Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Understanding Jihad

Mark Gould, writing in Policy Review, looks at the theological underpinnings of "holy war" in Understanding Jihad. Mr. Gould contrasts Islam's focus on eschatology, or final judgment, with Christianity's focus on soteriology, or salvation.

This difference, and Islam's legalistic structure, emphasizes external actions, rather than internal beliefs, as the basis for achieving paradise:
According to some Muslims, including Maududi, while Christians have the obligation to believe, Muslims have, as an aspect of their belief, the obligation to act, to impose and live in terms of shari'ah, which, they believe, frees all to believe what they will, but most important, frees them to believe what is true, Islam. Thus, freedom of religion for many Muslims requires the imposition of shari'ah in an Islamic state, both of which are necessary for correct practice. Freedom of religion for Christians, in contrast, requires only that the Koranic injunction not to coerce belief be implemented. While from a Christian perspective the asymmetry seems outrageous, from within a Muslim perspective, there is no inconsistency.
Gould argues that Jihad is not, as some suggest, an aberration but rather is a true tradition within Islam and is understandable within its structure as a "short-cut" to their eternal reward:
Those in the 'subculture of Islamism' might not participate in 'jihad', but persons within a 'subculture of Islamism' are not hostile to it.

Islamists share the conviction that they know how they must act to garner God's favor. One obligation, the neglected obligation that they assume, is jihad, war to impose shari'ah, first on their own societies and then on other societies. This obligation stems from an authentic tradition within Islam. They have not hijacked Islam; instead, they are working out their convictions, convictions with a history that reaches into Islam's formative years.

Their motivation stems from the eschatological premises of their religion, from their certainty that God has laid down for them a straight path and that if they follow that path they will, at the Last Judgment, be deemed worthy of everlasting life in paradise. The promise of an immediate entrée into heaven for the martyrs of jihad reinforces their motivation to comply with their understanding of God's will. They may not know whether God has predetermined them to die or to gain victory in jihad, but they know that in the first instance their reward is immediate, while in the second instance they have enhanced their chances of being rewarded at the Day of Judgment.

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