Letters to the editor: Jihad and the Professors
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
The following consist of letters from readers and a reply from Daniel Pipes.
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes includes us in a group of university professors who "deny that jihad has any military meaning whatsoever" [Commentary, November 2002, available at http://www.danielpipes.org/498/jihad-and-the-professors]. Though we have generally respected Mr. Pipes as a scholar, he has both of us absolutely and totally wrong on this matter. For the past year and more, we have made exactly the opposite point about jihad in lectures to various audiences (including ones at the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Notre Dame). In the June/July 2002 issue of First Things, James Turner Johnson explained his understanding of the idea of "jihad of the sword" in Islamic tradition as well as Osama bin Laden's explicit use of that tradition in a 1998 fatwa. Similar pieces by John Kelsay appeared recently in America and the Christian Century.
It is certainly true that in the Qur'an the word jihad applies to the inner struggle for submission to God, but it is a great and unwarranted leap to conclude that granting this amounts to a denial of its military meaning. Indeed, the use of this word to apply to warfare traces back to the prophet Muhammad and the original Muslim community, and a well developed position on jihad of the sword is a firm element in Islamic law beginning in the late 8th century. A distorted, though undoubtedly seriously religious, version of this idea is one of the cornerstones of contemporary jihadism.
JAMES TURNER JOHNSON
To the Editor:
Although I have long admired and profited from the scholarly insights of Daniel Pipes, he does John Kelsay a grave injustice when he writes in "Jihad and the Professors" that Kelsay concurs with those who "deny that jihad has any military meaning whatsoever."
Kelsay is a careful and responsible scholar whose views do not warrant Mr. Pipes's charge. In his book Islam and War: A Study in Comparative Ethics (1993), for example, Kelsay notes the Sunni division of the world into dar al-Islam, the territory where Islamic norms have official recognition, and dar al-harb, the territory where "ignorance of God" is said to prevail. Kelsay accurately describes the Islamic view that
the territory of Islam . . . could not be a secure place until and unless Islamic hegemony was acknowledged everywhere. To secure such hegemony was the goal of the jihad, or "struggle in the path of God." According to the Sunni theorists, war or jihad by means of killing is justified when a people resists or otherwise stands in opposition to the legitimate goals of Islam.
In more recent articles, he has explicitly described both the aggressively military component of jihad and some of the more important Islamic rationales defending it.
Daniel Pipes has made a superb contribution to our understanding of the confrontation of Islam with the modern world. It would be a pity if the value of his work were diminished by inaccurate characterizations—no matter how unintentional—of the contributions of other scholars.
RICHARD L. RUBENSTEIN
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes expresses great concern about the falsification of facts by American scholars who should know better. Yet he makes two claims about me, both of them false. First, he claims I am the author of a book called The Road to Kandahar: A Genealogy of Jihad in Modern Islamist Political Thought. Though I have delivered a public lecture by that name, I have published no article or book by that title; the book I did write is called Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism (1999).
Further, Mr. Pipes attributes to me the position that there is no military component to jihad. This is not a position I hold, nor is it one for which I have ever argued. In the lecture from which Mr. Pipes quotes (but which he did not attend), I clearly stated that Muslims in the past and the present have interpreted jihad to entail a range of actions and imperatives, both military and nonmilitary. To quote from my own lecture, I argued that the legal doctrine of jihad defines it as "legitimate force in defense and expansion of Islam," and that Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb have drawn upon this doctrine to reject the argument that jihad is primarily spiritual or defensive. Qutb argued that jihad is necessary to "rid the world of jahiliyya [ignorance] and establish divine sovereignty." His targets included what he saw as the "newest dar al-harb—the West" and any Muslims who disagreed with his view of what Islam or jihad really is. In the book that I did write, I make this argument in more detail.
ROXANNE L. EUBEN
To the Editor:
Jihad is clearly endorsed in the Qur'an in cases of oppression and injustice, and it is naןve of academic apologists for Islam to focus just on its aspect of inner struggle. But Daniel Pipes's assertion that jihad is intended to force Islam on non-Muslims is disproved by the verse in the Qur'an that says, "there is no compulsion in religion." Even in cases where armed struggle is allowed, there are strict Islamic guidelines: there must be no treaty with the other nation, it must be given fair warning to desist from its behavior, and the fighting must stop when the oppression has ceased. Under no circumstances can jihad take on an offensive posture or—as Mr. Pipes thinks—act as a tool of Muslim dominion.
There are definitely historical instances in which Muslims waged war on non-Muslims without just cause. But most educated Muslims believe that God was not on the side of the Muslims who committed these excesses because they had left the bounds of Islamic law. The wars associated with Islamic victory and expansion were largely defensive ones in which Muslims fought non-Muslims who had oppressed Muslim minorities.
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes is known for his diatribes against Islam and Muslims. Reading his article on "Jihad and the Professors," I thought, "Here he goes again!"
