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Jihad is a word that has gained a lot of fame over the past couple of decades. The focus on this word has only increased in the past 20 years, mainly as an after-effect of violent groups around the world that claim to commit many types of heinous actions under the banner of Islam and Jihad. Hence, we will look in detail at Jihad and what it means in Islam. We will also judge the merits of the arguments against it.
The Arabic word Jihad means to strive or struggle, and we can interpret this in several different ways. The most commonly known interpretation is ‘holy war.’ Many non-Muslims, in particular, consider it to mean taking part in armed violent activities. Even some Muslims fall into this trap and have this view of Jihad, not realizing its many meanings and applications in Islam.
The many types of Jihad
There are many types of Jihad in Islam. Some of them are obligatory upon each person. Others are obligatory on the community. Some are recommended for people to partake in. According to Ibn al-Qayyim, there are four types of Jihad, which we have covered in a separate article.
The history of struggle in the time of Muhammad (PBUH)
When Allah first revealed the Quran to the Prophet (PBUH), He told him only to tell those people close to himself. The next step was to inform the broader group of associates and friends. After this, Allah permitted Muhammad (PBUH) to start spreading the word of Allah openly.
As the word of Allah began to spread, the Quraish and community of disbelievers started to oppose the Prophet (PBUH) – first through speech and then through actions. It wasn’t long before the Muslims began facing violence and persecution in Makkah.
Despite all this, Allah revealed in many Surahs of the Quran that the Muslims must remain patient and persevere. He did not permit Muslims to fight back. They were small in number, and if they had a direct physical fight, Muslims were in danger of being wiped out.
Instead, Allah commanded the Muslims to defend themselves and to endure what they faced. However, eventually, Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers migrated to Medina with Allah’s permission. In Medina, the scenario soon changed completely.
The community of Muslims left Makkah mostly without their belongings and after many years of suffering. Now in Medina, Allah allowed them to form a state based on Islam and Islamic jurisprudential laws.
Soon after that, Allah permitted the Muslims to fight the transgressors and oppressors. The Quraish and their allies had targeted and oppressed the Muslims for a lengthy period. Now was the time for Muslims to fight back.
The Jihad of the Muslims against the Quraish
After Allah permitted the Muslims to take part in armed struggle and physical Jihad, they began to attack Quraish’s caravans and intercepting them, taking their belongings.
While this couldn’t cover for the many possessions the Muslims had to leave behind in Makkah due to persecution, it helped to minimize the losses. These attacks also served as a stern warning to the disbelievers.
Eventually, the Quraish grew frustrated when they got word about the Muslims threatening one of their large caravans. They sent an army of around 1000 men to Badr and prepared to attack the Muslims. Muhammad (PBUH) and the Muslims formed an army to counter them.
The Battle of Badr was fierce, but the Muslims had faith in Allah. Allah was on their side, and with His help and support, 313 Muslims participated in Jihad. They defeated an army that was more than three times their size. The Quraish faced complete humiliation, with many of their top leaders dead.
Soon after that, the Quraish waged war against the Muslim state once again. The two armies faced off at the Battle of Uhud. The Muslims had the upper hand in the battle. However, some of them withdrew from their positions and the opponents counterattacked. The Muslims faced a setback as the battle ended in a stalemate.
After this, there was the Battle of the Trench, where the Muslims successfully repelled an attack by the Quraish on Medina. At this point, the Quraish were demoralized and comprehensively defeated.
No more significant battles took place against the Quraish. First, the two parties made a treaty until, eventually, allies of the Quraish broke it. After that, the Muslims marched toward Makkah. They conquered it with little resistance, bringing the reign of the Quraish to an end.
What does Islam say about terrorism?
Islam is a religion of mercy and justice, and it does not allow terrorism. Allah says in Surah al-Mumtahanah that He does not forbid us from being kind, righteous, and just toward those who don’t fight and oppress us.
When we read the rules of physical Jihad in Islam, we can find that Allah and His Prophet (PBUH) didn’t allow the Muslims to kill innocent people and bystanders during a battle, such as women, children, and the elderly. The Prophet (PBUH) said that Muslims shouldn’t be excessive.
In a Hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari, the Prophet (PBUH) also said that a Muslim who kills a person who has a treaty with them would not smell the fragrance of paradise.
So-called Islamic groups that engage in their version of Jihad always neglect the rules of Jihad. Hence, while they may start fighting claiming to be against foreign invasions and oppression, they soon begin to target people indiscriminately.
It is no secret that the Western countries are no angels in this conflict. They have caused misery and destruction in Muslim countries for decades. However, self-proclaimed groups claiming to fight Jihad have hurt Muslims immensely.
Take the example of Pakistan, where in the past 20 years, many groups ran riot and targeted innocent people, civilians, buildings, properties, etc., and caused massive destruction, killings tens of thousands of people and causing immense suffering.
Is there any doubt that these actions are against the spirit of Islam and the rules of Allah? Only a person with little or no knowledge of Islam would say that such actions are justifiable.
Misconceptions about Jihad
In the post-9/11 world, there is a lot of furor about Jihad and self-proclaimed groups that say they are taking part in Jihad. According to a Pew Research Center poll from 2016/17, more than 40% of Americans believe that Islam encourages violence more than other religions.
There are many reasons for this negative perception. Chief among them is the fact that the media has spread this narrative for ratings. This has caused fear and hatred of Muslims to run rampant all over the world.
If we examine the phenomenon of terrorism and its equivalence with Jihad, we discover that this is something relatively new that has only cropped up in the past few decades. The main reason for it is the decline of Muslim countries and Western countries targeting them.
On countless occasions, Western countries have targeted Muslim countries, mostly for their own benefit. While Muslim countries and rulers aren’t blameless, it’s mainly as a consequence of the actions of Western countries that a lot of these violent groups exist today.
Criminals exist in all countries and societies. People shouldn’t give them any labels relating to religion. Instead, they should be called criminals—no religion advocates for the indiscriminate killing of civilians, least of all Islam.
If we contrast perception with reality, we see a stark difference. According to the media and the public in the West, Muslims are responsible for most terrorist attacks. However, FBI statistics show that non-Muslims were responsible for 94% of such attacks from 1980-2005.
It is abundantly clear that Jihad has rules that Muslims must follow. For this reason, many acts that people classify as Jihad don’t actually fit the description of Jihad nowadays. Hence, we must stop calling it that and giving Islam a bad name unnecessarily.
Many people believe that Islam is spread by the sword. It’s a standard theory that Muslims can force others to accept their religion. However, Islam doesn’t sanction this whatsoever.
Before coming to any conclusion about a topic, whether it be Jihad or something else, people should always do their research and due diligence. People of all countries and backgrounds commit violent acts every other day, and they are all equally condemnable. However, you can’t demonize a religion and community as a consequence.