Part 3: The concept of jihad

By Sultan Shahin

TIRUPATI, South India - A concept that has caused

enormous misgivings in the minds of Hindus and other

non-Muslims is the concept of jihad in Islam. Yet

understanding jihad is a sine qua non for a fruitful

dialogue between Islam and Hinduism. 

Let me start with the beginning of the Islamic history

of defensive wars. One of the early Muslims, Umayr ibn

al-Humam, was quietly eating a handful of dates as war

was raging around him at the battlefield of Badr, the

very first battle that the Muslims fought. He then

heard the Prophet promise immediate access to Paradise

for anyone martyred in the battle raging at the time.

"Fine! fine!", shouted out al-Humam, "Have I only to

get myself killed by these men to enter into

paradise?" He threw away his dates and, grasping his

sword, plunged into the thick of the battle and was

very soon killed. 

Many Muslims have since then thought that any war

characterized as jihad by some of the ulema (clerics)

is a potential passport to Heaven. If you fight with

enough fury and get yourself killed, you will be

instantaneously in Heaven. And what could be more

alluring than Paradise, with its rivers of milk and

honey and wine and unlimited supply of beautiful

houris (virgins)? This misunderstanding is so

widespread that fundamentalists have been able to

convince some people from various parts of the world

that even the massacre of innocent civilians,

including women and children, is an Islamic jihad

comparable to the battle of Badr. It is imperative

that Muslims the world over look at the issue from a

purely religious point of view, study their

scriptures, and take a clear stand against the

mindless massacres that do not have even the remotest

connection with jihad. 

For all we know, the anecdote related above may very

well be apocryphal. In any case, the Prophet used the

words "one who fights this day". God, too, had

permitted Muslims for the first time to fight in

self-defense, 14 years after the advent of Islam (AD

571). Why? 

Having faced relentless persecution for 13 years at

Mecca, the handful of people the Prophet had been able

to convert had migrated to neighboring Medina, both of

which are in modern-day Saudi Arabia. The Meccans had

attacked them there with a formidable army. The first

Koranic verse that permits war is very significant. It

specifically mentions the word "permission", and then

uses the passive voice permitting to fight only those

people against whom war is made. It talks about the

special circumstances of Meccan Muslims. It reads: "To

those against whom war is made, permission is given

[to fight], because they are wronged ... They are

those who have been expelled from their homes in

defiance of right, for no cause except that they say

'Our Lord is Allah'."(22:39-40) 

Thus fighting is permitted in this particular

situation, that, too, only in self-defense and at a

time when not only the life of those handful of

Muslims in Medina but the existence of Islam itself

was truly in danger of extinction. For those few

hundred Muslims represented the fruit of all of the

Prophet's exertion in the cause of Islam since he had

become the Prophet 14 years ago. That such a religion

that is so reluctant to allow its followers to fight,

even in self-defense, would permit senseless killings

of innocent civilians in the name of jihad is nothing

short of blasphemy. It is imperative, therefore, that

we try to understand the true meaning of the word

jihad that is being so misused today. 

According to Maulana Mohammad Ali in his book The

Religion of Islam, jihad, in Islamic terminology,

means to strive to one's utmost for what is the

noblest object on earth. There can be nothing nobler

for a Muslim than the earning of God's pleasure

through making a complete submission to His will. The

maulana explains: "A very great misconception prevails

with regard to the duty of jihad in Islam, and that is

that the word jihad is supposed to be synonymous with

war; and even the greatest research scholars of Europe

have not taken the pains to consult any dictionary of

the Arabic language or to refer to the Holy Koran, to

find out the true meaning of the word. The word jihad

is derived from jahd or juhd meaning ability, exertion

or power, and jihad and mujahida mean the exerting of

one's power in repelling the enemy." The same

authority then goes on to say: "Jihad is of three

kinds; viz, the carrying on of a struggle: 1 Against a

visible enemy, 2 Against the devil, and 3 Against

one's lower self [nafs]." 

