Section Three: Eternal Relevance
In other words, the irrelevance of the above two sections.
Some modernist thinkers believe that because jihad originally was promulgated under certain circumstances and conditions, current circumstances and conditions need to be analyzed so as to determine whether jihad may be promulgated for the present as it was in the past. In other words, the mandates for acts and practices must be put in their historical context, and must be made relevant to today’s historical context. Most such thinkers believe that jihad by force is no longer justified based on the original model but that other reasons for jihad (legitimate self-defence) may exist and that, more significantly, the entire issue of jihad fi sabeeli-llah (“struggle in the path or cause of Allah”) must needs take on a social and spiritual nature, meaning that rather than fighting infidels, Muslims should be fighting poverty, illiteracy, extremism, injustice, and so on.
Such thinkers enjoy support mainly from the Westernized upper classes in Muslim societies, and many clerics deem such thinkers (and their supporters) to be veering dangerously close to apostasy. This means that this modernizing attempt is going nowhere. There may be a cleric here or there who may agree, but by far most do not.
This does not have to do with the issue of the historical contextualization of jihad, but rather deals with the issue of historical contextualization itself. The vast majority of Islamic clerics reject outright this attempt or theory or view or idea or philosophy. Islam has always taught, they say and believe, that it is immutable, eternal, never changing, and the same forever and forever. Such attempts to “change” Islam by saying that certain aspects thereof were only for a certain time and age or people, are attempts to pervert and destroy Islam. Many such conservatives (whether common believers or clerics) also believe that not only are such attempts against Islam, but in fact are motivated by a deep-seated hatred or fear of Islam: either the thinker is ashamed of Islam, or has been influenced by anti-Islamic forces to corrupt Islam, or has come under the sway of non-Islamic and anti-Islamic ideas and ideologies. Regarding the last point, they may have a point: Muslim thinkers and leaders began revising the mandate, forms, necessity, and even nature(s) of jihad mainly after meeting the seemingly more civilized Europeans, who openly mocked jihad as barbaric; so, somewhat embarrassed and ashamed, these thinkers attempted to reformulate jihad (although this reformulation was never accepted by Islamic clerics or the common believer). Clerics and common believers became aware of this (mainly by the propaganda of the clerics, so as to warn the people not to accept this revisionism) and used it as a tool against whom they saw as those who are attempting to change, pervert, and corrupt Islam.
Indeed, one of the main claims against the Ahmadis, who, if you recall, eschewed jihad by force, was that they were either under the sway of European values (instead of Islamic values) and seduced thereby or, for that matter, created by the British themselves (rather than wait for Muslim thinkers to be swayed by their values) in order to form a movement that would add some legitimacy to the British rule of India. (It did not help the Ahmadis that one of the central tenets when making a pledge of allegiance to the movement was sustaining the British authorities.) As such, such thinkers and modernizera are casted not only as enemies of Islam but also as enemies of the Muslim peoples, collaborating with Western powers to impose Western values and systems and ideas and ideologies on the Muslim peoples.
Others go further. They say that jihad is the only guarantee for Islam’s preservation, expansion, and conquest. They believe that the West knows this and, accordingly, is trying to stamp out jihad so as to conquer the Muslim peoples with greater ease. Any attempt to change or modify the relevance or nature of jihad, no matter how well-intentioned, is to play into the hands of the West and to weaken the world of Islam and of Muslims. This, of course, unleashes a backlash that attempts to “preserve” and promote jihad in all its violent glory.