Monday, December 19, 2005

Jihads Major and Minor

Here's my response to Youssef (see his comments posted under "Still Serious") on the nature of Jihad.

Greetings Youssef --

I appreciate the shadings contained in the word "Jihad" -- like most ideas dealing with obedience to a divinity, it has layers of subtlety. As the term is commonly understood in the West, it is taken in its militant, aggressive, urge-to-conquer aspect. Insofar as it means that inner struggle that every person has to deal with, to submit our human will to God's, Jihad can only be an honorable and beneficial thing. There is no man of common-sense who would have a problem with this jihad. It's that other one, the public, international, violent one -- the "minor" one -- that all non-Moslems must have a problem with.

I imagine that the general Western understanding of Jihad is precisely analogous to the Moslem understanding of "Crusade" -- indeed, most Westerners are shamefully ignorant of their own history. "Crusade" is "a carrying forward of the Cross". It's not, in itself, an invasion or a means of forceful conversion, or an excuse for butchery. It is a "Holy Cause." In this, I think it is the exact counterpart of Jihad. But just as the historic Crusades are commonly, if wrongly, viewed as rampant and unrighteous aggression, the West and its media see Jihad simplistically, as only a religious war. Indeed, as far as it affects the West, this is all Jihad can be. What have I to do with the inner spiritual quest of any Moslem? -- but when that quest becomes external, and discos are bombed (Tel Aviv, Bali)? -- and pizzerias bombed (Jerusalem)? -- and metros bombed (London)? -- and railways bombed (Madrid)? -- and huge financial skyscrapers bombed (NY)? -- and 172 little school children butchered (Beslan)? Then Jihad, this minor Jihad -- wherein very many aged, and women, and children are killed -- becomes the concern of all men, and must be stamped out, utterly.

When any government wages war, the innocent are perforce killed. That's the reality of the world we live in. How many countless hundreds of thousands died in the idiotic war between Iraq and Iran? But stupidity is unavoidable in governments, because the human heart is, beyond all things, corrupt. When atrocities are committed in the name of one's god, however -- well this is the stain, the blot, I've referred to before. Our faiths are not wrong because disciples are foolish, but within each faith there must be right-thinking men of conscience, who will rise up and denounce the monsters among us. So have the barbaric Europeans who sacked Byzantium been universally denounced in the West.

Every school child is taught that the Crusades were wrong. But the Crusades were not wrong. They were right. Those who were oppressed and pleaded for release, should have been freed. It's just that the greed and corruption of human nature takes over and perverts a holy cause.

Just a bit of history: Moslems conquered two thirds of the Christian world, and held it for nearly five centuries before there ever was a reaction from the West, in the form of a counter-Jihad -- a Crusade. Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land were being crucified or executed as spies, and Christians living in the land were extorted and coerced and oppressed and plundered -- and forbidden to instruct their own children in their faith. The sixth Fatimid caliph caused, starting c. 1004 AD, the burning of 30,000 churches -- including the Church of the Resurrection and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher -- the sacred tomb inside was ground down to bedrock . If the Dome of the Rock, or the Ka'ab, were so destroyed, the affront could not have been greater. I can certainly provide any number of specifics, dates and places, if necessary.

Over the centuries, this was NOT systematic, and cannot be held against all Moslems or all Islamic rule -- just as the imperialism of Western governments in past centuries has little or no relevance and is no excuse for shameful or blameful action today. As they say, when we point a finger in accusation, three of our fingers point back at ourselves.

In any event, in the face of mounting Moslem aggression against Jerusalem and Constantinople, the Byzantine emperor, Alexander I, humbled himself enough to appeal to the West for succor. This is the proximate cause of the First Crusade. Clearly, by the three reasons you have given for minor Jihad, the First Crusade was a righteous Jihad by Islam's definition.

What is the minor Jihad? As you point out, "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors" (2:190). And as you say, Jihad is righteous "'in the cause for Allah,' not in the cause of expansion, imperialism or mischief of any kind (7:56), and not even for revenge (5:2). defend oppressed people (4:75). ...[and to neutralize] tyrants in order to allow Non-Moslem people to know about Islam (just to know, not to force them to convert) (8:39), (9:6)." Change the terms from Moslem to Christian, and you have the Christian perspective, perfectly.

My point? There's not one whit of difference between the heart of Jihad and of Crusade. Both are missionary, both are meditative, and both are militant. I can find no justification for the militant, minor Jihad, except either in obedience to Allah (7:56) or in the corrupt and violent character of men (9/11). I have pointed out the historical and political justification for the First Crusade, but we can always find fault somewhere there, too.

Christians have been oppressed by Moslem governments, as Moslems have been oppressed by Western (as distinct from "Christian") governments. There is no proof found in these facts, as to the wisdom or superiority of either. Oppression is forbidden in both faiths, yet it occurs. Likewise, Christianity has spread through missionary work, far more than by coercion. Both Islam and Christianity may have this in common as well. Oppressors of both faiths have disobeyed, in forceful conversions. Islam is a moral faith, but it requires of itself that the world be ruled by Islam. Christianity is a moral faith, which requires that Christians rule themselves. Islamic governments fail, and individual Christians fail, because human nature is, as I continue to repeat, corrupt.

Islam most assuredly is to be a government, rather than only a faith. Christianity has had it's own governments, from the Papacy to the early American Puritans to various utopian sects, and so on. These are experiments that have failed, I think, but what else would be expected? In Christian teaching, there will be perfect government only when Jesus rules. That Mohammad ruled an empire sets the example for Islam -- it is to rule. This is the same as with Moses, and the laws of the Torah -- a system, and a very wise one, to govern a society. Jesus didn't do that. Jesus always turned the responsibility for action upon oneself, never upon society. I've alluded to this before -- shake the dust from your feet ... tend to your own repentance.

Most salient is the distinction you might make between terrorists and freedom fighters. That a man would target and attack the soldier he considers an enemy, is only to be expected. We might call such a man a patriot. My own beloved son is active in the American military, and I consider him, beyond any contradiction or argument, a freedom fighter. But he is also a target, perhaps, of some enemy, and may be harmed. That's war. But a man who targets not enemy soldiers, but civilians, and women and children, with indiscriminate bombing of public places -- today a car bomb went off in Baghdad outside a CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL -- this is no freedom fighter. To define Americans and all who favor them as enemies, and then to kill shoppers in the market place ... there is no debate, here, as to what such men are. In targeting military objectives, the innocent may be killed -- but the target was military. In targeting noncombatants for perceived political or propagandistic gain -- this is terrorism. Mohammad speaks truly, and the recompense for such mischief? -- "a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter." (5:33) This, of course, you know and agree with.

You finish with some comments on Israel and Palestine. I won't address that issue -- it has more complexity than I have insight. Who would not have peace? I have always tried to remember never to insult a man's dignity -- it is a grave mistake, and makes an enemy. And I have always sought to honor those who love their families and strive to improve their condition and their character. Subtler minds than ours have labored over this problem and grown dull for their pains. Maybe if we were to remember that all the peoples of the world are blessed through Abraham (Gen 12:3, 18:18) -- be it through his sons Isaac or Ishmael, or through his son Jesus -- then we could take this blessing, and none of us have to dwell in a stranger's tent, or be the servant of another (Genesis 9:27).

Pax Vobiscum,


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