Islamic education and violence: not inextricably linked


Islamic Jihad has become a term which conjures scenes of terror and acts of violent destruction in the name of holy war.  Is this the true meaning of Jihad?  A new article published in Ethics and Education explores how Islamic education and Jihad could and should be a pathway to peace.

In 1998, Bin Laden incited Muslims to a military Jihad against Western secularism and ‘blasphemous’ democracy.  In Islam, Allah is believed to be the sole giver and taker of life, the one creator of society in the world.  Why then would devout believers take matters into their own hands? 

Jihad was not always synonymous with war but with ‘striving in Allah’s cause to improve one’s morality’. It was about ‘peaceful resistance and perseverance against oppression and tyranny’.  According to the Qur’an, Jihad is about encouraging Muslims to defend against their enemies but importantly it forbids hostility to anyone but those oppressing others.  So, do fanatical Jihadists misunderstand Islamic teachings?  Or are their actions and deliberate misinterpretations of the Qur’an based on other (covert) agendas?

Muslim reformists have, in contrast, embarked on peaceful demonstrations to achieve political change and democratic progression, notably during the Arab spring.  In this instance jihad has been interpreted and enacted as fostering democracy and tolerance for greater societal good – indeed, their actions bear testimony to Islamic education supporting liberty, security and peace.

Such contradictory stances, one indoctrinated to act violently in the name of faith, the other struggling to explore and improve personal spiritual and moral development, can surely not be attributed to education alone!  On the one hand we had highly educated 9/11 bombers, but on the other hand, a lack of education and opportunity might perpetuate a predisposition towards violence.  A hapless suicide bomber cannot continue the prescribed journey of Islamic spiritual refinement after a violent death, an act seemingly in conflict with Islamic teachings.  And yet, there are numerous other sub-texts at play, such as issues of oppression, which inadvertently cultivate forms of extremism – by no extent limited to Islamic jihad.

Similarly, while misinformed and misconstrued forms of militaristic jihad have yielded untold heartache, this is not supported by the majority of Muslims – as is evident not only in this article, but propagated by a host of Muslim reformists.

The author concludes: ‘Muslims need an Islamic education for non-violence that can engender reconciliation, democratic engagement and recognition of the other, rather than hatred, repression and discrimination’.

This conclusion, however, needs to be understood within a particular dialogue with its context. And to large extent, this context has been defined by the media. Peaceful co-existence is possible if reports of peaceful co-existence, reconciliation and democratic engagement take precedence over reports of violence and hatred.

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