What is jihad?
by Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt
I am a new convert to Islam and I have read in Islamic sources that Jihad is obligatory till judgment day. At the same time I understand that there is no compulsion in religion then what is the meaning of Jihad? Also should Muslims wage wars against non Muslims every where and slaughter them? How do we balance between the concept of no compulsion in religion and between the following verse “And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, God is Forgiving and Merciful. (9:5) And the prophetic hadith which says “I was commanded to fight people until they attest that there is no god but God…” Please clarify.
The original state which guides the relationship between Muslims and non Muslims is coexistence and peace not war. God says in the Quran, “God does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, God loves those who act justly”. 60:8
God also says “And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon God. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.” (8:61)
Therefore the legal evidence from both the Quran and the Sunnah along with the Muslims’ actions along centuries indicate that they opened people’s minds and hearts before entering their lands and this understanding does not defy the concept of Jihad and its role in fighting oppression and elevating injustice. In other words, it is a mutual fighting and not one sided killing which means that non Muslims are not fought because of the mere fact that they are non Muslims. For this reason Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prohibited desecrating place of worship of non Muslims or subjecting them to any kind of harm and even the non Muslim militant combatants who fight against Muslims in a war, if they back off from oppression and tyranny then Muslims have no right to continue fighting them. God says, “Fight in the way of God those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. God does not like transgressors.” (2:190)
Therefore Jihad is a noble war to fight injustice and lift oppression and tyranny and not a shooting spree of individuals as some uninformed people try to promote. If this noble war shifted away from legal guidelines which include all the necessary conditions, restrictions and elements which if applied would qualify fighting as an eligible noble war- if these rules are not applied then jihad is deemed illegal and simply turns to corruption on earth or betrayal and treachery because not every war is jihad and not all killings in war is permissible. Waging wars against non Muslims every where is not part of Islam or its noble teachings as this understanding is a sheer aberration from the correct authentic way of understanding the concept of Jihad in Islam. As for the above mentioned verse which says, “and when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, God is Forgiving and Merciful.” (9:5)
This verse has to do with those who breached their covenant, fought, killed, betrayed Muslims and had calculative moves to annihilate them and thus God commands Muslims to defend themselves against polytheists and God described these polytheists in the later verses as “They do not observe toward a believer any pact of kinship or covenant of protection. And it is they who are the transgressors.” (9:10)
As for the prophetic hadith in which the Prophet said, ““I was commanded to fight people until they attest that there is no god but God…”, the word “people” here falls under the legal maxim of “ a general statement which is meant to be restricted” as the Prophet was addressing the rebel outcasts who defied the state system and try to demolish it through fighting and betraying Muslims and this kind of seceders are tried according to international law under the crime of great treachery which is not pardoned. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) opened the door of pardon for seceders by saying “if they did all that- attesting there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet, performing prayers and giving zakat- then their lives and money are spared and their judgment is left to God.” This means that fighting seceders was not because of their disbelief in God as freedom of belief is secured and guaranteed in Islam but rather fighting was because of their troubling deeds and disturbing actions which breached the security of the general system of the society within which they live. We also need to differentiate between two important concepts. The first of which is jihad and irjaf or terrorism. Jihad for the sake of God is a noble Islamic concept which has a capacious meaning in the Islamic perspective. Jihad as a term fits to mean fighting against one’s lower self, against Satan and against whims and it is also used to fight against enemies who inflict injustice and practice oppression and tyranny. This last type of jihad has its own conditions without which it becomes impermissible.
The principle in war is that it should be launched with the authorization of, and under the banner of, the Muslim ruler; it is imperative that the decision to declare war is based on his own reasoning and his subjects must obey him. A ruler is authorized to declare war due to his knowledge of evident and hidden matters, the consequences of actions and the interest of his people. For this reason, a ruler is authorized to declare war and agree to domestic or international treaties as soon as he assumes office. In turn, he does not issue decisions based on [personal] whims.
The Muslim ruler declares war only after consulting specialists in every relevant field such as technical and military specialists and political consultants who are indispensable to military strategy. The luminary al-Bahutī said in Sharh Muntahā al-Iradāt: “It is prohibited to [launch an] attack without the ruler’s permission because he is responsible for making the decision of declaring war. [This is because] he has access to all the information pertaining to the enemy. [His permission is mandatory] except if [Muslims] are taken by surprise by non-Muslim enemies and fear their threat. [Only] then is it permissible to fight the attackers without the ruler’s permission because of the general benefit therein.”
It is not justifiable in Islamic law to make individual reckless uncalculated decisions of waging wars because of which destruction follows suit let alone those explosive operations which has nothing to do with either Islamic jihad or any noble war. Jihad in Islamic law includes preparing armies, securing borders, along with preparing a power of deterrence which is used to prevent bloodshed and is used as a tool for maintaining peace and keeping a balance of power, God says,” And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know [but] whom Allah knows. And whatever you spend in the cause of Allah will be fully repaid to you, and you will not be wronged.” 8:60
Jihad in its combative sense is not meant for the purpose of killing non Muslims unlike the claims of those fear mongers who portrayed that the original purpose of jihad is to shed the blood of non Muslims but the authentic Muslim scholars clarified that advocacy for Islam suffices and replaces the role of jihad which requires entering non Muslims’ lands and as long as advocacy is allowed and bears its fruits then resorting to jihad is not needed and killing non Muslims is not a purpose in itself as jihad is only a means to an end and not an end in itself.
What those fear mongers promote is actually terrorism or in Arabic it is called (irjaf) and not jihad, as God says in the Quran, “If the hypocrites and those in whose hearts is disease and those who spread rumors in al-Madinah do not cease, We will surely incite you against them; then they will not remain your neighbors therein except for a little. Accursed wherever they are found, [being] seized and massacred completely. [This is] the established way of Allah with those who passed on before; and you will not find in the way of Allah any change.” (33: 60-62)
The term irjaf as the proper translation into Arabic for terrorism is more favored. “This word, which denotes subversion and scaremongering to bring quaking and commotion to society is derived from the root (r / j / f), which means to quake, tremble, be in violent motion, convulse, or shake.” This term occurs in the Qur’an in this context in one telling verse: “Now; if the hypocrites do not give over, and those in whose hearts there is sickness and they make commotion (murjifun) in the city, We shall assuredly urge thee against them.” [33:60]. In the context of this verse, al-Qurtubi, the renowned thirteenth-century Qur’anic commentator and Maliki ījurist, explains the meaning of irjaf with respect to “shaking of the hearts (tahrik al-qulub),” noting the root’s corresponding application to “the shaking of the earth (rajafat al-ard).” Within an Islamic context, connecting this metaphor of creating commotion on earth (murjifun) with that of shaking hearts (tahrik al-qulub) connotes that those who do wrong are in fact acting against the wishes of the Divine.
The term murjifun (singular, murjif), as well as the equivalent rendering irjafiyyun (singular, irjafi), is a far better translation of terrorists ... Of course, there are multiple ways to bring about such intense commotion to society, but all of these fall under the term Irjaf. From a linguistic perspective, the term unambiguously connotes the cowardice, deceit, and betrayal associated with terrorism in striking from behind.
Terrorism is conducted under many guises such as accusing the ruler or the whole state of falling into disbelief (kufr) or accusing a certain group of people of being disbelievers or shedding the blood of Muslims under the motto of commanding good and forbidding evil or permitting the blood shed of non Muslims in their own countries or other baseless claims which go against the moderate Islamic teachings. This warped logic and false understanding led to the appearance of the outcasts or the Kharajites during the time of the Prophet’s companions and this phenomenon was spread through out history until our modern time. These fanatic groups justify for themselves shedding blood and desecrating places of worship and spreading corruption on earth through killing tourists or through explosive operations or other forms of killing which result from misleading terrorizing methodology. Islam calls for resisting this kind of corruptive behavior and fighting those who adopt such fanatic methodology to prevent them from harming both Muslims and non Muslims. Calling such acts of corruption and terrorism as jihad is a pure act of deceit which aims at tarnishing the image of Islam.
In our modern time, official entrance to countries is organized through entrance and departure visas which guarantees for its holder safety and security of his life and money according to international law. The permission of entering a country is a token which guarantees safety and security for the holder of this permission and for this reason when non Muslims enter Muslim countries for any reason such as tourism, his safety is automatically guaranteed and he should not be subjected to any danger. Muslim scholars went to an extent that if someone thought that he is safe and secure, then the state should act based on his thought and guarantee him safety and security even if he was a militant combatant.
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