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The 9/11 Commission and Jihad By: Andrew G. Bostom
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, July 29, 2004

While I see some limited evidence of progress in the 9/11 Commissioner's understanding of the global jihad we are facing, ultimately their report resorted to the same tired and ahistorical canards that distort the mainstream tradition – indeed which are central to Islam – of jihad war. The report mentions the ad nauseatingly referenced Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya (d.1328), who despite his Muslim orthodoxy, now serves as a convenient prop for those who contend, either deceitfully or in blissful ignorance, that jihad war is not a main tenet of traditional Islam. Once again a distorted historical nexus is made between Ibn Taymiyya, but not countless other seminal jurists and theologians who expressed identical opinions, throughout the history of Islamic civilization, and 20th century ideologues like Sayyid Qutb, and the Muslim Brotherhood movement. This flimsy construct, reiterated in the 9/11 Commission Report, is completely untenable.

Jihad wars have been waged continuously for well over a millennium, through the present, because jihad, which means “to strive in the path of Allah,” embodies an ideology and a jurisdiction. Both were formally conceived by Muslim jurisconsults and theologians from the 8th to 9th centuries onward, based on their interpretation of Qur’anic verses (for e.g., 9:5,6; 9:29; 4:76-79; 2: 214-15; 8:39-42), and long chapters in the Traditions (i.e., “hadith,” acts and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, especially those recorded by al-Bukhari [d. 869] and Muslim [d. 874]). The consensus on the nature of jihad from all four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (i.e., Maliki, Hanbali,  Hanafi, and Shafi’i) is clear:


Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (d. 996), Maliki jurist 1


Jihad is a precept of Divine institution. Its performance by certain individuals may dispense others from it. We Malikis [one of the four schools of Muslim jurisprudence] maintain that it is preferable not to begin hostilities with the enemy before having invited the latter to embrace the religion of Allah except where the enemy attacks first. They have the alternative of either converting to Islam or paying the poll tax (jizya), short of which war will be declared against them.


Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), Hanbali jurist 2


Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought. As for those who cannot offer resistance or cannot fight, such as women, children, monks, old people, the blind, handicapped and their likes, they shall not be killed unless they actually fight with words (e.g. by propaganda) and acts (e.g. by spying or otherwise assisting in the warfare).


From (primarily) the Hanafi school (as given in the Hidayah) 3


It is not lawful to make war upon any people who have never before been called to the faith, without previously requiring them to embrace it, because the Prophet so instructed his commanders, directing them to call the infidels to the faith, and also because the people will hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the troubles of war… If the infidels, upon receiving the call, neither consent to it nor agree to pay capitation tax, it is then incumbent on the Muslims to call upon God for assistance, and to make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels, and it is necessary to implore His aid upon every occasion; the Prophet, moreover, commands us so to do.


al-Mawardi (d. 1058 ), Shafi’i jurist 4


The mushrikun [infidels] of Dar al-Harb (the arena of battle) are of two types: First, those whom the call of Islam has reached, but they have refused it and have taken up arms. The amir of the army has the option of fighting them…in accordance with what he judges to be in the best interest of the Muslims and most harmful to the mushrikun… Second, those whom the invitation to Islam has not reached, although such persons are few nowadays since Allah has made manifest the call of his Messenger…[I]t is forbidden to…begin an attack before explaining the invitation to Islam to them, informing them of the miracles of the Prophet and making plain the proofs so as to encourage acceptance on their part; if they still refuse to accept after this, war is waged against them and they are treated as those whom the call has reached….


In Khaldun (d. 1406), jurist (Maliki), renowned philosopher, historian, and sociologist, summarized these consensus opinions from five centuries of prior Muslim jurisprudence with regard to the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad:


In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force...The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense...Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations. 5


By the time of the classical Muslim historian al-Tabari’s death in 923,  jihad wars had expanded the Muslim empire from Portugal to the Indian subcontinent. Subsequent Muslim conquests continued in Asia, as well as on Christian eastern European lands. The Christian kingdoms of Armenia, Byzantium, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, and Albania – in addition to parts of Poland and Hungary – were also conquered and Islamized. When the Muslim armies were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683, over a millennium of jihad had transpired. These tremendous military successes spawned a triumphalist jihad literature. Muslim historians recorded in detail the number of infidels slain or enslaved, the cities and villages which were pillaged, and the lands, treasure, and movable goods seized. Christian (Coptic, Armenian, Jacobite, Greek, Slav, etc.), as well as Hebrew sources, and even the scant Hindu and Buddhist writings that survived the ravages of the Muslim conquests, independently validate this narrative and complement the Muslim perspective by providing testimonies of the suffering of the non-Muslim victims of jihad wars.


