views updated May 21 2018


JIHĀD is the verbal noun of the Arabic verb jahada, meaning "to endeavor, to strive, to struggle." It is generally used to denote an effort toward a commendable aim. In religious contexts it can mean the struggle against one's evil inclinations or efforts toward the moral uplift of society or toward the spread of Islam. This last undertaking can be peaceful ("jihād of the tongue" or "jihād of the pen"), in accordance with sūrah 16:125 of the Qurʾān ("Call thou to the way of the Lord with wisdom and admonition, and dispute with them in the better way"), or involve the use of force ("jihād of the sword") as mentioned in sūrah 2:193 ("Fight them until there is no persecution and the religion is God's; then if they give over, there shall be no enmity save for evildoers"). In pious and mystical circles spiritual and moral jihād is emphasized. This they call "greater jihād" on the strength of the following tradition (adīth) of the prophet Muammad: "Once, having returned from one of his campaigns, the Prophet said: 'We have now returned from the lesser jihād [i.e., fighting] to the greater jihād.'"

In view of the wide semantic spectrum of the word jihād, it is not correct to equate it with the notion of "holy war." And in those instances where the word jihād does refer to armed struggle, it must be borne in mind that Islam does not distinguish between holy and secular wars. All wars between Muslims and unbelievers and even wars between different Muslim groups would be labeled jihād, even if foughtas was mostly the casefor perfectly secular reasons. The religious aspect, then, is reduced to the certainty of the individual warriors that if they are killed they will enter paradise.

JihĀd in the QurʾĀn and the adĪth

In about two-thirds of the instances where the verb jāhada or its derivatives occur in the Qurʾān, it denotes warfare. Its distributionand that of the verb qātala ("combat," "fight") for that matterreflects the history of the nascent Islamic community. Both words are hardly used in the Meccan parts of the Qurʾān, revealed during the period when the Muslims were enjoined to bear patiently the aggressive behavior of the unbelievers, but abound in the Medinese chapters, sent down after the fighting between the Muslims and their Meccan adversaries had broken out. They are often linked with the phrase "in the way of God" (fī sabīl Allāh ) to underscore the religious character of the struggle. And in order to indicate that warfare against the Meccans ought to be the concern of the whole community and not only of the direct participants in warfare, the words "with their goods and lives" (bi-amwālihim wa-anfusihim ) are frequently added to these verbs.

Traditionally sūrah 22:39 ("Leave is given to those who fight because they were wrongedsurely God is able to help themwho were expelled from their habitations without right, except that they say 'Our lord is God'"), revealed shortly after Muammad's Emigration (Hijrah) from Mecca to Medina in 622 ce, is regarded as marking the turning point in the relations between the Muslims and the unbelievers. Many later verses on jihād order the believers to take part in warfare, promise heavenly reward to those who do, and threaten those who do not with severe punishment in the hereafter. Some verses deal with practical matters such as exemption from military service (9:91, 48:17), fighting during the holy months (2:217) and in the holy territory of Mecca (2:191), the fate of prisoners of war (47:4), safe conduct (9:6), and truce (8:61).

Careful reading of the Qurʾanic passages on jihād suggests that Muammad regarded the command to fight the unbelievers not as absolute, but as conditional upon provocation from them, for in many places this command is justified by aggression or perfidy on the part of the non-Muslims: "And fight in the way of God with those who fight with you, but aggress not: God loves not the aggressors" (2:190) and "But if they break their oaths after their covenant and thrust at your religion, then fight the leaders of unbelief" (9:13). Authoritative Muslim opinion, however, went in a different direction. Noticing that the Qurʾanic verses on the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims give evidence of a clear evolution from peacefulness to enmity and warfare, Muslim scholars have argued that this evolution culminated in an unconditional command to fight the unbelievers, as embodied in verses such as 5:9 ("Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush"). These "sword verses" are considered to have repealed all other verses concerning the intercourse with non-Muslims.

There is an abundant body of adīth on jihād. Owing to their practical importance many of them were already recorded in special collections during the second century ah, before the compilation of the authoritative collections. The adīths deal with the same topics as the Qurʾān but place more emphasis on the excellence of jihād as a pious act, on the rewards of martyrdom, and on practical and ethical matters of warfare. A typical adīth from the last category is: "Whensoever the Prophet sent out a raiding party, he used to say, 'Raid in the name of God and in the way of God. Fight those who do not believe in God. Raid, do not embezzle spoils, do not act treacherously, do not mutilate, and do not kill children.'"

JihĀd in Islamic Law

The prescriptions found in the Qurʾān and adīth, together with the practice of the early caliphs and army commanders, were, from the latter half of the second century ah on, cast in the mold of a legal doctrine to which a separate chapter in the handbooks on Islamic law was devoted. The central part of this doctrine is that the Muslim community as a whole has the duty to expand the territory and rule of Islam. Consequently, jihād is a collective duty of all Muslims, which means that if a sufficient number take part in it, the whole community has fulfilled its obligation. If, on the other hand, the number of participants is inadequate, the sin rests on all Muslims. After the period of conquests the jurists stipulated that the Muslim ruler, in order to keep the idea of jihād alive, ought to organize an expedition into enemy territory once per year. If the enemy attacks Muslim territory, jihād becomes an individual duty for all able-bodied inhabitants of the region under attack. Those killed in jihād are called martyrs (shuhadāʾ ; sg., shahīd ). Their sins are forgiven and they go straight to paradise.

Shīʿī legal theory on jihād is very similar to Sunnī doctrine, with one important exception, however: the existence of the jihād duty depends on the manifest presence of a Shīʿī imam. Because the last of these went into concealment (ghaybah ) in ah 260 (874 ce), the jihād doctrine should have lost its practical importance for the Shīʿah. However, in an attempt to strengthen their position vis-à-vis the state, Shīʿī scholars have claimed to represent collectively the Hidden Imam and, therefore, to be entitled to proclaim jihād. This explains why, during the last centuries, many wars between Iran and its neighbors have been waged under the banner of jihād.

The ultimate aim of jihād is "the subjection of the unbelievers" and "the extirpation of unbelief." This is understood, however, in a purely political way as the extension of Islamic rule over the remaining parts of the earth. The peoples thus conquered are not forced to embrace Islam: With payment of a special poll tax (jizyah ) they can acquire the status of protected minorities and become non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state (dhimmī s). In theory certain categories of non-Muslims are barred from this privilege: Some scholars exclude Arab idolatersa class of mere academic interest after the Islamization of the Arabian Peninsula; others hold that only Christians, Jews, and fire worshipers (majū s) qualify. In practice, however, the definition of fire worshiper could be stretched to include all kinds of pagan tribes.

