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What Is JIHAD?

From The Islamic Tradition

Edited by OmarKN

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"For Muslims the term JIHAD is applied to all forms of STRIVING … and it is indeed a struggle - a JIHAD - to put Allah and His Prophet ﷺ ahead of our loved ones, our wealth, our worldly ambitions and our own lives." [25] (Reference to Quran 9-23, 24)

1a. Introduction

Jihad, which is striving and struggling in the cause of Allah has 2 main meanings:
The Greater Jihad - against the lower soul/ nafs
The Lesser Jihad - against an enemy military occupier

Jihad is also to strive for justice and equity in society, and to protect Muslims and others from political, social, and psychological phenomena which cause harm and are unfavourable for the normal life.[50]

المُجَاهِدُ مَنْ جَاهَدَ نَفْسَهُ فِي سَبِيلِ اللهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ

"The mujahid is he who makes jihad against his nafs (ego) for the sake of obeying Allah.”
Hadith from Prophet Muhammad ﷺ Musnad Ahmad 23445, Sahih[49]

1b. Chapters

• 1. What is Jihad?
• 2. Taking Account
• 3. No Harder Struggle
• 4. Verses from Quran
• 5. Jihad Against Satan
• 6. About the Greater Jihad
• 7. Jihad for Self-Perfection
• 8. Misuse of the Term Jihad
• 9. Nonviolent Jihad - The Essential
• 10. Jihad In Western Lands
• 11. Prophet Muhammad's ﷺ Task
• 12. The Jihad of the Tongue
• 13. Jihad - Broader Understanding

1. What is Jihad?

"The word Jihad stems from the Arabic root word J-H-D, which means 'strive.' Other words derived from this root include 'effort,' 'labour'… The effort may come in fighting the evil in your self/ soul, or in speaking the word of truth to a dictator."[24]

"Jihad is also the effort to practice religion in the face of oppression and persecution. Military effort is included as an option, but only as a last resort and certainly not 'to spread Islam by the sword' as the stereotype would have one believe."[26]

Nobody is allowed to initiate a 'military effort' or to declare war, except the ruler or the state of the Muslims. There must not be any vigilantism[27] in Islam. Of course, this does not negate the individual's right to self-defence.

"Islam never tolerates unprovoked aggression from its own side; Muslims are commanded in the Qur'an not to begin hostilities, embark on any act of aggression, violate the rights of others, or harm the innocent. Even hurting or destroying animals or trees is forbidden. War is waged only to defend the religious community against oppression and persecution because the Qur'an says that { persecution is worse than slaughter } and { let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression } Qur'an 2-190--193. Therefore, if non-Muslim (states) are peaceful or indifferent to Islam and the Muslims, there is no justified reason to declare war on them."[28]

2. Taking Account of the Self or Soul

Prophetic tradition:
’The intelligent person is he who takes himself (his self) to account and acts in preparation for what comes after death.[36] The incapable person is he who follows the vain desires of his self and has lengthy hopes[37] in Allah.’"[38]

“Taking the self into account is the preparation for instilling the religious consciousness[35] in the self/ soul. It is the way to train the ego in inner self-reproach that will divest it from everything standing between it in the path to purity, love, deference, and sincerity…”

This is the "methodology of the Messenger ﷺ and (therefore) follow his guidance!

3. There Is No Struggle Harder Than Opposing the Lower Self

{ إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ اٰمَنُوا۟ وَهَاجَرُوا۟ وَجٰهَدُوا۟ بِأَمْوَلِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللّٰهِ }

{ Indeed, those who believed and emigrated and strove hard with their wealth and their lives in (the) way (of) Allah… }

Regarding the verse 8–72 Sahl al-Tustari said:
“All forms of obedience to God involve struggling with the lower self (jihad an-nafs). There is no struggle easier than the struggle with swords, and no struggle harder than opposing the lower self.”[39]

{ ثُمَّ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ لِلَّذِينَ هَاجَرُوا۟ مِنۢ بَعْدِ مَا فُتِنُوا۟ ثُمَّ جٰهَدُوا۟ وَصَبَرُوٓا۟ }
{ Then indeed, your Lord, to those who emigrated from after what they had been put to trials then they struggled/ strove hard and were steadfast/ patient… }

