Islam has been the subject of considerable controversy. One of the accusations made against it is that it is inherently violent with the term jihad translated as ‘holy war’. The term ‘holy war’ originates from Christian crusaders who first used the term to justify a battle for land and trade routes.
In Islam, war is never holy. It can only be just or unjust. War is only considered just if it is in self defence or to prevent injustice. "Fight in the way of God those who fight you, but do not begin hostilities; God does not like the aggressor" 2.190 "if the [enemy] desists, then you must also cease hostilities" 2.193.
Peaceful resolution is Islam’s default position. Jihad literally means ‘a struggle‘ or ‘a striving’, and refers primarily to the spiritual struggle against the ego. Modern day Islamist fundamentalists have manipulated the term Jihad for political ends so it resonates with the Christian meaning of holy war and violence.
With the advent of Islam came rules of how to conduct war that for the first time in the history of warfare drew a distinction between combatants and non-combatants. The modern day Geneva convention on human rights can trace it’s origins back to Islam. How ironic is it therefore that today’s Muslim terrorists have usurped this principle and turned it on its head. Not only justifying the slaughter of non-combatants, but considering it an Islamic duty.
So where are today’s moderate Muslims to reclaim jihad? Well they exist - they just don’t make the news. So let me quote here from a recent letter from the world’s leading Islamic scholars clarifying for the Pope’s benefit the Islamic rules of war: 1) Non-combatants are not permitted or legitimate targets. This was emphasized explicitly time and again by the Prophet, his Companions, and by the learned tradition since then. 2) Religious belief alone does not make anyone the object of attack. The original Muslim community was fighting against pagans who had also expelled them from their homes, persecuted, tortured, and murdered them. Thereafter, the Islamic conquests were political in nature. 3) Muslims can and should live peacefully with their neighbours. "And if they incline to peace, do thou incline to it; and put thy trust in God (al-Anfal 8.61)." However, this does not exclude legitimate self-defence and maintenance of sovereignty."
I should add that the Pope's apparent reversal in some of his views with his recent comments in Turkey are to be welcomed as a step in the right direction.
Extremism within Muslim societies is a result of the decline in Muslim scholarship. Ignorant people are easily manipulated by charlatans. The west’s display of aggression against certain parts of the Muslim world have been used by those that are opposed to any constructive engagement with the west and an appreciation of it socio-political advancements as a recruiting sergeant for their vision of a disengaged future.