Jihad: How Academics Have Camouflaged Its Real Meaning

Fact & Fiction

Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is http://www.danielpipes.org.

LAST SPRING, the faculty of Harvard College selected a graduating senior named Zayed Yasin to deliver a speech at the university's commencement exercises in June. When the title of the speech—"My American Jihad"—was announced, it quite naturally aroused questions. Why, it was asked, should Harvard wish to promote the concept of jihad—or "holy war"—just months after thousands of Americans had lost their lives to a jihad carried out by nineteen suicide hijackers acting in the name of Islam? Yasin, a past president of the Harvard Islamic Society, had a ready answer. To connect jihad to warfare, he said, was to misunderstand it. Rather, "in the Muslim tradition, jihad represents a struggle to do the right thing." His own purpose, Yasin added, was to "reclaim the word for its true meaning, which is inner struggle."

In the speech itself, Yasin would elaborate on this point:

Jihad, in its truest and purest form, the form to which all Muslims aspire, is the determination to do right, to do justice even against your own interests. It is an individual struggle for personal moral behavior. Especially today, it is a struggle that exists on many levels: self-purification and awareness, public service and social justice. On a global scale, it is a struggle involving people of all ages, colors, and creeds, for control of the Big Decisions: not only who controls what piece of land, but more importantly who gets medicine, who can eat.

Could this be right? To be sure, Yasin was not a scholar of Islam, and neither was the Harvard dean, Michael Shinagel, who enthusiastically endorsed his "thoughtful oration" and declared in his own name that jihad is a personal struggle "to promote justice and understanding in ourselves and in our society." But they both did accurately reflect the consensus of Islamic specialists at their institution. Thus, David Little, a Harvard professor of religion and international affairs, had stated after the attacks of September 11, 2001 that jihad "is not a license to kill," while to David Mitten, a professor of classical art and archaeology as well as faculty adviser to the Harvard Islamic Society, true jihad is "the constant struggle of Muslims to conquer their inner base instincts, to follow the path to God, and to do good in society." In a similar vein, history professor Roy Mottahedeh asserted that "a majority of learned Muslim thinkers, drawing on impeccable scholarship, insist that jihad must be understood as a struggle without arms."

Nor are Harvard's scholars exceptional in this regard. The truth is that anyone seeking guidance on the all-important Islamic concept of jihad would get almost identical instruction from members of the professoriate across the United States. As I discovered through an examination of media statements by such university-based specialists, they tend to portray the phenomenon of jihad in a remarkably similar fashion—only, the portrait happens to be false.


SEVERAL INTERLOCKING themes emerge from the more than two dozen experts I surveyed.* Only four of them admit that jihad has any military component whatsoever, and even they, with but a single exception, insist that this component is purely defensive in nature. Valerie Hoffman of the University of Illinois is unique in saying (as paraphrased by a journalist) that "no Muslim she knew would have endorsed such terrorism [as the attacks of September 11], as it goes against Islamic rules of engagement." No other scholar would go so far as even this implicit hint that jihad includes an offensive component.

Thus, John Esposito of Georgetown, perhaps the most visible academic scholar of Islam, holds that "in the struggle to be a good Muslim, there may be times where one will be called upon to defend one's faith and community. Then [jihad] can take on the meaning of armed struggle." Another specialist holding this view is Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im of Emory, who explains that "War is forbidden by the shari'a [Islamic law] except in two cases: self-defense, and the propagation of the Islamic faith." According to Blake Burleson of Baylor, what this means is that, in Islam, an act of aggression like September 11 "would not be considered a holy war."

To another half-dozen scholars in my survey, jihad may likewise include militarily defensive engagements, but this meaning is itself secondary to lofty notions of moral self-improvement. Charles Kimball, chairman of the department of religion at Wake Forest, puts it succinctly: jihad "means struggling or striving on behalf of God. The great jihad for most is a struggle against oneself. The lesser jihad is the outward, defensive jihad." Pronouncing similarly are such authorities as Mohammad Siddiqi of Western Illinois, John Iskander of Georgia State, Mark Woodard of Arizona State, Taha Jabir Al-Alwani of the graduate school of Islamic and social sciences in Leesburg, Virginia, and Barbara Stowasser of Georgetown.