Before the final aimMuslim domination of the whole worldhas been achieved, the situation of war prevails between the Islamic state and the surrounding regions. This situation can be temporarily suspended by a truce, to be concluded by the head of state whenever he deems it in the interest of the Muslims. Most scholars stipulate that a truce may not last longer than ten years, the duration of the Treaty of al-udaybīyah, concluded in ah 6 (628 ce) between Muammad and his Meccan adversaries.

The jihād chapters in the legal handbooks contain many practical rules. Warfare must start with the summons in which the enemies are asked to embrace Islam or accept the status of non-Muslim subjects. Only if they refuse may they be attacked. Other prescriptions concern, for example, the protection of the lives of noncombatants, the treatment of prisoners of war, and the division of the spoils.

JihĀd in History

Throughout Islamic history the doctrine of jihād has been invoked to justify wars between Muslim and non-Muslim states and even to legitimate wars between Muslims themselves. In the latter case the adversaries would be branded as heretics or rebels to warrant the application of the jihād doctrine. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there arose movements all over the Muslim world for whom jihād was so central to their teachings and actions that they are often referred to as jihād movements. Despite their wide geographical rangefrom West Africa to Southeast Asiaand the different social, economic, and political causes from which they sprang, they employed the same notions from the Islamic repertoire. Jihād for them meant the struggle within an only nominally Islamic society for the purification of religion and the establishment of a genuine Islamic community.

In combination with the jihād doctrine the obligation of hijrah, the duty of Muslims to emigrate from areas controlled by non-Muslims, was frequently appealed to. Often the notion of a Mahdi played a role, either because the leader proclaimed himself as such, or because he was regarded as a minister appointed to prepare the Mahdi's advent. The organizational framework of these movements was usually that of a ūfī order. Although their main struggle was within their own society, many of these movements developed into formidable adversaries of the colonial powers once they collided with their expansionist policies.

Examples of jihād movements are the Wahhābīyah in Arabia, founded by Muammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (17031792), the Fulbe jihād in northern Nigeria led by Usuman dan Fodio (17541817), the Padri movement in Sumatra (18031832), the West African jihād movement of ʿUmar Tāl (17941864), the arīqah-i muammadī ("Muammadan way") in northern India founded by Amad Barēlī (17861831), the Algerian resistance against French colonization, headed by ʿAbd al-Qādir (18081883), the Sanūsīyah in Libya and the Sahara, founded by Muammad ibn ʿAlī al-Sanūsi, and the Mahdist movement of Muammad Amad in the Sudan (18811898). In the twentieth century the jihād doctrine lost much of its importance as a mobilizing ideology in the struggle against colonialism; its place was taken by secular nationalism.

The Contemporary Significance of the JihĀd Doctrine

Since the nineteenth century attempts have been made to reinterpret the prevailing doctrine of jihād. One of the first thinkers to do so was the Indian reformer Sayyid Ahmad Khan (18171898). Believing that the interests of the Indian Muslims would be served best by close cooperation with the British colonizers, he sought to improve relations between both groups. Especially after the 1857 revolt (the so-called Mutiny), the British, who had laid the blame solely on the Muslims despite massive Hindu participation, had favored the latter on the grounds that collaboration with Muslims would pose a security risk because of their allegiance to the doctrine of jihād. By offering a new interpretation of the jihād duty, Sayyid Ahmad Khan wanted to refute these views and prove that Muslims could be loyal subjects of the British Crown. He rejected the theory that the "sword verses" had repealed all other verses concerning the relations with non-Muslims. On the basis of a new reading of the Qurʾān he asserted that jihād was obligatory only in the case of "positive oppression or obstruction in the exercise of their faith, impairing the foundation of some of the pillars of Islam." Because the British, in his view, did not interfere with the Islamic cult, jihād against them was not allowed.

In India this extremely limited interpretation of the jihād doctrine found some support. In the Middle East, however, reformers such as Muammad ʿAbduh (18491905) and Muammad Rashīd Riā (18651935) did not go so far. Yet their opinions differed considerably from the classical doctrine. They contended that peaceful coexistence is the normal relationship beween Islamic and non-Islamic territory and that jihād must be understood as defensive warfare, regardless, however, of whether the aggression on the part of the non-Muslims is directed against religion or not. In their view, then, jihād could indeed be proclaimed against Western colonial rule in the Islamic world. A recent development in modernist jihād literature is the presentation of an adapted and reinterpreted version of the jihād doctrine as Islamic international law, equating the notion of jihād with bellum justum.

Although modernist opinion is nowadays widespread, one ought not forget that there are also other schools of thought with regard to jihād. Apart from the conservative trend that contents itself with repeating the classical legal texts, there is the fundamentalist or revivalist tendency, whose adherents want to change the world according to Islamic principles. They view their struggle for the Islamization of state and society as jihād, explained by them as "the permanent revolution of Islam." They follow the classical doctrine and reject the modernist interpretation of jihād as defensive warfare. The most radical groups among them advocate the use of violence against their fellow Muslims, who, in their opinion, are so corrupt that they must be regarded as heathens. To this trend belonged the Tanīm al-Jihād ("jihād organization"), which was responsible for the assassination of the Egyptian president Sadat in 1981.

See Also

ʿAbduh, Muammad; Ahmad Khan, Sayyid; Dan Fodio, Usuman; Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, Muammad; Muammad Amad; ʿUmar Tāl; Wahhābīyah.


The most extensive and reliable survey of the classical doctrine of jihād is Majid Khadduri's War and Peace in the Law of Islam (Baltimore, 1955). The same author has translated the oldest legal handbook on jihād, written by Muammad al-Shaybānī (749805) and published under the title The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybani's Siyar (Baltimore, 1966). Muammad Hamidullah's Muslim Conduct of State, 6th rev. ed. (Lahore, 1973), is based on an extensive reading of the classical sources but is somewhat marred by the author's apologetic approach. In my Jihad in Mediaeval and Modern Islam (Leiden, 1977), I have translated and annotated a classical legal text and a modernist text on jihād ; also included is a comprehensive bibliography of translations into Western languages of primary sources on jihād. Albrecht Noth's Heiliger Krieg und heiliger Kampf in Islam und Christentum (Bonn, 1966) and Emmanuel Sivan's L'Islam et la Croisade: Idéologie et propagande dans les réactions musulmanes aux Croisades (Paris, 1968) both deal with the jihād doctrine in the historical setting of the Crusades. In addition, Noth compares jihād with similar notions in Christianity. Hilmar Krüger's study Fetwa und Siyar: Zur international rechtlichen Gutachtenpraxis der osmanischen Seyh ül-Islâm vom 17. bis 19. Jahrhundert unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des "Behcet ül-Fetâvâ "(Wiesbaden, 1978) examines the role of the jihād doctrine in Ottoman international relations from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Mohammad Talaat Al Ghunaimi's The Muslim Conception of International Law and the Western Approach (The Hague, 1968) attempts to apply the notions of modern international law to the jihād doctrine and asserts that Islamic law, thus recast, could nowadays be applied in international relations. The political role and the interpretation of the jihād doctrine in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are the main themes of my Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihād in Modern History (The Hague, 1979). On the Egyptian jihād organization see Johannes J. G. Jansen's The Neglected Duty (New York, 1986).

