SINGAPORE – Recently on June 12, it was reported that ISIS distributed an audio message to its followers, calling on them to launch more attacks during Ramadan, the ‘holy month of Jihad’. Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer, ISIS’s official spokesman, gave instructions on launching attacks on target countries like Europe, Australia and Philippines on the audio message.
According to militant groups like ISIS, their terror attacks are carried out in the name of jihad. Jihad which means ‘to strive’ or ‘to struggle’ is a core teaching in Islam which has many meanings. In the past, jihad by the sword meant war against infidels but this was only done if all peaceful resolutions were exhausted to settle the disagreement. So what are the conditions for combative jihad?
Firstly, it must be proven that there are hostile attacks or measures against Islam or Muslims as a whole. Secondly, it must be proven that the enemy has launched a military campaign with the intention to eradicate all Muslims and steal their property. Lastly, Muhammad instructed that no single group can declare war on its own and all Muslims must agree that all peaceful options have been entirely exhausted. If conflict is inevitable, no women or children must be harmed during war.
Terror groups and Islamic extremists have thus propagated a false ‘jihad’ and further contradict themselves by killing innocent Muslims in their acts of ‘jihad’. This can be seen most recently in the attack that took place in Iran’s parliament building on June 7.
Critics and media outlets have characterised Islam as a violent religion and Muslims as hostile people who are intolerant of different religions. This view perpetuated after the September 11 attacks in The United States. After the incident, many Americans believed that Islam and terrorism are synonymous. In this context, jihad is often incorrectly translated by the media as ‘holy war’, a misunderstood concept altogether.
Some Muslim scholars believe that Muhammad said that the greater jihad was in striving for one’s individual betterment and self-control. This is especially so during the holy month of Ramadan when abstinence is an important part.
On June 9, an interfaith dialogue was held by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) as part of its CommaCon campaign. The campaign is aimed at promoting social cohesion through the discussion of sensitive religious and social issues. This dialogue, which was centred upon the idea of jihad and its various misconceptions, was attended by non-Muslims and leaders of other religious groups as well.
On June 12, 22-year-old Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari became the first known Singaporean female to be detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) because of her radicalization. Izzah who was a childcare centre teacher, planned to travel to Syria and settle down with an ISIS supporter. She was self-radicalised through online ISIS propaganda since 2013 and openly supported their ideology on social media.
Despite her parents being religious teachers (albeit unregistered ones), she believed in ISIS’s use of violence in the name of jihad which has been stressed upon to be false and misleading by many Muslim religious leaders in Singapore.
At its core, jihad is not a violent concept and instead, embodies the idea of self-improvement of the individual. Extremists hijack verses within the Quran and ignore the other meanings of jihad for their own selfish motivations. They also repeatedly overturn the rules of armed jihad with every attack.
The misuse of jihad to justify violent terror attacks has led to great divisions within multi-religious nations. After the attack in Manchester and London, an anti-Muslim demonstration took place in Manchester on June 11.
Instead of rallying together as a country to deal with the aftermath of such events, terror incidents have been used by the authorities to push their political agenda, which includes discrimination against Muslims and ethnic minority groups. U.S. President Donald Trump may have done the same with his immigration ban on seven Muslim majority countries, using the threat of terrorism as a justification for the implementation of the policy.
Such responses make Islamic radicalisation more dangerously effective, causing more countries to become increasingly vulnerable to future terror attacks. Discrimination can also lead to more Muslims turning to the false jihad propagated by extremists as a means to challenge the societal repression that they experience.