The word jihad appears frequently in the Quran with and without military connotations, often in the idiomatic expression “striving in the path of God (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)“. Islamic jurists and other ulema of the classical era understood the obligation of jihad predominantly in a military sense. They developed an elaborate set of rules pertaining to jihad, including prohibitions on harming those who are not engaged in combat. In the modern era, the notion of jihad has lost its jurisprudential relevance and instead given rise to an ideological and political discourse. While modernist Islamic scholars have emphasized defensive and non-military aspects of jihad, some Islamists have advanced aggressive interpretations that go beyond the classical theory.
Jihad is classified into inner (“greater”) jihad, which involves a struggle against one’s own base impulses, and external (“lesser”) jihad, which is further subdivided into jihad of the pen/tongue (debate or persuasion) and jihad of the sword. Most Western writers consider external jihad to have primacy over inner jihad in the Islamic tradition, while much of contemporary Muslim opinion favors the opposite view. Gallup analysis of a large survey reveals considerable nuance in the conceptions of jihad held by Muslims around the world.
Jihad is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam, though this designation is not commonly recognized.In Twelver Shi’a Islam jihad is one of the ten Practices of the Religion. A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid (plural mujahideen). The term jihad is often rendered in English as “Holy War”, although this translation is controversial. Today, the word jihad is often used without religious connotations, like the English crusade.
Main articles: Jihad with Different Aspects and What Does The Qur’an Say About Jihad And How Did The Prophet Implement It?
Further reading: Love, Tolerance, And Jihad In The Life Of The Prophet Muhammad
In Modern Standard Arabic, the term jihad is used for a struggle for causes, both religious and secular. The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic defines the term as “fight, battle; jihad, holy war (against the infidels, as a religious duty)”. Nonetheless, it is usually used in the religious sense and its beginnings are traced back to the Qur’an and the words and actions of Muhammad. In the Qur’an and in later Muslim usage, jihad is commonly followed by the expression fi sabil illah, “in the path of God.” Muhammad Abdel-Haleem states that it indicates “the way of truth and justice, including all the teachings it gives on the justifications and the conditions for the conduct of war and peace.” It is sometimes used without religious connotation, with a meaning similar to the English word “crusade” (as in “a crusade against drugs”).
Quranic use and Arabic forms
According to Ahmed al-Dawoody, seventeen derivatives of jihād occur altogether forty-one times in eleven Meccan texts and thirty Medinan ones, with the following five meanings:
- (1) striving because of religious belief,
- (2) war,
- (3) non-Muslim parents exerting pressure, that is, jihād, to make their children abandon Islam,
- (4) solemn oaths , and
- (5) physical strength.
The context of the Quran is elucidated by Hadith (the teachings, deeds and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad). Of the 199 references to jihad in perhaps the most standard collection of hadith—Bukhari—all assume that jihad means warfare.
Among reported sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad involving jihad are
The best Jihad is the word of Justice in front of the oppressive sultan. – Prophet Muhammad,cited by Ibn Nuhaas and narrated by Ibn Habbaan[
The Messenger of Allah was asked about the best jihad. He said:
The best jihad is the one in which your horse is slain and your blood is spilled. – Prophet Muhammad,cited by Ibn Nuhaas and narrated by Ibn Habbaan
Ibn Nuhaas also cited a hadith from Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, where Muhammad states that the highest kind of jihad is
The person who is killed whilst spilling the last of his blood. – Prophet Muhammad, Ahmed 4/144.
According to another hadith, supporting one’s parents is also an example of jihad. It has also been reported that Muhammad considered performing hajj well to be the best jihad for Muslim women.
History of usage and practice
See also: List of expeditions of Muhammad
The practice of periodic raids by Bedouins against enemy tribes and settlements to collect spoils predates the revelations of the Quran. According to some scholars (such as James Turner Johnson), while Islamic leaders “instilled into the hearts of the warriors the belief” in jihad “holy war” and ghaza (raids), the “fundamental structure” of this bedouin warfare “remained, … raiding to collect booty”. According to Jonathan Berkey, the Quran’s statements in support of jihad may have originally been directed against Muhammad’s local enemies, the pagans of Mecca or the Jews of Medina, but these same statements could be redirected once new enemies appeared. According to another scholar (Majid Khadduri), it was the shift in focus to the conquest and spoils collecting of non-Bedouin unbelievers and away from traditional inter-bedouin tribal raids, that may have made it possible for Islam not only to expand but to avoid self-destruction.
“From an early date Muslim law laid down” jihad in the military sense as “one of the principal obligations” of both “the head of the Muslim state”, who declared the jihad, and the Muslim community. According to legal historian Sadakat Kadri, Islamic jurists first developed classical doctrine of jihad “towards the end of the eighth century”, using the doctrine of naskh (that God gradually improved His revelations over the course of Muhammed’s mission) they subordinated verses in the Quran emphasizing harmony to more the more “confrontational” verses of Muhammad’s later years and linked verses on exertion (jihad) to those of fighting (qital). Muslims jurists of the eighth century developed a paradigm of international relations that divides the world into three conceptual divisions, dar al-Islam/dar al-‛adl/dar al-salam (house of Islam/house of justice/house of peace), dar al-harb/dar al-jawr (house of war/house of injustice, oppression), and dar al-sulh/dar al-‛ahd/dār al-muwada‛ah (house of peace/house of covenant/house of reconciliation). The second/eighth century jurist Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 161/778) headed what Khadduri calls a pacifist school, which maintained that jihad was only a defensive war, He also states that the jurists who held this position, among whom he refers to Hanafi jurists, al-Awza‛i (d. 157/774), Malik ibn Anas (d. 179/795), and other early jurists, “stressed that tolerance should be shown unbelievers, especially scripturaries and advised the Imam to prosecute war only when the inhabitants of the dar al-harb came into conflict with Islam.” The duty of Jihad was a collective one (fard al-kifaya). It was to be directed only by the caliph who might delayed it when convenient, negotiating truces for up to ten years at a time. Within classical Islamic jurisprudence—the development of which is to be dated into—the first few centuries after the prophet’s death—jihad consisted of wars against unbelievers, apostates, and was the only form of warfare permissible. (Another source—Bernard Lewis—states that fighting rebels and bandits was legitimate though not a form of jihad, and that while the classical perception and presentation of the jihad was warfare in the field against a foreign enemy, internal jihad “against an infidel renegade, or otherwise illegitimate regime was not unknown.”)
The primary aim of jihad as warfare is not the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam by force, but rather the expansion and defense of the Islamic state. In theory, jihad was to continue until “all mankind either embraced Islam or submitted to the authority of the Muslim state.” There could be truces before this was achieved, but no permanent peace. One who died “on the path of God” was a martyr (shahid), whose sins were remitted and who was secured “immediate entry to paradise”. However, some argue martyrdom is never automatic because it is within God’s exclusive province to judge who is worthy of that designation.
Classical manuals of Islamic jurisprudence often contained a section called Book of Jihad, with rules governing the conduct of war covered at great length. Such rules include treatment of nonbelligerents, women, children (also cultivated or residential areas), and division of spoils. Such rules offered protection for civilians. Spoils include Ghanimah (spoils obtained by actual fighting), and fai (obtained without fighting i.e. when the enemy surrenders or flees).
The first documentation of the law of jihad was written by ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Awza’i and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani. (It grew out of debates that surfaced following Muhammad’s death.) Although some Islamic scholars have differed on the implementation of Jihad, there is consensus amongst them that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against persecution and oppression.
As important as jihad was, it was/is not considered one of the “pillars of Islam”. According to one scholar (Majid Khadduri, this is most likely because unlike the pillars of the faith (statement of faith, prayer, fasting, charitable giving, Hajj pilgrimage), jihad was a “collective obligation” of the whole Muslim community (meaning that “if the duty is fulfilled by a part of the community it ceases to be obligatory on others”), and was to be carried out by the Islamic state. This was the belief of “all jurists, with almost no exception”, but did not apply to defense of the Muslim community from a sudden attack, in which case jihad was and “individual obligation” of all believers, including women and children.
Early Muslim conquests
Main article: Early Muslim conquests
The role of religion in these early conquests is debated. Medieval Arabic authors believed the conquests were commanded by God, and presented them as orderly and disciplined, under the command of the caliph. Many modern historians question whether hunger and desertification, rather than jihad, was a motivating force in the conquests. The famous historian William Montgomery Watt argued that “Most of the participants in the [early Islamic] expeditions probably thought of nothing more than booty … There was no thought of spreading the religion of Islam.” Similarly, Edward J. Jurji argues that the motivations of the Arab conquests were certainly not “for the propagation of Islam … Military advantage, economic desires, [and] the attempt to strengthen the hand of the state and enhance its sovereignty … are some of the determining factors.” Some recent explanations cite both material and religious causes in the conquests.
According to some authors, the more spiritual definitions of jihad developed sometime after the 150 years of jihad wars and Muslim territorial expansion, and particularly after the Mongol invaders sacked Baghdad and overthrew the Abbasid Caliphate. The historian Hamilton Gibb states that “in the historic [Muslim] Community the concept of jihad had gradually weakened and at length it had been largely reinterpreted in terms of Sufi ethics.”
Islamic scholar Rudolph Peters also wrote that with the stagnation of Islamic expansionism, the concept of jihad became internalized as a moral or spiritual struggle. Earlier classical works on fiqh emphasized jihad as war for God’s religion, Peters found. Later Muslims (in this case modernists such as Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida) emphasized the defensive aspect of jihad—which was similar to the Western concept of a “just war”. Today, some Muslim authors only recognize wars fought for the purpose of territorial defense as well as wars fought for the defense of religious freedom as legitimate.
Bernard Lewis states that while most Islamic theologians in the classical period (750–1258 CE) understood jihad to be a military endeavor, after Islamic conquest stagnated and the caliphate broke up into smaller states the “irresistible and permanent jihad came to an end”. As jihad became unfeasible it was “postponed from historic to messianic time.” Even when the Ottoman Empire carried on a new holy war of expansion in the seventeenth century, “the war was not universally pursued”. They made no attempt to recover Spain or Sicily.
When the Ottoman Caliph called for a “Great Jihad” by all Muslims against Allied powers during World War I, there were hopes and fears that non-Turkish Muslims would side with Ottoman Turkey, but the appeal did not “[unite] the Muslim world”, and Muslims did not turn on their non-Muslim commanders in the Allied forces. (The war led to the end of the caliphate as the Ottoman Empire entered on the side of the war’s losers and surrendered by agreeing to “viciously punitive” conditions. These were overturned by the popular war hero Mustafa Kemal, who was also a secularist and later abolished the caliphate.)
Contemporary fundamentalist usage
Other early anti-colonial conflicts involving jihad include:
- Padri War (1821–1838)
- Java War (1825–1830)
- Barelvi Mujahidin war (1826–1831)
- Caucasus War (1828–1859)
- Algerian resistance movement (1832–1847)
- Somali Dervishes (1896–1920)
- Moro Rebellion (1899–1913)
- Aceh War (1873–1913)
- Basmachi Movement (1916–1934)
The so-called Fulbe jihad states and a few other jihad states in West Africa were established by a series of offensive wars in the 19th century. None of these jihad movements were victorious. The most powerful, the Sokoto Caliphate, lasted about a century until the British defeated it in 1903.
In the twentieth century, many Islamist groups appeared, being strongly influenced by the social frustrations following the economic crises of the 1970s and 1980s. One of the first Islamist groups, the Muslim Brotherhood emphasized physical struggle and martyrdom in its credo: “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution; the Prophet is our leader; struggle (jihad) is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” In a tract “On Jihad”, founder Hasan al-Banna warned readers against “the widespread belief among many Muslims” that struggles of the heart were more demanding than struggles with a sword, and called on Egyptians to prepare for jihad against the British, (making him the first influential scholar since the 1857 India uprising to call for jihad of the sword). The group called for jihad against the new Jewish state of Israel in the 1940s, and its Palestinian branch, Hamas, called for jihad against Israel when the First Intifada started. In 2012, its General Guide (leader) in Egypt, Mohammed Badie also declared jihad “to save Jerusalem from the usurpers and to [liberate] Palestine from the claws of occupation … a personal duty for all Muslims.” Muslims “must participate in jihad by [donating] money or [sacrificing] their life …” Many other figures prominent in Global jihad started in the Muslim Brotherhood—Abdullah Azzam, bin-Laden’s mentor, started in the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan; Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin-Laden’s deputy, joined the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood at the age of 14; and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attack, claims to have joined the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood at age 16.
According to Rudolph Peters and Natana J. DeLong-Bas, the new “fundamentalist” movement brought a reinterpretation of Islam and their own writings on jihad. These writings tended to be less interested and involved with legal arguments, what the different of schools of Islamic law had to say, or in solutions for all potential situations. “They emphasize more the moral justifications and the underlying ethical values of the rules, than the detailed elaboration of those rules.” They also tended to ignore the distinction between Greater and Lesser jihad because it distracted Muslims “from the development of the combative spirit they believe is required to rid the Islamic world of Western influences”.
Contemporary fundamentalists were often influenced by jurist Ibn Taymiyya’s, and journalist Sayyid Qutb’s, ideas on jihad. Ibn Taymiyya hallmark themes included
- the permissibility of overthrowing a ruler who is classified as an unbeliever due to a failure to adhere to Islamic law,
- the absolute division of the world into dar al-kufr and dar al-Islam,
- the labeling of anyone not adhering to one’s particular interpretation of Islam as an unbeliever, and
- the call for blanket warfare against non-Muslims, particularly Jews and Christians.
Ibn Taymiyya recognized “the possibility of a jihad against `heretical` and `deviant` Muslims within dar al-Islam. He identified as heretical and deviant Muslims anyone who propagated innovations (bida’) contrary to the Quran and Sunna … legitimated jihad against anyone who refused to abide by Islamic law or revolted against the true Muslim authorities.” He used a very “broad definition” of what constituted aggression or rebellion against Muslims, which would make jihad “not only permissible but necessary.” Ibn Taymiyya also paid careful and lengthy attention to the questions of martyrdom and the benefits of jihad: ‘It is in jihad that one can live and die in ultimate happiness, both in this world and in the Hereafter. Abandoning it means losing entirely or partially both kinds of happiness.’
Also influential was Egyptian Mohammed Abdul-Salam Farag, who wrote the pamphlet Al-Farida al-gha’iba (Jihad, the Neglected Duty). While Qutb felt that jihad was a proclamation of “liberation for humanity”, Farag stressed that jihad would enable Muslims to rule the world and to reestablish the caliphate. He emphasized the importance of fighting the “near enemy”—Muslim rulers he believed to be apostates, such as the president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, whom his group assassinated—rather than the traditional enemy, Israel. Farag believed that if Muslims followed their duty and waged jihad, ultimately supernatural divine intervention would provide the victory:
This means that a Muslim has first of all the duty to execute the command to fight with his own hands. [Once he has done so] God will then intervene [and change] the laws of nature. In this way victory will be achieved through the hands of the believers by means of God’s [intervention].
Farag included deceiving the enemy, lying to him, attacking by night (even if it leads to accidentally killing innocents), and felling and burning trees of the infidel, as Islamically legitimate methods of fighting. Although Farag was executed in 1982 for his part in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, his pamphlet and ideas were highly influential, at least among Egyptian Islamist extremist groups. (In 1993, for example, 1106 persons were killed or wounded in terror attacks in Egypt. More police (120) than terrorists (111) were killed that year and “several senior police officials and their bodyguards were shot dead in daylight ambushes.”) Ayman al-Zawahiri, later the #2 person in Al-Qaeda, was Farag’s friend and followed his strategy of targeting the “near enemy” for many years.
In the 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood cleric Abdullah Azzam, sometimes called “the father of the modern global jihad”, opened the possibility of successfully waging jihad against unbelievers in the here and now. Azzam issued a fatwa calling for jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, declaring it an individual obligation for all able bodied Muslims because it was a defensive jihad to repel invaders. His fatwa was endorsed by a number of clerics including leading Saudi clerics such as Sheikh Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz.
Azzam claimed that “anyone who looks into the state of Muslims today will find that their great misfortune is their abandonment of Jihad“, and he also warned that “without Jihad, shirk (joining partners with Allah) will spread and become dominant”. Jihad was so important that to “repel” the unbelievers was “the most important obligation after Iman [faith]”.
Azzam also argued for a broader interpretation of who it was permissible to kill in jihad, an interpretation that some think may have influenced some of his students, including Osama bin Laden.
Many Muslims know about the hadith in which the Prophet ordered his companions not to kill any women or children, etc., but very few know that there are exceptions to this case … In summary, Muslims do not have to stop an attack on mushrikeen, if non-fighting women and children are present.
A charismatic speaker, Azzam traveled to dozens of cities in Europe and North American to encourage support for jihad in Afghanistan. He inspired young Muslims with stories of miraculous deeds during jihad—mujahideen who defeated vast columns of Soviet troops virtually single-handed, who had been run over by tanks but survived, who were shot but unscathed by bullets. Angels were witnessed riding into battle on horseback, and falling bombs were intercepted by birds, which raced ahead of the jets to form a protective canopy over the warriors. In Afghanistan he set up a “services office” for foreign fighters and with support from his former student Osama bin Laden and Saudi charities, foreign mujahideed or would-be mujahideen were provided for. Between 1982 and 1992 an estimated 35,000 individual Muslim volunteers went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and their Afghan regime. Thousands more attended frontier schools teeming with former and future fighters. Saudi Arabia and the other conservative Gulf monarchies also provided considerable financial support to the jihad—$600 million a year by 1982. CIA also funded Azzam’s Maktab al-Khidamat and others via Operation Cyclone.
Azzam saw Afghanistan as the beginning of jihad to repel unbelievers from many countries—the southern Soviet Republics of Central Asia, Bosnia, the Philippines, Kashmir, Somalia, Eritrea, Spain, and especially his home country of Palestine. The defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan is said to have “amplified the jihadist tendency from a fringe phenomenon to a major force in the Muslim world.
Having tasted victory in Afghanistan, many of the thousands of fighters returned to their home country such as Egypt, Algeria, Kashmir or to places like Bosnia to continue jihad. Not all the former fighters agreed with Azzam’s chioice of targets (Azzam was assassinated in November 1989) but former Afghan fighters led or participated in serious insurgencies in Egypt, Algeria, Kashmir, Somalia in the 1990s and later creating a “transnational jihadist stream.”
In February 1998, Osama bin Laden put a “Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders” in the Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper. On 11 September 2001, four passenger planes were hijacked in the United States and crashed, destroying the World Trade Center and damaging the Pentagon.
In Shia Islam, Jihad is one of the ten Practices of the Religion, (though not one of the five pillars). Traditionally, Twelver Shi’a doctrine has differed from that of Sunni Islam on the concept of jihad, with jihad being “seen as a lesser priority” in Shia theology and “armed activism” by Shias being “limited to a person’s immediate geography”.
Shia doctrine teaches that offensive Jihad can only be carried out under the leadership of Mahdi, whom is believed to return from occultation. However, “struggles to defend Islam” are permissible before his return
At least one important contemporary Shia figure, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution and the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, wrote a treatise on the “Greater Jihad” (i.e., internal/personal struggle against sin).
Because of their history of being oppressed, Shias also associated jihad with certain passionate features, notably in the remembrance of Ashura. Mahmoud M. Ayoub says:
In Islamic tradition jihad or the struggle in the way of God, whether as armed struggle, or any form of opposition of the wrong, is generally regarded as one of the essential requirements of a person’s faith as a Muslim. Shi’î tradition carried this requirement a step further, making jihad one of the pillars or foundations (arkan) of religion. If, therefore, Husayn’s struggle against the Umayyad regime must be regarded as an act of jihad, then, In the mind of devotees, the participation of the community in his suffering and its ascent to the truth of his message must also be regarded as an extension of the holy struggle of the Imam himself. The hadith from which we took the title of this chapter states this point very clearly. Ja’far al-Sadiq is said to have declared to al-Mufaddal, one of his closest disciples, ‘The sigh of the sorrowful for the wrong done us is an act of praise (tasbih) [of God], his sorrow for us is an act of worship, and his keeping of our secret is a struggle (jihad) in the way of God’; the Imâm then added, ‘This hadith should be inscribed in letters of gold’.
Hence, the concept of jihad (holy struggle) gained a deeper and more personal meaning. Whether through weeping, the composition and recitation of poetry, showing compassion and doing good to the poor or carrying arms, the Shi’i Muslim saw himself helping the Imam in his struggle against the wrong (zulm) and gaining for himself the same merit (thawab) of those who actually fought and died for him. The ta’ziyah, in its broader sense the sharing of the entire life of the suffering family of Muhammad, has become for the Shi’i community the true meaning of compassion.
Jihad has been called for by Shia Islamists in the 20th century, notably Ruhollah Khomeini declared jihad on Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War, and the Shia bombers of Western embassies and peacekeeping troops in Lebanon called themselves, “Islamic Jihad”. Prior to the Iranian revolution in 1922, the Shiite cleric Mehdi Al-Khalissi issued a fatwa calling upon Iraq’s Shias not to participate in the Iraqi elections, fearing it would give legitimacy to Britain’s control over Iraq. He later played a role in the revolt against British rule in Iraq. Between 1918 and 1919 in the Shia holy city of Najaf the League of the Islamic Awakening was established by several religious scholars, tribal chiefs, and landlords assassinated a British officer in the hopes of sparking a similar rebellion in Karbala which is also regarded as sacred for Shias.
By the start of the revolt itself in 1920, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Shirazi the father of Mohammad al-Husayni al-Shirazi and grandfather of Sadiq Hussaini Shirazi, declared through a Fatwa, that it was not permissible or acceptable for Muslims to be ruled by non-Muslims and called for Jihad against the British.
During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, despite being a predominantly Sunni nation, Afghanistan’s Shiite population took arms against the Communist government and allied Soviet forces like the nation’s Sunnis and were collectively referred to as the Afghan Mujahideen. Shiite Jihadists in Afghanistan were known as the Tehran Eight and received support from the Iranian government in fighting against the Communist Afghan government and allied Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq a number of Sunni and Shiite armed group emerged, including Kataib Hezbollah, the Mehdi Army led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Soldiers of Heaven led by Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim, who also claimed to be the returning Mehdi. In 2007 fighting broke out between Kadim’s movement and the Iraqi Army as well as supporting American soldiers, after the Iraqi government claimed to have discovered a plot to assassinate Ali al-Sistani, who is considered influential, along with other Shiite clerics to cause as much chaos as possible in line with the beliefs of the Soldiers of Heaven, that causing chaos would usher the apocalypse, during the battle 200 of Kadim’s followers, and Kadim himself were killed by American and Iraqi forces.
According to The National, this changed with the Syrian Civil War, where, “for the first time in the history of Shia Islam, adherents are seeping into another country to fight in a holy war to defend their doctrine.” Thus, Shia and Sunni fighters are waging jihad against each other in Syria.
In 2004 the Shiite Houthi Movement, also known as Ansar Allah, began an insurgency in northern Yemen against the Yemeni government led by Ali Abdullah Saleh. The movement was founded in the 1990s as a Zaydi revivalist movement by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi who believed his movement served to defend Islam; he had also lived in Iran for a period of time, and held Iran’s supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini in high regard, and a former parliament member part of the Islamist Party of Truth, as the Believing Youth. The group was taken over by Hussein’s son Abdul Malik al-Houthi after Hussein’s death in 2004. Under Abdul Malik’s leadership the group partly seized control of the country initiating a civil war in Yemen, causing the Yemeni government to request assistance from Saudi Arabia to fight the Houthis in 2015. Since the start of the civil war in 2015, the Houthis have recruited 50,000 child soldiers in doing so, the group promotes Jihad as part of their ideology as well as their recruitment.
Jihad is a popular term in current Turkey. As of 2017 the İmam Hatip schools offer lessons about the Jihad as a religious concept. The Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, Ismail Kahraman, called the Operation Olive Branch against the Kurdish YPG in Afrin a Jihad.
Evolution of jihad
Some observers have noted the evolution in the rules of jihad—from the original “classical” doctrine to that of 21st century Salafi jihadism. According to legal historian Sadarat Kadri, during the last couple of centuries, incremental changes in Islamic legal doctrine (developed by Islamists who otherwise condemn any Bid‘ah (innovation) in religion), have “normalized” what was once “unthinkable”. “The very idea that Muslims might blow themselves up for God was unheard of before 1983, and it was not until the early 1990s that anyone anywhere had tried to justify killing innocent Muslims who were not on a battlefield.”