Rudolph Peters (1987)


views updated May 18 2018



Jihad is an Arabic term meaning, as a noun, struggle or, as a verb, to exert effort toward a goal. The primary associations of the term are religious, specifically with reference to Islam. The Quran exhorts believers to struggle in the path of God or to make Gods cause succeed (8:39). Such struggle involves all of ones power and resources, as one seeks to command right and forbid wrong. Under certain circumstances, jihad is identified with qital, meaning fighting or killing; indeed, in Islamic juridical discourse, this association is prevalent, so that in some contexts, jihad can be translated as armed struggle. In some contemporary writing by Muslims, the broader meaning of the term as moral struggle is stressed, and military associations are downplayed. Overall, it is best to keep in mind that the term occurs in connection with a view by which human responsibility is a matter of striving to bring all of life into a pattern of relationships consistent with Gods will. In some circumstances, the means appropriate to this struggle are military; in others, not.

Stories by which Muslims interpret the Quranic verses on fighting illustrate this way of construing the meanings of jihad. According to traditional dating, Muhammads call to prophecy occurred in the year 610 CE, and by 612 he began to preach or to call others to Islam. A small band of companions gathered around him. They met with hostility, even persecution from the people of Mecca, the Prophets home city. In this context, some of the companions urged the use of force, by way of retaliation for wrongs done to the believers, and to deter further persecution. Muhammad resisted, indicating that Gods orders only allowed him to preach.

By the year 622 (the year 1, in the Islamic calendar), things had changed. In that year, Muhammad received Gods order to immigrate to Medina, a city to the north. He also received permission to fight, specifically in terms of Gods provision for the protection of believers (Quran 22:3940). Once in Medina, Muhammad functioned as head of state and military commander, all the while continuing to preach. Verses of the Quran that Muslims number among the Medinan texts indicate a growing sense that military action is not only permitted, but necessary, and finally obligatory in the campaign to establish a zone of security for the Islamic community. In his Farewell Sermon (630), Muhammad declared that Arabia is now solidly for Islam, meaning that the various tribes were now under Islamic governance.

In the years following Muhammads death, jihad came to be associated with the efforts of Muslims to extend the benefits of Islamic governance to people and territories beyond Arabia. A series of conquests opened most of the Middle East, and much of North Africa and Asia, to the influence of Islam. In this connection, the religious specialists called ulama developed a set of judgments pertaining to jihad that function as an Islamic just war tradition. Thus, jihad, in the sense of legitimate war, must be commanded by the officials of an Islamic state. It should be fought for the cause of God, meaning the expansion, establishment, or defense of Islamic territory. And it should be fought with right intention, in the sense of avoiding undue aggression. Fighters should avoid directly targeting noncombatants and, according to some authorities, they should further avoid the use of weapons or tactics that might bring about unacceptable levels of indirect damage to civilian life. The rules governing jihad were developed and recognized by specialists associated with the majority (Sunni) and minority (Shia) versions of Islam, though the latter insisted that jihad could only be authorized by a divinely authorized Imam or leader, the implication being that most wars fought in the name of Islam did not really qualify.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, jihad came to be associated with Muslim resistance to European and North American imperialism. Some argued for military resistance, others for education designed to make Muslim economies competitive. Important examples of military jihad include uprisings led by Uthman Dan Fodio (17541817) in Nigeria and Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi (18841885) in Sudan. As for the educational approach, the development of Aligarh Muslim University in India by Sayyid Ahmad Khan (18171898) and the campaign for educational reform in Egypt led by Muhammad ìAbduh (18491905) are particularly worthy of mention.

More recently, jihad has come to be associated with the program of certain groups (called jihadis ) who hold that armed force is a necessary means for Muslims to resist the encroachment of a Zionist-Crusader alliance by which a variety of false or idolatrous practices are being foisted upon humanity. These practices, which include democratic politics, free market capitalism, and the equality of men and women, are held to violate divine law. Various declarations issued by the leaders of Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups suggest that the spread of these practices constitutes a kind of emergency condition for Muslims, and that in such a condition, fighting becomes an obligation for every Muslim. In contrast with the historic judgments pertaining to armed struggle, this contemporary jihad involves fighting without authorization by established heads of state. According to many jihadis, the new jihad may also be conducted without regard to distinctions between civilian and military targets. Such points are controversial, with the large majority of Muslims condemning such tactics as violations of Islamic tradition, even while expressing sympathy for some of the causes jihadis cite as motivation, viz., the rights of Palestinians, resistance to undue influence by the United States and others in the internal affairs of historically Muslim countries, and the desire for effective and legitimate government in Muslim lands.

SEE ALSO Fundamentalism, Islamic; Islam, Shia and Sunni


Abou El Fadl, Khaled. 2001. Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Benjamin, Daniel, and Steven Simon. 2003. The Age of Sacred Terror. New York: Random House.

Cook, Michael. 2000. Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Enayat, Hamid. 1982. Modern Islamic Political Thought. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Hourani, Albert. 1983. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 17981939. 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, James T., and John Kelsay, eds. 1990. Cross, Crescent, and Sword: The Justification and Limitation of War in Western and Islamic Tradition. New York: Greenwood.

Kelsay, John. 1993. Islam and War: A Study in Comparative Ethics. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press.

Kelsay, John, and James T. Johnson, eds. 1991. Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions. New York: Greenwood.

Peters, Rudolph. 1996. Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

John Kelsay


views updated May 29 2018


Jihad, in Islam, is an idea of action. The Arabic word literally means "striving." When followed by the modifying phrase fisabil Allah, "in the path of God," or when this phrase is absent but assumed to be in force, jihad has the specific sense of fighting for the sake of God and religion. Other Arabic words are closely related in meaning and usage, including ribat, which also refers to a kind of building associated with ascetic and mystical gatherings.

Jihad refers first to a body of legal doctrine. The manuals of Islamic law all contain a section called "Book of Jihad" or something similar. Here is something like what Western jurisprudence calls ius in bello, law governing the conduct of wardeclaration and cessation of hostilities, treatment of non-belligerents, division of spoils, and so on. One also finds something like ius ad bellum, the right to enter a state of war. At the same time, however, jihad is more than a set of juridical principles. Historians must take it into account when they consider political mobilization and contested authority within many Islamic societies. Above all, jihad has never ceased changing, right down to our own day.

Jihad has both an external and an internal aspect. The external jihad is physical combat against real enemies. The internal or "greater" jihad is a struggle against the self in which one suppresses one's base desires and then, perhaps, rises to contemplation of higher truth. Most modern Western writing on the jihad considers the spiritualized combat of the internal jihad as secondary and derivative, despite all the importance it eventually acquired in Muslim thought and society. However, much of Muslim opinion in our day favors the opposite view.

The Koran

Considered to be literally the word of God as conveyed to the world through the Prophet Muhammad (570?632 c.e.), the Koran is the single most important source for the doctrine and practice of jihad. However, when one puts together the relevant passages of the Koran, one finds apparent contradictions or, at any rate, differences in emphasis. The many themes relating to fighting and jihad in the Koran include calls for self-restraint and patience in propagating the faith (16:125128); permission to engage in defensive war (22:3941); permission to wage in offensive war within certain traditional limits, including those of the ancient Arabian "holy months," during which fighting was suspended (2:194, 217); calling on the believers to "slay the idolaters wherever you find them," unless they "repent and perform the prayer and pay the alms," as in the famous "sword verse" (Koran 9:5; translation per Arberry 1:207); the requirement to subdue the "people of the Book," that is, Jews and Christians (Koran 9:29); evidence of internal tension and reluctance to fight (Koran 2:216; "Fighting has been prescribed for you, though you dislike it").

These themes are commonly related to a chronological narrative about the life of Muhammad and the earliest Islamic community. For many Islamic jurists, the principles that prevail are the ones associated with the later parts of this narrative. For example, at some point in the narrative God permits warfare, but only in limited circumstances. Afterward, when conditions have changed, God provides a new ruling that allows the conduct of warfare with fewer restrictions. In juridical terms, the later ruling abrogates or supersedes the earlier one. From the point of view of literary narrative, however, such chronological schemes encounter difficulties in the details of the Koranic text.


One finds sustained, connected narratives about the earliest Islam in Arabic books on Muhammad's life (called sira, "the way") and on the early community and its wars (called maghazi, "raids") as well as in works of Koranic exegesis and in the hadith, which one may define as reports of authoritative sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet or to those around him. In the form in which they exist, these works date from the ninth century c.e. or later. Here one finds that the last part of Muhammad's life, after the Emigration (Hijra ) from Mecca to Medina in 622, was devoted largely, though not entirely, to the conduct of war.

In year 2 of the Hijra (624), at a place called Badr, a raiding expedition turned into a full confrontation with Muhammad's kin and adversaries, the Quraysh of Mecca. Divine intervention came in the form of angels fighting on the Muslim sidethis is how the maghazi narratives interpret several passages in the Koran regarding Badr, the first full battle of Islam and a great victory. Once Muhammad achieved final victory in his war against Mecca, he sent expeditions against Byzantine frontier defenses in the north, and he may have been planning an extensive campaign against Palestine and Syria. However, he died (in 632) before this campaign could get under way. The works of sira and maghazi place these narratives squarely in the foreground, providing a kind of salvation history (Heilsgeschichte ). The hadith, by contrast, directs all eyes toward the Prophet, who, with epigrammatic precision, dictates the Example (Sunna ) through his actions and words. Here one finds the doctrine of the jihad enunciated clearly, together with eloquent exhortations to perform jihad.

Early Conquests

In the decades following Muhammad's death, the Arab Muslims conquered Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, and Iran; Central Asia, North Africa, Spain, and other regions came soon afterward. Among the explanations for these successful conquests, an important point of difference involves the jihad. Were these conquests "Islamic" or "Arab"? According to the "Islamic" view, the Muslims fought because God commanded them to do so. They were motivated by neither fear nor greed but by a desire to propagate the faith. "Arab" explanations, on the other hand, which prevailed among Western specialists until fairly recently, looked at conditions in ancient Arabia. By the seventh century, it was thought, desiccation and desertification had reduced many of Arabia's centers of civilization to ruins; meanwhile the peninsula suffered from overpopulation. Inevitably the Arabs felt pressure to migrate, raid, or conquer. More recently others have emphasized the political aspects of the conquests. It is increasingly clear, however, that religion and jihad did take a major role.


Non-Muslim observers attributed the zeal of the Muslim fighters to the promise of heaven that the new religion made to those who died in battle. In the Koran those who die in combat in the path of God are "alive with God," enjoying the delights of paradise, which include marriage to dark-eyed maidens. The hadith and Islamic law declare that these dead warriors are martyrs. As in Christianity, the word martyr originally meant "witness" (Greek martys, Arabic shahid ). However, there are differences. The Jewish and Christian martyr was passive and refused to employ violence. In Islam the martyr is one who takes up arms. Islamic law also recognized non-combatant types of martyrs. For Shii Islam, martyrdom is associated with the revered descendants of the Prophet through his daughter Fatima and his cousin and son-in-law 'Ali, many of whom died at the hands of oppressive (Muslim) rulers. For the Sunni majority, however, armed struggle has most often been at the heart of the concept of martyrdom.

Treatment of Non-Muslims

Arabic sources for the early conquests report agreements between conquerors and conquered, including the famous "Pact of 'Umar." The "people of the Book" (who were eventually considered to include Zoroastrians in addition to Jews and Christians) are granted protection of their persons and property and are allowed to practice their religion with certain constraints. They must pay jizya, which at first meant a collective tribute but which soon referred to a poll tax levied on individuals and households, derived from Koran 9:29 ("Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and [who] do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbiddensuch men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Bookuntil they pay the tribute [ jizya ] out of hand and have been humbled") (translated by Arberry, 1:207).

Here are the foundations of the dhimma, the "protection" of non-Muslims who live under the rule of Islam. People living under this protection could not be enslaved and were free to pursue whatever professions they liked. However, non-Muslims living outside the lands of Islam could be and often were captured and enslaved. Forced conversion was not allowed, following a clear Koranic principle (2:256) and in fact happened only in exceptional instances. Islamic jurists represented the world as divided between an Abode of Islam (Dar al-Islam ) and an Abode of War (Dar al-Harb ). Since the only legitimate sovereign is God and the only legitimate form of rule is Islam, the rulers of the Abode of War are mere tyrants, and the normal state of affairs between the two abodes is war. The Muslim statein classical theory its leader, the imammay conclude a truce with those rulers for a maximum of ten years but not a permanent peace. Some jurists added an intermediate Abode of Truce, but this did not alter the territorial character of the doctrine of jihad. This doctrine does not aim at the immediate conversion of populations or individuals but rather at the extension of God's rule over all the world, until "the religion is God's entirely" (Koran 8:39).

The Obligation of Jihad

Warfare and territorial expansion were a priority for the rulers of the early Islamic state. Soon, however, jurists raised the question of individual participation. Is jihad an obligation that each must perform to the best of his or her ability, like pilgrimage and daily prayer? There was broad consensus that volunteering for the armies was a meritorious act. From a practical, military point of view, however, these undisciplined volunteers could create more problems than they solved. In Islamic law the problem was resolved in the doctrine of "obligation according to sufficiency," associated with the great jurist al-Shafi'i (767820). This doctrine declares that the obligation of jihad may be considered fulfilled so long as a sufficient number of volunteers perform it. However, if a military emergency occurs and the enemy threatens the lands of Islam, then the obligation falls upon each individual.

Many people sought to participate in the jihad through residence in frontier regions and in fortified strongholds (often called ribats), whether for a limited period or for a lifetime. These included jurists, ascetics, mystics, and others in search of religious merit and knowledge, in addition to people seeking simply to fight the enemy. It is here, along Islam's many frontiers, that the jihad acquired its social expression. In many cases it is not known whether people were engaged in devotional practices, the transmission of learning, or combat or guard duty against the enemy. For many of them, jihad consisted precisely in the combination of all these. "Internal" and "external" jihad were thus always present. In this way the jihad was a basic elementsocial and political as well as rhetoricalin the rise and success of a long series of Islamic dynasties and states, including that of the Almoravids in Morocco and Spain in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Ottomans from the fourteenth century until the twentieth, and many more.

Resistance and Reform

When the European colonial powers arrived in several Islamic countries in the nineteenth century, resistance against them involved the jihad and usually failed. When successful resistance eventually emerged, it was through secular, nationalist ideologies. Meanwhile Muslim thinkers in several countries took a new look at the jihad, seeking to make it compatible with what they saw as progress and modernity. A new body of juridical work defined the jihad as defensive warfare, while an "Islamic law of nations" presented the eighth-century al-Shaybani (750803 or 805), an Islamic jurist who wrote a book of the law of war, on a par with the seventeenth-century Grotius. In this way the relations of Islamic and non-Islamic states became placed firmly on a basis of peace.

Islamism and Fundamentalism

This recognition of the modern state infuriated certain other thinkers who declared their own societies to be Islamic in name only; in reality, they said, these societies lived in jahiliyya, coarse ignorance, the condition of ancient Arabia before the coming of Islam. They summoned all Muslims to the jihad, calling this an individual (not a collective) obligation because of the gravity of the situation. Unlike the modernist reformers, they had no qualms about "offensive" jihad, which one of their books, by Muhammad 'Abd al-Salam Farag, called "the neglected duty." However, they concentrated their fury against the modern Middle Eastern state rather than non-Muslim powers. After the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in October 1981, radicals were driven abroad or deep underground in Egypt and other countries.

The 1990s brought a new, international turn. Osama bin Laden's fatwas of 1996 and 1998 call upon Muslims to set aside the war against the corrupt regimes in their own countries to fight the common enemy. Like other radical Islamists of modern decades, bin Laden identified the enemy as a "CrusaderZionist" alliance, but he singled out the leader of the alliance, the United States, for special attention. This new, global jihad has vague, grandiose political projects that it postpones until some remote future time. Its real concern is to attract attention and arouse passions through spectacular acts of terrorism. The practitioners of this new jihad often begin with little knowledge of their own religion and its texts and are drawn by a desire for violence, destruction, and revenge. This desire coincides with one of the most shocking aspects of the new jihad, its promotion of suicide and the indiscriminate killing of noncombatants, including women and children, actions that the classical doctrine generally condemns and that have appeared in Islamic history only in marginal episodes.

As fundamentalists, these practitioners of the new jihad have little interest in what has happened since the midseventh century; when they look to the past, it is mostly to the Prophet's Medina and the earliest Islam. For these and other reasons, while it is certainly useful for us to know about the classical doctrine and about the long, complex history of the jihad within Islamic societies, one must not think that such knowledge will on its own lead to an understanding of the circumstances and conditions of the new, global jihad. These must be sought first of all in the world of the twenty-first century.

See also Anti-Semitism: Islamic Anti-Semitism ; Ethnicity and Race: Islamic Views ; Fundamentalism ; Islam ; Law, Islamic ; Sacred Texts: Koran .


Arberry, A. J. The Koran Interpreted. New York: Macmillan, 1955.

Bonner, Michael. Les origines du jihad. Paris: Editions du Téraèdre, forthcoming. English-language version also forthcoming.

Donner, Fred McGraw. The Early Islamic Conquests. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981.

Firestone, Reuven. Jihād: The Origin of Holy War in Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Kepel, Gilles. Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh. Translated by Jon Rothschild. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986.

Kohlberg, Etan. "Medieval Muslim Views on Martyrdom." Mededeelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen 60, no. 7 (1997): 279307.

Morabia, Alfred. Le Ğihâd dans l'Islam médiéval: Le "combat sacré" des origines au XII e siècle. Paris: Albin Michel, 1993.

Peters, Rudolph. Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History. The Hague and New York: Mouton, 1979.

Roy, Olivier. L'Islam mondialisé. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2002. To appear in English as Global Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming.

Michael Bonner


views updated May 11 2018


The word jihad is derived from the Arabic root jahada, meaning "to strive" or "to exert oneself" toward some goal. In this general sense, jihad could mean striving to achieve something with no particular moral value, or even a negative value. The Qur˒an itself twice uses the verb when describing the efforts of pagan parents to induce their Muslim-convert children to return to polytheism (29:8, 31:15). Other occurrences of this verbal form and its derivatives, however, are limited to the struggle of the Muslims to attain and maintain their faith. Thus, jihad has come to mean in the Islamic context only a virtuous struggle, toward some praiseworthy end, as defined by religion. It is therefore often linked with the phrase fi sabil Allah, meaning "struggle in the path of God."

The term jihad occurs infrequently in what are believed to be the Meccan revelations of the Qur˒an. During this first part of the Prophet's mission, lasting some twelve years, jihad is used in the sense of cultivating personal piety, perseverance in the preaching of Islam, and forbearance and patient suffering in the face of persecution by the Muslims' enemies. Qur˒an 25:52, for example, advises Muslims to "listen not to the unbelievers, but strive against them with it [the Qur˒an] with the utmost effort." There is no recorded instance during the Meccan period in which the Prophet ordered or allowed his followers to use violence against their enemies. Jihad during this period meant exclusively nonviolent resistance.

Following the Prophet's migration to Medina (the Hijra), occurrences of jihad increase in the Qur˒an. While some of these verses may be understood as still referring to nonviolent struggle, the majority clearly refer to physical force or fighting (qital). Qur˒an 22:39 is believed by many scholars to be the first verse on this topic. It permits the Muslims to retaliate with force against those who continue to attack and persecute them. A subsequent series of verses (2:190–191) converts the permission of self-defense into an obligation, with the argument that "oppression is worse than killing." Then, after eight years of warfare between the Muslims and their polytheist enemies, the Jewish tribes of Medina, and the Christian empire of the Byzantines, the Qur˒an seems to enjoin a war of conversion against all remaining polytheist Arabs (9:5) and a war of subjugation against Christians and Jews (9:29).

The Classical Theory

Following the Prophet's death, Muslim scholars produced a large body of literature analyzing Qur˒anic terms and collecting traditions of the Prophet as part of their effort to codify divine law (shari˓a). Defining and understanding jihad, a concept with complex religious and moral significance, naturally occupied a great deal of their attention. The scholars outlined a number of different types of jihad, all of which may be grouped into two basic categories, the spiritual jihad and the physical jihad. The objects of the first type included one's own soul (nafs), whose evil inclinations had to be overcome, or Satan (Shaitan), whose attempts to sow doubt and confusion and to lead the believer astray had to be perpetually fought. The physical jihad was aimed at unbelievers outside the Muslim community, as well as hypocrites and trouble-makers within the Muslim ranks. Its goal was to establish the supremacy of divine law and thereby to promote justice and social welfare according to Islamic values. In this sense, jihad was closely related to the Qur˒anic injunction that Muslims "command the right and forbid the wrong" (amr bi˒l-ma˓ruf wa nahy ˓an al-munkar).

The classical scholars also listed various means by which both the spiritual and the physical jihad could be conducted, including by the heart, tongue, pen, hand, and sword. Some traditions ascribed to Muhammad profess the merits of jihad conducted by the tongue, as in one hadith in which the Prophet said, "The greatest jihad is a word of truth spoken to a tyrant." Other traditions describe the jihad of the pen, that is, of scholars, as more meritorious than the jihad of the sword. One of the most famous such hadiths declares the spiritual jihad to be the greater jihad (jihad al-akbar) as compared to the physical jihad, which is the lesser jihad (jihad al-asghar).

But the most widespread use of the term jihad in classical Islamic thought was in the sense of a divinely sanctioned struggle, through war if necessary, to establish Islamic sovereignty and thereby to propagate the Islamic faith to unbelievers. In classical jurisprudence (fiqh), the dominant strand of intellectual activity in these early centuries, the chapters on jihad in legal treatises contained rules for the declaration, conduct, and conclusion of such religiopolitical wars.

At the heart of the classical theory was the division of the world into two basic spheres, dar al-islam (land of Islam), a unitary state comprising the community of Muslims, living by the shari˓a, and led by the just ruler (imam); and dar al-harb (land of war), where Islamic law did not prevail, leading presumably to anarchy and moral corruption. It was commonly understood that Muslims had an individual obligation (fard˓ayn) to defend dar al-islam whenever it was threatened by aggression from dar al-harb. This type of war received little attention in the chapters on jihad.

The jurists' attention was focused on what may be called the expansionist jihad. The imam was obliged to undertake a jihad whenever the conditions of the Islamic state permitted him to reduce dar al-harb and bring its lands and peoples into dar al-islam. This was a collective duty of the Muslim community (fard kifaya), one that required participation only from those financially and physically capable of undertaking it. One school of Sunni jurisprudence, the Shafi˓i, interposed a third category between the other two, dar al-sulh (land of truce), comprising peoples with which the Muslims had a treaty of truce, which suspended, but did not end, the jihad obligation. The maximum duration of such a truce, according to most scholars, was ten years, although nothing prevented the imam from renewing the truce if he deemed it in the Muslims' interest.

The jihad in dar al-harb, in the view of the scholars, was aimed at bringing Islam's higher civilization to those unaware of it, not territorial conquest or plunder. Thus, they elaborated rules on what Muslim armies may or may not do in dar al-harb. The basis for such moral injunctions was the Qur˒an's general command, "Do not transgress limits, for God loves not transgressors" (2:190), which was given greater specificity by the practice of the Prophet and his first four successors. Before the start of any attack, the enemy was to be offered the choice of accepting Islam, in which case no further action against them was permissible. If they refused, they were to be offered dhimmi (protected) status as an autonomous community within dar al-islam. This option, deriving from Qur˒an 9:29, initially pertained to Jews and Christians, but was steadily expanded to include Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists as the Islamic frontiers expanded. Only the polytheist Arabs who had fought so bitterly against Muhammad and the early Muslim community were excluded from the dhimmi option and forced to convert according to Qur˒an 9:5.

In fighting the enemy, Muslim soldiers were to avoid directly targeting women and children. Some jurists included old men, peasants, hermits, merchants, the insane, and other males who do not ordinarily take part in fighting on the list of prohibited targets. According to most scholars, all able-bodied adult males could be killed at the discretion of the imam, whether they were fighting or had been taken prisoner. The scholars permitted the use of all types of weapons or military tactics that were necessary to overcome the enemy, including laying siege to fortresses, firing incendiary devices, cutting off the water supply, or flooding. The exceptions were certain practices that were categorically prohibited by the Prophet, such as killing by mutilation or torture, burning individuals alive, and violating oaths or grants of security to soldiers or envoys.

The difference in Shi˓ite views on jihad was that only the righteous imam, a descendant of ˓Ali, could lead the expansionist jihad. Because the line of imams ended with the disappearance of the twelfth imam in the ninth century, according to the dominant strand of Shi˓ism, only a defensive jihad to repulse enemy aggression is theoretically possible.

The classical theory was already outdated as it was being formulated in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries. With the launching of the Reconquista in Spain and the Crusades in Syria and Palestine, the expansionist jihad gave way to a defensive struggle. In the nineteenth century, as European imperialism advanced throughout much of the Muslim world, the defensive aspects of jihad assumed paramount importance.

Modern Interpretations

The Christian missionary activity that accompanied British rule in India led some Indian Muslims to undertake major revisions of classical notions of jihad. The literature produced by these writers is unmistakably apologetic in tone, straining to answer the charge of Christian writers that Islam was spread by the sword. According to the apologists, the wars of early Islam were purely defensive in nature, and jihad in modern times should be largely divested of its military connotations and reduced mainly to its spiritual aspects.

Such writings inevitably created a backlash among other Muslim interpreters. Two broad reactions may be identified, the modernist and the fundamentalist. The modernists' goal is not so much to respond to criticisms of early Islamic history and dogma, but to reinterpret jihad in ways that make it compatible with the principles of modern international law. Thus, they challenge the classical theory's conception of a dar al-islam in opposition to a dar al-harb, pointing out that such categories are nowhere to be found in the Qur˒an or hadith. If these two basic sources for Islamic law and ethics are properly analyzed, they claim, jihad cannot be properly understood as a war to spread Islam or subjugate unbelievers. It is waged only in self-defense, in conformity with international law, when the lives, property, and honor of Muslims are at stake.

The fundamentalists also appeal to the Qur˒an and hadith to challenge what they consider various false understandings of jihad. First, they refute the mystical strand of thought that emphasizes the superiority of the inner, spiritual jihad over the outer, physical jihad. By the end of the Qur˒anic revelation, according to them, jihad meant a struggle, through fighting if necessary, to establish the Islamic order over all unbelievers. The more tolerant and pacific texts relating to unbelievers were abrogated by the later, more belligerent verses. But the category of unbelievers in fundamentalist writings includes nominal Muslims as well as non-Muslims. The transformation of hypocritical Muslim societies into true Islamic communities, led by true Muslim leaders, is the immediate goal of most fundamentalist ideologies. Although some writers continue to speak of dar al-Islam and dar al-harb, the jihad to spread Islam beyond its current borders seems for most fundamentalists to be a secondary concern.

As for the proper conduct of war today, the vast majority of Muslim scholars agree that principles of international humanitarian law are compatible with Islamic teachings. These include the notion of noncombatant immunity and the prohibition against inhumane forms of killing. Muslim terrorist groups have, however, sought to justify the killing of civilians on Islamic grounds, but their arguments and tactics have been condemned by mainstream scholars.

Finally, many Muslims today are trying to reclaim the broad meaning of jihad as "effort" or "struggle" apart from war. Increasingly, we find references to such struggles as the "jihad for literacy" or the "jihad for economic development."

See alsoConflict and Violence ; Terrorism .


Hamidullah, Muhammad. Muslim Conduct of State. 7th ed. Lahore: Shaykh Muhammad Ashraf, 1961.

Johnson, James Turner, and Kelsay, John, eds. Cross, Crescent, and Sword: The Justification and Limitation of War in Western and Islamic Tradition. New York: Greenwood, 1990.

Kelsay, John, and Johnson, James Turner, eds. Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Tradition. New York: Greenwood, 1991.

Khadduri, Majid. War and Peace in the Law of Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1955.

Peters, Rudolph. Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History. The Hague: Mouton, 1979.

Peters, Rudolph. Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam. Princeton: Markus Wiener, 1996.

Sohail H. Hashmi


views updated May 21 2018


JIHĀD , "struggle or striving, but often understood both within Muslim tradition and beyond it as warfare against infidels" (Enc. of the Qur'ān, s.v.Jihād); in other words, the Holy War. During the period of *Muhammad's stay in *Medina some of his revelations deal with the problem of the jihād, the holy war to be waged against Allah's enemies and the infidels (e.g., Sura 2:186–90, 212–15, 245, 247). Those who fight according to Allah's way may hope for His mercy. Muhammad promises that everyone who is killed while fighting in Allah's way will win the highest reward (Sura 4:76). Such a man is a shahīd, a martyr.

According to Muslim religious law, the caliph is obliged to lead the jihād against the inhabitants of those countries which did not adopt *Islam. These countries are called dār al-ḥarb ("war territory"), while the countries under Islamic rule are referred to as dār al-Islām ("territory of Islam") – Jews and Christians could live there only as *dhimmī ("protected people") and have to pay a poll tax (jizya), thereby recognizing the superiority of Islam. In practice, this bipartite division of the world was only able to last a short time during the first hundred years of Arab-Muslim expansion. For the later period the Muslim constitutional-religious law was obliged to create a third category, the dār al-ṣulḥ or dār al-ʿahd ("territory of treaty") of non-Muslim countries not subject to Muslim sovereignty but connected with the dār al-Islām by temporary treaties; this sometimes involved the payment of a token tribute. The main cause for the creation of this compromise category was that many non-Muslim governments were considered too strong, or too far away from the center of Muslim power, to be overthrown by force. In the modern Muslim national movements and states there does not seem to be a place for the idea of a holy war against infidels. Nevertheless, it still plays a very important role among the masses. They can easily be incited by the fanaticism of leaders, preaching in the name of the *Koran and Muhammad, to initiate riots against unbelievers inside the country and at least plan a war against infidels outside the Muslim state.

The last proclamation of a jihād occurred during World War i when the Turkish sultan proclaimed it against his enemies, the Entente powers. This proclamation, however, proved a failure, particularly in view of the pro-British Arab revolt which started in the holy cities of *Hejaz, and also because the Sultan himself was allied with Germany, a Christian power. When some Muslim authorities later tried to proclaim their struggle against Israel as a jihād, they were equally unsuccessful mainly because of the Arab nationalist character of the anti-Israel campaign, which included many non-Muslims. This was the case also in many inter-Muslim wars in the second half of the 20th century, when the leaders of both sides declared the jihād (*Yemen-*Egypt, *Iraq-*Iran, *Algeria, and al-Qāʿida-*Saudi Arabia); but after the establishment of a Communist regime in *Afghanistan and the Soviet invasion, the declaration of jihād attracted Muslims from different countries who fought there for years. Some of them formed groups of warriors who were ready to take part in the wars of different Muslim minorities or states (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chechnya and Iraq), seeing them as jihād. Those jihadists claimed that "Muslims who interpret their faith differently are infidels and therefore legitimate targets of jihād. Today, jihād is the world's foremost source of terrorism, inspiring a worldwide campaign of violence by self-proclaimed jihadist groups" (D. Pipes, N.Y. Post, December 31, 2002).

The idea of the jihād has certain analogies to milḥemet ḥovah ("the prescribed [by the Torah] war") as it is discussed in the Talmud (Sot. 44b; tj, Sot. 8:10, 23a) and in some aspects of kiddush ha-Shem (the sanctification of God's name).


M.J. Kister, "An yadin (Koran ix/29), an Attempt at Interpretation," in: Arabica, 11 (1964); R. Peters, Islamand Colonialism. The Doctrine of Jihād in Modern History (1976); A. Morabia, Le Jihād dans l'Islam médiéval. Le "combat sacré" des origines aux xiie siècle, (1986); R. Firestone, Jihād. The Origin of Holy War in Islam (1999); E. Landau, The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'ān, 3, 35–42, s.v.Jihād.