Regarding the verse 16–110 Sahl al-Tustari said:
{ They emigrated } means they left behind the evil company (they had been keeping) after it became clear to them that associating with them was a source of corruption for them. Then {they struggled} to keep themselves in the company of the people of goodness (khayr). Subsequently, {they were steadfast} in this and did not go back to the situation they were in at the beginning of events.”[40]

{ وَلِيُمَحِّصَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَيَمْحَقَ الْكَافِرِينَ }
{ And that Allah may test/ prove/ purge/ render pure those who believe, and may blight/ destroy/ efface the disbelievers. }

Regarding the verse 3–141, Sahl al-Tustari said:
“This means their being purified (takhlīṣ) from the blemishes of sins, just as they devoted themselves purely to Him (akhlaṣuu lahu) in deed, which was (their) striving (jihad) in the way of God; … {and efface the disbelievers}. This means the destruction of the disbelievers through the affliction brought on by their sins.”[41]

4. Four Verses From The Quran

Here are - among many other related verses - four other important verses on striving (JAHADA) in the Holy Quran:

{ وَمَن جَاهَدَ فَإِنَّمَا يُجَاهِدُ لِنَفْسِهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَغَنِيٌّ عَنِ الْعَالَمِينَ }

{ And whosoever STRIVES (JAAHADA), STRIVES (YUJAAHIDU) only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether independent of the universe.} Quran 29-6

{ وَجَاهِدُوا فِي اللَّهِ حَقَّ جِهَادِهِ }

{ And STRIVE (JAHIDU) for Allah with the traveller (JIHADIHI) which is His right. He has chosen you and has not laid upon you in the DEEN (religion) any hardship…} Quran 22-78

{ فَلَا تُطِعِ الْكَافِرِينَ وَجَاهِدْهُم بِهِ جِهَادًا كَبِيرًا }

{ So obey not the rejecters of faith, but strive (Jahidhum) against them by it (the Quran) with a great endeavor.} Quran 25-52

{ وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ }

{And those who strive for Us - We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.} Quran 29-69

Concerning Sura 29 verse 69: "This is a Meccan Sura and the two verses (29-6 & 29-69) refer to Jihad al-Nafs.”

Such a command cannot mean military jihad, as there was no permission - much less an order - for such a jihad until the Madinan period.”[10]

□ comment: At the time when these Quran verses were revealed, there was no military jihad, therefore the term "jihad" cannot mean military fight, but nonviolent striving.

In conclusion:

"Islam does not teach, nor do Muslims desire, conversion of any people for fear, greed, marriage or any other form of coercion."

"Jihad in Islam is STRIVING IN THE WAY OF ALLAH by pen, tongue, hand, media and, if inevitable, with arms. However, jihad in Islam does not include striving for individual or national power, dominance, glory, wealth, prestige or pride." [11]

5. Jihad Against Satan

Mawlana Ashraf ʿAli Thanawi writes[42]:
My own master, Hajjī Imadād Allah, wrote a treatise on The Greater Jihad, in which he established that the jihad of the Sufi traveler is with the armies of Satan. The hadith quoted here, since it speaks of a post (ribat), indicates clearly that the Muslim is always at war with Satan.[43]

□ comment:
It is taking such actions which may at first appear somewhat difficult, but as they are done for the good pleasure of Allah - as a warrior in His path against the whisperings of Satan and the commands of the self (nafs) - they can be overcome, resulting in success and bliss (tawfīq, baraka).
Allah knows best and most!

6. About the "Greater Jihad" Hadith

This saying:[46]
"Some troops came back from an expedition and went to see the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu `alayhi wa-Sallam.) He said: "You have come for the best, from the smaller jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar)." Someone said, "What is the greater jihad?" He said: "The servant's struggle against his lust"(mujahadat al-`abdi hawah).

Although this saying cannot be confirmed as hadith because of its weak chain of one or two of its transmitters, none-the-less Ibn Taymiyya, who is usually more rigid in his interpretations "leaves no doubt as to the fact that jihad al-nafs [striving hard against one's evil inclinations] comes first and is the precondition sine qua non of military jihad as he states it…:

'The jihad of nafs and hawa is the foundation of jihad of the disbelievers and hypocrites; one cannot do jihad of them before he first does jihad of his nafs and hawa, then he goes out and fights them.'”[12]

This jihad al-nafs is not something which can be done in an afternoon, or by treating it as something merely theoretical. It is a lifelong occupation and this struggle needs the guidance of those who have gone the Path before. The snares of Shaytan (rajīm ) are laid out for us everywhere and anywhere when Shaytan said:

{ ‏قَالَ فَبِمَآ أَغْوَيْتَنِى لَأَقْعُدَنَّ لَهُمْ صِرَاطَكَ ٱلْمُسْتَقِيمَ ‎ }

{ 'Now that You have caused me to fall into this, I will lie in ambush for them on your straight path. Then I will come at them, from in front of them and behind them, from their right and their left. You will not find most of them thankful.'} 7-16[47]

In the light of this only the blind, the followers of blind leaders will deem themselves ready to go ahead. But without jihad of the nafs and all the other conditions of our Law (Shari`a ) fulfilled, fighting will lead to Hellfire. Says Shaykh Hakeem Tirmidhi: "Whoso desires the reward of God the Lord of Might and Majesty, let him keep to this battle and let him be sincere in every matter to purify his worship.”[13]

Related to this, Shafi`i said,[14] may God have mercy on him, concerning hypocrisy which will stand in the way of fulfilling what is necessary:

"To claim that he knows what hypocrisy is,” or worse to think that he has freed himself from it, or that he does not need to exert himself in this respect to the utmost (that he has fulfilled or does not need the jihadu-n nafs ), and that he can indulge in all kinds of childish activism or militancy, is ridiculous, to say the least. Instead, it is very dangerous, the least danger is that the prestige of Islam will be tainted. This person cannot be successful, except if Allah grants him success. But see how Allah treats the munāfiqūn - hypocrites! [15]

7. Jihad al-Nafs: Striving for Self-Perfection

Further, the Prophet ( sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam ) upon him peace said in a sound hadith:[17]

"The mujahid is he who makes jihad against his nafs (ego) for the sake of obeying Allah.”

It is, therefore, wrong to claim, as some have done, that "in Islamic literature when the word 'mujahideen' is used without any qualification, it means one and only one thing: those who fight on the battlefield for the sake of Allah.”[18] This is what they want to make us believe, then how about the 20 years in Mecca, when armed defence was forbidden.[19] Muslims had the opportunity to develop - under the leadership of the Holy Prophet ( sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam ) - the means and hows of non-armed resistance against the bullying and the harassment by the infidels (kāfir) of Mecca.[20] This is another kind of Jihad.
See chapter 9 trg3_down15

8. Concerning the Misuse of the Term Jihad

"Jihad was and is still being invoked in Muslim protests against foreign occupation, oppression and exploitation during colonialism, post-colonialism, and neocolonialism, a cause perceived as both just and necessary.[30]

Terror attacks on civilians - be they provoked/ instigated by the enemies of Islam or by those claiming the name of this noble religion, have been condemned in the clearest terms by the largest majority of Muslim leaders and scholars of Islam.[44]

9. Nonviolent Jihad - The Essential Kind Of Jihad

"Nonviolent jihad[29] includes every effort that the person who embraces Islam makes to change himself to what this religion wants him to be. Behaving as a true Muslim means [establishing the 5 prayers and the other 4 pillars of Islam,] giving up evil personal and social habits; resisting bad desires; sharing with the poor; helping the needy; being patient, forgiving, fair, kind, compassionate …etc. All these aspects of good behaviour are forms of nonviolent jihad. Nonviolent jihad is the struggle against the bad qualities of the lower self.

This form of jihad includes also every nonviolent (peaceful) effort to change others and the world for the best. For instance, spreading the message of the Qur'an and the values of Islam – such as justice, compassion, and forgiveness – is peaceful (nonviolent)[29] jihad. It is certainly true to state that peaceful (nonviolent) jihad is what the life of the Muslim is all about, as he/she must be in a continuous struggle against evil, whether inside him/her or in the world.”[31]

The different aspects of peaceful, nonviolent jihad are the "forms of struggle that the Muslim has to engage in from day one of his recognition of his Islamic identity, acceptance that life shouldn't be led arbitrarily, and adoption of the Islamic way of living.”

{ وَٱلَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَىٰ صَلَوٰتِهِمْ يُحَافِظُونَ }

This is exemplified in the verses of Sura 23-9 as { those who keep up their prayers }, or in Sura 3-134:

{ ٱلَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِى ٱلسَّرَّآءِ وَٱلضَّرَّآءِ وَٱلْكٰظِمِينَ ٱلْغَيْظَ وَٱلْعَافِينَ عَنِ ٱلنَّاسِ وَ ﷲُ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُحْسِنِينَ }

{ Those who spend [in the way of Allah] in ease and in adversity, restrain [their] anger, and pardon people; and Allah loves the doers of good } 3-134 which speaks about doing good, striving for the best, as "everyday challenges, which is why peaceful, nonviolent jihad is an essential aspect of the life of the Muslim.”[32]

10. The Status of Jihad In Western Lands

The type of rules of the ahkam as-sultania (related to a governmental authority, to the state, a penal code of the Muslims, collecting zakaah, the establishment of imams, police, judges and courts etc.) are not the concern of those people who are living in a land in which there is not a legitimate state authority of Muslims.[33]

On the opinions of some Muslims regarding Jihad, see. [23]

One aspect of Jihad stems from the need to resist increasing pressure, by which Muslims and the general population are affected.[34]

[Instead, we can see as an analogy from our prophetic history the period of Makkah when the principal concern of the Prophet ﷺ was a special one:]

11. Prophet Muhammad's ﷺ Task In Makkah

If you look at the Makkan period, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, was not making any claims to government authority. [Instead what he did was that:]

  1. He called people to tauhīd: the oneness and unity of Allah.
  2. He called people to prayer.
  3. He called people to the purification of their hearts.
  4. He called people to leave shirk.

12. The Jihad of the Tongue

All this is known as the jihad of the tongue: jihad al-kalima; it is not the jihad of the sword-or now the gun or the atom bomb or whatever. It was the jihad of the tongue. Allah subhaana wa ta'aala said,

{ فَلَا تُطِعِ ٱلْكٰفِرِينَ وَجَاهِدْهُم بِهِ جِهَادًا كَبِيرًا }

{Therefore do not obey the disbelievers, but work hard against them with the greatest strength, (with the Quran by your side).} 25-52

{ Jaahidhum bihi/ work hard against them } means to struggle against them with the Quran. In other words, "speak the Quran to them, and struggle against them with the truth in word;" and this was the jihad of Makkah. You can say in a modern sense that this is speaking with a strong tongue in the face of wrong, in the face of injustices.

13. Jihad in Its Broader Understanding

When the Prophet ﷺ sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, went to Medina, a different stage began, and there was now a jihad of a physical type, a martial struggle where they went out.
The Muslims of Madina were attacked and they defended themselves and the Prophet ﷺ !

However, Allah subhaana wa ta'aala says to fight them until the war comes to an end. This type of jihad has an end in time, and yet jihad in its broader understanding of the Sharia' never ends.

The struggle for the sake of Allah never ends as long as somebody is in this abode. This is why jihad is the expenditure of one's efforts for the sake of good. It means to do good things:

  1. Jihad is to do good[48]
  2. Jihad is to help people in the society
  3. It is to expend one's wealth - to give charity

[So] it means to exert one's effort in the society to help people, to expend one's wealth-to give charity-to change the conditions around you: if they are bad, make them better. This can be done without martial effort in many places, and this is still a type of jihad.

This is why it is wrong for people to narrow the understanding of jihad to some limited definition that only gives the understanding of military struggle because that is not what jihad means in Islam.[45]


Oriental Pattern


Related texts
link-in Open Letter to Al-Baghdādī Chapter Jihad - by Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi
link-in This is Not the Path to Paradise! Response to Daesh (is not: ”IS/ ISIS”), Jihad is not synonymous with fighting.
by Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah


* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *