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Jihad and Justice: Islamic Just War Theory, Part 1

September 17th, 2007 | 2 min read

By Tex

Due to the importance of unity among the believers in Islam, legitimate authorization of war is imperative. The Islamic conception of the ideal government has one ruler (the deputy, or khalifa) at its head. This was modeled most perfectly in Mohammed and in the Rashidoon, or “the four rightly guided caliphs,” who followed him. Mohammed was the leader of the religious as well as political aspects of the community of believers (umma) since, in fact, there was little distinction between the two. Khalifa literally means successor or deputy, and the full title of the Muslim ruler (after the death of Mohammed) was khalifa Allah (deputy of God) or sometimes khalifa rasul Allah (deputy of the prophet of God). The khalifa was considered the head of the umma. He had been given his authority by God, and was meant to fulfill all the same functions as Mohammed had during his life.

One hadith (or saying of Mohammed) states, “The Prophet added, ‘He who obeys me, obeys Allah, and he who disobeys me, disobeys Allah. He who obeys the Muslim chief, obeys me, and he who disobeys the Muslim chief, disobeys me.” Another hadith states, “The Apostle of God said: After me will come rulers, render them your obedience, for the ruler is like a shield wherewith a man protects himself…they are responsible for you, but you have no responsibility.” Mohammed clearly recognizes that his authority as the Prophet of God is transferred, to some degree, to those who will succeed him in ruling the umma. Therefore, the khalifa alone has legitimate authorization to command the umma in all things.
The need for legitimate authorization for war can be seen in the writings of Muslim philosophers as well. In Ibn Rushd’s examination of jihad, he carefully points out that jihad is a communal rather than an individual duty. “Scholars agree that jihad is a collective not a personal obligation.” As the ruler of the umma, the khalifa is the only one who is authorized to direct their behavior and since jihad is an action carried out by the umma it follows that the khalifa is the only one who can demand the fulfillment of this obligation by the people.

In his discussion on the proper treatment of prisoners of war, Ibn Rushd implicitly recognizes the authority of the khalifa to wage war and deal justly with the resulting captives stating that, “various policies are open to the Imam [head of the Islamic state, caliph]” after he has waged war and taken prisoners. A later philosopher, and student of Ibn Rushd, Ibn Khaldun corroborates this same condition of legitimate authorization. In his discussion of the just and unjust causes of war in the Muqaddimah, he points out that “dynastic war against seceders and those who refuse obedience” is justified. Dynastic war is war authorized by the head of the state, in this case the khalifa, justifying the war because it is based on a zeal for the royal authority and its protection against those who would seek to destroy the unity of the umma.
Look for the final Islamic conditions for just war this Friday.

Other posts in the Jihad and Justice series:

Islamic and Christian Theories of War

Christian Just War Theory, Part 1

Christian Just War Theory, Part 2

The Islamic Conception

The Islamic Context