An analysis of the historical trajectory of jihad have profound implications for the contemporary period
. First, it documents the multiple meanings of jihad
that are prevalent in the literature particularly outside of the legal sphere and challenges a monolithic, reductive understanding of the term. Second, it establishes the defensive and limited nature of fighting
in the Qur’an as stressed particularly by exegetes, ethicists, and moral theologians. The military jihad is most categorically not “holy war” in the Qur’an, since it is not fought for religious reasons but for defense against violent persecution by others for professing monotheism, and therefore can be fought to protect not only persecuted Muslims, but also persecuted Jews and Christians, as clearly stated in Qur’an 22:39. Third, it contextualizes the legal positions that legitimized offensive military activity as contingent responses to specific political circumstances
, which cannot therefore be deemed to be normatively binding for Muslims for all times and for all places.
Consultation of a broader repertoire of diverse sources allows one to retrieve multiple perspectives on the permissibility of military activity
and allows one to better comprehend the circumstances which allowed for the historical transformation of the Qur’anic defensive combative jihad into offensive imperial warfare at the hands of some jurists. Such a project of recovery allows us to credibly and cogently challenge the views touted in extremist literature produced by both militant Islamist groups and right-wing Islamophobes today that military activity masquerading as cosmic holy war is the primary and most authentic meaning of the complex and multivalent Arabic term jihad.
*This is an excerpt from the speech delivered at the meeting of the Oasis Foundation’s Scientific Board. The unabridged version of the text will be published in the 20th issue of the journal Oasis.