A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What are the rules for declaring a jihad?

November 13, 2001

Dear Straight Dope:

Can I declare jihad? When is jihad over? Seems that if jihad is not declared, or ignored, there would be one less reason for terrorist attacks. What are the rules about declaring jihad?

Generally, you have to find someone else who has bought a starter deck and a few booster packs. Actually, three or four other players is best--the more the merrier. Personally, I lean my deck towards a Malkavian/Ventrue mix, but my friend Earl's Ventrue-Straight-Up deck kicked my ass nine ways to Sunday. Clear a few hours on a weekday evening or a weekend afternoon, get together a bunch of markers (preferably red, as it fits in well with the theme; avoid candies, or players may eat themselves out of the game), and have some secondary entertainment available for players who get knocked out early.

Oh, wait. Sorry; I'm talking about Jyhad, the collectible card game from White Wolf, since retitled as "Vampire."

In Arabic, the word "jihad" means struggling or striving. Those unfamiliar with Islam tend to associate the term with "holy war" and the thought of Muslims attempting to scourge infidels from their lands, or of terrorists claiming their right to terrorize.

In fact, the Qu'ran does call for "jihad," but uses that term in the sense of struggling and striving to be a better servant of Allah--strive to put Allah first, strive to resist the pressures of society, strive to stay the straight path, strive to do righteous deeds, strive to defend Islam and its allies, and strive to remove the treacherous from power.

Jihad can also mean a call to arms, but the Qu'ran allows war only in defense or in fighting an unjust regime. Even in such a fight, civilians, women, the elderly, and religious men such as priests are considered innocents not to be touched; those who would attack an innocent are murderers, not warriors.

Those behind the terrorist actions may be of the opinion that they are fighting a jihad against an unjust western regime, but in Islam, this in no way absolves them of their tactics or actions. And there's no "official jihad declarer," nor any single leader of the faith akin to the Roman Catholic Pope. All it comes down to is what the individual priest believes, and what he can persuade his followers to believe--and do. There are countless thousands of Islamic holy men. An unknown but nontrivial percentage of them think bitter thoughts about the U.S. and the west. Some of them are persuasive indeed, notwithstanding that their reading of the Qu'ran may be perverse. You can see why we might be in for a long war.

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