How mainstream Muslims understand the term “jihad” - updated 1/13/13

How mainstream Muslims understand the term “jihad”

by Sheila Musaji

The current controversy over the AFDI/SIOA hate ads posted on public transportation sites has made it clear that Muslims still have a long way to go in explaining why they object to the term “jihad” being used as a synonym for “terrorism”. 

We have published a a number of articles on various aspects of these ads on TAM.  They are listed in TAM articles on “savage/civilized/jihad/Islamorealism” ad wars

This “jihad” ad says (paraphrasing Ayn Rand) “In a war between the civilized man and savages, support the civilized man - support Israel defeat jihad”.  The ad contains Stars of David on each side of the word Israel, making it clear that the AFDI ad is equating Israel and Judaism, thus making it a “religious” issue. 

Pamela Geller to Release New Anti Jihad Bus Ads in NYC | Blaze Exclusive

The original subway ad (Photo Credit: American Freedom Defense Initiative/ABC News)

Everything in the text of this ad depends on your definitions of who fits in each category and why.  It also depends on your definitions of the meaning of the terms jihad, savages, and civilized.  The author of the ad, Pamela Geller, has a definition that would not match that of most Muslims (see A spiritual jihad against terrorism).  Any Muslims engaged in terrorism, or attacks on civilians are not engaged in jihad but in HIRABAH, no matter what their self definition.  The use of the term jihad to describe acts that are reprehensible is an attempt to justify unjustifiable actions.  (As is Pamela Geller’s self-description as a “freedom fighter”). 

Most Muslims don’t accept criminals or terrorists defining themselves as “jihadis”, we strongly object to their use of this term for criminal acts of hirabah.  And, we don’t accept the definition of “jihad” given by by Islamophobes such as Pamela Geller and her partner, Robert Spencer.  Most Muslims and most Arabs do not accept that either side in the Israeli-Palestine conflict represents only savagery or only civilized behavior.  The truth is that there have been just as many Israeli attacks on Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and Christians that were equally “savage” as such attacks carried out by Palestinians.  Neither side has a monopoly on either “civilization” or “savagery”.  And, this sort of one-sided presentation of the facts does no one any good.  See All extremists are “savages” and “civilized men” need to counter the hate for a discussion of the term “savages” in this ad. 

The claim that terrorists are engaged in any act of lawful jihad is false.  The Islamophobes’ definition of jihad, based on the same specious thinking as the terrorists, is also false. 

Neither extremists/terrorists or Islamophobes have the right to co-opt or hijack or defame the term jihad by their criminal interpretations.  We reject the extremist/terrorist definition and we reject the Islamophobes definition of Jihad in favor of the traditional, legitimate, respectable, spiritual concept.  JIHAD is not a dirty word.

There are only two groups who equate jihad and terrorism - the terrorists and the Islamophobes.  There is an extremist element within the Muslim community (exemplified by groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban) that attempts to spread their extremist interpretations of Islam which claims that they can justify criminal acts as “jihad”.  Muslims, particularly our scholars, will continue to counter the arguments of this extremist element.  Muslims must also attempt to educate young and impressionable Muslims so that they can see why the arguments of the extremists are false.  Muslims will also continue to counter the false claims of the Islamophobes. 

The U.S. Government recently issued a statement asking that government officials be cautious in their use of language as it may actually be against the interests of the U.S. to use terms that connect the religion of Islam with the acts of criminals.  The governments suggests the use of more accurate and non-inflammatory language.  A recent Homeland Security Report even sharply rebuked John McCain’s ‘Islamic Extremism’ rhetoric

The governments new awareness that words have meaning has been attacked as caving in to Muslim pressure by a number of groups and individuals who currently make a nice living defining Islam and Muslims.  As an American Muslim who loves both Islam and America, I say “Thank God Someone Is Finally Listening to Us - Terrorism Is Not Jihad”.  Perhaps now we can work together to combat the very real problem of extremism and terrorism.

When the media or individuals use Arabic terms such as jihad for acts of terrorism, or when they attach the word Islam in front of a word as in Islamo-fascism, Islamic terrorism, those words have an effect.  They have an effect right here in America by linking the religion of Islam and terrorist acts in the mind of ordinary citizens.   They have an effect on Muslims who are struggling to make clear to those Muslims who attempt to justify their crimes by some false interpretation of Islamic teachings that we do not accept their claims.  They have an effect on Muslims worldwide who because of the use of language like Islamo-Fascist, have come to view the “war on terror” not as a war on al Qaeda, but as a war on Islam itself. 

