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What is Jihad in Islam ?

Updated on December 13, 2011

The literal meaning of the word ' Jihad' is struggle or strive . It's an Arabic word that has been mentioned numorous times in Quran (The Holy Book of Muslims ). Being considered the religious duty of all muslims a person who engages in 'Jihad' is said to be striving in the way of Allah. People pursuing such duty are referred as Jihadis or Mujahideen . A minority of Sunni sect of Muslims often calls 'Jihad' the sixth pillar of Islam.

There are wide range of opinions on the exact defination of this word 'Jihad' . Muslims explains 'Jihad' in the light of Quran to be an internal, individual, spiritual struggle toward self-improvement, moral cleansing and intellectual effort. Here if we have a look at the west they seems to refer 'Jihad ' only to the holy war. The Quran do call 'Jihad' as a military struggle for the cause of Islam but that is mentioned in relevance to the context. Picking out the verses randomly from the Quran and not considering the context in which they are being stated is the sole cause of misperception about Jihad.The modern Oxford English dictionary defines 'Jihad' as "a holy war undertaken by the Muslims against non-believers" . This is a very poor defination as it even fails to tell the Arabic meaning of the word Jihad .

Forms of 'Jihad'

  • Jihad of the Heart (jihad bil nafs/qalb) : It is a kind of Jihad that is concerned with the struggle to combat the Shaitan (Satan) against its persuasion to evil. This form is referred as 'The greater Jihad' (al-jihad al-akbar).
  • Jihad by the tongue (jihad bil lisan) : This is concerned with speaking the truth and spreading the the message of Islam with one's tongue. Da'wah (the invitation to Islam or spreading the message of Allah) often comes under this form of jihad where muslims preach the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W).
  • Jihad by the hand (jihad bil yad) : A form of jihad that focuses on actions rather than the words. It is standing against the injustice in our societies and combat social problems with one's actions. Zakat (charity) is a good example of this form of jihad as its taking practical initiatives to help the poor, saving the lives of people, financial assistance for those who are in desperate need, etc.
  • Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif) : It is referred as 'The lesser Jihad' (al-jihad al-asghar). Sometimes it becomes necessary to get involved in an armed combat to fight in the way of Allah. It is clearly not about violence but about fighting for 'Good' against the 'Evil'. The misuse of sword and fighting for personal motives is prohibited in Islam and regarded as a sin. To practice this form of Jihad two conditions are to be met and they are as follows:
  1. Self Defence: When someone attacks you or your state comes under attack, Islam allows its followers to engage in military combat.
  2. Fight against Evil and injustice: It is a sin and shame for a Muslim if he/she see injustice and is capable of stopping it but instead becomes a spectator. Few good examples include war on drugs, war on child labor, war on terror, etc.

Here I want to give an example of how the critics of islam creates misperceptions about Jihad. Many critcis of islam quotes their favourite verse from the Holy Quran and which is from Surat Al-Taubah, Ch. 9 verse. 5

"Kill the mushriqeen (pagans, non-muslims, kafir) where ever you find them".

Seems like quite a harsh statement and its very true the Quran does say this but if you manage you read the entire chapter 9 or the verses just before this verse, you will get to know this is taken completely out of the context. If you read the verses before this verse no. 5 the verses discusses the peace treaty between the Muslims and the mushriqeens of mecca and which was broken by the mushriqeens. Therefore as we reach the verse 5, Allah says to muslims put things straight in 4 months time and if a war is declared, wherever you find mushrikins ( Kafirs) kill them. The sole purpose of this verse is to give muslims the permission to kill when a war in a battlefield. Now can anyone can tell me is it wrong to kill in a battle field ? Any army general will ask its soldiers to kill the enemy in the battle field and will make such a statement to motivate its soldiers.

However, verse no. 6 has a beautiful reply to the critism on verse 5, verse 6 states:

"If one amongst the pagans ask the for asylum, grant him it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah; and then escort him where he can be secure that is because they are men without knowledge."

Here Quran does not only say that the mushriq seeking for asylum should be allowed to leave but also asks the muslims to provide security to the mushriq till he reaches a safe place. In this modernized age can anyone of you expect this sort of attitude from an army General? We can think that a General might let his enemy go freely but will he provide security to his enemy?

Is 'Jihad' a holy war or not ?

In the western societies it is being believed that Jihad means a holy war and this war is intended towards the Non-Muslims. The truth is that Jihad just cannot be translated as a holy war. The translation of holy war in arabic is harbu muqadasa, which is nowhere wriitten in the Quran or mentioned in any hadiths. The word 'Holy war' originated in the middle ages, when the european crusaders conquered the islamic states and captured Jerusalem. This military campaign was called a Holy war for acquiring the control of Holy land from the muslims.