But an even larger contingent—nine of those surveyed—deny that jihad has any military meaning whatsoever. For Joe Elder, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, the idea that jihad means holy war is "a gross misinterpretation." Rather, he says, jihad is a "religious struggle, which more closely reflects the inner, personal struggles of the religion." For Dell DeChant, a professor of world religions at the University of South Florida, the word as "usually understood" means "a struggle to be true to the will of God and not holy war."

Concurring views have been voiced by, among others, John Kelsay of John Carroll University, Zahid Bukhari of Georgetown, and James Johnson of Rutgers. Roxanne Euben of Wellesley College, the author of The Road to Kandahar: A Genealogy of Jihad in Modern Islamist Political Thought, asserts that "For many Muslims, jihad means to resist temptation and become a better person." John Parcels, a professor of philosophy and religious studies at Georgia Southern University, defines jihad as a struggle "over the appetites and your own will." For Ned Rinalducci, a professor of sociology at Armstrong Atlantic State University, the goals of jihad are: "Internally, to be a good Muslim. Externally, to create a just society." And Farid Eseck, professor of Islamic studies at Auburn Seminary in New York City, memorably describes jihad as "resisting apartheid or working for women's rights."

Finally, there are those academics who focus on the concept of jihad in the sense of "self-purification" and then proceed to universalize it, applying it to non-Muslims as well as Muslims. Thus, to Bruce Lawrence, a prominent professor of Islamic studies at Duke, not only is jihad itself a highly elastic term ("being a better student, a better colleague, a better business partner. Above all, to control one's anger"), but non-Muslims should also "cultivate . . . a civil virtue known as jihad":

Jihad? Yes, jihad . . . a jihad that would be a genuine struggle against our own myopia and neglect as much as it is against outside others who condemn or hate us for what we do, not for what we are. . . . For us Americans, the greater jihad would mean that we must review U.S. domestic and foreign policies in a world that currently exhibits little signs of promoting justice for all.

Here we find ourselves returned to the sentiments expressed by the Harvard commencement speaker, who sought to convince his audience that jihad is something all Americans should admire.

THE TROUBLE with this accumulated wisdom of the scholars is simple to state. It suggests that Osama bin Laden had no idea what he was saying when he declared jihad on the United States several years ago and then repeatedly murdered Americans in Somalia, at the U.S. embassies in East Africa, in the port of Aden, and then on September 11, 2001. It implies that organizations with the word "jihad" in their titles, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad and bin Laden's own "International Islamic Front for the Jihad Against Jews and Crusade[rs]," are grossly misnamed. And what about all the Muslims waging violent and aggressive jihads, under that very name and at this very moment, in Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao, Ambon, and other places around the world? Have they not heard that jihad is a matter of controlling one's anger?

But of course it is bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, and the jihadists worldwide who define the term, not a covey of academic apologists. More importantly, the way the jihadists understand the term is in keeping with its usage through fourteen centuries of Islamic history.


In premodern times, jihad meant mainly one thing among Sunni Muslims, then as now the Islamic majority.** It meant the legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims (known in Arabic as dar al-Islam) at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims (dar al-harb). In this prevailing conception, the purpose of jihad is political, not religious. It aims not so much to spread the Islamic faith as to extend sovereign Muslim power (though the former has often followed the latter). The goal is boldly offensive, and its ultimate intent is nothing less than to achieve Muslim dominion over the entire world.

By winning territory and diminishing the size of areas ruled by non-Muslims, jihad accomplishes two goals: it manifests Islam's claim to replace other faiths, and it brings about the benefit of a just world order. In the words of Majid Khadduri of Johns Hopkins University, writing in 1955 (before political correctness conquered the universities), jihad is "an instrument for both the universalization of [Islamic] religion and the establishment of an imperial world state."

As for the conditions under which jihad might be undertaken—when, by whom, against whom, with what sort of declaration of war, ending how, with what division of spoils, and so on—these are matters that religious scholars worked out in excruciating detail over the centuries. But about the basic meaning of jihad—warfare against unbelievers to extend Muslim domains—there was perfect consensus. For example, the most important collection of hadith (reports about the sayings and actions of Muhammad), called Sahih al-Bukhari, contains 199 references to jihad, and every one of them refers to it in the sense of armed warfare against non-Muslims. To quote the 1885 Dictionary of Islam, jihad is "an incumbent religious duty, established in the Qur'an and in the traditions [hadith] as a divine institution, and enjoined especially for the purpose of advancing Islam and of repelling evil from Muslims."

