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Jihad and Human Rights Today

An active ideology incompatible with universal standards of freedom and equality.
By Bat Ye’or

Human rights and the concept of jihad are two incompatible ideas. In Judeo-Christian societies, the concept of human rights is based on the biblical interdiction against killing, and the equality of all human beings. Though it has religious roots, this notion of human rights evolved mainly from the 19th century in a secular European and American framework. It then acquired a universal character, proclaiming the equality of all human beings and the inviolability of their natural human rights. But it was only after World War II that this concept became the core of an international legal system, as a tool to prevent political abuses and to protect civil populations from genocidal policies.

Other major civilizations — including the Chinese, Hindu, and Islamic — have also conceived legal systems which protect the rights of their citizens. However, in the Islamic case, specifically, the 54 Muslim countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference have conceived their own human-rights charter, contained in the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.

This document states in its preamble, and in articles 24 and 25, that all its provisions are in conformity with the sharia, the religious Islamic law, which has primacy. Moreover, it proclaims that God has made the Islamic community (umma) the best nation — and, hence, its role is to guide humanity. We can see here the differences between the Cairo Declaration and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which does not refer to any religion or to the superiority of any group over another, but stresses the absolute equality of all human beings.

The institution of jihad belongs to a religious, Islamic domain, outside the realm of Western universalism and secularism. These two domains do not meet. Secular laws can be changed, abrogated, or ameliorated, but jihad regulations are believed to express divine commands. By definition, human beings can neither discuss nor scrutinize the divine will, and so those jihad obligations — attributed by the theologians to Allah — place jihad in the domain of faith. I would like to emphasize strongly that jihad is a special domain of Islamic law. Not all Muslims know it, and many reject its ideology. It would be a great mistake to believe that each and every Muslim identifies with the jihad-war ideology.

The ideology of jihad was formulated by leading Muslim theologians and scholars from the 8th century onward. Their voluminous writings make clear the notion of jihad as a holy war of conquest. Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (d. 966), for example, stated,

Jihad is a precept of Divine institution... We Malikis [one of four schools of Muslim jurisprudence] maintain it is preferable not to begin hostilities with the enemy before having invited the latter to embrace the religion of Allah, except where the enemy attacks first. They have the alternative of either converting to Islam or paying the poll tax (jizya), short of which war will be declared against them...

Jihad ideology separates humanity into two hostile blocs: the community of Muslims (Dar ul-Islam), and the infidel non-Muslims (Dar ul-Harb). Allah commands the Muslims to conquer the entire world in order to rule it according to Koranic law. Hence Muslims must wage a perpetual war against those infidels who refuse to submit. This is the motivation for jihad. It is based on the inequality between the community of Allah and the infidels, as was re-emphasized in the Cairo Declaration. The first is a superior group, which must rule the world; the second must submit. The current relevance of this ideology is apparent, and disturbing.

For example, Al-Muhajiroun, an Islamist newspaper in London, published an article on January 27, 2001, which declared:

Upon the establishment of the Islamic State, the whole world will potentially be Dar ul Harb since the foreign policy of the Islamic state is aimed at conquering the world... Once the Islamic State is established anyone in Dar ul Harb will have no sanctity for his life or wealth hence, a Muslim in such circumstances can then go into Dar ul Harb and take the wealth from the people unless there is a treaty with that state. If there is no treaty, individual Muslims can even go to Dar ul Harb and take women to keep as slaves.

Such an attitude assumes that the infidels have no rights and are totally dehumanized. It breeds hatred and contempt and has led to historical negationism, and the destruction of non-Muslim cultures. Moreover, such views are not confined to the most radical Islamists. They were confirmed in the Proceedings of the Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research, held in 1968 (General Organization for Government Printing Offices, Cairo, 1968), and regularly since then by eminent Islamic scholars. These authoritative pronouncements have recapitulated the theory of jihad in a manner completely consistent with the Al-Muhajiroun statements.

The theory of jihad against the infidels is composed of two parts: the ideology, and the military institutions aimed at implementing this ideology. According to these rules the infidels without a treaty have no rights at all: they can be deported, reduced to slavery, abducted for ransom, or killed. Women and children can be taken into slavery. Infidels can be spared by a temporary treaty which should not go beyond ten years. The treaty must conform to Islamic rule and serve Islamic interests, hence a ransom should be paid. The infidels who submit to Islamic rulers are given a pledge of security against the rules of jihad, so long as they accept a condition of humiliation, and of total inferiority to Muslims.

Jihad is therefore a genocidal war, according to the modern definition of genocide. It encourages terrorism against civilians and does not differentiate between innocent civilians and soldiers. All infidels without a treaty of protection can be killed. Jihad does not recognize universal human rights, for there is no equality between Muslims and infidels, and no reciprocity between Muslims and infidels in legal matters. Jihad warriors do not accept that either the Geneva Conventions or the conventional rules of war have any validity for them.

Jihadists have associated the notion of a reward in paradise with the practice of killing infidels. Killing at war was, and still is, practiced by all societies. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, wars, because they imply the acts of killing, are hateful and peace is praised. In the jihadist ideology, it is war that is praised, along with the killing of the infidels. Tragically, jihad ideology will not disappear soon. It is shaping the minds of a generation of young Muslims in many countries. Jihad ideology is a well-constructed system, created after the death of the prophet Mohammed. It has remained alive and well since then — except under secularized Muslim governments like that of Turkey, after the Kemalist revolution. It is delusional and dangerous to maintain that this ideology is rooted in social deprivation, backwardness, injustice, or despair. Moreover, paying subsidies to suspend global jihad terrorism is tantamount to paying a tribute to terrorist states, and buying one's own peace and security as temporarily ransomed privileges — instead of living by the principles of universal human rights, which proclaim the inviolability of every human being. Societies that pay a tribute to survive are destined to disappear.

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