According to Quran and the hadiths Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif) is elaborated and explained as a 'Just War'. Quran explains the concept of 'Just War' in Surah Hajj (verse 39 and 40):

"Those upon whom the war is made by non-believers are granted permission to fight because they are being oppressed (Verily Allah is the most powerful aid of them) and have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right for the sole crime of saying 'One Lord is God'."

Terrorism and Jihad by Dr. Zakir Naik

Share your thoughts !!!

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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very Very intersting lines of words by you my dear brother in ISLAM, infact am more than over happy than been granted things of the world by Allah reading UR article,I pray Almighty Allah will keep giving u more strength,knowledge and ability to write on more of confusing words used by the Westerners to trick their people away from the ligth and true religion of the Lord of the seven heavens and the world.. and will love to learn more from u Sir, here is my email ( Thanks and I appreciate and keep spreading the words of God and His religion till the whole world realize ISLAM is the Way to their Lord and Chericher

    • Valeed profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Pakistan

      Shakeel Shavab @ Thanks a lot for appreciating my efforts :) Its nice to have your comments on my hubs.

    • Shakeel Shavab CK profile image

      Shakeel Shavab CK 

      10 years ago from kerala

      I have read this hub from start to end and found that you are a good and real muslim. Nice hub valeed!! It will be very useful for those who don't know islam.

    • Valeed profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Pakistan

      W.K.Hayes @ Thanks for your insightful comment :)

      I wrote this hubs just for the purpose of potraying a different angle about the word 'Jihad'. In my view world will never come to peace until we all will come to common terms. We always tend to talk and discuss about the differences we have but very rarely we talk about the things that are common.

      Its really nice to see that someone is interested in learning and making a undestanding about other cultures and beliefs. Thanks again for stopping by and reading my hub. :)

    • W. K. Hayes profile image

      W K Hayes 

      10 years ago from Bryson City, North Carolina

      Thank you for this article. Learning the perspective of others is always a blessing. As a westerner, I will say that one of the biggest fears many of us have is that we are hated because we believe something differently.

      We are told that we are to wiped from the earth by this, Holy War and many people believe this foolishness. I am not one of them. I prefer to hear both sides of the story and your article has provided this knowledge to me.

      Truthfully, this world needs to take the time to learn more about one another, acceptance of one another and the understanding that, when it comes to the survival of the human race, we are all we have and we should work together for the sake of our generations to come. So to you, peace and goodwill. Above all else, thank you. Perhaps one day, the Sunnis and the Shiites will find peace among themselves and more truth will come to light as more of your people find ways of speaking to us, far in the west.

    • patdmania profile image


      10 years ago from waterford, mi

      Thanks for explaining. I was never sure what Jihad meant. I appreciate the good information you provided.

    • Valeed profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks for stoppning by. It was nice to have your insight on Jihad. I completely agree with you that it is hard for the non-muslims to understand such concepts, and so I believe that we all should continue our struggle to explain to them. It was nice meeting to you :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago from Hometown

      Thanks for explanation. The are number of ways the issues of Jihad can be approached and its considered opinion of the Muslim scholars that the wave to terrorism by certain sections of the Muslims in recent years is not Jihad.

      The aggressive part of Jihad comes from the basic belief of Muslims that the Universe belongs to them, they are the caliphs of God on the earth and responsible to the God to bring about change in the world. As such any thing happening wrong anywhere is for the Muslims to correct.

      The concept is very hard to digest and understand for non Muslims, and it does carry a sense of aggression and dominance in it.

      On the contrary however, the spirit of the Islam about this concept and bringing about the change is very moderate and cool. The way correction or change to be brought about is by deeds and not by sword, that's where my friend Valeed has mentioned the kind of Jihad and Jihad by the tongue.

      It can be long discussion, however, in short, there are some dangers around us in the form of mis-interpretation of Jihad as the ones following incorrect version believe the ones advising them are the followers of No Muslim powers and are doing so for lust of power or other gains.

    • Valeed profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Pakistan

      Yeah you are very right that a better understanding of various misunderstood terms is very necessary as there are many misperceptions. Thanks for stopping by and reading. Nice to meet you :)

    • thomasczech profile image


      10 years ago from Canada

      I am a Mesianic Jew, meaning a Jew who has found his Messiah. I must say thank you for explaing the term jihad. A greater understanding of the term needs to be taught


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