by JE Lindsay · Cited by 4 — zakat, making the pilgrimage to the House, and fasting in Ramadan (Ibrahim and into two broad spheres—the Abode of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the Abode of
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1 Ibn ‚Asakir (1105Œ1176): Muslim Historian and Advocate of Jihad against Christian Crusaders and Shi‚ite Muslims James E. Lindsay Colorado State University Introduction On the authority of Abu ‚Abd al-Rahman ‚Abdullah, the son of ‚Umar ibn al-Khattab (may God be pleased with them both), who said: I heard the Messenger of God (may blessings and peace of God be upon him) say: Islam has been built on five [pillars]: testifying that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, performing the prayers, paying the zakat, making the pilgrimage to the House, and fasting in Ramadan (Ibrahim and Johnson-Davies 1976). As the hadith cited above indicates, Muslim scholars have long described the basic ritual practices of Islam in architectural terms. They refer to them as the five pillars (al-arkan al-khamsa); the supports that define one™s submission (islam) to God. The five pillars upon which the entire edifice of Islam rests are statement of belief (shahada), ritual prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), the pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca during the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar (Dhu l-Hijja) and fasting (sawm) during the daylight hours of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (Ramadan). While some Muslim scholars argued that jihad should be included as the sixth pillar of Islam, most rejected such a designation and regarded it as merely obligatory on all able-bodied Muslims. An Arabic noun that in its basic sense conveys the idea of struggle or striving, jihad is often used as part of the Qur™anic phrase, jihad fi sabil Allah (striving in the path of God). As such, jihad in its various forms is essential to understanding the medieval Islamic world, including the era of the Crusades in the Near East (1095Œ1291 A.D.).1 The principal textual 1 On jihad in medieval Islamic history see Peters™ (1996) collection of primary texts in translation, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam, especially chapters 1Œ5. See also Firestone (1999) and Cook (1996), 66Œ104.
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2 authorities for the Islamic doctrine of jihad are of course the Qur™an and the hadiths, or statements attributed to Muhammad about the subject. As such, the doctrine of jihad is rooted in the life and practice of Muhammad and the early Islamic community in seventh-century Arabia. According to our sources, Muhammad established a society in Medina (622Œ32) that lived in accordance with God™s commandments in part by persuasion, but also by coercion and even warfare. While violence in the name of religion tends to make modern Westerners uncomfortable, the idea that brutality could be an expression of piety was neither new nor unique in the seventh-century Near East. The Bible is replete with stories in which the ancient Israelites slaughtered their enemies in the name of God. The prophetess Deborah eulogized Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, as ﬁthe most blessed of tent-dwelling womenﬂ because she gave refuge to and then drove a tent stake through the head of the Canaanite general Sisera as he slept in her tent (Judg. 5:24Œ27). Samson killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and even more as he pulled the Philistine temple down upon himself and his captors in his final act (Judg. 15:15Œ16, 16:30). It fell to the prophet Samuel to hew to pieces the Amelekite king Agag because the Israelite king Saul, in his disobedience to God, had spared him (1 Sam. 15:33). David™s victory against Goliath and the Philistines was immortalized by the women of Israel ﬁwith singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. As they danced, they sang: ‚Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands™ﬂ (1 Sam. 18:6Œ7). Not surprisingly, the Bible tells us that it galled King Saul to see such dancing in the streets in praise of the young David™s military exploits. Nevertheless, it was David™s military victories against Goliath, the Philistines, and others that ultimately led to the establishment of the Hillenbrand (1999) provides a nuanced treatment of jihad in the context of the Crusades in The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives, 89Œ256. On modern reinterpretations of jihad see Sivan (1985) and Kepel (2002).
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3 ancient kingdom of Israel under his kingship (ca. 1000 B.C.). In addition, these and other military victories (and defeats) of the ancient Israelites, so vividly depicted throughout the historical books of the Hebrew Bible, inspired many a Christian religious and political theorist and warrior during the Crusader period in the Near East some two thousand years later. Suffice it to say that given the long and rich tradition of warfare as an expression of right religion in the history of ancient Israel as well as in the history of Christianity, it should come as no surprise that we find it among the founding generation and throughout the history of Islam as well. Therefore, we will begin with a brief discussion of the theological and ideological arguments for the Islamic concept of jihad, often incompletely translated as ﬁholy war.ﬂ We will then turn our attention to Ibn ‚Asakir as an advocate of jihad against Christian Crusaders and Muslim Shi‚ites. Jihad The principal Qur™anic material on jihad is in the ninth chapterŠthe only chapter of the Qur™an™s 114 that does not begin with the phrase, ﬁIn the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate.ﬂ Some scholars have argued that the reason for this solitary omission is the chapter™s rather grim content. Others have argued that the ninth chapter is really just the second part of the eighth chapter, and somehow became detached in the compilation process. Whatever the real reason for its unique opening sentence, it is the content of the chapter that concerns us. Since it is far too long to reproduce here, I have selected four passages that convey the basic principles of jihad and its rewards. There are, of course, relevant passages elsewhere in the chapter and throughout the Qur™an as well. The first two passages speak of jihad as offensive warfare against idolaters, polytheists, and infidels. Note that Jews and Christians are lumped in
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4 this category despite many other passages in the Qur™an that speak favorably of those among the Jews and Christians who shall see paradise.2 When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful (Qur™an 9:5).3 Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given and believe neither in God nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His apostle have forbidden, and do not embrace the true Faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued. The Jews say that Ezra is the son of God, while the Christians say the Messiah is the son of God. Such are their assertions, by which they imitate the infidels of old. God confound them! How perverse they are (Qur™an 9:29Œ30)! Jihad is not only to be conducted offensively against the idolaters, polytheists, and infidels, but also defensively against those who fight against Muhammad, his followers, and right religion in general: Will you not fight against those who have broken their oaths and conspired to banish the Apostle? They were the first to attack you. Do you fear them? Surely God is more deserving of your fear, if you are true believers. Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them and heal the spirit of the faithful. He will take away all rancour from their hearts: God shows mercy to whom He pleases. God is all-knowing and wise (Qur™an 9:13Œ14). The rewards awaiting those who strive in the path of God include gardens watered by running streams, in which they shall abide forever: But the Apostle and the men who shared his faith fought [jahadu] with their goods and with their persons. These shall be rewarded with good things. These shall surely prosper. God has prepared for them gardens watered by running streams, in which they shall abide forever. That is the supreme triumph (Qur™an 9:87Œ88). 2 Donner examines the relevant Qur™anic passages on Jews and Christians in ﬁFrom Believers to Muslims: Confessional Self-Identity in the Early Islamic Communityﬂ (forthcoming). 3 All Qur™anic citations are from Dawood, N.J. 1995. The Koran, 5th rev. ed. New York: Penguin Books.
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5 In addition to these and other Qur™anic passages, Muslim scholars also appealed to a host of hadiths that extolled the merits of jihad against the enemies of right religion (however defined) and the rewards that awaited those engaged in it. According to one such hadith, Muhammad said, If anyone is pleased with God as Lord, with Islam as religion and with Muhammad as messenger, paradise will be assured to him. There is also something else for which God will raise a servant in paradise a hundred degrees between each of two of which there is a distance like that between heaven and earth. [That is,] ﬁJihad in God™s path; jihad in God™s path; jihad in God™s pathﬂ (al-Tibrizi 1972). Since Muhammad found himself at war with the Meccans and others after his hijra to Medina in 622, it is easy to see the relevance of these and other statements to his immediate situation. After his death, his followers used these and many others like them to form the basis for the ideology of jihad in the medieval Islamic world. They inspired many of the faithful during the first century of conquest even as others were undoubtedly inspired merely by booty and glory in battle. Once the frontiers of the new Islamic empire were more or less stabilized, the caliphs maintained an expansionist jihad ideology by leading or ordering raids along the Syrian Byzantine frontier. Many a caliph strengthened his own religious and political bone fides by leading the raids himself. The Abbasid Harun al-Rashid (r. 786Œ809) is one of the most famous to have done so. As Islamic scholars honed their understanding of right religion, they divided the world into two broad spheresŠthe Abode of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the Abode of War (dar al-harb)Šin an effort to clarify the role of jihad and warfare in Islam. The Abode of Islam was comprised of those territories under Islamic political domination. The Abode of War was comprised of everywhere else. In fact, most medieval and early modern legal treatises contain a chapter on jihad that incorporates the standard material from the Qur™an and hadith, and most of
