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Arguing the Just War in Islam

Arguing the Just War in Islam

John Kelsay

ISBN 9780674032347

Publication date: 05/15/2009

Jihad, with its many terrifying associations, is a term widely used today, though its meaning is poorly grasped. Few people understand the circumstances requiring a jihad, or "holy" war, or how Islamic militants justify their violent actions within the framework of the religious tradition of Islam. How Islam, with more than one billion followers, interprets jihad and establishes its precepts has become a critical issue for both the Muslim and the non-Muslim world.

John Kelsay's timely and important work focuses on jihad of the sword in Islamic thought, history, and culture. Making use of original sources, Kelsay delves into the tradition of shari'a--Islamic jurisprudence and reasoning--and shows how it defines jihad as the Islamic analogue of the Western "just" war. He traces the arguments of thinkers over the centuries who have debated the legitimacy of war through appeals to shari'a reasoning. He brings us up to the present and demonstrates how contemporary Muslims across the political spectrum continue this quest for a realistic ethics of war within the Islamic tradition.

Arguing the Just War in Islam provides a systematic account of how Islam's central texts interpret jihad, guiding us through the historical precedents and Qur'anic sources upon which today's claims to doctrinal truth and legitimate authority are made. In illuminating the broad spectrum of Islam's moral considerations of the just war, Kelsay helps Muslims and non-Muslims alike make sense of the possibilities for future war and peace.


  • In lucid prose John Kelsay leads the reader on an illuminating journey from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, through the sacred sources of Islam and the debate over their interpretation, to the internal debates between moderates and extremists that shape today's global politics. One cannot fully understand the range of possibilities that confront Islam—and the world—without comprehending the internal reasoning and discourse that Kelsay brilliantly explores in this remarkable work of synthesis.

    —R. Scott Appleby, University of Notre Dame


  • John Kelsay is Distinguished Research Professor and Richard L. Rubenstein Professor of Religion at Florida State University.

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press