Defensive or Offensive Jihad: Classical Islamic Exegetes vs. Contemporary Islamists’ Propagation


The main objective of Islam is to implement Allah’s divinely ordained religion on Universe in its entirety. It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated; to impose its belief system on all the nations, not to be imposed upon religiously; and to extend its power to the entire planet, not to be governed by infidels.

To achieve its objectives, Islam justifies all means by the use of Jihad against the infidels. Claiming they do it for the defense of their religion, the Muslim lands, and the Muslims’ honor, Jihad is permitted and lawfully justified.

The issue at stake is the deep gap between the horrific acts of terrorism coming from the World Islamic Jihad groups, and at the same time the propagation coming from the Islamists, Muslims and Westerners. Firstly, they claim that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, hijacked by extremists; secondly, that there is only one Jihad, the spiritual, that means to worship Allah; and thirdly that the Muslims are ordered to fight their enemies only defensively.

The stunned Free World witnesses the atrocious acts of terrorism, slaughtering and beheadings, and at the same time is being told that this is only retaliation to the Western colonialism and neo-imperialism, that these groups are only a small minority, weeds; that the threats of demolishing modernity and bringing it back to the 7th century are only because World Islamic Jihad wishes to defend its lands, its lives and honor against Western aggression. However, as Muslims see it, Islam is for everyone in the human race and should be expanded as a winning religion, until all human beings proclaim that “there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.”

Jihad appears 41 times in 18 Sûwar in the Qur’ān, mostly coupled with fi-Sabīlillāh (in the way of Allah), which gives it a religious sanctioning. There are 527 verses in the Qur’an that show deep intolerance towards the infidels, and 109 verses straitfully call to fight the infidels, with all kinds of slaughtering. Contemporary world statistics is very clear and horrifying: over 90% of world terrorism and over 70% of world violence is perpetrated by Muslims. As for 2015, the statistics is stunning and dramatic: 451 of 452 suicide terror attacks in 2015 were perpetrated by Muslims. The remaining one in Turkey was perpetrated by a Russian woman. It is now investigated that she was radicalized by Wahhabi ideology.

Jihad is universally understood as war on behalf of Islam, and its merits are described plentifully in the most-respected religious works. It is sometimes called “the neglected duty” or “the forgotten obligation,” and regard as the sixth pillar of Islam. Lewis finds that “overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists and traditionalists… understood the obligation of Jihad in a military sense.” The elevation of Allah’s word cannot be achieved without Jihad (al-Baqarah, 2:251; al-Nisā’, 4:75; al-Anfâl, 8:39; al-Hadīd, 57:25).

All four Islamic Schools of Jurisprudence (Madhāhib al-Fiqh) and most of Islamic exegetes agree that the aims of Jihad are at removing the infidel’s oppression and injustice; eliminating the barriers to the spread of Allah’s truth; and establishing Islamic justice universally. There are four different ways in which the believer may fulfill his obligations: a) by his heart; b) by his tongue; c) by his hands; d) by the sword. They are aimed at establishing Allah’s rule on earth, until either the infidels embrace Islam; or submit to Islamic rule and agree to pay the tax poll, the Jizyah; or be killed in the battleground by Jihad war.

From the Islamic vantage point, all wars in Islam are religious; there is no concept of secular war” and Jihad is the only just war known. So, even according to Islamic Jurisdiction, one can wage the most aggressive war using atrocious evil deeds and still see it as a defensive war. Muslim legal theory states that Islam cannot exist together with idolatry. This is Shirk, meaning association of other gods and idols with Allah (al-Nisā’, 4:48, 166; al-Qasas, 28:17; al-Luqmān, 31:13; Yā Sīn, 36:74; al-Sāfāt, 37:158). According to a Hadīth related to Muhammad, he declared: “I am ordered to fight polytheists until they say there is no god but Allah.” Muslims are under the Qur’an Commandments’ obligation to slay the idolaters (al-Baqarah, 2:193; al-Taubah, 9:5; al-‘Imrān, 3:167-168; al-Nisā’, 4:84, 88-89). Terrorizing Islamic enemies is Allah’s commandment (Bukhāri, 1:24, 6:19).

There are four Qur’an “sword verses” relating to different types of people against whom Muslims are obliged to fight: a) Surah 9 verse 5: Fighting the Idolaters; b) Surah 9 verse 29: Fighting the People of the Book, Ahl al-Kitāb; c) Sûrah 9 verse 73: Fighting the Hypocrites and the infidels; and d) Surah 47 verse 4: Fighting the Enemies of Islam whoever they are and whenever they can be found. Most Islamic exegetes claim that Surah 9 verse 5 abrogates 114 or 124 other un-militant verses from Mecca.

The Shahīd is one who is killed and has achieved martyrdom in the battle of Jihad, and he is granted seven glorious gifts. Islamic exegetes take the Qur’an statements that the Shuhadā’ are alive living beside Allah and enjoying all his grace (al-Baqarah, 2:154; al-‘Imrān, 3:169).

Muslims view peace as a tactical means for achieving their strategic objective, by defeating the enemy. Peace constitutes a temporary break in the ongoing war against the enemy, until Islam controls the whole world. They might come to terms with the enemy, provided that they should resume the Jihad after the expiration of the treaty. By their very nature, treaties must be of temporary duration, for the normal relations between Muslim and the infidels are not peaceful, but warlike.

In spite of the extensive agreement among Islamic classical exegetes based on the Sharī’ah, Islamists in the West emphasize the milder verses from the Qur’an, actually showing the abrogated `Meccan Islam’ in order to camouflage the living `Medina Islam’. They state that Islam is defensive and the fighting injunctions in the Qur’an are only in self-defense. They carefully hid the unconscionable and intolerable verses that litter from all the Medinan Sûwar by saying that ‘those verses were taken out of context’ and that they were not applicable to the infidels. Ali Cheragh brings verses from the Qur’an which he claims are limited or conditional, and “only two verses in the Qur’an containing an absolute or non-conditional injunction for making war against the un-believers.” however, for Cheragh it is very simple: wherever you find verses contradictory to his opinion about the interpretation of the Qur’an, it is ruled out as non-operative. Therefore, if Muslims summon their enemies to embrace Islam and they refuse to accept it, then all the Islamic wars are defensive by definition. All those who disagree with him are “wrong in history, chronology, as well as in understanding the general scope of the Qur’an and the tenor of the Sûwar.”

Mahmoud Shaltut comments are also indicative: “People would do well to learn the Qur’an rules with regard to fighting, its causes and its ends, and recognize the wisdom of the Qur’an. The role of the Qur’an is to summon humanity to submit to Allah, as the natural process. As about war verses, they all deal with the defense of the Islamic community, and are fully legitimate.

Jamal Badawi, a member of the Fiqh Council of North America, claims that Jihad is a struggle against inner desires and a fight against social injustices. Combative jihad is not only restricted in terms of what may or may not justify it, and also strictly regulated. War should not be resorted against peaceful and just but to stop aggression or oppression. There must be a declaration of war by a legitimate authority after due consultation; noncombatants should not be hurt; and Prisoners of war and the injured must be treated humanely.

The main of the Muslim propagators is to clearly lie and mislead the ignorant infidels of the meaning of Jihad, claiming it means the spiritual struggle of the believer to Allah. This is untrue. j-h-d, on the first Arabic conjugation, means indeed to make efforts, to strive. However, Jihad and Mujāhadah are the noun of the third conjugation, Jā-h-d, which means to fight, to make war against. Muslim propagators know Arabic and they just evade the truth. They also ignore the physical military aspect of Qitāl, as fighting and slaughtering to make Islam prevail over all other religions and governmental systems.

Indeed, these statements are pure fraud propagation. Of all the Islamic duties (A’māl), Jihad is considered the noblest, next to belief (Imān) and prayer (Salāh). The one who died without waging Jihad against the infidels, nor intended to fight Jihad in the way of Allah in his heart, he died like a hypocrite (Munāfiq). From its beginning, the Islamic movement had struggled aggressively to subdue religiously, to conquer politically, and to expand territorially other peoples and to bring the Islamic mission to all mankind. This was an offensive Jihad proper, and nobody recognized any other kind of Jihad.

Stage one: defensive Jihad ordered

At Mecca, Muhammad kept moderation with regard to war, preaching to Arabs on the spiritual level. Being small in number the followers of Muhammad would have been wiped out if they had tried to retaliate. The Arabs of Mecca resisted Muhammad’s preaching, and treated him as if he was crazy or storyteller (Saba’, 34:45-46; al-Tûr, 52:33; al-Mudaththir, 74:24-25; al-Mutfiffīn, 83:13). They claimed that these were old stories which were written by others and read to him (al-Furqān, 25:4-5; al-Tûr, 52:30; al-Haqqāh, 69:41).

Muhammad tried hard to convince them that all his words were true and this can be testified and substantiated by the evidence of the People of the Book (al-Baqarah, 2:146; al-Mā’idah, 5:44, 48; Yûnus, 10:94; al-Shu`arā’, 26:196-197; al-Qasas, 28: 52-3; al-Ahqāf, 46:10; al-Takvīr, 81:19-23). He told the Arabs what happened to those who did not listen to the prophets: the deluge generation and Noah, the Sodom people and Lot, and Pharaoh destiny (al-Shu’arā’, 26:10-12; al-Qamar, 54:17-19, 32-34). Yet, the people of Mecca asked him to show them the Book from which he told these stories (Bani Isrāīl, 17:93). He responded that it is the same as the Book of Moses, kept beneath the Tablets of Testimony (al-An‘ām, 6:7; al-R`ad, 13:43; al-Nahl, 16:101-103; Bani Isrāīl, 17: 88-90; al-Mu’minûn, 23:96; Hā Mīn al-Sajdah, 41:42; al-Zukhruf, 43:1-4; al-Ahqf, 46:12; al-Waqi`ah, 56:78-79.

The tiny Muslim community in Mecca was an object of oppression by the Quraysh, continuously subjected to torture, repression and persecution. They were ridiculed and assaulted, they were mocked and beaten. Others were boycotted and even denied access to the Ka`bah to fulfill their religious obligations. Muhammad’s message to the believers was clear: to be patient and bear with those who deny the truth; wait patiently in the knowledge that they are constantly under Allah’s eyes, care and protection.

When Muhammad found it critically dangerous to his community to continue staying in Mecca, and his life was threatened, he fled with his followers to Yathrib (later called Medina), where he hoped to find a much more open and tolerant approach to his religion, since there were Jewish tribes there. The Hijrah marked a turning point in the career of Muhammad and a revolution in Islam.

Stage Two: Defensive Jihad requested

the idea of Jihad as the legitimate just war against the infidels was raised, between March 623 and August 623: Permission is granted to those who fight because they were oppressed (al-Hajj, 22:39). The expedition to Nakhlah, on December 623 has become the general Jihad declaration against the infidels (al-Baqarah, 2:216-217). In late January 624, in a Friday sermon, Muhammad made the Islamic congregation pray facing Mecca, as the new direction (Qiblah). War became a religious obligation, permissible in self-defense.

The first battle was in Badr, in March 624, signified the new era of fi-sabīlillāh. Everything can be done for the sake of Allah: “They ask you of war in the holy month. Tell them to fight in that month is a sin. But a greater sin in the eye of Allah is to hinder people from the way of Allah…” (al-Baqarah, 2:217). Muhammad ordered to instill terror into the hearts of the infidels. The victory of Badr was labeled by Muslim exegetes as the day of deliverance (Furqān). Jihad became the most important slogan, and the Jews were the first victim: the deportation of Banu Qaynuqa’ tribe.

From that event on, Muhammad put strong emphasis on ideological commitment to fighting Jihad wars in the way of Allah by repeated promises of rewards in glorious paradise and living with Allah. Now there was a definite list of the enemies of Islam: first, the idolaters, the Kuffār; second, the hypocrites (Munāfiqûn); and in the third place, the Jews, by refusing to accept Muhammad as the seal of all prophets. As a symbol, Muhammad deported the Jews of Banu al-Nadir tribe.

Stage Three: Offensive Jihad Commanded

The most important outcome from the Trench War, in year 627, was that from a defensive situation Muhammad had moved to an offensive Jihad. From that time on until the year 743, the offensive holy war, Jihād fi-sabīlillāh, was the customary, characterizing phenomenon of Islam. Jihad as a holy war against the infidels, became the only accepted instrument of the Muslim’s policy, the only means for the spread of Islam as a grand strategy. The spirit of Jihad was to reorder matters according to their religious values. This was marked by Muhammad’s declaration: from now on, we will attack them and they will not attack us (Bukhāri, 3:33).

