The Jihad For Our Times
By Maulana Waris Mazhari
(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)
A great deal of misunderstanding exists about the concept of jihad in Islam among not just non-Muslims but many Muslims as well. ‘Jihad’ is a term that has many different shades of meaning. It refers to all efforts, undertaken to the limits of one capacity, for any noble purpose. Fighting against external enemies is only one form of jihad, for which the term qital is used in the Quran. Truly speaking, it could be said that qital is just an exceptional form of jihad, and not the rule. Qital, or armed jihad, is permissible only in defence, in the face of aggression on the part of an enemy.
There are numerous references in the Quran and in the corpus of Hadith that mention jihad in its general sense of determined effort made for any noble cause. Thus, for instance, the Quran says:
‘And those who strive in Our [cause]—We shall certainly guide them to Our paths: for verily God is with those who do right’ (29:69)
In a similar vein, the Quran speaks of engaging in jihad with one’s wealth (49:15) and with the Quran itself (25:52). The Prophet is said to have termed serving one’s parents and the pilgrimage to Mecca as forms of jihad. Likewise, numerous hadith reports refer to the struggle against one’s baser self (nafs) as jihad. The Prophet is said to have declared, ‘The highest form of jihad is to utter the truth before an oppressive ruler’ (afzal ul-jihad kalimato adlin ‘inda sultanin ja‘ir).
All this clearly indicates that jihad does not necessarily or always mean fighting against an external enemy, unlike what is commonly imagined. As Hasan Basri, the famous scholar from among the generation that came after the Prophet’s companions, said, ‘Some people never use a sword but still engage in jihad.’ This is in accordance with the Quranic injunction:
‘Therefore, listen not to the unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness, with the [Quran] (jihadan kabira)’ (25:52).
Obviously, this exhortation to engage in jihad with the Quran implies a struggle at the intellectual level to appeal to and convince non-Muslims about the truth of Islam, by providing them with adequate proofs.
It is crucial for us to seriously ponder on what form of jihad is required in today’s context for Muslims to engage in and focus on. Such jihad must be in consonance with the aims and spirit of the Quran, the Prophet’s practice (sunnah) and with the general interests of Islam and its followers.
For this purpose, it is crucial to bear in mind that today we Muslims live in a state similar to that of the Prophet and the early Muslims in Mecca. At this stage the Prophet focused all his energies only on da‘wah or inviting others to the path of God, tabligh or communicating God’s word to others, and providing moral instruction and training to his followers. At this time, the Prophet and his followers were instructed by God to restrain themselves in the face of the extreme oppression that they were subjected to, and to establish worship and help the poor and the needy. The Quran refers to this when it says:
‘[T]hey were told to hold back their hands [from fight] but establish regular prayers and spend in regular zakat’ (4: 77).
Under such circumstances, when the Muslims were subjected to extreme oppression, God commanded them to refrain from violence, and, instead, to strengthen their faith, determination and their own morals. In this context, it can be said that, today, radical self-styled Islamists who are seeking to provoke Muslim youth to engage in terrorism in the name of jihad are totally ignorant of the principles of Islamic mission that are exemplified in the above-mentioned Quranic verse. Nor do they possess the capacity to seriously analyse today’s complex political context.
According to a well-known hadith, on his way back from a battle the Prophet is said to have declared, ‘We are returning from a lesser jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) towards the bigger jihad (al-jihad al-akbar)’. The latter form of jihad is the jihad against one’s baser self. In this regard, the noted classical Islamic scholar Ibn Qayyim classifies jihad into 13 different types, of which four are directed against the baser self. He was of the view that the jihad against the baser self is more important that the jihad against external enemies.
The noted contemporary Islamic scholar Allama Yusuf al-Qaradawi writes in his Fi Fiqh al-Awlawiyyat (‘Fiqh of Priorities’) that while jihad in the sense of qital is temporary and need not be engaged in at once, jihad through the Quran, that is the work of inviting people to the path of God (da‘wah) and guidance (nasiha), is to be engaged in at all times. In this regard, it is crucial that we ask ourselves what precisely we are doing with regard to this latter form of jihad. How are we, if at all, seeking to reach out to others, in a spirit of peace and goodwill, with the message of Islam? How are we seeking to counter, using peaceful means, the wrong images and claims put forward by the critics of Islam? How are we countering the misunderstandings that many non-Muslims, and even a large number of Muslims themselves, have about Islam? These are all crucial forms of jihad that must be engaged in at all times.
It seems, however, that we are doing little, if at all, on this front. It is crucial that we take up the work of peaceful da‘wah with all the seriousness it deserves, using modern means of communication to reach out to people across the globe. Some groups and individuals are doing this in their own ways and their work and success have been remarkable. This is the jihad that we must engage in. This is the major jihad for today’s age. As Allama Yusuf al-Qaradawi perceptively remarked on launching what became an immensely popular Islamic website (which, lamentably, seems to have closed down now), ‘This is today’s jihad. Today, offensive jihad is not desirable.’
To reiterate, the real jihad for our age is peaceful Islamic da’wah work and practical efforts to establish and confirm Islam at the intellectual plane and to counter the intellectual and cultural imperialism that the entire world is presently a victim of. This work must also aim at countering the spread of immorality, selfishness, corruption and moral decay that are an inevitable result of the revolt against religion that is wrongly seen as inseparable from modernity. Alongside this, there is another jihad that we need to wage: against widespread illiteracy, poverty, ill-health, conflict, civil war, inequality, dictatorship, and exploitation in the name of religion among Muslim communities and in Muslim countries. To ignore all of these and, instead, to focus simply on combating other real or imaginary external enemies is pointless. It is like watering a dead plant that cannot be revived.
Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore.