Jihad: It’s True Meaning and Purpose

Khutbah at ISOC - Rajab 10, 1422/ September 28, 2001

And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the religion of your father Abraham. It is He (Allah) Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation); that the Messenger may be a witness for you, and you be witnesses for mankind! So establish regular Prayer, give regular Charity, and hold fast to Allah! He is your Protector, the best to protect and the Best to help! (al-Hajj 22:78)

Jihad is one of the most misunderstood, and abused aspects of Islam. There are some Muslims who exploit and misuse this concept for their own political objectives. There are many non-Muslims who misunderstand it. There are some non-Muslims who misinterpret it to discredit Islam and Muslims.

What is Jihad?

The word Jihad does not mean Holy WarӔ. It means struggleӔ or strivingӔ. The word for war in the Quran is ғHarb or ԓQital. Jihad means serious and sincere struggle on the personal as well as on the social level. It is a struggle to do good and to remove injustice, oppression and evil from the society. This struggle should be spiritual as well as social, economic and political.

Jihad is to work hard to do right things. In the QurԒan, this word is used in its different forms 33 times. It often comes with other Quranic concepts such as faith, repentance, righteous deeds and migration.

Jihad is to protect oneҒs faith and ones human rights. Jihad is not a war always, although it can take the form of war. Islam is the religion of peace, but it does not mean that Islam tolerates oppression. Islam teaches that one should do oneҒs utmost to eliminate tension and conflict. Islam promotes non-violent means to bring change and reform. Actually, Islam urges that one should eliminate evil through peaceful means without the use of force as much as possible. In Islamic history from the time of the Prophet -peace be upon him- until now, Muslims most of the time resisted oppression and struggled for liberation in non-violent and peaceful manners. When it was not possible for them to work without taking up arms then, and only then, they took up arms. Some groups, of course, misused Jihad and did not follow the teachings of Islam. But that was the exception, not the norm.

Islam also teaches proper ethics in the situation of war. War is permissible in Islam, but only when other peaceful means such as dialogue, negotiations and treaties fail. It is a last resort and should be avoided as much as possible. Its purpose is not to convert people by force, or to colonize people or to acquire land or wealth or for self glory. Its purpose is basically: defense of life, property, land, honor and freedom for oneself as well as defense of others from injustice and oppression.

The basic rules of war in Islam are:

1. Be strong so that your enemy fears you and should not attack you.

2. Do not begin the hostilities. Work for peace as much as possible.

3. Fight only those who fight, no collective punishment, non-combatants should not be harmed. Weapons of mass destruction should not be used.

4. Stop hostilities as soon as the other party incline to peace.

5. Observe the treaties and agreements as long as the enemy observe them.

Allah says very clearly:

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not do aggression, for Allah loves not the aggressors. (al-Baqarah 2:190)

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 Allah, and know that Allah is with those who
restrain themselves. (al-Baqarah 2:194)

Jihad is not terrorism:

It is to be emphasized that terrorism against the innocent civilians, whether through aggression or suicidal means, is under no circumstances permissible in Islam. Islam encourages the oppressed people to struggle for their liberation and it commands other Muslims to help those who are oppressed and suffering, but Islam does not allow, under any circumstances, terrorism against non-combatants and innocent people. Terrorism is not Jihad, it is Fasad (mischief). It is against the teachings of Islam. If the Quran has spoken about Jihad 33 times, it has spoken against Fasad 46 times. There are some people who use their twisted arguments to justify terrorism for their causes, but it has no justification: Allah says:

When it is said to them: “Make not mischief on the earth,” they say: “Why, we only want to correct things.” Indeed they are the mischief doers, but they realize (it) not. (al-Baqarah 2:11-12)


Islam wants to establish a world order where all human beings - Muslims and non-Muslims - can live with justice in peace, harmony and good will. It gives its followers full guidelines to find peace in their personal and social lives, but it also tells them how to extend the good will on the basis of human relations towards others. Muslims worked under these principles for centuries. People of many faiths lived with them and among them. Islamic societies were known for their tolerance, generosity and humanity.

In our modern society where we are living in a global village, where non-Muslims are living with Muslims in the Muslim countries and Muslims are living with non-Muslims in countries where non-Muslims constitute a majority, it is our duty to bring better understanding among ourselves, work for peace and justice for all people and cooperate with each other in matters of goodness and virtue in order to stop all terrorism, aggression and violence against the innocent people. This is our Jihad today.

Reprinted with permission of the author.  Originally published on the Website of the Islamic Society of North America.  Visit their site at http://www.isna.net/  The American Muslim does not claim primary copyright on the source material.  If you wish to reprint the entire article, you must obtain permission of the copyright holder.

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