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Published in the 16-30 Nov 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition


Jihad is misunderstood

By Aquib Javed

A wave of terrorist attacks all over the world has created a misunderstanding about the concept of Jihad or holy war. The basic tenet of Jihad is misinterpreted not only by notorious outfits but even by some educated Muslim youth for their personal narrow ends. Contemporary scholars start thinking that what these people are saying or doing is a part of an Islamic Jihad against “infidels” or non-believers in Islam.

The concept of holy war commonly known as Jihad, and the first revelations on this subject to the Prophet (pbuh) are enshrined in the Qur'an (Sura xxii: Haj, verses 39-40) which says: “Those upon whom war is made by unbelievers are granted permission to fight because they are being oppressed and have been expelled from their homes in defiance of their rights, for the sole crime of saying 'Our Lord is God'. Fight in the cause of God against those who attack you, but be careful to maintain the limit, since God does not love transgressors.” By 'limits' is meant that the force used must be limited to the minimum adequate to restrain the evildoers who attack. The force used must never exceed that limit in order to exact revenge or impose an imperialistic conquest.

Today's “Jihad” is different from the real concept of Jihad whcih never teaches to wage war against kafirs only because of their disbelief in Islam. Jihad is not used to wars of aggression or conquests; rather it is a war against oppression, tyranny and wrong-doers. It seeks to root out false idea, and to replace them with superior ideas of purity and faith. It seeks not to conquer enemies, but to win them over. 

The Qur'an is the holy book of Islam in which conditions are mentioned under which Jihad is allowed. The real Jihad does not allow anyone to wage war against kafirs just for the sake of it. In Arabic, Jihad means 'struggle', while in the Islamic doctrine, it implies fighting in the way of Allah to establish His supremacy over unbelievers until they relinquish their faith to become Muslims or acknowledge their subordination by paying a tax called Jiziya which in effect is a tax for exemption from serving in the Islamic army while those unbelievers who serve in the Islamic army do not pay this tax. The Islamic principle emphasizes peace with all those who extend the hand of friendship to Muslims and let them live with honour and dignity and right to observe their religious beliefs. The Qur'an does not preach forcing others to believe in Islam. The Islamic doctrine clearly says: 'for you is your religion and for me is my religion' (109:6).

Moral values enjoy highest importance in Islam which guide one to choose what is right and what is wrong. Jihad is a collective duty to fulfill the community's obligations towards its citizens. The doctrine of Jihad has often been used to justify expansion of Muslim sates into non-Islamic regions. Strictly speaking, Muslim law does not allow Jihad to be waged as a means of forcible conversion to Islam. The only valid conversion is the one which takes place voluntarily. In recent decades, some pseudo-Muslim scholars and leaders have employed the idea of Jihad to sanction violent acts. A proponent of this idea is the Egyptian author Abd Al-Salam Faraj, who says in his book, Al-Jihad-Al-Faridah al-Gha’ibah, that Jihad is every Muslim’s 'neglected duty' to defend his faith in the social and political spheres. 

Asghar ali Engineer, an eminent Muslim scholar, says Jihad is a multi-layered concept in the doctrine of Islam. He says that it is the duty of true believers to transform this world and rid it of all forms of misconception and exploitation. The real Jihad is a constant struggle to promote justice and goodness and remove all evils from inside and outside world.

Islamic jurists divide the world into Dal al-Islam (the abode of Islam) and Dar Al-Harb (the abode of war), the first is where Islamic law is applied and the other where it is not. The conflict on behalf of Islam is not always called Jihad. 
The term Jihad literally means struggle or exertion of efforts but now it carries militant connotations. Some Muslim scholars, especially Shi'ites, distinguished between 'lesser Jihad' (Al-Jihad al-Asghar) which means physical conflict with others and 'greater Jihad' (Al-Jihad al-Akbar) which meams spiritual struggle against one’s own self in order to attain moral and religious perfection. 

Physical or Lesser Jihad is further divided into non-violent 'Jihad of the tongue or pen' and violent 'Jihad of the sword'. It is not accurate to equate Jihad with holy war, though it will be be wrong to say that the term has no association with violence which at times become necessary to put down a greater evil. It is necessary to control one's own desires and curb the acquisitive instinct which is the root cause of all evils. It is very difficult to practice this Jihad against one’s own self and ego. That is why Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that the Greater Jihad is to curb one's own desires and Lesser Jihad is to fight with sword.
Many misconceptions prevail with regard to the duty of Jihad in Islam. Not only European scholars but even some Muslim scholars misuse this term. A review reveals that this word is derived from Juhd, which means excretion of effort. Jihad can be undertaken as (i) against a visible enemy of Islam, (ii) against the devil, and (iii) against one’s own self. Jihad against visible enemies of Islam means persons or forces who forcibly stop the preaching of Islam or who actively persecute Muslims. Such people should be first addressed verbally but if they do not pay heed, then Islam permits the use of force against them by the Muslim state or an organised Muslim group in the absence of a state. Jihad against one’s own self means to stop not only others but to struggle against one’s own unjust desires and un-Islamic deeds. 

Any act of aggression is considered as Haram (unlawful) in the Islamic doctrine. In other words, a faithful must never transcend the limits set out by Allah. Since purification of self is central to the transformation of the community and the world, self-restraint becomes essential at every step of a Muslim’s life. 

It is not correct to say that violence has no place in the religious doctrine. In Islam it is resorted to in order to thwart and stop a bigger evil. Prophet Muhammad, an ideal for all Muslims, was mercy to the world (rahmatun lil-’aalameen). His followers cannot resort to wanton violence and aggression. Those who violate principles of Islam are not true believers. Prophet Muhammad had practically demonstrated on various occasions that one should achieve one's objectives or goals peacefully as far as possible.

Islam enjoins renunciation of one's right in the interest of peace and society’s larger interests, while still recognizing that human nature is bound to feel resentment at injuries in which case Muslims are allowed to take revenge only to the extent of the injury but if they forgive it is better according to the Qur’an 2:237, 4:149, 64:14). Islam calls on the believers to replace the passion of resentment with greater passion for God's will and with obedience to His calling to end division, violence, and the use of force on His earth. It is in the light of this command that Islam shows utmost compassion towards nature, humanity, animals, human beings and people which it conquered, and exerted to give them that true sense of real independence which comes to people whose hearts seek the pleasure of God.

Today the real practice of Jihad is forgotten while an ugly face masquerades in the form of terrorist acts here and there. During the last few decades “Jihad” has been used by some small groups for it was not meant. It is time Islamic scholars and leaders come forward to correct the picture and stop those small groups from using Islam for their wars for various mundane reasons.

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