Jihad – A Misunderstood Concept

The critics of Islam, insist that Islam and Muslims are openly hostile and intolerant towards communities other than their own. They refer to the Qur’anic verses that exhort the believers to fight the infidels, they point to the battles of early Islam and the eventual confrontation between the Crusaders and the Saracens or Moors, and now, the contemporary stereotype of the Arab “terrorist”. Islam is still imagined as threatening, fanatical, violent and alien by significant sections of the world’s media.

In formulating an answer to all of this, it is crucial to focus on a general definition of Islam, so as not to fall into any misunderstanding about Jihad and its place within the Din.The context and circumstance of Qur’anic revelation and Hadith are crucial in coming to terms with Jihad. It is an error to judge Islam and Muslims in the light of the kind of “Jihad” that has fallen victim to ideological tendencies. The critic also has to be wary of the interpretation of “Jihad” which is projected,and sometimes imposed, by the selective “religious reformism” so rampant today. They ignore central aspects of Islam’s intellectual heritage, selectively repress important figures and disregard Islam’s impeccable history of adherence to the standards of law and justice in affairs of state.

This being said, let us now consider the nature of Jihad more fully as it appears in the history and law of Islam. Jihad in Arabic means “to strive for some objective”. 

Thus, the common assumption, that Jihad is combat, is incorrect. In fact Jihad, in its technical meaning, has several branches, among which are the combative forms of Jihad.

Ibn Rushd, in his Muqaddimaat, divides Jihad into four kinds:
“Jihad by the heart;
Jihad by the tongue;
Jihad by the hand and
Jihad by the sword.”

He defines “Jihad by the tongue” as “to commend good conduct and forbid the wrong, like the type of Jihad Allah (swt) ordered us to fulfill against the hypocrites in His Words,

“O Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites” .


So the Prophet (peace be upon him) strove against the unbelievers by sword and against the hypocrites by tongue.”

Said Ramadan Buti, a contemporary Orthodox scholar from Syria states, in his seminal work on the subject Jihad in Islam “… even before he conducted Jihad by sword against the unbelievers, there is no doubt the Prophet (peace be upon him) invited these unbelievers peacefully, lodged protests against their beliefs and strove to remove their misgivings about Islam. When they refused any other solution, but rather declared a war against him and his message and initiated the fight, there was no alternative except to fight back.”

Striving against Evil desires of Lower Self(Nafs Al-Ammarah) is Jihad

Allah Most High said:
{And whosoever STRIVES (JAAHADA), STRIVES (YUJAAHIDU) only for himself} (Chapter 29:Verse 6)

{As for those who STRIVE (JAHADU) in Us (the cause of Allah), We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good doers.} (Chapter 29:Verse 69)

This is a Meccan Sura and the two verses refer to Jihad al-Nafs. There was no military jihad then.

Allah Most High said:
“By the nafs and the proportion and order given to it, and its inspiration as to its wrong and its right; Truly he succeeds who purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it”
(Chapter 91:Verse 7-10). This is also a Meccan Sura.

Without purification, the nafs remains a “soul that enjoins evil” (al-nafs al-ammara bil-su’) until it surrenders itself in total obedience to the call of animal passions and shaytan.

Allah Most High said:
{Have you seen the one who chooses for his god his own lust?} (Chapter 25:Verse 43)

“{He followed his own lust. Therefore his likeness is as the likeness of a dog; if you attack him he pants with his tongue out and if you leave him he pants with his tongue out}” (Chapter 7:Verse 176)

About the person who controlled the passion of his ego Allah says: {But as for him who feared to stand before his Lord and restrained his soul from lust, Lo! The garden will be his home} (Chapter 79:Verse 40-41)

All Meccan Surahs

The above are among the many Meccan verses and Suras enjoining jihad al-nafs.Such a command is not been given for military jihad, as there was no permission – much less an order – for such a jihad until the Madinan period.

Further, the Prophet said  upon him peace:
The mujahid is he who makes jihad against his nafs (ego) for the sake of obeying Allah.”

{Ibn Hibban (#1624, 2519): Authentic;- Shu`ayb al-Arna’ut (Commentary on Ibn Hibban): authentic;- al-Hakim: sahih;- `Iraqi confirms him;- it is also in Tirmidhi, Ahmad, and Tabarani}

The Prophet(peace be upon him) also said : “The strong one is not the one who overcomes people, the strong one is he who overcomes his nafs [ego].”

{Al-Haythami declared it authentic in Majma` al-Zawa’id.}

Man who is working to earn livelihood for family is in Jihad

Once  a man passed in front of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Sahaba(Radiyallahu Anhum) saw that he was making great efforts and showing intrest to earn  his livelihood.
They told the Prophet(peace be upon him), “O Rasulallah, If his efforts and intrest were for the religion, it would have been better”.
Prophet (peace be upon him) said , “If he is putting this struggle to bring up his small children, his efforts shall be counted in the Path of Allah, and if he is putting efforts to serve his old parents then his efforts shall be counted in the path of Allah, and if he is putting efforts for himself with the intention that he doesn’t have to ask from others then his efforts shall be counted in the path of Allah, but if his efforts are with the intention of showing superiority to others by earning more money and showing off then all his efforts shall be counted in the path of Satan.” 

{Reported in At-Tabrani}

Imam Gazali(RA) mentions in his book Kimiya’e Saadat quoting a pious person that,
” A honest businessman is a Mujahid, because Satan tries to tempt him to be dishonest in his trade but he struggles against him.”

Speaking truth in front of an oppressive ruler is Jihad

A  man asked: “What kind of jihad is better?”
The Prophet(peace be upon him) replied  upon him peace: “A word of truth spoken in front of an oppressive ruler.”

(Sunan Al-Nasa’I,Hadith #4209)

Jihad is inviting people to good

One form of Jihad, usually overlooked in today’s pursuit of newsworthy headlines, is the Jihad of presenting the message of Islam-da`wah. Thirteen years of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) 23-year mission consisted purely of this type of Jihad. Contrary to popular belief, the word Jihad and related forms of its root word jahada are mentioned in many Makkan verses in a non-combative context.

God states in the Qur’an, “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” 

[Chapter 16:Verse 125]

Calling people to Islam and making them acquainted with it in all its aspects through dialogue and kind persuasion is the first type of Jihad in Islam, in contrast to the imagined belief that Jihad  is only of the combative form. This is referred to in the Qur’an where Allah (swt) says,

so obey not the disbelievers, but strive against them (by preaching) with the utmost endeavor with it (the Qur’an)”

[Chapter 25:Verse 52]

Here the word “strive” i.e.jaahidu, is used to mean struggle by means of the tongue—preaching and exhortation—and to persevere despite the obstinate resistance of some unbelievers to the beliefs and ideals of Islam.Imam Nawawi in his book al-Minhaj, when defining Jihad and its different categories, said, “one of the collective duties of the community as a whole (fard kifaya) is to lodge a valid protest, to solve problems of religion, to have knowledge of Divine Law, to command what is right and forbid wrong conduct”.

Propogating knowledge is also Jihad

The explanation of Jihad in Imam al-Dardir’s book Aqarab al-Masalik is that it is propagating the knowledge of the Divine Law commending right and forbidding wrong. He emphasized that it is not permitted to skip this category of Jihad and implement the combative form, saying, “the first [Islamic] duty is to call people to enter the fold of Islam, even if they had been preached to by the Prophet (s) beforehand.” Similarly, Imam Bahouti commences the chapter on Jihad in his book Kashf al-Kinaa by showing the injunctions of collective religious duties (kifaya) that the Muslim Nation must achieve before embarking on combative Jihad, including preaching and education about the religion of Islam, dismissing all the uncertainties about this religion and making available all the skills and qualifications which people might need in their religious, secular, physical and financial interests because these constitute the regulations of both this life and the life to come. Hence, da`wah—performing the activities of propagating Islam and its related fields of knowledge—is the cornerstone of the ‘building’ of Jihad and its rules; and any attempt to build without this ‘stone’ would damage the meaning and reality of Jihad.

Removing all misconceptions and stereotypes in clarifying the image of Islam held by non-Muslims, building a trusting relationship and working with them in ways that accord with their way of thinking, are all primary forms of Jihad. Similarly, establishing a strong community and nation which can fulfill all physical needs of its people, thereby creating for them conditions in which the message will be heard, rather than being lost in the strife and struggle of everyday life, are requirements and form a basic building block of the Jihadic concept. These foundations fulfill the Qur’anic injunction,

Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: and these it is that shall be successful.” 


Perfect Hajj(Pilgrimage)  is Jihad

Hazrat A’isha, Allah be well-pleased with her, asked: ‘Messenger of Allah, we see jihad as the best of deeds, so shouldn’t we join it?’
He replied, ‘But the best jihad is a perfect Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah).'” 

{Sahih Al-Bukhari #2784}

Serving parents is also Jihad

On another occasion, a man asked: “Should I join the jihad?”
The Prophet asked  upon him peace, “Do you have parents?”
The man said, “Yes.”
The Prophet(Peace be upon him) said: “Then do jihad by serving them!” 

{Sahih Al-Bukhari #5972}