A Million Dollars for "Holy War"

Our Counter Challenge to Jamal Badawi

Sam Shamoun

Muslim speaker and polemicist, Dr. Jamal Badawi, has been making headlines due to his one million dollar challenge. Dr. Badawi has offered any person a million dollars to produce a passage from the Quran which mentions the words "holy war." In an email response to Robert Spencer, Dr. Badawi writes:

What I promised was to pay $1 Million to anyone who can show me a single verse in the entire original Arabic Qur`an that ever used the Arabic equivalent of the term "holy war", which is "Harb Muqaddasah". That offer was repeated so many times in public, even on national television in Canada. I have yet to hear from anyone to prove the inaccuracy of my statement. (Source)

It is rather apparent that Dr. Badawi is operating under the glaringly false assumption that unless the Quran uses the exact phrase "holy war", then the critics have no basis to argue that the Quran sanctions such a concept. Dr. Badawi certainly knows that the Quran teaches various concepts even though a particular word or exact terminology is not found in the book.

To illustrate our point, and expose the utter futility of Dr. Badawi’s reasoning, we offer the following counter challenges to Badawi.

Without question, the most important message of Islam is "Tauhid" or monotheism. We therefore challenge Dr. Badawi to produce from the Quran verses where the following phrases appear:

a) The actual word "Tauhid".

b) The three classifications or subsets of Tauhid:

tauhid al-rububiyyah,
tauhid al-uluhiyya,
ibaadah, tauhid al-asma wa sifat.

We ask Dr. Badawi to produce to us a passage from the Quran stating that Hagar is Abraham’s wife and the mother of Ishmael.

We further challenge Dr. Badawi to show us one single statement where the Quran EXPLICITLY says that the Holy Spirit is the angel Gabriel, in those exact words.

We also challenge Dr. Badawi to present to us an explicit statement(s) from the Quran delineating the exact breadth and length of the Quran, i.e. how many surahs and verses does the Quran say it contains.

We can go and on with our challenges, but these should suffice. Using Dr. Badawi’s logic, we are forced to conclude that since these exact phrases and statements do not appear in the Quran, the Quran therefore does not teach these things.

We would have liked to make that a "one million dollar counter challenge", but it is unethical to offer what one does not have, even if it is certain that the challenge cannot be met. Furthermore, truth should be pursued for its own sake, and has nothing to do with money.

Though Badawi may be able to keep his money in this case, he is certainly at risk for losing the even more valuable entity called "intellectual integrity". Given that there are more than 150 verses in the Quran dealing with jihad and fighting unbelievers, this is certainly a major topic in the Quran (see the article "164 Jihad Verses in the Koran").

Even one moderate (more like liberal) Islamic scholar, John L. Esposito, has to admit that Islam eventually became offensive in nature, waging war even against non-aggressors:

Islamic law stipulates that IT IS A MUSLIM'S DUTY TO WAGE WAR NOT ONLY AGAINST THOSE WHO ATTACK MUSLIM TERRITORY, but also against polytheists, apostates, and the People of the Book (at first restricted to Jews and Christians but later extended to Zoroastrians and other faiths) WHO REFUSE MUSLIM RULE. Muslims gave these people two choices: conversion OR SUBMISSION TO MUSLIM RULE with the right to retain their religion AND PAY A POLL TAX (a common practice applied to outsiders, within and outside of Arabia). Muslim jurists saw jihad as a requirement in a world divided between what they called the dar al-Islam and the dar al-harb (LAND OF WAR). The Muslim community WAS REQUIRED TO ENGAGE IN THE STRUGGLE TO EXPAND THE DAR AL-ISLAM THROUGHOUT THE WORLD so that all of humankind would have the opportunity to live within a just political and social order. One school of law, the Shafi, posted a third category, the land of treaty (dar al-sulh), a territory that had concluded a truce with a Muslim government.

Other Quranic verses, sometimes referred to as the "sword verses," are quoted selectively TO LEGITIMATE UNCONDITIONAL WARFARE against unbelievers and were used BY JURISTS TO JUSTIFY GREAT EXPANSION. The argument, developed DURING THE PERIOD UNDER THE EARLY CALIPHS, a time when the ulama enjoyed royal patronage, WAS THAT THE SWORD VERSES ABROGATED ALL THE EARLIER VERSES THAT LIMITED JIHAD TO A DEFENSIVE WAR. "When the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush" (9:5). Yet the full intent of this verse, if it is used in isolation, can be overlooked. It is followed by: "But if they repent and fulfill their devotional obligations and pay the zakat [tax for alms] then let them go their way for God is forgiving and kind" (9:5). ALTHOUGH THIS VERSE HAS BEEN USED TO JUSTIFY OFFENSIVE JIHAD, it has generally been read as a call for peaceful relations unless there is interference with freedom of Muslims. The same is true of the following: "Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, Nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, Nor hold the religion of truth (even if they are) of the People of the Book, Until they pay the tax with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued" (9:29). (Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam [Oxford University Press, 2002, paperback], pp. 34-35; bold, capital, and underline emphasis ours)


