Jihad, Holy War and Terrorism in Islam

Islam is a greatly misunderstood faith, especially in the western world, and no Islamic term is more widely misunderstood and decried as the word Jihad. Jihad often is mistranslated to mean Holy War. Some non-Muslims misunderstand the term to indicate the waging of war against disbelievers, to convert them to Islam or kill them. Often, the word Jihad is thought to be synonymous with terrorism, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Jihad comes from an Arabic word meaning “to make an effort” or “to strive towards a goal.” Jihad means “ exerting oneself” or “to struggle.” In the Islamic context, it means to struggle against one’s evil inclination. So, any effort of self-improvement, whether enhancing one’s spirituality, education, or financial situation, is an act of Jihad.

“We shall certainly guide those who strive for Our cause to Our path. God is certainly with the righteous ones” (Quran 29:69)

This Verse applies to one who spiritually struggles to attain closeness to and seek the pleasure of God. Jihad comes in different forms. The essential Jihad, known as Major Jihad, is Jihad An-Nafs (the Jihad of the soul). This is the spiritual struggle between two powers within humans: the soul and the body. The soul is prone to becoming corrupt from within oneself, external influences, or both sources.

“Verily, the soul is inclined to evil” (Quran 12:53)

Islam expresses the importance of purifying, cleansing, and restraining oneself from submitting to sinful desires. Islam expects its followers to prefer their souls and conscience instead of their bodies and desires by striving to resist urges and inner temptations. They are expected to avoid acts of disobedience and instead perform acts of obedience pleasing to God.

“And whoever strives only strives for the benefit of himself. Indeed, Allah is free from need of the worlds” 

(Quran 29:6)

Islam emphasizes self-improvement, self-development, self-restraint, and self-control to shape one’s life in the best manner for personal benefit and the good of society. This Jihad is intended to purify the soul. The concept involves struggling against the greed for worldly purposes, arrogance, pride, envy, jealousy, hatred, hypocrisy, insincerity, vanity, narcissism, and other evil traits Satan uses to lead humanity astray into destruction. Every Muslim must strive daily to overcome these evils to the best of their ability. The Jihad of the soul includes the struggle to perform good deeds to please God and become closer to Him. Allah states in His Book:

“He has succeeded who purifies it.” (Quran 91:9)

Scholars state that the successors to whom this Verse refers are those individuals who purify their souls by obeying God and restraining from sins and evil doing. The other primary Jihad is Jihad Al-Shaytan (Jihad against Satan). Satan’s main aim is to destroy the religion of humanity by attacking them with continuous whispers regarding their belief in God and to tempt, corrupt, and mislead people away from God’s guidance.

“O, you who have believed, enter into submission completely and perfectly and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy” (Quran 2:208)

The whispers of Satan come to both righteous people and the wicked. These whispers can be detrimental to one’s spiritual, emotional, physical, and psychological well-being. One needs to fight against Satan, warding off the doubts the demon stirs up that undermine faith in God and resisting the corrupt desires he provokes.

These two types of Jihad are the foundation of all other varieties of the concept of Jihad and are obligatory for everyone to be held accountable. If one does not engage in these types of Jihad, one cannot venture into the other realm of Jihad, which involves battles against external enemies.

This introduces us to the other type of Jihad, which can be classified as Minor Jihad: the armed struggle against those who plot against Muslims. When Muslims, their faith, or their territory are threatened or attacked, they can defend themselves. This Jihad empowers one to strive on the battlefield and fight in self-defense to protect one’s life, family, faith, wealth, and property. The concept addresses the fight against evil, operation, and tyranny to defend what is right and combat oppression. This Jihad equals the effort and struggles to improve society.

Jihad does not equate to Holy War. The Arabic word for Holy War is Harbun Muqaddasah. Jihad does not imply Holy War, and the words Holy War do not exist in the Holy Quran or any authentic Hadith (the sayings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH). Killing innocent people — Muslim or non-Muslim — is condemned in Islam and considered a major sin. Islam does not permit Muslims to fight against non-Muslims solely based on their faith. Islam is a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness. No one can be compelled to accept Islam.

“There shall be no compulsion in acceptance of the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So, whoever disbelieves infalse deities and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing” (Quran 2:256)

Muslims must convey and establish evidence of Islam to people so that the truth can be differentiated from falsehood. Islam is clear in terms of its Message and Mission, which no one is compelled to accept. Those not stubborn or arrogant will believe and accept Islam, and whoever rejects the truth may do so of their own free will. No one can threaten or harm anyone because they choose not to accept Islam. If one is compelled to take this faith, they are not truly Muslim. A Muslim must submit voluntarily to God.

Islam does not allow the fighting of non-combatants. Military conflicts should be lodged against only fighting soldiers, not against innocent civilians. For example, acts such as those committed on that dreaded day of 9/11 in the United States are classified as major sins in Islam and carry the death penalty.

“…Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or corruption done in the land –it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one — it is as if he had saved mankind entirely…” (Quran 5:32)

It is also forbidden for one to harm or kill oneself by any means. Suicide is a severe sin in Islam, a state of disbelief and loss of faith the Holy Quran condemns.

“… do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction. And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doers of good” (Quran 2:195)

Unfortunately, as in the case with all other major religions, brainwashed Muslim youth are drafted into misguided terrorist groups, believing they will die as martyrs and go directly to Paradise through suicide bombings. Islam condemns suicide in any form. If attacked, one may fight back in self-defense. Muslims should be keen to defend themselves and preserve their own lives.

“Permission to fight has been given to those who are being fought because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory” (Quran 22:39)

If the opposing party refrains from aggression and offers peace, Muslims are expected to return their hand in a matching gesture of peace.

“And if they incline to peace, then incline to it also and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing” (Quran 8:61)

The first battle fought by our Prophet PBUH and his followers, the Battle of Badr, was an act of defense against a group that plotted and waged war against them. When fighting in defense, the Holy Quran warns Muslims not to exceed their military actions beyond the proper limits.

“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors” (Quran 2:190)

This type of fighting is permitted, as it is a lesser evil designed to rid the world of a bigger evil. It is committed to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. It constitutes the act of fighting to defend Islam rather than spreading it. Islam has provided specific guidelines for fighting against the enemy in self-defense and allows only fighting with minimum necessary force. It prohibits killing children, women, the elderly, the sick, monks in monasteries, rabbis, those sitting in places of worship, and the murder of any other non-combatant, even in a state of war.

Islam does not allow the torture of prisoners of war, mutilation, treason, rape, cutting down of fruitful trees, destroying cultivated fields or gardens, or destroying property. Islam also does not allow the slaughter of cows, sheep, and camels, except for food. Muslims are also forbidden from attacking wounded soldiers unless the wounded soldier acts violence against them.

Some enemies of Islam take the text of the Holy Quran and Hadith out of context, claiming that Islam promotes violence and terrorism. However, true Jihad has nothing to do with harming oneself or society. Jihad remains a noble matter and — when enacted — represents a noble strike for the sake of and in the name of God.

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