Monday, February 14, 2005

Understanding Jihad by Mark Gould -

Understanding Jihad by Mark Gould - Policy Review, No. 129

A US Sociologist Tries to Understand Jihad
From Policy Review, an article titled "Understanding Jihad" by Mark Gould, a professor of sociology at Haverford College.


.... My purpose here is to characterize the nature of value commitments within Islam. I contrast them with those dominant in Christianity, focusing on ascetic Protestantism — especially the contrast between Christian theology of salvation and Islamic theology of the Last Judgment. Unlike Christians, Muslims, untainted by original sin, believe themselves, with God’s guidance, capable of acting in ways meriting salvation. In Islam, God gives men the will to act for good or evil, but he predetermines the outcome of their actions. I contend that the requirement to act in accordance with God’s decrees, possible but nonetheless difficult to fulfill, thus attaining salvation, may be short-circuited when fulfilling the religious obligation of jihad. There, either one accomplishes good works (as decreed by God) or dies a martyr; if the former, one enhances one’s chances of being sent to heaven at the Last Judgment; if the latter, one goes directly to heaven.

Thus, I argue that there is an authentic Islamic tradition that partially explains the predisposition to the use of force, in jihad, that is diffused widely among contemporary Muslims. Of course, this does not mean either that all or even most Muslims are disposed to use force, or that Muslims will use force in all situations or any particular situation. It does suggest, however, that contemporary activities cannot be explained in purely situational terms: for example, that Muslims are simply reacting to external impingement on Muslim lands. While the specific form of their reaction may be situationally constituted, the reaction itself must, in part, be explained by the logic of Islamic religious conviction. .....

In Islam, God’s messengers, and most especially his last and final messenger, Muhammad, have told believers how they must act to be saved. God has requested nothing that believers cannot do. If they follow God’s commandments (as enunciated in the Koran and the Sunna, the tradition), on the Day of Judgment God will judge them fairly, weighing the good against the bad. .... Certain customs in ritual and law were established as sacred; derivative from the Koran and from the Sunna, they constitute the shari’ah that regulates virtually all aspects of a Muslim’s life. In the words of Islamist Sayyid Qutb, “The basis of the Islamic message is that one should accept the shari’ah without any question and reject all other laws, whatever their shape or form. This is Islam. There is no other meaning of Islam.” .....

The concern with one’s eternal fate is as manifest in Islam as in Christianity, but its manifestation is different. The Early Meccan suras — as Sells writes, “those learned first by Muslims when they study the Qur’an in Arabic” — focus on the Day of Judgment, on God’s judgment of people in light of his commandments (which are codified in the later suras, in the Hadith and in the shari’ah). God is merciful, but believers are told to fear his wrath if they fail to conform to the duties he has revealed for them; thus Muslims are highly motivated to fulfill God’s commandments, knowing that at the Last Judgment, “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it also”. The structure of religious commitment is embedded in this eschatology. In Christianity, in contrast, a soteriology [salvation doctrine] of grace is enunciated; it requires deeds but centers more concretely in faith. The incarnation of God in Jesus, not in a text articulating a set of rules and regulations, embodies men’s hopes, even as it increases their uncertainty. ....

One consequence of the differential emphases, on a soteriology of grace versus an eschatology of works, is that Christianity functions in terms of principles, while Islam emphasizes rules. Christianity evokes a set of values that regulate actions, but often does not specify them in legal detail. Rules are, in turn, subject to (in some forms of Protestantism) discussion and reevaluation. In contrast, Islam functions more in terms of precepts, which are, for most Muslims, not subject to lay interpretation, while for some the interpretation stopped over a thousand years ago. For almost all Muslims, the interpretive process stops at the point of revelation. While principles can be found in the Koran and the Hadith, more often than not, in those texts norms are manifest in legalistic regulations, e.g., social justice in the giving of charity. Traditionally these precepts have not been generalized into principles.

The shari’ah is God’s legislation for Muslims everywhere. It constitutes, as Denny writes, the “Muslim commitment to justice and social order in a harmonious and disciplined community that knows no distinction between ‘church’ and ‘state,’ or religious and secular realms — these themes and others will be seen still to inspire and regulate the ways in which today’s Muslims believe, behave, interact with others, and anticipate their destinies as servants of God”. While shari’ah is much broader than “law,” it is codified in legal terms. While law always embodies both rules and principles, Rahman notes that shari’ah emphasizes rules and is articulated within an interpretive framework deeply suspicious of innovations that might be legitimated through the evocation of principles.

Muslims have the obligation to create a social world in which they can implement shari’ah, the social world in which it is possible to do good works, a social world that is all-encompassing, regulating most aspects of their lives; if jihad is necessary to construct that world, an Islamic state to impose actions in conformity with shari’ah, if not conformity with Islamic belief, jihad is viewed by many Muslims as a religious obligation. ....

Islam has been repeatedly the vehicle of an expansionist drive, and the evocation to jihad as a collective obligation of all Muslims — where jihad is understood, as the Islamists understand it, as an offensive war to impose shari’ah — has a history as long as the history of Islam. .....

In earlier work I have drawn the distinction between disorderly subcultures and subcultures of disorder.36 In the former, those who violate institutionalized norms legitimate their disorderly activities and, in consequence, regularize them. In a subculture of disorder, violations of institutionalized norms may occur, but only when they are seen to be advantageous. They are not legitimate, but rather, participants adopt a neutral attitude toward them. Like Mao’s fish swimming in a sea, a relatively small cadre of revolutionaries, a revolutionary subculture, emerges out of and comes to be sustained by a larger subculture of revolution. Likewise, contemporary Islamists act within social orders where many are neutral towards their convictions and activities. Those in the “subculture of Islamism” might not participate in “jihad,” but persons within a “subculture of Islamism” are not hostile to it.

Islamists share the conviction that they know how they must act to garner God’s favor. One obligation, the neglected obligation that they assume, is jihad, war to impose shari’ah, first on their own societies and then on other societies. This obligation stems from an authentic tradition within Islam. They have not hijacked Islam; instead, they are working out their convictions, convictions with a history that reaches into Islam’s formative years.

Their motivation stems from the eschatological premises of their religion, from their certainty that God has laid down for them a straight path and that if they follow that path they will, at the Last Judgment, be deemed worthy of everlasting life in paradise. The promise of an immediate entrĂ©e into heaven for the martyrs of jihad reinforces their motivation to comply with their understanding of God’s will. They may not know whether God has predetermined them to die or to gain victory in jihad, but they know that in the first instance their reward is immediate, while in the second instance they have enhanced their chances of being rewarded at the Day of Judgment.

In the longer term, there is hope that Muslims in the West will work towards the generalization of their religious precepts into more abstract moral principles, principles capable of problematizing certain of the precepts. Muslims living in the West, in Europe and North America, can have no realistic hope of establishing Islamic states to rule the majority of the population. Perhaps, in this circumstance, they will work to accommodate Islam to the civil religion we find, for example, in the United States. In this civil religion, moral precepts from many denominations are found, but they are generalized from the denominational precepts that may be in force for believers, precepts that are not enforced politically. The resources for such an accommodation can be found in Islam, in its concern for equality and social justice. If this accommodation occurs, perhaps it will have an effect on the larger umma. Until then, it is clear that one of the Islamists’ motivations to act stems from their understanding of their religious tradition, and it is just as clear that that tradition provides the resources to legitimate their actions.

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