Launching Offensive Attacks: the Unfounded Base for Extremists
Among the modern scholars who view peace as the basic guiding principle of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims is the renowned scholar Sheikh Abu Zahra (1898-1974). According to him, military jihad is permitted only to remove aggression and religious persecution against Muslims. He further states that many verses establish this principle. God clearly says in the Quran, "To those against whom war is made, permission has been given to fight back, because they were wronged and indeed Allah is most powerful for their aid. They are those who have been evicted from their homes without right only because they say, our Lord is Allah and were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might". (22:39-40)
He added further that the scholars who state that military jihad is the basic principle between Muslims and non-Muslims derive their view from the reality they experienced rather than from the texts of the Quran and the Sunnah. The rulings arrived at by the classical scholars, Abu Zahrah argues are related only to the historical period in which they lived and therefore cannot be considered as definitive and binding rulings. Instead, military jihad is legislated to establish justice and fend off aggression. He considers the Quranic verses that call for peace as the basic norm in Muslim and non-Muslim external relations. For Abu Zahrah, the historical context cannot be underestimated.
The erudite Syrian scholar, Sheikh Al-Buti (1929-2013) stresses like Abu Zahrah, the intrinsic connection between peace and justice. He maintains that "any genuine call for peace necessitates a genuine call for justice", arguing that justice which is one of the main causes behind the legislation of jihad is the only principle that can lead to peace. If the equilibrium between peace and justice is evenly balanced, al-Buti maintains then not only will Muslims and non-Muslims enjoy permanent peaceful relations, but all peoples will enjoy the same consequences regardless of their faith or ethnicity. Al- Buti sets two conditions for permanent peace to be achieve. the first is the elimination of religious persecution and Muslims should enjoy the freedom to practice and propagate their faith. The second element is that there should be no occupation to Muslim lands. This means that any confiscation, usurpation and residing illegally in Muslim lands disturbs the peace and leads to a state of war.
When it comes to the issue of freedom of religious practice and propagation of the Islamic faith, our modern world today allows Muslims to enjoy full freedom to propagate their religion in majority non-Muslim countries, in contrast to the "restricted freedom" they enjoy in some majority -Muslim countries. Undoubtedly modern technology has globalized many aspects of our lives, including the propagation of Islam, so it leaves little or no room of hindrance to the propagation of Islam.
A third modern scholar who is well-versed in the jurisprudence of Jihad, Sheikh Wahbah al- Zuhayli, strongly advocates that peace is the underlying principle of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. Al-Zuhayli maintains that this view is supported by verses like, "And if they incline to peace, then incline to it also and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing" (8-61) and God also says, "O who you believe, enter into Islam (peace) wholeheartedly and follow not the footsteps of Satan for he is to you an avowed enemy" (2:208). Thus these verses among others establish the principle of international peace. For al-Zuhayli, Muslims should be committed to peace and security as God stated clearly in the Quran, "Allah forbids you not with regard to those who fight you not for your faith nor drive you out of your homes from dealing kindly and justly with them. For Allah loves those who are just" (60:8). Therefore, considering military jihad to be the norm in relations between Muslims and non-Muslims opposes what the jurists have actually agreed upon which is that "permissibility is the underlying principle". He argues that if this legal maxim and other similar to it constitute basic principles then the original rule in Muslim-non-Muslim relations is peace.
Unauthentic Quranic interpretations used by extremists
One can only wonder if the Quranic verses clearly establish the principle of peace as the guiding element of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, from where the extremist groups derived their perverted and twisted interpretation of the Quran.
From reviewing the literature of offensive military jihad which these terrorist groups are relying upon, it is evident that they heavily depend on the writings of Sayyid Qutb who is considered to be the ideologue and the godfather of modern extremism and who held radical and revolutionary views which had an ideological impact on the proponents of offensive jihad from the second half of the twentieth century up to present times. The radical ideologies of Qutb was endorsed in the writings of Muhammad 'Abd al-Salam Faraj (1954-1982) who was an important figure in the radical groups and wrote a manifesto titled "The Neglected Duty" or (al- Faridah al- Ghaiba) which refers to the duty of jihad. The manifesto asserts that the state of Egypt is ruled by the laws of unbelief although the majority of its inhabitants are Muslims. As for the rulers of Muslims, the author of the Faridah declares that they are in apostasy from Islam. They were raised at the tables of imperialism be it Crusaderism or Communism or Zionism. they carry nothing from Islam but their names, even though they pray and fast and claim to be Muslim. it is clear from these two quotations that the members of the radical groups at the time did not consider their fellow Muslim Egyptians as apostates although they did not hesitate to say that the ruler (Sadat at that time) ipso facto an apostate who should be killed. Based on this extremist understanding, the author of the Faridah poses this challenging question: "Do we live in an Islamic state?"
Ibn Taymiyah's Fatwas: essential reference for extremists
To answer this critical question, Faraj started to quote heavily from Ibn Taymiyah's fatwa regarding the city of Mardin when he was asked about the status of its people. Before delving into this fatwa and analyzing it, it would be of great importance to briefly introduce Ibn Taymiyah and his scholarly background as many of the extremist groups are heavily quoting his opinions and selectively follow his fatwas to support their twisted ideologies.
Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328) was born in Harran in Turkey and His father fled with his family to Damascus in the year 1268 out of fear of the Tataro-Mongols who invaded the land of Islam. In Damascus, the center of Islamic studies at that time, Ibn Taymiyyah started his interest in Islamic studies especially in Quranic exegesis, hadith and jurisprudence. At the age of 19, he finished studying Islamic studies and started giving out fatwas on religious legal matters without following any of the traditional authentic legal schools i.e the Hanafi, the Maliki, the Shafi'i and the Hanbali. He defended the sound prophetic traditions by arguments that have been unfamiliar and unsound to scholars of his time.
His doctrinaire intransigency and the vigour of his personality attracted the hostility of the scholars of the traditional orthodox schools. He was accused of introducing new arguments contesting the consensus of erudite well-versed scholars and without using the proper authentic tools of conducting sound legal reasoning (ijtihad). Thus by the standards of all previous Sunnite scholars, it is clear that despite voluminous and influential written legacy, Ibn Taymiyyah cannot be considered an authority on tenants of faith ('Aqida), a field in which he made profound mistakes incompatible with the belief of Islam.
Going back to one of the contentious fatwas which was given by Ibn Taymiyah and was heavily quoted by Faraj in his manifesto to justify his extremist approach towards the rulers of the Muslim countries, is the Fatwa of Mardin. Mardin was a city under the Tataro-Mongol rulership and though they converted to Islam, they followed Yasa code of laws of Genghis Khan ( 1127-1167) instead of the Islamic law. When Ibn Taymiyah was asked about the status of the people of Mardin he said, "the Muslims in this town should be treated according to what was due to him whereas the one who rebelled against the laws of Islam should be treated according to what was due to him". Faraj among other extremist authors adopted literally the Mardin fatwa and applied on the rulers of the Muslim countries today under the false claim that they do not abide by the Islamic laws. Modern scholars were staunch opponents of such argument and stated that Ibn Taymiyah's fatwa concerning Mardin can under no circumstances be appropriated and used as evidence for leveling the charge of kufr (unbelief) against fellow Muslims, rebelling against rulers, deeming game their lives and property, terrorizing those who enjoy safety and security, acting treacherously towards those who live (in harmony) with fellow Muslims or with whom fellow Muslims live in harmony via the bond of citizenship and peace. Anyone who seeks support from this fatwa for killing Muslims or non-Muslims has erred in his interpretation and has misapplied the revealed texts.
The insistence on quoting Ibn Taymiyah's views regarding this particular issue, as well as in various other parts of the pamphlet reveals that Faraj and his like depend heavily on persons rather than texts in formulating their views, which is evidence of their inability to deduce rulings from their original sources. When it comes to the status of the relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims, Faraj endorses the offensive jihad thesis and states that "it is proper that we should refute those who say that jihad in Islam is defensive and that Islam was not spread by the sword. This is a false view...Islam spread by the sword". Thus jihad is the underlying principle governing the external relations of Muslims and non-Muslims. the rulers who are declared apostates by Faraj are not eligible to declare jihad as they carry no authority. ordinary men and women therefore have every right to exercise jihad, which is an individual obligation on all Muslims. In a bid to clothe his views in a scholarly robe and consequently claim relative legitimacy, he quotes extensively from the interpretations of Ibn Kathir and al Suyuti without paying any due attention to the historical and circumstantial settings. Again, he depends on selective classic readings to suit his deviant ideologies.
Corrupt Muslim rulers vs. Occupiers of Muslim lands
Many people would wonder why these extremist groups are focusing on eradicating the Muslim rulers presiding over Muslim countries and not giving due attention to the occupiers of Palestine for example who are violating all bases of human rights, usurping the Muslim lands from its legal residents and subjugating Muslims to severe hardships. The answer to this query maybe found through Faraj's differentiation between two enemies, the near enemy and the far one. Although defending and freeing occupied Muslim territories is a legal obligation, Faraj wants first to prioritize these options and he gives fighting "apostate" rulers priority over fighting occupying forces. Critiquing his view, Dr. Imarah, an erudite scholar in Islamic Studies says that Faraj's understanding achieving victory over the far enemy entails a tacit approval of Muslim regimes he regards as un-Islamic, as fighting a non-Muslim enemy requires Muslim leadership. It is even more interesting that military jihad comes second after fighting and eradicating the "apostate rulers" and that this extremist understanding of the medieval legacy and its selectivity in using the textual sources was rejected by scholars who were Faraj's contemporaries. Unlike him, they were well-versed in Islamic scholarship, a sufficient reason why their views regarding this issue are well received.
Multiple refutations at that time were written by eminent scholars such as the luminary Scholar, Jad al-Haqq Ali Jad al- Haqq, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar along with other well-versed scholars. And these responses were popular in coverage by Western scholarship and among the Western academic discourse.
In conclusion, it is evident that the deviant understanding of the Islamic law and its application by the extremist groups gave them a false justification to kill Muslims who are not agreeing with their "true" application of Islamic law along with killing non-Muslims under the guise of war which dominates, in their distorted opinion, the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. These extremists have the audacity to clothe their insanity with a legal and religious robe and to ignore 1400 years of authentic religious scholarship in Islamic sciences which left for us an illuminating Islamic literature advocating for peaceful coexistence and cooperation among people on the basis of worshiping God, purifying one's moral character and developing the world.