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Jihad: A Misunderstood Concept from Islam - History and Law

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Article Index
Jihad: A Misunderstood Concept from Islam
Jihad in History and Law
Jihad and Islamic Propagation
Forced Conversion?
Conditions for Combative Jihad
Islamic Terms of Ratifying Peace
Jihad Between Muslims
Dhikr: the Remembrance of God
Rebellion Against Rulers
Terms: What Jihad is, and is not
Footnotes
All Pages

Jihad in History and Law

Let us now consider the nature of Jihad more fully as it appears in the history and law of Islam. Jihad in Arabic means “to strive for some objective”. Thus, the common assumption, that Jihad is combat, is incorrect. In fact Jihad, in its technical meaning, has several branches, among which are the combative forms of Jihad.

Ibn Rushd, in his Muqaddimaat, divides Jihad into four kinds: “Jihad by the heart; Jihad by the tongue; Jihad by the hand and Jihad by the sword.”1 He defines “Jihad by the tongue” as “to commend good conduct and forbid the wrong, like the type of Jihad Allah I ordered us to fulfill against the hypocrites in His Words, “O Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites”. [9:73] So the Prophet (saws) strove against the unbelievers by sword and against the hypocrites by tongue.” S. Ramadan Buti, a contemporary Orthodox scholar from Syria in his seminal work on the subject Jihad in Islam2 writes, “…even before he conducted Jihad by sword against the unbelievers, there is no doubt the Prophet (saws) invited these unbelievers peacefully, lodged protests against their beliefs and strove to remove their misgivings about Islam. When they refused any other solution, but rather declared a war against him and his message and initiated the fight, there was no alternative except to fight back.”3

One form of Jihad, usually overlooked in today’s pursuit of newsworthy headlines, is the Jihad of presenting the message of Islam––da`wah. Thirteen years of the Prophet’s (saws) 23-year mission consisted purely of this type of Jihad. Contrary to popular belief, the word Jihad and related forms of its root word are mentioned in many Makkan verses in a non-combative context.

Combative Jihad in the technical usage of Islamic law means “the declaration of war against belligerent and aggressive non-Muslim powers or against fellow Muslim transgressors”. It is not a haphazard decision to be taken by anyone. The principles of Islamic jurisprudence state that the actions of the leader must be guided by the interests of the people and that the interests of the collectivity has, in some cases, precedence over the interests of the individual.