Man has always longed for peace: war per se has never been his cherished ideal. Yet wars have always been an undeniable fact of life. Notwithstanding the human desire for peace, at times wars do become indispensable.
However, opinions differ as to when wars could be justified on moral grounds and when they are just a matter of sheer transgression. In tune with its claim to universality, both in terms of time and space, Islam has propounded its own everlasting concept of war, based on Divine wisdom and consideration of human welfare. Unfortunately, however, over a period of time, Islam’s position on war has been shrouded in confusion and misguided misinterpretations.
Jihad is perhaps the most misunderstood Islamic doctrine by many Westerners, and even some Muslims. To many people, the mention of the word “Jihad” normally evokes images of bearded men shaking their fists, smoke bellowing from two towers and hooded men wielding grenade launchers. To make matters worse, more often than not, Jihad has come to be equated with terrorism something which runs counter to the spirit and substance of Islam. This has more to do with the actions of a few misguided religious zealots than the intellectual handiwork of even fewer iconoclastic elements. Nevertheless, decidedly an overwhelming majority of Muslims, not only the intelligentsia but also the common believers, are and have always been averse to waging wars beyond the strict limitations prescribed in Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH).
To many Muslims, Jihad is the answer to all their sufferings, but to non-Muslims it is perhaps become the primary reason to dread Muslims. In a world that is populated by almost 1.5 billion Muslims, this issue assumes phenomenal importance. The word “Islam” comes from the root word “salam”, which literally means “safe” or “peaceful.” How, then, can a religion that declares itself to be peaceful be so violent and bloodthirsty? It is apparent that in recent history, the term jihad has been used wantonly to imply that Islam is violent and bloodthirsty.
In religious context, as described by the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “jihad” has many meanings. It can refer to internal as well as external efforts to be a good Muslims or believer, as well as working to inform people about the faith of Islam. In the words of Gülen:
“Jihad is … the inner struggle of a believer against all that stands between the believer and God.”
The True Meaning of “Jihad”
Jihad is usually associated with Islam and Muslims, but in fact, the concept of Jihad is found in all religions including Christianity, Judaism and political/economic ideologies, such as, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, etc. Islam defines Jihad as striving and struggling for improvement as well as fighting back to defend one’s self, honour, assets and homeland. As Campanili clarifies through al-Ghazali’s teachings, there are two meanings for jihad.
1. The “great” jihad is the struggle for self-purification, in order to conquer the evil inclinations of character and behavior
2. The “small” jihad corresponds to war.
Also, Jihad is interpreted as the struggle against evil, internal or external of a person or a society. Jihad, in Islam, means doing any or all but not limited to the following:
1. Learn, teach, and practice Islam in all aspects of one’s life at all times to reach the highest and best education in order to benefit oneself, family and society.
2. Be a messenger of Islam everywhere, in every behaviour and action.
3. Fight evil, wrongdoing, and injustice with all one’s power by one’s hand (action), with one’s tongue (speech), or at least with one’s heart (prayer).
4. Respond to the call for Jihad with money, effort, wisdom and life; yet, never fight a Muslim brother, a Muslim country, or a non-Muslim society that respects its treaties and harbours no aggressive designs against Islam or Muslims.
5. Suicide under any pretext is not condoned as Jihad in Islam.
6. Converting people to Islam by force or coercion is never Jihad but a crime, punishable by law.
Does Jihad Mean Holy War?
In Islam, there is no such thing as holy war. This terminology was generated in Europe during the Crusades and their war against Muslims. Islam recognizes Jews and Christians as the “People of the Book” because they all follow the Prophet Abraham, believing in Moses’ and Jesus’ teachings. For many centuries, Muslims have peacefully coexisted with Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths, maintaining social, business, political and economic treaties. Islam respects all humans and faiths as long as there is no religious oppression, forbidding Muslims from serving Allah, preventing others from learning about Islam, and not respecting treaties.
Difference between Jihad and Terrorism
Jihad and terrorism are essentially two divergent, mutually exclusive concepts.
Jihad is primarily meant for the reformation of unhealthy trends and developments in society while terrorism leads to destruction and obliteration of the whole fabric of society. Terrorism involves calculated perpetration of crimes against humanity, including physical and mental torture of soldiers as well as non combatant civilians, destruction of public and private property, and destroying civil and military infrastructure to instil fear and harassment among the masses. None of these things are brooked in Jihad.
In fact, Jihad is itself obligatory against such actions. Unlike terrorism, Jihad is never initiated for the fulfilment of any human desire or objective: it aims only at the establishment of an Islamic social order in accordance with Allah’s commandments as revealed through his Messenger. Jihad seeks to resist all those forces which destroy the peace and prosperity of in humane society, whether such forces operate apparently for political ascendancy or other material gains. There is nothing that narrows the gap between the two, no matter how one may try to drag the actions of a few misguided individuals and groups into the fold of Jihad. It would be highly unjust and misleading to equate the wrong actions of a few with the noble concept of Jihad. Jihad can and should be seen in the light of the teachings of Quran and Sunnah, and not on the basis of the actions of this or that outfit.
Comparative Results of Jihad and Terrorism
As a result of Jihad, the honour, life and property and places of worship are protected. It eliminates injustice, oppression, fear and harassment, savagery and lawlessness and terrorism and the wronged gets relief. Although some blood is shed in the battlefield but this blood actually guarantees prevalence and supremacy of justice, equity and peace in society at large. That is why the blood of the martyr is so sacred that on its first drop falling on the battlefield, Allah forgives all the sins of the martyr.
Terrorism, on the contrary, leads to sheer destruction, disorder, fear, chaos and insecurity in society. Large-scale populace is wiped out, properties are destroyed, and even flora and fauna bear the brunt at times. Business and social activities are adversely affected. In short life comes to a standstill and the world becomes a hell. Terrorists are, therefore, like a cancerous part of the body, the sooner it is chopped off, the better for the rest of the body. Jihad is a means of eliminating those cancerous parts of human society in the interest of peace and prosperity of mankind at large.
Jihad has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism at all and the two are poles apart, in theory and action. Terrorism is an evil, Jihad is a blessing; terrorism the cause of human sufferings and destruction whereas Jihad is an antidote against suffering and destruction. Terrorism has no civilised norms and 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 aims at restoring justice, equality, rule of law, respect for human beings, peace and tranquillity. There never was, nor will ever be, any common ground between the mutually antithetical concepts of terrorism and Jihad.