IN THE PREVIOUS segment, in appraising Dr. Dirks’ 400-page book, Understanding Islam: A Guide for the Judaeo-Christian Reader, we summarized his 72-page presentation of the sources and content of Islamic Faith.
We enlarged upon his material regarding Gabriel as the angel of revelation and his reference to the words of Jesus in Christian Scripture (Gospel of John, chapters 14-16) in which Jesus describes, in four extended and repetitious statements, his prophetic successor. This is in agreement with Quranic assertions in which Jesus foretells his heir, guided by the “holy spirit,” who will pick up the mantle of conveying divine guidance—after Jesus, and in agreement with Jesus’ teaching.
Here we summarize the remaining contents of Dirks’ work:
- the individual’s mandated formal practice of Islam (the “Pillars of Islam”), plus
- a lengthy, detailed description addressing the meaning of “Jihad.”
Pillars of Practice
Toward the goal of successful living, the people of Muhammad have been given a set of behavioral practices, the so-called “pillars of Islam.’
(1) ENTRANCE. The point of departure for every Muslim is the unambiguous recognition that deity resides exclusively in a single Being, the Creator—and that the godly man Muhammad received Allah’s final Book of Guidance, while serving for 23 years as His divinely-guided spokesperson, in the same category as Jesus, Abraham, Moses and other historically previous figures. One’s verbal attestation (shahâda) to this intuitively sound belief–an axiom with far-ranging corollaries reaching into all aspects of life–joins one to the Community of Islam.
(2) KEEPING CONNECTED TO THE HOLY. Secondly, Prayer (Salah) in a set ritual form, to be performed at set times—meant to include personal supplication—is an obligatory act of worship for the Muslim, designed to spiritually invigorate the believer’s heart and renew his consciousness of his Creator. Form and function in worship—standing, bowing, prostrating, sitting— are tied together. The Prayer is preceded with ritual purification using water (unless unavailable).
(3) DETOXIFYING BODY AND SOUL. Fasting (ṣawm) during the lunar month of Ramadan is intended to be a refresher course in self-restraint, beginning with the physical discomfort of delaying the usual daylight intake of food and drink to nighttime—leaving the daytime hours free for contemplation and meditation.
It is highly recommended to participate, preferably in congregation with the Community, in the series of supplemental night time Prayers and to benefit from reading the entire Quran during this month.
Special rewards and blessings are for those who seek them, notably the forgiveness of past wrongdoing. The Prophet œ set the example of being especially generous in giving to anyone in need during Ramadan—the month when Gabriel used to meet with him nightly to tutor him regarding the Quranic verses that he had received.
(4) SHARING. The requirements of obligatory giving (Zakah) are set as a proportion of one’s economic surplus held for one year. Throughout the year voluntary charitable giving (ṣadaqa) also is a kind of “loan” given to Allah, and “credited” to one’s “account” with a multiplied increase in value.
(5) IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF PROPHET ABRAHAM. The fifth pillar is the performance of the Pilgrimage (Hajj) journey to, and its rituals within the environs of, Makkah—celebrating its Abrahamic origins and the symbolism of Abraham’s acts of trust in Allah under the most compromising of circumstances.
It is said that the Hajj rituals of Arafat date back to Adam and Ḥawwâ’ [Eve] after they were expelled from their Garden home.
Although Hajj is a once in a lifetime requirement (for those Muslims who are able), it is described more fully in Dr. Dirks’ volume than are the mandated daily Prayer and the mandated yearly Fasting, enabling the author to emphasize the primacy of Ibrâhîm/ Abraham in Islam.
Jihad – Retrieving the Whole Picture
Jihad is sometimes called the “sixth pillar of Islam” since it plays a normal part throughout the human experience of life. Here, jihad is given a lot of attention since it is so gravely distorted in the popular news media and needs to be set straight. Of the 36 instances in the Quran where one finds the noun jihad—or other forms of the same root word—not once, says Dirks, does a passage refer strictly to military action, as such.
Struggling to Do Right
The Arabic root verb jâhada means “to strive” or “to exert one’s self [in the cause of Allah],” i.e., following God’s guidance in conducting oneself towards establishing and maintaining a just and peaceful society.
This is in stark contrast to the Western notion of “holy war.” This distinction is not an instance of quibbling about finer points of semantics. Jihad is a matter of acting out one’s godly orientation towards life and about one’s obligations towards his own self-protection and that of his fellow human beings in society, starting with the Islamic community.
“Jihad-as-exhortation”—whether exhorting oneself or someone else—includes the act of a preacher/ exhorter (dâCi) firmly calling (daCwah) people to issues of behavioral lifestyle (dîn), morality or justice as mandated in the Quran and Sunnah, or calling them to personal striving in order to meet Islamic goals. Such goals include enduring patiently in hardship or striving against one’s own base desires, as well as efforts in answering misinformed critics of Islam or in standing up against oppressive rulers.
“Jihad-by-the-sword” (see below) takes a backseat to “Jihad-by-the heart” (striving to put faith first), and to “Jihad-by-the-tongue” (vocally standing up for truth and right conduct) and to “Jihad-by-the-hand” (acting to bring about justice or other needed good among people).
European ‘Holy War’
The concept of “holy war”—as developed by the Roman Catholic Church in Europe to justify the medieval, papal-sanctioned military Crusades (11th-13th centuries CE) and as relevant to the 8th-15th century Reconquista [reconquest] of Andalusia (Muslim-governed Iberian Peninsula)—differs from the concept of jihad in the Quran and aḥâdîth.
Freedom from compulsion in choosing one’s religious community is built into the Islamic concept of calling people to submit to the requirements of Allah, meaning summoning them to recognize Him as the exclusive Deity and Provider, the One in Whom alone one can rightfully and fully put his trust.
Prerequisites for War in Islam
“Jihad-as-war” is military combat that is begun, conducted, and ended under the following highly circumscribed limitations:
- As a last resort
- Restraint against provocation is the way to gain Allah’s approval—and perhaps to lead to good relations with current enemies.
- “Jihad-as-war” is properly reserved only against those who fight Muslims solely for our faith identity, attempting to uproot us and drive us away from our homes.
- Muslims are likewise mandated to fight for the weak, when they are ill-treated, oppressed, and crying out for Allah to send to them a protector.
- Once in legitimate combat, one is to continue “until there is no more tumult or oppression and [until] there prevails justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere…” [Sûrat Al-Anfâl, 8:38-39]
Prohibitions concerning War in Islam
Not permitted is the waging of war simply to conquer territory, nor to enforce religious conversion, nor to establish a nation state. Nor can war be declared except by a legitimate Muslim government; calling for war by individuals lacking proper authority is out of order and more like vigilantism, not Islam.
Both the Quran and aḥâdîth have much to say about the limits and boundaries which Muslims must observe in the conduct of war:
- Fighting back only in kind and in proportion—with patient perseverance and not with insolence and exhibitionism
- Avoiding encounters, not desiring combat and being ready to accept a peace offer—even if it appears to be a deceptive stratagem
- Prohibiting suicide, whether to relieve one’s suffering or to inflict great damage on the enemy
- Prohibiting harm to all civilian non-combatants—even when they put Muslim combatants at a disadvantage
- Prohibiting the disruption of civilian infrastructure, refraining from killing their livestock or fruit trees, and from destroying their buildings
- Prohibiting incendiary weapons
- Prohibiting participation in Jihad-as-war for those with family obligations
- Prohibiting women as combatants, but encouraging them in giving humanitarian aid and medical care
- Prohibiting the mistreatment of the enemy in captivity and requiring the feeding and clothing of them
- Prohibiting the mutilation of the enemy or the stealing of booty captured from him
- Requiring Muslims to honor treaties as long as they have not been broken by the enemy
- Accepting asylum and granting safe escort if asked for.
Finally, in closing his volume, Dr. Dirks reminds us that the ‘People of the Book’—Jews, Christians, et al—are not ‘pagans’ to be engaged in combat without due cause; they are our Abrahamic cousins, sharing revealed religious values emanating from the same single Creator and Provider.
Western-style “Just War” theory, in fact, is very similar to Islamic restrictions on waging war. And lest the reader think that the author has copied the modern Just War Doctrine and attributed it to Islam retroactively, let him obtain Understanding Islam… and examine for himself the profusion of evidence on this subject—and, in fact, on all subjects throughout the book—quoted from the Quran and aḥadîth.
The Beginning and End of It
Islamic Jihad, in all its forms, should be recognized—by Muslim and non-Muslim alike—for what it really is: an instrument for bringing about a lasting peace and for creating a just society, in which all may participate and prosper, starting with the unrestrained freedom to know and to worship the universal, one Creator of all mankind. For this is the beginning and end of Islam.