It is remarkable that some of the most critical concepts of Muslim religious terminology have now become part of the international language of current affairs. Questions drawn from Islamic theology are discussed freely by the world public, engaging specialists and non-specialists, Muslims and non-Muslims. Theological disputation has moved far from Islam’s religious academies.
For example, the term jihad, commonly translated as “holy war,” has become nearly ubiquitous. Though conceived in early Muslim history as a means of spreading God’s word, Muslim scholars today distinguish between two kinds of jihad – one being an internal struggle against temptation, and the other a physical conflict against an aggressor who threatens the survival or the fundamental rights of a Muslim community. In this context, there is widespread rejection of the fundamentalists’ use of the term.
Numerous Muslim scholars have raised their voices to challenge the terrorists’ defense of suicide bombings or attacks on civilians, offering long citations from centuries of religious jurisprudence. In itself, this approach represents a worthy expression of collective conscience in opposition to the terrorists.
But many among the public and in the media want more. Muslim intellectuals are being encouraged to press the religious argument against fundamentalist violence in order to deprive the terrorists of their most fearsome and potent arguments. If Muslim scholars can somehow disprove these arguments, it is thought, then the terrorists’ ability to sustain their violent underground will be reduced.