i. Jihād can be waged without State Authority


Some people are of the view that groups and organizations can wage jihād and state authority is not a requirement for it.

Consider the Qur’ānic verse:


أُذِنَ لِلَّذِينَ يُقَاتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمْ ظُلِمُوا وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَى نَصْرِهِمْ لَقَدِيرٌ الَّذِينَ أُخْرِجُوا مِنْ دِيَارِهِمْ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ إِلَّا أَنْ يَقُولُوا رَبُّنَا اللَّهُ (22 :39-40)

Permission to take up arms is hereby granted to those who are attacked because they have been oppressed and God indeed has power to help them – those who have been unjustly driven from their homes, only because they said: “Our Lord is Allah.” (22:39-40)


While explaining this verse, Ghāmidī writes:[1]


This right to use force has been given to the Muslims in their collective capacity. Every person who appreciates the linguistic style of the Qur’ān knows that verses which authorize Muslims to use force do not address them in their individual capacity. Like the verses which mention punishments, these verses too address the Muslims as a community. Thus any step which is to be taken for use of force must originate from their collective system. No person or group has the right to take a step on its own in this regard on behalf of the Muslims. The word أُذِنَ(permission is granted) in the above quoted verse of Sūrah Hajj also points to the fact that the very first question in an armed offensive is that of justification and permission. The Almighty permitted the Muslims of those times to fight back the Quryash only when Muslims had political authority in spite of the tremendous oppression let loose upon them. Consequently, in these times also, this is an essential pre-requisite of war. The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:


إِنَّمَا الْإِمَامُ جُنَّةٌ يُقَاتَلُ مِنْ وَرَائِهِ وَيُتَّقَى بِهِ

A Muslim ruler is the shield [of his people]. An armed struggle can only be carried out under him and people should seek his shelter [in war].[2]


It may be noted further that the misconceived view has only arisen in recent times. There is a consensus among all authorities of Islam that only a Muslim state has the authority to wage jihād. This condition is so explicit and categorical that all the scholars of this ummah unanimously uphold it. Sayyid Sābiq, while referring to this consensus, writes:


من الفروض الكفائية ما يشترط فيه الحاكم مثل: الجهاد وإقامة الحدود

Among collective obligations, there is a category for which the existence of a ruler is necessary e.g., jihād and administering punishments.[3]


‘Uthmānī, a Hanafite jurist, writes:


ولا يخفى أن الأمير الذي يجب الجهاد معه كما صرح به حديث مكحول إنما هو من كان مسلما ثبتت له الإمارة بالتقليد إما باستخلاف الخليفة إياه كما نقل أبو بكر رضي الله عنه ’ وإما ببيعة من العلماء أو جماعة من أهل الرأي والتدبير قلت: فلو بايع العلماء أو جماعة  من المسلمين رجلا  لا يقدر على  سد الثغور  وحماية البيضة وجر العساكر و تنفيذ الأحكام بشوكته و بأسه ولا على إنصاف المظلوم من الظالم بقدرته وسطوته لا يكون ذلك أميرا ولا إماما  وإنما هو بمنـزلة الحكم ومبايعة الناس له منـزلة التحكيم ولا يجدي  تسميته إماما أو أميرا في القراطيس وأفواه الناس فإن مدار الإمارة والإمامة على القوة والقدرة دون التسمية والشهرة فقط  فلا يجب على عامة المسلمين مبايعته ولا إطاعة أحكامه  ولا الجهاد معه

It is obvious from the Hadīth narrated by Makhūl[4] that jihād becomes obligatory only in the presence of a ruler who is a Muslim and whose political authority has been established either through nomination by the previous ruler similar to how Abū Bakr transferred the reins [of his khilāfah to ‘Umar] or through pledging of allegiance by the ulema or a group of the elite … in my opinion, if the oath of allegiance is pledged by ulema or by a group of the elite to a person who is not able to guard the frontiers or defend the honour [of the people] or organize armies or implement his directives by political force nor is he able to provide justice to the oppressed by exercising force and power, then such a person cannot be called “amīr” (leader) or “imām” (ruler). He, at best, is an arbitrator and the oath of allegiance is at best of the nature of arbitration and it is not at all proper to call him “amīr” (leader) or a “imām” (ruler) in any [official] documents nor should the people address him by these designations. The reason for this is that the basis of leadership and rulership is power and authority and it does not hinge only on the fact that he gets famous by this name. It is not imperative for the citizens to pledge allegiance to him or obey his directives, and no Jihād can be waged alongside him.[5]


Ibn Qudāmah, a Hanbalite jurist, writes:


وأمر الجهاد موكول إلى الإمام واجتهاده ويلزم الرعية طاعته فيما يراه من ذلك

And the matter of jihād rests with the ruler [of a state] and his ijtihād. The opinion he forms in this regard must be obeyed by the citizens of his country.[6]


Al-Māwardī, a Shafi‘īte authority, while enumerating the obligations of a Muslim ruler says:


والسادس: جهاد من عاند الإسلام

And his sixth obligation is to conduct jihād against those who show hostility against Islam.[7]


In the words of Al-Farāhī:


In one’s own country, without migrating to an independent piece of land, jihād is not allowed. The tale of Abraham (sws) and other verses pertaining to migration testify to this. The Prophet’s life (sws) also supports this view. The reason for this is that if jihād is not waged by a person who holds political authority, it amounts to anarchy and disorder.[8]


While commenting on the underlying reasons that form the basis of state authority for jihād, Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, writes:


The first reason [for this condition] is that God Almighty does not like the dissolution and disintegration of even an evil system until a strong probability exists that those who are out to disintegrate the system will provide people with an alternative and a righteous system. Anarchy and disorder are unnatural conditions. In fact, they are so contrary to human nature that even an unjust system is preferable to them ... this confidence [that a group will be able to harmonize a disintegrated system and integrate it into a united whole] can be reposed in such a group only if it has actually formed a political government and has such control and discipline within the confines of its authority that the group can be termed as al-jamā‘ah [the state]. Until a group attains this position, it may strive [by religiously allowable means] to become al-jamā‘ah – and that endeavour would be its jihād for that time – but it does not have the right to wage an “armed” jihād.


The second reason is that the import of power that a group engaged in war acquires over the life and property of human beings is so great that the sanction to wield this power cannot  be given to a group the control of whose leader over his followers is based merely on his spiritual and religious influence on them  [rather than being based on legal authority]. When the control of a leader is based merely on his spiritual and religious influence, there is not sufficient guarantee that the leader will be able to stop his followers from fasād fi al-ard [creating disorder in the society]. Therefore, a religious leader does not have the right to allow his followers to take out their swords [that is to wage an armed struggle] merely on the basis of his spiritual influence over them, for once the sword is unsheathed there is great danger that it will not care for right and wrong and that those who drew it will end up doing all [the wrong which] they had sought to end. Such radical groups as desire revolution and whose objective is nothing more than disruption of the existing system and deposition of the ruling party to seize power for themselves play such games – and they can, for in their eyes disruption of a system is no calamity, nor is cruelty of any kind an evil. Everything is right to them [as long as it serves their purpose]. However, the leaders of a just and righteous party must see whether they are in a position to provide people with a system better than the one they seek to change and whether they will be able to stop their followers from doing such wrong as they themselves had sought to root out. If they are not in that position, they do not have the right to play games with the lives and property of people on the basis of their confidence on mere chance and to create greater disorder than the one they had sought to end.[9]


Here some people justify that in some cases Islam allows jihād without state authority by citing the skirmishes carried out by Abū Basīr against the Quraysh. This is a misinterpretation of facts: It is known historically[10] that after the treaty of Hudaybiyah, Abū Basīr defected to Madīnah. However, according to the terms of the treaty, he was duly returned back to the Quraysh by the Prophet (sws). He was sent back in the custody of two people of the Quraysh. On the way back, he killed one of his two custodians and again defected to Madīnah. When he arrived in Madīnah, the Prophet (sws) was angry at what he had done. Sensing that the Prophet (sws) would once again send him back to the Quraysh, he left Madīnah and settled at a place near Dhū al-Marwah, where later on other people joined him. From this place, they would attack the caravans of the Quraysh.

If these guerrilla attacks are analyzed in the light of the Qur’ān, the basic thing which comes to light is that whatever Abū Basīr and his companions did was not sanctioned at all by Islam. The Qur’ān says that the actions and deeds of a person who had not migrated to Madīnah were not the responsibility of the Islamic state:


وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَلَمْ يُهَاجَرُوا مَا لَكُمْ مِنْ وَلَايَتِهِمْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ حَتَّى يُهَاجِرُوا(8 :72)

And as to those who believed but did not migrate [to Madīnah], you owe no duty of protection until they migrate. (8:72)


Not only did the Qur’ān acquit the newly founded Islamic state of Madīnah from the actions of these people, we even find the following harsh remarks of the Prophet (sws) about Abū Basīr when he returned to Madinah after killing one of his two custodians:


وَيْلُ أُمِّهِ مِسْعَرَ حَرْبٍ لَوْ كَانَ لَهُ أَحَدٌ

His mother be cursed, if he is able to find some supporters he is bound to ignite the flames of war.[11]


So, one can safely conclude that jihād without state authority is terrorism and is totally prohibited in Islam. Moreover, clandestine attacks on a country even with state authority are not allowed. Jihād must be openly declared against the enemy country. If a peace treaty has been made with it, then it should first be openly declared null and void. Similarly, non-combatants of the enemy country should never be targeted. No one has the right to take the life of innocent civilians.



ii. Jihād is only for Self-Defence


There are some scholars who believe that all wars fought by the Prophet of Islam were defensive. Muhammad (sws) never carried out unprovoked attacks. Sir Thomas Arnold is one prominent authority who holds this view. He writes:


There are no passages to be found in the Qur’ān that in any way enjoin forcible conversion, and many that on the contrary limit propagandist efforts to preaching and persuasion. It has further been maintained that no passage in the Qur’ān authorizes unprovoked attacks on unbelievers, and that, in accordance with such teaching, all the wars of Muhammad were defensive.[12]


It seems that this viewpoint has emerged because of a misunderstanding of certain verses of the Qur’ān. Following is a typical verse[13] that is quoted in support of this stance:[14]


وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا (190:2)

Fight in the way of Allah with those who fight against you and do not transgress bounds. (2:190)


The verse apparently says that Muslims should only fight their enemy when the enemy initiates the attack. However, if the context of the verse is taken into consideration, this seems to be an erroneous interpretation. The verse is not talking about war in general. It is talking about war in the vicinity of the Baytullāh and that too in the forbidden months. The succeeding verses read:


وَلَا تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِنْدَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّى يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ فَإِنْ قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ (192:2)

But do not initiate war with them near the Baytullāh unless they attack you there. But if they attack you, put them to the sword [without any hesitation]. (2:192)


الشَّهْرُ الْحَرَامُ بِالشَّهْرِ الْحَرَامِ وَالْحُرُمَاتُ قِصَاصٌ فَمَنْ اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ فَاعْتَدُوا عَلَيْهِ بِمِثْلِ مَا اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ(194:2)


A sacred month for a sacred month; [similarly] other sacred things too are subject to retaliation. So if any one transgresses against you, you should also pay back on equal footing. Have fear of Allah and [keep in mind that] Allah is with those who remain within the bounds [stipulated by religion]. (2:194)


So, in other words, verses like 2:190 have a specific context and do not relate to jihād waged in general.

Moreover, the propounders of the view that jihād is only for self-defence must reflect on other verses of the Qur’ān which explicitly ask the Muslims to wage offensive war. Perhaps the most explicit of these verses is the following:


وَمَا لَكُمْ لَا تُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَالْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنْ الرِّجَالِ وَالنِّسَاءِ وَالْوِلْدَانِ الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْ هَذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ الظَّالِمِ أَهْلُهَا وَاجْعَل لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ وَلِيًّا وَاجْعَل لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ نَصِيرًا (4 :75)

And why is it that you not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated and oppressed – men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Yourself one who will protect and raise for us from Yourself one who will help!” (4:75)



iii. Qitāl is a lesser Jihād


There is a persistent notion among many Muslims that fighting in the battlefield is something very inferior to fighting againstone’s desires.While the former is termed as jihād-i asghar (the lesser jihād), the latter is called the jihād-i akbar (the greater jihād).

This notion is not true. It is generally understood that the terms jihād-i akbar and jihād-i asghar are supposedly attributed to the Prophet (sws). However, this attribution does not have a sound basis. The chain of narrators of this narrative is very weak. Authorities of Hadīth like Ibn Hajar, Ibn Taymiyyah and al-Bānī have convincingly challenged the authenticity of this narrative.[15] So, one can safely conclude that there is no such thing as a greater jihād or a lesser one.

It needs to be appreciated that the word jihād is used in the Qur’ān to connote striving in the way of Allah. One particular form of such a struggle is that in which one might have to take up arms for Allah’s cause. This is also termed as qitāl. In other words, striving in the way of Allah in whatever form one is able to in accordance with the needs that arise is what is required from a believer. Whether striving in His way in a particular form is more superior than some other one has not been indicated in any authentic source.



iv. Islam was spread by the Sword


In the early period of Islam, we find that Islamic rule was extended by the Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws) to a large part of the world. In an astounding series of conquests, country after country fell to the sword of Islam. It was not long before the Muslim empire stretched from the shores of the Mediterranean in the West to as far as Indonesia in the East.[16] Some people ask the question: “Why did they impose Islam on these countries? Is this not Arab Imperialism?”

The fact that all these conquests took place is established history and hence cannot be denied in any way. However, the thesis that it was “Arab Imperialism” that accounted for these conquests is something which cannot be condoned. While looking at the spread of Islam in the early period, one must resort to the basis which the Qur’ān itself offers for these conquests:

According to the Qur’ān,[17] the Almighty through His messengers punishes in this world the direct and immediate addressees of these messengers who deny the truth in spite of being convinced about it. This punishment called a divine practice by the Qur’ān and must not be undertaken by human beings on their own. It is God’s retribution carried out by God Himself. The purpose of this worldly retribution is to make mankind mindful of the most important reality that it tends to forget: reward and punishment in the Hereafter on the basis of a person’s deeds. This reward and punishment which is to take place in the Hereafter is substantiated visually by the Almighty through the agency of His messengers so that mankind may always remain heedful to this reality. The court of justice which will be set up for every person on the Day of Judgement was set up for the nations of messengers in this world so that the latter could become a visual testimony to the former. To put it another way: before the advent of the greater Day of Judgement, several lesser days of Judgement were brought about in this world in which people were rewarded and punished on the basis of their deeds so that they could become a visual evidence to the judgement that will take place in the Hereafter. The Qur’ānic words used are:(4:165)لِأَلَّا يَكُونَ لِلنَّاسِ عَلَى اللَّهِ حُجَّةٌ بَعْدَ الرُّسُلِ(so that mankind after the coming of these messengers is left with no excuse against the Almighty, (4:165)).

Consequently, the conquests of the followers of the Prophet (sws) at that time were basically not aimed at spreading Islam as such. Their primary objective was to subjugate and punish people who had deliberately denied the truth. Moreover, Muhammad (sws) himself initiated the task by writing letters to eight heads of state and thereby demarcated the areas where the Companions (rta) could go.

Summing up, it can be said that it is erroneous to conclude that Islam was spread by the sword. The whole exercise of the Companions (rta) was a continuation of the mission of Muhammad(sws) and no independent endeavour. This mission is governed by a specific practice of the Almighty according to which He punishes people who deny the truth even though they are fully convinced about it.



v. Regarding the Basis for Jihād


In this regard, it needs to be understood that, after the departure of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta), apart from self-defence, the only legitimate reason for an Islamic state to undertake jihād is to curb oppression and persecution in some other country, whether Muslim or Non-Muslim. The Qur’ān says:


وَمَا لَكُمْ لَا تُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَالْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنْ الرِّجَالِ وَالنِّسَاءِ وَالْوِلْدَانِ الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْ هَذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ الظَّالِمِ أَهْلُهَا وَاجْعَل لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ وَلِيًّا وَاجْعَل لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ نَصِيرًا (4 :75)

And why is it that you not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated and oppressed – men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Yourself one who will protect and raise for us from Yourself one who will help!” (4:75)


Again, this should be resorted to when all diplomatic means fail. Moreover, Muslims should be in a position to successfully combat the enemy, otherwise the whole venture would be no more than suicide. Again whether or not a country is in a position to wage war is a decision that should be taken by the elected representatives of the state and of course for human beings the possibility of error is always there.

The guideline to give due consideration to one’s military might is found in the life of the Prophet (sws) also. According to the Qur’ān, it was necessary in those times that the believers should be in a certain number before they launch an attack. Initially, the believer to enemy ratio was 1:10 (The Qur’ān, 8:66). However, later, after large scale conversions to Islam in later years of the Prophet (sws), this was reduced to 1:2 (The Qur’ān, 8:66). It seems that in both these situations, the Almighty would be providing the remaining support Himself for this noble cause of curbing oppression. The above ratios were meant for the time of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta). Today, of course, the overall extent of faith that Muslims have cannot be compared to that found in the days of the Prophet (sws). Therefore, an Islamic State should realize that if it wants to wage jihād, its military might should never be less than half of the enemy’s military might even if it wants to expect Divine help.

Consequently, Muslim countries of today should keep consolidating and developing their military might to check any aggression from its enemies. The Qur’ān says:


وَأَعِدُّوا لَهُمْ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ مِنْ قُوَّةٍ وَمِنْ رِبَاطِ الْخَيْلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدُوَّ اللَّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ وَآخَرِينَ مِنْ دُونِهِمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَهُمْ اللَّهُ يَعْلَمُهُمْ وَمَا تُنفِقُوا مِنْ شَيْءٍ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ يُوَفَّ إِلَيْكُمْ وَأَنْتُمْ لَا تُظْلَمُونَ (8 :60)

And muster against them all the men and cavalry at your disposal so that you can strike terror into the enemies of Allah and of the believers and others beside them who may be unknown to you, though Allah knows them. And remember whatever you spend for the cause of Allah shall be repaid to you. You shall not be wronged. (8:60)