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Islam and the Just War Theory

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America’s declaration on the war against terrorism had received much criticism because while it attempts to prevent the war to be associated with a war against the Islamic religion, most of the countries and groups that were involved in the campaign namely, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and groups like Abu Sayaf in the Philippines and the Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia, among others have one common denominator, they are all Islam.

Many Muslim countries supported the war on terrorism because the basic philosophy of such war is congruent with the ideals of the Islamic faith. However, many Muslims find the US attack on Iraq uncalled for and illogical because Iraq per se is not a terror threat to anyone including the US.  It may be possible that there could be terror groups within the country, but to let the whole country suffer and anguish in war by an assumed threat is unjustifiable. The US tried to rationalize its actions by forwarding the WMD arguments which after turning the country inside out into ashes was never found anyhow.

In his book, “The Heart of Islam”, Nasr elucidates the basic tenets and lasting ideals behind the Islamic faith that is agreeable to conventional Islamic concept and understandable to non Moslems especially from the Western nations. This book attempts to clarify and emancipate Islam from the stereotypes and misconceptions that Western Media and non-Muslims has consciously or unconsciously given the religion especially in post 911 terror attacks in the US.  Islam is often related to terrorism and extremist ideologies which encourage hatred towards such religion without really understanding its teachings and principles.  This may have been a subconscious effect of misleading the truth brought about by intentional propaganda or ignorance to the ideals of the Islamic religion because Islamic religion in itself denounces any form of violence or acts of terrorism.  (Abdul and Noorani, 2002)

Directly approaching the association of Islam with war, Nasr qualifies the true idea of jihad.  “Jihad” or holy war is portrayed by Western media as a war instigated by Muslim extremists while in truth, Jihad means a struggle in the path of God.  In the context of an armed war, Nasr showed that Jihad follows the just-war theory.  Muslims resort to force as last remedies after all other options have been exhausted in defense of one’s homeland and religion or as reparation for a crime or a wrong suffered.

Practically all religions including Islam explicitly proscribe the killing of innocent life.    In the same manner, practically all religions have members that disobeyed this basic teaching.  There are extremists and fundamentalists that exist in all religions which are equally condemned by mainstream believers. Nasr deemed the 9-11 attacks to be perpetuated by extremists who contravene the tenets of the Islamic religion against killing.

Incidentally, Christianity and Islam have more similarities than any other religion compared as revealed by Nasr. At the core of both religions is one supreme and divine God who’s revealed His will to be followed by the people.  Islamic religion basically shares the same beliefs about prayer, fasting, sacrifice, human responsibility and afterlife.   Nevertheless, there is a need to understand the doctrines and teachings of each religion within the framework and perspective of the religion concerned.  Understanding religion from another religious perspective will result to misinterpretation, misconception and eventually stereotypes and conflicts.

One example is the concept of why Muslims love death more than life, which is often misinterpreted as Muslims being advocates of death and destruction.  Muslims like Christians consider life as the temporary phase constituted of challenges and tests for a person’s final destination to Allah.  Death is the transitory state of a person’s journey towards God, which is our ultimate goal and destiny.  Muslims consider the enjoyment of life i.e. comforts, power and materials things as deceptive and short lived (Eklund, 1941) Hence, they give more importance to death because it is the conduit to be in spirit form to join Allah.

The Just War theory basically assumes the necessity of war as an aspect of politics and therefore not innately immoral.   Nasr suggested that religion exists in order to bestow a sense of harmony and establish order in society.  Islamic religion in particular promotes this harmony and peace. The essence and value of any form of action depends on how it partakes in the will of Allah. Knowing one’s destiny or where to go entails knowing the direction or the will of Allah. Following his will leads to one’s spirituality.   This implies that Islam, in principle  is against war.  The struggles by the Muslim people for the faith forms a critical part of the Islamic religion. Incidentally, the focus on these struggles may have led to the aggressiveness and sometimes hostility of some Muslim extremists who tend to violently react to inequalities that they perceived as part of their struggle.  In which case, they relate spiritual fulfillment in committing dreadful acts in the name of religion.

The ultimate objective of a just war is to re-establish peace. Behind all these debates, clarification of differences among religions and politics, Islam is one with every religion for the promotion and realization of peace and harmony with each other and the rest of God’s creation. (Nasr, 2004)  It shares the same values of hope, peace and love.  In the end, the heart of Islam is one and the same with the heart of all religions.


Abdul, Abdul Gafoor and Noorani, Majeed. (2002). Islam & Jihad: Prejudice Versus Reality. Palgrave

Eklund, R.(1941). Life Between Death and Resurrection According to Islam. Translated by Elsa Lundequist. Almqvist & Wiksells

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. (2004) The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. HarperCollins

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