Jihad, A Comprehensive View

By Hicham Chehab

This is a controversial issue that has no easy

answers. In order to be fair we should look at all

opinions and find our own, but at the same time try

to be positive and objective, taking historical factors

into consideration.

Jihad is an Arabic Islamic term that means to strive

or struggle in the way of God, and is sometimes

referred to as “the sixth pillar of Islam,” although

it has no official status. Jihad has a wider meaning

in Islamic literature. It can be striving to lead a

good Muslim life, praying and fasting regularly, or

working hard to spread the message of Islam. Jihad

is also used in the meaning of struggle for or defense

of Islam, the “Holy War.”

In Muhammad’s time, polytheists of Arabia were

asked for submission to Islam as a condition for

exoneration. Others, like Christians and Jews, were

forced to pay tribute and submit to the political

authority of the Muslims, for exemption from death

punishment, and for military protection by the

Even though Islamic scholars today have different

opinions on Jihad, there is a consensus that armed

struggle against persecution and oppression will

always continue to be considered legitimate.

Classifications of Jihad by Muslims

Jihad has been classified either as al-jihad al-akbar

(the greater jihad), the struggle against one’s soul

(nafs), or al-jihad al-asghar (the lesser jihad), the

external, physical effort, often implying fighting.

Muslim scholars explained that there are five kinds

1.Jihad of the heart/soul is an inner struggle of

good against evil in the mind.

2.Jihad by the tongue is a struggle of good

against evil waged by writing and speech,

such as in the form of proselytizing, and

sermons that encourage Muslims…etc.

3.Jihad by the pen and knowledge is a struggle

for good against evil through scholarly study

of Islam, and through studying sciences that

are beneficial to mankind.

4.Jihad by the hand refers to a struggle for good

against evil waged by actions or with one’s

wealth, such as going on pilgrimage, taking

care of elderly parents, providing funding for

jihad, political activity for furthering the cause

of Islam, and stopping evil-doings by force.

Jihad by the sword refers to armed fighting

in the way of God, or holy war, the most

common usage by Muslim political activists.

Greater and Lesser Jihad

Muhammad is reported to have told warriors

returning home that they had returned from the

lesser jihad of struggle against unbelievers to a

greater jihad of struggle against evil, lust…etc.

Although the authenticity of that hadith (saying

of Muhammad) is questionable, the underlying

principle of superiority of internal jihad does have a

reliable basis in the Qur’an and other writings.

Jihad as Warfare

The Qur’an asserts that if the use of force would not

have been allowed in curbing the evils by nations,

the disruption and disorder caused by insurgent

nations could have reached the extent that the

places of worship would have become deserted

and forsaken. As it states: “And had it not been

that Allah checks one set of people with another,

the monasteries and churches, the synagogues and

the mosques, in which His praise is abundantly

celebrated would have been utterly destroyed.” –

Qur’an, 22:40

Jihad as warfare could be divided into two types:

1.Against injustice and oppression

2.Against the rejecters of truth after it has

become evident to them

The first type of Jihad is generally considered

eternal, i.e. until doomsday, but the second is

specific to people who were selected by God for

delivering the truth as an obligation. They are called

witnesses of the truth; the implication being that

they bear witness to the truth before other people in

such a complete and ultimate manner that no one is

left with an excuse to deny the truth.

Thus We [Allah] have appointed you a middle

nation, that ye may be witnesses against mankind,

and that the messenger may be a witness against

you. And We appointed the qiblah which ye formerly

observed only that We might know him who

followeth the messenger, from him who turneth on

his heels. In truth it was a hard (test) save for those

whom Allah guided. But it was not Allah’s purpose

that your faith should be in vain, for Allah is full of

pity, Merciful toward mankind.- Qur’an, 2:143

Similarly, proponents of Companions of Muhammad

as being “the witness” present following verse to

argue that Companions of Muhammad were chosen

people as witnesses just as God chooses prophets

and messengers from mankind. As in Qur’an: “He

has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties

on you in religion; it is the religion of your father

Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims,

both before and in this [He chose you so that] the

Messenger [Muhammad] may be a witness [of

this religion] to you, and you be witnesses of this

religion to non-Muslims [of your times].”—Qur’an,

Following is the first verse of the Qur’an in which

the Companions of Muhammad, who had migrated

from Mecca were given permission to fight back if

they were attacked, after their property in Mecca had

been confiscated by polytheists:

“Permission to take up arms is hereby given to

those who are attacked because they have been

oppressed – Allah indeed has power to grant them

victory – those who have been unjustly driven from

their homes, only because they said: “Our Lord is

Allah:.—Qur’an, 22:39-40

The reason for this directive in Medina, instead of

Mecca, considered by most Muslim scholars is that

without political authority armed offensives become

tantamount to spreading disorder and anarchy in

the society. As one Islamic jurist writes: “Among

Kifayah (see Fard Kifaya below) obligations,

the third category is that for which the existence

of a ruler is necessary e.g., Jihad and execution

of punishments. Therefore, only a ruler has this

prerogative. Because, indeed, no one else has the

right to punish another person.”—Sayyid Sabiq,

fiqhu’l-Sunnah, 2nd

ed., vol.3, (Beirut: Daru’l-Fikr,

1980), p.30

Directive of Warfare

The directive of the Jihad given to Muslims in

Fight in the cause of God those who fight you,

but do not transgress limits; for God loves

not transgressors. And kill them wherever ye

catch them, and turn them out from where

they have turned you out; for persecution

and oppression are worse than slaughter; but

fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless

they (first) fight you there; but if they fight

you, kill them. Such is the reward of those

who reject faith. But if they cease, God is Oft-
Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on

until there is no more tumult or oppression,

and there prevail justice and faith in God;

but if they cease, let there be no hostility

except to those who practice oppression.

The prohibited month, for the prohibited

month, and so for all things prohibited,

there is the law of equality. If then any one

transgresses the prohibition against you,

transgress ye likewise against him. But fear

(the punishment of) God, and know that God

is with those who restrain themselves. Qur’an,

Those verses told Muslims that they should not

merely fight Quraish (the ruling tribe in Mecca

during Muhammad’s time) if they resist them in

offering Hajj, but the Qur’an goes on to say that

they should continue to fight Quraish until the

persecution perpetrated by them is uprooted and

Islam prevails in the whole of Arabia. Initially

Muslims were required to fulfill this responsibility

even if the enemy was ten times their might.

Afterwards, the Qur’an reduced the burden of this

responsibility. As in Qur’an: “Prophet! Rouse the

believers to wage war. If there are twenty amongst

you, patient and persevering, they will subdue two

hundred: if a hundred, they will subdue a thousand

of the disbelievers: for these are a people without

understanding.”—Qur’an, 8:65

“[From] now, God as lightened your [task] or He

knows that there is now weakness amongst you: But

[ever so], if there are a hundred of you, patient and

persevering, they will subdue two hundred, and if a

thousand, they will subdue two thousand, with the

leave of God: for God is with those who patiently

persevere.”—Qur’an, 8.66

Some interpret the above verses that Jihad never

becomes obligatory unless the military might of

the Muslims is up to a certain level. In the times

of Muhammad, when large scale conversions took

place in the later phase, the Qur’an reduced the

Muslim to enemy ratio to 1:2. It then seemed that

Muslims should not only consolidate their moral

character, but it was also imperative for them to

build their military might if they wanted to wage

Jihad when the need arose. The Qur’an gave a

similar directive to Muslims of Muhammad times in

the following words:

“Muster against them all the men and cavalry at

your disposal so that you can strike terror into the

enemies of Allah and of the believers and others

beside them who may be unknown to you, though

Allah knows them. And remember whatever you

spend for the cause of Allah shall be repaid to you.

You shall not be wronged.”—Qur’an, 8:60

Some scholars consider the later command of

ratio 1:2 only for a particular time. A policy was

adopted regarding the extent of requirement that

arose in wars that the Muslims had to fight. In

the battles of Badr, Uhud and Tabuk (during the

life of Muhammad, in the 7th

responsibility was much more and each Muslim was

required to present his services as a combatant. As

century A.D), the

“Not equal are those of the believers who sit [at

home] without any [genuine] excuse and those who

strive hard and fight in the cause of Allah with their

wealth and their lives. Allah has given preference

by a degree to those who strive hard and gift with

their wealth and their lives above those who sit [at

home]. [In reality], for each, Allah has made a good

promise and [in reality] Allah has preferred those

who strive hard and fight above those who sit [at

home] by a huge reward. Degrees of [higher] grades

from Him and forgiveness and mercy. And Allah is

Ever Forgiving, Most Merciful.”—Qur’an, 4:95-96

Ethical Limits

Observance of treaties and pacts is stressed in the

Qur’an. When some Muslims were still in Mecca,

and they couldn’t migrate to Medina, the Qur’an

“And to those who accepted faith but did not migrate

[to Madinah], you owe no duty of protection to

them until they migrate; but if they seek your help in

religion, it is your duty to help them except against

a people with whom you have a treaty of mutual

alliance; and Allah is the All-Seer of what you

do.”—Qur’an, 8:72

Reports attributed to Muhammad speak harshly

about those who break treaties, and warn them of

God’s punishment. Other directives may include:

1.A display of pomp and pride should be

avoided when an army sets out for a battle.

