Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Religion, Peace and War: The Belligerent Islam

Religion, Peace and War
The Belligerent Islam*

Ali-Asghar Kazemi

“Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you. And that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But God knows, and ye know not.”

(Qur’an 2:216)

Religious Intolerence and War

“ Rulers ought to employ a page to repeat to them every morning: see that you do not torment anyone on account of his religious opinions, and that you do not extend the power of the sword to touch the
Pierre Bayle (1647-1706)

It is suggested that the manifestation of religious precepts in society is sharply revealed against the background of war. At the outset, an attempt to find out major religions attitude toward war and peace, as important institutions of the society, may give an insight of the sociology of religions.

From the dawn of human civilization all prophets and all religions have been involved in some kind of war. It is suggested for example, that the Christian religion has more often been a factor for war than for peace.[2] Other religions have not followed a pacifist pattern of behavior through times either. In fact, during conflicts and wars in which religions have been somehow involved, atrocities and inhuman behavior have reached their peak.

It has been said that men differ from animals in their unique capacity to persecute and exterminate one another for the sake of general ideas and beliefs which they even are incapable to understand.[3] History bears witness that man’s fiercest wars have been fought over conflicting ideologies and religious beliefs. These controversies have paved the way to power for those leaders who were successful in manipulating both abstract ideas and their fellow-believers. When these leaders themselves firmly believe in their ideas, they become ruthless fanatics. Fanatical leaders who arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to interpret the ideology, or a fortiori the divine law, create a situation in which their credulous followers tend to show a belligerent and aggressive attitude towards whoever deviates from their way of thinking and perception.

Politics, whether viewed as a struggle for power, promotion of values, pursuit of interest or simply the manner of handling problems of the society, is a complex phenomenon which has made history of mankind through long centuries. History to politics and government is like nature to biology or physics. It is a source of a major part of our political experience.[4]

Centuries before the rise of Darwinism, men had been convinced of the reality of good and evil which led men to act in a moral universe of rational causality which is but a reflection of the Devine.[5] Yet, men enjoyed freedom of choice, and they were responsible for their decisions. The result of moral deficiency in man, whose motives were good or bad, was conflict, war and antagonism.

Whereas most religious teachers, philosophers and prophets have cautioned rulers against aggression and war and held forth visions of a day when swords would be beaten into ploughshares,[6] history has witnessed bloody religious wars or wars directed by religious leader and fought for political power.

Advocates of religion have sometimes become missionaries of hatred toward other religions.[7] Scholars and philosophers believe that such an attitude and behavior is something inconsistent with the spirit of true religion.[8] Long ago, in an age of acute religious antagonism, Hugo Grotius asserted that there was no sense at all in Catholics and Protestants seeking to impose their special dogma upon each other; and that, if only they would think quietly, instead of feeling wildly, humanity would be relieved of much meaningless wastage and much atrocious suffering.[9] The fanaticism of the religious as well as that of the anti-religious may not breed wars but they still use weapon of hate, misrepresentation, distortion and suppression.[10]

The Struggle for Power over ideas

“All the life and power of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of the mind and faith is not faith without believing…. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it can be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force….”
John Locke[11]

When religion is viewed from the point of view of human interaction and in relation to other forms and processes of man’s collective behavior in a society, the concept of power as a determining factor of influence comes immediately into picture. If we regard religion as the domain in which faith dominates reason and rationality, then we may find ourselves in a painful and disappointing world, and in fact the role of power in this realm would be critical.[12]

Reinhold Neibuhr has provided an image of religion which is “an effort to answer the challenge pessimism.”[13] Religion- as a process of life to adjust the realities and the relative to the ideals and the absolute[14]- seems to be the perception of the modern world. In a world dominated by power and subjected by politics, religion can be in fact a significant factor in shaping the future of our societies.

Even though one may repudiates the whole evolution and necessity of metaphysical system, from Plato’s idealism to Marx’s materialism, religion seems to be an inescapable part of our thinking and behavior in society.[15] Its main function is to exert power over ideas with the final objective of man’s salvation. Power itself is a complex phenomenon in human relations and politics. Many elements contribute to it or detract from it. The concept of power, poses one of the most difficult and controversial problems of social and political life. Both political scientists and international relation experts have written a great deal about it. [16]

Power is sometimes defined as coercive influence distinguished from persuasive influence.[17] The distinction, however, is not quite clear. Since, persuasion plays a role in mobilizing and exercising power, and possession of power enhances the ability to persuade. When we speak of power we may be referring to such concept as influence, authority, control, force, might, etc. thus the term power is sometimes confounded with material resources, wealth, social status, moral or spiritual influence. In simple terms power, is the ability of controlling minds or actions of human being. Political power refers to the “mutual relations of control among the holders of public authority and between the latter and the people at large.”[18] It is a psychological relation between those who exercise it and those over whom it is exercised.[19]

Some writers have tried to assimilate power to political scientist as the notion of scarcity to the economist.[20] Thus, they seek to discover the ingredients of power in their concentrated and abstracted form.[21]Power is indeed less neat and calculable than scarcity and the student of politics lacks generally accepted standards of measure (like gold or money). Therefore, the need for theorizing and hypothesizing about the formation and application of power by using other disciplines, ideology and belief system etc. becomes evident.

Power is a combination of persuasive influence and coercive force. An optimistic view of this paradigm is that those who wield power normally prefer to achieve their end merely by posing the threat of effective sanction, without actually resorting to physical force.[22] But, we will see later how in certain situations, especially revolutionary conditions, the opposite becomes a rule. Power may be exerted through coercion or persuasion, by the legitimate authority of a man or institution or a combination of them.[23] Political power shall be distinguished from force in the sense of the actual exercise of physical violence.

Power exercised with moral or legal authority is considered legitimate. Naturally, legitimate power has a stronger influence over the will of its object.[24] Political ideologies serve the purpose of endowing political power with the attributes and appearance of legitimacy.

Charisma is an important element in the acquisition and exercise of political power through charismatic authority. Those who seek power, sometimes use particular religion or ideology for the concealment of their true objectives.[25] The function of law, morality and ethics is to keep aspirations for power within accepted norms and tolerable bounds. Within a particular society, the normative order which puts restraint on individual aspiration for power is the result of political interaction among social forces for gaining influence.[26] Politics can be said to mean interaction, competition and finally struggle for power. This definition seems to be valid both in national as well as international politics.[27]

For many people power is also a value in itself.[28] But, essentially it shall not be considered as such, since it is an objective serving as a means for the achievement of other goals or desires. Thus, though politics is a struggle for power, it should not be regarded as this alone.[29] Power may in practice become an end in itself for some participants in the struggle, but not for all of them. The outcome of power struggle may be cooperation or conflict[30], depending on the kind of game which individuals or states as actors in political scene may play.

It has been suggested that if the statesman of the nineteenth century had commanded the present destructive forces (including the nuclear arsenal), unlike their ancestors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they were under no compulsion to multiply the risks of international politics by engaging in ideological crusades.[31]
It may be partly true that the power structure and general characteristics of our age has subdued by necessity the hostile relations between and among major powers. But the emergence of certain radical religious trends in our present world seems to go beyond and above the prevailing power structure.

Today, the ideological conflicts of the cold war era has given way to some sort of clash, not necessarily between civilizations, as suggested by professor Samuel Huntington, but among religious fundamentalism and the Western societies in their entirety. However, we should not associate directly this fundamentalism with Islam or any particular branch of it, like Shiism. Of course, the unfortunate events of September 11 have put Islam in the forefront of all terrorist activities throughout the world. But one shall remember that other religions have their own particular brand of fundamentalists zealous who are ready to sacrifice their life for the causes of their beliefs and faith.

The emergence of religious-ideological movements, led by fundamentalist or fanatical men such as Ben Laden and his associates in the Alqaeda terrorist groups, who do not hesitate to annihilate the whole civilization for the sake of their beliefs or what they think to be truth is indeed a dangerous development at the beginning of the 21st century. In the past, these ideological battles were called religious wars; they are now ideological conflicts.

