What is Jihad?

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Summary

Jihad is a word that means striving and struggle; it does not mean terrorism or holy war. It is associated with acts that are accompanied by hardship and require a person to strive and struggle to perform. It comprises many different efforts that a Muslim is required to take part in – spiritual, intellectual, and physical. One aspect of many aspects of jihad is taking part in physical combat, in order to fight for justice and against tyranny. This kind of jihad is praiseworthy when done properly, as part of a legitimate and recognised army, just as those who fight to liberate the innocent from tyranny all over the world are regarded as heroes in their home nations and amongst the communities they serve and protect. This kind of jihad is often hijacked by those who seek to justify their own selfish political desires; however, they can only justify terrorism and murder by twisting passages of the Qur'an, and misquoting the texts of Islam, since the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) specifically prohibited transgression and persecution at times of war; the killing of women, children, and the elderly; the destruction of people's crops and livelihood; the use of weapons that maim rather than kill; the harsh treatment of captives; and many other rules and regulations.

Full Answer

The concept of jihad is a topic in Islam that receives a lot of attention. Often presented as synonymous with holy war, and more recently associated with terrorism, jihad is one of the most misunderstood words in Islam. Linguistically, jihad is a noun meaning struggle or striving. It is important to note that the linguistic meaning of jihad is not related to war, for which the Arabic is harb. Within the context of Islam, jihad refers to a variety of different efforts – spiritual, intellectual, and physical – that Muslims strive to do for the sake of God Almighty. It is most commonly associated with actions that are accompanied by hardship and require endurance to perform. Allah, the Exalted, said in the Qur'an:

“And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.” [The Qur'an: al-'Ankabut 29:69]

(the word strive here is a derivative of the word jihad). The Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to his wife 'Aa'ishah:

“the best jihad [for women] is an accepted hajj” (i.e., the pilgrimage to Makkah) He also said:

“The greatest jihad is speaking the truth in front of a tyrannical ruler” In all of these examples, the word jihad is used to refer to actions which are accompanied by hardship and require a person to strive and struggle to perform. Taking into account the various efforts that Muslims are required to perform in order to struggle for the sake of God, jihad has different levels. The levels of jihad begin with a personal struggle against one's own desires. This includes striving to learn the teachings of Islam, striving to act upon them, striving to convey them to others, and striving to be patient over what happens as a result. So, a person who struggles with an addition to alcohol, for example, would be partaking in this form of jihad – a personal struggle against himself. Likewise, a person who suffers financial hardship in order to teach Islam to others would also be partaking in this form of jihad. The second level of jihad is to strive against the devil and his plots. This implies a wider struggle against the ills of society, warding off the doubts that are spread to undermine faith, and fighting corruption in the world. The third level of jihad is to strive against those who oppose the religion of Islam and seek to bring about its destruction. This includes the hypocrites who seek to destroy Islam by professing faith whilst concealing disbelief, as well as those who fight against Islam and the Muslims, whether by means intellectual or psychological attacks, or those who physically attack Muslims around the world. This level of jihad takes many forms; each form is particular to the circumstances and the ability of the individuals concerned. These forms include having hatred in the heart, speaking out with the tongue, and the spending of wealth. They also include, in certain specific circumstances, physical and military combat. It is this form of jihad that is hijacked by those who seek to use Islam to legitimise their own selfish aims. In reality, this form of jihad, which has an aspect of physical combat, is nothing like the terrorism and murder that we see committed all over the world in the name of Islam; rather, it based upon defending the rights of the oppressed, as Allah said in the Qur'an:

“And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah while the oppressed among men, women, and children say, 'Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?'” [The Qur'an: an-Nisaa' 4:75]

There is no doubt that military operations, carried out by a legitimate and recognised army whose objective is to free the oppressed and liberate those living in tyranny is something which is praiseworthy. The soldiers who take part in such combat are regarded as heroes by their home nations and those communities whom they protect and serve. They take part in a difficult but necessary action, in order to resolve problems that cannot be done so peacefully. When we look at wars such as World War II; although lives were tragically lost, the long term damage would likely have been more significant and catastrophic. This is something that Allah mentions in the Holy Qur'an:

“Had Allah not checked one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed have been full of corruption; but Allah is full of bounty to all the worlds” [The Qur'an: al-Baqarah 2:251]

In another passage, we find:

“Had Allah not checked one set of people by means of another, there would have been monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques demolished, in which the name of Allah is mentioned much.” [The Qur'an: al-Hajj 22:40]

There is also no doubt that just as there are armies who defend the oppressed and liberate those living in tyranny, there are armies who invade countries and attack their people, mercilessly killing and plundering resources for political and monetary gain. In Islamic history, there are those who have participated in the jihad of combat, and are regarded as heroes among the Muslims, defending the rights of the innocent, and fighting against tyranny; just there are those who use the concept of jihad to murder the innocent and terrorise the people. Both of these two groups of people recite the same parts of the Qur'an, but while one of them understands the passages in context, the other takes them out of context, in order to use Islam as an excuse for the corruption they seek to spread. An example of this is the oft-quoted passage of the Qur'an:

“And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and persecution is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al-Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.” [The Qur'an: al-Baqarah 2:191]

Those who wish to murder the innocent quote this passage as their justification, making the passage a general permission to kill all those who do not believe in the religion of Islam, as well as all those Muslims who do not approve of their actions. Now let us look at the passage in the context of the passage that comes before:

“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.” [The Qur'an: al-Baqarah 2:190]

and the passage that comes after:

“And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” [The Qur'an: al-Baqarah 2:192]

When we see the context, it becomes clear that the passage is speaking of a specific battle, at a specific time; exhorting the soldiers to fight against those who persecuted them and were actively fighting against them, whilst not transgressing against the innocent, and commanding them to cease hostilities if their enemies do so. In fact, jihad which has an element of combat is regulated by an extremely strict set of rules, coming long before the Geneva Convention established humanitarian treatment at times of war. From the regulations of combat in Islam are the following:

1. That no form of transgression or persecution be carried out against the enemy; action must be surgical, and responses to aggression just and appropriate: “Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.” [The Qur'an: al-Baqarah 2:190]

2. Not to continue fighting against those with whom there is a ceasefire, and to reach out for peaceful solutions to problems: “If they seek peace, then you seek peace. And trust in Allah for He is the One that hears and knows all things.” [The Qur'an: al-Anfaal 8:61]

3. The Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) “forbade the killing of women and children”. [Sahih Muslim, Book 19, Number 4320]

4. The forbidding of killing the wounded, mutilating the dead, and attacking those who take no part in the hostilities, as the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “ ..Do not behave treacherously, nor misappropriate war-booty, nor mutilate, nor kill children, nor the people in monasteries.” [Narrated by Ahmad, at-Tirmidhi].

5. Forbidding the burning of crops and the destruction of people's buildings livelihood. Abu Bakr, the best and most knowledgeable of the companions of the Messenger of Allah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), said: “I advise you ten things: Do not kill women or children or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place. Do not slaughter sheep or camels except for food. Do not burn bees and do not scatter them. Do not steal from the war booty, and do not be cowardly.” [al-Bukhari & others].

6. Forbidding the use of weapons that maim and do not kill cleanly and mercifully. The Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) forbade the use of the slingshot, saying, “It does not catch game, nor does it inflict defeat on the enemy, but breaks teeth and puts eyes out.” [Narrated by al-Bukhari & others].

7. Good treatment of captives and prisoners of war: “And they feed, for the love of Allah, the poor, the orphan, and the captive, (saying), 'We feed you seeking the face of Allah alone; no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks'” [The Qur'an: al-Insaan 76:8-9]

In summary, jihad is a word that means striving and struggle. It is associated with acts that are accompanied by hardship and require a person to strive and struggle to perform. It comprises many different efforts that a Muslim is required to perform – spiritual, intellectual, and physical. One aspect of many aspects of jihad is taking part in physical combat, in order to fight for justice and against tyranny. This kind of jihad is praiseworthy when done properly, as part of a legitimate and recognised army, just as those who fight to liberate the innocent from tyranny all over the world are regarded as heroes in their home nations and amongst the communities they serve and protect. This kind of jihad is often hijacked by those who seek to justify their own selfish political desires; however, they can only justify terrorism and murder by twisting passages of the Qur'an, and misquoting the texts of Islam, since the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) specifically prohibited transgression and persecution at times of war; the killing of women, children, and the elderly; the destruction of people's crops and livelihood; the use of weapons that maim rather than kill; the harsh treatment of captives; and many other rules and regulations.

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