According to another authority, jihad means fighting

with unbelievers, and that is an intensive form

(mubalagha) and exerting one's self to the extent of

one's ability and power, whether it is by word (qaul)

or deed (fi'l). A third authority gives the following

significance: "Jihad, from jahada, properly signifies

the using or exerting of one's utmost power, efforts,

endeavors or ability, in contending with an object of

disapprobation; and this is of three kinds, namely, a

visible enemy, the devil, and one's self; all of which

are included in the term as used in the Holy Koran. 

"Jihad is therefore far from being synonymous with

war, while the popular meaning of 'war undertaken for

the propagation of Islam', which is supposed by

European writers to be the real significance of jihad,

is unknown equally to the Arabic language and the

teachings of the Holy Koran. Equally, or even more

important, is the consideration of the sense in which

the word is used in the Holy Koran. Permission to

fight was given to the Muslims when they had moved to

Medina. But the injunction relating to mujahideen is

contained in the earlier as well as in the later Mecca

revelations. Thus, the Ankabut, the 29th chapter of

the Holy Koran, is one of a group which was

undoubtedly revealed in the fifth and sixth years of

the Call of the Prophet, yet there the word jihad is

freely used in the sense of exerting one's power and

ability, without implying any war. In one place, it is

said, 'And those who strive hard [jahadu] for us, we

will certainly guide them in our ways, and Allah is

surely with the doers of good'. (29:69) 

"The Arabic word jahadu is derived from jihad or

mujahida, and the addition of fina [for us] shows, if

anything further is needed to show it, that the jihad,

in this case, is the spiritual striving to attain

nearness to God, and the result of this jihad is

stated to be God's guiding those striving in His ways.

The word is used precisely in the same sense twice in

a previous verse in the same chapter: 'And whoever

strives hard [jahadu], he strives [yujahidu] only for

his own soul', that is, for his own benefit, 'for

Allah is self-sufficient, above need of the worlds'

(29:6). In the same chapter the word is used in the

sense of a contention carried on in words: 'And we

have enjoined on man goodness to his parents, and if

they contend [jahada] with thee that thou shouldst

associate others with Me, of which thou hast no

knowledge, do not obey them'." (29:8) 

According to Maulana Sadruddin Islahi, a revered

ideologue of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, jihad

fi Sabilillah (striving in the way of Allah) literally

means to strive every nerve for the achievement of an

object, to exhaust all of one's energies for the

attainment of an ideal. Therefore, to strive in the

way of Allah; for obedience of the divine injunctions

and for bearing witness of the truth is jihad. Islam,

according to Maulana Islahi, has laid down the

following three principal forms of jihad, which can be

adopted according to the exigencies of the

circumstances: Internal jihad; jihad through knowledge

and invitation; jihad through war. 

Internal jihad, according to him, enjoins war against

such evils as may crop up within Muslim society. Such

evils should be nipped in the bud because they pose a

big threat to Islam. In fact they are a serious danger

for Islam and the Holy Prophet has warned against

them. To strive for the truth, therefore, is nothing

but jihad fi Sabilillah, in the view of the Jamaat


The second form of jihad in the view of Maulana Islahi

is "jihad through intelligence and invitation". This

form of jihad enjoins that the doubts expressed about

Islam are so completely answered that no doubt,

objection or argument leaves any ambiguity about any

aspect of Islam. The Meccan period of the Holy

Prophet's life was entirely one of jihad, though, of

course, Muslims had not yet been allowed to fight even

in self-defense. Allah ordained the Holy Prophet: "So

obey not the disbelievers, but strive against them

here with the Koran with a great endeavor." (25:22) In

a jihad of this type, one is armed with the weapon of

reason and intelligence provided to us by the Holy

Koran. The Koran has laid down a basic principle for

fighting this type of war. It enjoins: "And reason

with them in a better way." (16:125) 

The quality of a method can be determined by the

success it attains. The right course and the Koranic

way of discussion for disseminating Islam can only be

such as would bring the listener close to the

preacher, convince him of the veracity of his

contention and open his heart for accepting the truth.

This can only happen when the words spoken are fully

of rational appeal and have full regard for the level

of understanding of the audience. Equally important is

the spirit of the language he uses. It must be infused

with true passion and sincerity. According to the

maulana, another requisite of this jihad is patience

and perseverance. Though apparently, supplementary in

character, it has great importance and is

indispensable for the success of this endeavor. 

Maulana Islahi explains physical jihad or qitalin the

following words: "The third form of jihad, ie jihad

with physical force, is enjoined against those who

obstruct the way of Islam. This has to continue until

the way is cleared. It is the final aspect of jihad

and its other name is qital [fighting]. Practically

this is the most difficult and crucial form of jihad,

but it has great importance for the perpetuation of

the religion ... The order for fighting has been given

to bring the state of mischief to an end and to clear

the way for a life that is governed by divine

injunctions and steeped in the remembrance of Allah.

Fitna is a technical term of the Koran and signifies a

situation wherein people are denied the right to

follow Islam and stopped for worshipping their real

master. It is a crime that has no parallel. So much so

that even the crime of murdering an innocent person

pales into insignificance before it. The reason being

that if a person is murdered, he is deprived of the

short course of worldly life, whereas if a person is

stopped from the worship of Allah and he is prevented

from becoming a true slave of his Lord, his life is

brought to ruin and he is deprived of the eternal

blessings in the after-life." 

The obstructions which the believers have been

ordained to remove by means of force are not always

similar in nature. Naturally, the measures to tackle

them cannot be similar either. A survey of these

obstructions has shown that in principle they are of

two kinds: 

1. Obstructions concerning those who have already

embraced Islam. Those who have come to the fold of

Islam are teased and tortured for their "offence" of

accepting the religion. They are compelled to abandon

their new faith and physical force is used against

them for this purpose. 

2. Obstructions concerning non-Muslims. Muslims are

not permitted to present Islam to non-Muslims, or such

a system is imposed on them wherein the non-Muslims do

not get an opportunity to see Islam closely. 

As these obstructions are of two kinds, the jihad to

tackle them is also of two types. As far as the first

kind of obstruction is concerned, it is not only very

hard and unpleasant but extremely aggressive also. The

step taken for fighting it would be, therefore,

appropriate to call it a defensive war. At first Allah

ordained the Muslims for the defensive war because the

obstructions, for the removal of which they were

ordered to wage a war, had already manifested

themselves. The divine order stated: "Sanction is

given unto those who fight because they have been

wronged: and Allah is indeed able to give them

victory; those who have been driven from their homes

unjustly because they said: 'Our Lord is Allah'."


This verse was revealed to the Holy Prophet during the

Medinan period. It contains the justification of the

divine order as well. Muslims were permitted to raise

arms against the Quraish of Mecca because they were

subjected to aggression by them. They were permitted

to wage a war as they were attacked. This contention

was persistently repeated as long as the state of war

with Quraish continued. All the battles which were

fought during that period were of a defensive nature. 

In respect of the second type of jihad, two things

should be borne clearly in mind. First: It is not the

intention of this jihad to compel people to accept

Islam. Acceptance of Islam is something which relates

to the heart, and the heart of a man cannot be forced

on anyone. It has been frequently repeated in the

Koran that had Allah desired, He would have created

all mankind as Muslims, or would have compulsorily

made them Muslims after their creation. "Had Allah

willed, He could have guided all mankind." (13:31) He

would not have left it to His Prophet or his followers

to make them Muslims perforce. Allah has openly

declared that in the matter of religion, man has been

created free. He is not to be forced for it: "There is

no compulsion in religion." (2:56) In such a

situation, how could He regard it fair that in the

case of Islam the compulsion, not exercised by Him,

was permitted to His Prophets and His worthy slaves?

This divine injunction makes it abundantly clear that

no person will ever be compelled to accept Islam.

Everyone enjoys complete freedom in this respect. He

may accept Islam if he likes or reject it if he so


Secondly: jihad is by no means a campaign to elevate a

community to the position of the ruling class and to

reduce the other to slavery. It has not even the

remotest concern with what is now called imperialism

or capitalism. 

Pre-conditions for jihad 

Of utmost importance in this discussion are the

pre-conditions for what Maulana Islahi calls physical

jihad or qital. Jihad, he says, cannot be made at

whim. It is permissible under certain specific

conditions. It will not be valid unless the conditions

laid down for it are present. Such a war which is

waged regardless of the prescribed pre-conditions will

have no value. It will not be a jihad at all. Nor

would it be entitled to any reward. It will be instead

a cause for the displeasure of Allah. 

The pre-conditions for physical jihad are as follows: 

1. Those who go for jihad should be free and

independent Muslims and must have a collective social

system of their own and must be led by a caliph or

amir (chief). In the absence of such a system, any act

of war (jihad) is forbidden. An act of war, even of a

defensive nature, can only be taken in a free

atmosphere under the leadership of an authorized


This is the reason why the Holy Prophet was not

permitted to raise arms in self-defense during the

period of his stay in Mecca, when he was not free to

carry out his missionary activities, although the

aggression of the Quraish had reached a climax.

Permission for jihad was granted after his migration

to Medina when he was living in a free atmosphere and

where, under his leadership, an organized Islamic

state had emerged. Similar was the case of other

prophets whose invitation to divine religion had

entered the phase of physical jihad. As long as this

condition is not fulfilled, to undergo trials and

tribulations for the sake of religion, without raising

arms, constitute real jihad. 

2. Sufficient force to combat with the enemy is

available because the divine Injunction repeatedly

emphasises: "No one should be charged beyond his

capacity." (2:235) On the basis of this principle it

has been ordained in the Koran: "So keep your duty to

Allah as best as you can." (4:16) 

3. Jihad should be exclusively for the sake of Allah

and the sole aim of those engaged in jihad should be

no other than the service of the religion and the

glorification of Allah. The singular aim of those who

participate in jihad should be eradication of evil and

advancement of goodness and justice. All this struggle

should be done with the one and only objective of

winning the pleasure of Allah. They would have

absolutely no other motive in that noble war. When the

Holy Prophet was asked that different people fight for

different motives: one fights for the booty, another

for fame and the third one for the honor of his

country, nation or tribe or some similar cause, out of

them whose fighting is for the sake of Allah? He

replied: "He who fights for the glorification of

Allah's name, his fighting alone is for the sake of


A struggle for national existence was forced on the

Muslims when they reached Medina, and they had to take

up the sword in self-defense. This struggle went also,

and rightly, under the name of jihad; but even in

Medina the word is used in the wider sense of a

struggle carried on by words or deeds of any kind. 

Muslims must remember that they have to consult the

Holy Koran for guidance in their day-to-day affairs.

The model they are supposed to follow is that of the

Prophet Mohammed and not destroyers of mosques like

Mast Gul. As we have noted earlier, Islam did not

allow its followers to pick up a weapon, even in their

defense, for the first 13 years, even though they were

facing the worst possible persecution in Mecca. They

were "permitted" to defend themselves for the first

time in Medina when they were facing aggression. Had

they not defended themselves, even then they would

have been surely wiped out from the face of the earth,

thus sounding the death-knell for the religion of

Islam as well. 

But only a few years later, when the Prophet had

become powerful enough to wage a war with Meccans, he

chose peace, even on terms that were considered

humiliating by most of his followers. He signed a

peace agreement known as the Treaty of Hudaibiya. And

then when he entered Mecca victorious, a year later,

facing no resistance, he chose to grant a general

amnesty for all, even for those who had mutilated the

dead bodies of his close relatives, like his maternal

uncle Hazrat Hamza. 

Compassion is the core of Islam 

The revelation of divinity in Islam is specifically

described as compassion: Allah is Rahman-ir-Rahim -

the very acme of kindness and compassion. Although

Allah has 99 names, depicting all his varied

attributes, He is known in the Holy Koran mostly as

Rahman and Rahim. 

Some Koranic statistics would probably help at this

point. The word merciful, most merciful, most gracious

(Rahman-ir-Rahim) is used 124 times in the Koran. The

word mercy is used 173 times. Contrast this with the

usage of the words wrath and wrathful. The word wrath

or anger appears thrice in the entire Koran - ( Sura

al-Fatiha 1.07, al-Baqra 2.90, and al-Imran 3.11) The

word wrathful or angry occurs four times in the entire

Koran - Surah al-Mada, al-Fatah, al-Mujadila and


It is clear that God is conceived in Islam as the

personification of compassion, though, of course, in

the course of His work, helping the spiritual growth

of humanity, He may occasionally need to present

Himself as wrathful. Any parent or teacher who has

tried to help his children or students would testify

to the occasional need for doing this. But that

doesn't make Allah as an embodiment of wrath, an

entity to be feared, as some Islamic theologians are

prone to do. 

Fundamentalists are killing people and oppressing

humanity under the garb of preaching Islam and

enforcing Islamic Sharia for which they really have no

authority. If they were to look at the conduct of the

Prophet Mohammed in this regard, they would have a

completely different picture. According to Maulana

Mohammad Ali, when the Prophet grew worried that

people did not pay attention to his words and did not

try to understand them, they were admonished in this

way: "If Allah willed, all who are on the earth would

have believed [in Him]. Would thou [Mohammed] compel

men until they are believers?" (10:99) 

The Prophet Mohammed often came across people who were

completely unresponsive to his words, while others

were stirred, believed and were prepared to listen. In

dealing with the former, he occasionally grew

impatient and felt frustrated. The Koran counsels him

to be patient, forgiving and tolerant. It warns him

against the temptation to impose his views on them:

"Haply you will kill yourself with grief - if they

believe not in this message." (18:6) 

The Prophet is assured that if he has placed the true

view, in simple terms, before the people, he has

fulfilled his mission. More than this is not expected

of him. It is not his duty to see that the view is

accepted by the people. His duty is only to tell them

which is the right path and which the wrong one and to

acquaint them with the consequences of following the

one or the other. They are free to choose for

themselves. God does not want to force people to

accept His guidance. He has endowed man with the

powers of understanding, judgment and free choice. If

man makes use of these powers he can understand the

revelation and can profit by the guidance offered

therein. He must bear the consequences of his choice,

whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. 

So if the Prophet did not have the power to compel

people to accept Islam, even after he had acquired

temporal power over most of Arabia, who are the

present-day fundamentalists to try to impose their

view of Islam even on a Muslim population? Obviously,

they have no business behaving the way they are doing

and need to be condemned by all, particularly Muslims,

because they are giving such a bad name to Islam,

apart from oppressing humanity in the name of a

religion that came to the world as a blessing of

Allah. Let us try and keep Islam as a blessing and not

allow it to be turned into a tool for oppression. 

Later Koranic verses set down rules and regulations of

war with a view to preserving human rights of the

civilian populations, as well as prisoners of war. If

Islam spread like wild fire in its initial years, it

was largely because it had truly civilized the Bedouin

population of Arabia, converting them into fine

specimens of humanity. Muslims of today are, of

course, not comparable to the Prophet's companions.

But we, too, owe it to ourselves and to our faith that

we do not allow fundamentalists to denigrate the

concept of jihad in Islam. Characterizing the mindless

massacres of innocent people as jihad is nothing short

of blasphemy. 

NEXT: Part 4: Similarity of two divine messages 

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