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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

July 29, 2002

This post is jihad.

There's a lengthy post by Muslimpundit which goes to immense pains to justify the perception of jihad by the West as intrinsically violent. I suspect that Adil would love Eric Raymond's recent screed as they are extremely complementary.

Muslimpundit has little reason to like me, based on past correspondence (he didn't post my apologetic email followup, but I really have no excuse), so I fully expect to be visited by his sharp-pointed stick soon. So I may as well give him more material to roast me with :)

Let me state my opinion as to the overall flaw in his arguments - Muslimpundit has a Sunni-centric view of Islam. He ascribes great importance to collections of certain hadith which are (as I will demonstrate later) critically flawed. He is very well-read on topics of Islamic literature and commentary, but restricts himself to mostly Sunni sources and viewpoints. In fact, most of his generalizations about Islam are basically correct, but applied to only a small portion of the vast body of Islamic practice, jurispriudence and philosophy. It is true that Sunnis comprise the majority of the Islamic population, but the dominant Sunni theological frameworks are not the sole criterion on which Islam can be judged.

on to the fray.

His basic argument is that attempts by "moderate muslims" to stress the importance of jihad in contexts other than violent war are misguided and naive. While opinion can certainly differ in terms of theological analysis, he seems to go out of his way to put the cart before the horse. Promoting deviant interpretations of Islam is certainly a gravy train for linking by Instapundit, but this essay is a polemic, not a rigorous analysis. Not that there's anything wrong with polemics!

His first point is largely anecdotal. He asserts that "much commentary" has been published that proves that the "proper context as a term of Islamic literature" for the word jihad is "fighting to make God’s Word superior”. I certainly don't doubt that there are sources that do in fact make such assertions, but this is not proof. To compare, here is an equally anecdotal but opposing commentary, which proves in my opinion that there is no such thing as "proper" context. There is only context. Which one you choose depends on what polemic you have in mind.

He goes on to link the arabic word qitaal (fighting) to jihad, and claims that jihad is a conditional form of qitaal, despite the fact that they have different roots. It's worthy to note that the Qur'an quite explicitly discusses qitaal, and jihaad, and does not synonomize these two terms. I am sure that Adil's library of Islamic Analysts have many volumes on the "functional equivalence" but as far as I am concerned as a Muslim, if the Qur'an meant qitaal when it says jihad, it would say qitaal, not jihaad.

It is critical to note that the great wars of conquest in Islam were initiated by the three Sunni Caliphs after the Prophet's death. The fourth Caliph Ali AS, who was explicitly identified by the Prophet SAW as his heir, sought to restrain these. Therefore, much of the analysis and commentary that argues in favor of jihad as synonomous in context to qital, is self-serving polemic to justify the actions of those who controlled Islam after the Prophet's death without his permission. As they say, the victors write history, and Ali AS was not a victor in the political realm (His son, Husain AS, the grandson of the Prophet SAW, was murdered later by the Ummaiyad dynasty Caliph, effectively cementing their control over Islam's direction).

Adil's next point pertains to hadith (supposed quotations of the Prophet, whose accuracy is evaluated based on the veracity of the people in the chain of transmission, or isnad) . He quotes one hadith that supports the idea of violent jihad as "lesser" and inferior to the non-violent kind. He then quotes a numberof Sunni sources who (unsurprisingly) cast doubt on the isnad of this hadith. Fair enough! In my opinion, most hadith - whether they are true or not - have faulty isnad. I don't really care whether that hadith is accurate or not - because the Qur'an trumps hadith by definition.

Adil conveniently ignores mention of these Qur'anic verses :

"O you who believe, . . . do not kill (or destroy) yourself." (Qur'an 4:29)

"And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden except for the requirement of justice." (6:152)

"Whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter, or for spreading mischief in the land, it is as if he had slayed the whole people" (Qur'an 5:32)

In fact the Qur'anic discussion of jihad is a very rich discussion, with a great deal of historical and symbolic context. These translations only hint at this, and do no justice to the depth of meaning about jihad (and qital) that exists. To say that the Qur'an prortrays Jihad as a violent means is at best a sloppy mischaracterization, at worst a gross deliberate distortion.

>ASIDE: I hope that H.D. Miller is reading this and can lend his commentary.

Ironically, Adil goes on to invoke other hadith which support the view of jihad as violence. He has an uncritical devotion to the books of hadith by Sunni compilers Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. To say that these two books contain innaccurate hadith is an understatement.

