Jihad vs. Terrorism, Removing the Misconceptions


The word ‘Jihad’ has been derived from the Arabic word ‘juhud’ which means to struggle, to make an optimum effort. Literally, it means to make all-out efforts to achieve a certain goal. Sometimes, jihad is confused with war but Quran clarifies a war as qital; the words like ‘fitna’ and ‘fasad’ are used for war, if it deviates from the Islamic directives and is waged in order to spread mischief in the land. The war in the way of Allah Almighty is actually is Qital fi Sabeel Lillah. It may be an armed struggle for the virtuous cause of establishing the law of Allah and eliminating brutality and oppression.
Jihad is among fundamental duties obligated on Muslims. The Holy Quran terms it as the best for the believers in the following words:

“[It is that] you believe in Allah and His Messenger and strive in the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives. That is best for you, if you should know.”(As-Saf; 61:11)

Emphasising the importance of jihad, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said:

“No man whose feet become dusty in God’s path will be touched by hell.”

Laymen commonly, out of misunderstanding, construe jihad as qital only. However, it is not true as jihad is basically divided into five types: (a) Jihad bin-nafs (jihad against one’s self); (b) Jihad bil Amal (striving for social reform and elimination of corruption and social evils); (c) Jihad bil Ilm (strive to spread knowledge); (d) Jihad bil Mal (struggle with one’s wealth to eliminate poverty), and Jihad bil Saif (just warfare carried out in one’s defence or a ‘defensive strategy against aggression).

All these types constitute the institution of Jihad fi Sabeel Lillah.

 As Imam al-Dardir in his book Aqarab al-Masalik says:

“Jihad is propagating the knowledge of the Divine Law commending right and forbidding wrong. It is not permitted to skip this category of Jihad and implement the combative form.”

Elucidating jihad on a greater prospect, Thomas Patrick Hughes in his ‘Dictionary of Islam’ defines Jihad in the following words:

“An effort, or a striving.” A religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad (PBUH). It is an incumbent religious duty, established in the Quran and in the Traditions as a divine institution, and enjoined specially for the purpose of advancing Islam and of repelling evil from Muslims.”

Why Jihad?    

The Holy Quran says:

“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.” (Al-Baqarah:190)

Jihad is waged for the betterment and welfare of humanity. Islam is against blatant killing and violence. According to Quran “If you kill a life, it is as you have killed all lives”.

Following are the purposes for which jihad is waged:

1. Self-defence; as Quran says: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you…”
2. Elimination of an evil force which is tyrannizing the Muslims. This is based on the concept of collective     security.
3. Protecting the right of worship of the Muslims.
4. Penalizing those who break a treaty with a Muslim nation.

It is to be remembered here that jihad can’t be undertaken to acquire fame, wealth, political and economic gains, conquer nations or force people to convert to Islam.
Rules for Jihad

1. It should be waged to trounce the evil.
2. It can be waged after all options to solve an issue amicably have been exhausted.
3. Chemical destruction must not take place.
4. Possessions must not be devastated.
5. Injured must be treated.
6. The old, women, children, and priests and monks must not be harassed.
7. Churches and other places of worship should not be demolished.
8. Trees must not be cut.
9. War should stop for peace talks.
10. Those killed must not be mutilated.
11. Ambassadors should not be slain.

What is Terrorism?

jihad 1Terrorism literally means an attempt to spread fright and irritation among the innocent people. Longman Dictionary defines ‘terrorism’ as:

“The use of violence or threat of violence to obtain political demands.”

At present, there is a global consensus that terrorism is, for sure, the biggest threat of the twenty-first century. But, till this say, international law is silent regarding the exact definition of terrorism. Here are some scholarly notes which define terrorism to some extent:

Schmid and Jongman wrote in 1988:

“Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by semi-clandestine individuals, groups, or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal, or political reasons, whereby — in contrast to assassination — the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.”

Thus the crux of the matter is that terrorism is something never defined completely. Every person and every nation has a different view on terrorism. But, most importantly, no definition, whatsoever, relates this menace to Islam.

Causes of Terrorism

“Terrorism sprouts from the existence of aggrieved groups. These aggrieved groups share two essential characteristics: they have specific political objectives, and they believe that violence is an inevitable means to achieve their political ends. The political dimension of terrorist violence is the key factor that distinguishes it from other crimes.” (L. Ali Khan)

Here are some basic reasons behind terrorism:

1. Poverty: people living in poverty definitely  lose hope as there is lack of social prestige, which increases their grievances and they start terrorist activities.
2. Lack of democracy: People revolted against the dictators in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Egypt but here Islam wasn’t the basis for these activities.
3. Non-provision of human rights: Examples show terrorist activities took place due to absence of human rights in Northern Ireland during 1968-1980 and in Algeria during 1954-1968.
4. Foreign military actions: American interventions in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Vietnam led to formation of a number of terrorist organizations.

Differences between Jihad and Terrorism

As mentioned above, jihad and terrorism are solely two contrasting phenomena. Jihad is a religious duty while terrorism is brutality, tyranny and cruelty. Jihad in Islam means a struggle which might be to preserve a country, a religion, or one’s life. Moreover, it is a struggle to reach the zenith of moral highness and to eliminate the scourge of social evils.

Terrorism, on the other hand, could never be based on moral highness and its aim is just to slay innocent people and arouse fright and terror to propagate the nefarious agendas of terrorists. Thus it has no association with Islam or any other religion as no religion teaches such mass destruction and violence.

Terrorism, in most cases, is stimulated by worldly goals (Territorial and Political) but jihad is an optimum effort in the way of Allah and no other reason is behind it. As Abul Ala Muodudi states:

“Jihad is leaving aside all established terms of time, Islam coined the phrase Jihad fi Sabil Lillah which testifies truthfully to its name and completely separates it from theories of savage wars. Instead, a Mujahid’s objective remains the removal of the cause of evil.”

Terrorism is often an act of brutal massacres of guiltless and innocent civilians but jihad couldn’t be waged against innocent. In the same way, both these terms are misused as terrorists mostly define themselves as Mujahideen calling their attacks a holy war.

Importance of Peace in Islam

The literal meaning of the ‘word’ Islam is peace as it is derived from Arabic word ‘salam’ meaning peace. Thus, it is a religion of peace and desires the existence of peace in the society and forbids unlawful and illicit killing of human beings. As it is reported in Jamae Tirmizi and Sunan Nisai:

“A true believer (mu’min) is he from whom people’s lives and wealth are safe.”

The Prophet of peace and humanity (PBUH) again elaborates the importance of peace in these words:

“O people! Do not aspire for a war with the enemy and pray to Allah for peace and security in the world. If perforce you have to fight the enemy, then adopt patience and perseverance and then remember that Paradise is under the shadow of the sword”.


In short, Jihad has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism and the two are poles apart, in theory as well as in action. Terrorism is an evil, Jihad is a blessing; terrorism is the cause of destruction whereas Jihad is an antidote to this. Terrorism knows no bounds, Jihad is a measured and disciplined response to the challenge posed by anti-social and anti-state elements, be they in the form of invading armies or morally depraved within the same society. Terrorism jeopardises the very fabric of society and obliterates noble human values while Jihad restores justice, equality, rule of law, respect for human beings, peace and tranquillity. There never was, nor ever will be, any common ground between the antithetical concepts of terrorism and Jihad.

Written by: Muhammad Ahmad

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