Arguing the Just War in Islam By John Kelsay

11 Mar


In today’s world, Jihad is a term that has undoubtedly received immense coverage by all forms of media. It has been debated upon by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Not only that, but several western writers have delved into this topic with wholesome authority that they sometimes do not justify. Arguing the Just War in Islam by John Kelsay, distinguished Research Professor at Florida State University, is yet another attempt of a western researcher to understand and give meaning to the imminent question of Jihad that irks many an intelligent mind in today’s world that is currently under siege of a clash of ideological reasoning.

Kelsay starts off with a discourse on the single event of 9/11 that brought the issue of the just war into focus. Then the author goes back into time and discusses the conditions and traditions of Arab society in pre-Islamic times. These are followed by an outline of the life of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) and the emerging face of Islam as guidance for mankind. The Caliphate era is also discussed in detail. So is the emergence of the Shia-Sunni clans. The battle of karbala and consequently the “first fitna as a point of departure” takes the story of developments in sharia reasoning forward. Here the author must be appreciated for the thorough research he has put in. He has also stirred away from the usual bias seen in many western writers and thus his arguments weigh well.
Kelsay further elaborates on the “modern setting” of Muslim thought that see an emergence of “brilliant practitioners of Shari’a reasoning”. He explains how interpreting Islam and applying it to life gives a solid framework by which the future generations of ulemas shape their arguments.
The third chapter brings to light the political and military judgments of Muslims that evolve with the passage of time. Given the military history of Islam, the legitimacy of fighting in various conditions has been discussed in detail. “The Prophet stipulated that an invitation is required before fighting”, quote. Having said this Kelsay questions why and how this is to be done. Interestingly, he further elaborates the viewpoint of various ulema when fighting necessarily becomes an individual duty. The author quotes examples of modern day jihadis thus bringing home the point when fighting “criminals” is a duty that should not be neglected. Emphasizing upon how people who have been invited to Islam and those who have not been invited should be dealt with is a very valid point that comes across Kelsay’s book.

The next two chapters namely “Armed Resistance and Islamic Tradition” and “Military Action and Political Authority” expose contemporary arguments and their consequences. He reiterates the stance that when Muslims are decidedly in a vulnerable position, they conduct themselves in a particular way. The current situation in which European and more recently American hegemony is strongly evident, has seen the emergence of a change in Jihad’s relevance. At this point Bin Laden’s example has been cited that upholds the idea that fighting becomes is a duty. The Wahabiyya movement of the past claiming itself as the “rightly guided vanguard” engaging in armed resistance or Shah Abdul Aziz’s standing against the British in the Indian sub-continent are examples of how jihad has been practiced as and when the time has demanded. Today’s Muslims engaged in jihad have also sometimes referred to the jihad of the golden era of the Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon him). However the conditions of that time have been quite different. Thus an overview of what jihad has stood for in various times to various groups of Muslims is given to the reader.

The author then goes on to mention the Muslim’s stand on the War on Terror. The role of the super power has also been discussed in detail. A very interesting letter of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed to President Bush in May 2006 brings to light the sentiments of a majority of Muslims. It wholeheartedly criticizes the Bush administration as follows, quote ““Who will believe that your cause is just, “they ask, “when your conduct belies the values of justice?”” unquote. Thus the concluding chapter rounds off the argument of the “just war”.

Keslay must be congratulated for his unbiased view on this sensitive topic. Also the detailed research and account of the past history of the jihad movement gives the readers a chance to look at both sides of the argument. In the end, it is up to the reader to decide how just the just war is?

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Posted by on March 11, 2011 in Uncategorized


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