Saturday, March 10, 2007

Jihad: the basics

OK here it is. The sub chapter in my dissertation dealing with Jihad, though specifically from the Shia perspective of Hezbullah. There is a lot which due to space considerations I didn't include, as well as the fact that this is still a draft, but I'm hoping to have captured the essence of what Jihad is. Anyhow, for those of you who care, here is...Jihad: the basics:

Note: Any comments or recommendations are most welcome! Including on whether it stands up to academic scrutiny!


In this section we examine the nature of Jihad as understood by Shia Muslims and applied by Hezbullah. Jihad (meaning to strive or struggle) is perhaps the most misinterpreted and controversial of Islamic concepts and is the second of Hezbullah's intellectual and ideological foundations. As mentioned previously, Hezbullah adheres first and foremost to the Shia Islamic interpretation of Islam as was articulated by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. The totality of Islamic faith expressed in it's fullest by many Muslims, especially those Shia enrolled directly in Hezbullah, is based on the direct and active link that the worshiper has with Allah. This link provides a conviction and in times of difficulty, an inner strength which can help sustain a Muslim's endurance to hardship, oppression or fear. Jihad in itself can be expressed in two forms: firstly a “Lesser Jihad” which involves a limited engagement or war for the sake of Allah and the “Greater Jihad” of the soul, which is the Muslim's never ending and very human struggle against his base instincts that might weaken his faith in Allah1.

The concept of Jihad, as Sheikh Naim Qassem points out, is probably best understood within the specific world view associated with Islam and based on Islamic assumptions though there are considerable parallels with notions of Christian suffering (I know, I need a reference here!). This world is seen as a temporary abode in which man is tested with hardship and tribulations, the nature and purpose of which mankind may be ill equipped or not able to comprehend readily2. Mankind may either endure the misfortune and hardship, striving towards God, or blaspheme and divert from justice and righteousness, treating this world as the end all and be all of existence. It is only with the achievement of some mastery in “Greater Jihad” control of the self, it's wants and desires, is an individual truly capable of waging the “Lesser Jihad”, resisting oppressors and occupation. Sheikh Qassem portrays the choice that Muslim's have with regards to Jihad (Lesser or Greater) as quite clear, with the rewards either immediately apparent or in Paradise in the presence of Allah. These can be manifested in the inner calm, peace, and proximity to God that can be achieved when one defeats his or her “inner demons”, to the liberation of lands, livelihoods and people from oppressive occupation and humiliation, thus regaining the opportunity to live as Muslims free from harassment3.

There is however a fundamental difference in the interpretation of Jihad as expressed by Hezbullah on the one hand, and Sunnite Wahhabi groups such as al-Qaeda on the other. Sunni Islamist thinkers such as Sayyid Qutb express the view that offensive war against the perceived enemies of Islam within the framework provided in the Quran is legitimate and necessary when required4, this more aggressive application of the Lesser Jihad is not shared by Shia clerics who divide Jihad into two main forms: Groundwork Jihad and Defensive Jihad5. Groundwork Jihad was only allowable under the Prophet Muhammad and his descendants up till the twelfth Imam. This was due to their infallibility in interpretation of the Law. In the absence of this infallible judgement, this form of Jihad is not an option until the return of the hidden Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi. Hezbullah, through their adherence to the Law as presented by al-Wali al-Faqih, only subscribe to Defensive Jihad, that is, “the defence of Muslims of their land, their people or their own selves upon facing aggression or occupation.”6 and any discourse or reference to the term is to be taken as referring to this particular interpretation.

Another important point about Jihad, and one which Sheikh Qassem is quite clear about, is we must not equate Martyrdom in the Islamic sense with suicide:

Martyrdom is a voluntary act undertaken by a person who has all the reasons to live, love life, and cling to it, and also possesses the means for living. It is thus an act of one who does not suffer from any reasons compelling him to commit suicide7.

The expression of Jihad as we understood it earlier is an acceptance and patience in enduring the trials and tribulations of this world, placed on us by Allah. Thus waging Jihad against aggressors to Islam in spite of the dangers and hardship experienced is the ultimate expression of submission to the will of Allah, whereas suicide becomes the ultimate expression of surrender and despair, a quality expected perhaps of weaker individuals with no faith in the one Allah, but not for Muslim's who understand Jihad in all it's dimensions and expressions8. Martyrdom for a Muslim while performing Jihad becomes the ultimate price that has been paid, to which the reward and status in Islam is unmatched.

1Qassem, 2005: 34-35

2Ibid. 36-39


4Qutb, 2000: 226

5Qassem, 2005: 39

6Ibid. (Note: Hezbullah's relationship with the United States and Israel is examined more closely in a later chapter in this dissertation)

7Qassem, 2005: 47



Qassem, N. (2005). Hizbullah: The story from Within, Saqi, London

Qutb, S. (2000), “War, Peace, and Islamic Jihad”, in, Moaddel, M. and Talattof, K. (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Islam: An Anthology of Modernist and Fundamentalist Thought, Macmillan Press ltd., Hampshire and London


infinit reality said...

HI wassim,
I like to read it and get educated by your work, but first, would you tell me in what field of study is your dissertation? just in case I have to comment, so I do not give a headache by commenting off of your subject of study, I am not claiming I will know about your study, just a caution for me...

Maysaloon said...

Hi Solo,
My disseratation is based on Hezbullah as an organisation and that section was a sub-chapter on the political ideology and beliefs of the Party. I posted it because a number of my friends have always been curious about this term and weren't sure what it represented.

Unknown said...

i appreciate the choice of your dissertation. kick some asses dear Wassim :-)

i just love Sheikh Qassem's definition on Martyrdom..

correct me if I am wrong, the interesting thing about Shia’s perspective of Jihad is that they really have an ant-Sunni perspective to life; they really appreciate life and only chooses to die for life!

Bin Laden and Zarqawi teach their followers to die for them, not for a nation. Of course I am not trying to offend any cult or so. I myself come from a Sunni family. But my outlook to Shiaa comes after some interviews I made with Southern shiaa’s - from Hezbollah people themselves.

You keep up the good work

Maysaloon said...

Hello again Sham and thanks for all the feedback!

I'm sure they aren't too impressed with Sunni's but I think Hezbullah have a much more conciliatory attitude to them. Perhaps from their experience in multi-sectarian Lebanon. As for Jihad and Martyrdom, I think the Sunni and Shia interpretations of Jihad are quite similar in disposition, though the Shia belief is modelled on the example of the Imam Hussein's martyrdom. The real difference between Bin Laden's followers is probably related to conceptions of when Jihad is legitimate - something I mentioned in the bit on Groundwork and Defensive Jihad.

I too come from a Sunni family and I have to admit I knew very little about the group till last summer's war. A Lebanese friend of mine from the Shia persuasion is a black belt :-) in Lebanese politics and gave me a crash course on them which triggered my curiosity. I have to say I've got some snide comments from a lot of my friends about me becoming a Shia because of all my research on them.

How come you did interviews with them and were these ever published anywhere?

Unknown said...

oh i see, interesting. actually i am interested in making a comparison between Shiaa's approaches to Qura'an, and that of Sunnis.

I think whereas the Sunnis keep it "historical:, the Shiaa keep it dialogical. you should how Shiaa women are treated in the South, they hold their neighbors hand and yalla dabkeh :D

about the interviews, no unfortunately i wasn't blogging back then, right after the war i went with a Palestinian NGO called Jana, they made us help the children in the South and i met Hezbollah soldiers over there, and those women who were cooking for Hezbollah soldiers during the war. i just had short talk with them, they were open to talk for i am Syrian ;-)

anyways, am sure you'll find plenty of material for you on that.

good luck