A PSYCHOPOLITICAL REVIEW OF S. K. MALIK’s “THE QURANIC CONCEPT OF WAR” – PART 4/13 – Chapter 1: “Introduction”

4. Chapter I: “Introduction”

The first chapter is six pages long, and argues in favor of the Quran’s supreme authority when it comes to legislating matters of war, and thus for the validity of Malik’s approach in his study which consist, precisely, in the inquiry into the Quran’s concept of war:

“As a perfect and divine document, the Holy Quran has given a comprehensive treatment to its concept of war. The Book defines and determines all aspects of the use of ‘force’ in inter-state relations. The Quranic injunctions cover the causes and object of war; its nature and characteristics; limits and extents; dimensions and restraints. The Book also spells out a unique and distinctive concept of strategy, and prescribes its own rules and principles for the conduct of war” (Malik, 1979/1992, p. 1).

As in his Author’s Note, the sheer amount of words of absolute praise he employs to describe the Quran is staggering and uncommon according to Western customs, almost transmitting a liturgical feel, more than an argumentative and analytical one, and displaying an idealization which couldn’t possibly be more extreme:

“A complete and perfect heavenly revelation, the Holy Quran is an unlimited reservoir of knowledge, wisdom, science, logic, light and guidance for mankind till Eternity. It has, to use its own words, been revealed as ‘the Book explaining all things, a Guide, a Mercy, and Glad Tidings to Muslims.’ [Quran 16:89] A perpetual and never-ending source of sure and pure inspiration, the Book, as has been admitted on all hands, is free from all forms of mutilations, modifications, additions and subtractions. Since its revelation, it is unchanged in its originality, beauty, idiom, diction, phraseology, etymology, science, logic, letter, and spirit” (pp. 3-4).

Malik then asserts the all-encompassing superiority of the Quranic philosophy of war over all others, its universality, and its timelessness: “The Quranic philosophy of war is infinitely supreme and effective. It strikes a perfect balance between war and policy”, and regulates “all issues involved in the initiation, planning, conduct and control of wars…Its laws and principles are universal in nature and abiding in significance. Unlike man-made philosophies, these are neither the product of a given set of circumstances nor made specifically for it” (ibid.). Malik goes on to echo the views already expressed in the preface by Bukhsh Brohi concerning the incompatibility between “narrow national interests” and the message of the Quran, which “points to the realization of universal peace and justice”. The ultimate purpose of the Quranic concept of war is, Malik says, the attainment of a “just and peaceful order” (ibid.).

In this case as in countless others, one must be careful about the meaning of words. “Justice” and “peace” are far from signifying what they do in a secular, Western framework. They don’t relate to the critical human enquiry on human ethics, but rather to the right understanding and implementation of religious doctrine. Peace and justice are a divinely ordained given, and man’s task is that of achieving the peace and justice sanctioned by the Word of God. If, from a humanist perspective, man’s ethical struggle consists in asking himself what justice is and what can be meant by peace, as well as whether either one are even realistically attainable, the Islamic doctrinal frame provides the answer prima facie, obstructing the posing of the question. Peace and justice aren’t understood as ideals, but as parts of the same Divine Truth: “justice” is obedience to the Law of God, and “peace” is what will ensue once the Law of God is universally implemented: “Peace be on whosoever follows the guidance [of God]” (Quran XX, 49). Even the relationship of the ruled towards the ruler, despite it being sanctioned by the Quran (IV, 59): “Obey God, obey his Prophet, and obey those in authority over you”, is regulated by Holy Law, to which both have an equal duty to submit. Were the ruler to disobey it, he would lose legitimacy, and he’d be committing a sin, as well as a crime (Lewis, 1988, p. 91).

Peace (salam) does not coincide with the mere absence of war. Since the natural and permanent relationship between Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam is one of open or latent war, the end of armed hostilities is not seen as the end of a war, but rather as an interruption. To denote such a situation, “Arabic usage preferred, and in some contexts continues to prefer, the term sulh, in spite of its earlier connotation of a truce of limited duration. Thus, in modern Arabic history textbooks, even purely European peace treaties, where no Islamic interests or party was involved, are denoted with the term sulh—for example, sulh Utrecht, sulh Versailles” (p. 79). Traditionally, Islamic “justice” means essentially two things: that the ruler holds his position by right and not by usurpation, and that he governs according to God’s Law, or at least according to its recognizable moral and legal principles. The Western concepts of justice and freedom—which in Islam conventionally denoted that someone wasn’t a slave—were gradually introduced in Islamic society only since the 19th century thanks to the circulation of translated books, the influence of foreign diplomats, and later by the flux of refugees returning from Europe (Lewis, 2002). To reiterate, the difference between the Western political perspective and the Islamic one, rests in the dissonance between ends and means: while modern Western tradition debates over what is to be achieved, the Islamic approach knows what its objective is, possesses a Divine blueprint indicating the way to follow, and the debate develops around which path is the most efficient to get there the whole of mankind.

Malik (1979/1992) then voices a complaint for the lack of an analysis of the Quran’s “immense scientific and logical approach” (p. 2) to war up to the point of his writing. “This indifference to research”, he maintains, “has, with the passage of time, prevented us from seeing the Quranic military thought in its true light and perspective…As a result, humanity in general and the Muslim community in particular stand deprived of the unlimited benefits and blessings of this supreme divine philosophy” (ibid.). He attributes one of the causes for this lack of systematic inquiry to what he sees as the erroneous assumption that a nearly 1400-year-old philosophy cannot be of interest to a modern military mind, and bases the motivation for his study on the “urgent need for up-dating the research into this subject to find answers to the current and future problems of war” (ibid.). Since the message of the Quran is perfect and eternally valid, it necessarily follows that its rulings concerning warfare must be timeless as well, since the “Quranic military thought is an integral and inseparable part of the total Quranic Message” (p. 3).

The Quranic war doctrine has a strong redeeming appeal: “It contains, among numerous other characteristics, a message of hope and assurance for the oppressed peoples of this troubled world” (ibid.). It is not hard to imagine how an ideology which presents itself as originating from God himself; which ordains the destruction of those who pose an obstacle to the fulfillment of a Divine Will taken on and identified as one’s own; which promises a religious Utopia on earth and a “paradisaical pornocopia” (Abdel-Samad, 2014) in the hereafter—how such an ideology may be appealing for the pursuit of narcissistic fantasies of omnipotence, and the longing for a powerful triumph over feelings of perceived shame and humiliation. Not only may it be appealing, but, as Jones (2006) points out,

“By holding out an absolute and perfect ideal—whether it is a divine being or a perfect guru or master or sacred text—against which all mortals inevitably fall short and by insisting on the ‘infinite qualitative difference’ (in the words of Soren Kierkegaard) between human beings and the ideal, religions can easily exacerbate and play upon any natural human tendency toward feelings of shame and humiliation (McNish, 2004; Pattison, 2000). I would suggest the more a religion exalts its ideal, or portrays the divine as an overpowering presence and emphasizes the gulf between finite human beings and that ideal … the more it contributes to and reinforces experiences of shame and humiliation” (p. 169).

The structure of an ideology—be it religious, political, or both, as is the case with Islam—may function, therefore, as a closed circuit that reinforces concurrently its own self-idealizing nature, and the feelings of shame and humiliation of its followers. Extensive research shows a direct link between feelings of shame and humiliation, and violence. One way in which religion can contribute to violence “is by creating and/or reinforcing and potentiating feelings of shame and humiliation, which in turn increase the likelihood of violent outbursts. And this increased potential for violence needs to be channeled in socially approved ways. By fomenting crusades, dehumanizing outsiders, and encouraging prejudices, fanatical religions provide ready, religiously sanctioned, targets for any increase in aggression” (pp. 169-170). Sacralizing violence, making it a divinely sanctioned and socially recognized duty of people that feel oppressed, hopeless, and troubled, mobilizes a powerful potential for the performing of the worst evil the human being is capable of. When the call to violence merges with a total belief in ideals of absolute goodness and purity, there is little that can be done to contain the destructive powers that arise. In the words of Eric Hoffer, “When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie down until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse” (Hoffer, 1951/2010, p. 11).

The Quran is directed to humankind as a whole, but it also differentiates three distinct ways of being received, which translates into “three categories of human beings” (Malik, 1979/1992, p. 4). The first category is that of the believers, “those who fear Allah”; the second one that of the unbelievers, “those who reject Faith”; and the third is that of those who pretend to be Muslims while not being such, “who outwardly profess Faith but harbor treacherous designs inwardly” (ibid.). Of course, the consequences for each of these categories of human beings are different: the believers will prosper thanks to the guidance of Allah, while great suffering awaits the unbelievers. As for those who pretend to believe in the Quran’s message, Malik cites sura 2:16, “These are they who have bartered guidance for error but their traffic is profitless, and they have lost true direction”.

While the Quran is the Word of God and therefore the main source of guidance for Muslims, it is often unclear and ambiguous, making its understanding far from being immediate. In order to apprehend the meaning of the Quran, Muslims alternatively shift the focus from the more symbolic, superegoical facet of the shared ego-ideal—the Word of God textualized in the Quran—, to its imaginary facet more specifically incarnating the ego-ideal Muslims must strive to become: the one human being chosen by Allah to convey His final message and carry it out—that is, the prophet Muhammad. Malik doesn’t dwell on the person of the Prophet. He briefly describes him as “the Man to whom this infinitely supreme divine guidance [the Quran] was revealed; who received and absorbed it; applied and practised it; and transmitted it to posterity for eternal light and guidance…that sublime being [about whom] volumes will continue to be written till Eternity” (p. 5). It may be worth noting here that, recalling the ideas of Ernest Becker (Becker,1962/2010; 1974/2007; 1975), Muhammad successfully managed to guarantee his own ego to be embedded in the ideological matrix of Islam as its ego-ideal, thereby achieving his symbolic perpetuation by means of transmission from one generation of Muslims to the next. In this sense, Islam is Muhammad’s successful “immortality project”. After quoting a few of the many Quranic verses praising Muhammad, Malik stresses that

“what is important for us to know, for the purpose of this study, is, that the application of the divine instructions on war by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) forms an inseparable part of the Quranic concept of war… We must relate the Quranic revelations on war with his interpretation and application by the Holy Prophet during his war against the Pagans. That ‘beautiful model of conduct’ [Quran 33:21] must be identified and followed in the understanding of the Quranic philosophy of wars as well” (Malik, 1979/1992, p. 5).

The earliest surviving written Muslim biography of Islam’s Prophet is Ibn Ishaq’s Life of God’s Messenger (Sirah Rasul Allah), written around the year 767. Although the work was lost, this sira was recollected at great length by Ibn Hisham and Al-Tabari. An objective appreciation of Muhammad’s personality is, however, impossible. Being such a tremendously influential figure, his biographies go from the most hagiographical works of Muslim scholars, to the most intransigent critiques. As for attempts at a psychologically orientated assessment of Muhammad’s personality and leadership, Inamdar (2001) paints a rather benevolent picture of the Prophet. He emphasizes his positive influence on the unification of the Arab tribes, and his unquestionable charisma and brilliance as a leader. For Inamdar, Muhammad supplied “a model for unity and ideal group relations. Muhammad provided an auxiliary ego and a set of functions for the group—reality testing, adaptive defensive styles, and integrative capacities—that were critical for survival in the beginning and ultimately became a model for the group’s headlong and impressive expansion” (p. 228). The Bizantine monk and historian Theophanes (758-818 AD) thought that Muhammad suffered from epilepsy, and the neurologist Frank R. Freemon concluded that Muhammad’s trances were episodes of frontal-lobe epilepsy (Freemon, 1976). In 2011, the medical historian Armin Geus diagnosed Muhammad as suffering from paranoid hallucinatory schizophrenia (Geus, 2011). Sina (2008), on the other hand, gives a deeply critical view on Islam’s Messenger: he maintains that Muhammad was a malignant narcissist suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy, and that he displayed traits of obsessive-compulsive, as well as schizoid and bipolar disorders. According to Sina, Muhammad’s success as a leader was due to his manipulative style, and his predisposition to resort to terror and violence to achieve his goals.

As far as my personal assessment goes, I believe that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. While I consider that Muhammad must have been a person of great intellect and extraordinary talents in many fields, with a great sense of perception for human behavioral and psychological subtleties, I find it impossible to overlook so much of what we know about him through primary Islamic sources and the book he authored, the Quran. In my opinion, Inamdar may have to some extent fallen victim to the same charisma he rightly recognized in Muhammad, ignoring or dismissing the many examples of Muhammad’s authoritarian, violent and irrational behavior, and the many commands he issued during his career as a statesman, conqueror and prophet, that betray a tendency towards intolerance and violence which increased gradually during the course of his life (see, for example, Spencer, 2006; 2007). I believe it is important not to get lost in the spiritual dimension of the topic when considering religious matters analytically. For example, either we accept that God exists, that he spoke to Muhammad to the angel Gabriel, that God chose Muhammad as his prophet, and that what Muhammad said and did is a reflection of the Will of God—or we don’t. In which case we must accept that what we are left with is a common human being whom created, willingly or not, a split-off alternate persona in the shape of an only and omnipotent God—a reflection of Muhammad’s “pathological grandiose self”, defined by Kernberg (1975/2004) as the “pathological condensation of some aspects of some aspects of the real self (the “specialness” of the child reinforced by early experience), the ideal self (the fantasies and self images of power, wealth, omniscience, and beauty which compensated the small child for the experience of severe oral frustration, rage and envy) and the ideal object (the fantasy of an ever-giving, ever-loving and accepting parent…)” (p. 265). Either Muhammad believed he heard voices, or did not—and made everything up. Again, the truth may lie somewhere in between. It is a statistically significant occurrence for people suffering from frontal lobe epilepsy to have religious hallucinations of different sort (Devinsky & Lai, 2008), and the signs of epilepsy and/or schizophrenia seem to be traceable in historical figures which claimed to have divine visions, such as Joan of Arc or Saint Teresa of Ávila, as well as Muhammad himself. On the other hand, many of the revelations Muhammad recited seem to reflect an awareness and pragmatism much too “terrenal” and reality-based for them to have been the result of a voice perceived as not pertaining to himself. Muhammad’s favorite wife, the young Aisha, is understood to even have made fun of the Prophet about the suspicious coincidence of his desires and the convenient revelations he said he was receiving: “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires” (Sahih Bukhari, book 60, Hadith 311). Hence, my opinion is that Muhammad most likely did suffer from narcissistic personality disorder and epilepsy, and possibly from other mental health-related issues as well. This, however, didn’t make him a complete maniac or lunatic, but rather set the basis for one of the two poles of Muhammad’s personality, which he juggled with. Making the most of the power and status he enjoyed among his followers as a consequence of what he initially may have well experienced as religious revelations, he might have taken advantage of it here and there as it suited him, slipping in the one or other verse that was very much a conscious wish of his own—only now, invested with the authority of Allah.

The first unsettling “visitation” by the angel Gabriel he experienced in the cave of Hira:

The commencement of the Divine Inspiration to Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) was in the form of good righteous (true) dreams in his sleep. He never had a dream but that it came true like bright day light. He used to go in seclusion (the cave of) Hira where he used to worship (Allah Alone) continuously for many (days) nights. He used to take with him the journey food for that (stay) and then come back to (his wife) Khadija to take his food like-wise again for another period to stay, till suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him in it and asked him to read. The Prophet (ﷺ) replied, “I do not know how to read.” (The Prophet (ﷺ) added), “The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and again asked me to read, and I replied, “I do not know how to read,” whereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and asked me again to read, but again I replied, “I do not know how to read (or, what shall I read?).” Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me and then released me and said, “Read: In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists). Has created man from a clot. Read and Your Lord is Most Generous…up to…..that which he knew not” (Bukhari, vol. 9, book 91, no. 6982).

This reference to this first revelation of the Quran is now found as Sura 96:1-5. At first, Muhammad didn’t know what to make of the experience and was afraid he had gone mad, to the point he thought of killing himself. After telling his first wife Khadija, she told him he was destined to become a Prophet, and Muhammad embraced her advice. While from a religious viewpoint this may constitute a sound account of an authentic religious experience, if we look at it from a scientific perspective we may rather think of it as a psychotic episode. Through Muhammad’s imaginary identification with Allah on one side, and with the Muslim Ummah on the other, he may have managed a sufficient narcissistic cohesion and all-round stabilization for him to not completely lose touch with reality and to maintain a predominance of the secondary thought process, at least for most of the time.

In the closing of the first chapter of The Quranic Concept of War, its author reminds the reader that it is important to “understand the timings, method and sequence of the revelation of the Quranic military thought” (ibid.). He writes that it has not been revealed at once, but gradually, starting about twelve years after the advent of Islam. The prophetic career of Muhammad started in 610 AD, and it was only twelve years later that the Prophet and his followers migrated to Medina, giving birth to Islam as a political entity. This is not a matter of chance: during the Meccan period Muhammad preached a predominantly peaceful message that plagiarized from much of the Jewish and Christian tradition, in a try to get himself recognized by the Jewish and Christian tribes as a prophet in the same monotheistic lineage of Moses and Jesus. He failed miserably, and did not manage to surround himself with but a few followers. He had little political power, if any, and his presence in Mecca was no longer welcome. With the expulsion from Mecca, everything changed: the message he preached turned more violent, as did the actions of himself and his followers. Muhammad ordered and participated in many raids on commercial caravans, and to the spiritual message he had preached so unsuccessfully in Mecca he overlaid a more pragmatical one that promised earthly rewards in the form of booty and wealth. His power and his following increased rapidly. In 630 he conquered Mecca, and Islam expanded relentlessly in the centuries that followed.

Bibliography:

Abdel-Samad, H. (2014). Der islamische Faschismus. München: Droemer .

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Inamdar, S. C. (2001). Muhammad and the rise of Islam: The creation of group identity. International Univerities Press.

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Kernberg, O. F. (1975/2004). Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. New York: Jason Aronson.

Lewis, B. (1988). The Political Language of Islam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lewis, B. (2002). ¿Qué ha fallado? El impacto de Occidente y la respuesta de Oriente Próximo. Madrid: Siglo XXI.

Malik, S. K. (1979/1992). The Quranic Concept of War. Delhi: Adam Publishers & Distributors.

Sina, A. (2008). Understanding Muhammad: a Psychobiography. FaithFreedom Publishing.

Spencer, R. (2006). The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the world’s most intoleerant religion. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing.

Spencer, R. (2007). Religion of Peace? Why Christianity is and Islam isn’t. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing.

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