Linda Sarsour, a Muslim activist, has called for jihad against U.S. President Donald J. Trump. In her speech addressing the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) on July 6, 2017, she said: "when a man asked prophet Muhammad about the best form of jihad, he replied it is a word of truth in front of tyrant ruler." And then she said:
"I hope that ... when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or on the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House."
One may disagree with her views on President Trump, but Sarsour has every right to express her opinion. However, calling for "jihad" against our president is an extremely serious red flag that we should not ignore.
Linda Sarsour, a Muslim activist, has called for jihad against U.S. President Donald J. Trump. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
What Sarsour said is technically correct, but simply not accurate. It is just half of the truth. What she did not, and probably will not, say is that the concept of jihad in Islam, as it is widely taught and understood in Islamic jurisprudence, is not only self-struggle or peaceful opposition, but also using force and violence to defend Islam, as well as to spread and impose it on non-Muslims.
The prominent Saudi Sheik Muhammed Salah Al Monjed explains the different forms of jihad on his famous Arabic website, Islam Q&A. He says there are four types of jihad, taking this classification from Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, the famous Islamic theologian (1292-1350): jihad against oneself, against Satan, against infidels, and against Muslim hypocrites (i.e.: fake Muslims).
The jihad against oneself and Satan is the struggle to be a good Muslim and follow Allah. However, jihad against infidels and hypocrites is more than a self-struggle. It is an effort to change the situation on the ground. Such jihad could be executed through four different means: by oneself (fighting in the way of Allah), by money (funding those who fight), by one's words (speaking up against oppressors or infidels), or by one's heart (that is, by hating the evil and feeling that it is wrong).
To help his audience understand how important jihad is, he mentions one of the prophet Muhammad's hadiths that says, "Whoever dies without having gone out for jihaad or having thought of doing so, dies on a branch of hypocrisy.'" (Saheeh Muslim, 3533). "Gone out" refers to going to the military field. In Arabic, the hadith used the word yaghzoo -- "invades." The hadith means Muslims who die without invading, or at least thinking of it, are hypocrites (fake Muslims).
To be perfectly clear, and to avoid misquoting Sarsour, she did refer to "the speaking up" part, which is peaceful. However, it is only one phase in a multi-phased process, jihad, which includes using violence.
Islam Behery, an Egyptian Islamic researcher and reformer, explained the jihad against non-Muslims on one of his TV shows. He said the four main schools of jurisprudence in Sunni theology (the Shafi'i, Hanbali, Maliki, and Hanafi schools) agreed that jihad against infidels consists of two types. The first is "to defend" (جهاد الدفع) and the second is "to seek" (جهاد الطلب). The first is to defend the lands of Muslims if they get attacked; the second is to attack the land of other peoples to spread Islam. The four schools agreed that both types are religious obligations (fard).
Behery argued that this jurisprudence needs to be reformed. It was because of the resistance to reform by Muslim religious leaders, including Al-Azhar Univeristy in Cairo, that ISIS and other terror groups easily managed to recruit tens of thousands of Muslims, including some Westerners, to fight for them. Behery used to challenge the extremist views of Al-Azhar; as a result Al-Azhar sued him and had him thrown in prison for one year, after convicting him of blasphemy.
Al-Azhar, the most respected Sunni religious institution in the Islamic world, still teaches its students the same concept. In one of the Al-Azhar high school's books -- Persuasion: On Decoding Abu Shuga's Terms/Expressions -- it teaches that fighting infidels, even if they have not attacked Muslims, is a religious obligation for every able and free Muslim man. The rationale is that, as infidels do not convert to Islam even though Islam is a well-known religion, then Muslims should attack and kill them whenever possible. Failure to convert to Islam is therefore often viewed as an attack -- against which Islam must be defended.
Islam Web, one of the most important websites that teach Islamic theology in Arabic and that is run by credible Islamic scholars, defines jihad as a military action to spread Islam in the countries where Islam is not the dominant religion. The scholars there wrote:
"The purpose of jihad in Islam is not to cause loss of souls, destruction of property, and women's widowhood, but the goal is to spread the religion of Allah on earth and to remove obstacles that prevent people from reaching God."
They said that Muslims got humiliated only when they abandoned jihad. They encouraged young Muslims to go back to jihad, and cited a verse from Surah Al-Tawbah from the Qur'an:
"Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties in exchange for Paradise. They fight in Allah's way, and they kill and get killed." (09:111) [Emphasis added.]
Talking about jihad as a fight in the way of Allah takes us to the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood: "God is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way, Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope." Jihad is defined by the sentence that says, "Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope." In my native country Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood called for jihad against the government, and innocent blood was spilled on a regular basis, especially from the armed forces and police. That is what usually follows a call for jihad.
Growing up in Cairo, we studied, for a whole academic year, the story of Uqba ibn Nafi, the Islamic military leader who came out of the Arabian Peninsula and invaded several North African countries to spread Islam. The Islamic military conquests that he led were, and today still are, taught in Egyptian schools as an example of "glorious jihad" for young teens to follow.
The examples above are but a few. If Sarsour wants to reclaim the "peaceful" concept of jihad from extremists, as she claims, first of all she needs to admit that it is not only extremists who relate jihad to violence, but also mainstream Islamic jurisprudence, which urgently needs to be reformed. Secondly, she needs to challenge those who still preach a seventh-century version of Islam in the 21st century; instead, she calls everyone who quotes what these faith leaders say a bigot, racist and Islamophobe. Sadly, Sarsour seems to be trying to whitewash dangerous ideas, perhaps to make them more appealing to the unsuspecting people of the West. This effort has nothing to do with real reform, which needs to start by acknowledging the problems that exist.
Sarsour may not like President Trump; however, calling for "Islamic jihad" against the President of the United States -- even if she meant the peaceful type of it -- while the concept of jihad is widely taught as a struggle that involves using violence to spread one's beliefs, is something immensely dangerous. It should not taken lightly by anyone.
Maher Gabra is an Arab Egyptian specializing in the Middle East and the ideology of political Islam.