Jihad in Islam

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Analysis of the Word Jihad

Islam is one of the major religions with thousands of adherents throughout the world. It was founded in the seventh century by Muhammad, who was thought to be the last prophet of Allah. Among other monotheistic religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, Islam is considered to be the youngest. Nevertheless, despite its age, it remains one of the leading religions worldwide and has a ramifying system of strong and stanch beliefs Muslims have and serve during their lives. These are particularly described and explicated in the central religious text of Islam that has received a title of the Quran. Many terms and concepts are mentioned there, although a certain interest is presented by a concept of Jihad, which is a specific religious duty of Muslims.

The present paper is basically focused on the analysis of the word jihad and its particular meanings it can have in the religion of Islam. Precise and ample descriptions of Jihad are given in order to construct a specific view Muslims have within their religion. A strong emphasis is placed on a certain role Jihad has in the pyramid of Islamic convictions and on its reflection in the lives of its adherents. Moreover, all the research is conducted to the extent that the Jihad concept is explained not only from the point of the past, but also from the point of modern times that gives a possibility to understand the ways its meaning transformed over time. Therefore, the given paper is a complete description and analysis of the word Jihad in Islam.

The word Jihad in the religion of Islam has a wide range of meanings. Many non-Muslims interpret the word as a holy war, though today it generally has no connection to a war concept, at least because in Arabic language the word “holy” is translated as harb, and the word “war” is translated as muqadassa. Therefore, the true meaning of Jihad is often lost and misunderstood by people, who do not adhere to Islam. This makes the given religion in their eyes an implementation of evil and iniquity that brings nothing but cruelty and pain. Notwithstanding these views, these days Jihad does not refer to the war affairs, and this is the very reason why it cannot be perceived as something bad.

Generally, Jihad has a pure meaning of struggle and striving in the cause of Allah, which is an exertion of all the best and greatest efforts to gain something. Explaining Jihad, it is important to mention a mujahid as well, because this is a person, who is fully devoted to the cause of Allah in his or her heart. He or she makes use of all the resources possessed, such as intellectual, physical or spiritual in order to serve this cause. He or she withstands any kind of power or force that can occur on the way, and what is essential, he or she dies for the holy cause if there is a necessity (Esposito, 2010). Therefore, Jihad comes into view as a personal struggle in the way of Allah for winning Allah’s pleasure, establishing His supremacy, and making His Will and Word uppermost. This is a major modern meaning Jihad reflects nowadays.

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Basically, Jihad has two specific aspects. The first one is the greater Jihad and the second one is the lesser Jihad. Muslims give the greater Jihad the meaning of fighting against any kinds of evil idolatry and carnal desires. This is the inner struggle of Muslims, and it is non-violent. The lesser Jihad received the meaning of fighting against all the enemies of Islam. This is the outer struggle of Muslims, and it may have a form of violence. Therefore, if the greater Jihad brings no violence, the lesser Jihad still turns to its historical roots, which primarily put the meaning of war in the term, and by this it is made a political and social tool for manipulation. This is an exact reflection of the role Jihad played at the early stages of the Islam religion.

To be more particular, there is another system of meanings the term Jihad may have. These are three levels of Jihad. The first one is personal Jihad, also called the Jihadun-Nafs. This is an inner struggle to keep one’s soul away from any bad (evil) influences. It includes putting Allah first, resisting the society, parents, friends and others, and striving for the right, and spread of the messages Allah sends to those who believe. The second level of Jihad is known as verbal jihad. This is a way of striving for justice. It is performed by words and activities that do not contain any kind of violence. The third one is physical Jihad. It implies the usage of physical force against enemies of Islam in order to defend the Islamic realm and Muslims. Allah teaches His adherents to live their lives in a peaceful way without transgressing against any other religions. If Muslims are oppressed or put to war, the Islamic Holy Book gives them a strict recommendation to leave and find a more peaceful land. If there is no possibility to leave, Muslims have to defend themselves in order to save their realm and beliefs. That is stated in the Quran as fighting against those, who decide and fight against Muslims. Also, Karen Armstrong in her book entitled “Muhammad” stated that in some cases wars are necessary. However, they always remain the smallest part of Jihad.

A well-known historian of the Middle East Bernard Lewis presents his argument, in which he maintains that Jihad should be perceived as having a military sense at all times. But today Jihad does not play this role. What it does is encouraging Muslims to fight over their carnal desires and gain something through the greatest efforts in the way of Allah. It is the role that embraces the non-violent. Logically, it cannot be referred to a common sense of war because the term“war” is a demonstration of abysmal violence accompanied by killing people (Lewis, 2008). Thus, the given interpretation, based on the past ideology, absolutely denies the meaning of war that many jurists, theologians and other experts try to put in the word Jihad. A modern Jihad is incomparable to the one of the past.

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Nevertheless, even so, at these days there still exists a so called classic concept of Jihad that absorbs the meaning of war and makes many scientists and experts in the field of religious knowledge and history fight over this very point. It is a well-known fact that throughout the history of Islam, its adherents often could not come to an understanding of the word Jihadthemselves. In the Quran, it is mostly interpreted as fighting in the way of Allah, and used to give an explanation of wars against enemies of the Islamic community called ummah. In the hadith, which is the record of the Prophet Muhammad’s actions and statements, the word has a meaning of an armed action (Cook, 2005). During the first four centuries of the history of Muslims, some of jurists, theologians and experts of the Islam religion believed it to have particularly a military meaning.

Jihad was seen by Islamic jurists in the context of a complicated conflict raised in the world that just had split in two. These were the territories directly under control of Muslims (the Dar al-Islam) and the territories of wars out of Islamic control (the Dar al-harb). The latter was shared by Christians and Jews, also called people of the book, and polytheists. The requirement to continue wars until the whole world is under Islamic control does not really mean that Islamic adherents have to fight at wars continuously. Although Muslims did not recognize other governments but their own, there were made numerous treaties for a limited period of time in order to embrace a standstill truce. Moreover, the Islamic territorial expansion does not mean that all people, who do not believe in Allah, should be killed, or proselyte in Islam. This occurs because Jihad does not allow to do so forcefully as it is stated in the Quran.

Jihad was mostly understood as a general duty of the whole Muslim community, also known as fard kifaya, but never only a duty of each single member of it. In cases of emergency, this rule transformed. For example, when the Islamic territories were unexpectedly attacked, all the Muslims ought to participate in Jihad. In other cases, when no danger was presented, a Muslim did not have to take part as the burden was carried by other Muslims in order to defend the Islamic realm.

Thus, there goes a serious argument whether the word Jihad still keeps a meaning of a so called holy war and encourages Muslims to fight over unbelievers, or whether this meaning has been lost over time, and today reflects a non-violent conception Muslims accept and follow. The analyzed above points of view give a plain understanding, especially from the standpoint of the history of Islam and Islamic law, described in the Quran, that the meaning of war is a primary meaning Jihad received once it was created. In modern times this meaning is erased and transformed into the non-violent form of fighting, or, in other words, struggle, more inner than outer, not like it was long ago.

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Going back to the history and Islamic law, there should be mentioned another interesting fact that can subject the word Jihad to the glare of truth. The Tunisian Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun wrote one of the greatest works entitled “Ibn Khaldun’s Prolegomena”, where he described a different approach to the meanings of Jihad. He divided it into four kinds that had four different meanings. The first one was Jihad by the heart. This is a form of the modern meaning Jihad has, where a Muslim fights over evil in the path of Allah in order to win His pleasure. The second one is Jihad by the tongue. This can also be considered a modern meaning, because it contains points encouraging others to do good things and forbidding them to do wrong ones in the cause of Allah. The third one is Jihad by the hand, and the fourth is Jihad by the sword. The two last are a demonstration of the war meaning that is not brightly presented today.

Though, even if to accept that the meaning of war that many experts and non-Muslims put in the term Jihad is not yet erased, and there is a reason to perceive it as a concept of wrong beliefs Islam affirms, there is a strong refutation that the question is not about the war as such. This argument is presented by a scholar from Syria Ramadan Buti. He stated in his work that Jihad by the sword, conducted by the Prophet against non-Muslims, was not a kind of war that shows violence but rather a way of defense. The Prophet kindly invited people, who did not believe in Allah, to join Islam removing their current beliefs. When they refused to do so and declared war against Allah and Muslims, finding no other solution, there was no other way or option for the Prophet but to fight back. This is the most direct explanation for the meaning of Jihad that reflects a subject of war.


Islam is a religion of many controversies and contradictions that at the first sight are difficult to analyze, and find, whether some Islamic concept is right, or not. One of these tortuous concepts is Jihad. Many think of it as a struggle of a soul. Some consider that this struggle may be divided into three levels. Others are sure that it has two certain aspects, etc. Despite various meanings that are put in the term Jihad, there are three major ones that exactly define what the given term means. These are the meaning of striving in the cause of Allah, the meaning of inner or outer struggle in the path of Allah, and the meaning of holy war. The first two stand against the third one. The history of Islam states that Jihad is war, and many researches in the field agree with this statement. However, the present paper has given an alternative answer to the argument, and has shown the true role of Jihad played in the lives of Muslim during the first stages of the Islam foundation as well as in modern times.

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