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Book Review

December 31, 2009 by  


Ayesha Jalal,Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.), $29.95.

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Madison (Wisc.)–With many contemporary books, I find myself merely skimming over the text.  (I think this comes from reading information over the computer.)  This book by Professor Jalal is too absorbing to do that, though. 

I was commissioned to do a scholarly a chapter on Jihadi websites here and in an abridged form in Orlando during early April.  I was encouraged to read Ayesha Jalal because it is the latest and most authoritative statement on Indian Jihadism.

Jalal goes into the fascinating South Asian history and theology of Jihad.  This is a challenging book to comprehend, but it is well worth it.

To a sincere traditional Jihadist, Shari a does not prohibit nationalist wars.  Therefore, a Jihad is not always a “physical” struggle for God (Allah [SWT]).  Still, some temporal rulers employ the concept against the “infidel” (both those who practice different forms of Islam and the non-Muslim), and, thus, in essence these rulers along with their militaristic entourages are imperialistic.  Still, there are those who believe that there is an intrinsic relationship between outward physical Jihad and violent resistance and faith in their concepts of religious concepts of personal and collective identity.

Nonetheless, Jihad has high ideals, but the tragic end to so many Jihadi fighters has led to a eulogistic and nostalgic fog concerning their actions.

Even such outstanding thinkers such as Muhammad Iqbal theorized on Jihad, but he saw Jihad in the original Arabic sense which denoted “a struggle within, or as he states in a poem:

“Jihad with death does not befit a warrior

One [who] has faith [is] alive and war[s] with himself.”

Iqbal’s originality gives elucidation to the love of God (i.e. Allah [SWT]).  Further, Muhammad Iqbal saw his poetry as an explication upon the Koran; consequently, therefore, he wrote upon his vision of inward Jihad “In…the ‘sword’ of men” which found expressed in his life, throughout.

Finally, in her study, Jalal brings Jihad into the contemporary period, and the perversion of the concept of Jihad amongst a minority of Muslims who have reinterpreted it as a violent struggle: “Equating Jihad with violence and terror makes a sheer tragedy of a concept… [that]… remains [at] the core of Islamic ethics.”

Dr. Jalal points to the lack of understanding by the counter-insurgent:  While The American-led [War on Terror until recently promoted] a military dictator in Pakistan [Musharraf] while seeking, at the same time, to spread democracy in the Middle East…”

Your critic considers Ayesha Jalal’s study to be an essential one on the subject.  It is important reading for all Muslims – especially here in the West – where one hears so much erroneous claims and counter-claims on Jihadism.  

Parisians of Allah is not only a book for education for Muslims, but the information presented can here help to explain the true nature of Islam to those outside the faith and to clarify the misrepresentation on many subjects to the non-Islamic world.

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