The orders were clear-cut: Strike terror in the hearts of the infidels; attack them and never turn back; keep on fighting until the persecution vanishes and Islam is established worldwide; Kill anyone who opposes Muhammad; continue killing and do not take prisoners until the land is subdued; and enjoy the war booty, mainly women. Those who retreat from the battleground, Allsh will punish them and send you to Hell-fire. Those who are killed in the way of Allah are in fact not dead, but alive, enjoying Paradise and the virgins there. Those who win in the battleground enjoy great rewards of booty and take women captives as concubines.

The war against the Jews of Khaybar, the richest fertile oasis in Hijāz, marked the first aggressive-offensive Jihad war. The climax of Muhammad’s achievements was the conquest of Mecca on January 11, 630, almost without resistance from the Meccan army. The Khudaybiyah affair and the conquest of Mecca were a crucial turning point in the history of Islam, according to all Islamic exegetes, and they identify it with the term Fath, opening, and hence conquest. Mecca came under Islamic rule, and Muhammad established his control over most of the area of Arabia as a head of a religious community and a military leader. The army became the melting pot of the new community, and the Jihad war was the chief means to the Islamic ends.

It is no longer just defensive fighting, but aggressive Jihad against the infidels, which serves as the arbitrator line between Dār al-Islām and Dār al-Harb. Indeed, what we find in the Qur’an is a gradual, developmental and staged strategy, according to Muhammad’s situation and achievements: in the first period he ordered withdrawal, forgiveness and summoning; in the second period, he ordered to fight Jihad in self-defense; and in the third period, he ordered to fight Jihad war aggressively for territorial and religious expansionism.

Stage Four: Total Offensive Jihad under the Khulafā’

After Muhammad’s death, on June 8, 632, at the age of 62, his four successors, al-Khulafā’ al-Rāshīdûn, started with a long period of Islamic Jihād wars that extended much of Western Asia, North Africa and parts of Europe. The official purpose of the polity of Islam was to expand the ideology of Jihad as the main instruments of foreign policy. The Arab empire under the Khulafā’ carried on the doctrine of Jihad, the struggle to establish Allah’s rule on earth, through continuous military wars against the infidels. Almost to the end of the Umayyad caliphate, the policy of Jihad was applied all the way, as the main underpinnings of the Islamic state.

The emphasis put on Jihad from its earliest times is one of the best attested facts of Muslim history. He who wishes to comprehend the Arab spirit of violence, that the sword has never stopped being employed in Arab-Muslim politics, the rebellious character of the Arabs, will find the fact that three out of the first four Khulafā’ al-Rāshīdûn were murdered; that between 632, after Muhammad’s death, and 690, there were three large revolts, as national domestic wars, and one huge schism: the division of the Shi’ite from the Sunnah. We can examine this from another angle: the expansion of the Arab empire had stopped in 743, after Jihad, as the spirit of the Arab conquerors’ foreign policy, had disappeared.

Khalid Blankinship puts it very clearly: in view of its ideology, the simplicity of its functions, and the actual course of its history, the Islamic state through Umayyad times is the Jihad state par excellence. From 632 to 740, the Muslim state was engaged in hostilities against all those who were defined as infidels.

The conclusion for our contemporary situation is clear. Jihad is the Islamic war against all the infidels wherever and whenever they are, and it is offensive with the means of controlling the entire world: humanity must come under Islamic rule and the Shari`ah must be the only constitution and law for all humanity. Those who reject this clear will of Allah must put to death in Jihad. The Judeo-Christian Golden Rule and moral values do not exist in Islam, as it is atomistic approach: anything that Allah commands is perfect and moral and must be followed without questioning. This also applies to Jihad. Never in Islamic history has Jihad been defensive, but always a religious command to fight the other, to conquer territories and to subdue humanity.

Islam is a violent, expansionary ideology that seeks the subjugation of other faiths and cultures. It is political even more then it is a religion, and it seeks to impose its Sharī’ah over the entire world and humanity. The only peace that Islam seeks is a world united by the Islamic faith in which all other faiths and political regimes have been suppressed or eliminated.

David Bukay
David Bukay
David Bukay, School of Political Sciences, the University of Haifa


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