Mr. Pipes asserts that professors and peace-loving Muslims are wrong when they say that jihad means "to resist temptations and become a better person," and that Osama bin Laden's definition of the term as "the legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims . . . at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims" is the only correct one. To support this claim, he cites Muslim struggles in Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Chechnya, and Kashmir (though he somehow leaves out Palestine). Yet, in Chechnya, Kashmir, and Palestine, it is Muslims who are the victims of territorial expansion, and the struggles in Algeria and Egypt are within the Muslim community.
Mr. Pipes is also wrong when he claims that Muhammad engaged in 78 battles, only one of them defensive. In point of fact, he fought three battles (in which the total number of casualties did not exceed 136), and all were defensive. Muhammad regarded human life as sacred and avoided violence at all costs. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West today, and this is certainly not because of jihad or coercion.
To the Editor:
The fatal flaw in Daniel Pipes's argument is that he ignores the material on jihad and war in the Qur'an itself. In fact, when the term jihad appears in the Qur'an, it always indicates the inner struggle to be a good Muslim. Never does it indicate armed or military action.
Mr. Pipes also makes the error of thinking that every war in which Muslims take part must be labeled jihad. This is not so. The Qur'an's rules of war are clear, and many of them would resonate with Augustine's "just war" teachings.
To be sure, jihad can become violent and militaristic. The Qur'an holds that the "blood of my enemy is lawful to me" when the enemy prevents a Muslim from achieving any of the five pillars of Islam. In recent history, who has tried to prevent Muslims from performing their duties? The Shah in Iran, the Soviets in Afghanistan, and Israel, which until recently forbade Palestinians to make the hajj. As a matter of policy and practice, the U.S. has never kept Muslims from practicing their faith. Therefore, those who claim jihad against America misuse a sacred term to legitimize terrorism.
Militant groups who feel that the term jihad justifies their intolerance for Western culture have used the term incorrectly for the past 25 years or so. It is this recent usage, rather than the previous 1,400 years of tradition, that Mr. Pipes incorrectly considers normative.
THOMAS S. FERGUSON
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes draws little distinction between Islamists who offer a pacific interpretation of jihad in order to misrepresent their own purposes and moderate Muslims who do the same as part of a process of adjusting Islam to the contemporary world and to America's civic religion. Yet America's success at achieving comity among diverse religious groups comes partly from fudging distinctions and finessing religious doctrines. Americans go into their places of worship and avow a variety of things, the more divisive (or inconvenient) of which they have allowed to lapse into disuse. To cite a couple of biblical examples that come to mind, "No man comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6) has implications that we no longer consider it appropriate to take seriously, as does "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22:17).
Many of our religions and sects have bloody histories and some evil doctrines. At a time when many American Muslims want to distance themselves as much as possible from militant Islam, do we really want to hold their feet to the fire with respect to historical accuracy and conceptual clarity? Some of the statements Mr. Pipes cites sound to me like characteristic American pieties: tedious, but fundamentally wholesome attempts toward civilized exegesis.
VIRGIL E. VICKERS
To the Editor:
Thank you for printing Daniel Pipes's brutally honest and deeply troubling piece. It is very difficult for people nourished from infancy on the principles of human rights, individual liberties, and the love of peace to fathom the jihadist program. Mr. Pipes is right to force us to look this brute in the eye and recognize its true nature. If anything, more attention should be paid to the role played by our own Western traditions of balance (in the press), nuance (in diplomacy), and skepticism (in academe) in keeping us from dealing with a movement that views the world in the stark terms of black and white, good versus evil.
To the Editor:
The propagandistic statements about jihad that are dominant in our universities are abetted by our own political leadership, which has declared that we are at war against "terrorism," a war, however, in which one finds no enemies but Islamists. President Bush has repeatedly referred to Islam as a peaceful religion from which Osama bin Laden and his ilk are merely deviants.
I do not know if this fantasizing is the result of ignorance, political correctness, or the growth here of a Muslim community. Should this pattern of declaring Islam a peaceful religion akin to Christianity and Judaism continue, we may find ourselves trapped in the same predicament with our Muslim community as the Western Europeans are with theirs. We are now at war against Islam, and by sweeping this truth under the rug, we invite our own demise.
To the Editor:
In support of Daniel Pipes's thesis, I offer a quotation from Conditions of Liberty (1994) by the late Ernest Gellner, who taught at the London School of Economics and wrote extensively on Muslim societies. As he observed, well before the slaughter of September 11,
Muslim law formally obliges Muslim rulers to wage the Holy War for the extension of the faith every ten years at the very least—ten years being the maximum time allowed for truce with the infidel—if conditions are propitious and victory reasonably likely. Who knows when, given the unforeseeable potentials of modern technology, that crucial final condition may not seem to be fulfilled? Some of them quietly ignore this obligation and will continue to do so. Some might not.
