David Cook on Jihad

I’m really enjoying Professor David Cook’s (Rice University) book, Understanding Jihad. Prof. Cook is clearly knowledgeable, objective, and seems quite fair in his treatment. Nevertheless, he criticizes others for not being as honest or fair with the source material of Islam.  Cook presents extensive proof that militant jihad has been part of Islamic teaching and practice since the beginning.

“In conclusion, several important points need to be made about the ‘greater jihad’ [spiritual struggle]. The spiritual, internal jihad is the derivative form, and not the contrary.  This is clear from the absence of any mention of the ‘greater jihad’ in the earliest hadith books on the subject of jihad (it is entirely absent from the canonical collections and appears only in the genre of zuhd, asceticism, and then in comparatively later collections).  Nor does the ‘greater jihad’ find any mention in the later literature on jihad, except occasionally in the most perfunctory form.  It is also apparent that anyone who studies the subject of jihad has to wonder about the focus placed upon the spiritual warfare among contemporary Muslim apologists.  This focus does not seem warranted when considering the classical (or the contemporary Arabic, Persian or Urdu language) sources.  There are, after all, literally hundreds of sources for militant jihad in classical Islam.  With books and pamphlets devoted to the subject, as well as sections of every hadith and law book, along with most commentaries on the Qur’an and historical materials, as well as anecdotal snippets in the literary sources, and martial poetry, the Muslim who wishes to practice aggressive jihad has an abundance of literary material upon which to base his actions and derive his precedents.  But with the exception of Ayatullah al-Khumayni’s contemporary book on the ‘greater jihad,’ there do not seem to have ever been any works devoted exclusively to the subject of the spiritual jihad.  Works such as that by Eric Geoffroy, Jihad et contemplation, which is a thoughtful study on the subject, are written, like virtually all the literature on the subject, in a European language for non-Muslims …

mo_hamza_banuThe name [‘greater jihad’] is nothing more than false advertisement designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the audience.  While this method of advertisement is as acceptable as any others that promote radical change within a tradition, citation of the doctrine of the ‘greater jihad’ should not be used today by scholars of Islam as ‘proof’ that nonviolent has historical depth or universal acceptance in classical or even in contemporary Islam (see chapter 5).

It should be further noted that although the possibility remains that over the coming centuries Islam may decisively reject all forms of militant jihad in favor of spiritual, internal warfare, there is nothing in the tradition up to the present day that precludes the mixture of the two.  In fact, it seems that the ascetic and Sufi groups who first pushed spiritual warfare and promoted it within the Islamic tradition did so as a supplement to the waging of aggressive warfare” (David Cook, Understanding Jihad, 46-48, emphasis mine).


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