Growing up in a Muslim majority country, we were formally taught Islamic history, beliefs and practices in a subject called Islamiyat. Schools offer this subject from primary school to at least the equivalent of American high school – either the government managed Matriculation or the Cambridge University-designed General Certificate of Education: Ordinary Level (O-Level). Schools usually determine whether they will offer both options, and students then decide which examination they would like to appear in.
The O-Level Islamiyat syllabus is publicly available and intended for teachers, so they can plan their “teaching program”. It was one such syllabus published in the mid-90s that my teachers used for educating us about Islam’s core concepts, and how we ought to manage our relationships with non-Muslims. In the current US environment – where a number of media outlets, politicians and some “experts” “educate” the public about the violent nature of the jihad, or the link between Islam and extremism – the content of such syllabi and associated textbooks is particularly potent.
So let me go over the syllabus and excerpts from two textbooks that one of my nephews is currently studying for his O-Level Islamiyat examination.
Jihad is mentioned in the syllabus in two places:
- Part 4 of the section 5.2 of the syllabus asks candidates to study, among other concepts, “Jihad in its range of meanings, physical, mental and spiritual”.
- In hadith number 7 in appendix 2, section 7, when asked who is the “most excellent of men”, the Prophet is reported to have said, “The believer who strives hard in the way of Allah with his person and his property.” The actual word (yujāhidu) used for “strives hard” in Arabic is formed from the word jihad.
We can make two observations at this point. First, the syllabus treats the physical, mental and spiritual jihad as somewhat equivalent, the intention being that the students must understand jihad in its entirety. This is further elaborated in the textbooks. Second, the word yujāhidu, which also appears in the Quran in multiple places, is translated as “strives hard”.
One of the textbooks my nephew is currently studying is referenced in the syllabus in section 8 as “a textbook intended for candidates”: Thomas, David R. and Draper, Mustafa. Islamiyat, a core text for Cambridge O Level. Karachi: Oxford University Press, Revised edition 2010.
The second one that they are studying is published locally in Pakistan: Malik, Yasmin. Islam: Beliefs and Practices. Lahore: Book Land, 2015.
I have attached pertinent pages from both the books at the end of this post, so you can read them to determine how they explain these concepts.
Both books teach students that jihad is about striving or exerting oneself in the path of God. This starts with improving one’s character and fighting inner weaknesses. Then there is jihad with tongue and or knowledge. And one must always speak truth – this is emphasized in both texts. Finally, they clarify that the word qitāl is the primary word employed for war in the Quran.
The authors of these books also state that even war is undertaken in self-defense and quote the example where Muslims did not fight in Mecca, even when they were persecuted. Only when the Muslims migrated to Medina and were attacked again did they fight back. Note that Muslims had officially set up an independent state (to use the modern terminology) and it was thus a declaration of war between two established states. One of the examples Malik gives for the obligation to fight “when a Muslim state is attacked by another state” is the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, stating that “all Muslim countries rushed” to help it.
Both texts quote verses indicating that Muslims should only fight against persecution and when attacked. Although not stated in these books, perhaps because they do not go into that much depth, I would argue that Muslim states should be ready to act against the persecution of any people, for example, as stated in UN Convention on Genocide, “for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide”.1Stated in Article 8 of the UN Convention on Genocide.
The verses such as those quoted in these books set limits on when jihad can take place. Some “experts” and extremists argue that these verses have been abrogated. Well, the problem is that these verses and concepts about jihad are being taught in schools today. So, it is not an apologetic attempt to make Islam pacifist, or a grand conspiracy to fool the gullible. It is merely an attempt to explain what these Islamic concepts are and how I, as a parent, will teach them to my kids, too.
Text from Drapers
Text from Malik
Notes [ + ]
|1.||￪||Stated in Article 8 of the UN Convention on Genocide.|