The meaning and scope of Jihad

JihadThe 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York not only killed 3000 innocent people, they sowed seeds of hatred between the West and Muslims. The wretched process of demonisation was unleashed on both sides; Islamophobia (the dread and hatred of Islam) on the one hand and anti-West rhetoric on the other. In this clash of the extremists many things have become confused and misunderstood, in particular the concept of jihad described as ‘holy war’ or ‘terrorism’. In this article I will shed light on the true meaning of Jihad from contemporary and classical scholars, and show how important Jihad is for bettering the human condition.

Righab Al-Asfhani in ‘Mufradat’ defines Jihad: Al Jihad and Al Mujahada mean; to exert  utmost effort in defending oneself against the enemy, there are three types of Jihad:

  • Fighting the enemy
  • Fighting the shaitan
  • Fighting oneself

Effort means a strenuous physical or mental exertion, a vigorous or a determined attempt at achieving one’s goal, it’s making determined efforts in difficult situations. (Oxford dictionary) In this essay I want to show that Jihad is an important duty of every Muslim; the concerted effort to stand up for justice and peace, in defensive war against the enemy of homeland, and continuous war with ones passions and ego and frequent fights with Satan.

Jihad in the writings of Imam Nawawi, Razi and Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani

In his most famous collection of ahadith ‘Riyaz ussaliheen’ Imam Nawawi has a book dedicated to Jihad.  It opens with six powerful verses: praising the Mujahideen urging them to fight in Allah’s way, and the wonderful merits awarded to them. He then cites 68 rigorously authenticated ahadith. For example: The prophet was asked ‘which is the best deed?’ He said, “Faith in Allah and his messenger”. He was then asked, “Then which?” He replied, “Fighting in Allah’s way and again it was said “then which?” He said, “A properly preformed Hajj”.

Followed by a hadith, which praise the soldiers defending the borders and living in the forts; then a hadith praising the mujahedeen; the Prophet said, “The dusty feet of a mujahid will not be touched by hell fire”.

The chapter continues with stories about disciples’ eagerness to fight, being prepared, training for jihad, and keeping horses for jihad.  A Bedouin once asked the prophet “a person fights for the booty, another one for chivalry and the third one to show off.” The prophet replied ‘he who fights to raise Allah’s word is the one who is in Allah’s way.’

The penultimate hadith is: The prophet said, “Never wish to fight the enemy, if you do meet him then be patient”. (Agreed upon) The final hadith reveals the nature of fighting, “War is trickery”.

Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani (d. 852 AH)

In Fath hul Bari the famous commentary on Sahih Bukhari Ibn Hajar says, “Al Jihad literally means toiling, labouring, facing hardship and difficulty and in Shariah it means: exerting and struggling against the infidels it is also used for ‘mujahada tu shaitan’ struggling against the devil to reject his suggestions to commit evil and his temptation for lust”.

Bukhari’s book of Al Jihad Was-sair (Book for fighting and marching) has 199 sections containing 308 ahadith; extolling, praising and teaching about every aspect of Jihad. It outlines the different categories of a mujahedeen, the hours in paradise, the wish to become a martyr, the one who fights to raise the Divine name, the excellence of being a martyr, paradise lies under the shade of the sword, Chivalry in the battlefield. Women’s jihad: being mobilised for jihad, dividing the booty; how the angels shade the martyrs; the mujahids’ wish to return to the world once again to fight; encouragement to take part in Jihad, inviting people to Islam, etc.

From these two medieval jurists to contemporary scholars we see the formulation of classical doctrine of Jihad as war. The evidence is from dozens of Quranic verses which are plain and clear. The details provided in the ahadith literature further elaborate this doctrine of jihad as war against injustice and evil. Allah says, “And if Allah had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, corruption, chaos would certainly have devastated the earth: But Allah is limitless in his bounty unto all the worlds ”. (Baqarah:251)

In a similar verses in Surah Al Hajj Allah says, “If Allah had not allowed people to defend themselves against one another the monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques…would have been destroyed”.  (22:40) Here the justification for war is the defence of religious freedom.

In order to fully understand the significance of the term ‘Jihad’ we must look at some other forms of Jihad, so far we have seen that Jihad is in defensive war, to defend one’s country and one’s freedom of religion. It is narrated that when the prophet was returning to Medina either from the campaign of Tabuk or after the conquest of Makkah, he said, “We have j returned from a lesser Jihad to greater jihad”. He was asked, “What is this greater Jihad O Messenger?” He replied, “Disciplining oneself”. So here we come across another form of Jihad which is about self disciplining and exerting oneself to improve. The Quran tells us “surely the self constantly commands evil.” This is called  Nafse mmarah. However the human conscience which is the better part of our self is more critical, Nafsul Lawwamah.It is this constantly critical self that wages a war against the evil Nafse, and till it becomes  Nafse Mutmainah, perfect self. Allah describes it; ‘o peaceful self, return to your Lord happily. Enter among my slaves enter in my paradise ‘(89;27)

This greater Jihad is described in famous hadith; ‘My servant continues to draw near to me through voluntary worship until I love him; and when I love him I I am the hearing with which he hears, and the site with which he sees, and the hand with which she holds and the feet which he walks. ‘(Muslim) the best voluntary activity in the sight of Allah is Zikr, the divine remembrance, calling and praying to Allah, adoring and magnifying is Majesty. Explaining the benefit of this remembrance the Prophet said ‘for all things there is a polish that removes the rest and the polish of the heart is Allah’s remembrance. ‘(Bayhaqi)

The Quran also talks about a ‘great jihad’ it says, “Don’t follow the disbelievers, and strive against them using this (Quran) with ‘jihadan Kabeeran’ (a great struggle)”. (Al Furqan: 52)

In another words use rational arguments to convince them of the truth of Islam; “Use your intellect and wisdom to invite them to your Lord and argue with them in a beautiful manner.”

(An Nahl: 125) So the Jihad bil Quran is jihad using the Quran. In Makkah for thirteen years this was the Prophet’s only form of Jihad; every day challenging their ignorance. Imam Razi comments on the verses, ‘jihadan Kabeeran’ Although some take it to mean Qital, fighting, but this is a Makkan Surah, and the permission to fight was given in Madinah so it can not mean fighting”. The following verse of surah Hajj is also significant; it uses the word jihad in a wider sense than Jihad as war. The Quran comments: “And strive in Allah’s way as you ought to strive.” (Al Hajj:78)

Razi (d. 604 AH) asks ‘what is this jihad (striving)?’ He gives six meanings:

  • Fighting the disbelievers for the sake of Allah’s alone
  • The later generations must struggle for religion like the earlier generations
  • Not to fear criticism of one’s faith
  • Do good works purely for the sake of Allah
  • To make every effort to revive and establish the religion of Islam
  • Striving against the selfish passions and lowly desires: when the prophet returned from the campaign of Tabuk he said; “We have returned from a lesser jihad to a greater jihad”.

Jihad also implies the carrying out of all Divine commandments, putting religion into practice and avoiding the unlawful”. (Tafsir Kabeer Vol 2, P332)

Contemporary scholars on the concept of Jihad

The most common Quranic term for fighting is ‘Qital’. This occurs 44 times in different forms e.g. “And fight in God’s way those who fight you and do not transgress” (Al Baqarah: 190) “And fight in God’s way and remember God is all hearing and all knowing” (Al Baqarah: 244)

The Pakistani Jurist Pir Muhammad Karam Shah comments on these verses as follows: ‘In these verses the oppressed Muslims are being given Divine permission to use force against force. For fifteen years they had been bitterly persecuted and they endured patiently and silently. In order to understand the Quranic command of Jihad three things must be understood: 1) For what purpose 2) With whom 3) And what are the conditions for fighting. These eloquently and concisely answer these questions about the purpose of jihad it says, “In God’s way”, for upholding the truth and justice and not for looting, economic and industrial competition, racial prejudice or other lowly instincts. The believer does not fight for such degrading purpose. Who does he fight? The answer is “Those who fight you“ but with the condition: “you do not transgress”. When passions are inflamed and the fire of revenge is raging do not be unjust! Since “God does not befriend the transgressors”. Women, children, disabled, elderly, peasants, priests and labourers who are non-combatants should not be harmed in anyway (Zia ul Quran vol 1:P132).

Abdullah Yusuf Ali further endorses these views: “War is permissible in self-defence and under well defined limits. When undertaken it must be pushed with vigour, but not relentlessly, but only to reinforce peace and freedom for divine worship”. Further on he says: “Islam is the religion of peace, good will, mutual understanding and good faith. But it will not encourage wrongdoing, and its men will hold their lives cheap in defence of honour, justice and religion, which they hold sacred. Their ideal is that of heroic virtue combined with unselfish gentleness and tenderness, such as is exemplified in the life of the prophet (peace be upon him). They believe in courage, obedience, discipline, duty and constant striving by all means in their power, physical, moral, intellectual and spiritual for the establishment of truth and righteousness”.

Muhammad Asad a contemporary European commentator of the Quran understands the following from these verses: “These verses lay down unequivocally that only in self-defence (in the widest sense of the word) makes war permissible for the Muslims”. “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is wrongfully waged” (Al Hajj: 39). This verse lays down the fundamental principle of self-defence as the only possible justification of war” (The message of the Quran P51). Further evidence for the defensive war comes from the prophet’s march to Tabuk in the 9th year of Hijrah. When the Romans failed to appear on the battlefield, the Prophet did not go and attack. He returned home with his mighty army of 30,000 soldiers.

According to Murad Hoffman the concept of Jihad since the times of the crusades and the reconquering of Jerusalem by the Salah-ud-Din has been primarily understood in military terms (In Islam youth 21, Morality and materialism issue 5).