JIHAD WAS no abstract obligation through the centuries, but a key aspect of Muslim life. According to one calculation, Muhammad himself engaged in 78 battles, of which just one (the Battle of the Ditch) was defensive. Within a century after the prophet's death in 632, Muslim armies had reached as far as India in the east and Spain in the west. Though such a dramatic single expansion was never again to be repeated, important victories in subsequent centuries included the seventeen Indian campaigns of Mahmud of Ghazna (r. 998-1030), the battle of Manzikert opening Anatolia (1071), the conquest of Constantinople (1453), and the triumphs of Uthman dan Fodio in West Africa (1804-17). In brief, jihad was part of the warp and woof not only of premodern Muslim doctrine but of premodern Muslim life.

That said, jihad also had two variant meanings over the ages, one of them more radical than the standard meaning and one quite pacific. The first, mainly associated with the thinker Ibn Taymiya (1268-1328), holds that born Muslims who fail to live up to the requirements of their faith are themselves to be considered unbelievers, and so legitimate targets of jihad. This tended to come in handy when (as was often the case) one Muslim ruler made war against another; only by portraying the enemy as not properly Muslim could the war be dignified as a jihad.

The second variant, usually associated with Sufis, or Muslim mystics, was the doctrine customarily translated as "greater jihad" but perhaps more usefully termed "higher jihad." This Sufi variant invokes allegorical modes of interpretation to turn jihad's literal meaning of armed conflict upside-down, calling instead for a withdrawal from the world to struggle against one's baser instincts in pursuit of numinous awareness and spiritual depth. But as Rudolph Peters notes in his authoritative Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (1995), this interpretation was "hardly touched upon" in premodern legal writings on jihad.

IN THE vast majority of premodern cases, then, jihad signified one thing only: armed action versus non-Muslims. In modern times, things have of course become somewhat more complicated, as Islam has undergone contradictory changes resulting from its contact with Western influences. Muslims having to cope with the West have tended to adopt one of three broad approaches: Islamist, reformist, or secularist. For the purposes of this discussion, we may put aside the secularists (such as Kemal Ataturk), for they reject jihad in its entirety, and instead focus on the Islamists and reformists. Both have fastened on the variant meanings of jihad to develop their own interpretations.

Islamists, besides adhering to the primary conception of jihad as armed warfare against infidels, have also adopted as their own Ibn Taymiya's call to target impious Muslims. This approach acquired increased salience through the 20th century as Islamist thinkers like Hasan al-Banna (1906-49), Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), Abu al-A‘la Mawdudi (1903-79), and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1903-89) promoted jihad against putatively Muslim rulers who failed to live up to or apply the laws of Islam. The revolutionaries who overthrew the shah of Iran in 1979 and the assassins who gunned down President Anwar Sadat of Egypt two years later overtly held to this doctrine. So does Osama bin Laden.

Reformists, by contrast, reinterpret Islam to make it compatible with Western ways. It is they—principally through the writings of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, a 19th-century reformist leader in India—who have worked to transform the idea of jihad into a purely defensive undertaking compatible with the premises of international law. This approach, characterized in 1965 by the definitive Encyclopedia of Islam as "wholly apologetic," owes far more to Western than to Islamic thinking. In our own day, it has devolved further into what Martin Kramer has dubbed "a kind of Oriental Quakerism," and it, together with a revival of the Sufi notion of "greater jihad," is what has emboldened some to deny that jihad has any martial component whatsoever, instead redefining the idea into a purely spiritual or social activity.

For most Muslims in the world today, these moves away from the old sense of jihad are rather remote. They neither see their own rulers as targets deserving of jihad nor are they ready to become Quakers. Instead, the classic notion of jihad continues to resonate with vast numbers of them, as Alfred Morabia, a foremost French scholar of the topic, noted in 1993:

Offensive, bellicose jihad, the one codified by the specialists and theologians, has not ceased to awaken an echo in the Muslim consciousness, both individual and collective. . . . To be sure, contemporary apologists present a picture of this religious obligation that conforms well to the contemporary norms of human rights, . . . but the people are not convinced by this. . . . The overwhelming majority of Muslims remain under the spiritual sway of a law . . . whose key requirement is the demand, not to speak of the hope, to make the Word of God triumph everywhere in the world.
In brief, jihad in the raw remains a powerful force in the Muslim world, and this goes far to explain the immense appeal of a figure like Osama bin Laden in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001.

