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Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries

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Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests

Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries

Is there any real relationship between the Muslim military campaigns of previous centuries and the recent terrorism campaigns? Paul Fregosi argues that there is — both are reflections of a fundamental antagonism to the non-Muslim world, and in particular to the economically and militarily powerful West.


Title: Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries
Author: Paul Fregosi
Publisher: Prometheus Books
ISBN: 1573922471

•  Explains the reality of jihad, historical and contemporary
•  Balances normal presentation of Crusades

•  Might be a bit long for some people

•  Historical overview of Muslim military conquests in the West
•  Some aspects of Crusades and Imperialism covered
•  Connections to modern terrorism explained


Book Review

What is jihad? Muslims themselves disagree on what it is supposed to mean — many modernists in the West even deny that it has anything to do with violence. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based group, asserts that jihad “does not mean ‘holy war.’” Instead, jihad is “a central and broad Islamic concept that includes the struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self-defense . . . or fighting against tyranny or oppression.” CAIR even denies that Islam includes any concept of a “holy war.”

Although the Arabic root of the term need only refer to the concept of “struggle,” in the Qur’an and even in later Muslim usage, the term jihad is usually followed by the expression fi sabil Illah, which means “in the path of God.” The description of violence against the enemies of the Muslim community is described as jihad fi sabil Illah, which gave a sacred meaning to what was otherwise just tribal warfare.

The Hadith is a collection of reported sayings and actions of Muhammad, and it follows the Qur’an as the most important source of Islamic law. In Hadith collections, jihad almost always refers to armed action. As an example, there are nearly 200 references to jihad in the most standard collection of hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, and all assume that jihad means warfare. It is not surprising, then, that the majority of classical theologians, jurists, and traditionalists understand jihad in a military sense.

Contrary to popular perception, jihad is not about forced conversions. It certainly may have filled that role very early on, when Islam was first expanding, but that hasn’t been the case for a very long time. Instead, it is a political goal: bringing as much of the world under the control of Islam as is possible.

This then allows for the fulfillment of two other goals: promoting Islam among non-Muslims, and establishing a just political and social order (only possible under Islam).

Ibn Taymiya (1268-1328) took an even more active view of jihad. He argued that a ruler who fails to enforce the Shari’a (Islamic law) in all aspects forfeits his right to rule — thus, jihad against this ruler becomes acceptable, if not mandatory. One of the aspects of Shari’a which a Muslim ruler must enforce is, in fact, jihad itself — but against the enemies of Islam, especially those who threaten it from the outside. Taymiya’s thoughts have heavily influenced Muslim extremists in the twentieth century, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Osama bin Laden.

Some limit the concept of jihad to only defensive actions, but militants have no trouble arguing that the actions of the West constitute attacks on Islam and hence merit retaliation. Osama bin Laden has made exactly this argument in interviews and in the text of his fatwa against the United States:

Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests

Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries

    “For more than seven years, the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors and turning its bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.”
    “These crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, his messenger and Muslims. And ulema [Muslim scholars] have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries.”

In Islamic theology, the world is traditionally divided into two camps: Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. The first means “The House of Islam,” where the ummah, or the community of believers, resides. This is supposed to be a peaceful and ideal place where a just political and social order truly exists.

The second, Dar al-Harb, literally means “The House of War.” This is an area that suffers from strife and conflict because the peace and order of Islam has not been brought to it. The ideal, of course, is to reduce the influence and extent of this House while also expanding and influence and extent of Islam.

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