Rafed English

Jihad; Conditional Verses and Unconditional Verses

This term is a very important one, and I wish to explain it to you, for otherwise it will be difficult for you to grasp the full meaning of the verse under discussion. Any command (even a human command) can be given in one place with no conditions, and then again in another situation with a condition attached. In such a case, we immediately realize that whoever issued that command, introduced that law, meant the same thing in both instances. Now, having realized this, what are we to do? Are we to adhere to the unconditional command and assume that the conditional was given for that special instance? Or should we interpret the unconditional as the conditional which means adhering to the conditional?

Let me cite a simple example. On two separate occasions, for instance, we are given a command by someone having the authority to do so and whose commands we respect. On one occasion, we are told that we must respect such and such person, which is an unconditional command. In another he commands us to do the same thing, saying that we must respect that person if he does such and such a thing, like taking part in our meeting. The second time the command contains an "if." The command is now conditional. The person giving the command did not simply state that such and such a person is to be respected. The first command had no condition; we were simply told to respect him, and assuming we had ears and heard this command. it would have meant to us that we were to respect that person whether he came to the meeting or whether he was too lazy to bother. But when we hear the other command, we understand that we are to respect the person provided he comes to the meeting, and, if he refrains from doing so, we are not to respect him.

The ulema say that the rule requires us to interpret the unconditional as the conditional, meaning that we must assume the aim of the unconditional to be exactly that of the conditional. Now, among the unconditional and conditional verses of the Quran pertaining to jihad, is one which we have seen:

"Fight ye those who have not faith in God, nor in the hereafter and (who) forbid not what God and His Prophet have forbidden"

In another verse, we are told:

"Fight in the way of God those who fight you" (2:190).

What are the meanings of these verses? Do they mean that we must fight these people regardless of whether they are about to attack us? Is the command unconditional so that we must fight them whether they intend or not to attack us, whether they are guilty of aggression or not?

There are two possible views. One is that the command remains unconditional. "The People of the Book are not Muslims, so we are allowed to fight them. We are allowed to fight the non-Muslims until we subdue them. If they are not Muslims and not People of the Book, we should fight them until either they become Muslims or we kill them. If they are People of the Book, we should fight them until they become Muslims or, if they do not become Muslims, until they pay us tribute - such is the opinion of those who say that the verse remains unconditional.

The other view, however; holds that the unconditional must be interpreted as the conditional. Someone with this view would say that the other Quranic verses bring us the conditions for the legitimacy of jihad, we realize that the true meaning of the verses is not unconditional at all. What, then, are the conditions for the legality of jihad? Amongst them, for example, are the following: that the other side intends to attack us; or that it creates a barrier against the call of Islam, meaning that it negates the freedom of that call and becomes an obstacle to its diffusion, while Islam says that those barriers are to be removed. Or, likewise, in the case of a people subject to the oppression and tyranny of a group from amongst themselves, Islam says that we must fight those tyrants so as to deliver the oppressed from the claws of tyranny. This has been expressed in the Quran thus:

"Why is it that you do not fight in the way of God and the way of the deprived (mustazafin)?" (4:75)

Why is it that we do not fight for God and for the men, women and children who are subject to torture and tyranny?

Adapted from the book: "Jihad; The Holy War of Islam and Its Legitimacy in the Quran" by: "Ayatullah Morteza Mutahhari"

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