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No god but God
Miranda Barringer
Dr. William Holliday
History 110-50 Modern Western Civilization (Honors)
May 4, 2016
Barringer 2
“Clad in a long robe and brandishing his scimitar, ready to slaughter any infidel that
might come his way,” is the cliché image that Americans are guilty of believing of Muslims
(Aslan 80). That stereotype of them being terrorists with bombs strapped to their backs ready to
attack and kill any non-believer. This definition of Muslims has been misconstrued over the
years due to radicals such as the Jihadists that have manipulated foundations of the Islamic faith
for political and personal gains. Americans fall into this stereotypical trap due to ignorance that
society has accepted as truth, but if the people educated themselves on the Islamic culture and
faith they would better understand that Islam as a whole is not the enemy. The term jihad is a
major example that Reza Aslan has highlighted in his historic work, No god but God, portraying
the evolution and manipulation over centuries of a peaceful and universal way of life into a
Muslim tool of terrorism on all people that do not align with their religion.
The term jihad is incorrectly believed by many to mean the holy war of Muslims against
others, however, in fact the original definition of the word has a less negative connotation. Aslan
even states, “Holy war… is in no way a proper definition of the word jihad. There are a host of
words in Arabic that can be definitively translated as ‘war’; jihad is not one of them” (Aslan 82).
He already disproves the western assumption of what the jihad means to the people of Islam, and
“the word literally means ‘a struggle.’ In its primary connotation it means the struggle of the soul
to overcome the sinful obstacles that keep a person from God” (Aslan 82). This struggle to
overcome every day sin and temptation has been referred to as the “greater jihad”. The infamous
jihad that many feared today originated as something that could apply to many other religions
like Christians and Jews. This term was not reserved solely for followers of the Islamic faith.
However, this simple and sacred word continued to involve with the rise of Muhammad.
Barringer 3
There is a secondary connotation to jihad which was a defensive tool originally used by
Muhammad. This secondary connotation is referred to as the “lesser jihad” which is the “any
exertion – military or otherwise – against oppression and tyranny” (Aslan 82). Muhammad never
forgot about what had happened in Mecca with the Quraysh and their abuse of power
monopolizing religion, similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church around the time of the
Protestant Reformation, and wanted to stop the oppression. However, Alan identifies that the
“lesser jihad” Muhammad used is nowhere near the negative connotation it has in the present day
world because it has rules. It was understood under the “just war theory” developed after the war
between Muhammad and his followers against the Quraysh. This theory in summary states that
the war fought has to be a defensive war. Alan highlights in the Quran where it states, “do not
begin hostilities; God does not like the aggressor” (Alan 85). The jihad may have evolved but it
still has the ability to apply to other religions like Judaism because “Permission to fight is given
only to those who have been oppresses… who have been driven from their homes for saying,
‘God is our Lord’” (Aslan 85). There have been many examples in history where the Jews have
been oppressed and forbidden from praying freely. Unfortunately, the “lesser jihad” is later
manipulated and interpreted for justification of radicals.
The doctrine of jihad was written due to the change of Islamic notions of warfare. The
purpose of this doctrine “was specifically meant to differentiate between pre-Islamic and Islamic
notions of warfare” (Aslan 85). The rules already present in Arabia did have the moralistic value
that regulates conduct of war. Aslan makes states, “At the heart of the doctrine of jihad was the
heretofore unrecognized distinction between combatant and noncombatant” (Aslan 85). The
doctrine goes into great detail of what is forbidden during combat, for example who is off limits
to kill and actions that are prohibited. This doctrine does contain somethings that have been
Barringer 4
misinterpreted; “It is true that some verses in the Quran instruct Muhammad and his followers to
‘carry the struggle to the hypocrites who deny the faith’” (Aslan 85). The word hypocrites is
supposed to represent the Quraysh, however, verses like this within the Quran have been
interpreted “by Muslims and non-Muslims alike to suggest that Islam advocates fighting
unbelievers until they convert” (Aslan 86).This interpretation was made during the time of the
Crusades, and the word was continued to be manipulated and misunderstood over time “by
militants and extremists for religious sanctions to what are in actuality social and political
agendas” (Aslan 82).
A massive resurgence about doctrine of jihad underwent over the past century which
directly links the present day assumptions about Islam in present day America. In the Middle
East, Ayatollah Khomeini “relied on a militant interpretation of jihad… to fuel his destructive
eight-year war with Iraq” (Aslan 87). Aslan highlights how Khomeini manipulates the word as a
weapon in his own favor, and through him a militant group, Hizbullah, was founded who started
the tactic of suicide bombing “launching an appalling new era of international terrorism” (Aslan
87). This negative resurgence was also present in Saudi Arabia. Abdullah Yusuf Azzam had a
harsh interpretation of that did not compromise; “No negotiations, no conferences, and no
dialogues” (Aslan 87). Azzam was a professor and his influence was strongest on “the country’s
disaffected youth… His teachings had an exceptional impact on one student in particular: Osama
bin Laden” (Aslan 87). The name of Osama bin Laden is nationally recognized in America and
holds a negative sentiment with every citizen. Aslan highlights his manipulation of jihad from a
defensive weapon to an “offensive weapon, one that could be wielded against all perceived
‘enemies’ of Islam” (Aslan 88). Osama bin Laden called a war against the West and used jihad to
justify it and lunched a “wave of terrorism” that will not be forgotten. He founded the
Barringer 5
organization al-Qaeda which was a part of the movement of Jihadism. Jihadism took the
innocent idea of the original intent of the jihad of war being “waged solely in defense of life,
faith, and property” into a “radically individualistic obligation” (Aslan 88). Osama and the
actions of al-Qaeda have made the word jihad have the connotation it does today.
Americans have been blinded by their patriotic hatred for the people of Islam due to the
manipulation of radicals trying to change the fundamentals of their culture. Aslan gives a
detailed list of events that show where jihad started and what it evolved to. In comparison the
understood jihad of today goes against the jihad that Muhammad believed in and what is include
in the Quran. If people had more information on the Islamic culture and the faith, then they
would understand what they actually stand for. Not all Muslims were a part of al-Qaeda or a
follower of Osama bin Laden; “the actions of Jihadist groups like al-Qaeda have been so roundly
condemned by the vast majority of the world’s Muslims” (Aslan 88). The dark shadows that
radicals have cast to cover up the rest of their people are so big they prevent Americans to look
past. Aslan pushes for people to understand that they do not all align to the stereotypes they have
been assigned.
Barringer 6
Aslan, Reza. No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. New York: Random
House, 2005. Print.