1. The word Jihad (from the Arabic root Ga-Ha-Da) is a verbal noun meaning exerting an effort, expounding an energy, striving, working to improve, struggling, doing one’s best.
From the same Arabic root, there is Majhood (effort), Mojtahed (a person who does his/her best), Ijtehad (Islamic science of deducting Islamic laws from basic sources), Johid (potential or energy as in electrical potential or energy) and Jihad (persuasion as in (29:8), (31:15), (6:109)).
2. Jihad in Islam is waging peace and justice. Jihad is a war against unjust, oppression, exploitation, tyranny, fear, corruption and denying the masses basic human rights (4:75-76) and to establish justice, peace, freedom, especially freedom of religion, security, equity and social justice (2:193).
The tools for launching this war are knowledge, effort, resources, activism, awareness, praying, persuasion, combativeness, advocacy in addition to exercising social, political and military pressures (9:111), (8:60), (9:44-45).
The use of the military option is not ruled out and would be used if and only if it is the only option to stop a greater evil (2:216). The rules of engagement are so strenuous for a given military option to qualify as Jihad. Not every military champagne is a Jihad (2:244).
3. Jihad in Islam is not meant for domination, and not to achieve personal, territorial and/or economical gains and not to exercise power and control. Any type of aggression would make Jihad null and void (2:190-191).
4. One of the most important objectives of Jihad in Islam is to stand for those who are oppressed and/or forced out of their homes just because of their religion (22:39-40).
5. Those who are performing outward Jihad must also spiritually reform themselves by performing (al-jihad al-akbar), an inward personal and more difficult type of Jihad (29:69), (22:78).
This type of Jihad is the internal spiritual and moral struggle which should lead to the victory over the ego. This is an important, necessary, and meritorious type of Jihad. In effect, this type of Jihad is the one which we wage against our lower selves, according to the Prophetic traditions. This personal effort made to overcome the self is considered to be “the greatest Jihad”, as mention in a Hadith narrated by Imam Ahmed.
6. It is impossible for Jihad to be performed by an oppressor, a tyrant, a transgressor or an exploiter; it does not matter what that person/government/group calls his/her/its actions. Nor there is Jihad for those who are after personal, tribal and national gains (9:24).
It is precisely in such a context that Jihad meant not to have a negative but a positive meaning both inwardly and outwardly and it is in this sense that Islam has stressed the positive aspect of combativeness; peace belongs to those who are inwardly at peace and outwardly at war with the forces of unjust.
6. Jihad is an unselfish and noble effort for the good of humanity (29:6), involving many sacrifices; money, time, effort, and the ultimate sacrifice of all, life itself. But the rewards of this unselfish and noble act are immense (29:69), (9:41), (4:74), (3:142), (9:16), (9:111), (49:15) and its negligence is costly for humanity (9:38-39), (9:24), (9:81).
7. For political and historical reasons, the word Jihad in the West connotes violence. It is most often translated into English not only as “a holy war,” but also a war waged against non-Muslims, a kind of Crusade in reverse.
Today in the West the term Jihad leads people to believe that Muslims are supposedly encouraged to take up arms in order to impose their faith by force, annihilating those who reject it.
This is contrary to the Islamic teachings that it is not for man but for God alone to judge and punish disbelief and that compulsion in religious matters is formally forbidden (2:256). It is regrettable that in Western public opinion, Jihad seems to have retained only the misleading meaning of “holy war.”
8. The Qur’an explicitly safeguards the clergy, declaring that God protects non-Muslim places of worship: “Did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure.”
This prohibition is corroborated and elucidated by the Prophetic tradition which forbids soldiers to do harm to any religious persons, whereas they could logically have been the primary targets if the motive of “holy war” had been religious.
Without putting Western civilization on trial, we should nevertheless mention by way of contrast that several centuries later, the founders of international law in Europe excluded the Muslim “infidels” from the benefits of the law of wars. Yet, the concept of “holy war” remains branded as the expression of the Muslims’ religious fanaticism. How ineradicable are the prejudices!
9. Jihad was and still being invoked in Muslim protests against foreign occupation, oppression and exploitation during colonialism, post-colonialism, and neocolonialism, a cause perceived as both just and necessary.
However some Muslims must bear responsibility for the bad name given to Jihad. Today some contemporary governments and groups in Muslim countries make reference to Jihad only in its military meaning, through words and deeds, in order to hide their moral, social and political bankruptcy. In the process they kill the innocent, cause only death and destruction and do not advance the cause of peace and justice. But regrettably they are the ones who show up regularly in the newspapers and on television.
10. Today Muslim’s outlook on Jihad are one of the following: a. All types of Jihad is irrelevant to Muslims today. b. All types of Jihad is justified except these types which involve the use of armed resistance. c. All types of Jihad is very much relevant and needed today, from the inward spiritual struggle against one’s lower self, to activism for peace, justice, social justice,…etc, to armed resistance whenever armed resistance is justified; for example against foreign occupation, oppression, tyranny and unjust.
Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.