A Different Jihad
Posted Jun 22, 2010


by Asghar Ali Engineer

The word jihad’s literal meaning is to strive, for any thing good including striving for peace, for welfare humanity. If the Qur’anic verses in Qur’an are read with its oft repeated command that the believers should enforce what is good and forbid what is evil (ya’murun b’il ma’ruf wa ynahauna ‘anil munkar) the whole meaning of jihad assumes a new significance.

All those who are serving humanity in different ways by promoting a morally clean and non-corrupt society, are real mujahids.  It is for this reason that the word jihad was interpreted differently by different sections of society. For rulers and political class it meant war and conquests to expand Islamic rule, for Sufis it meant to conquer ones own desires and greed and for theological class it meant efforts to enforce shari’ah law and to mould ones behaviour within shar’i limits (hudud).

And for Usama bin laden it meant again very different thing and he used it for retaliation against USA and gave rise to what is totally unacceptable phenomenon of terrorism. However, when the political class in medieval ages used jihad for territorial conquests, it was how the rulers expanded their regimes in those days. Even Ibn Taymiyyah had some justification for issuing fatwa for jihad after Mongol hordes sacked Baghdad.

But what Usama did was very different. It is neither an acceptable way in the contemporary world nor does he belong to a political or ruling class. No head of the Islamic state has approved of what Usama did nor has any army of a Muslim country invaded any other non-Muslim country. Usama is neither head of any country nor has he backing of any regular Muslim army. Thus his jihad has neither scriptural backing, nor political nor of Ulama. It is nothing more than personal and hence totally unacceptable.

Coming back to root meaning of jihad i.e. to strive for good of the society and for enhancing welfare of humanity as a whole, today one of the best ways of waging jihad would be to struggle and strive for saving our earth and its environment. This form of jihad has multiple levels of meaning of jihad: Firstly it is most ma’ruf (desirable and most acceptable) activity; secondly, it also has the sense in which the Sufis used it i.e. controlling ones desire and greed and exercising self control on ones inner self and fourthly it is also in keeping with the Prophet’s sunna as there are repeated commands of the Prophet to protect trees and crops and respect Allah’s creation.

Also, the very opening chapter of the Qur’an Surah Fatihah describes Allah as Rabb al-‘Alamin (i.e. Lord of the Universe) and the word rabb in Arabic means to look after carefully and take some thing through various stages of perfection. And if Allah is Rabb of entire universe and we worship him it is our duty to strive to look after it carefully and not to destroy it otherwise our worship of the Lord has no meaning, if we do not respect His creation.

Also, we must realize that global warming is the result of our greed for consumption. We are plundering the precious resources of earth for our greed. It is high time we realize the dangerous consequences of our reckless consumption and wage a jihad against our own greed as Sufis did. As political class has greed for more territories and do not care for shedding blood of innocent people, we as citizens in a modern capitalist consumer society, are plundering the scarce resources of the earth and do not care for the consequences and are making lives of our future generations difficult to live.

So, as Muslims (which means surrendering to the will of Allah) and as m’umin (which means believer, believer in the values enshrined in Qur’an and respecting the creation of Allah) we must strive i.e. wage jihad against all those who indulge in needless consumption and destroy our earth.

This form of jihad has to be both individual and collective: Individual in as much as we have first to struggle against our own greed and reduce our consumption to environmentally acceptable levels and collectively in as much as we have to make efforts to bring down consumption levels of entire world to acceptable levels through constant awareness campaigns and building pressures on the ruling classes and especially developed nations of the west whose consumptions of natural resources are far more than what is warranted by their population.

Many Arab countries have rich oil resources which when used generate high carbon emissions which leads to global warming. When the Prophet was asked what the best form of jihad is, he replied telling the truth in the face of a tyrant ruler. Can these Arab rulers tell the truth to western and other nations, especially to the USA to reduce their oil consumption and face the consequences? It would be a great jihad.


Centre for Study of Society and Secularism