The Struggle. What is Jihad?
The term “Jihad” is almost always mistranslated by westerners as “Holy War.” In fact, the term “Jihad” literally translates to “struggle against.” “Holy war” today is often misapplied to Jihad because of western orientalist and Christian cultural understanding of the Crusades. The First Crusade was launched in 1095 Pope Urban II preached a war ideology referring to it as a “Holy War” in order to garner Christian support to retake the “Holy Land” from the Muslims.
The concept of what is “holy” may seem like semantics over something petty but it is a significant part of understanding proper Islamic Aqeeda (Creed) and Tawheed (Purity, Uniqueness and Oneness of Allah). Often, Muslims who don’t have the knowledge, are trying to bridge the understanding gap on your own terms or are speaking from common cultural misunderstanding will misuse the word “Holy.” It’s important to know that in Islam nothing is “Holy” except Allah. Many Muslims often say “Holy Qur’an” or “Holy Prophet”, but this is misleading. In Islam, nothing that is part of creation, able to be corrupted, mutilated or annihilated, is “Holy.” We often say that the Qur’an or the Prophets are most deserving to be called holy, but they by nature are not Holy. Muslims with the understanding of this concept will call the Qur’an the “Glorious (or Noble) Qur’an” or the Prophet “Most beloved (or Noble) Prophet” or something similar. According to Islamic teachings, the worst failing in human history is war and war is certainly NOT “Holy.” Therefore, the concept of “Holy War” is alien to Islam.
The Arabic word for “war” is “harb” and the Arabic word for “fighting or killing” is “qital.” Neither harb or qital are Holy and according to the examples set forth in the Qur’an only engaged in AFTER extensive diplomacy by a form of “government” has failed. According to Islam the last resort act of state sanctioned war ceases and peace is re-established when there is hope of diplomacy succeeding and is re-established.
There are 3 types of Jihad in Islam:
- Jihad bil nafs – The struggle of the inner self relating to immoral of imperfect behaviour. It is closely related to the concept of “Ihsan” that I spoke about in my post entitled, “Islam is a 3 Dimensional Religion”
- Jihad bil Qallam – The struggle of society through the pen or tongue (lisan) to establish justice in the land. In western analogy it can be comparable to the Edward Bulwer-Lytton 1839 quote, “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.” It is one of the greatest forms of Islamic Jihad according to the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.
- Jihad bis Saif – A “state level” self-defence permission in Islam which is given to an Islamic government that allows for a well-regulated standing military controlled by a diplomatic system of governance and refers to harb and qital when all possibility of diplomacy has failed.
Of the three types of Jihad, “The best fighting (jihad) in the path of Allah is (to speak) a word of justice to an oppressive ruler.” – Prophet Muhammad (Abu Dawud Book 38, Hadith 4330; Grade: Sahih)
Contrary to what you see misguided Muslim individuals, Muslim terror groups and criminal enterprises or even some Muslim controlled governments doing today, jihad or struggle (which is a defensive strategy) involving harb or qital, has very strict rules. These rules are more restrictive than most any modern government, including the United States, Britain and other governments.
According to Islam, both combatants and non-combatants, believer and unbeliever have rights that are not to be infringed upon. In all cases, no exception, these are just a few things which are expressly FORBIDDEN (haram or major sins) in Islam:
Vigilantism, force converting, enslaving, raping, torturing, killing non-combatants (civilians), committing suicide, attacking the wounded, executing prisoners, mutilating dead bodies or refusing to return them to their families, intentionally destroying buildings or property, looting, destroying agriculture/crops, and burning people with fire.
Islam is very clear that Muslims who do this are not martyrs, but criminals subject to punishment in this life and in the afterlife.
“THE FIRST of men (whose case) will be decided on the Day of Judgment will be a man who died as a martyr. He shall be brought [before the Judgment Seat]. Allah will make him recount His blessings (i. e. the blessings which He had bestowed upon him) and he will recount them (and admit having enjoyed them in his life). [Then] will Allah say: What did you do [to respond to these blessings]? He will say: I fought for Thee until I died as a martyr. Allah will say: You have told a lie. You fought that you might be called a” brave warrior”. And you were called so. [Then] orders will be passed against him and he will be dragged with his face downward and cast into Hell.” – Prophet Muhammad (Sahih Muslim; The Book on Government, Hadith 4688)
The purpose of Jihad as taught by Islam in all cases is to promote and establish justice in one’s own life or the life of others. Where there is struggle that does not include from start to finish the establishment of justice or the rules of this concept are not followed, there is no struggle (jihad) but sin and corruption.
“He will not enter Paradise whose neighbour is not secure from his wrongful conduct.” – Prophet Muhammad (Sahih Muslim Book 1, Hadith 74)