By Alhagi Manta Drammeh
While Jihadism is a new creation that has had currency in modern contemporary politics like fundamentalism and terrorism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in UK, Jihad is a Qur’anic concept that has a completely different meaning and connotation. Jihadism and associated terms such as “Islamic radicalism” and “Islamic terrorism” give an impression that Islam is essentially barbaric and in perpetual confrontation with the “Western” values of human rights and individual freedoms. As such, Jihadism is colourless, borderless and without race or religion. It is mere human criminality and banditry. On occasions when people talk about “Western civilisation” they link it to the Judo-Christian heritage with no reference to Islam.
Jihad is a Qur’anic conception that connotes purification of the soul which is the essence of Islamic education referred to tarbiyyah or tasawwuf. Thus, the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) reminded his companions upon their return from a battle that they came from a minor Jihad (jihad asgahr) which was against injustices to a major Jihad (jihad akbar) which is to struggle against the temptations of the self from self-contempt, arrogance, bigotry to jealousy.
Historically and philosophically that is fallacious. When you go to around Europe, you see vividly the imprint of Islamic civilisation from Cordova (Qurutuba in Arabic) of Spain to Sicily (Siqliyyah in Arabic) of Italy. Muslim philosophers and thinkers from Farabi to Averroes played an indelible role in commenting on and translating the Greek thought upon which the European Renaissance and Enlightenment was anchored. It is therefore to detach Islam from “Western” civilisation. It is therefore absurd to ignore Islam and Islamic civilisation regarding “Western” civilisation.
We tend to forget history that Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and animists have co-existed peacefully in different parts of the world. Historically, the first important migration Muslims made well before Madinah was to Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia and probably parts of the Horn Africa). The Prophet of Islam directed them to Abyssinia because there was a just Christian Ruler under Al-Najjashi (Negus in English) whom justice and equality reined. If there had been religious intolerance, the Prophet of Islam would not have sent such a big group of Muslims to that country which was predominantly Christian while Muslims were in their small numbers. This was an important juncture in international relations so far as Islam and Muslims were concerned. Students of world politics and history should make analysis of these events and their ramifications. Moreover, when the Muslims ruled Jerusalem (Bayt al-Maqdis) under Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab, he drafted an important document called: Umar’s Assurance of Safety for the People of Aelia (al-Uhadah al-Umariyyah). The above document written by Umar Ibn al-Khattab protected rights of minorities and their religious places. It was mentioned by early Muslim historians such as Al-Tabari. The above important historic document is reminiscent of not only tolerating but in fact valuing religious and racial diversity.
The Qur’an reminds us: “And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children who say, “Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?” (Al-Nisa 4:75).
The above verse amplifies reasons for fighting as rescuing the weal among the elderly, women and children against tyranny and oppression (zulm). Even in exceptional and abnormal circumstances of was, Islam has laid down ethics in terms of forgiveness, proportionality and non-aggression (La Ta’tadu).
I have clarified that Jihadism is wrongly confused with the Qur’anic notion of Jihad. While Jihadism as we see today is purely political and ideological with its contributing factors, Jihad which is embedded in Islamic divinity essentially fight defensively against injustice and the promotion of ethical-spiritual development. Confusion about terms can be clarified by the double-reading of the Qur’an and Islamic core sources. I mean by the double reading, treading of the text (faham al-Nass) and reading of reality (faham al-Waqi’).
Dr. Drammeh is the Founder and Managing Director of Timbuktu International Research Centre Scotland