We indeed live in a time when fanatics divide human beings into two separate ideological camps. Those who are subject to violence and terror (this includes almost all Western powers, their allies and sympathizers) and those few who somehow are supportive of terrorists[32]. Unfortunately, this quite radical distinction has caused a lot of trouble to independent-minded analysts who wanted to find about the truth of either side’s arguments. Thus, social and political researchers in Moslem countries face the risk of being denounced as heretics or traitors in taking either side. Any deviation from this conflicting realm seems to cause trouble one way or another.

Ideas can conquer human minds without the initial support of organized power or use of force. Histories of several religious movements, in Islam, Christianity as well as other religions, have proven the argument. The European civilization owes much of its success of its “religious wars” of the past, now the ideological conflicts continue to be exploited one way or another. But, in the long run, the use of force, coercion or otherwise organized power, have necessitated their maintenance. When the source of legitimate power was claimed to originate from God, people were subjugated and treated like slaves, and tyranny resulted.

Once the battle Poitiers[33] decided the question whether Europe would remain Christian or become Moslem. The religious wars ended in a compromise which was founded on a frank recognition of power as the final arbiter between the Catholics and the Protestants.[34]

Although it is true that religions and ideologies know no physical frontiers and transcend geographical limits and are aimed at human minds, it has to be recognized that power and force play a decisive part in this struggle. The role of force and power is extremely important in the initial phase of this conflict until the outcome is decided. Thenceforth the use of force gradually loses its effectiveness until such time that subjugator no longer can sit on bayonets. Unless a credible system is established during this interval, sooner or later the appeal of ideology will diminish and the people will revolt against the tyranny of ideas.

Islam, Fanaticism and Conflict

Islam is a lucid illustration of a religion which in its inception makes no contradiction between ethical theory and political practice.[35] For centuries Moslem scholars maintained that the concept of holy war (Jihad) - not quite unlike to Christian bellum Justum had a permanent character in religions among Moslem and non-Moslem territories.[36] Assuming that Islam was, and still is considered a universal religion and system of belief, these two territories would (at least theoretically) be in a state of permanent hostility and war.

More modern liberal Moslem writers stress that the term refers not only to international war but also to the spiritual struggle for perfection within the heart of man.[37] There is no consensus among Moslem scholars about the concept of peace and war in Islam. But the subject is viewed as an integral part of the conception of the international order in Islam.[38]

According to one view, Islam’s basic attitude towards the international order is that it must be transformed into a moral order. Thus, this perception is inherently an anathema the secular international order built on the political premise of the territorial state.[39] Therefore, Islamic state shall not be viewed as the term customarily applies in modern law of nations; since only religious affiliation determines the extent and the realm of Islamic community which is generally referred to as Dar-al-Islam.[40] Outside this community-state everything else is considered as Dar-al- Harb, which include hostile and aggressor states against the Islamic community.

The argument which certain Western scholars have advanced with regard to the state of permanent belligerency of Islam stems from the interpretation of the principle of Jihad or the Holy War against Dar-al-Harb. This is the principle of perpetual enemy with and of coercive attitude and aggressive behavior against the unbelievers and infidels.[41] From a moral perspective the struggle is viewed as permanent confrontation between truth[42] and falsehood.[43] On the assumption that Islam is the universal religion and should ultimately bring the whole world under its reign, these scholars hold the view that war and belligerency are the fundamental and necessary institution of Islamic state.[44]

These views, however, are challenged and in some instance rejected by other scholars, especially liberal intellectual Moslems who profess secular mode of governance or separation between religion and state. These latter, who are mostly influenced by Western Modern secular state system, try to give a more democratic picture of Islam.

To this view, war is never waged against nations and peoples with the objective of securing their conversion to Islam, since the Holy Qur’an prohibits any form of compulsion in religion.[45] But, war in Islam is waged only against aggressors.[46] That is to say, Islam seeks to avoid war at all times and permits war only when it has exhausted all peaceful means of resolution of the situation which is provoking armed conflict.[47]Furthermore, it is suggested that once the enemy ceases his aggression and seeks peace, the war must cease through a settlement which necessarily involves restoring the status quo ante bellum.[48]

Islamic scholars and jurisprudents have given various interpretations to the notion of Jihad. For example, according to contemporary Shiite conception, Jihad, is “a life-giving source” which is now being expanded to encompass not only the defense of Islam and Moslems to foreign aggression, but also as a war initiated by Moslems in order to revive the Devine and natural religion of monotheism. Furthermore, the function of Jihad is “to liberate human being from the pressures imposed upon them by tyrants and evil forces rebellious against God, to restore to humanity its lost dignity and to destroy polytheism…”[49] Indeed, with this interpretation of Jihad, the implications for world order would go too far.

From the foregoing suggestions, it becomes clear that in effect, a true Islamic state must remain in permanent state of war and belligerency against “the pollution of polytheism” on the earth and its manifestations in all forms, until it is eradicated and the religion of monotheism is established.[50]

A leading Shiite scholar and famed exegete of the Qur’an, Allamah Sayyed Muhammad Husain Tabataba’i, has pointed out that “monotheism, and socio-political system based on it, are based on human nature and constitute the sole way for betterment of the condition of humanity.”[51] From a sociological point of view, the concept of Jihad here is related to the “natural right” of man to guarantee his survival, to defend the Truth against falsehood in a monotheistic society.[52] Proponents of this idea recognize no condition for Jihad “except the capacity of Muslims to resort to armed confrontation.”[53] This implies that whenever the Islamic State has gained enough power and felt capable of overpowering its enemies, Moslems have to take up arms “in order to achieve the goals of the Devine prophets, to level the way of true knowledge of God, and to remove all barriers from its way.”[54] Thus Jihad is a sacred duty of faithful Moslems for all times, and presumably, the permanent task of an Islamic state against infidels throughout the world.

By putting war, aggression and belligerency within the moral code, war in Islam is the defense of virtue and truth against evil and falsehood. This considers the authentic Moslem opinion on war which in practice has seldom been observed in the lifetime of Islam. Historical facts and events have proven that whenever Islam was used in support of political power as a source of legitimacy, the deviation from the principles of faith has been unavoidable.

Islam and Persian Nationalism

Ancient Persia, whose unity was centered around Mazdaean religion, after its conversion to Islam in seventh century A. D. identified itself with the Shiite[55] heresy which was at variance with the established Islamic orthodoxy practiced elsewhere in the Middle-East.[56] Thus, just at the time Europe was returning in the great upsurge of the Renaissance, a politico-religious conflict emerged between the two great powers of the time, i.e. Iran and Turkey. The Ottoman Empire, the instrument of Turkish imperialism presented the Sunnite orthodoxy and the Iranian Empire founded on the Persian national ideal incorporated in the Shiite heresy. The two opponents threw themselves at one another’s throats. The outcome was bloody long wars which ultimately established a new balance of power shared between two Moslem empires of diametrically opposed viewpoints.[57]

In the contemporary Islamic community, as in the past centuries, the worst enemies of Moslem states are paradoxically enough the Islamic countries themselves.[58] The war between Iran-Iraq is an example in which the idea of Jihad or holy war has been used and abused. It may seem an academic question, but it is appropriate to query, whether the concept could have any relevance in a war waged and conducted between two Moslem nations. It is indeed a dilemma for the Islamic community and a serious challenge to the interpretation of the principle of just war, fought for the protection of a political or ideological system.[59] Here is again the situation in which vices of politics overshadow the virtues of religion.

Although the concept of Jihad has gradually lost its strict warlike ad belligerent character, due to past failure of Moslem rulers to call and organize for holy war, in recent years, especially after the 1979 Revolution in Iran, the concept has regained some relevance in national and international scenes.[60]

The new Islamic crusade calls for a return to fundamentalism, a holy war against decadent, Western inspired modernization in Moslem countries. Convinced that Western influence erodes Islamic principles and fails to solve social problems, militant Moslems seek a strict interpretation of the Qur’an.[61] The fundamentalist movement has gradually turned into fanaticism, social unrest, political assassinations, upheaval and terrors throughout the tormented world. The trend is fearfully regarded as a serious threat to the international democratic social and political order.

