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Are Islamists Conducting a New Jihad against the West?

About four decades have passed since Sheikh 'Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid (1908-1981), ex-Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia, published his lengthy, impassioned, essay on jihad.[1] This essay, still available on the Internet, is the only one that Saudi religious scholars chose to include with the Noble Quran -- a modern, nine volume, English translation of the Quran, which includes ancient commentary.[2]

A cursory reading of Sheikh bin Humaid's essay should forever silence any fantasies regarding traditional Islam's peaceful disposition toward the non-Muslim world.[3] As the Saudi publisher says in his prefatory note:

But, as regards the reward and blessing, there is one deed which is very great in comparison to all the acts of worship and all the good deed­[s] -- and that is Jihad!

The publisher continues:

Never before such an article was seen, describing Jihad in its true colours­ -- so heart evoking and encouraging!... We are publishing this article and recommend every Muslim not only to read it himself but to offer every other Muslim brother within his read.

To be clear, Sheikh bin Humaid defines "jihad" as "holy fighting in Allah's Cause." This is not, in other words, the "lesser jihad," or "spiritual struggle," that some Muslim apologists cite, possibly to obfuscate the primary historical usage of the word. Jihad is war fought with "the heart," "the hand (weapons, etc.)," and "the tongue" (2).

Why Do Muslims Take Up Arms?

According to Sheikh bin Humaid, Allah sent Muhammad to fight against the mushrikun of Mecca -- the "polytheists, pagans, idolaters, and disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah and in His Messenger Muhammad" (2). Muhammad patiently invited the Meccans to Islam for 13 years, warning them of Allah's judgement. But they refused the invitation.

This refusal, by itself, was not the justification for jihad. Allah's mercy was not yet exhausted. Sheikh bin Humaid tells us, in storied detail, that Muhammad and his followers were oppressed and persecuted by the Meccans. They were "imprisoned, made to suffer from hunger and thirst and by being beaten (in a horrible manner)" (3). Moreover, Muhammad himself was physically accosted more than once.[4]

The portrayal of cruelty on the part of the Meccans is enough to evoke sufficient anger in the reader, setting the stage for retaliation and jihad. At first Allah permitted the Muslims to defend themselves, but jihad was not obligatory. Allah can certainly defend the Muslims without fighting, according to the Sheikh, "but Allah wants from His worshippers obedience with all their efforts" (4). Consequently, he calls them to jihad as an act of obedience and devotion, not simply as an act of self-defense. This appears to be the birth of the Islamic doctrine of war.

Who is the Enemy of Islam?

Bin Humaid views jihad as a perpetual war that is to be waged against the world until submission to Islam is secured. The time for patience is over; the time for judgment has come. He cites the famous "verse of the sword":

"Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled." Quran 9:29, Sahih International

Bin Humaid tells us that Allah ordered the Muslims

To discard (all) the obligations (covenants, etc.) and commanded the Muslims to fight against all the Mushrikun as well as against the people of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) if they do not embrace Islam, till they pay the Jizya (a tax levied on the non-Muslims who do not embrace Islam and are under the protection of an Islamic government) with willing submission and feel themselves subdued (4).

Peace with pagans, Jews, and Christians is not an option as long as they resist Muslim rule. And, as long as the Muslims were capable of fighting, says Sheikh bin Humaid, they "were not permitted to abandon 'the fighting' against them... and to reconcile with them and to suspend hostilities against them for an unlimited period" (4).

What is the Reward for Jihad?

Muslims, according to the Qur'an, disliked the call to jihad at first, but Allah insisted upon it:

Jihad (holy fighting in Allah's Cause) is ordained for you (Muslims) though you dislike it, and it maybe that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know (2:216): (5)

Jihad, then, was not a fabrication of Muhammad; it was, we are told, a direct command from Allah himself.

According to Bin Humaid, Muslim resistance to jihad soon turned to a love for the fight. The motivation, in this case, is the reward, which far exceeds the hardships of fighting. These warriors (Mujahidin) "fight against the enemies of Allah in order that the worship should be all for Allah... and that the Word of Allah... should be superior" (5).

This alone, he tells us, should be sufficient compensation for the warrior, but Allah goes farther. "He will forgive your sins, and admit you into Gardens under which rivers flow and pleasant dwellings in Gardens of Eternity" (6).