The first or the “classical” doctrine of jihad which was developed towards the end of the eighth century, emphasized the jihad of the sword (jihad bil-saif) rather than the “jihad of the heart”, but it contained many legal restrictions which were developed from interpretations of both the Quran and the hadith, such as detailed rules involving “the initiation, the conduct, the termination” of jihad, the treatment of prisoners, the distribution of booty, etc. Unless there was a sudden attack on the Muslim community, jihad was not a personal obligation (fard ayn) instead it was a collective one (fard al-kifaya), which had to be discharged “in the way of God” (fi sabil Allah), and it could only be directed by the caliph, “whose discretion over its conduct was all but absolute.” (This was designed in part to avoid incidents like the Kharijia’s jihad against and killing of Caliph Ali, who they judged to be a non-Muslim.) Martyrdom resulting from an attack on the enemy with no concern for your own safety was praiseworthy, but dying by your own hand (as opposed to the enemies) merited a special place in Hell. The category of jihad which is considered to be a collective obligation is sometimes simplified as “offensive jihad” in Western texts.
Based on the 20th century interpretations of Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, Ruhollah Khomeini, Al-Qaeda and others, many if not all of those self-proclaimed jihad fighters believe that defensive global jihad is a personal obligation, which means that no caliph or Muslim head of state needs to declare it. Killing yourself in the process of killing the enemy is an act of martyrdom and it brings you a special place in Heaven, not a special place in Hell; and the killing of Muslim bystanders (never mind non-Muslims), should not impede acts of jihad. Military and intelligent analyst Sebastian Gorka described the new interpretation of jihad as the “willful targeting of civilians by a non-state actor through unconventional means.”
Theologian Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir has been identified as the key theorist behind modern jihadist violence. His theological and legal justifications influenced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi of Al Qaeda as well as several groups including ISIS. Zarqawi used a manuscript of al-Muhajir’s ideas at AQI training camps that were later deployed by ISIS, referred to as The Jurisprudence of Jihad or The Jurisprudence of Blood.
The book has been described as rationalising “the murder of non-combatants” by The Guardian‘s Mark Towsend, citing Salah al-Ansari of Quilliam who notes “There is a startling lack of study and concern regarding this abhorrent and dangerous text in almost all western and Arab scholarship”. Charlie Winter of The Atlantic describes it as a “theological playbook used to justify the group’s abhorrent acts”. He states:
Ranging from ruminations on the merits of beheading, torturing, or burning prisoners to thoughts on assassination, siege warfare, and the use of biological weapons, Muhajir’s intellectual legacy is a crucial component of the literary corpus of ISIS—and, indeed, whatever comes after it—a way to render practically anything permissible, provided, that is, it can be spun as beneficial to the jihad. […] neither Zarqawi nor his inheritors have looked back, liberally using Muhajir’s work to normalize the use of suicide tactics in the time since, such that they have become the single most important military and terrorist method—defensive or offensive—used by ISIS today. The way that Muhajir theorized it was simple—he offered up a theological fix that allows any who desire it to sidestep the Koranic injunctions against suicide.
Psychologist Chris E Stout also discusses the al Muhajir-inspired text in his book, Terrorism, Political Violence, and Extremism. He assesses that jihadists regard their actions as being “for the greater good”; that they are in a “weakened in the earth” situation that renders terrorism a valid means of solution.
The term ‘jihad’ has accrued both violent and non-violent meanings. According to John Esposito, it can simply mean striving to live a moral and virtuous life, spreading and defending Islam as well as fighting injustice and oppression, among other things. The relative importance of these two forms of jihad is a matter of controversy.
According to scholar of Islam and Islamic history Rudoph Peters, in the contemporary Muslim world,
- Traditionalist Muslims look to classical works on fiqh” in their writings on jihad, and “copy phrases” from those;
- Islamic Modernists “emphasize the defensive aspect of jihad, regarding it as tantamount to bellum justum in modern international law; and
- Islamist/revivalists/fundamentalists (Abul Ala Maududi, Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, etc.) view it as a struggle for the expansion of Islam and the realization of Islamic ideals.”
Muslim public opinion
A poll by Gallup showed that a “significant majority” of Muslim Indonesians define the term to mean “sacrificing one’s life for the sake of Islam/God/a just cause” or “fighting against the opponents of Islam”. In Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, and Morocco, the most frequent responses included references to “duty toward God”, a “divine duty”, or a “worship of God”, with no militaristic connotations. The terminology is also applied to the fight for women’s liberation. Other responses referenced, in descending order of prevalence:
- “A commitment to hard work” and “achieving one’s goals in life”
- “Struggling to achieve a noble cause”
- “Promoting peace, harmony or cooperation, and assisting others”
- “Living the principles of Islam”
Distinction between the “greater” and “lesser” jihad
In his work, The History of Baghdad, Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, an 11th-century Islamic scholar, referenced a statement by the companion of Muhammad Jabir ibn Abd-Allah. The reference stated that Jabir said, “We have returned from the lesser jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar).” When asked, “What is the greater jihad?,” he replied, “It is the struggle against oneself.” This reference gave rise to the distinguishing of two forms of jihad: “greater” and “lesser”.
The hadith does not appear in any of the authoritative collections, and according to the Muslim Jurist Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, the source of the quote is unreliable:
This saying is widespread and it is a saying by Ibrahim ibn Ablah according to Nisa’i in al-Kuna. Ghazali mentions it in the Ihya’ and al-`Iraqi said that Bayhaqi related it on the authority of Jabir and said: There is weakness in its chain of transmission. — Hajar al Asqalani, Tasdid al-qaws; see also Kashf al-Khafaa’ (no. 1362)
Contemporary jihadist scholar Abdullah Azzam attacked it as “a false, fabricated hadith which has no basis. It is only a saying of Ibrahim Ibn Abi `Abalah, one of the Successors, and it contradicts textual evidence and reality.”
The concept has had “enormous influence” in Islamic mysticism (Sufism). Other observers have endorsed it, including Al-Ghazali.
Hanbali scholar Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya believed that “internal Jihad” is important but suggests those hadith which consider “Jihad of the heart/soul” to be more important than “Jihad by the sword”, are weak.
Muslim scholar Mahmoud Ayoub states that “The goal of true jihad is to attain a harmony between islam (submission), iman (faith), and ihsan (righteous living).”
In modern times, Pakistani scholar and professor Fazlur Rahman Malik has used the term to describe the struggle to establish a “just moral-social order”, while President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia has used it to describe the struggle for economic development in that country.
According to the BBC, a third meaning of jihad is the struggle to build a good society. In a commentary of the hadith Sahih Muslim, entitled al-Minhaj, the medieval Islamic scholar Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi stated that “one of the collective duties of the community as a whole (fard kifaya) is to lodge a valid protest, to solve problems of religion, to have knowledge of Divine Law, to command what is right and forbid wrong conduct”.
Majid Khadduri and Ibn Rushd lists four kinds of jihad fi sabilillah (struggle in the cause of God):
- Jihad of the heart (jihad bil qalb/nafs) is concerned with combatting the devil and in the attempt to escape his persuasion to evil. This type of Jihad was regarded as the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar).
- Jihad by the tongue (jihad bil lisan) (also Jihad by the word, jihad al-qalam) is concerned with speaking the truth and spreading the word of Islam with one’s tongue.
- Jihad by the hand (jihad bil yad) refers to choosing to do what is right and to combat injustice and what is wrong with action.
- Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif) refers to qital fi sabilillah (armed fighting in the way of God, or holy war), the most common usage by Salafi Muslims and offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Scholar Natana J. Delong-Bas lists a number of types of “jihad” that have been proposed by Muslims
- educational jihad (jihad al-tarbiyyah);
- missionary jihad or calling the people to Islam (jihad al-da’wah)
Other “types” mentioned include
- “Intellectual” Jihad (very similar to missionary jihad).
- “Economic” Jihad (good doing involving money such as spending within one’s means, helping the “poor and the downtrodden”) (President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, used jihad to describe the struggle for economic development in Tunisia.)
- Jihad Al-Nikah, or sexual jihad, “refers to women joining the jihad by offering sex to fighters to boost their morale”. The term originated from a fatwa believed to have been fabricated by the Syrian government in order to discredit its opponents, and the prevalence of this phenomenon has been disputed.
- Usage by some non-Muslims
- The United States Department of Justice has used its own ad hoc definitions of jihad in indictments of individuals involved in terrorist activities:
- “As used in this First Superseding Indictment, ‘Jihad’ is the Arabic word meaning ‘holy war’. In this context, jihad refers to the use of violence, including paramilitary action against persons, governments deemed to be enemies of the fundamentalist version of Islam.”
- “As used in this Superseding Indictment, ‘violent jihad’ or ‘jihad’ include planning, preparing for, and engaging in, acts of physical violence, including murder, maiming, kidnapping, and hostage-taking.” in the indictment against several individuals including José Padilla.
- “Fighting and warfare might sometimes be necessary, but it was only a minor part of the whole jihad or struggle,” according to Karen Armstrong.
- “Jihad is a propagandistic device which, as need be, resorts to armed struggle—two ingredients common to many ideological movements,” according to Maxime Rodinson.
- Academic Benjamin R. Barber used the term Jihad to point out the resistant movement by fundamentalist ethnic groups who want to protect their traditions, heritage and identity from globalization (which he refers to as ‘McWorld’).
