RECOMMENDED READING: Arguing The Just War In Islam


The New York Review of Books has reviewed a new book by Professor John Kelsay which examines the history of Islamic thinking about armed conflict and which suggests that it is not possible to draw a clear distinction between the global Muslim Brotherhood and groups such as Al Qaida. As the review points out, the debate about the proper conduct of armed conflict dates back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad and while current debate continues to rage, the issue is one of means rather than ends:

An even more striking absence is evident in the criticisms of militant readings advanced by official Islamic authorities, including the widely respected Sheikh al-Azhar, head of the mosque-university in Cairo and once the single most important voice in Sunni Islam.While questioning the methods of the militants on grounds of practical ethics—will the “actions taken in the service of justice yield more harm than good?”—their criticisms usually fall short of challenging them on the grounds of political legitimacy. Conservative Muslim critics of militancy do not in fact dissent from the militant judgment that current political arrangements [in most Muslim majority states]are illegitimate…. In its broad outlines, the militant vision articulated by al-Zawahiri is also the vision of his critics. The core of this consensus—shared by traditionally trained scholars and more populist leaders such as al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Maududi, his South Asian counterpart, is the belief that the abolition of the caliphate by Kemal Atatürk in Turkey in 1924 must not mean the end of Islamic government. In this vision, which is also shared by Shia jurists such as the late Ayatollah Khomeini, parliaments and elections are only acceptable within the frame of Islamic supremacy. They “cannot compromise on Muslim leadership,” Kelsay writes. Full-blown democracy, where the Muslim voice might simply be one among many, implying a degree of moral equivalence between Islam and other perspectives, would be “dangerous, not only for the standing of the Muslim community, but for the moral life of humankind.”

As previous posts have discussed, the global Muslim Brotherhood generally adopts the position of “defensive Jihad” based on the idea the violence is permissible where Muslims are deemed to be under attack. Thus, the heart of the disagreement between Al Qaida and the Brotherhood is about the boundaries of Jihad rather than about the notion of Jihad itself nor the about the “political theology” of Sharia and Islam.

(Note: Further analysis will be forthcoming subject to reading the book itself)

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