Criminal political movements like al-Qaeda who attempt to convince other Muslims that their actions are somehow “Islamic” attempt to call their terrorist acts Jihad, and when their false claims are echoed in the media in the West, that adds some legitimacy to their claims, at least for uneducated Muslims. 

Terrorism is not a legitimate part of jihad according to traditional Islamic scholars, and mainstream Islamic scholars, and ordinary Muslims regularly attempt to point this out because they are aware that the only appeal to reason that might influence extremists who claim an Islamic justification in any way is an appeal to Islamic teachings.

If you must use an Arabic word for terrorism, use the correct word HIRABAH which is the word that would correspond to these acts of terrorism.  But, why use an Arabic word at all in English?  Just call it TERRORISM!


Certainly, one form of jihad can be fighting in a “just war”, a Muslim would never call a war “holy”, because it is always the last choice when all other avenues have failed.

Some of the Qur’anic verses which lay out the purpose and nature of just war include the following:

To stop oppression: To those against whom war is made, permission is given to fight, because they are oppressed. Verily, God is Capable of aiding them. They are those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of what is just, for no other reason than that they say, “Our Lord is God.” Had God not restrained one set of people by means of another, monasteries, churches, synagogues, temples and mosques wherein God’s name if oft-mentioned would have been destroyed. God will certainly aid those who aid His cause. (Qur’an 22:39-40). Notice the mention of all houses of worship.

In self-defense: Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits by aggressing; surely God does not love transgressors.” (Qur’an 2:190.) Notice that permission is given to fight in self-defense, but not to transgress.

“Believers, never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice” Qur’an 5:8

Peace is the desired state: If they incline toward peace, then seek you peace also. And place your trust in God, for God hears and knows all things. (Qur’an, Chapter 8:61).

In a just cause and following ethical restraints:  “Oh you who believe!  Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor, for God can best protect both.  Follow not the cravings of your hearts, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily God is well acquainted with all that you do.” Qur’an 4:135.

“Goodness and evil are not equal.  Repel evil with what is better.  Then that person with whom there was hatred, may become your intimate friend!  And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, none but people of the greatest good fortune.” Qur’an 41:34-35. 

“O you who believe! Fulfill all contracts, treaties and covenants with God and with people.” Qur’an 5:1

As a last resort:  “The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree), but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God, for God loves not those who do wrong.  But indeed, if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong done to them, against such there is no cause of blame.  The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrongdoing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice. For such there will be a penalty grievous (in the Hereafter).  But indeed, if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an affair of great resolution.” Qur’an 42:40-43. 

“If anyone slays a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew all people.  And if anyone saves a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people.” Qur’an 5:32.

“Oh mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (Not that you may despise each other).” 49;13.

In the Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying: “Do not kill women or children or non-combatants and do not kill old people or religious people (he also mentioned priests, nuns and rabbis). Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees and do not poison the wells of your enemies.”  ...  The Prophet also said: “Whoever unjustly harms a Christian or a Jew will not even smell the scent of paradise.”

Muslim extremists (and Islamophobes) get their textual interpretations by taking verses in the Qur’an out of their social-historical context, not considering the time, place, and specific circumstances in which these verses were revealed. The commonly quoted verse that follows must be understood in its proper context, namely during the struggle of the early Muslims against the specific group of Makkans who fought, persecuted and killed them first in Makkah, and then after they established a state in Medina, where early Muslims fought back for the first time. These verses can neither be used to justify killing non-Muslims, nor targeting innocent civilians.

“Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war. But if they repent, and establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity, then open the way for them, for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. If any among them asks for asylum, grant it to him so that he may hear the word of God. Then escort him to his place of security. This is because they are without knowledge.”

*Note that even in this social-historical context, not only were the perpetrators given a chance to repent, but that if they sought asylum, it must be granted. source

Many discussions are taking place within the Muslim community about the concept of jihad in a historical context, and about needed clarifications and re-evaluations of some traditional interpretations.

UPDATE 12/18/2012

A few months ago, a series of twitter campaigns were launched in New York responding to AFDI hate ads.  #MySubwayAd #AntiHate #MyJihad were the tags.  The #MyJihad campaign was officially announced on Facebook in September with the motto:  “Taking back Jihad one hashtag at a time from anti-Muslim and Muslim extremists.  Taking back Islam.”  (See TAM articles published on these “savage/civilized/jihad/Islamorealism” ad wars that have been going on for some months.)

The #MyJihad twitter campaign expanded into a My Jihad ad campaign with a website   Last week the first of these print ads began running on Chicago buses.  The bus ad campaign was begun by Ahmed Rehab, the director of CAIR-Chicago, and this first series of ads was sponsored by CAIR-Chicago.  Here is the first of those ads

"My Jihad" campaign was sparked by AFDI/SIOA's series of hateful ads against Muslims(

As the “about” page for this campaign says in part:

Jihad is a term that has unfortunately been widely misrepresented due to:  a) first and foremost, the actions of Muslim extremists, b) attempts at public indoctrination by Islamophobes who claim that the extremists are right and the rest of us are wrong, c) a selective media that understandably focuses on the sensational.

For Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists (who ironically are on perfect agreement), Jihad is synonymous with terrorism, blowing up things, and spilling innocent blood. This campaign is about reclaiming our faith and its concepts from these extremists, both Muslims and anti-Muslim, as well as their cheerleaders and clap-trappers, all of whom have for too long now effectively hijacked and dumbed-down the conversation about Islam and Muslims.  ...  Most of all this campaign is about representing our voice, our lives — our reality. The “My” in MyJihad is as important as the “Jihad.” The purpose of the campaign is to bring forth the mainstream majority moderate voice that is often squeezed out between two extremes.

There are only two groups who equate jihad and terrorism - the Muslim extremists and the Islamophobes, and both of them are now attacking the My Jihad campaign.  See “My Jihad” Campaign Angers Hizb-ut Tahrir and AFDI Extremists for much information on this development.


UPDATE 1/5/2013

Not surprisingly, on the same day that the new AFDI hate group ads began running in New York, Robert Spencer published an article calling the #MyJihad ads now running in San Francisco “misleading”, and “deceptive”, and those Muslims attempting to take back the meaning of jihad from extremists “mendacious”.  This is code for “taqiyya” which is a term he used a great deal until his usage was thoroughly debunked.  However, his partner in crime, Pamela Geller couldn’t resist using the taqiyya slander in her article comparing the AFDI hate ads and the #MyJihad ads. 

Spencer quotes lots of scholars from centuries ago.  Obviously, Spencer follows the school of thought that believes that “the gates of ijtihad are closed”.  Fortunately for American Muslims, the “madhab of Robert Spencer” (like the madhab of Daniel Pipes) is not recognized as a legitimate school of Islamic law.

UPDATE 1/12/2013

About the claim that a Muslim text shows lie of Hamas-linked CAIR’s #MyJihad campaign

Today, Spencer tweeted:  “Widely distributed Muslim text shows lie of Hamas-linked CAIR’s #MyJihad campaign” linking to his article Widely distributed Muslim text shows lie of Hamas-linked CAIR’s #MyJihad campaign and using the #MyJihad hashtag.

Spencer simply introduces an article by yet another Islamophobe who only uses an alias “Kamala”.  Spencer introduces this saying:  “In “The Meaning of Jihad,” the ever-vigilant Kamala explores a popular Muslim text’s teaching on jihad to expose the hypocrisy and deception of Hamas-linked CAIR’s #MyJihad campaign.”

The “Islamic scholar” Kamala lists a number of Mosque sites, Islamic bookstores, etc. -  and says that all of these promote or sell a book called “Minhaj al Muslim” that includes this definition of jihad:  “The specific ruling of Jihad – which is fighting against the disbelievers and those who wage war against Islam – is that it is a collective compulsory duty.” (Vol. 2, p. 165)

Minhaj al Muslim is a book of fiqh By Abu Bakr Jabir Al-Jaza’iry.  However, Kamala doesn’t mention what madhab this book is from.

Spencer knows that Muslims are well aware that there are many opinions about jihad in the context of “just war”, but acknowledging that would not suit his propaganda.  This particular quote proves nothing.  I read it as saying that if there is a legitimate just war declared by a legal authority (a legitimate government) then fighting in that war becomes compulsory.  So what? 

A number of mosques and bookstores may carry this book and it may contain some extreme interpretations.  So what?  I’ll bet you’ll find Martin Luther’s writings in most Lutheran church libraries, or the works of John Chrysostrum in Catholic libraries, and they and others had some pretty extreme anti-Semitic views.  You may find the Torat Hamelech or King’s Torah in some synagogues, and that contains some pretty extreme views about non-Jews. 

Even is this particular book of fiqh contained an opinion that coincided with Spencer’s understanding of what it means, so what?  This is an opinion.  It is not the only opinion.  It doesn’t represent “the” Muslim opinion.  No one is bound to accept it, in fact, it can be rejected. 

It is not surprising that Spencer’s partner, Pamela Geller also re=posted this, but Spencer who wants to be seen as a “scholar” should really know better.

Read Ali Eteraz’ analysis of Spencer’s scholarship More dissection of Robert Spencer’s “scholarship”.  Here is an excerpt:

Spencer’s “scholarship” generally follows a pattern:

• Cite a recent incident of extremist violence or rhetoric in the Muslim World

• Quote the centuries-old writings of well-respected scholars (often selectively) or make blanket statements about Islamic law in an attempt to draw a causal connection between mainstream Islamic doctrines and modern extremism

• Bridge the gap in relevance between ceturies-old doctrines and modern-day problems by claiming that the “gates of ijtihad are closed”, that Muslims are thus completely bound by the rulings of long-dead jurists, and that reform is therefore impossible

• Dismiss (or simply neglect to discuss) the significance of archaic international norms of warfare and diplomacy in the formulation of centuries-old doctrines relating to jihad

• Dismiss (or simply neglect to discuss) Muslim scholars and leaders who criticize jihadist ideology and extremism

• Dismiss (or simply neglect to discuss) the role of socioeconomic realities or postcolonial dynamics in fostering terrorism and extremism

• Dismiss (or simply neglect to discuss) the role of American foreign policies in fostering terrorism and extremism

Needless to say, his work would not be taken seriously if he applied a similar approach to any other field of study. However, given the current political climate, a third-rate “expert” such as Spencer can find a large audience for his pseudo-scholarship, thereby lending him an aura of legitimacy. His posts on JihadWatch garner dozens of comments from back-patting cheerleaders who post under names like “DownWithIslam” and call for “sand niggers” to be shot. Spencer has appeared on numerous mainstream television and radio talk shows and been invited to lead a seminar on Islam before the Department of Homeland Security’s Joint Terrorism Taskforce.

Because of the simplistic nature of Spencer’s analysis, many Muslim leaders may not wish to dignify his work with a response or may find it distasteful to engage with him. But due to his unfortunate influence within mainstream circles, Muslim leaders active in the public relations sector must deal with his views whether they want to or not. Fortunately, JihadWatch is replete with examples of the flawed logic endemic in Spencer’s writings, and demonstrates that refuting him is a rather easy task.

Danios of Loonwatch also analyzed Spencer’s scholarship Robert Spencer, pseudo-scholar, gets Arabic 101 lessons from LoonWatch.



There is an extensive list below of articles, primarily by Muslims, discussing Jihad.  This short list of quotes is meant to show how wide-ranging that discussion is.

Like many other religious terms jihad, often mistranslated as “holy war”, is a deeply nuanced concept that has been relined and relined many times throughout more than fourteen centuries of Islamic history. As Bruce Lawrence, a noted American Islamicist, recently pointed out, jihad historically has had as much to do with political ideology as with religion proper, since “all proponents of jihad, whether writers or actors, intellectuals or politicians, are ideologues.? ... Despite this rather obvious but often overlooked fact (which is equally true when applied to the concept of “holy war” in Christianity), it should not be forgotten that within Islam the relationship between religion and ideology is inherently reciprocal; consequently, any ideologue who calls for jihad must come up with sound scriptural and legal justification for doing so. The resulting medley of religious, political, and moral discourses in numerous parts of the world and over many centuries has made jihad into an extremely complex concept ? so much so, in fact, that a completely thorough discussion of the term can only be conducted on a case-by-case basis.? Dr. Vincent Cornell

As I continued to search for the religious sources of terrorism, if there were any, available to the extremists in the scriptures or in the tradition ascribed to the Prophet. As I searched, I became aware that the term ‘jihad’, which is commonly used by these terrorists to legitimize their criminality, does not appear in the meaning of “holy war against the infidels” at all.  In fact, terrorism in any form does not qualify as anything more than a cowardly act and an expression of rejection of God’s blessing of life.  To be sure, the term `jihad’ in the lexicon of these murderers does not appear in more than a contrived meaning to cover up the horror of their satanic behavior. Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina

The moral issue here is not merely whether suicide bombing can be justified, because only those who have lost even the rudiments of civilized values can possibly think that it is. A larger issue is whether the terrorists’ actions can be categorized as war. If so, what limits does the “just war doctrine” impose as recognized universally by the classical scholars in all the world’s religious traditions. ... The larger challenge to global civilization in the twenty-first century is how does one manage conflict with hate-filled extremists who are immune to all tactics of conflict resolution? Can such extremists be marginalized by marshaling spiritual and intellectual powers against which they have no defenses? If so, is there a “grand strategy” to do so? Dr. Robert D. Crane

The attempt to discuss the just war concept (as well as the concept of jihad) has never been more important.  These are difficult times in relations between the West and the Islamic world. Wars and rumors of war abound, and terrorism (although rarely its context) dominates the headlines. A shooting war continues between the United States and al Qaa?ida in Afghanistan, and war evidently impends between the United States and the United Kingdom on the one hand and Iraq on the other. Fundamentalisms—Muslim, Jewish, and Christian—metastasize. Atop all else, violence reigns unchecked in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and makes effective responses to assorted other challenges enormously more difficult. With polarities unprecedented in modern times between the West and the Islamic world, and seething anger among Muslims worldwide against the United States, it is difficult indeed to discuss objectively concepts with such emotive resonance as terrorism and Jihad. But the attempt to do so has never been more important. ... It is unfortunate that in the West a putative validation of terrorism has come to be understood as incarnated in the Arabic word Jihad. And in the Islamic world, far too many today understand Jihad as justifying, indeed demanding, the taking of the lives of innocent civilians in countries or cultures against which Arabs and Muslims may have very real and painful grievances. Misperceptions, and rampant ignorance, reign almost everywhere. Especially in the United States and the Arab world, there is today an enormous need for an intellectual and spiritual “Jihad,”? or effort, to readdress soberly the whole issue of terrorism, and the significance of the concept of Jihad over the entire span of Islamic history.” Dr. Antony T. Sullivan

Creating the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven, is the basic message of Islam. This is the true meaning of jihad. Now there’s a word. The very mention of the term sends shivers down ‘civilised’ spines and leads many, glibly, towards ‘holy war’. Surely, these paradise-seeking martyrs have declared jihad on America?  Acts of terror are not jihad. They violate the explicit word of God, Prophet Muhammad and the reasoned consensus of all believers. The greatest jihad is the war on injustice in one’s own soul, the injustice that can conceive of terror tactics and lose all restraints and respect for the sanctity of a human life. Jihad is the reasoned struggle of each individual to work within the bounds of moral action, to extend the protection of justice equitably to every human being, irrespective of colour, creed or place of origin. Jihad is the obligation to make peace a lived reality for all human beings.  ...  Islam cannot explain the actions of the suicide hijackers, just as Christianity cannot explain the gas chambers, Catholicism the bombing at Omagh. They are acts beyond belief, religious belief, by people who long ago abandoned the path of Islam.  Ziauddin Sardar

Certainly, neither bin Laden nor his principal associate, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are graduates of Islamic universities or seminaries. And so their proclamations ignore 14 centuries of Muslim scholarship, and instead take the form of lists of anti-American grievances and of Koranic quotations referring to early Muslim wars against Arab idolators. These are followed by the conclusion that all Americans, civilian and military, are to be wiped off the face of the Earth.  All this amounts to an odd and extreme violation of the normal methods of Islamic scholarship. Had the authors of such fatwas [non-binding legal opinions] followed the norms of their religion, they would have had to acknowledge that no school of traditional Islam allows the targeting of civilians. An insurrectionist who kills non-combatants is guilty of baghy, “armed transgression”, a capital offence in Islamic law. A jihad can be proclaimed only by a properly constituted state; anything else is pure vigilantism.”  Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad

This is a war being guided on both sides by self-righteous murderers whose motives and proclamations mirror each other. Each side sees God as being exclusively with them. That being the case, the restraint and judiciousness urged by Christian and Islamic theology to guide the execution of war is cast aside with wanton impunity. Each side manipulates a vulnerable public to create a climate that allows for the perpetuation and the inevitable escalation of the ongoing slaughter. Each side reserves the right to use the spectacle of indiscriminate violence to “Shock and Awe” the opposition, yet will deny that its tactics can be described as terrorism. Each side sees their civilian population as hapless, innocent victims, while the suffering innocent civilians on the other side are acceptable collateral damage.  Imam Zaid Shakir 

My fundamental argument is that terrorism and Jihad are not identical twins but historic enemies.  I will maintain that a new vocabulary is essential to demonstrate the radical antipathy that has separated these concepts until very recent decades.  Terrorism is not only un-Islamic but anti-Islamic, and those who commit terrorism should be designated as criminals rather than as holy warriors or resistance fighters.  Moreover, this paper will suggest that a new focus by Muslims on the Holy Quran, at the expense of medieval fiqh, is now very much in order (I frequently suggest to Muslim ԓfundamentalists that their only problem is that they are not fundamentalist enough).  In addition, an argument will be made that the meaning of Jihad must be reassessed through analysis of its linguistic roots, and re-conceptualized to incorporate the phenomenon of culturally traditionalist and inter-religious efforts designed to address some of the most difficult problems of modernity.  Dr. Antony T. Sullivan

Traditionally understood, jihad enunciates a paradigm of struggle which is for the most part internal, spiritual and peaceful, but which also expresses strategic, legal and collective justification, ratio legis, for going to war. More than that, it articulates a moral framework for regulating the conduct of war, thus providing a comprehensive theory which incorporates the concerns of both jus ad bellum and jus in bello. As such, the Islamic doctrine displays unmistaken affinity with other morally paradoxical teachings, ancient as well modern, religious as well as secular, that recognize, under strict moral criteria, the justifiability and legality of war. Yet, it is also in the nature of Islam’s transcendent moorings that Jihad can never be a war for the sake of war, a war of instrumental reasoning and worldly glory. Whenever such a war takes place, no matter what the identity of the combatants, it is indisputably un-Islamic. In facing the moral challenges of war, we may not therefore merely submit to the depressing, albeit undeniable, fact of the human condition, namely that the morally irreproachable ethic of survival also entails existential struggle, even extinguishing human life itself! No, our ethical reflection and moral sensitivity must extend beyond the justifiability of war to its actual conduct. It must probe not only the legitimacy of the just struggle but also the means to achieve its ends, not merely the whyђ of jihad but its howђ as well.  S. Parvez Manzoor

To deny these lived realities of the Islamic past, which point to what we would term in today’s jargon a respect for pluralism and religious diversity, is to practice a kind of intellectual violence against Islam. Muslim extremists who insist that the Qur’an calls for relentless warfare against non-Muslims without just cause or provocation merely to propagate Islam and certain Western opinion makers who unthinkingly accept and report their rhetoric as authentically Islamic are both doing history a great disservice. Muslim extremist fringe groups with their desperate cult of martyrdom are overreacting to current political contingencies and disregarding any scriptural imperative. It is worthy of note that the Qur’an does not even have a word for martyr; the word “shahid,” now commonly understood to mean “a martyr,” refers only to an eyewitness or a legal witness in Qur’anic usage. Only in later extra Qur’anic tradition, as a result of extraneous influence, did the term “shahid” come to mean bearing witness for the faith, particularly by laying down one’s life, much like the Greek derived English word “martyr.” Asma Afsaruddin

Today, the political discourse is saturated with the Manichean imagery of good and evil, and the ideology of ‘holy war’ has made an unwelcome comeback. Unfortunately, terror has also acquired an ‘Islamic’ face. Not as a Muslim fact, for that is hardly to be disputed, but as an ‘Islamic’ ideal! As soon as any phenomenon shows a Muslim visage, the pundits only construe it in terms of its ‘Islamic quotient’. All theories and insights into the human condition, pride and joy of the modern man, are then thrown overboard. Islam, the politically correct refrain now resonates, is a mysterious and impenetrable realm of the irrational that is accessible only to the insiders. Modern secular analysis in terms of politics and economics can therefore have no validity for such a self-referential and self contained system of thought and action. The discourse on terrorism deals therefore only with protean symbols and monstrous abstractions: it is metaphysical through and through.    Notwithstanding some isolated attempts to see jihad in the light of history, the general consensus in the West is to passionately reject any interpretation of jihad that would relate it to the paradoxes of political existence. What in the Western context is theorized as the ‘state of exception’ has no relevance in the case of jihad. All the noticeable parallels between the modern theory and the Muslim jurists’ attempts to mediate between law and fact, between transcendental norm and political existence, are conspicuously absent in the modern discussion. Jihad for the West is nothing but a categorical imperative of the Islamic faith, a theology of domination and expansion that recognizes neither the virtues of compromise nor the imperative of self-preservation. Islam, then, is presented not only as the West’s adversary in history but also as the antithesis of her values. It is both irredeemable by faith and ungovernable by law. Whatever its other benefits, the essentialist vision of Islam, it ought to be apparent to any analytical mind, is a great hindrance to any perceptive analysis of ‘terror’, to any cogent account of contemporary history, indeed to any conciliatory politics of humanity.  S. Parvez Manzoor

This list of articles, primarily by Muslims, should be very helpful in understanding how Muslims understand the term, and how they feel about its’ misuse by both terrorists and Islamophobes:

