Terrorism of non-state actors vs legitimate jihad

The history of humanity is fraught with the acts of violence and the instances where wars have been waged, territories conquered, and the empires created;  all in the name of God. This fact gives birth to the question whether violence is something abnormal or an intrinsic characteristic of human activity. In other words, how could revolutions, massacres, torture or cruelty be explained or even justified, as humans have been the most destructive species on this earth?

The 20th century was the bloodiest in the history of humanity as it was during this period that an ever more advanced technology of war machines swept away all the hopes of the Renaissance and of producing a more enlightened, cultured and non-violent generation of humans. It is due to this curse that today the human existence has been rendered insecure, problematic and conflict-ridden. Heinous acts of violence and terrorism in the form of suicide bombings, mass shootings and indiscriminate killings, have become a feature of modern life. The perpetrators often seem to be religious ‘fanatics’.

There is no denying the fact that, in recent years, religious extremism has become the main driver of terrorism. An international study “The Global Terrorism Index” affirmed the fact as it found that since 2001, the spectre of religious extremism has overtaken national separatism to become the main driver of terrorist attacks around the world.

Actually, religion could play two roles at the same time. One is the integrative role that provides a milieu in which the followers could have a secure, tranquil and peaceful existence in the spirit of solidarity. The other, on the contrary, is that religion could also stipulate the motivation, justification, organization and worldview for violence. Religious extremists could take their clues from the narrow and bigoted interpretation of their religions in specific cultural contexts. From this perspective, no religion is innocent with its fundamentalist iterations being abused by the political ideologies to attain their ultimate goals of achieving worldly power. Although perpetrators of violence do exist in all religions and in various forms, people around the world today have been fed images and symbols of terrorism by Muslims accompanied with accusations that Islam accommodates the concept of jihad.

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However, this is not a true or correct representation at all.

The Muslim scholars have for the countless times declared that jihad is the most misunderstood Islamic concept because it has nothing to do with terrorism for which it is often blamed by the westerners. Jihad is rather a notion that regulates its conduct of affairs relating to matters of war, peace and international relationships within the context of the rule of law. However, the concept is often taken out of its legal context and abused by a bunch of frustrated activists who aspire to gain some worldly benefits such as identity, recognition in the wider society, revolt against injustice and showing their dedication to their — misinterpreted version of — religion. Islam’s true image of a peaceful and peace-professing religion has been tarnished by these rogue elements.

Jihad is actually an altogether different religious obligation and it cannot be, in any case, called terrorism. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:

“A believer continues to guard his Faith (and thus hopes for Allah’s Mercy) so long as he does not shed blood unjustly.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

The renowned Islamic scholar and noted political philosopher, Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi, has explained the term Jihad in his book entitled “Jihad in Islam” in the following words:

“Jihad is not merely a struggle; it’s instead a struggle for the cause of Allah. Jihad should be under guidance of the Quran and Prophet’s Hadith, otherwise it is not Jihad but violence.”

Terrorism, in fact, is completely an antonym of Jihad. Any act of violence that instills fear in the minds of innocent people is an act of terror, particularly because this fear is not a fear against anything wrong, like corruption or theft. Instead, it is a fear of the powerful who wish to become more so.

Moreover, according to classical sources, there are many conditions under which a war is waged, and there is, likewise, a consensus among all religious scholars that only an Islamic state has the authority to declare war or jihad. Consequently, without a state authority, jihad is nothing less than terrorism, no matter which group, party or organization wages it.

In order to dupe the Muslims, the self-styled Islamic State (IS) has manipulated this fundamental principle as the group has been committing acts of violence in Iraq and Syria pretending that they have the authority to wage jihad against the “crusaders.” Nevertheless, this non-state actor, according to Islamic principles, cannot and should not be in a position to force its followers to take up arms and engage in war simply because of its religious or spiritual influence over the members of the group. The sanctity of life and property is so well-established in Islam that no leader without legal authority is given permission to disrupt the existing system to seize power.

In the case of radical groups like the Daesh leadership, which claims to be realizing a revolution, as long as it serves their purpose everything seems to be right to them. Once they started their dangerous game, the leadership is no longer able to stop its followers’ cruelty as there is no state authority to control their evil acts of terrorism. Combative jihad is legal, technicality, in Islamic law as it allows the political leader to declare war against aggressive non-Muslims or domestic Muslim transgressors. Here the interests of people precede the interests of the individual. Therefore, it should not be a haphazard decision of a thoughtless religious leader overwhelmed by ideological rapacity.

All things considered, Muslims and non-Muslims alike should not fall into the trap of deception that any non-state actor that commits violence in the name of religion can be considered innocent. On the contrary, no matter how they justify their mischief, they disobey their religion, as God does not require violence to establish his order on earth. Therefore, these people are merely terrorists creating disorder in society. Most importantly, those who sanction their terrorism with misinterpretations of their religions are marginal to their own religious communities and their violence seems to counterbalance their marginality. That is probably why these terrorist groups seek religious legitimization to empower them in their own societies vis-à-vis their moderate and mainstream rivals. Like in many other religious traditions, the majority of Muslims denounce the criminal violence perpetrated by extremist non-state actors by distinguishing it from legitimate jihad initiated by a legitimate authority.

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