Jihad – must it go on forever or can it become a thing of the past? This seems to be the first, most crucial, question to ask about Islam. Depending on your answer, you can either hope for eventual harmonious co-existence or must expect only continuing, indefinite conflict.
I have looked through the Koran for the bit that says “After such and such a time or when you get to such and such a place hang up your swords and settle down” but haven’t been able to find it. Moreover Sura 9, the last full sura, is the most warlike and uncompromising of all of them. One of the very last verses Mohammed produced was the one which says “…fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness…” Sura 9:123.
Sounds like a parting instruction doesn’t it? Yet some, looking for a peaceful version of Islam, claim that since Sura 9 was written during a particular conflict it could be referring solely to a particular set of disbelievers. Are such contextual arguments plausible?
Not, it seems, for experts such as Bernard Lewis the historian:
“The basis of the obligation of jihad is the universality of the Muslim revelation. God’s words and God’s message is for all mankind; it is the duty of those who have accepted them to strive (jihada) unceasingly to convert or at least subjugate those who have not. This obligation is without limit of time or space. It must continue until the whole world has either accepted the Islamic faith or submitted to the power of the Islamic state.”
and Ayatollah Khomeini:
“Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled and incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of [other] countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world. Those who study Islamic Holy War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world…Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless.”
On the other hand, neither can I find the bit that explicitly says “Keep going to the ends of the Earth and until every soul is converted or subjugated” so I am inclined to regard the Koran as not entirely conclusive. Nevertheless I am convinced that Jihad was intended for all time, not because of the scriptures, but because of the life and example of Mohammed. As a non-Muslim I take it as given that Allah, the Koran and Islam are all the inventions of Mohammed who is central to everything that concerns us here.
We know that Mohammed achieved power first in Medina then throughout Arabia with a campaign of robbery, assassination, torture, genocide and forced conversions. He was a warlord whose ambitions grew with his power. In 628 AD, before Mohammed had even captured Mecca, he sent letters to Heraclius the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, Negus the king of Abyssinia, Muqawqas the viceregent of Egypt and Chosroes the emperor of Persia suggesting that it would be best for them to accept his religion. This was a fantastic piece of chutzpah for an upstart ruler of just a few thousand tribesmen. It shows he was thinking big, very big, even at this early stage.
He wrote in a similar vein to Jaifer the king of Oman:
“….Allah has sent me as a Prophet to all His creatures in order that I may instil fear of Allah in the hearts of His disobedient creatures so that there may be left no excuse for those who deny Allah.….” (The Sealed Nectar:Biography of the Noble Prophet).
and to Haudha bin Ali, governor of Yamama:
“….Be informed that my religion shall prevail everywhere….” (The Sealed Nectar:Biography of the Noble Prophet).
So, all His creatures and everywhere; could the extent of Mohammed’s ambitions have been more clearly spelled out? Since Mohammed’s religion has not yet prevailed everywhere it seems clear that his intentions have not lapsed. This, as much as anything, is what convinces me that Islam must be seen as implacably, perennially supremacist.
Moreover, Mohammed’s last military expedition, despatched from his deathbed, was an incursion into Palestine, part of the Byzantine empire and of course leaving Arabia. Astonishingly, within a decade Mohammed’s successors had made good on his threats to the extent of conquering Mesopotamia, Persia, Byzantine Syria and Byzantine Egypt. Presumably the forces who achieved this believed they were following Mohammed’s intentions as did their successors who, 120 years after Mohammed’s death, ruled from Spain to the borders of India.
Now Muslim groups are fighting expansionary wars from West Africa to the Philippines to the Caucasus. The most active and influential strains of Islam: Salafism, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Shiite followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, all believe in perpetual Jihad but, following Mohammed’s example, not necessarily violent Jihad. The Muslim Brotherhood has alternated between terrorist actions when it is deemed effective and patiently building influence when it is not. In America it has links to CAIR and in Britain to a dizzying array of groups including MAB and MCB.
I would be happy to be dissuaded but it seems to me that these groups are following Mohammed’s example and intentions to the letter and that those two butchers in Woolwich, for instance, would have fitted right into Mohammed’s band of companions. It is those Muslims who do not feel the need to subjugate their neighbours who are the ones who need to do all the interpreting. To put it another way, sadly, it is the people we call moderates who are actually the extremists in the sense of being furthest from Mohammed’s intentions.
If this is a correct view, and polls have shown sympathy for Jihadist views to be held far more widely among Muslims than was assumed, then it would lead to pessimism about the policy of working with moderates to lessen the influence of the conventionally called extremists. In the last hundred years the three aggressive strands of Islam already mentioned have emerged plus their offshoots: Hamas, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram etc etc. How many new quietist strands have emerged? None as far as I know. I suggest that this is because when you study Mohammed’s life it is easier to find justification for war than for peaceful coexistence.
It is often asked why are mainstream Muslims apparently so passive in the face of the (often Saudi funded) increase of hardline influence in their mosques? Is it because “the proponents of radical Islam have a stranglehold on British Muslims” or could it be that, while wishing to live peacefully with their neighbour, they cannot deny that the hardliners are actually closer to the spirit of Mohammed?