What is Jihad?
Jihad has been going on in the world ever
since Islam was born in the seventh century but its latest manifestation
has been, among other places, most notably in Palestine, Chechnya, and
Kashmir. Even, in February 1998, when World Islamic Front issued a fatwa
and a call for Jihad to “every Muslim who believes in Allah and wishes
to be rewarded to comply with Allah's order to kill the Americans and
plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it”, it did not
arouse much interest in the general public. It took direct assault on
9/11 on the fundamental symbols of what America stands for that it
created some curiosity. Today, Jihad is, no doubt, one of the most
discussed terms in America, if not the world.
What is Jihad? What drives a man to
commit such horrendous acts against humanity? What motivates Islamic
terrorists? Why do they operate under the name of Jihad?
And "Why do Muslims blow themselves
up?" are common question everyone is seeking answers for.
Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a Palestinian
psychiatrist answers (Newsweek, April 8, 2002)
"This is the influence of the Koran,
the most potent and powerful book for the past 14 centuries. God
promised Muslims who sacrificed for Islam. that they would not die. They
will live on in paradise. Muslims hold to the promise literally."
How valid is this assertion?
What is Jihad?
View of traditionalists:
Dictionary of Islam defines
jihad as “a religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission
of Muhammad. It is an incumbent religious duty, established in the Quran
and in the Traditions as a divine institution, enjoined specially for
the purpose advancing Islam and repelling evils from Muslims.”1
In an introductory note to an article “Jihad in the Qur’an and Sunnah”
by Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, ex-Chief Justice of Saudi
Arabia and of the Sacred Mosque of Mecca, Abdul Malik Mujahid, General
Manager of Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, Saudi Arabia on the website (www.islamworld.net)
“Jihad is regarded as the best thing,
one can offer voluntarily. It is superior to non-obligatory prayers,
fasting, Zakat, Umra and Hajj as mentioned in the Qur'an and the Ahadith
of the Prophet(pbuh). The benefits of Jihad are of great extent and
large in scope, while its effects are far-reaching and wide-spreading as
regards Islam and the Muslims.”
Sheikh Abdullah, ex-Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia defines Jihad as:
“Praise be to Allah swt Who has
ordained Al-Jihad (the holy fighting in Allah's Cause):
1. With the heart (intentions or
2. With the hand (weapons, etc.),
3. With the tongue (speeches, etc., in
the Cause of Allah)
Allah has rewarded the one who performs
it with lofty dwellings in the Gardens (of Paradise).”
Other contrary Views:
Many non-Muslim modernists in the West deny that it has anything to do
Many academic Muslims also dissociate
Jihad with “Holy War”. “In its primary sense it is an inner thing,
within self, to rid it from debased actions or inclinations, and
exercise constancy and perseverance in achieving a higher moral
standard” – they claim. “Jihad is not a declaration of war against other
religions and certainly not against Christians and Jews as some media
and political circles want it to be perceived. Islam does not fight
other religions” – they emphasize.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based group,
asserts that jihad "does not mean 'holy war.'" Instead, jihad is "a
central and broad Islamic concept that includes the struggle to improve
the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for
self-defense . . . or fighting against tyranny or oppression." CAIR even
denies that Islam includes any concept of a "holy war."
Many other who go under the banner of modernists hold similar views on
the nature of jihad.
How is one to conclude what Jihad really means in Islam?
Ironclad definition of anything to do with
Islam and its practical manifestations can only be derived from what the
basic scriptures of Islam have to say on any particular issue.
What are the basic scriptures of Islam and why are they so important?
The single most basic
scripture of Islam is indeed the Qur’an. The next after the Qur’an are
the traditions – the Sunnah -- of the Prophet -- also known as Ahadith.
The Qur’an is compilation of the Revelation from Allah to Prophet
Muhammad and the Sunnah is what Prophet Muhammad did or said. Of the
traditions, the ones compiled by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim are the
Authenticity of Imam Bukhari’s work can
be judged from the fact that he is reported to have collected over
300,000 Hadiths (traditions of the Prophet) but “chose only
approximately 7275 of which there is no doubt about their authenticity.”
Each Hadith comes with its line of transmission that leads directly to
Prophet Muhammad or his companions.
Why are the Qur’an and the Sunnah of
the Prophet so important to Muslims? Instead of giving my personal
opinion let me say what Rafiq Zakaria, an eminent Islamic scholar and
also known as modernist progressive secular Muslim has to say on this.
“To Muslims, the Quran is the creation
of god. However, it is equally important to remember that there could
have been no Quran without Muhammad. He is not only its transmitter but
also the embodiment of its teachings… Muhammad and the Quran are
“The Quran is, therefore, regarded by Muslims as immutable and
unchangeable, not metaphorically but literally. This is a matter of
faith for them, and reason can never deflect them from it.”
(Italics mine) He went on to say.
After enumerating the five pillars of Islam, he echos the sentiments
expressed above in another book and goes on to observe “it (the Quran)
contains guidelines a Muslim must follow.”
Maulana Mawdudi, a great Islamic scholar and thinker expresses similar
views. Islam stands for complete faith in the prophet’s teachings. It
stands for complete obedience to the system of life shown to us by the
prophet and any who ignores the medium of the prophet and claims to
follow God directly is not a Muslim.7
Maulana Wahiduddin has also expressed similar opinions.
Human reason or direct approach to God without the medium of the prophet
makes one sinner, if not apostate from Islam. No freedom of slightest
deviation is allowed. One has to follow the teachings of the Quran and
of the Prophet.
If we want to understand why the Muslims carry out jihad, we have to
understand what the Quran and the Sunnah have to say on this topic. The
opinions of Islamic scholars and other commentators are not valid if
they are not in conformity with the above.
What do the Quran and the Sunnah have to say on the subject of Jihad?
There is no chapter devoted exclusively to the subject of jihad in the
Quran. The Ayats pertaining to jihad are spread throughout the Quran. If
one were to sort them out and present them in a concise manner, one
would, in all likelihood, be accused of quoting them out of context. But
in each of the authentic Hadis – the Sunnah of the prophet -- there is a
section dealing with the practice of jihad. So let us turn our attention
to the Sunnah. On close scrutiny of the Sunnah as compiled in Sahih Al-Bukhari
and Sahih Muslim, apart from the traditions of the prophet, frequent
reference is made to the Quran. So what is recorded in these two books
is both, the Sunnah of the Prophet as well as the revelations from God.
Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim have facilitated our work in informing us,
in a concise form, what the concept of jihad in Islam is?
Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan of Islamic
University, Medina Al- Munawwara, Saudi Arabia, the translator of Sahih
Al-Bukhari, in the glossary of Arabic words translates Jihad as “Holy
fighting in the cause of Allah or any other kind of effort to make
Allah’s word (Islam) superior which is regarded as one of the principles
of Islam.” 8
Let us first try to find out what is
Jihad? We don’t have to go too far.
The section on Jihad starts with
invocation to Allah and Chapter I opens quoting verses 9:111-112 of the
Allah has purchased of the believers
Their lives and their properties;
For theirs (in return)
Is Paradise. They fight in His cause,
Kill (others) and are killed
It is a promise in truth which is
binding on Him.”9
Allah has made a binding promise with His believers to kill in His cause
and if they are killed they will get Paradise in return.
And again it repeats in chapter 2 “the
best among the people is that believer who strives his utmost in Allah’s
cause with both his life and property and goes on to quote verses
61:10,11,12 . It says “it (fighting in Allah’s cause) is a bargain that
will save you from a grievous punishment….. He will forgive you, your
sins and admit you into Gardens beneath which rivers flow, and to
beautiful Mansions in gardens of Eternity.” And calls it “The supreme
Indeed the promise of Gardens with Rivers and Mansions must have sounded
very alluring in the harsh desert climate of Arabia. Evidently, it does
The superiority of Jihad:
“A single endeavor (of fighting) in Allah’s Cause in the forenoon is
better than the world and whatever is in it.” Says Hadis 50 in chapter
And “a place as small as a bow in Paradise is better than all that on
which the sun rises and sets (i.e. all the world).” And continues,
repeating, “A single endeavour in Allah’s Cause is better than all that
on which the sun rises and sets.”
The superiority of martyrdom is so great that “nobody would wish to come
back even if he were given the whole world and whatever in it, except
the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to
come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah’s cause.)”
And what is there in Paradise? Houris. “And if a houri from paradise
appeared to the people of the earth, she would fill the space between
Heaven and the Earth with light and pleasant scent and her head cover is
better than the world and whatever is in it.”
14 Who would not like
to die to be in company of such houris?
Obligations of a Believer to Jihad
What are the obligations of a
Muslim of a general call to arms and what sort of Jihad and intentions
are compulsory? Most people don’t like to fight and Muslims are no
exception to it. But what are they to do when Allah says:
“March forth, whether you are light (young, healthy and wealthy) or
heavy (ill, old and poor)
And strive with your wealth and your lives
In the way of Allah; that is better for you
If you but knew. Had it been a near gain (booty in front of them)
And an easy journey they would have followed you,
But the distance (Tabuk expedition) was long for them and they would
Swear by Allah (saying)
“If we only could, we would have surely have come out with you.”
“They destroy their own souls, and Allah knows
That they are liars.” (9:41-42)
Allah continues His reprimand:
“O you who believe! What is the matter
with you that when you are asked to march forth in the Way of Allah,
(i.e. Jihad), you cling heavily to the earth? Are you pleased with the
life of this world rather than the hereafter? …. (the verse). If you
march not forth, He will punish you with a painful torment and will
replace you by another people and you cannot harm Him at all, and Allah
is Able to do all things.” (9:38-39)
Is Jihad obligatory
This is best explained by Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid:
“So at first "the fighting" was
forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory-
( 1 ) against them who start "the fighting" against you (Muslims)... (2)
and against all those who worship others along with Allah... as
mentioned in SurahAI-BaqaraSl (II), Al-lmran (III) and Baraat (IX)...
and other Suras (Chapters of the Qur'an).
Allah made "the fighting' (Jihad)
obligatory for the Muslims and gave importance to the subject-matter of
Jihad in all the Suras (Chapters of the Qur'an) which were revealed (at
Medina) as in Allah's Statement:
March forth whether you are light
(being healthy, young and wealthy) or heavy (being ill, old and poor),
strive [ hard with your wealth and your lives in the Cause of Allah.
This is better for you if you but knew. (V.9:41).
Rewards of Jihad
Where would one killed in Jihad
go? The Muslim killed in Jihad would go to Paradise and “their’s (i.e.
those of the Pagan’s will go to Hell Fire).
What are the special benefits of fighting in Allah’s cause?
Whoever believes in Allah and His Messenger and lives the life of a good
Muslim will rightfully go to Paradise, no matter if he fights in Allah’s
cause or not. But there is a special place for those who do. Paradise
has hundred grades which Allah has reserved for Mujahidin. The distance
between each grade is like the distance between the Heaven and the
And what will those who fight in Allah’s cause get in Paradise?
Bat Ye’Or well known writer on Islam notes “the ideology of jihad was
formulated by Muslim jurists and scholars, including such luminaries as
Averroes and Ibn Khaldun, from the 8th century onward. For example, Ibn
Khaldun (d. 1406) stated, "..the holy war is a religious duty, because
of the universality of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert
everyone to Islam either by persuasion or by force...".
Modernists views refuted
As noted above, Council of American Islamic Relations asserts that Jihad
is "struggle in the battlefield for self-defense . . . or fighting
against tyranny or oppression" But Sahih Muslim, one of two most
authentic traditions does not agree with it.
Self defense or oppression has nothing to do with the concept of Jihad.
It quotes Prophet Muhammad saying:
"I have been commanded to fight against
people, till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah,
and believe in me (that) I am the messenger (from the Lord) and in all
that I have brought. And when they do it, their blood and riches are
guaranteed protection on my behalf except where it is justified by law,
and their affairs rest with Allah."20
Quoting Koran (9:39) "If you march not
forth, I will punish you with a painful torment and will replace you by
another people and you cannot harm Me at all, and Allah is able to do
all things.", Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Hamid of Sacred Mosque of
Mecca (Saudi Arabia) writes "Allah disapproved of those who abandoned
Jihad (i.e. they did not go for Jihad) and attributed to them hypocrisy
and disease in their hearts, and threatened (all) those who remain
behind from Jihad and sit at home with horrible punishment. He (Allah)
accused them with the most ugly descriptions, rebuked them for their
cowardice and spoke against them (about their weakness and their
Had Jihad been just "striving" and "an
inner thing, within self, to rid it from debased actions or
inclinations" where was the need to "march forth"? Why would Allah
accuse those who did not "march forth" of "cowardice", and "hypocrisy
and disease in their hearts"?
To scholars of Islam the message of the
Koran and Ahadith is clear.
It is true that not every Muslim is
engaged in Jihad. It is true not only today; it was true during the time
of Prophet Muhammad also. Those who did not were called hypocrites and
their fidelity to Islam was in question.
And if Jihad, indeed, is “mental
struggle against passion or internal struggle” – it would be welcome, I
am sure, by all non-Muslims. What a non-Muslim is primarily interested
in is Jihad that affects his (non-Muslim’s) survival. However, there is
no evidence in the core scriptures of Islam that Jihad is an internal
struggle within the self.
Yes, like any other religious ideology,
Islam also would like to improve the like of its followers, in its own
way but that is nowhere called what is known as Jihad.
1. Warraq, ibn. Why I am not a Muslim. New York, 1995, pp.12
2. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 1, pp. xxiv
3. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 1, pp.xvii
4. Zakaria, Rafiq, Muhammad and the Quran, Penguin Books, New
York, 1991, pp. 3
5. Zakaria, Rafiq, Muhammad and the Quran, Penguin Books, New
York, 1991, pp. 4
6. Zakaria, Rafiq, The Struggle within Islam, Penguin Books, New
York, 1988, pp. 304
7. Mawdudi, Abul A’la, Towards understanding Islam, Islamic
Circle of North America, Montreal, 1986, pp. 61 (First published in Urdu
in India in 1932)
8. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 1, pp. lxxiv
9. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol.4, pp. 34
10. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 4, pp. 36-37
11. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 4, pp. 41
12. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 4, pp 41
13. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 4, pp. 42
14. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 4, pp. 42
15. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 4, pp. 58-59
16. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 4, pp. 59
17. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 1, pp. xxvi
18. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 4, pp. 55
19. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 4, pp. 40
20. Sahih Muslim, Translated by Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, New Delhi, 1994,
vol. 1, pp.17
21. Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Translated by M. Muhsin Khan,
New Delhi, 1984, vol. 1, pp. xxx-xxxi