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg /

Isaac Hasson (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 08 2018


A term that derives from the Arabic word jahada, meaning "to strive."

The Arabic nouns juhd, mujahid, jihad, and ijtihad mean endeavor, training, exertion, effort, diligence, and fighting. "Traditionally jihad was understood to be justified for three reasons: to repel invasion or its threat, to punish those who had violated treaties, and to guarantee freedom for the propagation of Islam" (Abedi). According to Iranian ayatollah Morteza Mutahhari, Jihad as a defensive act is explained in the Hajj sura 22:3841, where it is said that God gives permission (for warfare) to those who have been attacked. In an Islamic legal context, the term jihad is most often used to refer to a martial campaign in the cause of religion and is therefore frequently translated as "holy war." Many now would argue that there is no such thing as a holy war, and that Islam does not sanction war but rather defense of Islamic values (this is certainly the case in the longest conventional war between two Muslim nations, Iran and Iraq, 19801988). Iran called the war a sacred defense rather than a jihad.

According to classical Muslim legal theory, the only kind of lawful military conflict is jihad, and a jihad can only be used to fulfill at least one of two main objectives. The first is the effective spread of Muslim ideals and values into a region of society unmoved by the call to Islam. The second is defense of the Muslim community from external threats. In addition to discussing the conditions necessary to establish these objectives, Muslim teachings on jihad also deal with important related issues such as the immunity of noncombatants, ethical restrictions on the applications of destructive force, and the circumstances warranting armistice. In fact, the doctrine of jihad is probably best understood as being similar to the "just war" theory in Western Christian contexts. Over the course of the twentieth century, jihad discourse was polarized by modernists like Muhammad Shaltut (died 1963) who argue that, in the modern era, offensive jihad should only take the form of a peaceful propagation of Islam, and revolutionary Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad, HAMAS, and Hizbullah, which maintain that Muslims around the world are obliged to use any available means to fight against the forces of Western imperialism.


Abedi, Mehdi, and Legenhausen, Gary, eds. Jihād and Shahādat: Struggle and Martyrdom in Islam. Houston, TX: Institute for Research and Islamic Studies, 1986.

Mutahhari, Morteza. Jihad: The Holy War in Islam and the Legitimacy in the Qurʾan, translated by Mohammad Salman Tawhidi. Tehran, Iran: Islamic Propagation Organization, 1998.

scott alexander
updated by roxanne varzi


views updated Jun 11 2018


Jihad is the endeavor or struggle to establish and defend Islam. The struggle can take several forms. In a military context it becomes armed struggle and is the one meant in the Qur'an when reference to fighting between Muslims and non-Muslims is made. Many verses in the Qur'an exhort Muslims to fight courageously and to be willing to sacrifice their wealth and lives (9:41, 88; 61:11). Those who fight "in the way of God" are called mujahidun and are promised great reward in the hereafter (4:95); God has made a "deal" with the believers whereby He has bought their wealth and lives in exchange for paradise (9:111). Those who die in battle are called martyrs, though they are not to be thought of as dead: "Do not call them dead; they are living, in the presence of their Lord, and are being given sustenance" (3:169). Technically, such jihad is termed qital. For it to be valid, qital must be religiously justifiable. For example, jihad cannot be waged to convert non-Muslims to Islam, to gain personal glory, or to enhance national pride. But it may be waged, for example, to combat aggression or to fight tyranny. Muhammad and his followers in Medina were permitted by the Qur'an to fight because they had been turned out of their homes in Mecca and had been "wronged" (22:40). The Islamic legal code prohibits wanton destruction of life and property during war and guarantees certain rights to the enemy.

The Qur'an also speaks of "jihad in God" (29:69), an elliptical expression for the endeavor to find and determine ways to serve God with a view to winning His pleasure: "Those who endeavor [jahadu] in Us—We will certainly guide them to Our ways." Such jihad is to be understood as the effort to bring one's whole life into accord with the will of God. It calls for a deep commitment to discipline oneself through constant self-examination, and it is probably because of the rigorous demands it makes on one that the Prophet termed this jihad against one's baser self greater than qital, the external jihad against an enemy, for, unlike the latter, it involves fighting against the part of one self that incites one to evil (called an-nafs al-ammarah in Qur'an 12:53). This is the jihad Muslim mystics frequently speak of and try to engage in.

Qur'an 4:76 says that those who believe in God fight in His way, whereas those who disbelieve in Him fight in the way of the taghut (those who rebel against God). Muhammad is reported to have said that speaking the truth in the presence of a tyrant is the greatest form of jihad. Scriptural and prophetic statements like these have led Muslims in the past, and particularly in modern times, to view resistance to or fighting against political oppression and social injustice as jihad. Such statements were, for example, frequently cited in Iran in the late 1970s during the anti-Shah movement.

See alsoIslam; Mecca; Qur'an.


Dajani-Shakeel, Hadia, and Ronald H. Messier, eds. Jihad and Its Times. 1991.

Osman, Fathi. Jihad: A LegitimateStruggleforHumanRights. 1997.

Mustansir Mir


views updated May 14 2018


(Arabic word meaning "struggle" or "effort.") According to the Qurʾan, jihad is a duty for each Muslim, to achieve the "wisdom and perfection" necessary to deserve the blessing of Allah. This is the "greater jihad," the personal struggle with the self to improve the character, to be a better Muslim. The "lesser jihad" is the collective struggle to create a more just social order, or the necessary struggle to protect the Muslim community when it is threatened by external danger. In this case, jihad may include or consist of "holy war," an armed struggle undertaken in the name of God, with the promise of spiritual rewards. This concept was reborn among extremists of the modern Islamist movement, subsequent to the creation of the State of Israel (considered by the Muslim community as an amputation of a part of the land of Islam). The spread of this movement owes a great deal to the ineffectiveness of secular Arab governments in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and also to their failure to serve the needs of their people, their corruption, and their suppression of democratic political alternatives. In current Western political discourse, "jihad" is often taken to have the meaning of "holy war" exclusively.



views updated May 11 2018

Jihād (Arab., jahada, ‘he made an effort’). More fully, jihād fī sabīl Allāh, ‘striving in the cause of God’. Jihād is usually translated as ‘holy war’, but this is misleading. Jihād is divided into two categories, the greater and the lesser: the greater jihād is the warfare in oneself against any evil or temptation. The lesser jihād is the defence of Islam, or of a Muslim country or community, against aggression. It may be a jihād of the pen or of the tongue. If it involves conflict, it is strictly regulated, and can only be defensive.


views updated May 17 2018

jihad a holy war undertaken by Muslims against unbelievers. The name comes from Arabic jihād, literally ‘effort’, expressing, in Muslim thought, struggle on behalf of God and Islam.