Sacred Texts  Islam  Hadith 

On Jihad and Terrorism

NOTE: in light of the recent extraordinary events, I have decided to try to shed some light on a very controversial topic. I appreciate constructive criticism of this commentary, and I promise to correct any factual errors which readers may bring to my attention. I offer this in a spirit of greatest compassion for all of the victims and potential victims of terror, in hope that it can help prevent even one act of this sort. Please note that I speak only for myself, as a non-Muslim, not for any organization or establishment. As always, I encourage you to draw your own conclusions. --jbh

This is an English translation of a collection of Hadith. It is presented as originally printed without any additional commentary added. (Read the transcription standards at this site). The Hadith are traditional remarks of the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, and most versions also have attached commentary which has been written about those sayings by scholars. There are two types of Hadith. Hadith are traced back to the Prophet himself, and Hadith Qudsi are regarded as revealed to the Mohammed by Allah (subhanu wa'talah). The literature of Hadith is vast; this work is derived from the collection known as the Jami' of Muhammed Isma'il al-Bukari, and contains selection from other Hadith, particularly the Mishkat.

The Hadith are one of the treasures of a tradition of deep scholarship. The legacy of Islamic scholarship extends to every aspect of science, mathematics, technology, as well as religion. Much of what we know about classical Greek and Roman literature was only preserved from the bonfires because copies were saved during the dark ages, in widely separated centers of Islamic learning such as Arabia, Iran, Spain, India, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Hadith are similar to the Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu commentaries, (such as the Talmund, the Pali Suttas and the Dharma Sutras) with many-layered and diverse texts appended over a long period of time. It is not as authoritative as the ultimate source document of Islam, the Quran, but is held in great regard nevertheless.

Contrary to what many people in the West have been taught, Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace, and respect for law. The vast majority of Muslims worldwide and in the US are law-abiding, non-violent people. Their religion stresses good works, charity and prayer. The very name of the religion means 'Peace', specifically the peace one obtains by living according to the rule of the laws of God, (and by implication secular law).

Islam also stands for tolerance of other religions, and non-interference with their adherents. Islamic countries are forbidden by both the Qur'an and the Hadith to impose Islam on, or otherwise persecute believers in other religions. The texts mention specifically 'those of the Book', Jews and Christians.

Due to great technical difficulties with scanning the Manual of Hadith, I have held off preparing any portion of this book up till now; however I made a big push during the month of September 2001 to finish the job. The entire work is now online.

Of great importance for non-Muslims to understand is the concept of Jihad. Jihad, is usually translated incorrectly as 'holy war'

According to the Manual of Hadith, there are two meanings of Jihad. One simply means what Christians would call 'proselytizing' or 'witnessing' (with overtones of the internal struggle to maintain ones' faith in an world which constantly tests it). The other applies to actual military defense of the community of Islam, with the stress on defense. Islamic conventions in warfare were defined at a very early time, including sparing non-combatants, specifically women, children, the elderly and laborers; honoring truces; and most particularly not imposing Islam by conquest. While this certainly may not have been followed at all times historically, the Geneva convention (which mirrors this doctrine) has certainly been violated many times as well. The fact that a high standard of behavior has been violated, even persistently, is no excuse to sanction violations of those standards.

The acts of terror which have been committed in the name of Islam certainly fall outside the pale of these criteria, and (at least as I read this, as a non-Muslim) exclude those who carry them out from the ranks of martyrs. The Arabic term for martyr is shahid--meaning a witness of truth--one who devotes their life and death to the service of truth. The Hadith specifically mentions natural deaths, deaths by disease, as well as death in battle (according to the above-mentioned standards). This most certainly does not cover someone one who commits suicide (which itself is forbidden by Islam) while killing multitudes of random, innocent people, most specifically non-combatants and women.

Islam is a world religion, and like all other world religions has a vision of triumphing over all other beliefs. In the case of Islam, as with other religions, this does not imply killing off believers in all other faiths. There is also the concept of key leaders who emerge at particular intervals to refresh the faith. This does not necessarily mean that these leaders are infallible; a devout Muslim would probably say that only God is infallible. I take this to mean that Islam is open to internal changes consistent with its core values.

I ask that non-Muslims read this document carefully, with an open mind and heart. While doing so, I suggest that you perform the following linguistic exercise; for the word 'Allah' read 'God'; for the word 'Jihad', substitute the word 'struggle'.--jbh

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