To the Editor:
Daniel Pipes is to be commended. I had innocently thought that the universities were dedicated to truth, but I can no longer ignore the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
RICHARD K. MASON
DANIEL PIPES writes:
John Kelsay and James Turner Johnson assert (and Richard L. Rubenstein seconds them) that their scholarly work recognizes the military nature of jihad. I am delighted to learn this. But the survey in "Jihad and the Professors" was explicitly limited to what professors say to a general audience. "To see what the public is told," I stated in my footnote on page 18, "I looked at op-ed pieces, quotations in newspaper articles, and interviews on television rather than at articles in learned journals." What I found there suggested that both of these gentlemen deny jihad's military component.
Here, for instance, is a transcript from Cleveland's NewsChannel 5, dated September 14, 2001:
Kelsay has devoted his life to studying Islam and is teaching this semester at John Carroll University. He said that people misunderstand and misinterpret Islamic terms like jihad. Kelsay said that jihad means to struggle, and for the Muslim the greatest struggle or jihad is to lead a life obeying God's law, rules which absolutely forbid attacks on innocent people like the one Tuesday [September 11]. "From the standpoint of Islamic law, this is forbidden. This is not a part of the Islamic reasoning about the laws of war," said Kelsay.
Similarly, when I looked up the Rutgers University school paper, the Daily Targum, I found the following for October 5, 2001:
Roxanne L. Euben is of course correct that she did not write a book with the title I ascribed to her. I mistakenly relied on the Daily Northwestern of January 21, 2002. ("In a lecture attended by approximately 25 Northwestern students and faculty Friday at Scott Hall, Euben spoke about her recent book titled The Road to Kandahar: A Genealogy of Jihad in Modern Islamist Political Thought.") I apologize to Professor Euben for repeating what turns out to be an error. As for her assertion that she acknowledges a military component to jihad, again I am glad to hear it—and again I point out that my analysis was restricted to newspaper and television reports. The Daily Northwestern covered her talk as follows:
Strictly speaking, then, my characterizations of public statements by Professors Kelsay, Johnson, and Euben were correct. But I happily accept their point that their scholarly writings show them not to be in the business of whitewashing jihad; it is good to know there are some honest voices in the academy. Unfortunately, though, moving them out of the column of apologists only slightly mitigates my argument; unless I am wrong in other cases as well—and so far there is no evidence of that—we are still left with the other nine-tenths of the professors I surveyed pretending that jihad is not what it is.
Erfan Ibrahim mistakenly attributes to me the view that "jihad is intended to force Islam on non-Muslims." As I made perfectly clear in "Jihad and the Professors," my definition of the term has nothing to do with religious conversion and everything to do with control of land. Jihad, I wrote there, is "the legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims (known in Arabic as dar al-Islam) at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims (dar al-harb)." Mr. Ibrahim's second assertion, that "under no circumstances can jihad take on an offensive posture or . . . act as a tool of Muslim dominion," is an example of the apologetics that my article exposes. It ignores centuries of rulings about jihad, not to mention the military campaigns that established Muslim dominion from Marrakesh to Bangladesh.
Shafi Refai gets off to a bad start when he asserts I am "known for diatribes against Islam and Muslims"; would he like it if I reciprocated by alluding to his being "known" to harbor a militant Islamic agenda? Instead, let us stick to what each of us actually says and writes.
Mr. Refai makes two points. His statement about the origins of what he delicately calls "Muslim struggles" in Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Chechnya, and Kashmir is tangential to my thesis, which was that jihad has served as the primary motivation to violence in all these places. As for his statement that Muhammad engaged in three rather than (as I said) 78 battles, that is a difference of semantics; the source for my statistic obviously defines "battle" rather more broadly than does Mr. Refai.
Thomas S. Ferguson betrays a naive belief that the Qur'an alone counts in Islamic law and life. This is roughly analogous to asserting that the Constitution is the only law in the United States. Both the Qur'an and the Constitution are the foundations of complex legal systems; to ignore these systems is to ignore the actual worlds in which Muslims and Americans live. Nonspecialists tend to overemphasize the Qur'an, which is far easier to grasp than the vast and often contradictory corpus called the shari'a that grew up to explain it. But it is the latter that represents the Muslim understanding of the law, including the law of jihad.
Virgil E. Vickers berates me for not allowing moderate Muslims to reinterpret jihad "as part of a process of adjusting Islam to the contemporary world." He raises an important point, and one that I hope to return to in the future. Here, let me briefly respond that of course I eagerly wish to see jihad evolve into nothing more offensive than moral self-improvement. But such a development can take place only in the context of a frank recognition of what jihad has meant through the centuries. To deny this history, as Muslims and their academic apologists so often do, actually undercuts efforts at reinterpretation. Here is an analogy: West Germany acknowledged the horrors of its citizens' actions during World War II, and thereby rehabilitated itself, whereas eastern Germany, Austria, and Japan are still paying the price for their refusal to come to grips with that period of their history.
I thank Diane Krieger, Frederic Wile, Bernard Rudich, and Richard K. Mason for their support and encouragement.
Reader comments (26) on this item
Comment on this item
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes