Arguing the Just War in Islam

In This Review

Arguing the Just War in Islam

By John Kelsay
Harvard University Press, 2007
272 pp. $24.95
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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. Kelsay shows that the ideologies of al Qaeda and the many other Islamist groups are a part of the Islamic discourse but that they are only part of a larger and more complex whole, which he describes by tracing the evolving historical and theological record from the rise of Islam to the present. His use of "just war" in the title is significant. Islamic ideas of jihad involve nothing less than the religious teachings concerning when a Muslim is entitled (or required) to go to war and how that war should be conducted. Jihad may be compared with the Christian "just war" doctrine, but it also has its own historical and theological specificity. There are, Kelsay shows, Muslim scholars and activists invoking the same venerable Islamic discourse to reach more pluralistic and democratic positions. They seem to make less of a mark today than the Islamists do, and it is perhaps telling that many of them live outside the Muslim world. Still, the ideological struggle within Islam continues alongside the violence. Arguing the Just War in Islam provides a fine account of this important ideological confrontation.