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6 these treatises argued that jihad was as obligatory on all able-bodied Muslims as were the obligations to perform the salat, the pilgrimage, and give alms. According to al-Shafi‚i (d. 820), an eminent jurist after whom a Sunni school of law (madhhab) was named, the Qur™anic statements on jihad mean that the jihad, and rising up in arms in particular, is obligatory for all able-bodied [believers], exempting no one, just as prayer, pilgrimage and [payment of] alms are performed, and no person is permitted to perform the duty for another, since performance by one will not fulfill the duty for another (Khadduri 1987).4 This division of the world into two spheres did not mean that all Muslims were at all times engaged in a state of open warfare against the Abode of War. Formal truces did exist. Moreover, for purely practical reasons of inertia, military capability, and political calculation, expansion of the borders of Islam waxed and waned over time. As the central authority of the Abbasid caliphs waned in the late ninth century, petty states and principalities on the frontiers took up the ideology of expansionist jihad in India, Central Asia, Africa, and Europe. At other times we find Muslim armies fighting against other Muslim armies within the Islamic world in order to restore a particular vision of proper Islamic religion and government. We see this in the civil wars that plagued the early Muslim community during the Rashidun (632Œ61) and the Umayyad caliphates (661Œ750). We see this also in the Abbasid Revolution in the late 740s that established the Abbasid caliphate, which endured until the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258. The Almoravids (1062Œ1147) and the Almohads (1130Œ1269) represent two major revivalist movements that employed the ideology of jihad against what they viewed as corrupt Muslim regimes in North Africa and Spain, and against the Christian kings and princes in Iberia as well. 4 On al-Shafi‚i™s discussion of jihad see Khadduri, 81Œ87.
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8 some two centuries later, they argued that they were merely striving in the path of God against the ByzantinesŠthe preferred infidel enemy of Islam since the days of the early Islamic conquests. Not surprisingly, the Byzantines viewed these Turkomans as nothing more than bandits, thugs, and soldiers of fortune. Things came to a head in 1071 as the Byzantine emperor Romanus Diogenes led several Byzantine columns eastward to deal with this Turkish menace once and for all. Already on campaign in Syria, the Seljukid sultan, Alp Arslan, turned his forces north to come to the aid of his fellow Turkomans and fellow Muslims. A pitched battle between the two sides took place at Manzikert, near Lake Van, in the summer of 1071. Alp Arslan™s forces were victorious and Romanus Diogenes was taken captive. He was ultimately ransomed and deposed. A disastrous defeat for the Byzantines, the Battle of Manzikert marks the beginnings of the process by which Anatolia became Turkey. In 1095, Pope Urban II preached a sermon in Clermont, France, in which he called on the interminably feuding nobility of Western Europe to turn their energies to the cause of Christ and his Church. Urban was by no means the first to call on them to use their military skills in aide of their Byzantine Christian brothers who, since the Battle of Manzikert, were increasingly threatened by Muslim Turkish marauders in eastern and central Anatolia. In fact, Pope Gregory VII had proposed that he himself lead a force of some 50,000 men to liberate their Eastern brethren in 1074. More importantly, however, Urban called on the Frankish nobility to take up the cross of Christ and make an armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to redeem their Lord™s patrimony which had been stolen by the infidel Saracens some four centuries earlier. By the summer of 1099, Jerusalem was in the hands of the Crusaders. Unfortunately for Pope Urban II, he died shortly after Jerusalem was taken, but before word reached Western Europe.6 6 On the Crusades in Europe and the Near East see Riley-Smith (1987, 1995) and Hillenbrand (1999).
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9 Ibn ‚Asakir as an Advocate of Jihad Six years later, in 1105, Ibn ‚Asakir was born in Damascus to a prestigious family of scholars which had long played an important role in the political and religious life of the city. The home that he grew up in was strongly Sunni Muslim and, as was customary by this time, quite hostile to the Isma‚ili Shi‚ite Fatimid caliphate in Egypt as well as the Isma‚ili Shi‚ites then active in Syria. He began his studies at age six under the care and direction of his father, and like his father pursued a lifetime quest for religious knowledge. During his twenties and thirties he undertook two exhaustive trips to the centers of Islamic learning of his dayŠBaghdad and Kufa in Iraq, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Hijaz, as well as to several major centers in Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Throughout his extensive travels we are told that he studied with some 1,300 men and some eighty women scholars. So far we have spoken of jihad as offensive and defensive warfare. It should be noted that some Muslims, especially followers of the mystical (Sufi) traditions and other more piety-minded scholars, argued that there were in fact two types of jihad. For them, the greater jihad was that internal struggle within oneself against temptation and evil. This greater jihad is also referred to as the jihad of the tongue or the jihad of the pen; that is, the jihad of piety and persuasion. According to this position, military jihad was the lesser jihad, also known as the jihad of the sword. As a scholar, it is fair to say that Ibn ‚Asakir very much embraced the jihad of the pen, though certainly not at the expense of the more common vision of the jihad of the sword. Shortly after occupying Damascus in April 1154, Nur al-Din sought out Ibn ‚Asakir as an ally.7 A key building block in Nur al-Din™s policy was his construction of a school specifically for the purpose of the study of hadith in Damascus, which under Ibn ‚Asakir™s direction became 7 On Nur al-Din, see Elisseéff (1967).
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10 the institutional center for Nur al-Din™s jihad against the enemies of Sunni Islam throughout his realm. Ibn ‚Asakir composed two important works in direct support of Nur al-Din™s jihad of the swordŠArba‚un fi l-ijtihad fi iqamat al-jihad (Forty in the Cause of Jihad) is a collection of forty hadiths exalting the merits of jihad; and Fadl ‚Asqalan (The Virtues of Ashkelon) is an exhortation to Muslims to retake the town of Ashkelon which the Crusaders had captured in 1153. But most important for our purposes, it was under Nur al-Din™s patronage and with his encouragement that Ibn ‚Asakir completed his massive biographical dictionary, Ta™rikh madinat Dimashq (The history of Damascus).8 As a renowned scholar himself, Ibn ‚Asakir understandably, in the bulk of his 10,226 biographies, treats his fellow religious scholars, most of whom were active from the late-ninth to the mid-twelfth centuries. However, he also devotes considerable attention to the pre-Islamic sacred figures of the Islamic prophet stories tradition. The importance which he gives to the first century of Islamic history is demonstrated by the fact that a full third of his biographies can be dated to this period, including very lengthy biographies of the four Rashidun caliphs, a great many of Muhammad™s companions and contemporaries, and to all appearances nearly every member of the Umayyad household and their clients. Ibn ‚Asakir also includes biographies for a number of Syrian poets as well as for a considerable number of government officials and religious scholars from the early Abbasid period (750Œ880).9 A theme that emerges quite clearly in Ibn ‚Asakir™s History is that his choice of subject, the content, and the narrative structure of his biographiesŠreaching from the first man, Adam, to his recently deceased contemporariesŠreflect a chronological, thematic, and even moralistic continuity in his understanding of Syria™s history. In addition, he was very much concerned with 8 On Ibn ‚Asakir™s History, see Lindsay (2001). See also Elisseéff (1959). 9 On Ibn ‚Asakir™s usefulness for understanding ‚Abbasid Syria, see Cobb (2001).
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11 preserving what he considered the proper Sunni character of Islam, and he did so as an eager and effective advocate of Nur al-Din™s jihad against Sunni Islam™s internal and external enemies in Syria, whether Shi‚ite or Crusader. In short, Ibn ‚Asakir™s intent is to demonstrate the pivotal role which Damascus specifically and Syria more broadly have played in his understanding of the past in which God has intervened and acted at times to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. Such a vision of the past is certainly not unique, and parallels that of his many contemporaries and myriad predecessors and successorsŠwhether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. A detailed analysis of Ibn ‚Asakir™s History is obviously well beyond the scope of this essay. However, a brief examination of his treatment of two pre-Islamic figures (David and Jesus) as well as one Umayyad caliph, Yazid ibn Mu‚awiya (680Œ83), will allow us to see how Ibn ‚Asakir was able to use his moralŠeven pietisticŠvision of Syria™s past in support of Nur al-Din™s jihad of the pen and sword against Christian Crusaders and Muslim Shi‚ites. David Ibn ‚Asakir™s choice to include so many pre-Islamic Biblical and extra-Biblical sacred biographies in his History is rooted in the larger Islamic prophet stories tradition. This tradition vindicates the message and mission of Muhammad as the Messenger of God by demonstrating the continuity between the lives of the ancient prophets in Syria and Muhammad™s prophetic career in seventh-century Arabia. Drawing on the well-established literary tradition of extolling the virtues of Syria (fada™il al-sham), Ibn ‚Asakir also uses his biographies of these sacred figures to enhance the prestige of Syria and Damascus as well as advocate an intense pietyŠeven asceticismŠon the part of his readers.10 We see this especially in his skillful moral 10 See especially Cobb (2002).
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