(Editor’s note: I have the pleasure of introducing Nelly Lahoud, a political theorist working on Islamism. She has published several books and has a new one on jihadi ideology coming out next year. Nelly is on my wish list for guest bloggers, but she has not yet been able to join us for a more extended period of time. She has nevertheless taken the time to write the following piece for us. To my knowledge Nelly is the first scholar to have looked closely at the substance of Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s new book on Jihad).
Youssef al-Qaradawi’s recent book Fiqh al-Jihad (Jurisprudential Reasoning and Jihad), excerpts of which are available here, has received considerable attention in the Arabic press and for good reason. Al-Qaradawi commands significant influence among Sunni Muslims in the Arab world and beyond, not least because he reaches a wider audience through his television shows on al-Jazeera (“Huda al-Islam” and “al-Shari‘a wa-al-Hayat”) and his two websites, one dedicated to his work, the other, Islamonline, designed to serve as a news service about the Muslim world, a religious guide to Muslims and a window to the Islamic faith and civilization to non-Muslims.
Controversies have not escaped al-Qaradawi: among those he has offended are Palestinians, Jews and Shi‘ites. Sometimes his statements generated controversies because he was misunderstood or misread; on other occasions, he might have purposely left his statements ambiguous perhaps to invite controversy.
In Fiqh al-Jihad, al-Qaradawi presents not just a synthesis of the legal opinions expounded by classical Muslim jurists on the issue of jihad, but also places them in the context of today’s reality, using modern political vocabulary to illustrate his points. In addition to addressing the Muslim community at large, including moderate and extremist political groups, al-Qaradawi explicitly states that he is keen for his book to reach a non-Muslim audience. More specifically, he wants his book to be translated so that military experts in the Pentagon can read it, he is keen to reach Muslim and non-Muslim public intellectuals, historians and politicians, Orientalists and those who promote inter-religious dialogue.
What is jihad then according to al-Qaradawi?
Building on the classical legal doctrine of jihad, al-Qaradawi distinguishes between offensive jihad (jihad al-talab) and defensive jihad (jihad al-daf‘). In the former case, jihad is to be considered as a communal duty (fard kifaya). This means that not all Muslims are required to take up jihad if enough of them volunteered to fight thus providing the desired security. In modern political realities, the concept of fard kifaya, according to al-Qaradawi, translates into ‘the umma possessing a military capacity armed with all the modern weapons that it requires … weapons that would compete with and even excel those of the enemies.’ The Muslim army should also spread its forces across any possible gaps or openings (land and sea) that might threaten its territory and people to keep the enemies in check, lest they consider attacking the Muslims (Issue 7, September 12, 2008). This aspect, he explains, is intrinsic to the territorial sovereignty of the modern state and is a matter that all modern states agree upon.
(To be continued)