins of Jihad | Dr. Javad T. Hashmi - Youtube.com, December 2022 (see 2 hours 4 to 8 minutes)
  26. Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam As Others Saw It, Princeton: The Darwin Press, pp. 72-73, 120
  27. Sean Anthony, Muhammad and the Empires of Faith: The making of the Prophet of Islam, Oakland CA: University of California, 2020, pp. 175-6
  28. Sean Anthony, Muhammad and the Empires of Faith, p. 177
  29. Sean Anthony, Muhammad and the Empires of Faith, pp. 179-80
  30. See in particular pp. 16-21 of Goerke, A, Motzki, H & Schoeler, G (2012) First-Century Sources for the Life of Muhammad? A Debate, Der Islam, vol. 89, no. 2, pp. 2-59. https://doi.org/10.1515/islam-2012-0002
  31. 'Urwa's letters are translated in full in chapter 4 of Muhammad and the Empires of Faith by Sean Anthony
  32. Reuven Firestone, Jihad p. 110 cited in Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Jihad p. 15
  33. Robert Holand (1997) Seeing Islam As Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam, Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press. ISBN 0-87850-125-8
  34. Military Operations in the Era of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) - military.hawarey.org
  35. Peters, Rudolph; Cook, David, "Jihād", Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199739356, 2014, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t349/e0057. 
  36. 36.0 36.1 Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E. J.; Heinrichs, W. P. et al., eds, (1965), "D̲j̲ihād", Leiden: Brill Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-16121-4, 1965. 
  37. Wael B. Hallaq. Sharī'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations. Cambridge University Press (Kindle edition). pp. 334–38, 2009. 
  38. Peters, Rudolph. Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History. De Gruyter Mouton. p. 124. ISBN 9783110824858, 2015. https://www.degruyter.com/view/product/6260. 
  39. 39.0 39.1 "Jihad", Oxford: Oxford University Press, 22 February 2018 [10 May 2017], http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195390155/obo-9780195390155-0045.xml. 
  40. Rudolph Peters, "Jihad", In Lindsay Jones, MacMillan Reference, p. 4917, 2005. 
  41. "Modern Extremist Groups and the Division of the World: A Critique from an Islamic Perspective" (November 2017). Arab Law Quarterly 31 (4): 305–335. Leiden: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/15730255-12314024. ISSN 1573-0255. 
  42. Cook, David. "Radical Islam and Contemporary Jihad Theory". Understanding Jihad (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 93–127. ISBN 9780520287327. JSTOR 10.1525/j.ctv1xxt55.10. LCCN 2015010201, 2015 [2005]. https://books.google.com/books?id=SqE2DwAAQBAJ&pg=PA93. 
  43. Jalal, Ayesha. "Islam Subverted? Jihad as Terrorism". Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 239–240. ISBN 9780674039070, 2009.