Jihad, not... a Holy War!

Question and answer details
Zuhaib Abdul Rauf Shaikh
What is jihad? What are the circumstances where jihad should begin? Please give the reference of the verses quoted in Qur'an about jihad.
Reda Bedeir

As-salamu `alaykum,  Zuhaib.

Thank you for your question.

Approximately fourteen hundred years ago, Prophet Muhammad, the last in the line of the prophets of Islam, received revelation from God known as the Qur'an, which is the Final Testament. He came with a message of peace and reconciliation, mercy and compassion. Yet, ever since the beginning of the call of Islam, its image and that of Muslims has been subject to distortion, misconceptions, and misinterpretations.

In our age, the media plays a crucial role in that distortion. Islam is given a sinister image. A word that is often negatively associated with certain acts of violence is the Arabic word jihad. Its significance plays an extremely crucial role in the image of Islam. But what does this so widely known word mean?

Jihad indeed has a great significance in Islam. In order to understand the word we have to start with the lexical meaning. Like any language, Arabic has unique words that have a particular meaning that cannot be accurately translated. The best translation known for jihad is "a sincere and noticeable effort (for good); an all-true and unselfish striving for spiritual goodness."

Jihad: Striving for Goodness and Righteousness:

Jihad, as presented in the Qur'an implies the striving towards the ideal. This jihad, particularly involves change in one's self and mentality. It may concern the sacrifice of material property, social class constraints, and even emotional comfort, solely for, salvation and the worship of God alone. As a result, one who practices jihad will gain inward peace in this world and reward in the hereafter.

The Qur'an says what means

*{The Hereafter is far better for you than this first [life].}* ( Ad-Duha 4:93)

Also, the Qur'an says what means

*{Say: “O my people, do your best, and so will I. You will surely find out who the ultimate victors are.” Certainly, the wicked will never succeed.}*( Al-An`am 6:135)

Jihad involves noticeable effort for righteousness. This means that the effort concentrated in jihad is a step in the true and ultimate path of Islam: the effort addressed to the benefit of one's self. Thus, jihad on this level is individual and self-centered. It aims at purification of the soul. This effort is simply doing good and seeking divine mercy and the pardon of Allah.

The Qur'an points this out by saying what means

*{ The day will come when every soul will serve as its own advocate, and every soul will be paid fully for whatever it had done, without the least injustice.}* (An-Nahl 16:11)


*{The day will come when each soul will find all the good works it had done brought forth. As for the evil works, it will wish that they were far, far removed. God alerts you that you shall reverence Him alone. God is Compassionate towards the people.}* (Aal `Imran 3:30)

In respect to the above Qur'anic verses, God tells the believers that all acts will reflect the soul of their authors. Examples of this jihad would be to exceed in doing sincerely good deeds, frequenting the mosques, studying the scripture in details, helping the poor and the orphans, standing for people's right for freedom, being equitable, never bearing false witness, staying in good terms with friends and neighbors: etc.) and to restrain from committing sins (adultery, stealing, lying, cheating, insulting people, gossiping, etc.);This is clarified in the Qur'an :

*{As for those who lead a righteous life, male or female, while believing, they enter Paradise; without the slightest injustice.}* ( An-Nisaa' 4:124)

The previous Qur'anic verse highlights the meaning of jihad and its role. It has also mentioned the importance of the sincerity when it is practiced. Jihad puts emphasis on the individual accountability and the weight of the individual striving in man’s relation with Allah.

Jihad and Justice:

Jihad also includes striving for and establishing justice. Before someone can strive for justice in their community, justice must be one of their main religious and moral principles.

Jihad may also reflect the position of Islam regarding crisis management and enforcement of humanitarian international laws. Fighting a war in the name of justice or Islam - to deter an aggressor, for self-defense, or to establish justice and freedom to practice religion - would also be considered jihad.

The Qur'an says what means

*{You shall strive for the cause of God as you should strive for His cause.}* (Al-Hajj 22:78)

The previous Qur'anic verse incites man to strive in the cause of God. The cause of God is justice and freedom for all, maintaining the Qur'anic principle *{No compulsion in religion}* (Al-Baqarah 2:256).

