Thursday, May 24, 2007

David Cook's Understanding Jihad

Not long ago I praised David Cook's book Martyrdom in Islam for shedding considerable light on important aspects of the evolution of Islam. I've now read his Understanding Jihad and am perhaps more impressed by this earlier book.

Once again Cook takes a single important issue in Islam and traces its significance over the centuries. Here he argues that the notion that military activity in the name of Islam is the "lesser jihad" and that (peaceful) religious and moral struggle is the "greater jihad" does not show up in texts written in Islamic languages for Islamic audiences. Indeed, the notion that the initial conquests in the name of Islam have always been taken as a confirmatory miracle demonstrating the truth of the Quran and its revelation, and as a result Islamic audiences have always been influenced by the notion that Islam would eventually spread across the whole earth and that fighting would be a legitimate part of that process. That notion made it particularly difficult for Muslims to tolerate 19th century European conquest of the Dar al-Islam and makes such incursions as the founding of Israel or the invasion of Iraq even more humiliating than they might be otherwise. He also argues that the rather muted response by Muslims (most of whom are no more bloodthirsty than anyone else) to the self-righteous claims of Muslim jihadists is rooted in the feeling that jihad is a legitimate and core part of the religion.

As in Martyrdom in Islam, Cook uses lots of primary materials and ranges over most of the Islamic world, putting jihad into all sorts of interesting contexts. Recommended.

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