Module 1, Lesson 1
In Progress

Lesson 3: Historical context

May 18, 2021

Summary of classical opinions so far

  • Multiple levels of Jihad
  • Non-binary division of the world
  • Excessive use of abrogation
  • Rationale for war

Reasons for war

  • Defence against attack
  • Fard ‘ayn
  • Defence against persecution
  • Humanitarian intervention – “And what is it with you? You do not fight in the cause of Allah and for oppressed men, women, and children who cry out, “Our Lord! Deliver us from this land of oppressors!” (4:75)

Theoretical Reasons for war

Offensive or Pre-emptive
  • To expand and secure the lands of Islam
  • To prevent future attacks
  • To allow Islam to be propagated, to establish justice
  • Fard kifayah

Conditions for war

Conditions of offensive / pre-emptive war
  • Forced conversion is not permitted
  • Can only be declared by the legitimate ruling authority
  • An invitation to accept terms / warning must be delivered first
  • Undertaken one a year

Legal rationale for war

  • What is the legal cause for war ?
  • Majority view (eg Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali) – aggression / hostility (hiraabah)
  • Minority view (eg Shafi) – existence of unbelief
  • “The Prophet’s biography shows that he did not fight whoever made peace with him among the unbelievers; and the books of biography, prophetic traditions, exegesis, jurisprudence, and history are full of such acts and this is widely narrated in his biography. Thus, the Prophet did not initiate fighting with anyone, and had Allah commanded him to fight every disbeliever, then he would have initiated fighting with them.” (Ibn Taymiyyah)
  • “So, whenever we are placed beyond the reach of the enemy, the outlying districts of the Muslim lands are secured and the gaps in their fortifications are filled, the obligation to wage jihad falls from all the rest of the Muslims….” (bn Rushd, the elder)

Historical context of revelation

“Do they not see that We established a safe haven (in the Sacred Mosque) while people all around them were being snatched away?” (29:67)

“And remember when you were a small, marginalized group in the land living in fear that the people would snatch you away….” (8:26)

“For the comforting of Quraysh [the tribe of the Prophet], the comfort of (being able to complete) the winter and summer caravans. Let them, then, worship the Lord of this House, Who banished their hunger with food and their fear with security.” (106)

  • The forbidden months
  • When the Byzantines are not campaigned against, they campaign.’ (Arab proverb)
  • “Leave the Abyssinians alone as long as they leave you alone …”

Historical context of pre-modern world

  • Hobbes – the human state of nature was one of endemic “warre”, murderous feuds for gain, safety, and reputation, a war of every man against every man, which made life “poore, nasty, brutish and short”.
  • Wars in human history – of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history.
  • Empires – the dominant international organization in world history
  • Wars in Europe – from 900 to the present, there were about 2 new conflicts per year for 1100 years
  • Religious intolerance – between 1559-1648, there were 25 international wars and 26 civil wars in Europe

Glimpses of peace in Europe

  • Hugo de Groot – “On the Law of War and Peace” (1625)
  • Peace of Westphalia (1648)
  • Immanuel Kant – “Perpetual Peace” (1795)
  • Anti-war literature
  • From Conquest to Trade
  • Wars becoming less frequent, but more deadly


  • Nationalism & Colonialism
  • Romantic militarism
  • “War almost always enlarges the mind of a people and raises their character” – Alexis de Tocqueville
  • “War is life itself … We must eat and be eaten so that the world might live. It is only warlike nations which have prospered: a nation dies as soon as it disarms” – Emile Zola
  • “When I tell you that war is the foundation of all the arts, I mean also that is the foundation of all the high virtues and facilities of man” – John Ruskin
  • “Wars are terrible, but necessary, for they save the state from social petrifaction and stagnation” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Towards Anti-war

  • The Hollandisation phenomenon
  • An organised peace movement
  • World War I
  • Up until 1914 war was “almost universally considered an acceptable, perhaps an inevitable and for many people a desirable way of settling differences” – Michael Howard
  • World War II •League of Nations / United Nations
  • Nuclear weapons

“The Hour (Last Day) will not be established until (religious) knowledge will be taken away (by the death of religious learned men), earthquakes will be very frequent, time will pass quickly, afflictions will appear, killing will increase and money will overflow amongst you.” (Bukhari)

“By the one in whose hand is my soul, a time will surely come upon people in which the one killing does not know why he is killing, and the one killed does not know why he was killed.” (Bukhari)

United Nations Charter 1945

Article 2 – All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

Article 51 – Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.

The OIC Charter calls upon member Muslim states “to adhere our commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter, the present Charter and International Law”

A state of peace?

Among affluent liberal democracies … a true state of peace appears to have developed, based on genuine mutual confidence that war between them is practically eliminated even as an option. Nothing like this had ever existed in history.”

Azar Gat, War in Human Civilisation, 2006