Jihad, with its many terrifying associations, is a term widely used today, though its meaning is poorly grasped. Few people understand the circumstances requiring a jihad, or “holy” war, or how Islamic militants justify their violent actions within the framework of the religious tradition of Islam. How Islam, with more than one billion followers, interprets jihad and establishes its precepts has become a critical issue for both the Muslim and the non-Muslim world.
John Kelsay’s timely and important work focuses on jihad of the sword in Islamic thought, history, and culture. Making use of original sources, Kelsay delves into the tradition of shari’a–Islamic jurisprudence and reasoning–and shows how it defines jihad as the Islamic analogue of the Western “just” war. He traces the arguments of thinkers over the centuries who have debated the legitimacy of war through appeals to shari’a reasoning. He brings us up to the present and demonstrates how contemporary Muslims across the political spectrum continue this quest for a realistic ethics of war within the Islamic tradition.
Arguing the Just War in Islam provides a systematic account of how Islam’s central texts interpret jihad, guiding us through the historical precedents and Qur’anic sources upon which today’s claims to doctrinal truth and legitimate authority are made. In illuminating the broad spectrum of Islam’s moral considerations of the just war, Kelsay helps Muslims and non-Muslims alike make sense of the possibilities for future war and peace.
2 thoughts on “Arguing the Just War in Islam”
As the title suggests, John Kelsay argues for a “just war” theory in the history of Islam, according the Islamic scholars he cites; according to Islamic (Sharia) law, etc., thus defying the violent history of Islamic jihad, as well as contemporary violent jihad and Koranic-inspired Islamic (imperial) expansionism and supremacism.
Islamic law, according to Kelsay, argues for protection of non-combatants and civilians, the protection of innocent non-Muslim women and children, etc., when the Qur’an make no such provision of mercy toward unbelievers. Unbelievers must be killed (converted) or subjugated in this world; they are consigned to hell-fire (or eternal torment) in the hereafter.
Osama bin Laden is not a true Muslim. This can be inferred from Kelsay’s book. How can he or his followers be true Muslims or devout Muslims? Bin Laden is a heretic; an apostate. Only, what Islamic scholar of repute situated in the Middle East, has read bin Laden out of Islam? Does Kelsay say? The 9/11 terror-atrocities run counter to Kelsay’s just war theory of Islam described in his tendentious book. After all, Kelsay argues Islam does not sanction the senseless slaughter of innocents. For purposes of research I gave this book a two star rating.
Rating: 2 / 5
John Kelsay has provided the best introduction I’ve found to the self-understanding and the social constructions of Islam and the way its consequent mindset has been used by both historical and contemporary extremists to justify jihad against its perceived enemies. He lays out with crystalline clarity the historical events and and resultant thought processes that have brought Islam to its place in today’s world.
Professor Kelsay does not write entirely without bias but he keeps it well under control. One senses from time to time that he is trying quite hard to “stick to the facts” when there is much more that he could say were he willing to indulge his personal opinions.
The well-informed reader may not agree with all of Kelsay’s conclusions about just war mentality in the contemporary Muslim world but one has to be impressed with the depth of his scholarship and the lucidity of his writing. Very highly recommended.
Rating: 5 / 5