Contrary to the graduating Harvard senior who assured his audience that "Jihad is not something that should make someone feel uncomfortable," this concept has caused and continues to cause not merely discomfort but untold human suffering: in the words of the Swiss specialist Bat Ye'or, "war, dispossession, dhimmitude [subordination], slavery, and death." As Bat Ye'or points out, Muslims "have the right as Muslims to say that jihad is just and spiritual" if they so wish; but by the same token, any truly honest accounting would have to give voice to the countless "infidels who were and are the victims of jihad" and who, no less than the victims of Nazism or Communism, have "their own opinion of the jihad that targets them."


ISLAMISTS SEEKING to advance their agenda within Western, non-Muslim environments—for example, as lobbyists in Washington, D.C.—cannot frankly divulge their views and still remain players in the political game. So as not to arouse fears and so as not to isolate themselves, these individuals and organizations usually cloak their true outlook in moderate language, at least when addressing the non-Muslim public. When referring to jihad, they adopt the terminology of reformists, presenting warfare as decidedly secondary to the goal of inner struggle and social betterment. Thus, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the most aggressive and prominent Islamist group in the United States, insists that jihad "does not mean ‘holy war'" but rather is a "broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self-defense (e.g., having a standing army for national defense), or fighting against tyranny or oppression."

This sort of talk is pure disinformation, reminiscent of the language of Soviet front groups in decades past. A dramatic example of it was on offer at the trial of John Walker Lindh, the Marin County teenager who went off to wage jihad on behalf of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. At his sentencing in early October, Lindh told the court that, in common with "mainstream Muslims around the world," he himself understood jihad as a variety of activities ranging "from striving to overcome one's own personal faults, to speaking out for the truth in adverse circumstances, to military action in defense of justice."

That a jihadist caught in the act of offensive armed warfare should unashamedly proffer so mealy-mouthed a definition of his actions may seem extraordinary. But it is perfectly in tune with the explaining-away of jihad promoted by academic specialists, as well as by Islamist organizations engaging in public relations. For usage of the term in its plain meaning, we have to turn to Islamists not so engaged. Such Islamists speak openly of jihad in its proper, martial sense. Here is Osama bin Laden: Allah "orders us to carry out the holy struggle, jihad, to raise the word of Allah above the words of the unbelievers." And here is Mullah Muhammad Omar, the former head of the Taliban regime, exhorting Muslim youth: "Head for jihad and have your guns ready."

IT IS an intellectual scandal that, since September 11, 2001, scholars at American universities have repeatedly and all but unanimously issued public statements that avoid or whitewash the primary meaning of jihad in Islamic law and Muslim history. It is quite as if historians of medieval Europe were to deny that the word "crusade" ever had martial overtones, instead pointing to such terms as "crusade on hunger" or "crusade against drugs" to demonstrate that the term signifies an effort to improve society.

Among today's academic specialists who have undertaken to sanitize this key Islamic concept, many are no doubt acting out of the impulses of political correctness and the multiculturalist urge to protect a non-Western civilization from criticism by making it appear just like our own. As for Islamists among those academics, at least some have a different purpose: like CAIR and other, similar organizations, they are endeavoring to camouflage a threatening concept by rendering it in terms acceptable within university discourse. Non-Muslim colleagues who play along with this deception may be seen as having effectively assumed the role of dhimmi, the Islamic term for a Christian or Jew living under Muslim rule who is tolerated so long as he bends the knee and accepts Islam's superiority.

As I can attest, one who dares to dissent and utter the truth on the matter of jihad falls under enormous censure—and not just in universities. In June of this year, in a debate with an Islamist on ABC's Nightline, I stated: "The fact is, historically speaking—I speak as a historian—jihad has meant expanding the realm of Islam through armed warfare." More recently, on a PBS Lehrer NewsHour program about alleged discrimination against Muslims in the United States, a clip was shown of a role-playing seminar, conducted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, in which Muslim "activists" were practicing how to deal with "hostile" critics. As part of this exercise, my image was shown to the seminar as I spoke my sentence from the Nightline debate. The comment on this scene by the show's PBS narrator ran as follows: "Muslim activists have been troubled by critics who have publicly condemned Islam as a violent and evil religion." We have thus reached a point where merely to state a well-known fact about Islam earns one the status of a hostile bigot on a prestigious and publicly funded television show.

AMERICANS STRUGGLING to make sense of the war declared on them in the name of jihad, whether they are policymakers, journalists, or citizens, have every reason to be deeply confused as to who their enemy is and what his goals are. Even people who think they know that jihad means holy war are susceptible to the combined efforts of scholars and Islamists brandishing notions like "resisting apartheid or working for women's rights." The result is to becloud reality, obstructing the possibility of achieving a clear, honest understanding of what and whom we are fighting, and why.

It is for this reason that the nearly universal falsification of jihad on the part of American academic scholars is an issue of far-reaching consequence. It should be a matter of urgent concern not only to anyone connected with or directly affected by university life—other faculty members, administrators, alumni, state and federal representatives, parents of students, students themselves—but to us all.

* To see what the public is told, I looked at op-ed pieces, quotations in newspaper articles, and interviews on television rather than at articles in learned journals.

**This analysis relies on Douglas Streusand, "What Does Jihad Mean?" Middle East Quarterly, (September 1997).

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Dallea Amber Caldwell - 5/15/2008

But again you define Jihad in purely violent terms. I think the word he uses, and my arabic is horrendous, qatilu (fight)... not Jihad. In fact the Qur'an rarely uses Jihad to desribe holy war, but it is used in a variety to ways.

The believers are those who believe in Allah and His Messenger, then do not doubt [the verity of Islam], and jahadu (do jihad) with their properties and selves in the way of Allah; those are the truthful (49.15).

Dallea Amber Caldwell - 5/15/2008

The Qur'an generally defines Jihad as 'struggle for the sake of Allah' and is neutral as to the means. Unfortunately, history cannot possibly tell the story of the majority of people who Jihad by peaceful, quiet and personal means-- those who give to the poor or resist temptation.

Still, the vagueness of the Qur'anic use of the term has contributed to its contemptuous distortion and exploitation throughout history. However, that leaders distort the word of God for their own selfish reasons is a fact that history demonstrates repeatedly; and, it is the only thing that the author successfully demonstrates in his argument.

Obviously, the Qur'anic/divine use of the term Jihad is very different from Osama's use of the term. Of course, the only way to prove that is to turn to the Qur'an and avg followers of Islam who Jihad everyday. This is something the author neglected to do.

In fact, if it were not for Pipe's ignorant dismissal of alternative opinions in favor of the partial historic 'evidence', he might have learned the true meaning of Jihad for several ordinary people who live it out every day from the people themselves. He was simply too stubborn to listen.

Basically, his argument is one sided because history cannot possibly tell the whole story. The rest of the story of Jihad has been left out of the history books.

Sidhartha Guatema - 4/7/2006

I wonder what Muhammad would say a bout your arrogance. I have a working knowledge of the Armed Islamic Group, Islamic Jihad Group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, al-Jihad, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Qa’ida, Tanzim Qa'idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn ... and dozens of others ... heretics all, hijacking Islam and Muhammad's Quran. Excuse our unclean opinion that the righteous majority of Islam do precious little to condemn the heretics who loudly laude their particular branding of "Jihad". In fact there is no condemnation from you. That current branding of "Islamic Jihadist" contains chaos and cowardice as the keywords for me. Include kidnappings, decapitations, killing of women, children, and other non-combatants. Suicidal heretics envisioning swarms of virgins. My, my ... how proud you all must be. Your sanctimonious admonishments should be aimed at the radical Islamic Jihadists who depart "from the established definition and practice of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions".

