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The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2013

    Dr. Ahmed al Dawoody, who is currently a Lecturer at al Azhar th

    Dr. Ahmed al Dawoody, who is currently a Lecturer at al Azhar the oldest institution of higher learning in the world, has written perhaps the most comprehensive academic work on the topic of Jihad to date.

    He divides his book into five very lengthy but readable chapters. In the introduction of the book, he lays out the outline and methodology of his research and seeks to answer a set of questions he intends to answer in the work. Chapter 1 he looks at War during the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)'s time. He juxtaposes the classical and contemporary "insider" and "outsider" literature on the period and puts out a conclusion that contrary to popular belief, the battles that the early Muslims had during the Prophet's time were defensive wars and not offensive.

    In chapter 2 he goes cover the Qur'anic justifications of war using the classical exegetical works and shows the hermeneutic tools to properly understand context and shows how other researchers lacking such exegetical tools have misinterpreted the jus in bello (justifications for going to war) in the Quran.

    In chapter 3 , this is perhaps the most interesting section of the book. All too often, non-Muslim academics and writers tend to confuse fiqh and shariah. Al Dawoody gives a good explanation on this issue. He then goes into the classical Sunni schools of jurisprudence positions on the jus in bello or justifications for going to war. What is surprisingly interesting about his research is that the vast majority (three out of the four schools) actually hold that in offensive jihad (called jihad al talab), can only be waged in defense against aggression and or the rights for Muslims to freely practice their faith is threatened. The school in the minority, the Shafi'i school holds that the reasons for waging war is to get rid of kufr or disbelief. This position seems to be obsolete based from the fact that most who follow the Shafii school (Muslims from Southeast Asia and parts of Yemen and Egypt) have not waged war on anyone. He also goes over contemporary Muslim scholars and their works like the late Abu Zahra and the charismatic "teleshaykh" al Qaradawi. "Outsider" literature and academics Dawoody remarks, because of their confusion over shariah and fiqh, and the positions of the schools as recorded in fiqh manuals tend to misinterpret the juridical justifications thinking that they are arguing some sort of perpetual warfare against non muslims, but in fact they are not and that is the vast majority.

    The next chapter deals with jus ad bellum or the rules of warfare according to Islam. Here we see how even the so-called jihadists violate every rule in the book and casts doubt as to whether jihadists are really waging jihad at all or is it some other term? These rules of warfare were in place long before the Geneva Conventions and other international instruments to try and bring civility to war.

    The final chapter deals with jihad in a different light. Here he talks about the rules dealing with rebellion and sedition and how islamic law handles that. He also goes over what jihadists actually waging which is called in the Islamic legal literature, hirabah or terrorism. Terrorism is among the major sins and crimes against society according to Islam. He goes over the problem over the definition of terrorism as displayed in the hundreds of definitions from international bodies, and even within nation-states like the US (which has over a dozen of definitions depending on what agency). He recommends in this chapter that international bodies should agree to a consensus type definition to avoid confusion. He remarks that Muslim jurists have already defined terrorism through their definition of hirabah.

    This book is an excellent resource in learning more about what the Islamic law of war. He has a multitude of sources (most of which are in the Arabic language as are most islamic legal works) ranging from the classical to contemporary, both insider and outsider. He challenges the existing literature on jihad and hopes to clarify issues that have confused academics when researching jihad.

    As a treat, UCLA law professor and Muslim scholar Dr. Khaled Abou el Fadl wrote the forward of the book. Apparently, this book is a more condensed version of a larger dissertation that al Dawoody wrote and defended for his PhD. Those interested in an unabridged version (from what I can tell the content of the work is identical and the only difference is the listing of sources which is more extensive in his dissertation.

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