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Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thoughtby Asma Afsaruddin
Synopses & Reviews
In popular and academic literature, jihad is predominantly assumed to refer exclusively to armed combat, and martyrdom in the Islamic context is understood to be invariably of the military kind. This perspective, derived mainly from legal texts, has led to discussions of jihad and martyrdom as concepts with fixed, universal meanings divorced from the socio-political circumstances in which they have been deployed through the centuries. Asma Afsaruddin studies in a more holistic manner the range of significations that can be ascribed to the term jihad from the earliest period to the present and historically contextualizes the competing discourses that developed over time. Many assumptions about the military jihad and martyrdom in Islam are thereby challenged and deconstructed. A comprehensive interrogation of varied sources reveals early and multiple competing definitions of a word that in combination with the phrase fi sabil Allah translates literally to "striving in the path of God."
Contemporary radical Islamists have appropriated this language to exhort their cadres to armed political opposition, which they legitimize under the rubric of jihad. Afsaruddin shows that the multivalent connotations of jihad and shahid recovered from the formative period lead us to question the assertions of those who maintain that belligerent and militant interpretations preserve the earliest and only authentic understanding of these two key terms. Retrieval of these multiple perspectives has important implications for our world today in which the concepts of jihad and martyrdom are still being fiercely debated.
In popular and academic literature, jihad is predominantly assumed to refer to armed combat, and Muslim martyrdom is understood to be invariably of the military kind. This perspective, derived mainly from legal texts, has led to discussions of jihad and martyrdom primarily as concepts with fixed, universal meanings divorced from the socio-political circumstances in which they have been deployed through time. This book, however, studies in a more holistic manner the range of significations that can be ascribed to the term jihad from the earliest period to the contemporary period against the backdrop of specific historical and political circumstances that frequently mediated the meanings of this critical term. Instead of privileging the juridical literature, the book canvasses a more diverse array of texts - Qur'an, tafsir, hadath, edifying and hortatory literature — to recuperate a more nuanced and multifaceted understanding of both jihad and martyrdom through time. As a result, many conventional and monochromatic assumptions about the military jihad and martyrdom are challenged and undermined. Asma Afsaruddin argues that the notion of jihad as primarily referring to armed combat is in fact relatively late. A comprehensive interrogation of varied sources, she shows, reveals early and multiple competing definitions of a word that translates literally to "striving on the path of God."
About the Author
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 of The First Muslims: History and Memory (2008) and Excellence and Precedence: Medieval Islamic Discourse on Legitimate Leadership (2002).
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Striving "for," "in," and "in the path of" God: Qur'anic Imperatives in the Meccan Period
Chapter 2: Fighting in the Path of God: A Religious and Moral Obligation
Chapter 3: The Ethics of Fighting, Refraining from Fighting, and Peacemaking
Chapter 4: Dying in the Path of God: Exegeses of Martyrdom
Chapter 5: Jihad and Martyrdom Compared in Early and Later Hadith Literature
Chapter 6: Jihad and Martyrdom in Early and Late Treatises on the Merits of Jihad
Chapter 7: The Excellences of Patient Forbearance: Counter-Narratives on Striving in the Path of God
Chapter 8: Modern and Contemporary Debates on Jihad and Martyrdom I: Political and Militant Perspectives
Chapter 9: Modern and Contemporary Debates on Jihad and Martyrdom II: Privileging History, Context, and Polysemy
Conclusion: Analysis of Texts: A Summation
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