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Peace everybody ✌🏻 I’m sure all of you have heard the word jihad somewhere, somehow. Probably you’ve heard it at least once in the media; most likely in the context of reports on terrorism. And I’m pretty sure you didn’t hear it in a positive context. But what is jihad, do Muslims practice it, and if so what does that practice look like? Should the world fear “Islamic jihad”? Is it synonymous with “extremism”? These are questions I’d humbly like to answer today.
Jihad is an Arabic word. It means to struggle or to strive, especially with a praiseworthy aim. Jihad can be done in a variety of ways. According to Islamic tradition, the greater jihad is to struggle against what we call the nafs: that is, the lower self that drives our base desires. The lesser jihad is warfare in the cause of justice on behalf of the oppressed, whether they be ourselves or others. Let me give you some examples of the greater jihad. Muslims are supposed to pray five ritual prayers per day, every day, right? Right. One of those prayers is at dawn, and at this time of year falls around 4:15am. During spring it was around 3:30am! That’s early! Now, my nafs, or base desires, want to be sound asleep at that time. So jihad for me looks like me setting a bunch of alarms and waking up to pray whether I feel like doing so or not. Another example would be to stand up to a tyrant by spreading truth and helping those that he or she is oppressing. This is jihad.
For example, during the Holocaust many people formed an underground resistance against Hitler and his regime. They hid Jews in their attics and lied to Nazi soldiers. This to Muslims would be greater jihad! Lesser jihad would be going to war against the Nazis as a last resort. Jihad is this: fighting evil and injustice.
Now. The lesser jihad needs to be explained, because this is the form of jihad that is soooo misunderstood. This form of jihad isn’t holy warfare. It is a struggle against oppression. A good example is when the first Muslims went to battle against the tribe of the Prophet Mohammad that was persecuting him and them. This was a battle of self defense after all other options had been exhausted. The Prophet was exceedingly merciful in his treatment of those conquered and even gave away the spoils rather than hoard them. This is lesser jihad. It is a last resort, only to help the oppressed, and only when absolutely all other options have been exhausted. There are also strict rules for warfare under Islam, as instructed by our beloved Prophet Mohammad, PBUH. Here are a few:
- “Do not kill any child, any woman, or any elder or sick person.” (Sunan Abu Dawud)
- “Do not practice treachery or mutilation.” ( Al-Muwatta)
- “Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees.” (Al-Muwatta)
- “Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food.” (Al-Muwatta)
- “If one fights his brother, [he must] avoid striking the face, for God created him in the image of Adam.” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
- “Do not kill the monks in monasteries, and do not kill those sitting in places of worship.” (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal)
- “Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter the cattle.” (Sahih Bukhari; Sunan Abu Dawud)
- “Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy; pray to God to grant you security; but when you [are forced to] encounter them, exercise patience.” (Sahih Muslim)
- “No one may punish with fire except the Lord of Fire.” (Sunan Abu Dawud)
- “Accustom yourselves to do good if people do good, and to not do wrong even if they commit evil.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
I got these ten rules of warfare from this link. They are recorded in what are called Hadith: recorded sayings and events of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
Furthermore jihad is not meant to be used to compel others to convert to Islam. The Quran says in chapter 2, verse 256 that there is “to be no compulsion in religion.” So neither jihad is ever about spreading Islam. The greater jihad is about defeating our lower selves and the lesser is about defending justice.
Hopefully it is becoming apparent from these evidences that jihad is not suicide bombing, bombing in general, killing of innocents, rape, or any other form of so-called “warfare” that, rather than end injustice, perpetrate it. It is also becoming clear that groups like ISIS or Al Queda are violating every Islamic rule.
So next time someone accuses a Muslim of jihad, stand up and proudly say that you too will engage in jihad. We should all be struggling against our lower selves and against injustice!