Skip to content

Appendix III

Development of the Doctrine of Jihad in the Koran

The study of any Islamic doctrine as it developed step by step in the Koran is important on many counts. Not least among these is the consideration as to how far the doctrine was moulded by pressure of immediate circumstance, and how far it stood for any perennial religious concern. As regards jihad this question can be answered with some assurance. For jihad was never contemplated in Mecca where the Koranic verses started being revealed from 609-10 AD onwards and continued upto 622. It was in the Medinese surahs alone that jihad was enjoined right from the beginning, and by the time the 9th surah was revealed towards the end of the Prophet’s career it became the chief concern of Islam overshadowing every other concern. Chronologically these surahs mark a clear change of tone and temper. What begins as a hesitant call to arms for the defence of ‘Mosques, Churches and Synagogues’ ends by being transformed into a violent call for all round destruction of non-Muslims, working murder and rapine all along the line.

The reader must remember that although the surahs revealed at Medina can be broadly arranged in a chronological series, scholars are by no means unanimous as to the chronology of individual verses. All Koranic scholars are agreed that verses revealed on very different occasions are included in a single surah without any reference to their date of revelation. With this warning, a broad analysis of the jihadic verses can be made so as to bring out the historical development of their message.

Stage 1

The first stage in the pronouncements on jihad is marked by a tone of apology and fervent insistence on the necessity for war by representing the Muslims as a sort of a beleaguered garrison whose only assurance of safety lay in taking up arms rather than in peaceful pursuit of their religion. Roughly, this stage extends from 622 AD to early 626 AD. It is interesting to note that plunder, though already recognised as a legitimate aim of jihad, is at this stage made subservient to the aim of defeating and slaughtering the infidels (K 8/69). Forcible conversion on any massive scale is not contemplated.

‘Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; and Allah is indeed able to give them victory; those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is Allah. For had it not been for Allah’s repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down’ (K 22/39-40).

These verses are extremely interesting as calling for jihad in a tone of injured innocence. Sir William Muir has placed these among the earliest jihadic verses, and, if the traditional ascription of their being the very earliest be taken into account, they reveal a most interesting psychology. Allah’s concern for ‘cloisters and churches’ turns out to be a cruel joke, when we consider that within a few years the Prophet would start demolishing the idol-temples of Hijaz with joyous abandon, and, after him, Muslim armies would fan out farther afield to destroy the ‘churches and cloisters’ in hundreds and even thousands in conquered Christian countries. The joke seems all the more atrocious in its concern for the fate of ‘mosques’ of which at the time of this revelation there were at most two in existence, and they were never subject to the least apprehension of attack. These verses, therefore, foreshadow the stock Islamic argument advanced during the last several centuries against other peoples’ places of worship, namely, that their own places of worship were somehow endangered by the former. But the point here is that these earliest verses of jihad are apologetic in tone and betray an uncertainty regarding the reaction of its hearers to Allah’s sophistical pleading for war. The only grain of truth in this tissue of untruths is that Muslims had to leave Mecca under some sort of duress as the Koreish would not listen to long-drawn-out palavers for the destruction of their own mode of worship.

‘Warfare is ordained for you though it is hateful unto you, but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and ye love a thing which is bad for you’ (K 2/216).

Here again the tone of apology is manifest. Allah all but grants that war is a ‘hateful thing’, but pleads that even a seemingly hateful thing may be ordained by him under certain circumstances.

‘They question thee (O Muhammad) with regard to warfare in the sacred month. Say, Warfare therein is a great (transgression) but to turn (men) from the way of Allah and to disbelieve in Him and in the inviolable place of Worship (i.e. the Kaba) and to expel people thence is greater with Allah, and persecution is worse than killing’ (K 2/217).

This verse is another piece of incredible sophistry. Traditionally it refers to the raid at Nakhla (late 623 AD) in which, according to Ibn Ishaq, the first blood for the cause of Islam was shed in the sacred month of Rajab. It is said that the Prophet was at first embarrassed by this spilling of innocent blood by his followers in the season of peace, but Allah showed him a way out by this very verse. Here again, the migration of Muslims from Mecca, which was at least partly voluntary, is made much of, and concern is even shown for being denied participation in the (idolatrous) worship of Ka’bah. Aggression and unprovoked spilling of innocent blood was never covered up more sanctimoniously than in this verse.

Stage 2

The second stage in the development of the doctrine of jihad is revealed most clearly in Surah 48. The stage extends (roughly) from 627 AD to the conquest of Mecca (630 AD). This stage is mostly concerned with the sanctification of plunder, the lure of which is the keynote of the Surah Fath (K/48). This surah has been discussed in extenso previously. The mask of apology has been dropped at this stage but mass conversion and jizyah are not yet mentioned.

The Final Stage 3

The final stage is revealed in Surah Taubah (the 9th surah) which has already been discussed in detail. This contains the ban on idolatry in Arabia. It pronounces the immunity from truce with idolaters. It institutes jizyah. It again calls for destruction of even mosques not sanctioned by the Prophet (K 91107). Above all, the mask of apology is so far thrown aside that Allah pronounces the imperialist doctrine of conquest for glory in the following words:

‘If ye go not forth He will afflict you with a painful doom, and will choose instead of you a folk other than you’ (K 9/39).

These stages and the development of the jihadic theory they represent, prove with transcendent clarity (if indeed any proof was needed) that jihad was never contemplated as a permanent dispensation by Allah until almost towards the end, when the all round victory of Islam was assured in Arabia. The doctrine developed by stages and by the exigencies of the political situation and was never anything but an ad hoc dispensation. There is thus every reason to suggest that it be renounced as all ad hoc dispensations are renounced when their need ceases, and the lineaments of a peaceful Islam be conjured up and given shape by people who know better and see further.