The Qur'an also says what means

*{As for those who lead a righteous life, male or female, while believing, they enter Paradise; without the slightest injustice.}* (An-Nisaa' 4:124)

*{Never indeed, by your Lord; they are not believers unless they come to you to judge in their disputes, then find no hesitation in their hearts whatsoever in accepting your judgment. They must submit a total submission.}* (An-Nisaa' 4:65)

*{O you who believe, you shall be absolutely equitable, and observe God, when you serve as witnesses, even against yourselves, or your parents, or your relatives. Whether the accused is rich or poor, God takes care of both. Therefore, do not be biased by your personal wishes. If you deviate or disregard [this commandment], then God is Fully Cognizant of everything you do.}* (An-Nisaa' 4:135)

Since this verse shows that God accepts only justice, fighting in the name of God is fighting in the name of justice. But, contrary to many people's interpretation, jihad is anything but a "holy" war.

In the light and essence of Islam and the Qur'an, there is no war that is holy; under any circumstances whatsoever. In fact, the whole text of the Qur'an and the religion of Islam revolve around the concept of peace, not war. To many people's ignorance, Islam is also a word that share the same root of the Arabic word salam, meaning "peace". According to Islam, war is unholy; jihad must mean anything but "holy" war.

However, there are times, in certain circumstances, when Islam tolerates, permits and sometimes even requires the practice of war. Islam strongly emphasizes the ideas of justice, freedom, and opposition to oppression. There is also another condition, which is fighting for the sake of self-defense. War is tolerated in these conditions, but if there is a possibility to avoid war, then this opportunity, as long as it is for the just cause, must be seized.

The Qur'an says what means

*{You shall prepare for them all the power you can muster, and all the equipment you can mobilize, that you may frighten the enemies of GOD, your enemies, as well as others who are not known to you; God knows them. Whatever you spend in the cause of GOD will be repaid to you generously, without the least injustice.
If they resort to peace, so shall you, and put your trust in God. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient.}* (Al-Anfal 8:60-61)

Self-defense involves struggle against oppression, aggression, and tyranny; Islam tolerates the use of force in these cases. The Qur'an says :

*{Permission [to fight] is granted to those who are being persecuted, since injustice has befallen them, and GOD is certainly able to support them [with victory].
They were evicted from their homes unjustly, for no reason other than saying, "Our Lord is God." If it were not for God's supporting of some people against others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and masjids [mosques] where the name of God is commemorated frequently would have been destroyed. Absolutely, God supports those who support Him. God is Powerful, Almighty.}* (Al-Hajj 22:39-40)

The other condition and perhaps the most important and often confused as a holy war, is the war in the name of God, which actually means in the cause of God.
God does not encourage war, but rather encourages peace whenever possible. Fighting an oppressor or an aggressor is fighting against oppression or aggression, thus it is fighting for justice and therefore in the name (cause) of God. Please see Al-Baqarah 2:244 and Al-Hajj 22:78.


*{Those who readily fight in the cause of God are those who forsake this world in favor of the Hereafter. Whoever fights in the cause of God, then gets killed, or attains victory, we will surely grant him a great recompense.
Why should you not fight in the cause of God when weak men, women, and children are imploring: "Our Lord, deliver us from this community whose people are oppressive, and be You our Lord and Master."}* (An-Nisaa' 4:74:75)

Even in times of war, Muslims must respect their adversaries’ humanity. Brutal and barbaric atrocities are prohibited in Islam. Islam condemns barbaric killing of any human being. During military actions, civilians must not be targeted, as long as they do not attack, provoke or share directly in the war. Enemies, even at time of war, must be treated justly. Prisoners of war have basic human rights, stated in shari`ah.

If victory is achieved in any war for justice, then there is to be no oppression, revenge or injustice to the people of the enemy. Nor must there be control over the sources of the wealth of the nation or people, or even establishment of colonial regimes. Justice and freedom must be established. Tolerance towards cultures and peoples is basic, too.

Allah says what means

*{God advocates justice, charity, and regarding the relatives. And He forbids evil, vice, and transgression. He enlightens you, that you may take heed.}* (An-Nahl 16:90)

*{O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God is Omniscient, Cognizant.}*(Al-Hujurat 49:13)

In Brief and Allow me to repeat again: the meaning the media gives to this word (jihad) is false. This word does not mean a holy war, for there is nothing holy about a war in Islam. Islam is a religion that revolves around the concept of peace.

Thank you


Useful links :

When and How to Fight

Islamic Treatment of Non-Combatants

Jihad and Justice with Non-Muslims

Islamic Rules of Combat

Preemptive War

The Passion of the South

A Letter From Lebanon

Die and Live… for a Belief