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Page last edited on 23 April, 2003

Jihad's true meaning as revealed in Holy Quran

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 refer to the Holy Quran to find out the true meaning of the word. 

So widespread is the misunderstanding that a scholar of the fame of A.J. Wensinck, when preparing his concordance of hadith, A Handbook of Early Muhammadan Traditions, gives not a single reference under the word Jihad, referring to the concept as "war", as if the two words are synonymous terms. Klein in The Religion of Islam makes a similar statement: "Jihad - the fighting against unbelievers with the object of either winning them over to Islam, or subduing and exterminating them in case they refuse to become Muslims, and causing Islam to spread and triumph over all religions is considered a sacred duty of the Muslim nation." 

If either of these two learned scholars had taken the trouble of consulting the Holy Quran, they could never have made such a glaring mis-statement. These are monstrous misconceptions, especially because there is no compulsion in the religion of Islam. Jihad in Islam requires the believers to do whatever they can towards popularising, defending and keeping alive and flourishing, as the best and the truest life, the way of Islam and servility to Almighty God - a path that they have chosen for themselves. Jihad can take many forms depending on the circumstances varying from time to time and place to place. 

Suppose there arises a situation in which it becomes difficult or even dangerous for a person or community to profess Islam and to remain true to it. To be a Muslim may become the hardest thing to do in the world. In that case Jihad will lie in doing one's best for oneself, one's family or community to stay firmly devoted to Islam. It would, certainly, be a most splendid Jihad in those circumstances. 

Similarly, should Muslims, through their own folly or negligence, start drifting away from the faith, then, at such a time, to devote one's time and energy to their religious revival and reform, too, would constitute a kind of Jihad. To carry the divine guidance to those that are ignorant of it and to make an earnest efforts to persuade them wisely and sympathetically to accept it is yet another form of Jihad. 

Should believers in Almighty God and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) be in power somewhere and the conditions demand that collective force be used for the defence and assistance of the faith, then, in that case, the use of force for the defence and assistance of faith according to the rules laid down for it, will constitute Jihad. 

Two conditions, however, are essential for it. Firstly, such a step must not be motivated by any personal or national or self-interest, greed or enmity. It should be taken solely to carry out the command of Almighty Allah and to serve the cause of His faith. And, secondly, that the rules prescribed for it were scrupulously observed. If force is used without the fulfillment of these conditions, it will not be Jihad according to Islam but wanton wickedness and mischief. 

To speak a just word before a tyrannical ruler - be he a Muslim or non-Muslim - is, again, a form of Jihad. In the Traditions (ahadith) it has been called "the best of Jihad". All these forms of religious struggle and endeavour, at their proper time and place, are among the obligatory duties of Islam. And, as we have seen, the term Jihad is applied to them in various degrees. 

Similarly, the word martyrdom is widely misused in Muslim society. In the language of Islam, a person who meets his death in the cause of faith as a result of obeying its injunctions and carrying out its commands as a staunch and devoted follower or in the course of a struggle for its defence is called a martyr, for whom there is a special place of unparalleled honour and distinction in the hereafter. 

The concept of justice in Islam should also be mentioned in the same context. Justice is an integral part of Islamic ethics. We must practice it in all spheres of life. In Islam we are commanded to be just and fair not only towards our own people or co-religionists but also towards others even if they are enemies of our lives, property and faith. Islam enjoins justice to those also, individuals as well as communities, who may be harbouring ill-will against us. Otherwise, we are sure to incur the displeasure of Almighty God and become grievous sinners and criminals in His eyes.

[Read more on Violence and Islam]


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Last updated on 13 March, 2003

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Hate Hurts. Love Cures. Conjecture Fails. Truth Prevails.
Islam - Bearing witness to the Truth
Seek Understanding from Knowledge/ Information
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