This book comes at a time where the world is increasingly trying to understand the nature of Islam and its interaction with the non-Islamic world. In this context, Zawati’s aims are laudable. As he correctly points out, Islam is imperfectly understood in the West, where it has generally been given an unsympathetic portrayal. Zawati aims to promote a better understanding, particularly of the concept of jihâd, “one of the most misunderstood” precepts of Islam. In contrast to scholars such as Khadduri and Lewis, who argue that jihâd involves an offensive war aimed at extending the reach of Islamic faith and dominion, Zawati seeks to “demonstrate that jihâd is a just, defensive, and exceptional form of warfare geared . . . to secure justice and equality among all people.”
Although he provides a timely introduction to a fascinating and complex topic, Zawati’s work is undermined by several critical flaws. In the first place, his argument is not novel.
Stylistically, the book is undermined by a lack of argumentative depth. Most of Zawati’s text consists of citation to authority, and reads disjointedly as a result. In addition, his work is characterized by a selective approach that emphasizes textual provisions that support his thesis, while ignoring those that contradict it.
By ignoring these arguments, Zawati fails to recognize the historical evolution of the jihadic doctrine over time, and instead seeks to replace it with a historically dubious portrayal.