Warfare (Jihad bil Saif)
Fred Donner states that, whether the Quran only sanctions defensive warfare or whether it commands the waging of an all-out war against non-Muslims depends on the interpretation of the relevant passages. According to Albrecht Noch, the Qur’an does not explicitly state the aims of the war which Muslims are obliged to wage; rather the passages concerning jihad aim to promote fighters for the Islamic cause and they do not discuss military ethics. However, according to the majority of jurists, the Qur’anic casus belli (justifications for war) are restricted to aggression against Muslims, and fitna—persecution of Muslims because of their religious belief. They hold that unbelief in itself is not a justification for war. These jurists therefore maintain that only combatants are to be fought; noncombatants such as women, children, clergy, the aged, the insane, farmers, serfs, the blind, and so on are not to be killed in war. Thus, the Hanafī Ibn Najīm states: “the reason for jihād in our [the Hanafīs] view is kawnuhum harbā ‛alaynā [literally, their being at war against us].” The Hanafī jurists al-Shaybānī and al-Sarakhsī state that “although kufr [unbelief in God] is one of the greatest sins, it is between the individual and his God the Almighty and the punishment for this sin is to be postponed to the dār al-jazā’, (the abode of reckoning, the Hereafter).”
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the names of many militant groups included the word “jihad“:
- The International Islamic Front for the Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders: (Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa),
- Laskar Jihad of Indonesia,
- Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement,
- Egyptian Islamic Jihad,
- Yemeni Islamic Jihad.
Some conflicts fought as jihad since the 1980s include:
- Rohingya mujahideen insurgency (1947–1961)
- Soviet–Afghan War and Afghan Civil War (Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahideen, 1979–1992)
- Iran–Iraq War (1980–88, considered a jihad by the Islamic Republic of Iran)
- Kashmir conflict (Lashkar-e-Taiba, 1990–present)
- Algerian Civil War (1991–2002)
- Somali Civil War (Al-Shabaab, 1991–present)
- Internal conflict in Bangladesh (1991–present)
- Moro conflict (Abu Sayyaf, 1991–present)
- Bosnian war (Bosnian mujahideen, 1992–95)
- Afghan civil war (Taliban, 1994–present)
- Insurgency in Northeast India (MULTA, 1996)
- Xinjiang conflict (East Turkestan Islamic Movement, 1997–present)
- Al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, 1998–present)
- Chechen war and Insurgency in the North Caucasus (Arab Mujahideen in Chechnya, 1994–present)
- Nigerian Sharia conflict (Boko Haram, 2001–present)
- Insurgency in the Maghreb (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, 2002–present)
- Iraqi insurgency (Islamic State of Iraq, 2003–present)
- South Thailand insurgency (2004–present)
- War in North-West Pakistan (2004–present)
- Sistan and Baluchestan insurgency (Jundallah, 2004–present)
- Insurgency in Balochistan (Jundallah, 2004–present)
- Gaza–Israel conflict (2006–present)
- Northern Mali conflict (2011–present)
- Syrian civil war (Al-Nusra Front, 2011–present)
- Factional violence in Libya and Libyan Civil War (Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, 2011–present)
- Syrian Civil War spillover in Lebanon (2011–present)
- Insurgency in Egypt and Sinai insurgency (2011–present)
- Wave of Terror in Europe (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, 2014–present)
- Conflict in Najran, Jizan and Asir (2015–present)
- ISIL insurgency in Tunisia (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, 2015–present)
Controversy has arisen over whether the usage of the term jihad without further explanation refers to military combat, and whether some have used confusion over the definition of the term to their advantage.
According to a Gallup survey, which asked Muslims in several countries what jihad meant to them, responses such as “sacrificing one’s life for the sake of Islam/God/a just cause” and “fighting against the opponents of Islam” were the most common type in non-Arab countries (Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Indonesia), being given by a majority of respondents in Indonesia. In the four Arabic-speaking countries included in the survey (Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, and Morocco), the most frequent responses included references to “duty toward God”, a “divine duty”, or a “worship of God”, with no militaristic connotations. Gallup’s Richard Burkholder concludes from these results that the concept of jihad among Muslims “is considerably more nuanced than the single sense in which Western commentators invariably invoke the term.”
Middle East historian Bernard Lewis argues that in the Quran “jihad … has usually been understood as meaning ‘to wage war'”, that for most of the recorded history of Islam, “from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad onward”, jihad was used in a primarily military sense, and that “the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists, and traditionalists” (i.e. specialists in hadith) also “understood the obligation of jihad in a military sense.”
Historian Douglas Streusand writes that “in hadith collections, jihad means armed action”. In what is probably the most standard collection of hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, “the 199 references to jihad all assume that jihad means warfare.”
According to David Cook, author of Understanding Jihad
In reading Muslim literature—both contemporary and classical—one can see that the evidence for the primacy of spiritual jihad is negligible. Today it is certain that no Muslim, writing in a non-Western language (such as Arabic, Persian, Urdu), would ever make claims that jihad is primarily nonviolent or has been superseded by the spiritual jihad. Such claims are made solely by Western scholars, primarily those who study Sufism and/or work in interfaith dialogue, and by Muslim apologists who are trying to present Islam in the most innocuous manner possible.
Cook argued that “Presentations along these lines are ideological in tone and should be discounted for their bias and deliberate ignorance of the subject” and that it “is no longer acceptable for Western scholars or Muslim apologists writing in non-Muslim languages to make flat, unsupported statements concerning the prevalence—either from a historical point of view or within contemporary Islam—of the spiritual jihad.”
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia