Muslims legitimately point out that one cannot judge Islam by the Qur'an alone. One must also take into account the Sunna ("tradition," which includes the Hadith), shari'a (sacred law), and fiqh (jurisprudence, the interpretation of shari'a by Islamic scholarly authorities).
There is much material on jihad in the shari'a, clarifying meaning of jihad and specifying its practical application. But first a word about the shari'a in general.
After the Qur'an and the Hadith were given, the Muslim community felt the need to apply these teachings to every aspect of life. Thus scholars and theologians assembled a set of rules and guidelines relating the teachings of Islam to everyday situations. During the eighth and ninth centuries these rules were codified, and the result is the shari'a, or "way," a word not unlike the Hebrew halachah. Four schools of shari'a arose, which are still recognized today by Sunni Muslims (the Shi'ites have systems of their own):
There is little substantial difference between these four schools, which agree on about 75% of their legal conclusions. A summary of the shari'a of the Shafi'i School from the fourteenth century, 'Umdat as-Salik, has been published in an officially sanctioned English translation entitled Reliance of the Traveller (1). It also contains occasional notes from later commentaries, as well as notes indicating the views of the other schools.
As one can see from perusing this volume, the shari'a has much to say about jihad. An introductory note to the section on jihad states:
[From the Commentary of Sheikh Umar Barakat:]
Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada signifying warfare to establish the religion. And it is the lesser jihad. As for the greater jihad, it is spiritual warfare against the lower self (nafs), which is why the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said as he was returning from jihad,
"We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad."
The scriptural basis for jihad, prior to scholarly consensus is such Koranic verses as:
(1) "Fighting is prescribed for you" (Koran 2:216);
(2) "Slay them wherever you find them" (Koran 4:89);
(3) "Fight the idolators utterly" (Koran 9:36);
and such hadiths as the one related by Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:
"I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay zakat. If they say it, they have saved their blood and possessions from me, except for the rights of Islam over them. And their final reckoning is with Allah";
and the hadith reported by Muslim,
"To go forth in the morning or evening to fight in the path of Allah is better than the whole world and everything in it." (o9.0)
These passages from a nineteenth-century commentary are not part of the original text, which makes no distinction between "greater" and "lesser" jihad. In fact, the only form of jihad discussed in Reliance of the Traveller is physical combat against nonbelievers. If the other jihad is "greater," why isn't it even mentioned?
Another observation: Apologists for Islam often complain when critics quote isolated verses from the Qur'an to prove that Islam supports violent jihad. Yet that is exactly what this respected Islamic scholar and commentator does!
In fact, many examples could be given of Islamic scholars and jurists using the Qur'an precisely in the manner so castigated by Islam's apologists. Here is just one from the medieval Spanish-Arab philosopher Ibn Rushd (known to the West as Averroes, 1126-1198, and not considered an extremist but a gifted philosopher and Rensaissance man):
Scholars agree that all polytheists should be fought. This is founded on [Qur'an,] 8:39: "Fight them until there is no persecution and the religion is God's entirely." (2)
The Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) uses the same verse in exactly the same way (3):
That then is the jihad against the unbelievers (kuffar), the enemies of God and His Messenger. For whoever has heard the summons of the Messenger of God, Peace be upon him, and has not responded to it, must be fought, "until there is no persecution and the religion is God's entirely" ([Qur'an] 2:193, 8:39).
Clearly there is a double standard. Non-Muslims are warned not to quote the Qur'an out of context, but Muslims may do so freely, often reaching the same conclusion they caution non-Muslims against, namely, that Islam encourages hatred and violence toward nonbelievers. (And as we have already seen, even quoting the Qur'an in context does nothing to mitigate this view.)
Continuing with the original text:
Jihad is a communal obligation. (o9.1)
The caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians... until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax. (o9.8)
The caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslim. (o9.9)
Clearly the objective of jihad is to spread Muslim rule. Self-defense is not the only or even the primary consideration. An explanatory note by Sheikh Barakat makes this explicit. It states that jihad is a communal obligation even when non-Muslims "are in their own countries"; i.e., when they are not invading a Muslim country (09.1).
The scriptural basis for the treatment of Jews and Christians vs. the treatment of other non-Muslims consists of the following verses from the Qur'an:
For Jews, Christians, and other people (e.g. Zoroastrians) with a scripture given prior to the Qur'an (after which no scripture can be recognized, since the Qur'an is the final revelation) the verse is:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya [poll tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (9:29)
For other non-Muslims, the verse is:
But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers [Islamic prayers five times a day] and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (9:5)
The Hanafi school is more lenient, allowing all non-Muslims (except those who were formerly Muslims) to live under the same conditions as Jews and Christians (o9.9). This also has a basis in the hadith:
When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them.... If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah's help and fight them. (Sahih Muslim, 19:4294)
Muslim conquerors have often offered their subjects this threefold choice: conversion, subjugation, or death (although sometimes the choice was twofold: conversion or death, and sometimes there was no choice at all).
A word about the jizya, which is usually translated "poll tax." It was not a "poll tax" in the modern sense of a tax on voting; there was no right to vote. The word "poll" originally meant the hair of one's head; "polling" was counting heads, and a "poll tax" is a tax levied on the head of each individual. The jizya was often extracted in a way that would humiliate the subject, to conform to the requirement of the Qur'an that the subjects "feel themselves subdued."
The jizya was only one part of a whole structure of regulations governing the treatment of non-Muslim minorities under Muslim jurisdiction. Certain non-Muslim groups, notably Jews and Christians, were allowed to live in Muslim lands without being forced to convert, provided they conformed to certain rules. These people were called ahl al-dhimma, or today, simply dhimmis. Al-dhimma was an agreement of "protection," since these non-Muslims, being people of scripture, were treated differently from others. Here are some of the regulations governing them, from Reliance of the Traveller:
o11.5 Such non-Muslim subjects are obliged to comply with Islamic rules that pertain to the safety and indemnity of life, reputation, and property. In addition, they:
(1) are penalized for committing adultery or theft, thought not for drunkenness;
(2) are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt (zunnar);
(3) are not greeted with "as-Salamu 'alaykum";
(4) must keep to the side of the street;
(5) may not build higher than or as high as the Muslims' buildings, though if they acquire a tall house, it is not razed;
(6) are forbidden to openly display wine or pork, ([later commentary:] to ring church bells or display crosses), recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of their funerals and feastdays;
(7) and are forbidden to build new churches. (o11.5)
They are forbidden to reside in the Hijaz, meaning the area and towns around Mecca, Medina, and Yamama, for more than three days when the caliph allows them to enter there for something they need). (o11.6)
A non-Muslim may not enter the Meccan Sacred Precinct (Haram) under any circumstances, or enter any other mosque without permission. (o11.7)
If a dhimmi violated any of these rules, the contract of protection was nullified, and he could by treated like any other enemy of the Muslims (i.e. be killed or enslaved).
Some of these provisions go as far back as the Pact of Umar. Umar was the second of the Caliphs, or spiritual leaders of Islam who succeeded Muhammad. This pact was a series of conditions he imposed on the Christians of Syria during the rapid expansion of Muslim rule in the seventh century.
As mentioned earlier, Reliance of the Traveller is a work of the Shafi'i School. On the matter of jihad the other schools are not substantially different. Here is a view from the Maliki School (Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani [d. 966]):
Jihad is a precept of divine institution. Its performance by certain individuals may dispense others from it. We Malikis... maintain that it is preferable not to begin hostilities with the enemy before having invited the latter to embrace the religion of Allah except where the enemy attacks first. They have the alternative of either converting to Islam or paying the poll tax (jizya), short of which war will be declared against them. The jizya can only be accepted from them if they occupy a territory where our laws can be enforced. If they are out of our reach, the jizya cannot be accepted from them unless they come within our territory. Otherwise we will make war against them. (4)
And from the Hanbali School (Ibn Taymiyya, fourteenth-century Hanbali jurist):
In ordering jihad Allah has said: "Fight them until there is no persecution and religion becomes Allah's" [2:189]....
Allah has, in fact, repeated this obligation [to fight] and has glorified jihad in most of the Medina suras: he has stigmatized those who neglected to do so, and treated them as hypocrites and cowards....
It is impossible to count the number of times when jihad and its virtues are extolled in the Book and the Sunna. Jihad is the best form of voluntary service that man consecrates to Allah....
Therefore, since jihad is divinely instituted, and its goal is that religion reverts in its entirety to Allah and to make Allah's word triumph, whoever opposes the realization of this goal will be fought, according to the unanimous opinion of Muslims.
Jews and Christians, as well as Zoroastrians (Magians), must be fought until they embrace Islam or pay the jizya without recriminations. Jurisconsults do not agree on the question of knowing if the jizya should be imposed on other categories of infidels; on the other hand, all consider that it should not be required of Arabs [hence they should convert to Islam or be killed or expelled]. (5)
Again, the threefold choice: conversion, subjugation, or death.
And finally, from the respected fourteenth-century historian Ibn Khaldun:
In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the (Muslim) mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. Therefore, caliphate and royal authority are united (in Islam), so that the person in charge can devote the available strength to both of them (religion and politics) at the same time.
The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty to them, save only for purposes of defense...
...All of them are unbelief. This is clearly stated in the noble Qur'an. (To) discuss or argue those things with them is not up to us. It is (for them to choose between) conversion to Islam, payment of the poll tax, or death. (6)
This completes our survey of the scriptural and legal basis for jihad. From a look at these original sources it is fair to conclude that while the word jihad may not literally mean "holy war," that is certainly how it is understood and applied in practice.
Peace with Realism