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Asma Afsaruddin

Juridical Re-interpretations of Qur’anic Jihad: An Exercise in Realpolitik

Jurists, usually in contradistinction to exegetes and other religious scholars, primarily dealt withjihad as one of the obligations of the Muslim ruler and of his Muslim subjects in the context of external relations with non-Muslim polities and groups of people. The law of nations (siyar) as an integral part of Islamic law developed early due to this pragmatic juridical concern for the intricacies of political relation with the broader non-Muslim world. Within legal-administrative contexts, jihad is primarily military in nature. Political realism understandably colored legal treatments of jihad and allowed for distinctive—and contested—juridical perspectives to emerge on this topic, shaped by the historical and political contingencies in which they were progressively formulated. This paper will first of all discuss some key exegeses of the highly significant Qur’anic verse 2:190 which famously forbids Muslims from initiating military attacks against an adversary. It will then proceed to sketch some of the significant legal transformations effected in the pre-modern period by jurists, who, in response to specific historical circumstances, reformulated Qur’anic conceptualizations of jihad and undermined some of the Qur’anic restrictions placed on conducting warfare, particularly the proscription against initiating armed combat.

Asma Afsaruddin is professor of Islamic studies and chairperson of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is the author and/or editor of six books, including Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought (Oxford University Press, 2013); Islam, the State, and Political Authority: Medieval Issues and Modern Concerns (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); and The First Muslims: History and Memory (OneWorld Publications, 2008). Professor Afsaruddin has won grants from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the Mellon Foundation and was named a Carnegie Scholar by the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 2005. Currently she is completing a book titled Contemporary Issues in Islam, to be published by Edinburgh University Press in 2015.