Morality and War
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In fact, through history, he adds, "holy war has never been a knee-jerk reaction in Islam." Muslims didn't begin calling the response to the First Crusade a holy war until 22 years into the conflict, when they fully realized what they were facing. Saladin's campaign to oust the Crusaders later became the epitome of such war.Skip to next paragraph
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In Islam, the presence of elements of the outsiders can be viewed as aggression, Johnson says. This is the argument bin Laden uses: The presence of American troops on the holy soil of Saudi Arabia is an aggression, and therefore every Muslim has the obligation to fight back.
"Yet he departs from the normative tradition," Johnson adds, "because he is fighting America in general, not simply those stationed in Saudi Arabia, which is what the old doctrine says."
Islamic tradition says that establishment of a community where sharia is the law is God's plan for the world, and Muslims should be trying to create that society. Yet today, when one-third of Muslims live as minorities in other societies, many think less of these concepts in territorial terms, and more as spiritual struggle.
Al-Alwani, who chairs a council that issues legal opinions for Muslims in North America, has published materials aimed at modifying concepts of dar al Islam and dar al harb.
"We no longer need to use those terms," he says. Muslims should think instead of "the place of people who answer the call of God,'' regardless of their religion, and "the place where those people - Muslims, Christians, and Jews - need to work together" to reach the unbelievers. The conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Africa and elsewhere spurred him to this reinterpretation, Al-Alwani says. "We need to reach others by values, not by forcing them to change their religion."
The territorial concept, however, also helps to explain why groups such as Hamas in the occupied territories and Hizbullah in Lebanon are seen as having more justification than other radical groups, although their tactics are not supported. "The case of Israeli occupation fits the defensive jihad model much better than other situations," Johnson says.
Still, Islamic tradition forbids killing of innocents and the idea of suicide.
What al Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups are doing is a clear abuse, Al-Alwani says. "A person truly committed to his religion is a person of values, and wouldn't commit such crimes."
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the foremost authority on Sunni Islam - Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, of Al-Azhar university in Cairo - condemned them as contrary to Islam, and the Shia Muslim spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the fight against terrorism a "holy war." The Iranian leader has since strongly opposed the military strikes.
"There is a real distinction between the normative tradition, represented by the Sheik of Al-Azhar, and the use it is being made to serve by people like bin Laden," Johnson says. The extent to which the words of such prominent leaders sway public opinion or more radical Muslim clerics remains to be seen.
Given the frustrations of millions in the region, the primary challenge to avoiding an intensified conflict seems to rest with the counterterrorism coalition's capacity to act in ways that are convincingly just.