As in Qur’an: “And be not like those who

came out of their homes boastfully and to

display their grandeur and who stop [people]

from the way of Allah even though Allah fully

encompasses what they do.”—Qur’an, 8:47

2.People who want to remain neutral in war

should be left alone and not be troubled in any

way. As in Qur’an: “Or those who approach

you such that they neither have the courage

to fight you nor their own people [and are

such that] had Allah willed, indeed He would

have given them power over you, and they

would have fought you. So if they withdraw

from you, and fight not against you, and

offer you peace, then Allah does not give you

permission to take any action against them.”—

Qur’an, 4:90

3.People who neither take part in a battle nor are

able to take part in it – as per the dictates of

custom as well as sense and reason – should

not be killed. As according to a hadith:

‘Abdullah Ibn’ Umar reports from the Prophet

that once in a battle when a woman had been

killed, the Prophet emphatically forbade the

killing of the women and children, Sahih

Bukhari 3015

4.People among the enemy should not be killed

by setting them ablaze.

5.Plundering and looting should be abstained

from. As according to a hadith: A person

from the Ansar (resident of Medinah who

supported Muhammad when he migrated)

narrates that once while traveling for a Jihad,

because of great compulsion, some people

of the Muslim army snatched some goats to

satisfy their hunger. When the Prophet came

to know about this, he overturned all the

utensils and remarked: ‘plundered (food) is

not better than dead meat’ (meaning forbidden

because eating animals that decayed or were

not killed in the Islamic way is forbidden).

Sahih Bukhari 2705

6.Dead bodies should not be mutilated.

7.Setting up obstructions and robbing travelers

is forbidden.

8.Wrong no one and exercise no torture.

9.Do not touch the children, women and the old.

10. Do not destroy fruit-trees and fertile lands.

11. Do not kill sheep or cattle.

12. Respect all religious persons who live in

hermitages and convents and spare their


Objectives of warfare

According to verses 2:190-194, the Qur’an implies

two objectives:

1.Uproot fitnah (sedition) or persecution

(forcing people to renounce their Islamic


2.Establish supremacy of Islam in the Arabian

Peninsula (and the rest of the world).

Against persecution

Directives for action against persecution can be

found in verse 8:39. At another place, the Qur’an

“And what has come over you that you fight not in

the cause of Allah, and for those weak, ill-treated

and oppressed among men, women, and children,

whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town

whose people are oppressors, and raise for us from

You one who will protect, and raise for us from You

one who will help. [You should know that] those

who believe fight in the cause of Allah, and those

who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Satan. So fight

you against the friends of Satan. Ever feeble indeed

is the plot of Satan.”—Qur’an, 4:75-76

Most Muslim scholars consider it an eternal

directive and believe that all types of oppression

should be considered under this directive. Similarly,

if a group of Muslims commit unwarranted

aggression against some of their brothers and

does not desist from it even after all attempts of

reconciliation, such a group according to the Qur’an

should be fought with:

“And if two parties or groups among the believers

start fighting, then make peace between them

both. But if one of them outrages against the other,

then fight you against the one which outrages till

it compiles with the command of Allah. Then if

it compiles, make reconciliation between them

justly, and be equitable. Verily! Allah loves those

who are the equitable. The believers are brothers

to one another. So make reconciliation between

your brothers, and fear Allah that you may receive

mercy.”—Qur’an, 49:9-10

If Muslims do not have a state, then in such a

situation, Muhammad while answering a question

raised by one of his followers, directed Muslims

to dissociate themselves from such anarchy and

I asked: if there is no state or ruler of the

Muslims? He replied: In this situation,

dissociate yourself from all groups, even if you

have to chew the roots of a tree at the time of

your death. Sahah Bukhari 7084

Even though the discourse mentioned above

undermines the legitimacy of today’s Jihadists who

wage war on the West without the support of the

Muslim authorities, and seem like loose canons,

there is more to say on this issue.

There are two kinds of religious duties in Islam;

Fard Ayn, where every Muslim should do,

Fard Kifaya, where only a group of Muslims is

responsible to fulfill. Hence, wagging Jihad to

free other nations from “darkness” and expand

the borders of the Muslim community is Fard

Kifaya. But waging war in order to defend Muslim

community is Fard Ayn, where every Muslim

would be a sinner, if he does not fulfill. Thus, when

Muslim lands are occupied, it is the duty of every

Muslim to wage Jihad.

What is the truth in this and which path a Muslim

should follow?

As some Muslim scholars say, ask your heart, even

if people give you verdicts. And as most Muslim

scholars say: Allah Knows better.