Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Role of Imams of Mosques in Social Reform

Imams of mosques can play a very central role in promoting social reforms among Muslims, but, sadly, this is a task that has not been given the attention that it deserves. In popular perception, the role of mosque imam is seen as limited only to leading prayers, solemnising marriages, conducting burial services and so on. Unfortunately, the imams themselves have, consciously or otherwise, limited themselves to such tasks alone. This provokes many people to ask why imams should have to undergo a rigorous course of study that extends several years in madrasas, claiming that for their present tasks their course of study does not need to be longer than a year or two. I, for one, do not agree with this view, for, if accepted, it would legitimise the limited role of the imams as simply the performance of a few rituals, as is the case now. It would be like a seal of approval to cut the imams off completely from the mainstream of society.
Several decades ago, the poet Mohammad Iqbal expressed his dissatisfaction with the then current status of the imams thus:
Qaum kya cheez hai, qaumon ki imamat kya hai?
Is ko kya janey yeh masjid ke do rakat ke imam?
What is a community, and what does it mean to be the leader of a community?
What do the mosque imams, who lead [their congregations in] just two rakats of prayer know of this?
In this verse Iqbal complained about the imams of the mosques of his time, critiquing them for their lack of political consciousness in terms of the agenda of establishing ‘Islamic rule’ in the form of a Caliphate. But this agenda is today irrelevant and has no link at all to ground realities. Today, what our imams should be focussing on is not the establishment of a political Caliphate, or what is called the ‘Greater Imamat’ (imamat-e kubra), but, rather, on grassroots social reform. In this way, our mosques can turn into centres for social reform. At the time of the Prophet and shortly thereafter, mosques were not just places for ritual worship, as they generally are today. They were also centres of social and political activity. Till the end of the medieval period, education was also imparted in mosques. This was a time when the wrongful innovation or biddat of a division between ‘religious’ (dini) and ‘worldly’ (duniyavi) education had not yet come into being. Lamentably, these other roles of mosques ceased to be in the ‘modern’ period.
The biggest drawback or limitation that the imams of mosques suffer from, and which greatly limits the social reformist role they can possibly play, is their lack of proper training. Simply no arrangement exists for the training of our imams, just as no such arrangements exist for would-be madrasa teachers as well. As far as I know, in the whole of India there is not a single institution or organistion that provides training to imams to enable them to play the role of social activists or reformers. The fact is that, especially in north India, which has for decades been victim of communal politics, the ulema community is characterised by a peculiar sort of traditionalism and stagnation that is not at all conducive to positive thinking and action. The imams’ lack of proper training makes them underestimate and underuse their own abilities and talents and severely limits the positive influence they can have on others. It further reinforces the narrow sphere of their present role as simply ritual specialists. They simply cannot think beyond leading prayers, slaughtering animals on Bakrid and conducting nikahs.
That every person and social group suffers from some or the other weakness is a truism that does not need any explanation. Yet, it is a fact that the weaknesses of some people or groups can have a much more negative impact on the wider society than that of others. This rule applies to the imams of mosques, who are unable to understand the role they can play in positively influencing the wider Muslim community and in promoting a range of badly-needed reforms within the community. One simple indication of this is that, with very few exceptions, the imams of mosques never make burning social issues and problems the subject of their Friday sermons or their private conversations with others. Instead, they often deal with ordinary and inessential issues in their speeches.
The possible role that imams of mosques can play in social reform is much greater than that of madrasa-based ulema, who, lamentably, are now restricted to the four walls of their madrasas and whose work is now largely limited just to teaching. If at all they appear on any platform to promote social reform, it is not on their own volition. Rather, it is because they are generally invited by ‘lay’ Muslims to grace such occasions, and they do not hesitate to charge them, in cash or kind, for this ‘work’. The only possible exception to this are the activists of the Tablighi Jamaat, who, admittedly, have their own share of weaknesses and shortcomings, but believe that they would be rewarded by God for their efforts.
The imams of mosques have much greater opportunities to closely interact with ‘ordinary’ people—to address them, as during the Friday congregational prayers, and to participate in their occasions of joy and sorrow. This is why they can play a much more effective role in social reform than the ulema of the madrasas. But this is not possible unless they have proper social awareness or consciousness and a fine understanding of contemporary social, problems, concerns, challenges and new ways of thinking among people. Sadly, this is sorely missing, and to a degree even more than among the ulema of the madrasas. This is because, by and large, imams of mosques are graduates of madrasas who have not done very well in their studies, or what can be called ‘second grade ulema’. They receive very low salaries, and are under the constant watch and strict control of the mosque authorities, who place numerous restrictions on their social activities.
In large parts of India, imams of mosques play a leading role in fanning sectarian rivalries and conflicts. I personally known of several cases where imams routinely deliver fiery speeches that are filled with hatred of other Muslims sects. This has resulted in creating huge divisions among the local Muslims who had earlier lived in peace and harmony with each other. It is an undeniable fact that such imams are driven by deep-rooted sectarian prejudice and hatred, and that they have a vested interest in picking on minor issues on which the different Muslim sects differ and magnifying them all out of proportion, making them appear as issues of major theological import. In this way, they project themselves as the leaders, indeed saviours, of their own respective sects, while, at the same time, they cleverly divert peoples’ attention from the crucial issues and questions that ought to agitate them, such as poverty, illiteracy and so on, and for which these half-baked imams have no solution. In this, they are no different at all from any run-of-the-mill, low-grade politician, who is ever on the prowl for an opportunity to promote his political interests. It is not simply faulty education that is to blame here, but also grossly inadequate training. The imams have been trained simply to deliver speeches, and not to do any practical social work at all.
Another hurdle in the path of encouraging the imams of mosques to play a pro-active role in social reform is their own rather pitiable economic conditions. The salaries they receive from the managers of mosques are generally insufficient to make their ends meet. This is why they are often compelled to curry favour with the rich. Because of this, they are simply unable to engage in the task, which the Quran lays down for all Muslims, of forbidding the bad (nahi an al-munkar) with regard to the rich on whom they depend, although it is often the rich who are primarily responsible for a host of social evils. On the contrary, such imams even supplicate God for their rich patrons! I firmly believe that such imams cannot be entirely blamed for this behaviour. When our whole society is so corrupt, we cannot expect just one section of it—the ulema and the imams—to exemplify virtue. That said, it must be recognised that to encourage the imams to play a pro-active role in social reform it is crucial that they be economically empowered themselves.
The Imams of the Mosques and Contemporary Challenges and Demands
A central responsibility of the imams of the mosques is, undoubtedly, leading prayers, which is what Iqbal rather sarcastically referred to in the verse that I quoted earlier. The importance of this task cannot be underestimated. At the same time, this responsibility must be undertaken in such a way that it enables the imams to have a positive impact on the wider society. The opportunities that regularly leading prayers afford to the imams of interacting with a large number of people must be made proper use of in order to promote the agenda of social reform. At the same time, there must be a concomitant expansion in our understanding of the nature, purpose and functions of the mosque as an institution so that it does not remain confined to being a space for ritual worship, but regains its role as a place where education is imparted, social welfare schemes are implemented, and discussion and dialogue on a range of social issues takes place in a planned and well-organised manner.
Many Indian Muslim organisations admittedly do stress the need for social reform, but in this regard they have not taken the practical support of mosques and their imams, which could have been very effective. It must also be recognised that the notion of social reform as envisaged by many of our leaders and their organisations is very narrow and constricted, being limited just to a few issues such as dowry, denial of inheritance rights to daughters, misuse by husbands of their right to divorce, wasteful expenditure, the prevalence of certain Hinduistic customs, immorality, and so on. Leaving aside the issue as to what exactly Muslim organisations have done, in practical terms, about all these matters, and how effective, if at all, these efforts have actually been, the question that must be asked is: Is addressing just these issues enough for the comprehensive and meaningful reform of Indian Muslim society? No one denies the need to address all these various social ills, but, surely, there are many issues beyond just these that also need to be tackled. Sadly, however, they are almost totally ignored by Muslim leaders and organisations.
One of these sorely neglected issues is caste and caste-based discrimination among the Indian Muslims, which, in part, is a consequence of erroneous interpretations of the concept and rules of kufu or social parity that relate to marriage. This has made a complete mockery of Islam’s insistence on social equality and brotherhood.
A second such issue is the denial to Muslim women of their social and educational rights. They have been wrongly prohibited from taking up a range of social or public roles that Islam, properly understood, allows them. This has led to a big chunk of the Muslim population being rendered virtually paralysed.
A third such issue is inter-Muslim sectarian rivalry and conflict, that has completely destroyed the unity of Muslim society.
A fourth pressing issue is the extreme emotionalism and lack of necessary to patience among a section of Muslim youth who, totally oblivious to ground realities and the sensitivities of practical conditions, are driven by utopian schemes.
A fifth crucial issue is narrow communalism or asabiyyat that has led our religious and political leadership to defend Muslims even when they are in the wrong and are clearly oppressors, going clearly against the hadith of the Prophet wherein he very clearly declared that anyone who expressed such communalism was not among his people.
A sixth such burning issue is the misuse of religion for worldly purposes. This is by no means a new problem, but the forms and proportions it has acquired today are proving to be disastrous for both Muslims and for Islam. This is expressed, for instance, in the setting up of numbers of maktabs and madrasas in every little lane and locality, and in completely ignoring Islamic rules and ethics in seeking donations for these institutions. The enormity of this problem is such that even reliable ulema are now forced to admit that founding new madrasas has become a virtual industry. It should be noted in this regard that a major portion of money collected by way of zakat is given to madrasas, because of which other vitally important institutions such as hospitals, modern schools and colleges, orphanages, and social welfare organisations catering to the poor and the needy, are left starved of funds. Muslims, sad to say, hardly have any good quality social welfare organisations, although they never hesitate to remind themselves and others of the great importance that Islam gives to social justice and to serving the poor. Our people will very willingly donate millions of rupees to construct a palace-like mosque, but few of us are willing to financially help desperately poor people living in the vicinity of such mosques who need money urgently for medical treatment, for having their daughters married off, or for educating their little children, who are forced to work in roadside eateries and dingy factories to help supplement the family’s meagre incomes. There are almost no Muslim NGOS worth the name engaged in helping such needy people. Our pseudo-religious commitment is restricted only to supporting the setting up of more and more madrasas and mosques.
The point I am trying to make here is that while talking about and seeking to promote social reform, we need to address these burning issues as well that, lamentably, are generally ignored by our organisations and leaders. And since the imams of the mosques can, if properly trained and motivated, play a crucial role in social reform, it is necessary that they, too, are made properly aware of these issues as well.
The Role of Imams of Mosques in a Plural Society
Imams of mosques have additional roles to play in a religiously-plural society like India’s. In the process of training imams and the very important and in the sensitive task of shaping their minds as would-be community activists, the fact and the implications of religious pluralism must be taken into proper account. A religiously-plural society has its own particular sensitivities that must be respected, and if a social reformer is not aware of these and does not respect them as he should, he is bound to fail in his efforts.
The Meccan phase of the Prophet Muhammad’s life is more important for us as a model for how Muslims living in a religiously-plural society should engage in efforts for social reform. This phase was characterised by patience and avoiding conflict and confrontation. In this phase the Prophet paid greater stress on the internal reform of the fledgling Muslim community, tending to avoid involvement with external problems and issues. As with the Prophet, one can observe varying approaches to social reform in the case of his Companions, each approach being suited to particular the conditions they were faced with at a particular time. Following their example, Muslim social reformers must be able to properly gauge what sort of model of, or approach to, reform to follow depending on the context they are faced with, choosing the model or approach that is most appropriate to the situation at hand. In today’s context, they need to mould their approach in the light of a host of challenges that Muslims (and others) are faced with. In the specific Indian context, these challenges include Hindutva chauvinism, on the one hand, and extreme emotionalism among a section of Muslim youths, which is, to a great extent, a reaction to the targeting of Islam and Muslims in certain countries. This sort of response, it must be noted, is in no way beneficial to the Muslims at all, having, for instance, led Pakistan to the brink of disaster. It is crucial that in a religiously-plural society like India’s, the imams of mosques neither remain wholly silent on political issues affecting Islam or Muslims nor wag their tongues uncontrollably on such matters. Instead, they must learn to deal with these and other such affairs carefully, in a wise manner as befits those who are committed to God’s path and who seek to invite others to it.
To conclude, it is imperative for the imams of our mosque to play a pro-active role in efforts for promoting a wide range of much-needed reforms in Muslim society. They are well positioned to play such a role, being constantly in close touch with a large number of people at the local level. It is imperative that Muslim organisations turn their attention to this issue and devise appropriate programmes and institutions for this purpose.

The Prophet Muhammad and Jihad

What was the essence of the mission of the Prophet Muhammad? Was it da‘wah, inviting, using peaceful means, people to the path of God? Or, was it jihad, in the sense of physical fighting against others? The Quran is very clear on this point. It stresses that the Prophet’s mission was essentially that of peaceful da‘wah. Thus, addressing the Prophet, God says in the Quran:

‘O Messenger! Proclaim the [message] which has been sent to you from your Lord’ (5:67).

Accordingly, the Quran addresses the prophet as preacher (da‘i), bearer of glad tidings (mubashir) and warner (nazir). It explains: ‘We have sent among you a messenger of your own, rehearsing to you Our signs, and purifying you, and instructing you in scripture and wisdom and in new knowledge’ (2: 151). In this regard, the Prophet said, ‘I have been sent as a teacher to the people’ (ini boistu mualiman). He also said, ‘I have been sent to establish pinnacle of morality’. In other words, the Prophet Muhammad was a messenger of knowledge and morality, and his aim was to provide knowledge to people so that they could walk on the straight path. Nowhere in the Quran is it mentioned that the Prophet was sent to the world in order to engage in jihad, in the sense of physical warfare (qital).

Despite this, in the early Islamic period, not long after the Prophet’s demise, the books that came to be written about his life the Prophet was presented as a warrior (mujahid or ghazi), rather than as a teacher of morals. In fact, these biographies of the Prophet were also known as maghazis, that is accounts of the battles (ghazwat) of the Prophet, despite the fact that in the course of his 23 year-long span of prophethood, warfare was only an exception, and certainly not the rule. With regard to fighting, the Prophet clearly declared ‘O people! Do not desire to confront your enemies. You should seek protection of God from this.’ Had war been a permanent feature of the mission of Islam, obviously the Prophet would not have exhorted his followers thus.

The reason why after his demise, the Prophet’s biographies presented his life as essentially that of a mujahid, in the sense of one being engaged in physical battle with non-Muslims, is to be located not in the teachings of the Quran, but, rather, in the then prevalent cultural, literary and intellectual contexts. From earliest times, all victorious communities saw their battles and conquests as the essence of their history, and that was how it was recorded by them. Their exploits on the battlefield were converted into epics, in which they took great pride. This explains why the literary heritage of powerful communities in the past consisted almost wholly of such romanticized stories of their military exploits, and the pagan Arabs were no exception to this, as is evidenced from the poetry produced in the pre-Islamic period. It was thus not surprising that, after the demise of the Prophet, and as Islam began to spread out of the Arabian peninsula and the Arabs established a vast and mighty empire, the biographies of the Prophet that began to be written projected him as a warrior and his life in terms of the wars he participated in. Consequently, his basic mission, that of peaceful da‘wah, or inviting people to the path of God, was almost wholly eclipsed in the writings about him that were penned at this time.

The prophets who were sent by God prior to the Prophet Muhammad were provided with certain miracles through divine help. The miracles of numerous prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and David, are mentioned in the Quran. The main miracle bestowed by God to the Prophet Muhammad was none other than the Quran itself, and the Prophet was asked to engage in jihad with his enemies using the Quran. This the Quran termed as the exalted form of jihad (jihadan kabiran). As the Quran lays down: ‘Therefore, listen not to the unbelievers but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness, with the [Quran]’ (25: 52). This clearly indicates that the Prophet’s mission was one of appealing to the people to adopt God’s path, using proofs and evidence to convince them, and not one of slaughtering people who disagreed with him.

The Prophet preached in Mecca for thirteen years, during which he and his companions were brutally persecuted by their opponents. Yet, he tolerated this oppression steadfastly and exhorted his disciples not to waver but yet to stay away from revenge. Some critics argue that this was because the Prophet and his companions were a small and relatively powerless group at this time and so in any case were in no position to take on their foes through arms even if they had wanted to. This, however, is not true. Admittedly, compared to the situation of the Prophet and his followers in Medina, where he later migrated, the situation of the Muslims in Mecca, that is before the Prophet’s migration, was certainly weak. But, at the same time, even in Mecca the Prophet had numerous brave disciples who were willing to lay down their lives for him. Had he wanted to, he could easily have secretly instructed them to strike at his aggressors. But this he did not do. This was because not only had he not received permission from God for this but also because, in fact, God had prevented him from taking to arms at this time against his oppressors. After he shifted to Medina, he was granted permission to take to arms only after he had arranged for the Muslims of the town to become a strong, consolidated force, which provoked the jealousy of his opponents. It is crucial to note here that the fighting that God now permitted Muslims to engage in was simply in defense. As the Quran explained:

‘To those against whom war is made, permission is given to [fight] because they are wronged […] They are those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right—[for no cause] except that they say, “Our Lord is God”’ (22:39-40).

It cannot be denied that many mistakes, indeed tragic blunders, in understanding and presenting before the world the true essence of the mission of the Prophet Muhammad have been made, by both Muslims as well as non-Muslims. The battles in which the Prophet fought were all directly or indirectly defensive in nature, but, despite this, some Islamic scholars and writers developed the completely untenable theory of offensive jihad, which has been elaborated upon in considerable detail in the books of medieval fiqh. In fact, the spurious theory of offensive jihad seems to pervade this corpus of literature, which wrongly seeks to argue that many of the battles of the Prophet were offensive wars. This literature gives the mistaken impression that the Prophet sought to exterminate all non-Muslims, or to force them to accept Islam at the point of the sword, which was not the case at all. Obviously, and needless to add, this completely wrong conception, which is so prominently present in the corpus of traditional Muslim writings, has given non-Muslim critics all the ammunition they need to criticize and even condemn Islam.

It must also be added here that the wholly un-Islamic notion of ‘offensive jihad’ is a fundamental contradiction of the Quranic dictum: ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ (la ikraha fi ad-din). The cause of revelation (shan-al nuzul) of this verse is also pertinent to our discussion here. The Prophet forbade his companion Abul Husain from compelling his young son, whom he had earlier given to a Jew allowing him to convert him to Judaism, to convert to Islam. This was the cause of this particular verse being revealed.

Once, a needy non-Muslim woman approached the Caliph Umar with a request. Thereupon, Umar invited her to accept Islam but she declined. Later, Umar felt that perhaps his invitation might be construed as compulsion—he was the Caliph after all, and so was very upset about what he had done and repented of it. If this was how a careful a close companion of the Prophet like Umar was in not compelling anyone to accept Islam, how can it be expected that the Prophet would ever use force to make others believe in Islam?

But, despite this, some Islamic scholars, including the putative founder of the Shafi’ school, Imam Shafi’, went to the extent of arguing that the reason (‘illat) for fighting the ‘infidels’ (non-Muslims other than the ‘People of the Book’) was their infidelity. That is why these scholars granted such people only two choices: Islam or death. Obviously, this stance is a gross affront to Islamic teachings and also a clear contradiction of the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, who is described in the Quran as the ‘Mercy Unto the Worlds’ (rahmat al il ‘alamin), and who said about himself that he was a ‘gift of mercy’ sent by God. How could the Prophet, who clearly forbade his followers from killing in the course of war non-Muslim women, children, the aged and worshippers who had abandoned the world ever have permitted killing non-Muslims simply because of their infidelity?

The Prophet Muhammad was a peace-loving man. That is why he agreed to enter into a peace treaty with the pagan Meccans at Hudaibiyah despite the fact that the terms of the treaty were heavily weighed against him and the Muslims, which caused considerable resentment among his companions. The Quran referred to the treaty of Hudaibiyah as ‘the clear victory’ (fateh mubin). Further clearly indicating his love of peace, the Prophet instructed his disciple Mu‘az thus:

‘Do not engage in war with your enemies till you have invited them to Islam. Then, if they refuse this invitation, do not fight them till they start fighting. Then, if they start fighting, do not fight back till they kill one of your people. Then, if they do this, show them the dead person and say to them, “Is there no better path than this?” This is because if through you someone receives true guidance from God, it is better than the whole world.’(Al-Sirakhsi:Al-Mabsoot 1/31)

Every sensible and impartial person will thus readily admit that the Prophet was a lover of peace, and that the jihad, the sense of qital, that is, in certain cases, allowed for in Islam is definitely a blessing and not a curse.

