What Jihad Is!

WHAT JIHAD IS? The Arabic word “Jihad” comes from the word “Jahada” which means making an effort, struggling


The Arabic word “Jihad” comes from the word “Jahada” which means making an effort, struggling or striving. In Islamic Terminology it is explained as every activity and/or movement on the way of Allah (SWT). So, in reality it covers a spectrum of deeds and actions all dedicated for the sole purpose of bettering oneself to please Allah. The simplest of which may be removing a thorn off the road or smiling to your fellow Muslim all the way to defending one’s home country and/ or religion.

The word “Jihad” is often interpreted as “holy war” in Western languages. Such an interpretation stems from the efforts of western media and anti-Islamists to show Islam as a religion of violence which spreads by force and weapon. This could not be further from the truth. Allah in the Quran says;

Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors”. (Quran.com/2/190).

And in the same Sura, Allah announces:

There is no compulsion in religion“  (Quran.com/2/256).    

There is no compulsion in Islam in any way or form as shown in those verses. There is only “Jihad “war against aggressors and transgressors.

There is no denying of people and groups committing atrocities in the name of Islam and the world is calling them “Islamic Terrorists”. The brief definition of terrorism is that it is a form of warfare in which innocent people are specifically targeted in order to instill fear in a society. Hence, terrorism is against Islamic principles. “Those calling themselves Muslims and at the same time terrorizing innocents”, this is not Islamic behavior or sanctioned by Islam.


  1. Jihad is not a purely violent concept.
  2. Jihad is not a declaration of war against the “Other” people, countries or religions.   

It is worth noting that the Quran specifically refers to Jews and Christians as “people of the book” who should be protected and respected as all three faiths worship the same One God. Allah is the Arabic word for God, and in fact is used by Christian Arabs as well as Muslims.

    3. Military action in the name of religion has not been common in the history of Islam. Most Islamic Scholars say calls for combat “Armed Jihad” are sanctioned by Islam only in case of defense or in fear of or lifting aggression and injustice.

On the other hand, warfare in the name of God is not unique to Islam. Other faiths throughout the world have waged wars with religious justifications, such as the crusades. (http://www.history.com/topics/crusades).


One can categorize Jihad in Islam into two categories: non-armed Jihad and armed Jihad.  Non-Armed Jihad is in fighting ignorance, Satan and one’s Self and its desires, while Armed Jihad is fighting enemies, tyrants and aggressors.  So, Kinds of “Jihad” in Islam vary immensely.

Islamic scholars identified several types of Jihad in light of their deep understanding and extensive studying of Quran, Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace and blessing from Allah be upon him) and the practice of his companions ( May Allah be pleased with them) .  

Here is a comprehensive idea about the real Islamic view of “Jihad” and its types:

  1. Jihad against Ignorance.
  2. Jihad against Satan.  
  3. Jihad against one’s Self and its desires.
  4. Jihad with weapons against al-Kuffar (the disbelievers) and al-Munafiqeen (the hypocrites).
  5. Jihad with weapons against Ahlu Ath-Thulm (The people of injustice, tyrants and aggressors)

In order to comprehend each type the following is a detailed explanation of them, first Non-Armed Jihad then Armed Jihad.

Non-Armed Jihad

It is of three types that are not in actual combat but in fact acts to better one and other’s lives:

  1. Jihad against Ignorance.
  2. Jihad against Satan.  
  3. Jihad against one’s Self and its desires.

1. Jihad against Ignorance:

The very first word revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was an order to read (Iqra) “Read: In the Name of your Lord who created” despite the fact that he was illiterate so he explained it to the Muslims as an order to “seek Knowledge”. It is a divine command to learn and convey knowledge both religious and mundane.

Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong (evil); they are the ones to attain felicity.” (Quran.com/3/104)

The Quran is a miraculous medication that is enough to cure the material and spiritual illnesses, of individual and social wounds not only of The one nation but also of all the people to come until the Day of Judgment “We send down in the Quran healing and mercy for the believers, but it increases the wrongdoers only in loss” (Quran.com/17/82). The duty of presenting this miraculous cure to humanity was given to Muslims.

Jihad against Satan:

Struggling against Satan means to defend one’s self from his evil whisperings, his doubtful matters, his temptations, and his lustfulness.

Verily Satan is an enemy to you: so treat him as an enemy.” (Quran.com/35/6)

Imam ibn al-Qayyim said: There are two types of Jihad against Satan:

First: Jihad against him to disregard the ‘misgivings and doubts’ he arises to invalidate Iman (faith).

Second: Jihad against him by ignoring what he ‘tempts’ one with erroneous intentions and desires.

Achieving certainty (concerning Faith) comes after practicing first type of this Jihad, while successfully observing patience is the result of practicing the second type.

Allah (SWT) says: “And We made from among them (children of Israel) leaders, giving guidance under Our Command, when they were patient and used to believe with certainty in Our Ayat (Signs, Verses etc.)” [33:24]

In this verse Allah stated that achieving the status of being leaders in the religion is done by practicing patience and feeling “Yaqeen” (certainty in Allah and that Islam is the only true guidance, etc.). Patience defeats desires and ill intentions, while certainty defeats doubts and misgivings”

3. Jihad against one’s Self and its desires:

Muslim believers are warned against the trickery of the soul in Quran “…nor follow thou the lusts, (of thy heart), for they will mislead thee from the Path of Allah.” (Quran.com/38/26)

In the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH): On returning from a battle, the Prophet (PBUH) said, “We have returned to the great Jihad from the small Jihad.” (Kanzu’l-Ummal, IV, 430, Hadith No: 11260).      He expressed concisely that overcoming one’s soul was more difficult and more important than fighting the enemy.

The Prophet (PBUH) stated that “Your greatest enemy is your soul, which is inside you.” (Ajluni, Kashfu’l-Khafa, Beirut, I, 143, Hadith No: 413),  showing how difficult it is to fight one’s  self desires, forcing yourself to follow the orders of Allah, have the best manners, the best morals, and to stay away from what Allah has ordered us to stay away from.     This includes performing the obligatory and the voluntary, and to abandon all acts that are Haram (unlawful) or Makrooh (disliked) at a time when our desires tell us the opposite.

The Messenger (PBUH) said (during his farewell Hajj): “Should I inform you of whom the Mu’min (true believer) is? It is he who people are secure from him with regards to their wealth and their own selves. The (true) Muslim is he who people are safe from (being harmed by) his tongue and hand. The Mujahid (true warier) is he who performs Jihad an-Nafs (fights himself) in the obedience of Allah. And the Muhajir (the migrant in the Cause of Allah) is he who abandons error and sin” [Ahmed, al-Haakim and at-Tabaraani]. He concisely expressed  that overcoming one’s erroneous impulses is much harder to accomplish than defeating the enemy


Armed Jihad

It is of two types that involve actual fighting in arms. It has rules and regulations that Islam put to protect all parties in war including the enemy’s civilians, religion and property.  

  1. Jihad al-Kuffar (the disbelievers) and al-Munafiqeen (the hypocrites)
  • Imam ibn al-Qayyim said: “As for Jihad al-Kuffar wal-Munafiqeen, they are also four types:
  • With the heart, tongue, wealth and one’s self (body). Jihad al-Kuffar is usually practiced with the hand, while Jihad al-Munafiqeen is usually practiced by the tongue (by refuting them and exposing their misguided ways, etc.)”. Hypocrites are considered more dangerous than disbelievers as they dwell within the Muslim society unknown corrupting it from the inside.  
  • Imam Ibn al-Qayyim also said: “Jihad with the clear proofs and the tongue comes before Jihad with the sword and the spear” (Qaseedah an-Nooniyyah). That is conveying the message of Islam precedes raging war and starting Jihad.
  • This concept is the interpretation of these verses of Quran: “But strive hard against them (the disbelievers), (by preaching) with the utmost endeavor, with it (the Qur’an)” (25:52)
  • “Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah, and those who reject Faith fight in the cause of Evil: so fight you against the friends of Shaitan (satan) feeble indeed is the cunning of Shaitan” (An-Nisaa’ 4:76)  
  • The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: “The example of the Mujahid (who performs Jihad) in the Cause of Allah, and only Allah knows who is truly performing Jihad in His Cause, is the example of he who is both a Saa’im (fasting) and a Qaa’im (standing up in voluntary prayers).” (Al-Bukhari)
  • In case of war, there are clear directions in what can and cannot be done in a battle fought by the Muslims.  Ethics of wars have been established by Islam almost 1400 years ago long before the Geneva Conventions.     
  • Here are the highlights of Islamic war ethics:
  1. Civilians who are not fighting against Muslims are not to be attacked or killed at all.
  2. Crops or other sources of food and water and cattle or other animals are not to be destroyed (take only what is used to feed the troops with its fair price).
  3. Hospitals, orphanages and other places of safety and refuge are not to be destroyed.
  4. Mosques, churches, synagogues or other places of worship are not to be destroyed.
  5. Women, children, old and disabled are to be left untouched (all that are not involved in fighting).
  6. If the aggressor stops the aggression or offers a treaty it should be accepted and the fighting stopped forthwith.
  7. Fleeing oppressors need not be pursued to any unnecessary length and should be allowed to return to their home if they repent and are trusted.
  8. Prisoners of War should be treated with mercy, their basic needs fulfilled and they should be freed, ransomed, or exchanged after the battle.
  • Hence it is very clear that the purpose of combat is to [restore peace, lift oppression, injustice and lift ignorance of Islam’s truth], and not to promote aggression. It is important to note that starting of such a battle is not only in the hands of the Muslims but can be initiated by an oppressor, a tyrant or an aggressor.
  1. Jihad Ahlu Ath-Thulm (The people of injustice, tyrants and aggressors):
  • Some Muslim scholars have included this kind of Jihad in other types but due to its utmost importance during present times, we have put it individually to give it proper attention.
  • Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said: “The most excellent type of Jihad is speaking a “Word of truth” (recognising and declaring committed injustice and objecting to it) in the presence of a tyrant ruler.” (Imams Abu Daood, At-Tirmithi and Ibn Majah)
  • Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri narrated that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: “He amongst you who witnesses an evil, let him change (remove, stop) it with his hand. If unable, then with his tongue, and if unable, then within his heart, and this indeed is the weakest Iman (faith practice)” (Muslim)
  • Ibn Masud narrated that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: “There was no Prophet whom Allah has sent before me but who had disciples and friends from among his nation who would follow his Sunnah and obey his commands. Then, new generations would come, those who would say that which they do not practice, and practice that which they were not commanded. He who performs Jihad against them (such misguided and deviated people) with his hand is a believer; he who performs Jihad against them with his tongue is a believer; and he who performs Jihad against them within his heart is a believer. There is nothing (no lesser faith) less than this, even the weight of a mustard seed.” (Muslim)
  • To conclude:  Islamic Laws are ordained to protect five things (One’s self, mind, religion, offspring, and property), which are the main rights of humans in this life.
  • Jihad is allowed in Islam to bring peace, prosperity and justice to whomever is in need for them and Muslims are obliged to fight against tyranny, oppression and injustice by every means possible to bring peace, prosperity and justice to all humans.