Elise Bellin, MLIS is the IRC Librarian and this book review is part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.

Beyond Jihad: The Pacifist Tradition in West African Islam

by Lamin Sanneh, © 2016 – ISBN: 9780199351619

There is a rather massive misconception among those of other faiths and persuasions, and uneducated believers that jihad is, like the Crusades, a term to indicate religious battle by way of the sword as a method of forcefully spreading the Muslim faith.

It is promoted by those that see Islam as the enemy, the idea that Islam grew from a small band of followers in the deserts of Arabia into a religion with believers counting close to two billion, as happening only by force. This is simply not the case. While it is true that there have been those misguided and uneducated individuals claiming their violence to be a true jihad, the reality is that “jihad,” the larger, more accurate definition, is a spiritual struggle for enlightenment.

The true jihad can, perhaps, most clearly be seen and understood through a look at the pacifist tradition in West African Islam. While it cannot be argued that Islam has been entirely peaceful, as, like all religions, there have been times of strife as well as times of peace, much of what made Islam in West Africa a success wasn’t any of the battles waged, but rather the clerics and legal scholarship promoted within Islam that inhibited and discouraged radicalism and upheaval amidst the constant political changes and cultural shifts that were common at that time.

The culture of inter-ethnic accommodation and communication present in the early West African Islamic tradition brought the religion in contact with many otherwise uninitiated cultures and was able to spread and adapt into a variety of cultures.

In Beyond Jihad, Sanneh examines the role of the clerics and law makers and their role in the spread of Islam and the stability of the Mali Empire. Sanneh expertly argues for a look at the peacemakers in the spread of the religion rather than the traditional look at what forceful method was used. If you are looking for your own historical enlightenment, go no further.

About the IRC Library

Founded in 2011, the Islamic Resource Library (IRC) is the first Islamic library in Wisconsin. The IRC aims to provide resources to educators, students, health professionals, interfaith groups, and any members of the Milwaukee community that want an accurate understanding of the Islamic faith, its practices, and its people.