The first issue that we shall consider will relate to the legitimacy of jihad,
whether or not it is correct for a law of war to exist within the context of
religion and the text of its commands. Protesters say, “No, war is evil, and
religion must always be opposed to evil, so religion must always be opposed to
war. It must always support peace. And, since it intends to support peace, it
must not have any laws about war, and it must never itself go to war.” This is
the kind of propaganda that Christians carry on. It is weak and limpid, with no
ground to stand on.
War - is it always bad? If it is waged in defense of a right, or against oppression, is it still bad? Obviously not. We must regard the conditions and motives of war and consider for what motive and aim war is fought. There are times when war is aggression. When, for example, a group of people or a nation sets its greedy eyes on the rights of others, on the lands of others, or when it sets its sights on the common wealth of a people, or falls prey to over-ambition, to lust for pre-eminence or superiority, claiming that “of all races our race is the most outstanding, superior to other races, and thus we must rule over those races.”
War for these reasons is not correct. Whether a war is launched to take possession of land, to seize ownership of national wealth, or due to contempt of others and out of sentiment of racial superiority, i.e. “those people are inferior to us who are superior, and the superior must govern over the inferior,” it is a war of aggression. These types of war are certainly evil, and there can be no doubt about it. We will later talk about another type of war, war for the imposition of belief.
But if a war of defense is undertaken in the face of aggression - others have occupied our land, or have cast their eyes on our wealth and property, or on our freedom and self-esteem, which they want to deprive us of, and intend to impose their rule over us - in these cases, what is religion to say?
Is it to say, “War is absolutely evil, laying hands on a weapon is evil, picking up a sword is evil,” and that it advocates peace? And we, when facing imminent attack and the risk of being destroyed, must we not go to war - If we do not, would it not mean failing to defend ourselves - on the pretext of peace? This would not be peace: this would be surrender.
* Book: Jihad The Holy War of Islam and Its Legitimacy in the Quran. By: Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari.