By Dr. M. Amir Ali
In the linguistic sense, the Arabic word ‘jihad’ means struggling or striving and applies to any effort exerted by anyone. In this sense a student struggles and strives to get an education and pass course work; an employee strives to fulfill his/her job and maintain good relations with his/her employer; a politician strives to maintain or increase his popularity with his constituents and so on.
The term ‘strive’ or ‘struggle’ may be used for/by Muslims as well as non-Muslims; for example Allah says in the Qur’an:
We have enjoined on people kindness to parents; but if they strive (jahadaka) to make you ascribe false deities along with Me that of which you have no knowledge, then don’t obey them… (Al-`Ankabut 29:8)
But if they strive to make you join in worship with Me things of which you have no knowledge, obey them not…(Luqman 31:15)
In the above two verses of the Qur’an, it is non-Muslim parents who jahada (strive) to convert their Muslim child back to their religion.
In the West, jihad is generally translated as holy war- a usage the media has popularized unknown to Islamic texts.
According to Islamic teachings, it is unholy to instigate or start war; however, some wars are inevitable and justifiable. If we translate the words holy war into Arabic we get harbun muqaddasatun or for the holy war al-harbu al-muqaddasatu. We challenge any researcher or scholar to find this word in the Qur’an, authentic Hadith collections, or in the first few centuries’ Islamic literature.
Unfortunately, some Muslim writers and translators of the Qur’an, the Hadith and other Islamic literature translate the term jihad as holy war, due to the influence of Western propaganda. This could be a reflection of the Christian use of the term ‘Holy War’ to refer to the Crusades of a thousand years ago. However, the Arabic words for ‘war’ are harb or qital, which are found in the Qur’an and Hadith.
For Muslims the term jihad is applied to all forms of striving and has developed some special meanings over time. The sources of this development are the Qur’an (the Word of Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the Hadith (teachings of Prophet Muhammad). The Qur’an and the Hadith use the word ‘jihad’ in several different contexts which are given below:
1. Recognizing the Creator and loving Him Most
It is human nature to love what is seen with the eyes and felt with the senses more than the ‘unseen reality’. The Creator of the universe and the One God is the ‘unseen reality’ which we tend to ignore and not recognize. The Qur’an addresses those who claim to be believers:
O you who believe! Don’t choose your fathers or your brethren for supporters if they choose disbelief over belief; whoever of you takes them for supporters, such are wrong-doers. Say: if you’re fathers, your children, your brethren, your spouses, your tribe, the wealth you have acquired, business for which you fear shrinkage, or houses you are pleased with are dearer to you than God and His Messenger and striving in His way: then wait till God brings His command to pass (Day of Judgment). God does not guide the rebellious. (At-Tawbah 9:23-24)
It is indeed a struggle to put Allah ahead of our loved ones, our wealth, our worldly ambitions and our own lives. Especially for a non-Muslim who embraces Islam, it may be a tough struggle due to the opposition of his family, peers and society.
2. Resisting Pressure of Parents, Peers, and Society
Once a person has made up his mind to put the Creator of the Universe above all else, he often comes under intense pressures. It is not easy to resist such pressures and strive to maintain dedication and love of God over all else. A person who has turned to Islam from another religion may be subjected to pressures designed to turn him back to the religion of the family. We read in the Qur’an:
So obey not those who reject faith, but strive against them (jahidhum) with it. This is a great endeavor. (Al-Furqan 25:52)
So does this verse mean to throw the Qur’an at someone or does it mean to read the Qur’an learn the wisdom of God’s message and use that knowledge in presenting the truth to those who disbelieve? You tell us.
3. Staying on the Straight Path Steadfastly
Allah says in the Qur’an:
And strive for the sake of Allah with the best of your ability (jihadihi). He has chosen you and has not laid upon you any hardship … (Al-Hajj 22:78)
And whosoever strives, strives only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether independent of the universe (not in need of anything). (Al-`Ankabut 29:6)
As for those who strive and struggle to live as true Muslims while their lives are made difficult due to persecution by their opponents, they are advised to migrate to a more peaceful and tolerant land and continue with their struggle in the cause of Allah:
Lo! As for those whom the angels take (in death) while they were unjust to themselves, (the angels) will ask: How did you live your life? They will say: We were oppressed in the land. (The angels) will say: was not God’s earth spacious that you could have migrated therein? (An-Nisaa’ 4:97)
Allah tests the believers in their faith and their steadfastness:
Or did you think that you would enter Paradise while you haven’t showed Allah those of you who really (jahadoo) strive, or those (of you) who are perseverant. (Aal `Imran 3:142)
And surely We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and fruits; but give glad tidings to the steadfast. (Al-Baqarah 2:155)
We find that the Prophet Muhammad and his clan were boycotted socially and economically for three years to force him to stop his message and compromise with the pagans but he resisted and saw a moral victory thereafter.
4. Striving for Righteous Deeds
Allah declares in the Qur’an:
As for those who (jahadoo) strive in the cause of God, We will surely guide them to our righteous ways, and lo! Allah is with the pious. (Al-`Ankabut 29:69)
When we are faced with two competing interests, it becomes jihad to choose the right one, as the following Hadith exemplifies.
`A’ishah (may God be pleased with her), wife of the Prophet asked:
“O Messenger of Allah, we see jihad as the best of deeds, so shouldn’t we join it?” He replied: “But, the best of Jihad is a perfect Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah).” (Bukhari)
At another occasion a man asked the Prophet Muhammad:
“Should I join the Jihad? He asked: “Do you have parents?” The man said: Yes! The Prophet said: “Then strive (Jahid) by (serving) them! (Bukhari)
Yet another man asked the Messenger of Allah:
“What kind of Jihad is better? He replied, A word of truth in front of an oppressive ruler!” (Anl-Nasa’i)
The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad said: “… the mujahid (one who carries out jihad) is he who strives against himself (his desires) for the sake of obeying Allah, and the muhajir (one who emigrates) is he who abandons evil deeds and sin.” (Ibn Hibban)
5. Having Courage and Steadfastness to Convey the Message of Islam
The Qur’an narrates the experiences of a large number of Prophets and good people who suffered a great deal trying to convey the message of Allah to mankind. For examples see Surat Ash-Shu`araa’ 26:1-190, Surat Ya-Sin 36:13-32.
In the Qur’an, Allah specifically praises those who strive to convey His message:
Who is better in speech than one who calls (other people) to God, works righteous, and declares that he is from the Muslims. (Fussilat 41:33)
Under adverse conditions it takes great courage to remain a Muslim, declare oneself to be a Muslim and call others to Islam:
The (true) believers are only those who believe in Allah and his messenger and afterward doubt not, but strive (Jahadoo) with their wealth and themselves for the cause of Allah. Such are the truthful. (Al-Hujurat 49:15)
To be continued…
Dr. M. Amir Ali, PhD is the Managing Director of the Institute of Islamic Information & Education (III&E) which is dedicated to conveying the message of Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims in North America, trying thereby to removing ignorance and prejudices.