Quranic passages referring to jihad as armed struggle fall into two broad categories: defensive, those that emphasize fighting against aggression, AND OFFENSIVE OR EXPANSIONIST, a more general command to fight against all unbelievers and spread the message and public order Pax Islamica of Islam. (Ibid., p. 65; underline and capital emphasis ours)

Esposito mentions the writings of Muhammad al-Farag, a member of Islamic Jihad, and says:

Farag believed that the decline of Muslim societies was made possible by those who had lulled the community into believing that jihad was nonviolent; the restoration of the Muslim world to the straight path of Islam hinged on reclaiming the true meaning of jihad, the forgotten or neglected requirement of Islam. Farag maintained that jihad was the sixth pillar of Islam, forgotten or obscured by the majority of ulama and Muslims:

Jihad ... for God's cause [in the way of Allah], in spite of its importance for the future of religion, has been neglected by the ulama... of this age.... There is no doubt that the idols of this world can only disappear through the power of the sword. (Ibid., pp. 62-63)


If some feel a need to justify all jihads as defensive, others do not. Thus, Muslims who insist that the defense of Islam is the only justification for jihad, and that all of the wars in the early days of Islam were defensive, have been criticized by others who believe that the restriction of jihad to defensive wars alone is a product of European colonialism and an unwarranted accommodation to the West...

The common Western image is that Islam is a religion of the sword, that Muslims are required to use every means, including force and warfare, to spread and impose their faith. This issue like others is subject to a spectrum of opinions. While most Muslim scholars have agreed that it is never justified to wage jihad against non-Muslims simply because of their faith or to convert them, some bluntly state, as Ibn Khaldun, an acclaimed Medieval Muslim historian, did: "In the Muslim community, holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation) to convert everybody to Islam either BY PERSUASION OR BY FORCE." Other medieval authors, like their Christian counterparts, went even further, teaching that the purpose of jihad IS TO RID THE EARTH OF UNBELIEVERS. (Ibid., p. 67; underline and capital emphasis ours)

Despite his obvious apology, Esposito is forced to recognize and admit that Muslim scholars and jurists, not Christians, Jews, liberal scholars etc., have seen a basis within the text of the Quran itself to mount an offensive war, offensive jihad, against non-aggressors. This makes it all the more ironic since Esposito recognizes that these individuals were Muslim scholars, which means that they knew the Quran and its sciences very well, and yet he still has the audacity to accuse them of selectively quoting passages out of context. Esposito seems to be implying that he is more qualified than they were, and has a better grasp of the Arabic Quran and its proper exegesis than all of these learned scholars of Islam!

In one of his lectures (September 11: Islam and World Peace), Dr. Badawi even gripes about how there is nothing holy about war, i.e. the killing, the bloodshed etc. Dr. Badawi is obviously playing on the na´vetÚ of his audience, since the expression "holy war" doesn’t necessarily refer to the nature of the fighting, but to the entity one is fighting for. In other words, the expression "holy" refers to the fact that certain groups, whether Muslims or otherwise, believe they are fighting for the cause of God; i.e. they are engaging in military combat because of their religious convictions that this is what God demands of them. The Quran contains dozens of verses calling believers "to fight in the cause of Allah" (cf. Jihad: The Teachings of Islam from its primary sources - the Qur'an and Hadith). Hence, "holy" here refers to God; the fighting is done for the glory and honor of God. After all, doesn’t the Quran say that one of the names or attributes of God is "the Holy" (Al-Qudus)?

He is Allah, besides Whom there is no god; the King, the Holy (al-Quddoosu), the Giver of peace, the Granter of security, Guardian over all, the Mighty, the Supreme, the Possessor of every greatness Glory be to Allah from what they set up (with Him). S. 59:23 Shakir

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth declares the glory of Allah, the King, the Holy (al-Quddoosi), the Mighty, the Wise. S. 62:1 Shakir

To help illustrate this position, here are some online dictionary entrees for holy war:

holy war also Holy War

A war declared or fought for a religious or high moral purpose, as to extend or defend a religion. (Source)

holy war
noun {C}
a war fought to defend religious beliefs or to force others to follow a different religion
See also crusade; jihad. (Source; bold emphasis ours)

Main Entry: holy war
Function: noun
: a war waged by religious partisans to propagate or defend their faith
(Merriam-Webster Online)

Hence, this is just another one of Dr. Badawi’s many straw men and red herrings, another smokescreen that he has erected to evade addressing the real issues.

In fact, we have to go further here. Many people are producing straw man arguments because their reasoning capabilities are insufficient. They put forward weak or false arguments believing they are true arguments. This is not the case with Dr. Badawi. He knows exactly what he does; he knows exactly what the Quran teaches about fighting the unbelievers, and with his challenge he clearly seeks to deceive an uninformed western audience. This is intentional, deliberate deception. Dr. Badawi is not only a public figure and representative of Islam in North America, this was a highly publicized challenge, constructed to deceive the public. Thus, Dr. Badawi needs to be publicly repudiated for it.

To study and understand what the Quran really teaches about holy war, and the treatment of non-Muslims, we recommend the following articles:


Further responses to Dr. Badawi
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page