Jihad and Oppression
How oppression is defined is the key to understanding Islam, for Islam, like Marxism, postulates a struggle between the oppressed and the oppressive. This struggle is called Jihad, and comes at various levels.
The first and foremost Jihad is steadfastness; it is characterised in preserving patience in the face of persecution, seeking the solace and comfort of God by steadfastness in belief and action when those around you do their utmost to divert you away from the path.
The early days of Islam saw this kind of Jihad because the majority of early Muslims were from the lower classes, the slaves, the shepherds the labourers. The elite of society were offended that they regarded themselves as dignified, equal before God and different only in piety from their employers and masters in His eyes. They accepted their social status, but demanded respect, and fair return for their services. One tribe sheltered the people on behalf of the man among them who claimed prophet hood: The Hashemi tribe. But not all who embraced Islam belonged to their moiety.
The first martyr was a woman who had been “freed” as a slave and given to a poor man, a man at the bottom of the social ladder. She was speared through her private parts by the Prophet’s uncle, who is called “The Ignorant” by the Muslims at the time, but whose name was Abu Lahab. He was the implacable enemy of his nephew, and repudiated him. Even though she was imprisoned and tortured along with her husband and son, she remained firm to the ideal she had learned. Allah had not made her an eternal slave, though she was treated like one, to the elite family who “freed her.” Rather, he made her equal to them in principle, but better than them because of her steadfast piety. The prophet himself announced the good news of her imminent entry into heaven with her husband, and she stayed steadfast to the end. This was the Jihad of steadfastness, preserving patience under persecution.
Another level of Jihad is trust. Allah, the exalted and wise, asks in the Quran whether or not the world is wide, and why, if one is oppressed in one land to the extent that you cannot practice your basics of worship, the oppressed person does not migrate – emigrate – to lands where they can practice freely. It requires a great deal of trust to uproot yourself from a life where you know your job, you know the market, you know how to sustain your family, and move to another country that is unfamiliar, where you are not established, where there is not means of sustenance known and waiting. Yet Allah demands that we trust in Him. “Do not kill your (girl) children,” He says. “We will provide for them and for you.” Putting your trust in Allah wholly and completely is a Jihad that is very difficult. Even the scholars say that one should not simply pray and wait for deliverance out of the sky, but see to the means and then trust in Allah. My question to them is what constitutes “the means”?
Seven years before the Muslims retook Mecca unopposed, the Meccans made a treaty with the Muslims of Medina. In it they dictated the terms. If any Muslim left the Ummah of Medina and deserted to Mecca, the Meccans would be under no obligation to return him. But if a Meccan deserted the religion of his forefathers and made his way the Medina, the Medinans would have to return him. The Prophet should not sign the treaty as the Messenger of Allah, but only by his name and father’s name, Muhammad Abdullah.
The companions of the prophet were aghast. Why did the Prophet allow the Meccans to so humiliate them – to craft such a one sided deal? Yet this treaty was called by Allah Al FatH – the victory, because it would lead to An-Nasr, the salvation. This “means” meant that those who did desert Mecca, though they were sent back, contrived to escape and set themselves up as bandits. These criminal elements raided the caravans of their previous masters, so that the wealth and safety of the Meccan elites was threatened. The Meccans also forgot to mention Muslim women deserting, so when they deserted, Medina accepted them, and this slowly bled the Meccans of their other halves.
Five years later, the Meccans begged to change the terms of the treaty.
“Keep our deserters! Then they will not be able to attack our caravans and persons. They will be bound by the treaty of non-aggression.”
Finally, some allies of the Meccans attacked the allies of Medina, and this broke the treaty. The Meccans immediately sued for peace – they wanted the treaty to continue because they had become weak. Even some of the sons of the elite had turned to Islam and deserted. But Muhammad, peace be upon him, refused, and declared that the Muslims, all of them, would come to Mecca for Hajj – the one ritual they had been prevented from by the treaty. A small armed cohort resisted the unarmed pilgrims but were overwhelmed by numbers, yet no one took revenge for the three Muslims killed by the Meccan group. Instead, Muhammad declared an amnesty and invited those who remained non-Muslim to embrace. Eventually, everyone in Mecca submitted to Islam, and this was the Salvation and Victory promised by Allah seven years earlier. Who would have guessed one would be the result of the other? Except for those who trusted.
A third form of Jihad is the struggle one has with one’s own self. The self, the part of us connected to this world, loves this world. It loves wealth, the means of making wealth, the trappings of wealth, the material comforts, the fruits of spending one’s time occupied with the affairs of this world, sensual satisfaction with wives, girlfriends, paid sexual partners, the pride of fathering a line and passing on ones genes to sons (and daughters). How often do we neglect charity out of greed, worship out of the chance to earn money when we should dedicate our time to worship, prayer for the sensual pleasure of a lover’s arms, remembrance of Allah for the sake of watching a sport or a Bollywood production of dancing and Music, playing games with children instead of teaching them about our duty to God? How difficult is the struggle to focus our soul on the hereafter when our self is pulled by the material world? This is the struggle of the self against the soul. The most subtle temptation of all.
The next level of Jihad is propagation. And this is three fold in nature. Firstly, The struggle to educate one’s offspring (and the offspring of society) in the right way – in the knowledge of God, Tawheed, the oneness of the Creator and Lord of all that exists. Secondly, the struggle to keep not only oneself in the right path, but guide one’s brothers and sisters, neighbours and tribes, correcting their mistakes and urging them to do right. This is so important to the social fabric of the society we live in. Thirdly, perhaps easier in one way, but more difficult in another, the struggle to spread the word to those who have not submitted to God, and urge them to turn His guidance the religion He ordained. It is easier because one can plan one’s agenda, what one should say. More difficult, because the stranger – the non-Muslim, is not for us to guide. Even if they are flesh and blood, they will not be guided because we will it. Only by God’s permission will they admit the truth they see or hear, for only God will guide you in the end if you wish to be guided.