September 11 and the Ethics of Jihad
The Western world has long been aware of the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, and anti-American rhetoric taught by extremist Muslim groups. The concept of jihad existed as a vague notion: one of those Islamic things; something to do with the disputes in the Middle East. On September 11, 2001, the topic suddenly gained paramount importance in the mind of the common man.
"I will shed my blood for you, Oh Palestine, take back the land that is ours."
"I am not afraid of suicide, God will receive me for I will be a martyr."
"Jihad is my destiny, my life."
Chants taught in Palestinian elementary schools.1
Jihad came under additional scrutiny as word spread of the fax that Osama bin Laden allegedly sent to the al-Jazeera television station in Qatar later in September.2
Bin Laden's fax was a call to Pakistani Muslims to participate in jihad against the United States. "We incite our Muslim brothers in Pakistan to deter with all their capabilities the American crusaders from invading Pakistan and Afganistan... I assure you, dear brothers, that we are firm on the road of jihad... to destroy the new Jewish Crusade."3 The fax forced Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide to consider, even if only for an instant, the validity of the claim. Was this a legitimate application of jihad? Were all Muslims compelled to fight alongside the Taliban? Even as the war in Afghanistan draws to an apparent close, the question is still worthy of consideration, for if bin Laden is correct, then non-Muslim nations are literally powerless to defend themselves against Muslim nations without creating a monstrous backlash from all Muslims of the world who heed the holy call.
Ever since the time of the Crusades, Muslim circles have debated the controversy surrounding the jihad. When is the appropriate time to wage jihad? Who has the authority to declare one? How authoritative are boundaries and treaties? What is the ultimate purpose of jihad? The Qur'an itself dutifully provides enough vague wordings that the same text is interpretable in many different ways. Nevertheless, there is some consensus - and some dissent - in the post-colonial Muslim world.
The Essence of Jihad
The word jihad or djihad in the Arabic language can be translated in a number of different ways, a variety of definitions ranging from the traditional Western phrase "holy war," to the "efforts of Christian missionaries."4 Three of the possible practical interpretations are expounded by Rudolph Peters, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, Majid Khadduri, a native of Iraq and an emeritus member on the board of the Middle East Institute,5 and Emmanuel Sivan, professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Peters defines jihad as "any effort toward a subjectively praiseworthy aim, which need not necessarily have anything to do with religion... it does not always denote armed...