Allah, says the Sheikh, also assists the Muslims in their battles against the enemies to give them victory. Although not specifically mentioned in the essay, Muslims find a celebrated example of this divine intervention in Islam's first major conflict, the Battle of Badr. In it, a relatively small army of Muslims defeated the well-equipped Meccan army. This was acclaimed as a certain sign of divine favor.

Sheikh bin Humaid spends several pages (6-10) discussing the superiority of the mujahidin (the warriors) over every other ministry and occupation in Islam, including those who maintain the mosque. The "believers who fight in Allah's Cause (mujahidin) are far superior in grades before Him" (7).

He describes the rewards of Paradise that await them (although he never mentions the fabled virgins). The rewards of Paradise are also promised to observant Muslims, but the highest grades of Paradise, of which there are 100, are reserved only for those who perform jihad (8).

Sheikh bin Humaid places virtually no emphasis on the spoils of war as a reward (see 16). Yet, we know from the many battles chronicled in the hadith, that booty was a major motivation for some of Muhammad's men.[5] Sheikh bin Humaid's idealism seems intended to appeal to the "true believer," and to the purest and most exalted motives to which devout Muslims aspire.

Is Jihad an Act of Worship?

Jihad, according to Sheikh bin Humaid, is spiritual warfare as well as armed conflict. The Quran says (4:76): "Those who believe, fight in the Cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Taghut (Satan etc.)." By battling the friends of Satan, Muslims are, according to him, protecting the weak and rescuing the oppressed from this evil (10). They are fighting to bring mankind "from the darkness into the light," from idolatry to the worship of Allah alone, and "from the injustices of the religions to the justice of Islam" (17).

Jihad, bin Humaid tells us, is also connected deeply to prayer and fasting -- all three of which are ordained by Allah. "All the Muslim religious scholars unanimously agree" that it is superior to non-obligatory prayer, as well as to the Hajj (the required pilgrimage to Mecca) and the Umra (a voluntary pilgrimage to Mecca) (11).

The Prophet Muhammad's lofty aspiration for Jihad is captured in this hadith from Sahih Al-Bukhari (2797). "I would love to be martyred in Allah's Cause, and then come back to life, and then be martyred, and then come back to life again, and then be martyred, and then come back to life again, and then be martyred" (11).

"Anyone", said Muhammad, "whose both feet get covered with dust in Allah's Cause will not be touched by the Hell-fire" (Sahih Al-Bukhari 2811) (16). This quest for martyrdom was echoed by the Fort Hood killer, Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Two years before he killed 13 people in 2009, he told an audience of his fellow Army doctors, "We love death more than you love life!"[6]

What are the Punishments for Refusing to Participate in Jihad?

If the rewards of jihad are great, then so, it seems, are the punishments for able-bodied Muslim men who refuse to participate, or who withdraw. According to Sheikh bin Humaid:

Allah (swt) disapproved of those who abandoned Jihad (i.e. they did not go for Jihad) and attributed to them hypocrisy and disease in their hearts, and threatened (all) those who remain behind from Jihad and sit (at home) with horrible punishment (12).

Punishment, says the Sheikh, is not limited to temporal justice: "whosoever turns his back to the unbelievers on the field of battle...has drawn upon himself the wrath from Allah. And his abode is Hell, worst indeed is that destination!" (Quran 8:16) (16). In the event that the Muslim people "march not forth," and forsake their duty to jihad, Allah has threatened to replace them with another people (12).

The severity of punishment for those who forsake jihad has been graphically demonstrated by ISIS during the last few years. ISIS cruelly executed dozens of their own soldiers who fled the battlefield. News reports indicate that these fighters were either burned alive, gassed, beheaded, or buried alive. [7]

How is Jihad Carried Out?

The call to jihad requires the support of the entire Muslim Ummah or people. It involves the transformation of a religious community into a military machine. Sheikh bin Humaid states:

And you will not find any organization past or present, religious or non-religious...(ordering) the whole nation to march forth and mobilize all of them into active military service as a single row for Jihad in Allah's Cause so as to make superior the Word of Allah...as you will find in the Islamic Religion and its teachings (13).[8]

The jihad must be fought with "true bravery," faith, and utter confidence (of which the author cites numerous historical examples). Allah assisted the prophet and his fighters, "with victory" and "helped them with angels and... cast terror into the hearts of their enemies" (16). Against those who disbelieve, jihadists are instructed to "smite at their necks[9] till you have killed and wounded many of them." If the enemy does not capitulate, captives may be ransomed, or freed without ransom, "according to what benefits Islam" (14).

