“Jihad in Islamic History”

“Jihad in Islamic History” September 9, 2018


A branch of the Provo River
I spent several hours on Friday afternoon and evening and several hours on Sunday afternoon with relatives at a favorite place on the Provo River. This view of a small part of the river — the deeper and wider branch at this point is out of view to the left, separated by the little island that is visible on the left hand (connected to the near bank by the bridge that’s visible in the background distance — was taken on Saturday by my wife’s youngest brother.


I’m just back from helping with a broadcast of the Interpreter Radio Show with Martin Tanner and John Gee and a new participant, Terry Hutchinson.  I think it went pretty well.




One of my many bad habits is the fact that, although I read widely and typically mark up everything serious that I read, I seldom get around to actually extracting (and thus making useful) the passages that I’ve marked.  So I’m trying to use this blog as a way to encourage myself to do so.


In that spirit, here are some notes from Michael Bonner, Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006), that I think at least a few of my readers might find of moderate interest:


Just for reference:  The Prophet Muhammad died in AD 632 — that is, within the first third of the seventh century AD.


I argue that the doctrine of jihad, as we recognize it today, and the distinctive set of social practices that are associated with it, did not come into existence until considerably later, toward the eighth century of the Common Era, when the ‘Abbasid Caliphate was consolidating its power.  It is only then that the jihad becomes fully recognizable as a doctrine, as a source of inspiration and guidance in the building of a series of new Islamic states.  (xvi)


Bonner speaks, accordingly, of “the prolonged gestation period of the jihad” (xvii)


Most accounts of the jihad agree that it has both an external and an internal aspect.  The external jihad is an activity in the world, involving physical combat against real enemies in real time.  The internal jihad, sometimes called the “greater jihad,” is a struggle against the self, in which we suppress our own based desires, purify ourselves, and then rise to contemplation of higher truth.  Most modern Western writings on the jihad consider that the external jihad, the physical combat against real adversaries, was the first to arrive in history and has priority in most ways.  In this view, the internal jihad, the spiritualized combat against the self, is secondary and derivative, despite all the importance it eventually acquired in Muslim thought and society.  However, much of contemporary Muslim opinion favors the opposite view.  As a question of first origins, we can argue that elements of the internal jihad were already present at the beginning, including in the Quran itself, and that jihad has often been, in equal measure, a struggle against both the enemy within and the enemy without.  (13-14)


I see no choice but to ask whether today’s “jihadists” are in continuity with their own tradition and past.  The answer, not surprisingly, is that in some ways they are and in other ways, quite radically, they are not.  (17-18)



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