‘Jihad’ is originally an Arabic word, which means to strive and struggle towards doing one’s utmost in word and deed. It caters to all kinds of efforts exercised by any individual; the term ‘Jihad’ can be applied to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Jihad is commonly mislabeled to mean ‘holy war’, especially in the Western world. In actuality, Islam deems the instigation of war without a concrete cause as an unholy act. Neither the Holy Quran, nor the blessed ahadith of our Holy Prophet (PBUH) mention jihad in the context of waging the ‘holy war’.
In the Islamic realm, jihad pertains to all forms of the act of ‘striving’ and harbors a much deeper meaning of the word than meets the eye. It encompasses the struggle for the betterment of the self and the world around us, the struggle against evil, be it internal or external, the struggle of uniting the Ummah under the banner of Tawhid (oneness of Allah (SWT)) and to strive towards defending one’s honor and homeland.
There are various types of Jihad, some of which are obligatory (wajib) upon every Muslim and for which they will be held accountable for on the Day of Judgment, while other types of jihad are either obligatory upon society in general or are ‘mustahabb’ (recommended but not compulsory). There are essentially three levels of Jihad:
1. Jihad al-Nafs (Jihad against the self)
Jihad al-Nafs is obligatory for every Muslim and is of four kinds:
- The strive to continuously learn, understand and integrate the teachings of Islam with the aim of bettering oneself.
- The strive to implement the teachings of Islam in your everyday life and the constant fight against the ego.
- The strive to preach Islam and guide others to the right path.
- To have patience in the face of difficulties for the sake of preaching Allah’s (SWT) word.
2. Jihad al-Shaytaan (Jihad against shaytaan)
Jihad al-Shaytaan is also obligatory on all Muslims as individuals. It is of two kinds:
- To remain steadfast in faith as shaytaan works towards weakening it.
- To strive against shaytaan’s relentless efforts to entice and corrupt the believer with his/her inner humanly desires.
3. Jihad against the Kaafirs and Hypocrites
The jihad against the kaafirs and hypocrites is obligatory on all Muslims as a community (fard kafaayah). This type of jihad is against everything that hinders or stops Muslims from their servitude to Allah (SWT). It is about standing up against tyrannical systems, oppression and defending one’s faith, property and country in the face of an external threat. Jihad against the hypocrites has more to do with employing the use of words, whereas the jihad against the kaafirs involves the element of physical fighting.
This type of jihad requires the believer to strive against all types of evil and injustice using everything in their power and the following three devices:
- Firstly, with one’s hand (i.e. physical jihad/to physically fight)
- Secondly, with one’s tongue (i.e. speaking out against evil)
- Thirdly, with one’s heart (i.e. prayer)
It is the duty of all Muslims to respond to the call of jihad, if the time comes, with whatever resources they can offer, be it monetary, physical effort or their very life. The Holy Quran deems the physical jihad as being the highest level of jihad a believer can undertake, which will essentially result in endless rewards in the Hereafter.
However, Allah (SWT) prohibits the use of violence or to wage war against a non-Muslim country that upholds its treaties and possesses no hostile intentions against the religion of Islam. Allah (SWT) prohibits His servants from employing any means of force, compulsion or fear in order to get others to convert to Islam.
“Let there be no compulsion (or coercion) in the religion (Islam). The right direction is distinctly clear from error.” (Quran 2:256)
Contrary to popular Western thought, Islam is a religion of peace, justice and freedom – it is not a religion of violence, aggression and cruelty. Islam teaches us patience, love and respect for one another and encourages us to stand up for what is true and righteous. Instead of harboring hate and hostilities, we, as Muslims, are taught to always choose the higher road of forgiveness, mercy and peace.
“Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors.” (Quran 2:190)