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Abdullah Antepli. Photo: divinity.duke.edu

Duke Univ. Imam: Arguing that “Islam is nothing but peace” is a “shallow argument”

Imam Abdullah Antepli is the founding director of Duke University’s Center for Muslim Life, a faculty member in the university and its first Muslim chaplain.

He is also the founder and an executive board member of the Association at College Muslim Chaplains (ADAC) and a board member of the Association for College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA). Antepli completed his basic training and education in his native Turkey.

In two different interviews in recent years, Imam Abdullah Antepli explained the meaning of jihad in Islam. According to Antepli, the jihad that involves fighting can be declared only by “legitimate Muslim governments”. This type of jihad is permitted as an act of self-defense. “If you’ve been attacked individually or as a nation unjustly and unfairly, you are allowed to use lesser jihad to basically fight against the people who are invading your chasing out of your country or killing you or your loved one,” said Antepli.

Antepli based his interpretation of jihad on the hadith (narration attributed to Mohammad) on the “lesser jihad” and the “greater jihad”. It was narrated that the Prophet Mohammad said to his companions when they returned from a military campaign, “We have come back from the lesser jihaad to the greater jihad.” They said, “Is there any greater jihad than jihad against the kuffar [infidel]?” he said, “Yes, jihad al-nafs (jihad against the self).”

The hadith “We are returning from the lesser jihad [the battle] to the greater jihad” was said by Muslims who returned from the Battle of Tabouk, which was a military expedition initiated by Muhammad in October, AD 631 with the intention of engaging the Byzantine army. The jihad in this historical context was not defensive, but offensive.

Prominent scholars of Sunni Islam determined that the hadith on “lesser jihad” and “greater jihad” is NOT authentic. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian Islamic theologian and the chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, wrote the following:

This hadith [“We are returning from the lesser jihad [the battle] to the greater jihad”] which was attributed to the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, is not true, and this [position] was unanimously agreed upon by the imams. This hadith is not mentioned in the books of Sunnah and their known collections [of hadiths]…

Same position was adopted by predecessor Imams Ibn Taymiyyah, “Sheikh ul-Islam”, a Islamic scholar, theologian and logician, who is considered to have had considerable influence in contemporary Wahhabism and Salafis, Ibn al-Uthaymeen, a Saudi scholar who was considered “a giant within conservative Salafi Islam” and Abdul Aziz Bin Baz, a Saudi Islamic scholar and a leading proponent of the Salafi form of Islam.

The following are excerpts from Abdullah Antepli’s statement on jihad:


President Barack Obama this week has been opposed to refer to many of these terrorist attacks as Islamic extremism. How do you feel about that view?

Abdullah Antepli:

…What he said during the prayer breakfast I welcome this. I think President Obama is inviting people for a common sense. There is an irresponsible campaign out there trying to convince a lot of people as if Islam has a monopoly in producing crazy people, as if Islam has monopoly in turning into evil in certain part of the Muslim majority countries. He’s basically saying we’ve seen religious extremism, we’ve seen religious barbaric crimes all over the history in many different religions. If the crusaders and the Spanish inquisitors they have smart phones and they had expensive cameras and if they would have recorded what they have done on their way to the Holy Land I think what we will see was going to be as barbaric as primitive as horrible and despicable as what we see with these evil people with Boko Haram with ISIS and everybody else…

Religion turns into evil and no religion is less sinful more sinful than others. Religion turns into evil and when certain historical social cultural and political mix blends with religion and distorts it’s peaceful message and what we see is Islam is turning into evil, in evil reality in Iraq with ISIS in Syria in Boko Haram and al Qaida and many other evil people as well.


Islam does not give permission for violence and extremism?

Abdullah Antepli:

…We have to go beyond this absolute maximalist essential list, statements like that. No religion is essentially peaceful no religion is essentially evil. Religion is something what people make of it. So no religion like, when people say Islam is nothing but peace, that’s to me such a shallow argument. Neither Christianity nor Islam essentially a peaceful or pacifist and not only just essentially evil as some people would claim. It depends on the historical context what these people make out of their own religion. If a society is healthy economically or socially culturally healthy they’ve revealed the best of their religion. If societies deeply broken failed and they reveal the worst of anything including their religion. What we see in this part of the world is a deeply broken failed society after decades of war and destruction revealing the worst of themselves.


Those are fascinating statements and I think a lot of people need to hear that, be part of that discussion… There’s a lot to overcome here when you look at the mindset of a lot of people especially in America who view it as purely violet and regardless of this there’s a middle ground they see extremism only.

Abdullah Antepli:

…I’m very worried I have the sense of urgency as Americans we have to do a better job. To me this is not only a Muslim issue or an Islamic issue, it’s not about Islam only in American Muslim community only. If you get the cancer of hate, racism and Islamophobia affect American society if you collectively dehumanize American Muslims which is 6 to 8 million upright taxpaying law abiding citizens, that cancer doesn’t remain with American Muslims only. That will spread in our society. That will destroy our ideals, our commitment to live and make this country a country for all, that… we will not be judging people based on who they are. We will be judging people by what they do.

Abdullah Antepli:

Jihad is one of the most contentious and unfortunately most corrupted Muslim terms or Islamic terms in the post 9/11 United States. It’s an essential part of Islam, like Muslims cannot afford to lose or wipe out the concept of jihad from the Islamic theology. It is and that it in the day to day living of any believing practicing Muslim as you said is mentioned in the Koran exemplified in the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammad. Jihad literally means striving. Jihad literally means working against all evil, all negative forces in your life, and striving to be a better person striving to excel, to be a more ethical moral human being. In the words of prophet Muhammad there are two different types of jihad. In one of the most critical battles, which was a survival battle, Uhud, the second battle that he was involved in in a self defense he engaged with the Meccans who attacked them to kill them all, he came across a victorious, he survived, and then people were feeling good about it. At the entrance of his city, imagine this picture, he basically said what you feel good about the battle that we survived, that was the smaller jihad, that was the lesser jihad, that was the less important secondary Jihad. Now that we are victorious we came back. Now we have the responsibility to form an ethical moral society individually and collectively, that’s the bigger jihad. It’s a very famous saying of the Prophet Muhammad. He came from smaller jihad. For many people it was THE jihad because if they were to lose completely there was no Islam today. Islam could have been wiped out completely. But for him that was the physical jihad, it was the smaller one. But coming back and forming and building an ethical moral society was the bigger jihad. And that’s exactly the way in which the jihad played out and built as a theology in the Muslim world. So I wouldn’t deny that there is a physical aspect of jihad. Yes, in the form of self-defense, if you’ve been attacked individually or as a nation unjustly and unfairly you are allowed to use lesser jihad to basically fight against the people who are invading your chasing out of your country or killing you or your loved one is etc. But for many people that doesn’t happen, for many people Jihad is basically the internal struggle on a day to day basis for every decision that you make. That’s when you engage in the real jihad. Am I being ethical? Am I being authentic? Am I being truthful? I might be righteous etc…


So this notion of the lesser jihad, the physical jihad, is that in some ways a Qur’anic principle a duty upon Muslims to rise up to strike against injustice as it just injustice against Muslim people Muslim territory?

Abdullah Antepli:

That’s an excellent question. Actually it’s not a duty, it’s a permission and these are two very different, and for the first thirteen years of the life of the Prophet Muhammad that the lesser jihad was not permitted. They were not allowed to engage in war, that while they were in Mecca, only after in Medina when they were able to form the city the Prophet says you are permitted to fight against the people who took you out of your cities who confiscated your land etc. It’s a permission. It’s not an obligation per se. Of course Justice is an obligation of course… but lesser jihad or fighting a physical fight is not the only way to do that. We are permitted and Muslims are permitted. Islam is by all means not a pacifist or and not a nonviolent religion in the early Christian sense that there’s no such concept. But it’s a chronic term which you are permitted in certain conditions, but again that lesser jihad can only be declared or initiated by the legitimate Muslim governments. It cannot be initiated by individuals. I cannot declare a jihad. Osama Bin Laden cannot declare a jihad. The organizations on their own cannot declare a jihad. It has to be a political a legitimize political government who can declare this lesser jihad…

He [Osama Bin Laden] basically represents the Muslim outrage and anger towards the last two hundred, three hundred plus colonial experience all to Muslim civilization, decline and ultimate collapse. As the Muslim societies suffered centuries long colonial oppression and then the Muslim communities and societies continue to suffer in the hands of their own dictators in Egypt, in Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia, in other places. These are deep the broken society is so much anger and these people are sitting in piles of anger and frustration. So he basically took this anger, the social political economical problem economic problems of the Muslim world and gave it religious language to that anger and rage and outrage. Since he himself was a distorted human being so it wasn’t a surprise that his approach to religion and his interpretation of religion through the lenses of the Muslim suffering and pain in different parts of the world, of course if this society is are healthy if the societies are on their own feet, functioning economic or social or cultural, of course it reveals the best of their religion. It reveals the best of their worldview and civilization. But if the societies are basically completely failed and sick and unhealthy of course it reveals the worst of their religion, the worst of their worldview and ideology and Osama Bin Laden represents that worst of us. I cannot deny that he is a Muslim. I cannot deny that he is basically basing his evil ideology on the different interpretation of Koran. All I can say is this ideology’s anomaly it violates and contradicts the basic tenets of Islam, and it’s an anomaly throughout the Islamic history as well.


Let me ask you about the term jihadists that’s really become proliferated throughout the media. Just last month President Obama in an important speech he said: Deranged or alienated individuals often U.S. citizens or legal residents can do enormous damage particularly when inspired by larger notions of violent jihad. How do you react to the use of this terminology in the media by politicians of all stripes?

Abdullah Antepli:

Especially coming from President Obama my reaction is a big deep sigh and disappointment. I mean. he should have been better informed, he should have better speechwriters after all these years after 9/11 his administration his advisers that are full time Muslims working in the White House suggesting and informing and consulting him in Islamic affairs, it’s really an unfortunate statement to frame it in such a way that somehow there’s a larger notion of jihad or some more, it even suggests that that’s the real jihad, that’s the real the concept of jihad. It’s unfortunately uninformed and it’s very misleading. If it comes from a Fox T.V. anchor or Fox T.V. news presenter I understand where it’s coming from, but coming from President Obama I find it highly problematic and I find the highly disappointed.

To watch the videos click HERE.

About Rachel Ehrenfeld

Rachel Ehrenfeld
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is Founder and President of the New York-based American Center for Democracy, and the Economic Warfare Institute. Dr. Ehrenfeld has authored academic and policy papers and more than one thousand articles. Her books include FUNDING EVIL: How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop Ii (2011) • EVIL MONEY (HarperCollins, 1992,1994). Her latest book project is on The Economic Warfare against the U.S. from Within and Without. • NARCOTERRORISM (Basic Books, 1990, 1992).

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