Arguing the Just War in Islam

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Overview

Jihad, with its many terrifying associations, is a term widely used today, though its meaning is poorly grasped. Few people understand the circumstances requiring a jihad, or "holy" war, or how Islamic militants justify their violent actions within the framework of the religious tradition of Islam. How Islam, with more than one billion followers, interprets jihad and establishes its precepts has become a critical issue. In illuminating the broad spectrum of Islam's moral considerations of the just war, John Kelsay helps Muslims and non-Muslims alike make sense of the possibilities for future war and peace.
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Editorial Reviews

Irshad Manji
To his credit, Kelsay refuses to whitewash the role of religion in fostering the violence he discusses…Yet his analysis also respects the nuances of Shariah reasoning. Kelsay appreciates Islamic history and delves into detail…about how theologians, jurists and dissidents decided what constitutes a just war. Like their Christian counterparts, Muslims have asked and asked again: When may battle be waged? Can noncombatants ever be targets? How much force is proportional? Does negotiation take precedence over a quick and easy victory? Kelsay could have brought these questions to life had he given us something—anything—about the personalities of the questioners and not merely the process they followed. Stick with him, though. By forensically dissecting the development of Shariah reasoning he illuminates the situation we now face, in which classical Islamic scholars are trumped by bloodthirsty bandits who pose as thinkers.
—The New York Times
Library Journal

How has the concept of jihad been understood over the course of Islam's history? Do Islamic militants have any justification in defending their actions as necessary elements of jihad? These are the kinds of questions Kelsay (religion, Florida State Univ.; coauthor, Just War and Jihad) here addresses. One section of the book examines the historical understanding of religious reasoning (particularly regarding war), while the other deals with recent applications of that reasoning. Kelsay notes that, historically, authoritative religious reasoning was done primarily by religious scholars and jihad was understood in terms of Islamic just-war criteria. In the last two centuries, however, individuals have claimed the right to do religious reasoning apart from scholars and to justify jihad in nonwar situations. Thus, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden today advocate violence against civilians, and this is contrary to how jihad was once understood. Kelsay describes a battle between democratic Islam and militant Islam for the minds and hearts of the Islamic people. A thought-provoking work; a valuable addition to all libraries.
—John Jaeger

New York Times Book Review

Kelsay shows that today's freelance fatwa-hurlers rarely capture the best of Islamic thought, but are not wholly divorced from it either. Their pronouncements attempt to pass for "Shariah reasoning," a tradition of reconciling the Koran's passages and the Prophet Muhammad's examples to changing times...To his credit, Kelsay refuses to whitewash the role of religion in fostering the violence he discusses...Yet his analysis also respects the nuances of Shariah reasoning...By forensically dissecting the development of Shariah reasoning he illuminates the situation we now face, in which classical Islamic scholars are trumped by bloodthirsty bandits who pose as thinkers.
— Irshad Manji

Dallas Morning News

[Kelsay] makes a good argument that classical Islamic reasoning was diverse because it always recognized that legal judgments were contextual rather than ideological. This gives way to a diversity of legal reasoning in the modern world, exploding the myth of a single "Islamic" approach to either the necessity or the means of war in achieving political aims...A must-read for those who want to move beyond hype and fear to a nuanced understanding of the multiple possible futures before the Muslim world.
— Robert Hunt

Foreign Affairs

This book moves beyond those simplifications that would either depict the militancy and terrorism of many Islamist groups as emblematic or charge that such groups are hijacking a peaceful religion.
— L. Carl Brown

R. Scott Appleby
In lucid prose John Kelsay leads the reader on an illuminating journey from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, through the sacred sources of Islam and the debate over their interpretation, to the internal debates between moderates and extremists that shape today's global politics. One cannot fully understand the range of possibilities that confront Islam—and the world—without comprehending the internal reasoning and discourse that Kelsay brilliantly explores in this remarkable work of synthesis.
James Turner Johnson
This book sets a new gold standard for interpreting jihadist radicalism for western readers. Sober and nuanced throughout, this book succeeds as an introduction to early Islam and the development of sharìa, as an analysis of the evolution of a distinctive style of radical jihadist interpretation, and as a valuable exploration of critically important arguments within contemporary Islam.
Sohail Hashmi
John Kelsay presents a masterful and lucid account of the full sweep of Muslim discourse on just war, exploring not only the moral arguments made but also the intellectual and political environment in which Muslims have debated the ethics of war for centuries.
Nigel Biggar
Kelsay opens up the contemporary debate between Muslim militants and democrats about the justice of armed resistance to Western domination, and sets out its historical roots. His grasp is assured, his analysis is searching, and his writing is lean and lucid.
Bassam Tibi
This book is a must for all who confront contemporary Islamist jihadism and its claim to fight a just war. Kelsay makes a superb contribution to understanding the religious legitimization of war in contemporary Islam and Islamic alternatives to it.
New York Times Book Review - Irshad Manji
Kelsay shows that today's freelance fatwa-hurlers rarely capture the best of Islamic thought, but are not wholly divorced from it either. Their pronouncements attempt to pass for "Shariah reasoning," a tradition of reconciling the Koran's passages and the Prophet Muhammad's examples to changing times...To his credit, Kelsay refuses to whitewash the role of religion in fostering the violence he discusses...Yet his analysis also respects the nuances of Shariah reasoning...By forensically dissecting the development of Shariah reasoning he illuminates the situation we now face, in which classical Islamic scholars are trumped by bloodthirsty bandits who pose as thinkers.
Dallas Morning News - Robert Hunt
[Kelsay] makes a good argument that classical Islamic reasoning was diverse because it always recognized that legal judgments were contextual rather than ideological. This gives way to a diversity of legal reasoning in the modern world, exploding the myth of a single "Islamic" approach to either the necessity or the means of war in achieving political aims...A must-read for those who want to move beyond hype and fear to a nuanced understanding of the multiple possible futures before the Muslim world.
Foreign Affairs - L. Carl Brown
This book moves beyond those simplifications that would either depict the militancy and terrorism of many Islamist groups as emblematic or charge that such groups are hijacking a peaceful religion.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674026391
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2007
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

?John Kelsay is Distinguished Research Professor and Richard L. Rubenstein Professor of Religion at Florida State University.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Sources 8

2 Shari'a Reasoning 43

3 Politics, Ethics, and War in Premodern Islam 97

4 Armed Resistance and Islamic Tradition 125

5 Military Action and Political Authority 155

6 Muslim Argument and the War on Terror 198

Notes 227

Acknowledgments 251

Index 255

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