What is Jihad? A Scholar’s Perspective

What is Jihad? A Scholar’s Perspective

Contributed by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani
Chairman, Islamic Supreme Council of America

In this presentation, we would like to shed light on the meaning of Jihād, a term that has become universally known today. One can find countless interpretations of this term which differ from its true spirit and the meaning that God intended in the Holy Qur’ān and in the narrations of the Prophet (sas). Instead of adhering to these canonical principles, people today use the term Jihād in a way that suits their own whims without realizing the damage they are causing to Islam and Muslims.

What is meant by Jihād? It certainly does not mean “holy war.” That is “al-Harb al-muqaddasah” in Arabic. Indeed, nowhere in the Qur’ān can one find any term that expresses the meaning “holy war.” Rather, the meaning of combative Jihād expressed in the Qur’ān or Hadith is simply war.

That said, we will show in this presentation that Jihād, in the classical sense, also means much more than that. In fact, Jihād is a comprehensive term which traditionally has been defined as being composed of fourteen different aspects, only one of which involves warfare.

In this presentation we will explain unambiguously the different aspects of Jihād defined by the Prophet (sas) together with what renowned mainstream Muslims scholars have written about this subject, citing them at length in order to arrive at an accurate understanding of this term. Islamic thought includes all scholarly opinions rendered in amplification of Islam’s core principles, its simplicity and its tender and compassionate approach to all aspects of human relations.

Today, there are many individuals who study Islam from a superficial point of view and emerge with their own ideas and novel interpretations which often diverge greatly from established legal opinions. Such studies lack any real basis in Islamic jurisprudence. However, this fact is not apparent to most non-Muslims, and these misguided proclamations give them a distorted understanding of Islam.

In this presentation, we will return to the original source texts that discuss the issue of Jihād in order to explain its various facets and clarify its meaning once and for all.


The general meaning of Jihād is “to struggle.” Jihād derives from the word juhd, which means “to struggle.” The meaning of Jihād fī sabīlillāh, Struggle in the Way of God, is striving to exhaust the self in seeking the Divine Presence and promoting God’s Word, which He made the Way to Paradise. For that reason God said:

And strive hard (jāhidū) in (the way of) God, (such) a striving a is due to Him; [22:78]”

It is essential to understand that under the term jāhidū come many different categories of Jihād. The common understanding of Jihād as referring only to war is refuted by this tradition of the Prophet (sas): A man asked the Prophet (sas) “Which Jihād is best?” The Prophet (sas) said, “The most excellent Jihād is to say the word of truth in front of a tyrant.”1. The fact that the Prophet (sas) mentioned this Jihād as “most excellent” demonstrates that there are many different forms of Jihād.


Islamic scholars, from the time of the Prophet (sas) until today, have categorized Jihād into at least fourteen distinct categories. A cogent discussion of these categories is found in the book Zād al-Ma‘ād, by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyyah. According to him, the categories of Jihād are:

    1. By heart
    2. By tongue
    3. By wealth
    4. By person
    1. By heart
    2. By tongue
    3. By wealth
    4. By person
    1. Fighting him defensively by rejecting the false desires and slanderous doubts that he throws towards the servant.
    2. Fighting him defensively by rejecting what he throws towards the servant of corrupt passion and desire.
    1. Striving to seek guidance and learn the religion of truth, without which there is no felicity or happiness in life or in the hereafter.
    2. Striving to act upon it after he has learned it, for the abstract quality of knowledge without action, even if it yields no wrong, is without benefit.
    3. Striving to call to God and to teach the religion to someone who does not know it.
    4. Striving with patience in seeking to call to God and bearing with patience whatever adversity comes from that for the sake of God.2


Ibn Rushd, in his Muqaddimah, divides Jihād into four categories:

  1. Jihād of the heart
  2. Jihād of the tongue
  3. Jihād of the hand
  4. Jihād of the sword.3


The Jihād of the heart is the struggle of the individual with his or her own desires, whims, erroneous ideas and false understandings. This includes the struggle to purify the heart, to rectify one’s actions and to observe the rights and responsibilities of all other human beings. Continue reading

Al-Khwarizmi-the Grand Father of Computer Science and Algebra

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed – Source.

Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, (780 – 850 CE), was the grandfather of computer science and the father of Algebra. He was the popularizer of Arabic numerals, adopter of zero (the symbol, that is) and the decimal system, astronomer, cartographer, in brief an encyclopedic scholar.

BAYT Al-HIKMA (House of Wisdom)

In the year 832, Caliph Al Ma’mun [b. Baghdad, 786, d. Tarsus, Cilicia, August 833] founded the “House of Wisdom” in Baghdad, a center for study and research similar to the earlier Museum in Alexandria. Its most famous scholars were the mathematicians Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi and the Banu Musa (“sons of Moses”), three brothers who directed the translation of Greek works from Antiquity. (7)

The modern word algorithm is derived from the name, al-Khwarizmi, the best mathematician of his age, thanks to his book, al-Kitab al-mukhtasar fi Hisab al-jabr w’al-muqabala, (a book showing how to solve equations and problems derived from ordinary life) which means “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing”, which later evolved into algebra, was the first written text on the subject. In al-Khwarizmi’s time, algebra was a practical system for solving all kinds of problems “in cases of inheritance, contracts, surveying, tax collection, legacies, partition, lawsuits, and trade, and in all their dealings with one another, or where the measuring of lands, the digging of canals, geometrical computations, and other objects of various sorts and kinds are concerned.” Al-jabr was about removing the negative terms from an equation, while al-muqabala meant “balancing” the values of an equation across an equals sign.

It is the title of this text that gives us the word “algebra”. It is the first book to be written on algebra. In al-Khwarizmi’s own words, the purpose of the book was to teach what was easiest and most useful in arithmetic, such as what was constantly required in cases of inheritance, legacies, partition, lawsuits, and trade, and in all their dealings with one another, or where the measuring of lands, the digging of canals, geometrical computations, and other objects of various sorts and kinds were concerned.

This does not sound like the contents of an algebra text, and indeed only the first part of the book is a discussion of what we would today recognize as algebra. However it is important to realize that the book was intended to be highly practical, and that algebra was introduced to solve real life problems that were part of everyday life in the Islamic empire at that time.

After introducing the natural numbers, he discusses the solution of equations. His equations are linear or quadratic and are composed of units (numbers), roots (x) and squares (x2). He first reduces an equation to one of 6 standard forms, using the operations of addition and subtraction, and then shows how to solve these standard types of equations. He uses both algebraic methods of solution and the geometric method of completing the square.

The next part of al-Khwarizmi’s Algebra consists of applications and worked examples. He then goes on to look at rules for finding the area of figures such as the circle, and also finding the volume of solids such as the sphere, cone, and pyramid. This section on mensuration certainly has more in common with Hindu and Hebrew texts than it does with any Greek work. The final part of the book deals with the complicated Islamic rules for inheritance, but requires little from the earlier algebra beyond solving linear equations. (8) Continue reading