Jihad: one of the most misunderstood concepts in Islam
by M. Amir Ali, Ph.D.
“Islam” and other various Islamic terms and concepts are grossly misunderstood in the West. Muslims can hardly find anyone to blame but themselves because (a) they have failed to live by the Islamic tenants in our times, and (b) they have failed to promote understanding of Islam in the West through outreach projects. This brochure is a humble attempt to briefly explain the terms given in the title. The Institute of Islamic Information & Education (III&E) has published almost fifty brochures and several articles for promoting understanding of Islam among Muslims and non-Muslims equally. Please write to the III&E or visit their web site for more information.
Some of the Islamic Terms
- Islam means a commitment to live in peace through submission to the Will of God (Allah).
- Muslim is a person who makes a commitment to live in peace through servitude to Allah.
- Jihad means “struggle” and “strive” against evil thoughts, evil action and aggression against a person, family, society or country. Jihad may be a “justifiable war”, borrowing the Christian term.
- Mujahid is a person who engages in Jihad for the sake of Allah according to the Qur’an (Muslim’s source book for guidance) and Sunnah (the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him). Mujahideen is the plural of Mujahid.
- “Islamic terrorism” – There is no such phrase or term in the Islamic source books of the Qur’an or the Sunnah and has no place in Islam.
- Sunnah – Sunnah is the preferred way of the Prophet Muhammad that includes his teaching. The sources of the Sunnah are authentic Hadith (reports of the Prophet’s sayings, doings and approvals) collections.
The True Meaning of “Jihad”
Jihad is usually associated with Islam and Muslims, but in fact, the concept of Jihad is found in all religions including Christianity, Judaism and political/economic ideologies, such as, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, etc. Islam defines Jihad as striving and struggling for improvement as well as fighting back to defend one’s self, honor, assets and homeland. Also, Jihad is interpreted as the struggle against evil, internal or external of a person or a society. Jihad, in Islam, means doing any or all but not limited to the following:
- Learn, teach, and practice Islam in all aspects of one’s life at all times to reach the highest and best education in order to benefit oneself, family and society.
- Be a messenger of Islam everywhere, in every behavior and action.
- Fight evil, wrongdoing, and injustice with all one’s power by one’s hand (action), with one’s tongue (speech), or at least with one’s heart (prayer).
- Respond to the call for Jihad with money, effort, wisdom and life; yet, never fight a Muslim brother, a Muslim country, or a non-Muslim society that respects its treaties and harbors no aggressive designs against Islam or Muslims.
- Suicide under any pretext is not condoned as Jihad in Islam.
- Converting people to Islam by force or coercion is never Jihad but a crime, punishable by law.
- The promise of “70 or 72 virgins” is fiction written by some anti-Islam bigots.
The Levels of Jihad
- A personal struggle within one’s self to submit to Allah, fight evil within one’s self, achieve higher moral and educational standards – Inner Jihad.
- Jihad against evil, injustice and oppression within one’s self, family and society – Social Jihad.
- Jihad against all that prevents Muslims from servitude to God (Allah), people from knowing Islam, defense of a Muslim society (country), retribution against tyranny, and/or when a Muslim is removed from their homeland by force – Physical Jihad or an armed struggle.
The Qur’an defines physical Jihad as being the highest level of Jihad that one can undertake. Its reward is eternal Paradise. Muslims also know that all humans are accountable for what they have done during their life on this earth. Muslims will be asked about what they did with their lives and their level of submission to Allah on the Day of Judgment.
Does Jihad mean Holy War?
In Islam, there is no such thing as holy war. This terminology was generated in Europe during the Crusades and their war against Muslims. Islam recognizes Jews and Christians as the “People of the Book” because they all follow the Prophet Abraham, believing in Moses’ and Jesus’ teachings. For many centuries, Muslims have peacefully coexisted with Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths, maintaining social, business, political and economic treaties. Islam respects all humans and faiths as long as there is no religious oppression, forbidding Muslims from serving Allah, preventing others from learning about Islam, and not respecting treaties. For more information on the topic of Jihad see the brochure Jihad Explained or request brochure #18 from the III&E, the publisher of this article.
Who is authorized to call for Jihad as a war?
Jihad must be performed according to Islamic rules and regulations and only for the sake or in the service of Allah. The physical or military Jihad must be called by a Muslim authority, such as, a president or head of a Muslim country after due consultations with the learned leadership.
What Does Islam Say about Terrorism?
The term “terrorism” does not exist in the Qur’an or the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. If the terms “terrorist or terrorism” are derived from a verb used in the Qur’an, such as 5:33 describing a “Muslim’s” terrorist acts, it is in condemnation and prescribes most severe punishment. Islam is a religion and a way of life that does not separate politics from religion. Islam is a religion of mercy, unity and most importantly peace with one’s self and others, to defend not to fight. Allah said in His Book the Qur’an:
“God does not forbid you from showing kindness and dealing justly with those who have not fought you about religion and have not driven you out of your homes, that you should show them kindness and deal justly with them. God loves just dealers.” (Qur’an 60:8)
“Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not begin aggression. for God loves not aggressors.” (Qur’an 2:190)
“If they seek peace, then seek you peace and trust in God for He is the Hearer, the Knower.” (Qur’an 8:61)
“… and let not the hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is next to piety; and fear Allah, for Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (Qur’an 5:8)
“But (remember that an attempt at) requiting evil may, too, become an evil: hence whoever pardons (his foe) and makes peace, his reward rests with Allah- for, verily He does not love transgressors.” (Qur’an 42:40)
“The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he between whom and thee there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a bosom friend. (Qur’an 41:34)
Some of the Prophet Muhammad’s Teachings (Sunnah)
- He prohibited Muslim soldiers from killing women, children and the elderly, or cut a palm tree, and he advised them, “… do not betray, do not be excessive, do not kill a newborn child.”
- “Whoever has killed a person having a treaty with the Muslims shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise, though its fragrance is found for a span of forty years.”
- “The first cases to be adjudicated between people on the Day of Judgment will be those of bloodshed.” Killing is the second major sin in Islam.
- “Truly your blood, your property, and your honor are inviolable.”
- “There is a reward for kindness shown to every living animal or human.”
Islam and Human Rights
- The Qur’an and Sunnah encourage Muslims to respect the life and property of all mankind.
- In an Islamic State these rights are considered sacred, whether a person is Muslim or not.
- Islam protects honor, forbids insulting others, and/or making fun of them.
- Islam rejects certain individuals or nations being favored because of their wealth, power, and/or race.
- All Muslims believe that Allah created all humans free and equal, only to be distinguished from each other on the basis of God-consciousness or piety and never on the basis of race, color or ethnicity.
Islam is a practical religion that respects all human beings and it was revealed for all mankind. Its message is that of peace and submission to Allah. Muslims believe in all the Prophets mentioned in the Bible, and the Qur’an. The Qur’an shares many moral teachings of the Old Testament and the New Testament. These three religions (and their books) were founded upon the revelations by One True God, Allah. For more information on this topic please see the brochure Human Rights In Islam or ask for brochure #7 from the III&E, the publisher of this article.
Jihad in the Bible
Let us see what the Bible has to say about Jihad in the meaning of war and violence. The following verses are from the Bible, New International Version (NIV), 1984, italics added.
“Do not allow a sorceress to live. Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death. Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed. Exodus 22:18-20
“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded and that day about three thousand of the people died.” Exodus 32:27-28
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites…. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps…. (Moses ordered) “Now kill all the boys. And kill every women who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Numbers 31: 1-18
(Jesus said) “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.” Luke 19:27
“He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Luke 22:36
Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness. If an individual Muslim were to commit an act of terrorism, this person would be guilty of violating the basic tenants of Islam. When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City building, no American or Christian was labeled as a terrorist or was the target of hate crimes. When Irish Christians carry out acts of terrorism against each other and on the British Isles, the Christian religion is not blamed but individuals or their political agenda. Unfortunately, the same is not true for American Muslims and Arabs. The vast majority of Muslims or Arabs have no association with the violent events around the world yet Islam is invoked with terrorism. It is unfair to 1.5 billion Muslims of the world and religion of Islam.
Criteria of guilt
Innocent until proven guilty in an open court is an accepted universal principle of justice along with liberty and freedom for all humankind. However, the U.S. failed to practice the same principles for those who are not U.S. nationals. Even worse, the U.S. is creating military tribunal for secret trials because there may be inadequate evidence to prove Arabs and Muslims guilty in open courts.
May Allah bless us all and purify our hearts from all misunderstanding, malice, hate and anger.