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Arguing the Just War in Islam Paperback – June 14, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Review

In lucid prose John Kelsay leads the reader on an illuminating journey from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, through the sacred sources of Islam and the debate over their interpretation, to the internal debates between moderates and extremists that shape today's global politics. One cannot fully understand the range of possibilities that confront Islam—and the world—without comprehending the internal reasoning and discourse that Kelsay brilliantly explores in this remarkable work of synthesis. (R. Scott Appleby, University of Notre Dame)

This book sets a new gold standard for interpreting jihadist radicalism for western readers. Sober and nuanced throughout, this book succeeds as an introduction to early Islam and the development of shari`a, as an analysis of the evolution of a distinctive style of radical jihadist interpretation, and as a valuable exploration of critically important arguments within contemporary Islam. (James Turner Johnson, Rutgers University)

John Kelsay presents a masterful and lucid account of the full sweep of Muslim discourse on just war, exploring not only the moral arguments made but also the intellectual and political environment in which Muslims have debated the ethics of war for centuries. (Sohail Hashmi, Mount Holyoke College)

Kelsay opens up the contemporary debate between Muslim militants and democrats about the justice of armed resistance to Western domination, and sets out its historical roots. His grasp is assured, his analysis is searching, and his writing is lean and lucid. (Nigel Biggar, University of Oxford)

This book is a must for all who confront contemporary Islamist jihadism and its claim to fight a just war. Kelsay makes a superb contribution to understanding the religious legitimization of war in contemporary Islam and Islamic alternatives to it. (Bassam Tibi, University of Goettingen, Germany)

Kelsay shows that today's freelance fatwa-hurlers rarely capture the best of Islamic thought, but are not wholly divorced from it either. Their pronouncements attempt to pass for "Shariah reasoning," a tradition of reconciling the Koran's passages and the Prophet Muhammad's examples to changing times...To his credit, Kelsay refuses to whitewash the role of religion in fostering the violence he discusses...Yet his analysis also respects the nuances of Shariah reasoning...By forensically dissecting the development of Shariah reasoning he illuminates the situation we now face, in which classical Islamic scholars are trumped by bloodthirsty bandits who pose as thinkers. (Irshad Manji New York Times Book Review 2008-01-06)

[Kelsay] makes a good argument that classical Islamic reasoning was diverse because it always recognized that legal judgments were contextual rather than ideological. This gives way to a diversity of legal reasoning in the modern world, exploding the myth of a single "Islamic" approach to either the necessity or the means of war in achieving political aims...A must-read for those who want to move beyond hype and fear to a nuanced understanding of the multiple possible futures before the Muslim world. (Robert Hunt Dallas Morning News 2008-04-02)

This book moves beyond those simplifications that would either depict the militancy and terrorism of many Islamist groups as emblematic or charge that such groups are hijacking a peaceful religion. (L. Carl Brown Foreign Affairs 2008-05-01)

Review

In lucid prose John Kelsay leads the reader on an illuminating journey from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, through the sacred sources of Islam and the debate over their interpretation, to the internal debates between moderates and extremists that shape today's global politics. One cannot fully understand the range of possibilities that confront Islam—and the world—without comprehending the internal reasoning and discourse that Kelsay brilliantly explores in this remarkable work of synthesis. (R. Scott Appleby, University of Notre Dame) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674032349
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674032347
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Maxwell Johnson VINE VOICE on January 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Kelsay has provided the best introduction I've found to the self-understanding and the social constructions of Islam and the way its consequent mindset has been used by both historical and contemporary extremists to justify jihad against its perceived enemies. He lays out with crystalline clarity the historical events and and resultant thought processes that have brought Islam to its place in today's world.

Professor Kelsay does not write entirely without bias but he keeps it well under control. One senses from time to time that he is trying quite hard to "stick to the facts" when there is much more that he could say were he willing to indulge his personal opinions.

The well-informed reader may not agree with all of Kelsay's conclusions about just war mentality in the contemporary Muslim world but one has to be impressed with the depth of his scholarship and the lucidity of his writing. Very highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C P Slayton on February 12, 2012
Format: Paperback
After reading a number of authors writing on Islam in the past three years exclaim how Islam and the Qur'an has an embedded Just War theory, I was keen to pick up this book. Kelsay's approach begins with an explanation of Islam; three in fact. This approach itself is testimony to Kelsay's understanding of divisions with Islam. Islam can be described from a Salafi perspective (deep understanding of Mohammed's intent, purpose, politics aside). Islam can also be studied theologically or politically.

After this introduction Kelsay considers early scholars in Islam and their use of Hadith (sayings of Mohammad) and the first four Caliphs regarding war and conduct of war. Kelsay also spends quite a bit of time explaining the different schools of Law: Shafi'i, Hanifi, Hanbali (mostly Ibn Taymiyya), very little Maliki ideas and little to no Shi'a input. Kelsay admits that any Muslim scholar, founders of the schools of jurisprudence included, were influenced by their circumstances.

As I read these portions of the book I was still grappling for a methodical flow of Islam's just war theory. All I found were bits and pieces in-between Kelsay's long reviews of early Islamic writings. As the book unfolded it was evident the author was addressing more than just war theory. Kelsay brought up the concept of democracy, its Islamic critics and defenders. Within war itself, Keslay stayed mostly within the lines of contemporary interests: terrorism, Al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and the like.

The discussion of just war in Islam narrowed to the following: the proper authority to wage war, the responsibility to wage war and the proper targets of war.
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Format: Paperback
It is well-known that Christianity has a just war theory, most famously articulated by Augustine. But fewer people know that shariah, the Islamic tradition of jurisprudence and ethical norms, also has a just war theory embedded in it. Kelsay, a scholar of Islam at Florida State University, has written a book about this just war theory, detailing its sources, history, and current interpretations.

We often hear the phrase "Sariah law" in news reports. Kelsay rightly terms this "shariah reasoning" to convey its fluidity. Shariah draws from, firstly, the Qur'an, Allah's revelation. But it also draws on stories about the prophet Muhammad and how he behaved as a political and military leaders. As the centuries wore on, scholars of shariah reasoning, the ulama, drew on kalam (logic, or philosophy) and changing historical circumstances such as the Crusades and more recent colonialism. Shariah reasoning norms about just war were formulated at a time of Islamic power, when Muslim empires such as the Ottoman were in full force.

Some of these moral norms seem obvious. For example, it is prohibited to directly and intentionally harm non-combatants. If you are laying siege to a city and have to burn it to the ground, killing women and children, then that is not direct harm. But if you have taken the city and women, children, and elderly are surviving, one cannot execute them for fun as so many victors did (e.g. Israel in Canaan). The category of "non-combatants" is fluid; traditionally women did not fight, but they do in the modern Israeli army. There were also norms against killing Muslims. When conquering a city, for example, a siege could be ended if the city converted to the faith.
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