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IslamQA: Who is right: Early Islamic scholars who praise fighting and martyrdom, or modern ones who denounce war?

As-salâmu 'alaykum. ….. ….. Most, if not all, modern scholars of Islâm seem to denounce war of every kind. And this is a good thing. Yet, many earlier scholars regularly mention the value of jihâd and martyrdom. It is easy for us Muslims, who have never experienced anything close to war, to denounce the militant Muslims in many countries whose lives have been destroyed by the heartless and tyrannical West. Can we blame them for being upset?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The issue is not at all about supporting war versus opposing it. All scholars, ancient or modern, have the same opinion, which is that Muslims do not have the right to take the law into their own hands and fight against their ruling states. So scholars support jihad/martyrdom as long as it is launched by a sovereign state in self-defense. When we oppose terrorism it is not because we oppose Muslims fighting against oppressors, it is because we oppose individuals taking the law into their own hands. Warfare, jihad and martyrdom are only legitimate when they are conducted in the context of a sovereign government acting in self-defense.

There is no support for violent revolution in Islam because revolutions cause far more destruction and death than tyrants nine times out of ten. A good modern example is Syria. No matter how oppressive the Syrian government was, the revolution caused more destruction, oppression and bloodshed in a few years than the Syrian government had committed in decades.

So it has nothing to do with whether the militants have a just cause to fight for or not. It is about keeping the peace knowing that revolutions are some of the most evil things in the world due to all the destruction and death they cause. They are much worse than tyrants, so Muslims have to choose the lesser evil, which is to remain peaceful and work to change things without violence. We are allowed to engage in political activism, we can do investigative journalism against tyrants and risk our lives to tell the truth and oppose them peacefully. What we are not allowed to do is taking the law into our own hands.

And God knows best.
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