Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice

Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice

Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice

Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice


What is jihad? Does it mean violence, as many non-Muslims assume? Or does it mean peace, as some Muslims insist? Because jihad is closely associated with the early spread of Islam, today's debate about the origin and meaning of jihad is nothing less than a struggle over Islam itself. In Jihad in Islamic History, Michael Bonner provides the first study in English that focuses on the early history of jihad, shedding much-needed light on the most recent controversies over jihad.

To some, jihad is the essence of radical Islamist ideology, a synonym for terrorism, and even proof of Islam's innate violence. To others, jihad means a peaceful, individual, and internal spiritual striving. Bonner, however, shows that those who argue that jihad means only violence or only peace are both wrong. Jihad is a complex set of doctrines and practices that have changed over time and continue to evolve today. The Quran 's messages about fighting and jihad are inseparable from its requirements of generosity and care for the poor. Jihad has often been a constructive and creative force, the key to building new Islamic societies and states. Jihad has regulated relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, in peace as well as in war. And while today's "jihadists" are in some ways following the "classical" jihad tradition, they have in other ways completely broken with it.

Written for general readers who want to understand jihad and its controversies, Jihad in Islamic History will also interest specialists because of its original arguments.


My intention in this short book is to offer an introduction to the jihad and, more specifically, to the origins of the jihad within the broader history of Islam. I have not provided a systematic overview of the doctrine of jihad, which would have required a longer book of an entirely different character. Nor have I given a comprehensive summary of the history of Islam, or even of its early history, as seen from the perspective of the jihad. Instead I have worked with two goals in mind.

My first goal is to provide the reader with an introduction to some of the most important debates, both premodern and modern, over the jihad. I think of this reader as someone who may or may not have basic knowledge of the political and religious history of the Islamic world, but who wishes to find a way through this particular terrain. I have tried to give this reader a sense of what happened—the structure and the most important particulars of historical events—without, however, simply rehashing the history of Islam, which is available now in a number of good books in English. I have tried to keep my analytic focus on the jihad, even as I touched on other broad historical topics, and even as I outlined some of the debates regarding methods and approaches that have gone on among modern specialists in the study of Islamic society, religion, and culture. In this way, I have sought to acquaint the reader with the most important ways in which the jihad has been identified and approached, both in the past and in the present. I have tried to identify the most important and challenging problematics regarding this theme which, as everyone now knows, has far more than academic importance.

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