Unholy War in Islam

Qamar Ul Huda
Boston College

Date: January 22, 2003

Event Recap

Qamar-ul Huda of the Theology Department at Boston College launched this spring’s lunch colloquia on Wednesday, January 22 with a presentation titled “Unholy Wars in Islam” in which he discussed how various strands of political Islam have developed over the centuries. Huda began his presentation with a discussion of the Islamic rules of conflict that began to be codified in the first century after the Prophet’s death and continue in the Sunni tradition. He summarized these rules into four general statements. First, one needs to try to resolve conflicts with non-confrontational methods. Second, if forced into confrontation, one may fight defensively to secure one's survival. Third, pre-emptive strikes are permissible only with the consensus and continual supervision of a council of legal scholars. Fourth, one may fight those who threaten your faith or the practice of your faith. This last rule, Huda pointed out, was more often applied to other Muslims than to non-Muslims.

In the second part of his presentation, Huda discussed how contemporary Islamic political parties began in18th-19th century reformist movements which tried to apply modern methods to religious studies and to contest colonialism. With the creation of independent states, these Islamic parties were marginalized, and even violently oppressed by the secularist nationalist regimes of leaders such as Pahlavi in Iran, Ataturk in Turkey, and Nasser in Egypt. This began to change in the mid-1970’swhen elements within the Saudi Arabian royal family began to fund Islamic thinkers and organizations whose goal was to achieve unity amongst Muslim states. The political goal of this movement was to create a coalition of Muslim political parties that would counteract Arab nationalism, secularization, and unchallenged westernization. Some of the prominent religious thinkers and leaders produced a very “puritanical” understanding of Islam in which religion was a complete way of life encompassing the economic, political, and social aspects of daily living.This form of Islam, which has become known as “Wahabbism” also rejects all sources of knowledge outside the Qur’an and rejects those who challenge the scholars of the past.

Huda argues that the large financial resources supporting the Wahabbi ideology has resulted in it becoming the dominant image of Islam in the West, thus obscuring the pluralism of Islamic beliefs that exist in other countries. In Huda’s view, the roots of anti-American sentiments within some parts of the Muslim world arises from the combination of American support of Saudi Arabia which perpetuates this narrow puritanical view of Islam, the complex politics within these countries that do not allow basic human rights, political participation, freedom of speech, and the growing serious inequities between rulers and their citizens.