Muslim Just War doctrine is based on the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Islam rests on the foundation of five pillars: Affirmation, or recitation of the Creed, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage, the requirement for one to make a journey to Mecca in one’s lifetime. For many of Christianity’s teachings on just war, the Qur’an has an equivalent teaching. The Qur’an states that Allah will assist only those who have been oppressed, seemingly emphasizing defensive war (Chapter 22:39-40). It later says that Muslims must “fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you,” emphasizing that the killing of non-combatants and causing wanton destruction are not viewed favorably by Allah (Chapter 2: 190-192). If both Just War doctrines preach toleration and defensive warfare, why does all of the killing and conflict exist today? The reason for this conflict is a basic misunderstanding of an important Islamic term: Jihad.
Jihad comes from an Arabic root meaning “to struggle” (Politics and Religion, 425). This word has taken a wide variety of meanings within Islam and around the world. Many in the United States see the term as synonymous with “Holy War.” This view is simply erroneous.
The Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion explains that “jihad” has evolved tremendously. During the time of Muhammad, it denoted peaceful proliferation of Islam. During Medieval times, this idea was transformed. Medieval Muslims divided the world into the Dar-al-Islam, or the places where Islamic laws and rules were observed, and Dar al-Harb, where there was no Islamic instruction. It was viewed as the duty of Muslims to bring the Dar al-Harb into the Dar al-Islam, peaceably if possible, but forcibly if necessary. Muslim theologians of the time constructed a series of rules, much like the Christian Just War Doctrine. They argued that there are two types of jihad, one offensive and one defensive. The offensive jihad can only be declared by the imam, the head of the Islamic state, forewarning of attack must be given, and non-combatants and prisoners could not be killed. In defensive jihad, nearly all means are permissible to preserve the Islamic way of life (Politics and Religion, 425-426).
From the Qur’an and these interpretations came three modern theories of jihad, just as three ideas came from Jesus and St. Augustine. The first, the apologetic, was that jihad was defensive (Politics and Religion, 426). They believed that jihad could only be waged in response to aggression. Some even leaned towards pacifism and said that jihad was purely internal. The next, the modernist, is much like current Christian Just War. They argued that medieval thought was not supported by the Qur’an or Muhammad and should not be followed. They also argued for a defensive interpretation of jihad. The third, the revivalist, believe that jihad is the struggle to spread Islam to the rest of the world, forcibly if necessary (Politics and Religion, 426).