PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN — Thousands of angry demonstrators - urged on by Osama bin Laden - marched throughout Pakistan yesterday, calling for a jihad against the United States.
"We incite our Muslim brothers in Pakistan to deter ... American crusaders from invading Pakistan and Afghanistan," Qatar's al-Jazeera television quoted Mr. bin Laden as saying.
The word jihad or holy war is on the lips of many Muslims - in the mosques, religious schools, and on the dusty streets of northwestern Pakistan.
But just what interpretation of jihad the Islamic communities will embrace in the current crisis may be critical to the survival of the Pakistani government - and the level of support or resistance US forces may meet - in the coming days and months.
"Pakistan is about to commit a great blunder by allowing the US to use its bases," says Rashid Ahmad at the Sheikh Zayed Islamic Center in Peshawar. "The Koran makes it clear that one Muslim cannot be involved in the bloodshed of a brother Muslim. Given the current circumstances, if the US uses Pakistani ter-
ritory to kill other Muslims, this is strictly prohibited. We cannot be involved in this kind of killing, even if we are compelled to be involved by a super power like the USA."
Professor Ahmad contends that to understand the Islamic jihad one must distinguish between the acts of individuals and the idea or concept described in the Koran.
"Jihad" means "struggle," which can mean different things - from something as simple as struggling to be a better person to holy war. Islamic scholars have debated the meaning for centuries. The word "qital" means "battle," he says, sitting at a table with several fellow scholars. "It is legitimate to begin a jihad only when a war is imposed on you from outside.
"In normal cases, an Islamic state is the only grouping that can announce and prosecute a jihad," he says. "But in the case that Allah's law is broken, and a state is not following the Koran correctly, individuals, themselves, can rise up against that state in a jihad."
Other tribal leaders and religious scholars believe that "outsiders" like bin Laden have twisted the Koran's sacred idea of jihad, which they argue is best viewed as a defensive war that can only be fought against a "foreign occupier."
Fellow professors and two students of Islamic studies nod thoughtfully when Professor Ahmad continues: "Whoever rises up in this case against Pakistan and the United States will be justified in fighting a jihad."
On the other hand, both students and teachers insist that they do not agree that the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon had anything to do with an Islamic jihad. They all insist that the killing of innocents is not in keeping with the precepts of Islam.
There are also plenty of local residents, most of them not associated with the province's more radical-minded religious schools, who argue that the concept of jihad in both Afghanistan and Pakistan has been co-opted by extremists.
But the prospect of American forces using Pakistan's soil to possibly launch a war against an Islamic state appears to already be radicalizing local views of what the coming jihad will be.
Pakistan, which only became a state in 1948, has long associated holy war with its own ideas of national defense. Jihad warriors helped expel British colonialists from their former posts here in Peshawar. And Pakistanis are quick to recount the three jihads with neighboring India from 1948 through 1971.
There is, say Western diplomats and some locals, great irony to be heard in the cries for a holy war against the US.
Pakistan regained lost favor with the West in the late 1970s and through the '80s by backing a US-sponsored holy war against the Soviet Union, which had invaded Afghanistan. Indeed, Pakistan's secret service was the key to channeling "holy warriors" from across Pakistan and much of the Arab world into the battle.
Even today, Pakistan's current leaders, including President Musharraf, invoke the idea of jihad to describe the ongoing struggle for control of Kashmir, which many of them consider to be a part of Pakistan.
Former Afghan freedom fighter and troop commander Pir Sayed Ishaq Gailani, who worked closely with the CIA during the Soviet occupation of his country and who has children currently living in the US, says that the time for jihad is long over.
"It ended when we forced out the Soviet occupiers," he says. "And what we had been asking for since then is support from the West with peace, education, and rehabilitation."
As Mr. Gailani spoke, a Pakistani government soldier kept watch at his door, guarding against a repeat of what he said were past Taliban-inspired attempts on his life. "None of that arrived, and now you see the result; a classic rogue state, exporting terror to United States. Now the US faces an Arab-led jihad from within Afghanistan aimed at Americans and Jews across the world."
But, in Gailani's view, the Taliban regime is not a true Islamic state, so does not qualify as a player in the scenario of "the US attacking an Islamic State," which many locals here believe is adequate provocation for the next holy war.
"The Taliban fundamentalists are not representative in any way of the Afghan people - but they are the ones who have welcomed so many Arabs," he says.
Several Arab nations, mostly dissidents from the Gulf states, now have permanent military bases in Afghanistan where holy warriors train daily. Gailani estimates that some 20 armed "jihad camps" are now functioning inside Afghanistan - all of them with close ties to Al Qaeda, bin Laden's network.
Despite the varied interpretations of jihad going around these days, Islamic scholars at the Sheikh Zayed Islamic Centre say there are clear options to avoid an all-out jihad - or what they term a "clash of civilizations."
Ahmad says that the US should first present solid evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the attacks. After this, he says, the Organization of Islamic Conference should send envoys to the Taliban to go over the case against bin Laden.
"If there is evidence of his involvement, and the Taliban hand him over, then a court made up of eminent Islamic scholars should oversee a trial for bin Laden," he says. "The prosecutor could well be from the US, but the judges and the final sentence must be in keeping with the Koran."