But surely the much-lionized Sufi tradition offers a healthy corrective to the so-called  “narrow strain” of Islam epitomized by Ibn Taymiyya, and the consensus opinions (cardinal examples cited above) of many other classical scholars representing all four main schools of Sunni Islamic Law.  Indeed, the scholar and theologian W.M. Watt wrote that al-Ghazali (d. 1111), the famous theologian, philosopher, and paragon of mystical Sufism, had been:


acclaimed in both the East and West as the greatest Muslim after Muhammad, and he is by no means unworthy of that dignity…He brought orthodoxy and mysticism into closer contact…the theologians became more ready to accept the mystics as respectable, while the mystics were more careful to remain within the bounds of orthodoxy. 6


The 9/11 Commissioners, and those who accept the views stated in their report, should read the lauded al-Ghazali's writings on jihad war to understand that they differ not one whit from the opinions expressed by the demonized Ibn Taymiyya. Below is what al-Ghazali actually wrote about jihad war, and the treatment of the vanquished non-Muslim [dhimmi] peoples (from the Wagjiz, written in 1101 C.E.):


one must go on jihad (i.e., warlike razzias or raids) at least once a year...one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children.  One may set fire to them and/or drown them...If a person of the Ahl  al-Kitab [People of The Book – Jews and Christians, typically] is enslaved, his marriage is [automatically] revoked. A woman and her child taken into slavery should not be separated...One may cut down their trees...One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide...they may steal as much food as they need…. 7


The Commissioners might also find particularly edifying the writings of two contemporary Muslim scholars of jihad, the late Majid Khadduri, and Bassam Tibi. Majid Khadurri wrote the following in 1955:


Thus the jihad may be regarded as Islam’s instrument for carrying out its ultimate objective by turning all people into believers, if not in the prophethood of Muhammad (as in the case of the dhimmis), at least in the belief of God. The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have declared “some of my people will continue to fight victoriously for the sake of the truth until the last one of them will combat the anti-Christ.” Until that moment is reached the jihad, in one form or another will remain as a permanent obligation upon the entire Muslim community. It follows that the existence of a dar al-harb is ultimately outlawed under the Islamic jural order; that the dar al-Islam permanently under jihad obligation until the dar al-harb is reduced to non-existence; and that any community accepting certain disabilities- must submit to Islamic rule and reside in the dar al-Islam or be bound as clients to the Muslim community. The universality of Islam, in its all embracing creed, is imposed on the believers as a continuous process of warfare, psychological and political if not strictly military. 8


And in 1996, Bassam Tibi wrote this:


At its core, Islam is a religious mission to all humanity. Muslims are religiously obliged to disseminate the Islamic faith throughout the world. “We have sent you forth to all mankind” (Q. 34:28). If non-Muslims submit to conversion or subjugation, this call (da’wa) can be pursued peacefully. If they do not, Muslims are obliged to wage war against them. In Islam, peace requires that non-Muslims submit to the call of Islam, either by converting or by accepting the status of a religious minority (dhimmi) and paying the imposed poll tax, jizya. World peace, the final stage of the da’wa, is reached only with the conversion or submission of all mankind to Islam…Muslims believe that expansion through war is not aggression but a fulfillment of the Qur’anic command to spread Islam as a way to peace. The resort to force to disseminate Islam is not war (harb), a word that is used only to describe the use of force by non-Muslims. Islamic wars are not hurub (the plural of harb) but rather futuhat, acts of “opening” the world to Islam and expressing Islamic jihad. Relations between dar al-Islam, the home of peace, and dar al-harb, the world of unbelievers, nevertheless take place in a state of war, according to the Qur’an and to the authoritative commentaries of Islamic jurists. Unbelievers who stand in the way, creating obstacles for the da’wa, are blamed for this state of war, for the da’wa can be pursued peacefully if others submit to it. In other words, those who resist Islam cause wars and are responsible for them. Only when Muslim power is weak is “temporary truce” (hudna) allowed (Islamic jurists differ on the definition of “temporary”). 9


In 1916, the great Dutch scholar of Islam, C. Snouck Hurgronje underscored how the jihad doctrine of world conquest remained a potent force among the Muslim masses 13 centuries later,


[I]t would be a gross mistake to imagine that the idea of universal conquest may be considered as obliterated…the canonists and the vulgar still live in the illusion of the days of Islam’s greatness. The legists continue to ground their appreciation of every actual political condition on the law of the holy war, which war ought never be allowed to cease entirely until all mankind is reduced to the authority of Islam- the heathen by conversion, the adherents of acknowledged Scripture by submission. Even if they admit the improbability of this at present, they are comforted an encouraged by the recollection of the lengthy period of humiliation that the Prophet himself had to suffer before Allah bestowed victory upon his arms; and they fervently join with the Friday preacher, when he announces the prayer taken from the Qur’an: “And lay not upon us, our Lord, that for which we have not strength, but blot out our sins and forgive us and have pity upon us. Thou art our Master; grant us then to conquer the unbelievers.” And the common people are willingly taught by the canonists and feed their hope of better days upon the innumerable legends of the olden time and the equally innumerable apocalyptic prophecies about the future. The political blows that fall upon Islam make less impression…than the senseless stories about the power of the Sultan of Stambul, that would instantly be revealed if he were not surrounded by treacherous servants, and the fantastic tidings of the miracles that Allah works in the Holy Cities of Arabia which are inaccessible to the unfaithful. The conception of the Khalifate still exercises a fascinating influence, regarded in the light of a central point of union against the unfaithful.” 10


Writing a quarter century after Hurgronje in 1942, Professor Arthur Jeffery stressed why detailed consideration of the institution of jihad remained essential, “not merely academic,” for understanding the contemporary Islamic world 


for the theory of the world which it enshrines is still fundamental to the thinking of great masses of Muslim people to the present day. The troubles in India which lead up to the great Patna conspiracy trials of 1864 were due to the fact that Syed Ahmad of Oudh had preached against the Sikh cities of the Panjab a Jihad which later turned to one against all non-Muslim groups. The bloody episode of the Padri rebellion in Malaysia was due to the preaching of Jihad against the pagan Battak tribes. The Fula wars in the Hausa country [Western Sudan] in the early nineteenth century, which lead to Osman Dan Fodio’s setting up the ephemeral sultanate of Sokoto, began as a jihad preached against the pagan king of Gobir. The Moplah rebellion in South India in 1921, with its massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples, and outrages on the hapless Hindu villagers, could be heard openly proclaimed as a Jihad in the streets of Madras. 11


With the resurgence of jihad military campaigns and major acts of jihad terrorism literally across the globe in the last decades of the 20th century through the present, Jeffery’s additional insights from 62 years ago, resonate prophetically:


It is of course, easy to raise the objection that a Jihad in the old sense is impossible of realization in the modern world, for Islam is far too badly divided for anything like a general Jihad to be contemplated and far too weak in technical equipment for a Jihad to be successful even if started. This does not dispose of the fact, however, that the earlier conception of Jihad has left a deposit in Muslim thinking that is still to be reckoned with in the political relations of the Western world with Islam. 12


Although time grows dangerously short, it is not too late for the 9/11 Commissioners and, more importantly, those who share their assessment to broaden their understanding of the depth of the ideological threat posed by jihad and consider more concrete, expansive actions to be taken, such as the creation of the Alliance of Western and Democratic Societies recently proposed by Dr. Raphael Israeli.





1 Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani, La Risala (Epitre sur les elements du dogme et de la loi de l'Islam selon le rite malikite.) Translated from Arabic by Leon Bercher. 5th ed. Algiers, 1960, p. 165. [English translation, in Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, Cranston, NJ, 1996, p. 295]


2 Ibn Taymiyyah, in Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam, (Princeton, NJ. : Markus Wiener, 1996, p. 49)


3 From the Hidayah, vol. Ii. P. 140, in Thomas P. Hughes,  “A Dictionary of Islam,”  “Jihad” Pp. 243-248. (London, United Kingdom.: W.H. Allem, 1895).


4 Al- Mawardi, The Laws of Islamic Governance [al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah, (London, United Kingdom.: Ta-Ha, 1996, p. 60).


5 Ibn Khaldun, “The Muqudimmah. An Introduction to History,” Translated by Franz Rosenthal. (New York, NY.: Pantheon, 1958, vol. 1, p. 473).


6 Watt, W.M. [Translator]. The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali, Oxford, England, 1953, p. 13.


7. Al-Ghazali (d. 1111). Kitab al-Wagiz fi fiqh madhab al-imam al-Safi’i, Beirut, 1979, pp. 186, 190-91. [English translation by Dr. Michael Schub]


8 Khadduri, Majid. War and Peace in the Law of Islam, 1955, Richmond, VA and London, England, pp. 63-64.


9 Tibi, Bassam. “War and Peace in Islam,” in The Ethics of War and Peace: Religious and Secular Perspectives, edited by Terry Nardin, 1996, Princeton, N.J., pp. 129-131.


10 Hurgronje, Snouck. Mohammedanism. New York, 1916, p. 59.


11 Jeffery, Arthur. “The Political Importance of Islam,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 1, 1942, p. 388.


12 Jeffery, A. “The Political Importance of Islam,” pp. 388-389.

Andrew G. Bostom is a frequent contributor to Frontpage Magazine.com, and the author of The Legacy of Jihad, and the forthcoming The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism.

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