Deviations in the Concept and Practice of Jihad

The term jihad has numerous meanings and connotations. It cannot be restricted just to one meaning, although this is how some people erroneously understand it. In its general sense, the term encompasses all efforts, at both the individual and the collective level, for the reformation of the self and society, for general human welfare and for acquiring the pleasure of God. In its particular sense, the term also includes efforts that involve the use of power, if need be, to combat opponents and enemies. Jihad, in this particular sense, is referred to in the Quran by the term qital. Islam allows for jihad in the sense of qital only in defence. In all other senses, jihad is a peaceful struggle that aims at following God’s path and conveying the message of God to others. It is in this sense that the noted classical Islamic scholar, Syed Sharif Jurjani interprets jihad as ‘inviting [others] to the True Religion’ (huwa al- dua‘o ila din al-haq).

Jihad does not only mean fighting against the enemy. In his Zad ul-Ma‘ad the noted classical scholar Allama Ibn Qayyim mentions 13 different types or forms of jihad, of which six relate to struggling against one’s baser self (nafs) and the devil; three relate to struggling against those who promote wrongful innovations and evil; and four relate to struggling against evil-doers and hypocrites. Thus, a total of nine forms of jihad, he explains, relate to struggles conducted within, or that are internal to, the Muslims. The other four forms of jihad relate to struggle on the external front, including jihad by one’s heart, by one’s tongue, by one’s wealth and by sacrificing one’s life.

Although it is a principal form of jihad, lamentably few Muslims pay attention to the jihad against one’s baser self. In particular, radical self-styled Islamists, who never tire of raising slogans calling for Islamic global domination, wholly ignore this imperative. For them, or so it appears from their actions, jihad is limited simply to qital.

In the Quran, God says:

‘And those who strive in Our [Cause]—We will certainly guide them to our Paths: for verily Allah is with those who do right’ (29: 69).

Elsewhere in the Quran, God says:

‘Therefore listen not to the unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness with the []Quran]’ (25: 52)

According to Abdullah Ibn Zubayr, a noted companion of the Prophet, the first-mentioned Quranic verse, which deals with God’s reward for those who engage in jihad, refers to acting in the best way on the basis of knowledge. The second-mentioned Quranic verse clearly instructs the Prophet to engage in jihad with the deniers of the truth using the Quran as a weapon. This, obviously, is a peaceful form of jihad, a non-violent effort to convey the message of Islam to others.

The Prophet Muhammad is quoted as having said: ‘The mujahid [one who engages in jihad] is he who, in obedience to God, wages jihad against his baser self, and the true emigrant (muhajir) is he who abandons mistakes and sins’ (al-mujahidu man jahada nafsahu fi ta‘at Allah wa al-muhajiru man hajara al-khataya wa al-zunub).

Similarly, according to another hadith report, the Prophet is said to have referred to the jihad against one’s own baser self as the ‘greater jihad’ (jihad al-akbar).
Elaborating on this, Allama Ibn Qayyim writes:

‘Engaging in jihad externally with the enemies of God is a minor branch (furu’) of jihad against the baser self (jihad bin nafs) […], This is why jihad against the baser self is superior to jihad conducted against the external enemy.’

Islam does not consider armed jihad, in the sense of qital, to be a permanent or continuous phenomenon. It can be engaged in only in certain contexts and must be conducted according to certain rules and under certain conditions. On the other hand, other, that is non-violent, forms of jihad, are forms of struggle that one must constantly engage in. The former type of jihad is considered a collective duty (farz ul-kifaya). If engaged in when needed by some people, the entire community is absolved of responsibility for engaging in it. On the other hand, most of the latter forms of jihad are a duty binding on all believers (farz al-‘ayn).

A crucial issue, and one that radical self-styled Islamist groups generally ignore, are the stringent conditions under which jihad, in the sense of qital, can be engaged in if the need so arises, and the rules of conducting such jihad. If the requisite conditions are not met and the appropriate rules are not followed, even if the aims of an armed struggle are met it cannot be considered to be a jihad or an Islamic action. Such an action cannot receive the blessings and assistance of God, even if it might seem to be a successful venture in the eyes of those who engage in it.

I do not here intend to discuss the various terms and conditions governing jihad, which are dealt with in considerable detail in the books of fiqh. My focus here is on those conditions ignoring which most recent and contemporary Islamic movements that claim to be engaged in jihad have met with utter failure.

One of these basic conditions is proper preparation, which the Quran refers to using the term idad. Obviously, no jihad can be successful without proper preparation, in terms of planning, manpower, weapons and so on. The Prophet and his companions did not believe that they could, or should, fight without proper planning, manpower, and weapons. In Mecca, when Muslims were cruelly persecuted but lacked the appropriate means to take on the oppressive Quraish pagans, God instructed them to ‘hold back their hands [from fighting]’ and to ‘establish regular prayers’ (4:77). When the companions of the Prophet, tired of the persecution that they had to endure, approached the Prophet and sought permission to engage in armed jihad, he declined, and answered, ‘We are less in numbers’. On several occasions the companions of the Prophet chose to withdraw when they were heavily outnumbered by the enemy. Instead of condemning them for this, the Prophet supported their decision, saying that they were not those who flee (furrar), but, rather those who return to attack (kurrar).

The Prophet thus did not advocate any short-cut method when the need for jihad arose, realizing the importance of numbers, weapons and proper training and planning, without which, he knew, a jihad could not be successful.

The Quran discusses in some detail the necessary prerequisites that a would-be mujahid group must fulfill, in terms of manpower, if it can be permitted to engage in armed jihad, failing which such jihad is not permissible as it would inevitably result in defeat. To begin with, the Quran mentioned that one believer could take on ten enemy soldiers (8:65), but, in the following verse this was abrogated, and one believer was said to be able to take on two enemy soldiers (8:66). In other words, for armed jihad to be considered permissible it is essential that the balance of power, in terms of manpower, between the Muslim army and the enemy army be at least 1:2. If this is not the case, then armed jihad is not permissible, as it is likely that the battle will end in the defeat of the Muslims. In such a situation, Muslims are to desist from fighting, and, instead, are expected to exercise restraint and steadfastness and refrain from hurtling themselves into destruction by fighting.

The above-mentioned two Quranic verses speak of the minimum balance of power, in terms of numbers of combatants, between the Muslim and enemy forces that might make armed jihad permissible. However, the noted Islamic scholar Imam Malik, quoted in Ibn Rushd’s Bidayat al-Mujtahid, views the question of balance of power in terms of the quality of the fighters rather than their numbers. He argues that although the Quran lays down that a single Muslim soldier can take on two enemy soldiers, if the former lacks weapons while the enemy’s forces are all well-armed, it is permissible for the former to withdraw from the battlefield even if he is faced with just one enemy soldier.

In today’s context, where numbers of soldiers count for little, and where wars are decided essentially by sophisticated weaponry and communications systems, the appropriate balance of power between Muslims and their opponents, without which armed jihad is impermissible, must be viewed in this qualitative sense that Imam Malik discusses. The Quran very clearly lays down that without a basic minimum balance of power and appropriate strength on the part of the Muslims, armed jihad is bound to result in defeat, which it warns Muslims against when it says: ‘[A]nd make not your own hands contribute to [your] destruction’ (2:195).
Certain other aspects of jihad are still not properly understood even by those who claim to be engaged in jihad, giving rise to enormous confusion. One such issue is interfN E N @ @ qMjM# PeY? #
QUL.ruction on a much more deadly scale than before, and hence its being forbidden needs no explanation. For Muslim groups to attempt to do so can only lead to massive, irreparable damage to themselves and to Muslims in general. among you who sees any evil should try to change it with his hand, but if he is incapable of that then with his tongue, and if he is incapable of even that then with his heart.’

In his famous book Alam al-Muwaqain, Allama Ibn Qayyim discusses this work of internal reform and attacking social evils. He argues that if by attacking a certain social evil an even bigger evil is produced, it is impermissible to do so. This point seems to be totally lost on contemporary so-called jihadist movements active in different Muslim countries today, who, raising slogans of jihad, ‘Islamic Revolution’, and seeking to extirpate social evils through violence have generated untold strife and misery.

Another deviation in contemporary understandings of jihad is reflected in the fact that armed struggles for national liberation or for the defence of Muslim nations have been termed by their proponents as jihads. This is a completely wrong use of the term ‘Islamic jihad’, which applies only to those struggles that are fought in the path of God (jihad fi sabilillah), not for worldly or communal gains but to gain the pleasure of God. According to a hadith report, contained in the Sahih al-Bukhari, the aim of Islamic jihad is to proclaim the word of God (ailao kalimatillah). This clearly indicates that wars fought for fame, power, land and wealth or out of feelings of revenge have nothing whatsoever to do with jihad in the true sense of the term.

A basic condition of jihad, in the sense of qital, when the need to engage in it arises, is that it should be declared and led by an established leader. There is a near unanimity among the ulema that jihad cannot be declared by an individual other than by the leader. To argue, as some radical self-styled Islamists do, that because present-day Muslim governments are corrupt ‘rebels against God’ and because their countries are not ruled in accordance with the shariah, there is no need to secure permission from them for jihad is a result and a reflection of ideological deviation and corruption. Numerous hadith reports refer to the Prophet clearly forbidding revolt (khuruj) against established rulers. After the Prophet’s demise, the majority of his companions and their successors strictly abided by this rule even in the face of oppressive rulers because they knew that armed rebellion against them would create unwanted destruction, bloodshed and strife. Obviously, given the enormous powers of modern states today, such rebellion will lead to destruction on a much more deadly scale than before, and hence its being forbidden needs no explanation. For Muslim groups to attempt to do so can only lead to massive, irreparable damage to themselves and to Muslims in general.

Yet another issue about which confusion abounds is that of ‘offensive jihad’. Some radical self-styled Islamists claim that offensive armed jihad is permissible against non-Muslim governments even if these regimes permit their Muslim citizens to freely practice and propagate their faith, in order, as they put it, ‘to extirpate infidelity or to destroy its glory’. This is completely erroneous, indeed totally preposterous. The fact of the matter is that Islam permits only one form of jihad, in the sense of qital, and that is defensive jihad. The deviant and un-Islamic concept of ‘offensive jihad’ has become a source of great concern the world over, because of which non-Muslims increasingly look upon Muslims as a dangerous threat. The sooner this concept of ‘offensive jihad’ is debunked the better.

On the Notion of ‘Islamic Supremacy’

In the Quran, God declares:
‘It is He who hath sent His Messenger with Guidance and the Religion of Truth, to cause it to prevail over all religion’ (9:33).

What exactly does this verse mean when it talks about establishing the supremacy of Islam over other religions? Numerous ulema, including leading Quranic commentators, have interpreted this verse in different ways. The vast majority of the ulema regard the Arabic word izhar that is used in the sense of ‘prevail’ in this verse (which is translated as ghalba in Urdu) to mean the establishment of the intellectual superiority of Islam over other religions because, being in accordance with reason and providing sufficient arguments for its claims, Islam is indeed superior to them.

In his al-Jami‘ al-Ahkam al-Quran, the noted classical Islamic scholar Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammad al-Qurtubi comments on the word izhar used in this verse as follows:

‘To prevail means to establish [Islam’s] superiority through proofs and evidence.’

In contrast, some scholars have taken the above-quoted Quranic verse as indicating the establishment of the superiority of, or domination by, Islam on the political plane at the global level, but they argue that this will happen only at the hands of Jesus when he returns to the world again, just before the Day of Judgment. This was the opinion of Abu Hurairah, a noted companion of the Prophet and narrator of numerous Hadith reports, and is mentioned in most of the important Quranic commentaries.

One of the leading classical scholars, Abdullah Ibn Abbas, who was a close companion of the Prophet, was of the opinion that the word izhar used in the above-quoted Quranic verse does not mean any form of domination. Rather, he translated the term to mean ‘to inform’. In other words, he opined that what is meant by this Quranic verse is that God had informed the prophet Muhammad of the truths and the details of all the religions of the world. Such an important Quranic commentator such as Imam Qurtubi mentions this explanation first while discussing this verse, which indicates that he possibly agreed with this argument or considered it to be more correct.

Another group of ulema argue that this Quranic verse is restricted in its geographical application and that it actually refers to the establishment of the supremacy of Islam over all other religions only in the Arabian peninsula, a domination that was secured by the Prophet Muhammad himself.

In contrast to these various explanations and theories, some influential modern-day Islamic political movements sought to give a political interpretation to this verse, arguing that it indicates the political supremacy or domination of Islam over other faiths and their adherents. Hence, in accordance with this political interpretation, they made the capture of political power as their main target. The key figure in this regard was the founder of the Jamaat-e Islami, Maulana Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi (d.1979).

Maududi was of the opinion that Islam demands that Muslims should engage in constant struggle in order to establish an Islamic government that would encompass the entire globe. This capture of political power, he argued, was the principle objective of the Islamic movement. Indeed, he regarded this as a fundamental duty and as the basic mission of all Muslims. In his book Islami Nizam-e Zindagi Aur Uske Buniyadi Tasavvurat (‘The Islamic System of Life and its Basic Conceptions’), he wrote:
‘Islam is a revolutionary ideology and creed that seeks to transform the entire global social order and to build it on the basis of its ideology and creed. Muslims are members of this international revolutionary party that Islam organizes in order to bring into effect its revolutionary programme.’

Further, Maulana Maududi added:

‘The objective [of Islam] is to establish government based on its ideology and creed, irrespective of who takes its flag and unfurls it and whose governance it causes damage to. It demands land—not just a small bit of land, but, in fact, the entire world [to govern].’

In accordance with his particular political understanding of Islam, which he elaborated upon in many of his works, in his widely-read Quranic commentary Tafhim al-Quran, Maududi interpreted the above-mentioned Quranic verse as follows:

‘The aim of sending the Prophet, this verse explains, is to establish the supremacy of the religion of truth, which he brought from God, over all religions, ways of life and systems. In other words, the Prophet was not sent so that the system of life that he brought with him be made subservient to or dominated by any other system of life or that it be permitted to remain confined to the extent that other systems of life permitted it to be. Rather [the Prophet] comes as the representative of the Lord of the lands and the heavens and desires that the true system of the Lord be made dominant. And, if any other system of life be [allowed to] remain in existence, it must remain confined to the extent that the divine system permits, as in the case of the system of the zimmis [protected, non-Muslim subjects] on payment of the jizyah.’

This passage clearly indicates that Maulana Maududi understood the term izhar, as used in the above-mentioned Quranic verse, to mean Islamic political hegemony so that the entire world comes under, and subservient to, what he regarded as Islamic rule. In other words, he understood this Quranic verse to mean that the whole world be brought under the rule of Islam and Muslims. This political interpretation of this verse, indeed of the entire Quran, of Maulana Maududi today enjoys particular favour with Islamist ideologues and activists. Numerous anti-imperialist revolutionary Muslim movements have made this political vision of Islam their motto.
Yet, this interpretation of the verse is open to serious questioning. Is it at all possible, feasible or realistic for the whole world to come under the political rule of Islam? Is this not in clear contradiction of the Quran, which clearly states: ‘On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear’ (2:286). It must also be asked that when the Quran, in the above-mentioned verse, speaks of the reason why God sent the Prophet, does it mean what Maulana Maududi argues it does: to establish the political rule or political supremacy of Islam over the entire globe?

Those who, based on an erroneous interpretation of the above-mentioned Quranic verse, claim that the basic aim of the advent of the Prophet was to establish Islamic political supremacy are oblivious to the fact that by arguing in this fashion they make Islam appear as an imperialist power, making the mission of the Prophet seem as no different from that of any other imperialist power. It is obvious, and needs no explanation, that, contrary to what Maulana Maududi insisted, establishing Islamic political rule over the entire world today is simply impossible. That is why the ulema generally believe that this can only happen in the distant future, towards the advent of the Day of Judgment. Further in contrast to Maududi, who regarded the struggle for establishing global Islamic political rule a fundamental duty of every Muslim, many ulema regard it as the task and responsibility of Jesus in his Second Coming, who, they believe, will come strengthened with the special protection, assistance and miraculous powers bestowed by God. Other ulema believe that the domination or superiority that the above-mentioned Quranic verse refers to is not at all political, and does not refer to the establishment of Islamic government. Rather, it simply means the establishment of the intellectual superiority of Islam over other religions, and in this task, they argue, ordinary Muslims must play a key role by conveying the truth of Islam to others.

