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Reconceptualising Jihad

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq

Dr. Ayesha Jalal, eminent historian, in Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia has brilliantly traced the root and dimensions of jihad as anticolonial ideology that helped the subjugated masses under British raj to wage a valiant struggle for independence. The need stressed by great Muslims thinkers, Shah Waliullah, Obaidullah Sindhi and Muhammad Iqbal, to wage continuous war (jihad) against imperialism as everybody’s human duty, notwithstanding religious affiliations, is valid for all times and nations. These great thinkers unequivocally emphasized and repeatedly underscored that jihad (literally means continuous struggle) has multi-faceted dimensions with the main underlying objective of establishing a human society free of every kind of exploitation and oppression, based on the principles of justice and equality, and ensuring peace and tranquility for all.  Such a society cannot be established by ignoring the ethical dimensions of jihad that requires an individual to strive (inner struggle) for achieving the status of an authentic being—a process turning a man into human.

Humanisation of world societies based on broader ethical connotations of jihad can guarantee international peace and prosperity. On the contrary, Western imperialism (capitalism at its roots) is the biggest hindrance in the way of this process. The recent debacle of financial institutions of USA and Europe, considered as pillars of capitalism, and rescue plans (sic) underway has once again exposed the emptiness of models based on exploitation, greed and self-interest. In the present-day scenario, jihad, as a tool to fight all kinds of oppressions, inequalities, injustices at individual and collective level, holds key to forging human unity an international level. Knowing the consequence of such a unity, the forces exploiting world resources at the cost of poor nations, are purposefully portraying jihad as hostile ideology (synonymous with terrorism). This projection of jihad in Western media is part of a great conspiracy. In this game plan, the despotic Muslim rulers and clergy are their friends-in-arm. Jihad as aggression is a misnomer, for which the blame is to be shared equally by the fanatic, self-acclaimed warriors of faith and ardently-biased-anti-Islam intellectuals (sic).

The self-proclaimed defenders of faith have never bothered to study and understand Quranic concept of jihad. Unfortunately, malpractices committed by abusing this concept for temporal gains by Muslim Kings and clergy were accepted as scared by many.Their opponents took full advantageof this ignorance and started calling jihad as ideology of aggression and hate. Various wars waged in the name of religions, the recent example is Bush’s claim of ‘divine guidance’ for aggression in Iraq, were nothing but efforts to secure hegemony and seek temporal gains. These objectives are alien to Quranic concept of jihad. The difference between jihad (all-pervasive struggle at all levels to establish a just human society as ordained by Allah)and qital (a war for self-defence against oppression) is so unambiguous in Quran that it needs no elaboration at all. There is nothing in Quran that allows killing of any human being in the name of Allah, as misunderstood by many Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In Quran, the sanctity of human life is stressed to the extent that killing of one human being is considered as murder of entire humanity and saving one individual life is tantamount to serving the humanity at large. In the presence of this injunction, how can any Muslim resort to taking life of another human being? How can suicidal bombing be justified? Even when war is declared by an oppressor, the right to self-defence cannot be tainted with any vendetta and is made conditional that no harm is caused to women, children or any non-combatant. Waging of jihad, using the term in its true sense, is not only against external aggression, but also to counter internal forces of exploitation, oppression and tyranny in any society. In the case of former, armed struggle is inevitable (for which deterrence and defence is ordained) but for the latter there is no sanction to use any coercive measures, not to talk of violence and arms, as there is no jabar (forceful submission)in din (Islam).

During the colonial era in the subcontinent, armed struggle waged by freedom fighters (without any religious divisions) earned them praise and kudos from the great thinkers of their times. These thinkers through their writings also waged jihad bi qalam (struggle through pen), considered as the great jihad (see Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s treatise, jihad-al-akbar). This great literature of resistance is now common heritage of people of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. In the post-independent period, this literature remained a source of resilience and self-esteem to resist neo-colonialism. Under the banner of Non-Aligned Movement, the legacy of resistance continued with the aim not to succumb to the onslaught of neocolonial imperialism. Unfortunately, in the post 9/11 era, the imperialist forces cleverly managed to counter genuine resistance movements against their occupation and hegemonic designs under the pretext of “war on terrorism”. This is, no doubt, the ugliest strategy of neo-colonialists, in which religious fanatics are their main soldiers, who are responsible for giving jihad (a purely humanistic and ethical concept) a contemptuous name.