Mercifully, women, children, and the elderly, should not be killed in battle (Sahih Al-Bukhari 4:52, 257) (16). Although this rule of engagement was generally followed by Muslim armies on the battlefield, it does not prevent Muslims from engaging in mass destruction (such as setting fire to habitations, using catapults or bombs) that may entail the death of innocents.[10] Muhammad, moreover, appears not to have spared his personal enemies, regardless of age or sex, according to the historical traditions.[11]

Why did 20th Century Islam Forsake Jihad?

Having set before his readers the high calling of jihad, Sheikh bin Humaid turns his attention to the plight of 20th century Islam. The success of jihad has always depended on the ability of Muslims to maintain a pure faith. This entails the fear of one's own sins, and the fear of disobedience to Allah. Muslims are victorious, despite their small numbers, because, according to bin Humaid, their enemies disobeyed Allah. Should the Muslims fail in this one point, they will be overpowered by their enemies (18).

By Allah's might, bin Humaid continues, the Muslims became "the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind" -- enjoining true monotheism and forbidding polytheism. But today they "are leading a life of the one who knows not any Prophet, nor believes in any Divine Message or Divine Revelation,[12] nor expects any reckoning nor is afraid of the Hereafter." They have, in some ways, he laments, reverted to the pre-Islamic ignorance of Arabian polytheists (19).

In response, Allah has sent them trials through the imposition of Western civilization and Soviet communism (this was written before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991). "So their land," says the Sheikh, "became 'a free wealth' with no protector." Fulfilling Muhammad's prophecy, Allah has removed fear from the hearts of those who hate Islam, while casting a love for this world and a hatred of death into the hearts of Muslims.[13] Allah has covered the Muslims in humiliation for cheating one another, abandoning their nomadic lifestyle to indulge their own comforts,[14] and deserting their call to jihad (19).

Having fallen so far, Muslims, he adds, have added yet another sin to their apostasy: They have asked for help from their enemies, and asked unbelievers to protect them, "begging them; turning towards them, expecting good from them" (19). Sheikh bin Humaid does not link this charge to any specific historical events. He was probably referring to numerous Saudi-American ventures including oil exploration in the 1930s, the permanent establishment of U.S. air bases in Saudi Arabia near the end of the WWII, and the military protection the U.S. has afforded Saudi Arabia since the 1940s.

Despite maintaining an outward appearance of Islamic religion and culture, Muslims, he says, have "become mean, despised before Allah." They have immersed themselves in luxury, the worship of wealth, and a love for this world. They have succumbed to their enemies without so much as raising a hand. They have abandoned Islamic law (sharia) in favor of man-made laws which are in conflict with Allah's judgement (19-20).

There is, in the Sheikh's exhortation, a complete absence of the usual refrains against Western imperialism and economic oppression that we are accustomed to hearing today. With some notable exceptions, Muslims have not suffered economically under Western influence; rather they have thrived, especially those who live in the oil-rich Gulf states. The guilt for abandoning their religion is the result of indulgence rather than want or oppression.

With some notable exceptions, Muslims have not suffered economically under Western influence; rather they have thrived, especially those who live in the oil-rich Gulf states. Pictured above: The skyline of Dubai.
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In his final appeal, Sheikh bin Humaid exclaims that it is "absolutely obligatory" for the Muslim people, and especially for Islamic scholars, to obey Allah, settle their differences, invite Muslims and non-Muslims alike to Islam, "publish its good aspects," and instruct the people in the laws and wisdom of Islam, "as did Muslim nobles of early days." Failure to do so is an invitation to Divine judgement (20-21).

The New Jihad

Since Sheikh bin Humaid penned this essay, evidently between 1974 and 1981, we have seen a resurgence of traditional faith in much of the Muslim world. With that renewal has come, predictably, an increase in violence as Muslims subdue unbelievers and seemingly attempt to purify their own ranks by punishing and killing apostates. Whether Sheikh bin Humaid would have approved of the brutality of ISIS and the use of suicide bombers is open for debate. But we can be certain that he would have lauded the willingness of many Muslims to spread the message of Islam and sacrifice their lives for the cause.

The new jihad is not primarily a reaction to Western economic oppression, as if more wealth in the hands of the many would arrest the problem.[15] To view this in neo-Marxist terms as an economic class struggle would be misleading. Muslim countries, as noted above, have largely prospered under Western influence and some have invited the protection of Western powers.[16] Rather, the new jihad evolves naturally from traditional Islamic doctrine which seeks to emulate Muhammad and his historical successors. Jihad is, by all appearances first and foremost an act of religious devotion, and only secondarily an act of economic and political rebellion.

Whereas Western nations generally seek peace and view it as a corollary to prosperity and the development of a high culture, Muslim traditionalists such as Sheikh bin Humaid believe that jihad is indicative of a vigorous and pure Islamic faith. Peace, according to him, can only be achieved when unbelief is subdued or vanquished from the earth. An Islam at perpetual war with the unbelieving world is the highest aspiration of faith and obedience. By contrast, the peace, prosperity, and culture so prized by the West has corrupted traditional Islam from within, posing a threat to its existence. This, evidently, is why the new call to jihad against the West has become more urgent for Islamists than ever.

[1] "Jihad in the Qur'aan and Sunnah". Numbers in parenthesis refer to the page numbers in this online version. In quoting the work I have followed the corrected spelling of the print version which is appended to the Noble Quran, cited below. The English renderings in either case are often awkward.

[2] "The Call to Jihad (Holy Fighting for Allah's Cause) in the Quran," Interpretation of the Meaning of the Noble Quran (Ryadh: Darussalam Publishers, 2000), 9:459-477. This is the official Saudi translation of the Quran and represents the Salafi (sometimes called, Wahhabi) form of Islam. The essay, however, is conspicuously absent from the more popular one-volume version, perhaps to conceal from non-Muslims the violent intentions of traditional Islamic doctrine.

[3] Not all Muslim's follow the traditional teachings, of course, especially those who live in the West. Muslims who insist on following traditional theology and law in all of its details are often referred to as Islamists. Their intent is to bring about submission to Islam worldwide, and implement sharia law in every nation. See "What Do the Terrorists Want? [A Caliphate and Shari'a]" by Daniel Pipes, July 26, 2005.

[4] Most historians believe that the Muslims were, indeed, persecuted at first. However, the extent of the persecution may have been exaggerated in order to justify later violence against the Meccans.

[5] See Muhammad at Medina, by W. Montgomery Watt (Oxford Press, 1956), 145-146.

[6] "We love death more than you love life!," National Post, April 6, 2011.

[7] See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3871056/ISIS-executes-nine-fighters-fleeing-fighting-Mosul-burning-alive-oil-trenches-jihadi-group-shifts-area-control-new-Iraqi-town.html, http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/698836/Islamic-State-ISIS-execute-fighters-lock-cars-gas, http://aranews.net/2017/02/isis-executes-12-of-its-own-fighters-for-trying-to-flee-mosul/, http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/isis-bury-45-fighters-alive-7943328

[8] The English translation is very awkward here, and I have omitted some words in an attempt to render it more intelligible.

[9] Decapitation has always been the preferred method of execution among Muslims. The severed heads, especially of important persons, are regarded as the trophies of victory and are often displayed after the battle.

[10] See discussion in, Hedaya, by Shaikh Burhanu 'd-din 'Ali, trans. Charles Hamilton (London: T. Bensley, 1791), 2:145-146 and A Dictionary of Islam, by T.P. Hughes (London: W.H. Allen, 1885), "Jihad."

[11] See examples in The Life of Muhammad, by Ibn Ishaq, trans. A. Guillaume (Oxford University Press, 1955), 665, 676 (women); Life of Muhammad, 551 and Bukhari 52:256 (children); Life of Muhammad, 675 and Bukhari 19:173 (elderly).

[12] The earlier, online version says "Divine Inspiration."

[13] The source is not cited, but it is probably Abu Dawud 4297.

[14] The English text says, "and followed the tails of the cows (i.e. indulged in agriculture and became contented with it)"

[15] See, for example, "State Department spokeswoman claims jobs are key to defeating ISIS," and "Kerry: 'Root Cause of Terrorism' Is Poverty"

[16] Occupation of Muslim lands is often considered an incitement, especially in the dispute over a Palestinian state. But even here, the religious dimensions of the problem (e.g., refusing to recognize any Jewish right to the land, inhibiting Muslims from living under an Islamic government, etc.) shape the political and economic conflict.

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