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 MEANING OF JIHĀD
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.
IBN QAYYIMS’ FOURTEEN CATEGORIES 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:
- JIHĀD AGAINST THE HYPOCRITES
- By heart
- By tongue
- By wealth
- By person
- JIHĀD AGAINST THE UNBELIEVERS
- By heart
- By tongue
- By wealth
- By person
- JIHĀD AGAINST THE DEVIL
- Fighting him defensively by rejecting the false desires and slanderous doubts that he throws towards the servant.
- Fighting him defensively by rejecting what he throws towards the servant of corrupt passion and desire.
- JIHĀD OF THE SELF
- Striving to seek guidance and learn the religion of truth, without which there is no felicity or happiness in life or in the hereafter.
- 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.
- Striving to call to God and to teach the religion to someone who does not know it.
- 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’S CATEGORIZATION OF JIHĀD
Ibn Rushd, in his Muqaddimah, divides Jihād into four categories:
- Jihād of the heart
- Jihād of the tongue
- Jihād of the hand
- Jihād of the sword.3
JIHĀD OF THE HEART – STRUGGLE AGAINST THE SELF
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