Those who, like Maududi, believe the basic aim of Islam is to establish Islamic or Muslim political supremacy also refer to a statement attributed to the Prophet, according to which he is said to have declared: ‘Islam is dominant, not dominated’ (al-islam yalu wa la yula aleih).They argue that this statement also indicates that Islam has come to rule as a political force and that it must be politically dominant, indeed hegemonic, throughout the world.

In my view, this interpretation is completely off the mark, for several reasons. Firstly, this statement is not to be found in any of the six authoritative collections of Hadith, nor in other such important Hadith collections such as the Musnad of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and the Muwatta of Imam Malik. Rather, it is contained in Baihaqi, and its status, in terms of its chain of narrators, is recognized as weak. Secondly, there are no other Hadith reports that speak of or indicate Islamic political supremacy. Rather, like the above-mentioned Quranic verse, this report simply indicates the establishment of the intellectual, in contrast to the political, supremacy of Islam over other religions.

This firm conviction in the intellectual supremacy of Islam should not be regarded as tantamount to imperialism. It is natural, and but to be expected, that a believer in any religion or ideology regards it as superior to other religions or ideologies. That is why Muslims, like people of other religions, think that their religion is the best. This does not, however, mean that establishing the superiority of any religion or ideology, including Islam, through force or by capturing power and political dominance is permissible.

It must be recognized that this political interpretation of Islam is a recent development, invented by modern-day Islamist ideologues. This is a product of their seeking to interpret Islam on their own (tafsir bi‘l ray), in reaction, in particular, to certain modern political developments, particularly Western colonialism. This political interpretation of Islam is deeply tainted by feelings of revenge and a strong streak of emotionalism. The most pathetic and extreme case in this regard is that of the founder of the Jamaat-e Islami, Maulana Maududi, as evidenced in his one of the most controversial book Quran ki Char Buniyadi Istilahen (‘Four Basic Terms of the Quran’), wherein he provided a political twist to the notion of God’s sovereignty and where he argued that later generations of Muslims had completely forgotten the basic intention of the Quran, which, he claimed, was to establish Islamic political rule over the entire world. He went to the extent of claiming that this book of his was an attempt to revive consciousness of this supposedly long-forgotten basic intention of the Quran.

In contrast to Maududi, the ulema almost unanimously agree that the basic aim of the Islamic invitation or da‘wah is not the capture of political power, but, rather, to call all human beings, across the world, to the path of God. This is indicated in the following Quranic verse:

‘Thus have We made of you an ummah justly balanced. That you may be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves’ (2:143)

This duty of inviting others to the path of Islam was the basic duty of the Prophet, and is also the basic responsibility of his followers.

As is evident from numerous Hadith reports, God Himself has arranged for the establishment of ideological supremacy of Islam. According to one such report, in every century God sends to the world a reviver of the faith (mujaddid). Over the centuries numerous mujaddids have appeared, about whom there is a consensus among the ulema. It is vital to note that most of these mujdaddids stayed away from politics and, instead, concentrated on the revival of Islam and the reform of the community. They believed that their mission was the revival of Islam, and not the establishment of Islamic or Muslim political supremacy.

According to another Hadith report, the Prophet is said to have remarked that God has arranged for His religion to be protected from the corruptions of the extremists, from the wrong interpretations of the ignorant, and from deceit of the lovers of falsehood. This statement also indicates the divine plan of preserving the intellectual supremacy of Islam. In contrast, it is important to note, there is no Hadith report that clearly talks of divine promise to arrange for the political supremacy of Islam.

Loud slogans of ‘Islamic awakening’ and ‘Islamic Renaissance’ emanate and echo from Islamic circles today. Many leaders and activists in these circles take these slogans to represent existing reality, which, of course, is not really the case. If at all there is any truth in these slogans it is simply that, as compared to the recent past, there is a greater degree of religious awareness among Muslims today.
Organisations of ulema, Islamic preachers and scholars are today engaged all over the world in da‘wah or missionary work. Today, there is certainly much more scholarly and intellectual work being done in Islamic circles than in the recent past. This is an indication of God’s help in strengthening the intellectual supremacy of Islam.

On the other hand are those elements who regard Islamic awakening as synonymous with, or, at least inseparable from, establishing Islamic political supremacy at the global level. However, they have no basis from within the Islamic scriptural tradition to back their stance. The whole world is witness to the fact that, despite their efforts, rather than acquiring political power, Muslims are on the path of political decline or, at the very least, have proven unable to make any significant dent in their subjugation that is now over three centuries old.

This should make it obvious to present-day Islamic movements that they need to shift their focus from their obsession with the capture of political power so that they can work in a more effective manner for the cause of Islam and its adherents. If this does not happen, it is very likely that the work of Islamic da‘wah or inviting others to the path of God, which is the basic aim of Islam, would be faced with even greater hurdles than today.