I sometimes joke that only novelists know the future. Apparently some gifted few also know it in the theater of the real as well. I just tracked down a note to myself in the margin of my copy of Greenmantle (1916). In the opening scene, Sir Walter Bullivant, of the Foreign Office, is explaining to Major Richard Hannay about Turkey and the Ottoman side of the Great War and religious power. Some will say, Hannay, that Islam is becoming a back number.
“Yet – I don’t know,” Bullivant continues. “I don’t quite believe that Islam is becoming a back number…. There is a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait the spark…. There is a Jehad preparing. The question is, How?” John Buchan’s great tale of derring-do fictionalizes an answer, as Hannay and his band of merry men face off against the Germans who are trying to use Islam to help them win the war.
Today, as everyone knows, many people are dying in the Middle East from very real jihads plotted and executed by militant organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda. Hundreds of thousands (Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and others) have fled Iraq and Syria for safety. But the role of jihad can be puzzling to non-Muslims. Here is my short take on it as non-Muslim.
“Jihad” means “struggle” in Arabic, and there seems to be three types. One is military and is known by Muslims as the “lesser jihad.” It is a call to war by a legitimate Islamic nation against an enemy nation. It can be authorized only by an Islamic state and declared only by the legitimately recognized religious authority of that state. Another type of jihad is practiced by individual Muslims. Known as the “greater jihad,” it is the daily inner struggle against whatever seeks to prevent one from becoming a better Muslim. It is practiced in submission to Allah. It seems to me that the desire is not unlike that of a Christian’s inner struggle against sin in order to become more like Jesus and live the faith as well as possible.
The greater jihad, however, is also practiced as a nonviolent collective struggle against social, political, and economic injustices for the good of a community or nation, to build a better Muslim society (again, in submission to Allah). In What’s Right with Islam, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, whose mosque was just blocks from the World Trade Center, calls it a group jihad. It has also been called social jihad. The concept seems similar in principle to nonviolent Christian social and political activism.
Sayyid Qutb, whose radical religious-political views are the subject of this series of posts, developed what we could call a fourth view of jihad. It is based on his view of Islamic history and does not seem to me to fit the criteria of any of the three forms of jihad just noted. Qutb’s idea of jihad certainly hasn’t made jihad a back number. His view is well developed in his book Milestones, and it seems to be the theological backdrop used to justify the militant jihad practiced by ISIS, which has been considered illegitimate by many Muslim scholars.
We’ll pick that up in detail the next post.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer