A Legal Analysis of Jihad

Professor at Rutgers Law School in Camden explores key aspect of Islamic law

Adnan Zulfiqar, an assistant professor, joined the Rutgers Law School faculty in 2017

By Sam Starnes

Adnan Zulfiqar says that to understand jihad—an Arabic term broadly defined as “struggle,” including the idea of “armed struggle”—one needs to look to its original understanding as a type of legal obligation. In an extensive article, the assistant professor at Rutgers Law School in Camden writes that militant Islamists, beginning in late ’70s and early ’80s, reinterpreted the term, which appears in the Quran, as an individual duty required of all Muslims instead of its earlier interpretation as a government-regulated collective duty that required only a portion of a population to take up arms when necessary. “Militants used the law to reframe the discussion around jihad and in the process empower themselves while diminishing the political authority,” he says.

Zulfiqar joined the faculty in 2017 and in fall 2019 will teach Islamic Law: Theory and Practice, the first time it will be taught at Rutgers Law in Camden. His article, “Jurisdiction over Jihad: Islamic Law and the Duty to Fight,” published in West Virginia Law Review, is an offshoot of his recently completed dissertation for a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also earned his law degree. He says that many Muslim-majority nations wish to be viewed as secular governments and not theocracies, so they often fail to address religious laws on topics such as jihad, thus allowing forces outside the government to pursue military activities. He says nations should try to “take back control of the jihad narrative. They need to start articulating jihad in its collective form. Don’t run from the term jihad just because it’s being abused and misused in the context of terrorism.”

Zulfiqar, a practicing Muslim who is proficient in five languages—including Arabic, Urdu, and Punjabi—was born in Virginia to Pakistani immigrants and spent much of his childhood abroad because his father, a World Bank executive, oftenchose assignments in African nations. He attended Emory University in Atlanta for his undergraduate degree and worked as a legislative staffer for former U.S. Senator Max Cleland of Georgia on Capitol Hill during the tense times around the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He says it is important for all to try to understand the impacts of varying religious beliefs in America and around the world. “People freeze up a little bit, and in our country religion is part of some very hot debates,” he says. “We do a disservice when we ignore religion and put it aside. In the worst case scenarios, ignoring it can have disastrous consequences.”

Posted in: 2019 Spring, On Campus

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