10 POINTS ON JIHAD
By Dr. M. Amir Ali / 23 Feb 2013
In the linguistic sense, the Arabic word “jihad” means struggling or striving and applies to any effort exerted by anyone. In this sense a student struggles and strives to get an education and pass course work; an employee strives to fulfill his/her job and maintain good relations with his/her employer; a politician strives to maintain or increase his popularity with his constituents and so on.
The term strive or struggle may be used for/by Muslims as well as non-Muslims; for example Allah says in the Qur’an:
“We have enjoined on people kindness to parents; but if they strive (jahadaka) to make you ascribe false deities along with Me that of which you have no knowledge, then don’t obey them…” (Qur’an 29:8) also see (Qur’an 31:15).
In the above two verses of the Qur’an, it is non-Muslim parents who strive (jahada) to convert their Muslim child back to their religion.
In the West, jihad is generally translated as holy war- a usage the media has popularized unknown to Islamic texts. According to Islamic teachings, it is unholy to instigate or start war; however, some wars are inevitable and justifiable. If we translate the words holy war into Arabic we get “harbun muqaddasatun” or for the holy war “al-harbu al-muqaddasatu”.We challenge any researcher or scholar to find this word in the Qur’an, authentic Hadith collections, or in the first few centuries Islamic literature. Unfortunately, some Muslim writers and translators of the Qur’an, the Hadith and other Islamic literature translate the term jihad as holy war, due to the influence of Western propaganda. This could be a reflection of the Christian use of the term “Holy War” to refer to the Crusades of a thousand years ago. However, the Arabic words for “war” are “harb” or “qital”, which are found in the Qur’an and Hadith.
For Muslims the term jihad is applied to all forms of striving and has developed some special meanings over time. The sources of this development are the Qur’an (the Word of Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺand the Hadith (teachings of Prophet Muhammad ﷺguided by Allah). The Qur’an and the Hadith use the word “jihad” in several different contexts which are given below:
1. Recognizing the Creator and loving Him most
It is human nature to love what is seen with the eyes and felt with the senses more than the UNSEEN REALITY. The Creator of the Universe and the One God is the Unseen Reality which we tend to ignore and not recognize. The Qur’an addresses those who claim to be believers:
“O you who believe! Don’t choose your fathers or your brethren for supporters if they choose disbelief over belief; whoever of you takes them for supporters, such are wrong-doers. Say: if you’re fathers, your children, your brethren, your spouses, your tribe, the wealth you have acquired, business for which you fear shrinkage, or houses you are pleased with are dearer to you than God and His Messenger and striving in His way: then wait till God brings His command to pass (Day of Judgment). God does not guide the rebellious.”(Qur’an 9:23-24)
It is indeed a struggle to put Allah ahead of our loved ones, our wealth, our worldly ambitions and our own lives. Especially for a non-Muslim who embraces Islam, it may be a tough struggle due to the opposition of his family, peers and society.
2. Resisting pressure of parents, peers, and society
Once a person has made up his mind to put the Creator of the Universe above all else, he often comes under intense pressures. It is not easy to resist such pressures and strive to maintain dedication and love of God over all else. A person who has turned to Islam from another religion may be subjected to pressures designed to turn him back to the religion of the family. We read in the Qur’an:
“So obey not those who reject faith, but strive (jahidhum) against them with it. This is a great endeavor.”(Qur’an 25:52)
So does this verse mean to throw the Qur’an at someone or does it mean to read the Qur’an learn the wisdom of God’s message and use that knowledge in presenting the truth to those who disbelieve? You tell us.
3. Staying on the straight path steadfastly
Allah says in the Qur’an:
“And strive for the sake of Allah with the best of your ability (jihadihi). He has chosen you and has not laid upon you any hardship …”(Qur’an,22:78)
“And whosoever strives, strives only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether independent of the universe (not in need of anything).”(Qur’an 29:6)
As for those who strive and struggle to live as true Muslims while their lives are made difficult due to persecution by their opponents, they are advised to migrate to a more peaceful and tolerant land and continue with their struggle in the cause of Allah. ALLAH says in the Qur’an:
“Lo! As for those whom the angels take (in death) while they were unjust to themselves, (the angels) will ask: How did you live your life? They will say: We were oppressed in the land. (The angels) will say: was not God’s earth spacious that you could have migrated therein? …” (Qur’an 4:97)
Allah tests the believers in their faith and their steadfastness:
“Or did you think that you would enter Paradise while you haven’t showed Allah those of you who really (jahadoo) strive, or those (of you) who are perseverant.”(Qur’an 3:142)
“And surely We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and fruits; but give glad tidings to the steadfast.”(Qur’an 2:155)
We find that the Prophet Muhammadﷺand his clan were boycotted socially and economically for three years to force him to stop his message and compromise with the pagans but he resisted and saw a moral victory thereafter.
4. Striving for righteous deeds
Allah declares in the Qur’an:
“As for those who (jahadoo) strive in the cause of God, We will surely guide them to our righteous ways, and lo! Allah is with the pious.”(Qur’an 29:69)
When we are faced with two competing interests, it becomes jihad to choose the right one, as the following Hadith exemplifies.
Aisha, wife of the Prophet ﷺ asked,
“O Messenger of Allah, we see jihad as the best of deeds, so shouldn’t we join it?” He ﷺ replied, But, the best of Jihad is a perfect Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah).”(Bukhari)
At another occasion a man asked the Prophet Muhammadﷺ:
“Should I join the Jihad? He ﷺasked, “Do you have parents?” The man said, Yes! The Prophetﷺsaid, “Then strive (Jahid) by (serving) them! (Bukhari)
Yet another man asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ:
“What kind of Jihad is better? He replied, A word of truth in front of an oppressive ruler!” (Al-Nasa’i)
The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad ﷺsaid: “… the mujahid (one who carries out jihad) is he who strives against himself (his desires) for the sake of obeying Allah, and the muhajir (one who emigrates) is he who abandons evil deeds and sin.” (Ibn Hibban)
5. Having courage and steadfastness to convey the message of Islam
The Qur’an narrates the experiences of a large number of Prophets and good people who suffered a great deal trying to convey the message of Allah to mankind. For examples see the Qur’an 26:1-190, 36:13-32. In the Qur’an, Allah specifically praises those who strive to convey His message:
“Who is better in speech than one who calls (other people) to God, works righteous, and declares that he is from the Muslims.”(Qur’an 41:33)
Under adverse conditions it takes great courage to remain a Muslim, declare oneself to be a Muslim and call others to Islam. We read in the Qur’an:
“The (true) believers are only those who believe in Allah and his messenger and afterward doubt not, but strive (Jahadoo) with their wealth and themselves for the cause of Allah. Such are the truthful.”(Qur’an 49:15)
6. Defending Islam and the community
Allah declares in the Qur’an:
“Permission is given (to defend themselves) to those who are being fought because they are wronged. Indeed, Allah is Most Powerful to give them victory – (they are) those who have been evicted from their homes without right – (for no cause) except that they say, ‘Our Lord is Allah’…”(Qur’an 22:39-40)
The Qur’an permits fighting to defend the religion of Islam and the Muslims. This permission includes fighting in self defense and for the protection of family and property. The early Muslims fought many battles against their enemies under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammadﷺor his representatives. For example, when the pagans of Quraish brought armies against Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the Muslims fought to defend their faith and community. The Qur’an adds:
“(Qatiloo) Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress limits. Indeed, God does not like the aggressors. … And fight them until persecution and turmoil is no more and the religion is for Allah (Muslims can freely worship). But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against agressors.”(2:190,193)
7. Helping allied people who may not be Muslim.
In the late period of the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺlife the tribe of Banu Khuza’ah became his ally. They were living near Makkah which was under the rule of the pagan Quraish, Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺown tribe. The tribe of Banu Bakr, an ally of Quraish, with the help of some elements of Quraish, attacked Banu Khuza’ah and inflicted heavy damage. Banu Khuza’ah invoked the treaty and demanded Prophet Muhammad ﷺto come to their help and punish Quraish. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺorganized a campaign against Quraish of Makkah which resulted in the conquest of Makkah which occurred without any battle.
8. Removing treacherous people from power
Allah orders the Muslims in the Qur’an:
“If you fear treachery from any group, throw back (their treaty) to them, (so as to be) on equal terms. Lo! Allah doesn’t like treacherous.”(Qur’an 8:58)
Prophet Muhammad ﷺundertook a number of armed campaigns to remove treacherous people from power and their lodgings. He ﷺhad entered into pacts with several tribes, however, some of them proved to be treacherous. Prophet Muhammad ﷺlaunched armed campaigns against these tribes, then defeated and exiled them from Madinah and its surroundings.
9. Defending through preemptive strikes
Indeed, it is difficult to mobilize people to fight when they see no invaders in their territory; however, those who are charged with responsibility see dangers ahead of time and must provide leadership. The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad ﷺ, had the responsibility to protect his people and the religion he established in Arabia. Whenever he received intelligence reports about enemies gathering near his borders he carried out preemptive strikes, broke their power and dispersed them. God ordered Muslims in the Qur’an:
“Fighting (qitaal) is prescribed upon you, and you dislike it. But it may happen that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that you love a thing which is bad for you. And Allah knows and you know not.”(Qur’an 2:216)
10. Gaining freedom to inform, educate and convey the message of Islam in an open and free environment
Allah declares in the Qur’an:
“They ask you (Muhammad) concerning fighting in the Sacred Month. Say, ‘Fighting (qitaal) therein is a grave (offense) but graver is it in the sight of Allah is to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its inhabitants. Persecution and turmoil is worse than killing. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith, if they…”(Qur’an 2:217)
“And those who, when oppressed, fight back.”(Qur’an 42:39)
The life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺwas full of striving to gain the freedom to inform and convey the message of Islam. During his stay in Makkah he used non-violent methods and after the establishment of his government in Madinah, by the permission of God, he used armed struggle against his enemies whenever he found it inevitable.
11. Freeing people from tyranny.
Allah admonishes Muslims in the Qur’an:
“And why should you not fight (qatiloo) in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? Men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose leaders are oppressive; and raise for us from You, one who will protect; and raise for us from You, one who will help’.”(Qur’an 4:75)
The mission of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺwas to free people from tyranny and exploitation by oppressive systems. Once free, individuals in the society were then free to chose Islam or not. Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺsuccessors continued in his footsteps and went to help oppressed people. For example, after the repeated call by the oppressed people of Spain to the Muslims for help, Spain was liberated by Muslim forces and the tyrant rulers removed. After the conquest of Syria and Iraq by the Muslims, the Christian population of reportedly said to the Muslims:
“We prefer your rule and justice much more than the state of oppression and tyranny under which we have been living.”
The defeated rulers of Syria were Roman Christians and Iraq was ruled by Zoroastrian Persians.
What should Muslims do when they are victorious?
Muslims should remove tyranny, treachery, bigotry, and ignorance and replace them with justice and equity. We should provide truthful knowledge and free people from the bondage of paganism, prejudice, superstition and mythology. Muslims remove immorality, fear, crime, exploitation and replace them with divine morality, peace and education. The Qur’an declares:
“Lo! God commands you that you restore wealth to its owners, and if you judge between mankind that you judge justly. Lo! It is proper that Allah admonishes you. Lo! Allah is the All-Hearing, All-Seeing.”(Qur’an 4:58)
“Oh you who believe, Be persistent in standing up for justice as witnesses to Allah, even if it is against yourselves, parents, or relatives. Whether against rich or poor, Allah is more worthy than all. So do not follow your desire, lest you be unjust. And if you distort the truth then Allah is definitely All-Aware of what you do.”(Qur’an 4:135)
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly as God’s witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is part of piety and fear Allah. And God is well acquainted with everything you do.”(Qur’an 5:8 )
“And of those whom We have created there is a nation who guides with the Truth and establishes justice with it.”(Qur’an,7:181 )
“Lo! Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorts you in order that you may take heed. ”(Qur’an 16:90 )
“Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish the prescribed prayers (salah) and pay the poor-due (zakah) and enjoin what is good and forbid evil. And with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs.”(Qur’an 22:41)
Did Islam spread by force, swords or guns?
The unequivocal and emphatic answer is NO! The Qur’an declares:
“Let there be no compulsion (or coercion) in the religion (Islam). The right direction is distinctly clear from error.”(Qur’an 2:256)
Here is a good study of the question of the spread of Islam by a Christian missionary, T.W. Arnold:
“… of any organized attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing. Had the Caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years. The Eastern Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of Christendom throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of the Mohammedan [Islamic] governments towards them.”
Islam does not teach nor do Muslims desire conversion of any people for fear, greed, marriage or any other form of coercion.
In conclusion, jihad in Islam is striving for the sake of Allah by pen, tongue, hand, media and, if inevitable, with arms. However, jihad in Islam does not include striving for individual or national power, dominance, glory, wealth, prestige or pride