Juan Cole´s new book “Mohammed-Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires” interprets Mohammed as a peacenik who never wanted to launch a holy war.. After “Engaging the Muslim world”the next Islamophile interpretation of Islam. In Cole´s interpretation jihad never meant a holy war, but at worst a defensive war against pagan aggressors and in reality the ethic purification of an individual or like the Greek agon some sort of Olympic Games.
“The word “jihad” has become pervasive in English. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates yesterday spoke of “jihadis.” The Western Right wing is trying to use the term to replace the Communist Manifesto as the ultimate in the threatening Other. It figures prominently in FBI charges against militants. It is often glossed as “holy war.” People, especially those who dislike Islam, think that it means aggression and that the conception is intrinsic to the religion of Islam.
In fact, the Prophet Muhammad never preached “jihad” in this sense of “holy war,” as I argue in my new book
In the Muslim scripture, the Qur’an, the word “jihad” does not mean “to fight” but to engage in pious and ethical struggle (the same is true for other words from the same Arabic root). It has been suggested* that it is similar to the Greek agōn or struggle, conflict, challenge. Ancient Greek culture was highly competitive, and agōn was everywhere– in debate, athletic contests, etc. The Olympic Games were an agōn. The English word “agony” derives from this root, in the sense of an ordeal, but in Greek the word just means contest, and not necessarily an excruciating one.
Agōn also used in a spiritual sense in the New Testament.(…)
Both of these senses, of spiritual struggle and of social conflict also characterize the Arabic jihad in the Qur’an, and my own suspicion is that jihad is an Arabic loanshift from the Greek agōn, i.e. that the Arabic conception was formed with regard to the Greek word. Certainly it is worthwhile systematically comparing the two concepts, and reading the word in the Qur’an with fresh eyes untainted by later medieval feudal notions.”
First historians and Orientalists have to analyze if Cole´s thesis is right. If it was one should not forget that modern Islamists as the Islamic state, the Muslimbrotherhoodlike organization in the Sunnite world and the Chomeinists/Chamainists in the Shiite world , Al Nusra, Al Qaida, Shabab, Boko Haram,Salafist militias,etc. perceive jihad as a holy war , as a war of aggression and not just of defensive nature and that therefore Cole´s interpretation is misleading as he wants to declare Islam as a religion of peace and nothingh else. If his interpretation was right, this might be an approach to isolate Islamists by theological means, but it also includes the danger underestimating the will for a holy war by the Islamists.