What Is Offensive Jihad?

22 January, 2017
Q I have read that the Caliphs waged offensive jihad. Is there a place in Islam for offensive jihad in modern times?


Asalamu Alaikum,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Dr. Shabir Ally addresses this question in the video below:


Aisha Khaja: Dr. Shabir, the question today is about offensive jihad. What is offensive jihad?

Dr. Shabir Ally: Well, the concept of offensive jihad, which of course today we do not accept as a religious category, came about in history because the Muslim Caliphate was expanding. And the Islamic polity, you can say, was being transported to and used to dominate other lands.

It was a time in which, you know, you are either expanding; or somebody would expand and engulf you as part of their empire.

So, Muslim Caliphs are reported to have sent out armies to overtake other governments, and to offer them three choices: either you embrace Islam, or you pay a tax—which would show that you are actually aligned with and subsumed under the Islamic polity—, or we will go to war with you.

So, you have three options. So, this is reported in some hadiths. And this became a standard presentation in classical Islamic books.

And this is why you may find that in some of the Muslim youth, [who] are reading something like this would become dissatisfied with the present status quo, where they see that not only are Muslim governments corrupt, but Muslim governments do not seem to have that world vision in mind, where they are going to offer this kind of um, offensive jihad to the nations around them.

Aisha Khaja: So, you already mentioned earlier when you were answering this that this is not something that’s accepted now. But the viewer is asking here, there are some major scholars—according to this person—that support this position.

And where did they base their opinion? So, can you elaborate a little bit on that?

Dr. Shabir Ally: Well, and generally we might say that the world of Muslim scholarship is divided in two. There are traditional-minded scholars on the one hand, to keep a simple definition here. And then there are scholars who are revisiting the tradition, and asking how does that apply in our modern times.

And [these scholars are] seeing that some of the things that have been known in our tradition cannot really, practically be put into place in our modern times. And morally, some of these things, to apply them now, would be quite out of place.

So, the traditional-minded scholars would say, look we have a hadith here. This is what was mentioned, and this is attributed to our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as though this was his instruction.

So, who are we to go against the instruction, even if it looks impractical, even if it doesn’t seem right in our present times? Well, our vision, our thinking must be wrong. This is the word of the Prophet.

Aisha Khaja: Because it’s been documented, so their belief is that, because it’s documented, therefore it’s valid?

Dr. Shabir Ally: That’s right, exactly. So, other scholars looking at this would say that if the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did actually issue a decree like this—you go out and you offer them these three things—it would have been because of the nature of the time and circumstance.

That was the nature of the environment. If you did not expand, somebody would expand and engulf you. It’s not like our present circumstance where the lines are drawn between states. And there is general peace prevailing because we know our borders.

And a problem only arises if somebody tries to cross someone else’s border. But if you stay put. You’re in your own country, minding your own business, then the world is at peace.

So, this is how we would look at it if the Prophet (peace be upon him) actually said it this way. But some of us would also doubt that the Prophet actually, did actually say it this way.

It may seem more like this was invented saying to justify some of the expansionist policies of the later rulers, rather than something the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself give instructions about.

I hope this helps answer your question. Please keep in touch.

Walaikum Asalam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Jihad and Justice with Non-Muslims

Does Islam Promote Killing Innocent People?

Did Islam Grow By Killing Non-Believers?