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JIHAD: What Does it mean?

Hassan Hathout
1/1/2012
1931 views

 

The word jihad has been frequently used by the Western press over the past few decades, explained directly or subtly to mean "holy war." In point of fact, the term "holy war" was coined in Europe during the Crusades, meaning the war against Muslims. It does not have a counterpart in the Islamic glossary, and jihad is certainly not its translation.

Jihad means "striving." In its primary sense it is an inner struggle, within the self, to rid it from debased actions or inclinations and to exercise constancy and perseverance in achieving a higher moral standard. Since Islam is not confined to the realm of the individual but extends to the welfare of society and humanity in general, a Muslim cannot strive to improve himself or herself in isolation from what happens in his or her community or in the world at large, hence the Quranic injunction to the Islamic nation to take as a duty "to enjoin good and forbid evil" (3:104). It is a duty that is not exclusive to Muslims but applies to the human race, which is, according to the Quran, God's vicegerent (deputy) on earth. Muslims, however, cannot shirk this responsibility even if others do. The means to fulfil it are varied, and in our modern world encompass all legal, diplomatic, arbitrative, economic, and political instruments.
 
Islam does not exclude the use of force by which to curb evil, if there is no viable alternative. A forerunner of the collective security principle and collective intervention to stop aggression, at least in theory, as manifested in the United Nations Charter, is the Quranic reference, "...make peace between them (two fighting groups), but if one of the two persists in aggression against the other, fight the aggressors until they revert to God's commandment" (49:9). Military action is therefore a subgroup of jihad and not its totality. This was what Prophet Muhammad emphasized to his companions when, returning from a military campaign, he told them, "This day we have returned from the minor jihad (war) to the major jihad (self-control and betterment)."
 
Jihad is not a declaration of war against other religions and is certainly not directed against Christians and Jews, as some media and political circles want it to be perceived. Islam does not fight against other religions. Christians and Jews are considered as fellow inheritors of the Abrahamic traditions by Muslims, worshipping the same God and following the tradition of Abraham
 
The rigorous criteria for a "just war" in Islam have already been alluded to, as well as the moral and ethical constraints that should be abided by. Modern warfare does not lend itself to those moral standards; therefore, war should be replaced by some other alternative for conflict resolution, if all sides agree on a just formula. An enlightened and resolute world public opinion could overcome and subdue war-oriented mentalities. The key is a change of heart. Just as there is a constructive role for forgiveness in interpersonal relations, so might this be possible in international relations provided justice, and not force, is the final arbiter.

We must reiterate for the sake of honesty that historically peoples of all traditions, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish, as well as others, have had their lapses in honestly following the valued ideals of their religions or philosophies. We have all made mistakes and we will continue to do so. Muslims are no exception, and time and again religion has been exploited by ambitious tyrants or violated by ignorant mobs. This is no reflection on religion, but it shows how desperately humanity is in need of better education, more enduring concern for human dignity, rights and freedoms, and vigilant pursuit of justice, even at the price of curbing political and economic greed.
 
Source:
Book Title: Reading The Muslim Mind
Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies





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