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February 16, 2003

ISLAM & WAR


A thoughtful look by AMIR TAHERI at the Koran and Islamic history and what it has said about war, "just wars" and Jihad

[...]UNTIL the 19th century when the world of Islam began to be influenced by Western modes of thought, the typical Muslim folk hero was a scholar, a philosopher or a poet - not a warrior.

When Muslim warriors tried to achieve recognition, they camouflaged their military aspect behind a spiritual identity. The ghazi would be presented also as a Sufi. And a rabat, which was a logistical point for war, would be transformed into a center for religious meditation.

Contrary to Western images of Islam, the conquest of territory or the imposition of political rule have never been the primary goals of Muslim wars. The principal goal has been the spread of the True Faith.

But even then, history shows that Islam's victories through proselytizing far exceed its territorial conquests. Today, Islam has no chance of winning any territory by force. (In fact, it has difficulty holding its own territory). But it is still winning more adherents each year than any other religion.

When Muslims won territory, they did not force anyone to submit to Islam by force. Assad Ibn Furat, the Khorasani general who conquered Sicily in the 9th century, put it this way: The sword can win the land, but the heart can be won only by faith, iman."

TO sum up: No war is either holy or just in Islam. War is allowed if it is waged in defense of the faith, against a tyrant (taghut) or to rescue a Muslim people from repression by infidels.

But even then the rules, and the limits (hoddod), that apply to all actions, apply to war: The intention must be pure, the method must not be excessive, the change must not be worse than the status quo.

On that basis, the wars against Milosevic in Kosovo and the Taliban in Afghanistan could be regarded as permissible, though neither holy nor just.

What about the looming war in Iraq?

The rules are clear. Each must make his judgment[more]