Shareef Abdullah Muhammad - 1/25/2006

Those of you on this message board seem to have no shortage of baseless and shallow of opinions. Too often the people who've opined the most on this subject lack, among other things, a working knowledge of Islam. Since everyone is scammering to persuade others to recognize their definition of this contraversial word I think it is important that we revist the man who first introduced the practice known as jihad to the world and make his definition and practice of it the only valid and legitimate expression under which we judge all other definitions and practices. The story begins in the year 621 A.C.E. when Muhammad began preaching his message to his country men. He was persecuted along with his followers who were tortured and killed and yet at no time did he instruct them to fight back. For thirteen years he and his followers endured this treatment without lifting a finger in self-defense. Instead of fighting Muhammad responded by sending his followers to Ethiopia where, according to Muhammad, a just Christian king ruled. Muhammad's persecutors followed them to Ethiopia and tried to persuade the king to turn them over so they could continue their persecution. The king refused. The Meccans increased their intolerance by imprisoning Muhammad and his family in their homes. Finally they would conspire to kill him but the assasination attempt failed and instead Muhammad with the help of some companions fled to the neighboring territory of Medina where he would create the first authentic Islamic state. Nonetheless the Meccans where not satisfied with them leaving the country and so they gathered an army and headed to Medina to finish the job of killing Muhammad and vanquishing his nonviolent community. For fourteen years the Muslims had restrained from using violence choosing to leave the country of thier oppressors and now they are confronted with a dogged attempt to by the Meccans to eradicate them. It was only after the extreme avenues of peace were exhausted that the following verses in the Quran were revealed: "Fight in the cause of Allah Those who fight you, But do not transgress limits; For Allah loveth not transgressors" (The Quran 2: 190). What are the limits that the Quran admonishes not to transgress? Before the Muslims went into battle Muhammad gave them these instructions: "Fight with the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Combat those who disbelieve in Allah. Fight but do not break trust, do not mutilate, do not kill minors or women. If you encounter an enemy from among the polytheists, then offer them three alternatives, whichever of these they accept, agree to it and withhold yourself from them. So call them to accept Islam. If they accept, then agree to it and withhold yourself from them... If, however, they refuse, then call them to pay the protection tax. If they accept, then agree to it and withhold yourself from them. If they refuse, then seek help from Allah and fight them." Historical sources testify that he and his followers strictly adhered to this conduct. And so from the earliest history of Islam we can draw three conclusions from the definition and practice of jihad by Muhammad: 1)It began and was carried out as self-defense, 2) It was order by Muhammad in order to defend against outside enemies to the newly formed state. Therefore jihad can only be declared and carried out by the head of state and under his authority. And 3) Its rules of engagement strictly and explicitly prohibited the killing of noncombatants. Such were the words and practice of Muhammad himself. This should render invalid all other definitions whether yours or those of the Muslim terrorists which do not conform. The only thing radical about September 11th was its departure from the established definition and practice of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions.

Vernon Richards - 1/16/2004

Pipes got it right, but the issue is a moot point from long ago. In fact it does not matter what Pipes or the Islamic apologists think Jihad means. What matters is what millions of self-described devout Muslims think it means, and how they intend to act on their belief. But then any honest review of Islamic history from 610 to 2004 also answers that question quite convincingly. Nothing much has changed through the last 1400 years. In fact, Sept 11th 'II' is currently in production and coming to a theatre near you! The lesser Jihad can not be separated from the greater Jihad, they are both a part of unalterable core Islam. Anyone who suggests otherwise is lying. Practicing deception and deceit is allowed in Islam if it is against Infidels used in the advance of Islam. What this all means for us is one thing and one thing only, ... the lesser Jihad intends to bring down any government, people, or culture who they feel stands in the way of Islamic expansion. That does not seem like a lesser Jihad to be, it sounds like a big ugly Hate machine completely void of tolerance coming to kill us. We can oppose the efforts, or become peaceniks and hope it will go away, it does not matter. Islamic attitudes towards Infidels draws no distinction between the two. Convert or die is the final choice offered to conquered non-Muslims.

Smith Haley - 12/24/2003

OK. Then what is the original meaning of Jihad. An answer will be greatly apriciated ASAP. Smith Haley Macon GA USA

Michael - 3/26/2003

Mr. Pipes comparison of the multifaceted meanings of jihad and crusade is an astute one and bears further examination.

A scholar of Christianity and so-called "Christian wars" would be wise to distinguish between what Jesus taught and what has been practiced in his name. Both are real and both use the same word-symbol, but they are vastly different concepts. Likewise the lesser jihad (political war) and the higher jihad (internal spiritual struggle) are both real.

However the similarity breaks down when viewed in the context of Western and Middle Eastern political reality. The practice of separation of church and state in the West has greatly reduced the ability of Christian faiths to use military might. The combined church and state concept in the Middle East gives the lesser jihad both reality and bark, regardless of the more spiritual teachings of Muhammad.

