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Myopic media's Indonesia 'jihad'

  • 20 July 2009
It would be easy to label last week's bombings in Jakarta as the work of jihad. Certainly, the media is reporting it under this headline. But even supposing that Islamic militants detonated those bombs in Jakarta, does this prove that jihad must be violent?

Much writing about Islam today supports the view that Islam and the Qur'an allow and even urge violence. For example, in the Sydney Catholic magazine, Annals Australasia, the writer states:

'Islamic literature is full of bellicose terms ... especially when describing Jihads. It has persisted down to today - with consequences like September 11, 2001, and continuing radical Islamist terror against the much-mocked 'People of the Book', on the grounds of their alleged faithlessness and polytheism. There is an all-out war declared on 'unbelievers', and this term includes Christians and Jews.'

However, when we examine verses such as those mentioned by this author in the light of their proper historical context, we find that this 'all-out war declared on 'unbelievers'' is not directed to Jews and Christians at all.

This call to jihad was revealed in relation to a specific group of people, the idolaters of Mecca, and within a specific context, a context of persecution and the driving of Muslims from their homes in Mecca because of their religion.

Although some verses from the Qur'an do speak of 'fighting in the way of God', they also urge believers not to transgress the 'limits'. Islamic sources give many examples of the nature of these 'limits'.

In his well-known commentary on the Qur'an, Muhammad Asad says that the fundamental condition, which alone justifies physical warfare, is a defence of the faith and of freedom. In other words, when 'those who are bent on denying the truth' try to deprive the Muslims of their social and political liberty, thereby making it impossible for them to live in accordance with the principles of their faith, a just war (jihad) becomes permissible and even a duty.

However, the first jihad in Islam was not martial and had nothing to do with violence. The Muslims were encouraged 'to strive' (or to do jihad) against unbelievers by preaching the message of the Qur'an, but under no circumstances were they permitted to compel people to accept the message of Islam.

Many early commentaries refer to the fact that jihad is to be understood as a means to protect and preserve 'monasteries and churches and synagogues