Arguing the Just War in Islam

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Jihad, with its many terrifying associations, is a term widely used today, though its meaning is poorly grasped. Few people understand the circumstances requiring a jihad, or “holy” war, or how Islamic militants justify their violent actions within the framework of the religious tradition of Islam. How Islam, with more than one billion followers, interprets jihad and establishes its precepts has become a critical issue for both the Muslim and the non-Muslim world.

John Kelsay’s timely and important work focuses on jihad of the sword in Islamic thought, history, and culture. Making use of original sources, Kelsay delves into the tradition of shari’a–Islamic jurisprudence and reasoning–and shows how it defines jihad as the Islamic analogue of the Western “just” war. He traces the arguments of thinkers over the centuries who have debated the legitimacy of war through appeals to shari’a reasoning. He brings us up to the present and demonstrates how contemporary Muslims across the political spectrum continue this quest for a realistic ethics of war within the Islamic tradition.

Arguing the Just War in Islam provides a systematic account of how Islam’s central texts interpret jihad, guiding us through the historical precedents and Qur’anic sources upon which today’s claims to doctrinal truth and legitimate authority are made. In illuminating the broad spectrum of Islam’s moral considerations of the just war, Kelsay helps Muslims and non-Muslims alike make sense of the possibilities for future war and peace.

2 thoughts on “Arguing the Just War in Islam

  1. Maxwell Johnson "Cook, musician and teacher"
    22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    The best starting place, January 28, 2008

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    John Kelsay has provided the best introduction I’ve found to the self-understanding and the social constructions of Islam and the way its consequent mindset has been used by both historical and contemporary extremists to justify jihad against its perceived enemies. He lays out with crystalline clarity the historical events and and resultant thought processes that have brought Islam to its place in today’s world.

    Professor Kelsay does not write entirely without bias but he keeps it well under control. One senses from time to time that he is trying quite hard to “stick to the facts” when there is much more that he could say were he willing to indulge his personal opinions.

    The well-informed reader may not agree with all of Kelsay’s conclusions about just war mentality in the contemporary Muslim world but one has to be impressed with the depth of his scholarship and the lucidity of his writing. Very highly recommended.

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  2. Matthew Longacre "Matthew"
    6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
    1.0 out of 5 stars
    A Massively Confused Comparative Religion Scholar, November 2, 2010

    This review is from: Arguing the Just War in Islam (Paperback)

    I find the prior review quite interesting, considering that John Kelsay lays quite heavily into traditional and modern Islamic theory on just war, making some shocking claims based upon questionable sources.

    Kelsay constantly uses the Iraq-Iran war as an example of modern Islamic just war, using Saddam Hussein as an example of Sunni Islamic doctrine and Ayatollah Khomeini as the example for Shi’i doctrine, regularly dismissing Saddam’s secular and Arab-nationalist tendencies. Kelsay cites contemporary scholars who point out the conflict has nothing to do with Islam and dismisses them as afraid for their safety by sympathizing. Other modern examples that Kelsay views as “mainstream” are Hamas, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Osama bin Laden.

    Kelsay cherry-picks particular scholars who had highly aberrant views on Jihad (while much of their other work is very mainstream), such as Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Shaybani (who wrote As-Siyar as a book for rulers of an empire to refer to, and thus has some heavy bias toward particular opinions of current leaders), and Ibn Rushd (who has been largely rejected by the entire Muslim world in place of Al-Ghazali). Kelsay also has a very bad grasp on the concept of Maddhabs, continually citing Al-Shafi’i (incorrectly, I might add, as Al-Shafi’i was against aggressive warfare) when his own case would be better served by citing Al-Hanbali (the only maddhab to ever be ruling an Islamic empire and specifically advocate for expansionist warfare).

    Muslim history isn’t all pretty (and isn’t all ugly either), and modern Islamic issues still have much to be done to resolve them, but Kelsay sandwiches two seemingly positive statements on Islam with an entire center of selective, fear-mongering criticism. Women were exempt from war because they were property? Kelsay gets cited by bigoted websites like JihadWatch, and it’s where his scholarship belongs.

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