The New York Times
Arguing the Just War in Islamby John Kelsay
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
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 for both the Muslim and the non-Muslim world.
John Kelsay's timely and important work focuses on jihad of the sword in Islamic thought, history, and culture. Making use of original sources, Kelsay delves into the tradition of shari'aIslamic jurisprudence and reasoningand shows how it defines jihad as the Islamic analogue of the Western "just" war. He traces the arguments of thinkers over the centuries who have debated the legitimacy of war through appeals to shari'a reasoning. He brings us up to the present and demonstrates how contemporary Muslims across the political spectrum continue this quest for a realistic ethics of war within the Islamic tradition.
Arguing the Just War in Islam provides a systematic account of how Islam's central texts interpret jihad, guiding us through the historical precedents and Qur'anic sources upon which today's claims to doctrinal truth and legitimate authority are made. In illuminating the broad spectrum of Islam's moral considerations of the just war, Kelsay helps Muslims and non-Muslims alike make sense of the possibilities for future war and peace.
The New York Times
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.
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.
[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.
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
- Harvard University Press
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Meet the Author
John Kelsay is Distinguished Research Professor and Richard L. Rubenstein Professor of Religion at Florida State University.
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