Yusuf al-Qaradawi, probably the single most influential living Sunni Islamist figure, has just written a major book entitled Fiqh al-Jihad (The Jurisprudence of Jihad) which decisively repudiates al Qaedaâ€™s conception of jihad as a â€œmad declaration of war upon the world.â€ At the same time, he strongly rejects what he calls efforts to remove jihad completely from Islam, and strongly reaffirms the duty of jihad in resisting the occupation of Muslim lands, specifically mentioning Israel as the arena of legitimate resistance. Qaradawiâ€™s intervention has thus far received no attention at all in the English-language media. It should, because of his vast influence and his long track record as an accurate barometer of mainstream Arab views.
His book, described by the Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm last week in a seven part series, is far more important than the much-discussed â€œrecantationsâ€ and â€œrevisionsâ€ of former jihadist intellectuals such as Dr. Fadl (Sayid Imam) and the leaders of the Gamaâ€™a Islamiya. The internal revisions by ex-jihadists (which Qaradawi praises) may influence that tiny group of extremists, and demonstrate cracks in their intellectual foundations. But for the most part, the mass Arab public has never heard of and doesnâ€™t care about them. And unlike the Gamaa leaders or Dr. Fadl, Qaradawi did not produce his revisions from an Egyptian prison cell (hence Ayman Zawahiriâ€™s cutting rejoinder to Dr. Fadl, that Egyptian prisons hadnâ€™t had fax machines back in his day). Qaradawi is different. Qaradawi, an intensely controversial figure in the West, appears on a weekly al-Jazeera program and is probably the single most influential Sunni Islamist figure in the Arab world. The Egyptian-born Qaradawi is closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (he reportedly turned down an invitation to become its Supreme Guide because he felt he had more influence from his base in Doha). He is a populist whose views generally reflect widespread attitudes in the region — he strongly endorses democracy, for instance, while also supporting Hamas attacks against Israelis. Whether he leads or follows popular opinion is a difficult and fascinating question — but either way, he is quite a useful barometer.
His criticism of al Qaeda is not new — he condemned 9/11 and has engaged in a number of public polemics with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and with the leaders of al Qaeda. But the timing of this book merits attention. His views generally closely mirror trends within wider mass public opinion will reach a far wider swathe of the Arab mainstream and will likely have far greater impact than did the internal revisions which received such attention in the West. His intervention strengthens the impression that al Qaedaâ€™s extreme form of salafi-jihadism is on the wane in the Arab world, but political Islam and the spirit of muqawama (resistance) remains strong.
Qaradawiâ€™s text deserves lengthy discussion, but a brief summary here will have to suffice. Fiqh al-Jihad stakes out the centrist (wasatiyya) ground where Qaradawi has always comfortably resided (he has authored dozens of books about wasatiyya concept). He rejects two trends: those who seek to eliminate jihad completely from the Muslim world, stripping it of its power and its ability to resist (which is how he sees the project of much of so-called moderate Islam or secularists); and those who apply it indiscriminately in a mad campaign of killing of all with whom they disagree (like al-Qaeda). Straw men, yes. But very effectively allowing Qaradawi to distinguish between al Qaedaâ€™s excesses and the legitimacy of resistance to occupation and to Israel.
Qaradawi also offers an intriguing broadening of the concept of jihad, away from violence to the realm of ideas, media, and communication — which he calls the â€œjihad of the age.â€ The weapons of this jihad should be TV, the internet, email and the like rather than guns. Persuading Muslims of the message of Islam and the importance of this jihad in the path of God should be the first priority, he argues: â€œthe jihad of the age, a great jihad, and a long jihad.â€ He also goes into great detail about the different forms of jihad, the need for pragmatism, and the diverse nature of possible relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.
There is much more to Qaradawiâ€™s text worth discussing, including his views on international law (he deploys Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to depressing effect), his form of argumentation, his categories of jihad, his conceptions of Muslim relations with non-Muslims, and much more. Parts of it are deeply problematic, others are surprisingly forthcoming. But for now, I mainly want to signal the appearance of this important text, which deserves close attention from all those interested in such matters.