A Call to Harabah, Aziz Poonawalla
A Christian jihad?, Khaled Diab
A detailed fatwa - Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless against the Killing of Civilians, Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti
A Message to American Muslims, Imam Tammad Adi
A Muslim Sage Visits the USA by M. Shahid Alam (Mulla Nasruddin stories on the topic of 9/11)
A Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism (5 parts), Sheila Musaji
A Terrorist By Any Other Name, Jane Chastain
A Time for Introspection: “The worst enemies of Islam are from within”, Hamza Yusuf
A World Out of Touch With Itself, Rabbi Michael Lerner,
A Memo to American Muslims, M.A. Muqtedar Khan,
A Muslims anguish in the Midst of the Attack on America, A. Rashied Omar,
A Time for Renewal, Ali Ahmed Minai,
Against the Nihilism of Terror: Jihad as Testimony to Transcendence, S. Parvez Manzoor
America as a Jihad State: Middle Eastern perceptions of modern American theopolitics, Abdal-Hakim Murad
American Muslims Have A Special Obligation, Ingrid Mattson,
American Muslims and Scholars Denounce Terrorism, Statement from Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy,
America’s Tragedy, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
The Amman Initiative: A Theological Counter-Attack Against Terrorism, S. Abdallah Schleifer
An Open Letter to America and the World, Asma’el Muhaiyaddeen,
An American Prayer to Remember September 11th, Omar Ricci,
Attitudes of Ignorance, Parvez Ahmed 
Beware of Injustice: It’s Hell, Mahbubur Rehman
Bin Laden’s Violence is a Heresy Against Islam, Abdal-Hakim Murad,
Bin Laden’s Fatwa: A Call to Harabah, Aziz H. Poonawalla,
Bringing Back Real Islam, Fuad Nahdi,3604,1187183,00.html
The Call to Jihad, Tariq Ramadan
Clarifications About the Concept of Jihad in Islam, Maulvi Yahya Nomani (tr. Yoginder Sikand)
Combatting Terrorism, M. Shahid Alam,
The Concept of Jihad in Islam By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, (tr. by Yoginder Sikand)
Counterterrorism, M.A. Muqtedar Khan
Creating Common Platforms Between Muslim and Western Societies to Tackle Extremist Discourse,
S. Abdallah Schleifer
“Creative Destruction”: Exposing the Ideological Roots of Modern Terrorism, Dr. Robert Dickson Crane
Dare I say “Jihad”, Jeff Siddiqui
Dept. of Homeland Security Urges Caution With Words
Deviations in the Concept and Practice of Jihad, Maulana Waris Mazhari (tr. Yoginder Sikand)
Dialectics of Terror by M. Shahid Alam
The Evolution of ‘Jihad’ in Islamist Political Discourse, Farish A. Noor
From Defensive to Offensive Warfare:The Use and Abuse of Jihad in the Muslim World, Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina
Harvard Jihad Speech Controversy, Sheila Musaji
Hirabah - Jihad - Terrorism - Violence - Just War - Crusades (TAM article collection)
Hirabah versus Jihad, Dr. Robert D. Crane
Hirabah versus Jihad: Rescuing Jihad from The al Qaeda Blasphemy, Jim Guirard
Home-grown imams fight home-grown extremism, Aftab Ahmad Malik
How Muslim Americans Really Responded to the Events of 9/11, Riad Abdelkarim & Jason Erb, 
Interpretation and Exceptionalism, Asma Barlas,
Interpreting the Islamic Ethics of War and Peace, Sohail H. Hashmi,
Inventing Suicidal Jihadists, Hasan Zillur Rahim
Interview: Khaled Abou El Fadl:  Jihad Gone Wrong
Is Islam more violent than other religions?:  Is the Qur’an inherently violent?, Sheila Musaji
Is there such a thing as religious terrorism?, Sheila Musaji
Islam Means Surrender to God, Not Violence
Islam, the Religion of Peace, Sr. Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
Islam: Religion or Ideology?, Imam Zaid Shakir
Islamic or Muslim Terrorism and Extremism: Are they all Contradictions in Terms?, Jeremy Henzell-Thomas
Islamic Politics, Muslim Militancy and ‘Jihadist’ Movements, Maulana Waris Mazhari (tr. Yoginder Sikand)
‘Islamic terrorism’ an insult that distorts reality, Jimmy E. Jones
It’s Not Jihad It’s Unholy Hirabah, Jim Guirard
Islamophobes See “Jihad” Everywhere, Sheila Musaji
Jewish sages on “lesser jihad” and “greater jihad”, Svend White
Jihad, John Esposito,%20By%20John%20Esposito.htm
Jihad Against The Abuse Of Jihad, Abukar Arman
The Jihad Against the Jihadis: How moderate Muslim leaders waged war on extremists—and won, Fareed Zakaria 
Jihad Against Racism, Abdul Malik Mujahid
Jihad Against Violence launched in U.K.
Jihad Against Violence: Muslim Women’s Struggle for Peace, WISE statement  and PDF
Jihad and Ethics: A Survey of the Current Literature, S. Parvez Manzoor
Jihad and the Modern World, Dr. Sherman Jackson
Jihad?  But What About Other Verses in the Qur’an?, Asghar Ali Engineer
Jihad: Concept, history and Contemporary Application, Sheikh Ali Gomaa
Jihad, Empire and the Ethics of War and Peace, S Parvez Manzoor
Jihad Incorporated: An Assessment, Dr. Robert D. Crane
Jihad - Islam’s Struggle For Truth,  Mansur al-Mujahid (Vincent Cornell)
Jihad: It’s True Meaning and Purpose, Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi
Jihad of Islamophobes, Hussein Rashid
Jihad Renogiated, Yusuf al Qaradawi
Jihadism is Kufr, not Islam, Sultan Shaheen
Just War and Jihad, Bilal A. Malik,
Language and war in the Middle East, Ali Alarabi 
Maslow and the Fourth Jihad, Dr. Robert D. Crane
Memo to Mr. Bin Laden: Go to Hell!, Muqtedar Khan,
Mindless Martyrs, Shahed Amanullah
The Muslim Community: Where We Stand 1994, Hamza Yusuf
Muslim Reactions to September 11th, Sheila Musaji,
Muslim scholars reject bin Laden’s idea of Jihad
Muslim Terrorists Embrace a Very Secular Heresy, Abdal Hakim Murad
Muslim Victims of September 11th Attack
Muslim Violence, Christian Non-Violence: People in Glass Houses Should Not Throw Words, Sheila Musaji
Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism list of article collections and resources on this and other topics including responses to Islamophobic claims.
- Part I & II Fatwas & Statements by Muslim Scholars & Organizations against extremism and terrorism
- Part III Statements & Articles by Individuals
- Part IV A few Quotes A-K, and L-Z
- Part V Muslim Voices Promoting Islamic Non Violent Solutions 
- Part VI Qur’an & Hadith Against Extremism and Terrorism
- Part VII Selective Hearing of Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism 
- Part VIII Religious terrorism is an oxymoron, Sheila Musaji
- Part IX Throwing Stones at the Qur’an From a Biblical Glass House, Sheila Musaji
- Part X Claim that all terrorists are Muslims ignores history
- Part XI A Spiritual Jihad Against Terrorism (5 parts), Sheila Musaji
Part XII Muslim Scholars Appeal to Christian Scholars for Dialogue and Peace - “A Common Word”, Sheila Musaji
Part XIII Muslim Violence, Christian Non-Violence:  People in Glass Houses Should Not Throw Words, Sheila Musaji

Muslim World Condemns Attacks on U.S.,
Muslims Must Reclaim Islam From Hate Filled Zealots
My Fatwa on the Fanatics, Ziauddin Sarwar,,3858,4262753-108959,00.html
New Frontiers in Conflict Management: A Grand Strategy to Wage Jihad Against Terrorist Muslim, Dr. Robert D. Crane
Peace and Justice in Islam, Imam Zaid Shakir
Qur’an 2:216 Commentary
Recapturing Islam from the Terrorists, Abdal-Haikim Murad,
Religious Authority, Extremism, and the Amman Message, H.A. Hellyer
Reply to Robert Spencer on his translation of jihad as holy war, Yusuf Smith
Rescuing jihad from the terrorists, Salman Ahmad
Russia’s 9/11 in Chechnya:  Waging Jihad against Muslims who Hijack Islam, Dr. Robert D. Crane
Spiritual and Intellectual Jihad: A Best-Case Scenario for the Holy Land, Dr. Robert D. Crane
Spiritual significance of jihad, Syed Hossein Nasr
Striving for Veritas at Harvard (Jihad Speech), Jim Guirard
Struggle Against Terrorism, Mazin Qumsiyeh
Terrorism, Jihad, and the Struggle for New Understandings, Dr. Antony T. Sullivan
Terrorism Has No Place in Islam, Zaki Badawiǧion=0&article=9314&d=28&m=9&y=2001
Terrorism is at Odds With Isamic Tradition, Khaled Abou El Fadl,
Terrorists Are Mass Murderers, Not Martyrs
Thank God Someone Is Listening to Us - Terrorism Is Not Jihad, Sheila Musaji
Towards A Definition of Terrorism, Ayatollah M. Ali Taskhiri
Turning Murderers Into Martyrs, Dr. Farish Noor,
Twin Towers Viewed From a Western Minaret, Michael Wolfe, 
UK Muslims Urged to Fight Terrorism
Winning the War of Ideas, Dr. Hesham Hassaballa
When In Doubt, Call It ‘Jihad’, Svend White
Who Are You Calling a Jihadist?, Sumbul Ali-Karamali
You Say Jihadi, I Say Extremist, Zahed Amanullah


Sheila Musaji is the founding editor of The American Muslim (TAM).  Sheila received the Council on American-Islamic Relations 2007 Islamic Community Service Award for Journalism,  and the Loonwatch Anti-Loons of 2011: Profiles in Courage Award for her work in fighting Islamophobia.  Sheila was selected for inclusion in the 2012 edition of The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims published since 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.   Biography  You can follow her on twitter @SheilaMusaji