The armed struggles against occupant forces in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir and elsewhere, are in their substance movements against subjugation. But these are successfully labelled as militancy or terrorism by the influential media that shape the international opinion at the behest of US and its blind allies.  Under these circumstances, one needs to reconceptualise jihad as “struggle against subjugation” and re-devise methods to counter it through peaceful means rather than arm conflicts. Entering into armed conflicts is fulfillment of the agenda of the neo-colonialists, who want to engage the nations in brutal and bloody wars for their own nefarious designs.

In Pakistani context, we are faced with multi-faceted subjugation. Our subjugation is largely, a self-inflicted phenomenon. The leadership—military and civilian alike—has surrendered completely to foreign masters. Though moral sinking of the leadership is becoming deeper and deeper every day, yet people of Pakistan have not yet surrendered and are showing resilience even in the extreme hardship times when basic necessities like wheat flour has been rendered a rare commodity for them. The economic subjugation, dictates of IMF and other donors, wrongdoings of the people at the helm of affairs, unprecedented luxuries enjoyed by the rulers at taxpayers’ expense—all cumulatively—have culminated in a situation where a nuclear-State has become totally toothless.

Political and economic subjugation is now complete with control over federal government by Pakistan People’s Party, led by President Asif Ali Zardari. His recent appeals to UK and USA not to violate territorial boundaries of Pakistan are nothing but utter submission before those who are the main cause of present-day crisis in our tribal areas and Swat. The forces of obscurantism, so-called Jihadis creating fitna (social disorder and sedition), are being used by these imperialist forces to make us subservient for ever, keeping us in dark ages. The need of the hour is to mobilize people against imperialists and their cronies—the militants who are exploiting religion for self-interest.   

In these circumstances, how can the concept of jihad be recoceptualised? Obviously, for resisting subjugation, we need to wage jihad against attacks of foreign forces in our tribal areas, rising wave of militancy, horrifying debt burden, worsening balance of payment position, rising inflationary expectations, undesirable increase in wasteful expenditure of over Rs.500 billion, which include heavy cost of perquisites of rulers, growing unemployment, social unrest, widening trade and fiscal deficits, rising cost of doing business, burden of taxes, increases in utility bills and economic stagnation—just to mention a few.

The economy is fast plummeting and worse is still to come if curative measures are not taken on war footing. People’s purchasing power is fast diminishing, banks have less liquidity, lending rates are soaring and activities at stock markets are nose-diving. The investors are shy and afraid, mainly due to perpetuation of political instability and economic uncertainty. Life for the common man on the streets is becoming a misery leading to social restlessness. Although we claim to be an agricultural economy yet a vast majority of the people do not have enough to eat. It is tragic that we even import agricultural products and have miserably failed to develop any worthwhile agro-based industry in the last 61 years. What a decline from the times when this region (i.e. United Punjab before partition) had the undisputed position of being the granary of the entire Subcontinent.

Look at the mess our successive governments, military and civilian alike, created on the debt front. The figure of foreign debt is a monstrous $48 billion after devaluation of our rupee in the last few months and that of domestic debt is over Rs.3.5 trillion now.  Both external and internal debts are increasing at a frightening rate. The way we are managing our resources (not exploiting them or wasting mercilessly those already available) is criminal and is leading us to self-annihilation. Fiscal deficit of Rs. 777.2 billion during fiscal year 2007-08 testifies to bankruptcy of our political leadership, who keeps on relying on incompetent and corrupt bureaucracy. The policy of appeasement towards tax evaders, money launderers and plunderers of national wealth, many of them beneficiaries of National Reconciliation Ordinance (sic), is showing its impact in all spheres: political culture of changing loyalties, as seen in the presidential election, is absolutely loathsome, nation is in high despair and all sectors of economy are showing horrible indicators. In this bleak scenario, our rulers have no definitive plans; begging all around, they are still living on ad-hocism.  

The most disturbing and painful reality is the unabated and shameless indulgence of rulers and bureaucrats in wasteful expenditures. Look at their life style (numerous iftar dinner parties are thrown by rulers from national exchequer instead of helping the poor) when the vast majority of the people is starving. We cannot come out of subjugation unless we first become an economically self-reliant nation, which is the most vital jihad of today. For this, our rulers will have to take the first step by learning to live at a modest level (following the example of Khulafa-e-Rashideen), establish just economic system, provide justice to all, and then mobilize the masses for common struggle to take a great economic leap forward as done by the Chinese in recent times.  


The writers, researchers, historians, tax advisers and authors of many books, are Adjunct Professors at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

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