Jihad series: Does the doctrine of jihad advocate aggression and terror?

Jihad series: Does the doctrine of jihad advocate aggression and terror?

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There is a common misconception among many
Muslims and non-Muslims that the Islamic concept of jihad somehow accommodates ideas such as
terrorism or aggression against innocents. The word “jihad” is an Arabic word used in
the Qur’an and used in the Sunnah. And to understand the concept of jihad, it is critical
to look at all the verses in the Qur’an in their context, the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace
be upon him), which is the best practical application of the Qur’an, and try and understand,
therefore, the concept of “jihad” by looking at a holistic reading of the Qur’an and a
holistic study of the practice and tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
As a word, the Arabic term “jihad” means “to strive; to exert effort; to work towards achieving
something.” And so when we look at the Qur’an and how it uses the word “jihad” we find,
firstly, that in the earliest revealed verses of the Qur’an in Makkah, in the Qur’an in
Chapter 29 [verse 69], which is a Makkan verse, the word “jihad” appears in the context of
the literal term “striving; exerting effort” and a Muslim is expected to exert effort.
Actually, when we look at all the verses in the Qur’an regarding jihad, we find not a
single mention of “jihad” with the pure teaching of only fighting. We find verses encouraging
us, “wa jahidu bi amwalikum wa anfusikum” (“to strive – to do jihad – with our wealth
and with our selves” [Q.9:41]). And so when we look at the Qur’an, the word “jihad” is
used in the general Arabic term of striving “fee sabeelillah” (“in Allah’s cause) [eg.
Q.61:11]. And we look at what is Allah’s cause, we find more explanation in the Sunnah of
the Prophet (peace be upon him). And so firstly, regarding the Qur’an, the term “jihad” is
used to mean “striving; exerting effort; struggling for something that is in God’s cause”. When
we look at the statements of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), in authenticated narrations
of hadith, we find again the word “jihad” with numerous meanings. In some hadith, the
Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, “The greatest jihad is the jihad
against one’s self and one’s desires” [Ad-Daylami, Abu Nu’aim and Ibn an-Najjar, authenticated by Al-Albani in Saheeh Jaami’ as-Sagheer, No. 1099, Beirut: Al-Maktub al-Islami, 3rd edition, 1990] – what is usually called “jihad bin nafs” (“the struggle
against your own weaker self”). In another hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The greatest jihad is to tell
the truth to a tyrannical ruler” [An-Nasa’i, no.4209; Riyadh us-Saliheen, Vol.1, No.195]. In other words, to stand up and explain truth
to an oppressive ruler. In another hadith, the wife of the Prophet, ‘Aisha, said, “We
see that striving and fighting in battle is a great jihad,” but then the Prophet (peace
be upon him) is reported to have said, “The greatest jihad is to go for pilgrimage,” [Sahih
al-Bukhari, Book of Pilgrimage] and when a young man came and asked the Prophet (peace
be upon him) that he wanted to join the Muslim army and go for battle, the Prophet asked,
“Are your parents alive?” He said, “Yes,” and the Prophet (sallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam
– peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Go and serve them, for your jihad is in serving
them” [Sahih al-Bukhari, Sunan al-Nasa’i, Sunan Abi Dawud and Sunan al-Tirmidhi].
And so here we find in these hadith the term “jihad” used to describe fighting in a just
cause, but it is also used to describe standing up to an oppressive ruler, going for pilgrimage,
and all the fields that deal with the self improvement of the individual; of the “tazkiyat
an-nafs” (of “the purification of the soul”). So again in the hadith, we find various forms
of striving and struggling being described as jihad. When we look, however, at the writings
of jurists; scholars, we find when they come to talk about the term “jihad”, just as with
the “mufassirun” (“the commentators of the Qur’an”), or the “muhaddithun” (“the scholars
of hadith narrations”), the jurists usually introduce the subject of jihad by making it
clear jihad is of various types – the jihad with the self, the jihad [of] enjoining right
and forbidding wrong in the community, whether verbally or through action, but also the jurists
were more concerned about the forms of jihad that were related to law and jurisprudence,
and this usually meant the military form of jihad, which the Qur’an uses the word “qital”
or “harb” to describe. So that form of jihad – of fighting – has been what jurists have
been most concerned about. Unfortunately, therefore, many students of Islamic jurisprudence,
who, when they look at subjects to do with jihad in the books of jurisprudence, find
most of the discussion dealing with the terms of engagement in warfare, handling prisoners
of war, when to disengage in warfare, the rules of the conduct of warfare, many have
reached the simplistic conclusion that “jihad” means “fighting.” This is a misconception
and a true understanding of the full meaning of “jihad” is derived by directly going to
the sources, the primary sources of Islamic jurisprudence: the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Otherwise,
if one concludes that the meaning of “jihad” is only fighting, then one would be misinterpreting
verses of the Qur’an and, particularly, verses that were revealed in Makkah at a time when
no fighting was permissible. So looking at all of this, the meaning of “jihad” from the
Qur’an and from the Sunnah has had various shades of meaning. It is the context that
would determine what particular meaning “jihad” actually takes, but it never meant only fighting,
and it wasn’t used to refer to only fighting or the military forms of engagement.

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