ASIDE2: Let me preface this part with a few disclaimers. I have respect for Sunni muslims as my brothers in Islam. These are matters of theological debate, not religious quality or piety. I have not insulted the Caliphs here, nor have I impugned the Sunni faith. This tradition of cross-analysis only serves to strengthen Islam, not weaken it, as long as it is done in the common spirit of religious self-examination. If what I have written offends you, please write to me.

The objective of Bukhari and Muslim was to collect hadith, not to consider their authenticity. The ulema of the Hanafi school (one-fourth of all Sunnis) have critiqued these books as containing many weak and unconfirmed hadith.

for example, there are hadith in these collections that refer to Allah as a visible, material being:

Abu Huraira also narrates that a group of people asked the holy Prophet, "Shall we see our Creator on the Day of Judgement?" He replied, "Of course. At mid-day when the sky is free of clouds, does the Sun hurt you, if you look at it?"

and here's a reference to Allah's "bare leg" :

Allah will say in reply, 'Have you any sign between you and Allah so that you may see Him and identify Him?' They will say, 'Yes.' Then Allah will show them His bare leg. Thereupon the believers will raise their heads upwards and will see Him in the same condition as they saw Him for the first time.

this directly contradicts the Qur'an itself (again, translations, aaargh) :

"Vision comprehends Him not, and He comprehends (all) vision_." (6:103)

" He (Moses) said: 'My Lord! Show me (Thyself), so that I may look upon Thee.' He said: 'You cannot (bear to) see me...'" (7:143)

Let me note that I hate to precision-quote the Qur'an like this. I don't claim that my arguments are absolutely axiomatic. But I do think that they can at least recoignize that there is room for dissent, and disagreement.

but the strangeness of the hadith quoted in Bukhari does not stop there. There are stories about the Prophet Moses, running naked after a stone, that had stolen his clothes, and thus all his followers saw his "defective genitals". Moses then had to beat the stone so severely that it shrieked. Please allow me to state, for the record, WTF?!

The point I am making is that Adil's uncritical recognition of hadith as automatically beyond dispute if they are sourced from Bukhari or Muslim (ironically referred to by Sunnis as "Sahih" which means truthful) is out of character. But there is a persistent blind spot when it comes to these books. I have to admit to some distaste for the way that "Sahih" Muslim and Bukhari are accorded respect in some circles even above that afforded to the Qur'an itself.

It is also important to note that much of the deranged and depraved interpretations of Islam stemming from our Saudi and Wahabi "allies" draws much of its strength from Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, as well as a super-strict reading of the Qur'an (which ignores the contextual deeper meanings therein).

Adil does make a minor reference to the Qur'an in his essay, but doesn't actually quote any of it. He just states that the Qur'an subscribes to a "warfare-approach" to jihad. In fact, all such references to warfare are in the context of defending against oppression, and again he does not bother to draw any disctinction between use of jihad and qital in the text of the Qur'an (after all, he already demonstrated that these were synonyms by considering hadith and literature, so why bother? :P) He denies the defensive warfare interpretation, but just exhorts the reader to "look it up" in the "index". Presumably he means, find an English translation ? The implicit assumption of accuracy is quite erroneous.

anyway, my purpose is just to demonstrate that the qiuestion of Jihad is not closed. Muslimpundit has a nice summary of one viewpoint, but the inevitable barrage of links to his post are mistaken if they think it's complete or definitive. (But hey, he's Muslim, and he agrees with us, so it must be true, right?).

The Ithna Ashari Shi'a community has published a detailed account of a great debate between an Ithna Ashari jurist and a Sunni, that took place in Pakistan about a hundred years ago. The account has been published online as Peshawar Nights. Note that the description of Shia Islam is slanted towards the specific Itghna Ashari version - Ismaili Shi'a would disagree with the claims about the immortal Imam Mahdi returning as a saviour. But it is worth reading for its analysis on the misconcepotions about Shi'a Islam by the Sunni community, and gives a flavor of the doctrinal and theological diversity within Islam.

The definitive book about Shia philosophy and belief however is straight from the source - the great Peak of Eloquence (Nahj ul Balagha) , the collection of speeches by Ali AS himself. It can be found online here but I personally recommend reading it in book form, the paperback is very cheap on (that's not an affiliate link, btw, I wont get any profit if you buy it).

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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