Walter Prescott - 12/5/2002

Bona fide scholars genuinely interested in comprehending the complexities of contemporary Islam, as well as proponents of individual liberty, advocates of religious tolerance, and all those desirous of real solutions to the twin dangers of fundamentalism and terrorism would do well to follow closely the case of Hashem Aghajari in Iran. (A general description of the issues involved appeared on HNN a few weeks ago). As reported by AP today, Iranian hard-liners are now calling for a "'revolutionary jihad' or holy war, to remove reformers from power" in that country. The silence of both pro- and anti-Moslem fanatics, concerning this crucial battle for future of Islam, is deafening.

W. Prescott

Jack Robertson - 12/5/2002

The so-called argument of Daniel Pipes does not hold water. After
lambasting the "professoriat" for its narrow and one-sided characterization of Islam he proceeds to do the same. He is not
only an ahistorical bigot, he is a hypocrite as well.

Veritas - 12/4/2002

In his second posting above, Suetonius writes:

"It WOULD APPEAR that Pipes' argument is a criticism, that Western/U.S. preferences for a more mild interpretation of 'jihad' complicates our understanding of the danger posed by bin Laden." [my emphasis added]

It is a strange "scholarly argument" that has to be guessed at by readers before it can be discussed.

Whether Suetonius is truly interested in accurately summarizing
Pipe's "argument" is also questionable. The language Pipes uses
goes far beyond that needed for an assertion that his academic targets are "complicating" our understanding of dangerous terrorists:

In this piece, Pipes accuses those in Academia he disagrees with of a "universal falsification" that is of "far-reaching consequence" and an "urgent concern". They are, in Pipe's words, "apologists" who "cloak their true outlook", "becloud reality" and "whitewash" the intentions of the "enemy". Far from describing "preferences complicating understanding," as Suetonius would like to imagine, Pipes rails instead against "pure disinformation, reminiscent of the language of Soviet front groups".

If, to quote Pipes one last time, he has now "earned" the "status of a hostile bigot", it is probably due more to his deliberately hyperbolic and inflammatory rhetoric than to the unpopularity of his "arguments".

Jim Brown - 12/4/2002

I am in no way expert on Islam, a brief search of the internet turned up the following websites that suggest the idea that there are some within Islam who believe there are 2 types of jihad.

The following 3 webpages identify 2 types of jihad, lesser and greater.

http://www.al-islam.org/al-tawhid/greater_jihad.htm. Al-Tawhid is published in Iran, and thus doesn't suggest to me that it reflects a western view. This same article can be found on several Islamic websites.

http://www.ahram.org.eg/weekly/1999/415/op2.htm. This is the website for the Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo.

http://www.oneummah.net/jihad/. I'm not sure where this website is based.

The following webpage in Australia identifies particular Hadiths which point to a difference between greater and lesser jihad, although this particular webpage says that these are weak Hadiths and thus rejects the idea of 2 jihads.


The evidence suggests to me that there is disagreement within the Muslim community as to the meaning, but that there are certainly some who believe that there are 2 kinds of jihad and that the greater is the internal struggle against evil. This anyway is my layman's reading.

Michael Goldberg - 12/4/2002

Rather than become involved in second- and then third-hand arguments about Pipes, I would urge readers to get back to his original argument, and take Jonathan Dresner's response as at least a starting point. Pipes may be largely "correct" in his narrow argument (about one strain of Islam and its largely unanimous acceptence in the premodern era), but his larger claims are unsustainable and more important, not relevent. To make today's adherents of a religion have to account for the interpretations of past adherents is not useful, and I have a one word response: Christianity. Indeed, all the semetic religions provide roadmaps for domination, and all continue to have adherents who insist that there religion is the one true way. It's clear that there are millions of Muslims who adhere to a more liberal interpretation of Islam. It is also clear that there are millions more who do not. Why is it necessary to condemn the entire religion? If Daniel Pipes doesn't want to be branded a "bigot," then he shouldn't make such narrow claims about an astonishingly diverse religious group." "Bigot" is his term, by the way, since the PBS clip simply revealed that activists were "concerned" about "answering" his claim that their religion was "violent and evil." Isn't that what his article here claims? And that those who argue otherwise are misguided?

Jonathan Dresner - 12/4/2002

While I am not a huge fan of Daniel Pipes' political views, I am very much intrigued, and very nearly convinced, by the historical discourse analysis he presents. The conventional presentation of Islam is timeless, conflating early and original meanings with later developments, and the meaning of jihad clearly changes and adapts over time.

The most unconvincing part of his argument is that he clearly believes that the original meaning of jihad, struggle against non-Muslim states, is the only true meaning, a sort of fundamentalist literalism (in constitutional law circles it's known as "strict constructionism") that is equally false and unworth of a historian's analysis. He complicates this by accepting the later interpretation of jihad within Islam, but then rejects the very influential Sufi reinterpretation and the almost equally important revisiting of the concept in light of Western universalism and concepts of just war.

Pipes is constructing his own version of Islam just as much as the "academic apologists" he is attacking, but this is one which is irredeemably and implacably hostile. This seems to serve his needs, but it is no more authoritative or useful a definition of Islam than the ones he dismisses.

Hecateus - 12/3/2002

I do not know Daniel Pipes, but a search of the Widener catalogue shows his Harvard Ph.D thesis on Mamelukes, two historical works from academic presses (Slave Soldiers and Islam : the Genesis of a Military System (New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1981); Greater Syria: The History of an Ambition (N. Y.: Oxford U. Press, 1990), and eleven other works on Islamic subjects. I read the article and found its point clear. Perhaps someone with sufficient learning might appear to analyze why it was inaccurate or misleading. statements such as an "alleged career as a 'scholar' of 'Islam," "new depths of absurdity," or "sick joke by a demagogue" do not suggest such learning or the ability to analyze anything.

Jim Rhoads - 12/3/2002

Suetonius hits the nail on the head in this duel. I am afraid Mr. Kurdlion did not take time to absorb Mr. Pipes' argument which was decidedly not that academicians cause(d)terrorism.

Suetonius - 12/3/2002

Mr. Pipes ad hominiums, which were not immediately apparent in the original article, should not excuse any of his critics from engaging in them. Restraint is the sign of the higher moral ground.

The statement that Pipes "does not have even a shred of a credible argument" does not make sense. Pipes does make an argument, and cites evidence from published sources to back up his assertions about the writings of the academics he mentions.

The assertion that Pipes' conclusion is that academics caused terrorism is not bourne out by even a casual reading of the article. It would appear that Pipes' argument is a criticism, that Western/U.S. preferences for a more mild interpretation of 'jihad' complicates our understanding of the danger posed by bin Laden. How that becomes the idea that these academics have spawned terrorism is unclear.

Richard Kurdlion - 12/3/2002

Suetonius complains of "ad hominium attacks". The personal attacks by Daniel Pipes against his many bogeymen are a regular feature on this website. They have little to do with either history or news. The "merits" of Pipes' "argument" in this particular instance are difficult to discuss, because he does not have even a shred of a credible argument. No sane person can believe that a few ivy tower academics in America interpreting a word in a favorable light causes terrorism.

Suetonius - 12/3/2002

You misread his piece. What evidence do you have to demonstrate that his argument is incorrect?

That your posting drops to the level of ad hominium attacks rather than engage him on the merits of his argument further reinforces the conviction among many that there is little with which to criticize Pipes here.

Richard Kurdlion - 12/3/2002

This latest installment from pipesdemoguery.org (aka historynewsnetwork.org) reaches new depths of absurdity.

My dictionary (which came out 30 years ago - e.g. well before
Pipes' alleged career as a "scholar" of "Islam") has a concise
double definition of "jihad":

1. a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty
2. a crusade for a principle or belief

Almost any half-sentient American could ruminate on this definition (Webster's) in light of recent events, note the relative increased primacy of the first meaning lately, and reflect on certain pacifistic tendencies of some in Higher Education to wishfully promote the second meaning.

But that would hardly make for much of a story.

So instead, Pipes/HNN uses this dictionary-reading exercise to weave a great assault against Academic Fellow Travellers, whose
"multiculturalist", "politically correct" "whitewashing" is a fearsome conspiracy to "becloud reality".

"Reality" (we are supposed to believe on faith) consists of this phrase, "Jihad" (not Saudi money, not past U.S. assistance, not brainwashing madrasses, not Sharon's massacres), "explaining" Osama's "immense appeal". As "proven" by the example of one Marin County new-age airhead ?!!!

Islamic terrorism is a serious matter. Many innocent people have died. Humor is not really approproiate, still less is a sick joke by a demagogue.