Allah May Not Smile On Iraq's Jihad

Annapolitan Studies Islamic Rules On War

February 13, 1991|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

A ninth-century Islamic philosopher would have cautioned Iraqis against following Saddam Hussein into jihad -- holy war -- against the U.S.-led alliance.

That's the conclusion of Annapolis political scholar Ann Wyman, who is completing a dissertation for the University of Maryland department of government and politics comparing the Islamicand Christian understanding of "just war."

Wyman says her thesis topic has evolved over the last four years of her graduate work.

Wyman and others in the department have been troubled by the seemingly irreconcilable differences between Western and Islamic cultures over the definition of a justified war. Those differences, she says, are one of many strains keeping the world from achieving a consensus on international law.

"If one-sixth of the world's population has opposing principles about what makes a just war, you have a problem," she said.

Wyman's research centered around the works of Alfarabi, a Turkish philosopher who, 200 years after Mohammed's death, attempted to filter the principles espoused by the Islamic prophet apart from the unique circumstances of his era.

"Justbecause Mohammed led his followers into a virtually perpetual state of jihad to establish a community of truth doesn't mean that all Islam was to be in that state for all time," Wyman said. "Alfarabi was trying to build the case that Muslims should be very cautious followingleaders subsequent to Mohammed who did not share Mohammed's perfect sense of justice."

While Alfarabi's influence is limited to the educated classes -- similar to the influence Plato, Aristotle or St. Augustine have in Western culture -- his guidelines for a just society and for principled war are significant, Wyman says, because they indicate that Western and Arab society are not necessarily at odds at their philosophical roots.

Wyman says Alfarabi's criterion for justified war are at least as strict as the rules set down for a "just" warby Christian theologians beginning with St. Augustine. His rules forjihad -- the Muslim state of holy war that offers those who die in battle an immediate entry into heaven -- are still more restrictive, she said.

First and foremost among Alfarabi's criterion, she said, is that both the leader and his followers must be "virtuous," as Mohammed was. Even if the cause is good, a good Muslim is not supposed tofight unless certain that both he and his leader have won the "internal jihad" -- the struggle against the evil inside.

In addition, the war must not be in pursuit of a ruler's ego, in response to anger or pleasure, for pure conquest, or as an overreaction to injustices committed by others.

A non-jihad yet justifiable war may be fought defensively, to acquire the good a virtuous city deserves, to conquerthose who do themselves harm by ruling themselves, to retrieve what rightfully belongs to the city, or to punish a crime committed against a city.

Not all these criteria are met in the Persian Gulf crisis, Wyman said.

"Saddam Hussein, for instance, was not chosen to lead Iraq for his virtue, his actions in office have not shown great virtue, and most troubling, up until recently he had been in charge of a secular regime which would appear to exclude it from waging jihad,"she said.

In her investigation of Alfarabi's texts, Wyman claims to have found a basis for a future understanding. But she concedes that Alfarabi -- like St. Augustine or Aristotle -- really has only theoretical significance.

"As you know, Islam is terribly confused right now," Wyman said. "There is a vicious lack of consensus about theprinciples of their own religion and what it means to be a Muslim. When they go back into their own history -- or when we do -- you find abundant wisdom and beautiful work that may help reconcile some of the differences."

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