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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 14:00 GMT
How Islam tries to justify war
A pro-Osama bin Laden protest in Peshawar, Pakistan
Jihad is about personal challenges, not only war

The Islamic notion of war is closely linked to a declaration of jihad or holy war.

The concept is burned into the consciousness of most non-Muslims as the holy war against the infidel, blessed by God, offering either victory or a path to eternal paradise.

Islam never allows you to go and fight just to impose your religion

Retired Pakistani general Masud Barqi
But for Muslims that tells only half the story.

For them, jihad is as much about personal challenges as it is about struggle on the battlefield.


Retired Pakistani general Masud Barqi says jihad is a fight against injustice.

"The very meaning 'jihad' is to try hard for something. Jihad can be against illiteracy, against poverty," he says.

Anti-US protest in Peshawar
US policy has sparked a sense of injustice

Jihad is enshrined in the Koran, General Barqi says, as an act of self-defence, which is just in the face of aggression and oppression

"Islam never allows you to go and fight just to impose your religion. This has been a totally wrong interpretation and most of the people in the West have been led to believe this."

One of the calls to jihad in the Koran, al-Bakra chapter, verse 244 says:

"... and slay them wherever ye catch them and turn them out wherever you have been turned out. Fight them... such is the reward for those who reject faith."

In Islam, such exhortations to battle are open to interpretation because the faith has no centralised system of governance.


Syed Munawwar Hasan, secretary-general of the radical religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, says jihad is a fight against tyranny and for the establishment of peace and justice in society.

"I talk on this subject to so many people, dozens of people everyday, and I try to impress upon them that they should come out and speak out and struggle against all this tyranny," he says.

A Jamaat-e-Islami supporter in Lahore
The Koran is open to interpretation as Islam has no central governance

Mr Hasan has a clear list of tyrants.

"Americans are supporting the state terrorism of Israel in Palestine, Indian terrorism, the state terrorism of India against Kashmiris and they're supporting and patronising the Russian state terrorism against Chechnya.

"Whenever and wherever in the world, if Muslims are being killed, Americans are always supporting the tyrants."

The view of just cause, with its roots in Koranic notions of jihad, is shared by many in the Muslim world, including its liberals.

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy from Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad is one.

He is sickened by fundamentalism, but even more sickened by the American assumption of a just cause in its campaign against Iraq.

"Obviously, the cause of the United States is unjust. It is manifestly unjust because they're bombing a country which has no means to defend itself," Professor Hoodbhoy says.

On the other hand, the world is watching and seeing that the United States has absolutely no objection to Israeli bulldozers levelling entire communities, and so this breeds a sense of hatred..."

Zeal and rage

In the city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, it becomes evident just how pliable the idea of a just war really is, how it can be moulded to fit the circumstances of the moment.

Fourteen years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, you can still buy books exhorting young mujahideen fighters to acts of violence.

They are published not by the many religious schools that pepper the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but by the University of Nebraska in the United States.

The idea of the Americans was to fill the hearts of the young mujahideen fighters with zeal and rage.

So, the argument goes, the Americans are not only fighting an unjust campaign, they brought the whole thing on themselves.

See also:

12 Feb 03 | South Asia
12 Feb 03 | Politics
16 Oct 01 | Middle East
08 Feb 03 | South Asia
16 Nov 02 | profiles
05 Aug 02 | Islamic world
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