Tariq Rahman, Dean at the School of the Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, has written the most comprehensive book on jihad, the religious war of Islam, exercising the minds of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Interpretations of Jihad in South Asia: An Intellectual History (OUP) begins with the erstwhile but now ignored thinkers like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Maulvi Chiragh Ali who thought jihad was defensive war and not conquest to collect more jizya (poll-tax on non-Muslims).
This book looks at the lack of scholarly consensus on what jihad means, especially in the hands of radical organisations such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State. It takes 323 pages of the most absorbing scholarship to understand the radical jihad, springing mostly from the authority of Ibn Taymiyya (1262-1328) and culminating in the disputed hadith about Ghazwa-e-Hind, legalising and prompting an uprising against India in Kashmir.
The book rivets attention on the details of the phenomenon of extremism among Muslims that has ended up in jihad, killing more Muslims than non-believers. Pakistan has been the testing ground of theories of jihad that, some say, have been ordained in the Quran, which also lays down qital (killing) as an injunction. Pakistan has been the victim of the covert war which was supposed to be directed at the infidels. This should be instructive, given the aimless bloodshed, unless Pakistan doesn’t care about it.
In terms of governance, the jihadi state has to surrender internal sovereignty because private jihadi organisations have to be located in civil society and have to be exempted from municipal law in respect of their use of weapons and training. States can tolerate the diminution of external sovereignty — mostly owing to economic weakness — but they cannot survive the surrender of internal sovereignty. There can be no governance when the state is not sovereign, even internally. The problem of “extraterritoriality” has been the most pressing problem in Pakistan’s governance under the doctrine of jihad.
More than 50 per cent of its territory was outside the municipal jurisdiction of the state since Pakistan had failed to bring the whole of Balochistan under the normal writ of the state and had preserved till 2018 the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as a relic of the British Raj’s “buffer” territory. Jihad created an extended “extraterritoriality” or “no-go areas” that assaulted the big cities of Pakistan. In the smaller cities, the entire administration may have been run by non-state actors, as happened in Toba Tek Singh when the champion of Pakistani jihad, Lashkar-e-Toiba, was the most powerful militia in the country.
Any discussion of law and order in Pakistan in the past has run headlong into the state’s policy of (proxy) jihad. Because jihad was fought with mercenary troops, there was a sharing of the sovereignty of the state with jihadi leaders. There is resistance among politicians to the post-9/11 perceived policy of giving up jihad because the world increasingly equates jihad to terrorism through the FATF. There is apparently no realisation that jihad militates against governance above all.
Rahman wonders at the book’s conclusion: “This study has concerned itself only with ideas about jihad. Perhaps the crucial question, not addressed here, is whether people are really influenced by these ideas? In short, is it because there are radical interpretations in circulation on the internet, among role models of the peer group, among friends and relatives, that people get radicalised? Or is it that they join for other reasons such as poverty, lack of education, mental illness, sexual frustration, or money?”
Rahman takes note of Suhail Abbas, a Pakistani psychologist who examined 517 men in jail “for having attempted to go to Afghanistan to fight US troops”. His conclusion was that all “jihadis” suffered from “psychological morbidity”.
This article was first published on September 28, 2019 in the print edition under the title ‘The morbidity of jihad’. The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan