Striving in the Path of God Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought By Asma Afsaruddin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. 384 pages.)

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Sadek Hamid



The term jihad is perhaps the most contentious Arabic word to enter the English
language in recent decades. In public discourse it has become shorthand
for “holy war” and synonymous with violent Muslim extremism. This scholarly
examination of jihad and martyrdom by Asma Afsaruddin, a professor
of Islamic studies at Indiana University, carefully disentangles their multivalent
meanings within Islamic scholarship from early Muslim history up to
the present day. It also challenges the assertions of those who focus only upon
martial connotations. Instead, she argues that “conceptualizations of jihad as
primarily armed combat and of shahada as primarily military martyrdom
are relatively late and contested ones and deviate considerably from the
Qur’anic significations of these terms” (p. 5). In this substantial, dense text,
comprising nine chapters in addition to the introduction and conclusion, she
demonstrates an impressive command of materials by skillfully engaging a
representative range of Qur’anic exegetical works, Prophetic sayings, and
faḍā’il literature.
The first chapter is prefaced with a detailed discussion of the first term’s
etymological origin and semantic usage. Rooting her analysis in the Qur’an,
she points out that its polyvalent nature cannot be reduced only to a combative ...

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