Ideally, Islam, as the name itself indicates, is the religion of peace, brotherhood and compassion. War and violence would therefore be contradictory to its very spirit, unless it is waged in self-defense and for a just cause. Indiscriminate and wanton killing, devastating the natural environment, destroying harvests, defoliation, and deforestation are acts strictly forbidden and against the true spirit of Islam. Yet, in this world of paradox we experience all these ferocities being committed by Moslems against Moslems under the banner of Islam[62]. Hardly an impartial arbiter can judge the situation from the Islamic perspective. Since, Holy Scripture, traditions and Islamic jurisprudence can always be interpreted in supporting one’s evil policy and aggressive or hostile behavior. When politics and the pursuit of power become the prime concern of the state, religion and its moral restraints becomes an instrument of policy rather than its ethical guideline.



* The main structure of this study is taken from my Religion and Politics: In Search of Compatibility and Compromise, Monograph, 1986.

[1]. Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, quoted by Arnold Toynbee, An Historian’s Approach to Religion, op. cit. p. 167.
[2]. CF. Norman Bentwich, The Religious Foundation of Internationalism, quoted in: S. Radhakrishnan, Religion in a Changing World (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. 1967), p. 49.
[3]. CF. W. W. Kulski, International Politics in a Revolutionary Age, Second Revised Edition (J.B. Lippincott Company. 1968), Chapter VII on Ideological Conflict, at pp. 389-390.
[4]. Karl W. Deutsch, Politics and Government: How People Decide their Fate (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1974), p. IX.
[5]. See: Daniel Lerner, Cause and Effect (New York: Free Press, 1965), esp. pp. 1-5.
[6]. See e.g. Inis L. Claude. Jr., Swords into Plowshares the Problems and Progress of International Organization, (New York: Random House, 1967), Passim.
[7]. Radhakrishnan, Religion in a Changing World. Op. cit., p. 117.
[8]. Ibid. p. 118.
[9]. Quoted in idem.
[10]. Idem.

[11]. John Locke. A Letter Concerning Toleration, Quoted in Arnold Toynbee. An Historian’s Approach to Religion, op. cit. p. 256.

[12]. At the outset, it should be mentioned that no attempt is made here to provide specific and universally accepted definition for religion. For the purpose of this study religion is taken in its broadest and most general sense coming into interaction with social and political matters. Religion here is taken as it manifests in society whatever its essence. Though there may be need in some instances to settle the problem of definition, but this is done only in connection with man’s interaction with his political, social and economic environment. Various definitions given by writers and scholars are sometimes contradictory. Durkheim defines it as the expression of group solidarity and crowd mentality; Nietzsche has interpreted religion as “the slave in revolt” attempting to obtain some control over his master; theologians define religion as the revolution to man of the reality and majesty of God; Arnold called it “morality touched by emotion”. CF.J. Milton Yinger, Religion in the Struggle for Power (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.1946) pp. 4-5.
[13]. According to Neibuhr, religion “seeks a center of meaning in life which is able to include the totality of existence, and which is able to interpret the chaos as something which only provisionally threatens its cosmos and can ultimately be brought under its dominion.” See his Christianity and Power Politics, p. 179. Quoted in ibid. p. 228.
[14]. CF. Religion in the Struggle for Power, ibid. p. 5.
[15]. CF.S. Radhakrishnan, Religion in a Changing World. (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. 1967), p.75.
[16]. See e.g.: Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York: Alfred. A.Knoff.1973) p. 27ff.
[17]. Vernon Van Dyke, International Politics. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. 1966), p.199.
[18]. Hans J. Morgenthau, op.cit.p.28.
[19]. Idem.
[20]. David E. Apter, Introduction to Political Analysis (New Delhi. Pretice- Hall of India. Private Limited.1981 ) p.6.
[22]. George Schwarzenberger, Power Politics: a Study of World Society (New York: Frederick A. Praeger.1951, pp.13-14.
[23]. CF. Ibid. p.29.
[24]. Ibid.p.30.
[25]. CF.Ibid. p. 225.
[26]. CF. Hans J. Morgenthau, Ibid. p. 228.
[27]. Ibid. p.9.
[28]. Karl W. Deutsch, Politics and Government, op. cit.p.31.
[29]. Vernon Van Dyke, International Politics, op cit. p. 11.
[30]. Idem.
[31]. W. W. Kulski, International politics in a Revolutionary Age (New York: J.B. Lippincott Company. 1968), p. 389.
[32] This division has been initially made by U.S. president George W. Bush after September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks.
[33]. Poitiers is located in Southern part of France where in a decisive battle French Charles Martel crushed the Arab invasion in 732. A.D.
[34]. The expression cuius regio, eius religio was and admission that each prince could impose his religion on his subject, presumably by virtue of his being the holder of power. See: Kulski, op. cit. p. 391.
[35]. See: generally, Bernard Lewis, (ed.) Islam: Volume II: Religion and Society (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers. 1974)
[36]. This is the distinction between dar al-Islam (the territory under Islamic rule) and dar al-harb (the territory of war).
[37]. See for example: Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1955), and M. Khadduri. “The Islamic Theory of International Relations and its Contemporary Relevance,” in J. Harris Proctor, (ed.) Islam and International Relations (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1965), pp. 24-39.
[38]. CF. e.g. Imran N. Hossein, “War and Peace in Islam,” in Defense Journal, A monthly Mirror and Digest of Geo-Strategic Affairs, vol X. No. 5-6. 1984 (Karachi-Pakistan), pp. 1-12.
[39]. CF. Ibid. p. 2.
[40]. Certain scholars include in the Dar- al- Islam not only the community of the Islamic states but also peace loving non-Moslem community states. CF. Ibid. p. 3.
[41].CF. Hans Kruse, The Foundation of Islamic International Jurisprudence. (Karachi: Pakistan Historical Society, n, d.), pp. 5-6.
[42]. Haq or al- Haq.
[43]. Batil or al-Batil.
[44]. CF. Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam. (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. 1955). Pp. 52-4.
[45]. “There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error….” Qur’an, 2: 256.
[46]. “And fight in the cause of God those who fight you.” Qur’an, 2: 190.
[47]. The prophet is sad to have advised the Moslem believers: “Do not be keen to meet the enemy on the battle field.” Quoted in Imran N. Hossein; War and Peace in Islam,” op. cit. p. 5.
[48]. “But if the enemy inclines toward peace, do thou also incline.”
[49]. See: Ahmad Jannati (Ayatollah), “Defense and Jihad in the Qur’an,” in Al-Tawhid, A Quarterly Journal of Islamic Thought and Culture, Vol. I, No. 3. Tehran, April 1984, pp. 39-54, at 47.
[50]. Ibid. pp. 47-48.
[51]. Cited in Ibid. P. 46. See also his “Islam and the modern Age,” in Al-Tawhid, Vol. I. No. 2. PP.60-80. Passim.
[52]. “O believers, fight the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find harshness in you…” (Qur’an: 9:123).
[53]. Ahmad Jannati, op. cit., p. 51.
[54]. Ibid. p. 50.
[55]. Shiism traces its heritage to Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Mohammad. It has been state religion in Iran since 1501. See also infra pp. 206-223.
[56]. Jacques Pirenne, The Tides of History vol. II (From the Expansion of Islam to the Treaties of Westphalia), (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1963), P. 398-9.
[57]. CF. Ibid. p. 399.
[58]. CF. Abdul Rahman Siddiqui, Brig. (Ret), “Nuclear Arms Race and Nuclear Disarmament- The Islamic Perspective”, in Defense Journal, Karachi, vol. X. No.3. 1984. pp. 1-7.
[59]. CF. Ibid.
[60]. For early manifestations of this new trend see: “A New War”, in Newsweek, November 20. 1978. p. 68.
[61]. One such organization pledging to restore the old faith in Malaysia (the Army of Allah) insisted that all non-Moslems be driven into the sea, Newsweek, Ibid.
[62] The Alqaeda terrorist activities under the banner of Islam in Iraq and elsewhere in Moslem and non-Moslem countries are unfortunate indications of this phenomenon.