Host Doug Storm is joined by Asma Afsaruddin to discuss her book Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought.
In her essay “Inventing ‘Jihad‘,” Afsaruddin writes:
Privileging the legal literature above other kinds of literature—particularly the exegetical literature on the Qur’an and ethical treatises—in discussions of jihad almost inevitably leads to the conclusion that it is primarily a collective military obligation incumbent upon able-bodied Muslim men in the service of state and religion. And because what we call Islamic law is assumed to be derived directly from the Qur’an and the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), such an obligation is assumed to be mandated by Islam itself.
But if we put on our historical glasses a considerably different picture emerges. The earliest connotations of jihad had to do with patient forbearance in the face of harm and stoic, nonviolent resistance to wrongdoing….
Some were also of the opinion that the Qur’anic command to fight was only applicable to the first generation of Muslims who were contemporaries of Muhammad, known as the Companions, since the historical referent in the verses that deal with fighting are the hostile pagan Arabs of Mecca.
Such understandings, however, could and did prove inimical to the process of empire-building, and the need was soon felt in official and certain legal circles to promote the military jihad as a religiously meritorious activity. This is precisely what happened during the expansion of the Islamic empire after the death of Muhammad during the late seventh and eighth centuries of the Common Era….
This progressive watering-down in later exegetical and legal literature of the categorical Qur’anic prohibition against initiating hostilities is revealing of the triumph of political realism over scriptural fidelity.
Some scholars from the later period continued to dispute this cooptation of jihad in the service of Realpolitik. These scholars’ main area of contention was with the legal position which came to view lack of adherence to Islam, rather than aggression on the part of the adversary, as the casus belli for the military jihad, a position they regarded as unethical and morally impermissible.
Asma Afsaruddin is professor of Islamic Studies and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at Indiana University, Bloomington. She was named a Carnegie Scholar in 2005. Her previous books include The First Muslims: History and Memory (2008), and Excellence and Precedence: Medieval Islamic Discourse on Legitimate Leadership (2002) She was awarded the World Book Prize for the best new book in Islamic Studies given by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance of the Republic of Iran on February 8th in Tehran, Iran’s capital and largest city.
Producer & Host: Doug Storm
Board Engineer: Jonathan Richardson
Executive Producer: Joe Crawford