Meaning of Jihad

The Arabic word Jihad has a root verb: jahada, which in Arabic means exerting maximum efforts or striving. The theological connotation is striving for betterment. The other meanings are: endeavor, strain, exertion, diligence, fighting to defend one's life, land and religion.

Jihad should not be confused with the term ‘Holy War" (Al Harb Al Moqadassah); the latter does not exist in Islamic terminology. There is no mention of a "holy war" in either the Quran or the Hadith (teachings of Prophet Muhammad) which are the primary sources of Islamic teachings. In fact the term holy war was introduced by the Crusades in their fighting against the Muslims to recaptured Jerusalem and the sacred "Holy Land" (1095-1291 AD).

Forms of Jihad

Muslim scholars described different forms of Jihad fi sabilillah (struggle in the cause of God) including the followings:

  • Jihad of the soul/heart (jihad bin nafs/qalb) is an inner struggle of good against evil in one's mind and within oneself for self improvements, elevation, purification and getting closer to God. This form of jihad is referred to by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as al-jihad al-akbar (the greater jihad).

  • Jihad by the tongue (jihad bil lisan) is struggle of good against evil through talks, dialogues, debates and speeches such as in the form of dawah (proselytizing), Khutbas (sermons) or lectures.

  • Jihad by the pen (jihad bil qalam) is the struggle for good against evil through scholarly study of Islam and ijtihad (legal reasoning) which is exerting maximum effort to drive solutions and rulings from the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, to be implemented in different and dynamically changing contexts. This form of jihad also covered scientific and medical studies to show the signs (ayatt) of God in His creatures and to use science in the service and betterment of human beings.

  • Jihad by the hand (jihad bil yad) is the struggle in the cause of God using economic power to uplift the conditions of the downtrodden, to finance the struggle for justice and liberation and to fund political activities for furthering the cause of Islam.

  • Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif) referred to it as qital fi sabilillah (armed fighting in the cause of God) where people actually fight against oppression. This form of jihad is what referred to by Prophet Muhammad as al-jihad al-asghar (the lesser Jihad). The intention of the prophet was not to minimize the importance of jihad by the sword, if needed, but to maximize the importance of inner jihad or jihad al-nafs which is the struggle against lust and evil desires.

It is obvious that the concept of Jihad is too comprehensive to be reduced simply to "war" even if described erroneously as "holy". The word jihad has been incorrectly translated or rather twisted in order to give the impression that Islam and Muslims are inclined towards violence, that they have a dark side.


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