Justice, Jihad and Duty: The Qur’anic Concept of Armed Conflict

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Joel Hayward


The Qur’an is among the most widely read books on earth, yet it is also commonly misunderstood and misquoted. Islam’s critics say that it contains exhortations of violence against non-Muslims and a concept of war that is far more unbridled and indiscriminate than the western Just War theory. This study is not a general overview or critique of the Islamic laws of war, which are the varied and sometimes contradictory opinions of medieval Islamic jurists ? mainly from the ninth to thirteenth centuries CE. Instead, this study analyses only the Qur’anic text itself and, by putting its verses into historical context, attempts to explain its codes of conduct in order to determine what it actually requires or permits Muslims to do in terms of the use of military force. It concludes that the Qur’an is clear: Muslims must not undertake offensive violence and are instructed, if defensive warfare should become unavoidable, always to act within a code of ethical behaviour that is closely similar to the western Just War tradition. This study attempts to dispel any misperceptions that Islam’s holy book advocates the subjugation or killing of non-Muslims and reveals that, on the contrary, its key and unequivocal concepts governing warfare are based on justice and a profound belief in the sanctity of human life.

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