The True Islamic Doctrine of ‘Jihad’

 The word Jihad is perhaps on the top ten most feared words in the West. The same word also perhaps makes it to the top ten of the most ill-understood concepts amongst both those following Islam and those outside.

There are many sects in Islam. Just over a hundred years ago, almost all sects without exception held the belief that Jihad meant ‘Holy war’ – that waging such a war on infidels was an obligation of the Faithful Muslim. The killing of an unbeliever was Jihad and such an act entitled the perpetrator to paradise and granted him the title of ‘Ghazi’ [Raider]. Important as it was to the Muslims, Jihad was referred to as the ‘sixth pillar of Islam’ by many Sunni scholars and Shia Muslims incorporated it in the ten ancillaries of faith. Anyone who dared disagree with this definition as the sole meaning of Jihad was deemed an infidel. When the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim CommunityMirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India claimed at the end of the 19th century that the doctrine of Jihad as understood by the orthodox clerics was opposed to the true principles of Islam, he was immediately branded a heretic and an infidel by the clerics of his time.

Ahmad wrote: “They [Orthodox Muslim clerics] adhere so strongly to their doctrine of jihad—which is completely misguided and entirely contradicts the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and hadith—that they label as “dajjal ” [Antichrist] and advocate the murder of anyone who objects.” [British Govt and Jihad p.8]

Today, his peaceful interpretation of ‘Jihad’ finds place in many Muslims’ hearts. Over a hundred million followers of Ahmad reject the violent interpretation of Jihad. Not just the Ahmadiyya Muslims, sect after sect, clerics are starting to incorporate peaceful interpretations of the word and are renouncing fanaticism as unIslamic and unlawful. What used to be prime identity of the faithful is itself becoming a mark of infidelity. Knowingly or unknowingly, the interpretation of Ahmad is spreading across hearts and souls. This said, the influence of the ‘jihadis’ is also getting stronger in their own circles.

A brief interpretation of the Islamic concept of Jihad is intended here.

Jihad is an Arabic word which literally means ‘struggle’. It has been used multiple times in the Quran and in the sayings of the Holy Prophet [pbuh]. The Quran for instance says:

“Lo! those who believe, and those who emigrate (to escape the persecution) and strive in the way of Allah, these have hope of Allah’s mercy. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” [2:218 Pickthal]

“Those of the believers who sit still, other than those who have a (disabling) hurt, are not on an equality with those who strive in the way of Allah with their wealth and lives. Allah hath conferred on those who strive with their wealth and lives a rank above the sedentary.” [4:095 Pickthal]

The word for fighting in the Quran is “Qitaal”. Muhammad [pbuh] did fight wars, however, all without exception were defensive wars. Muhammad [pbuh] was averse to fighting all the 13 years he and his followers were tortured and put to the worst persecution in Mecca. It was not until Muhammad [pbuh] migrated to Medina and heard of the Meccans deciding to wage war on Medina that divine permission to fight was granted. What is described by islamophobes as an offensive and brutal first war was in fact a battle between nearly three hundred ill-armed Muslims and over a thousand well-armed and armored fighters from Mecca. Seriously, I can see no person take on such a war in all sanity and claim victory beforehand. This was not an offensive but a defense against an offensive. It was a last resort to prevent innocent bloodshed in Medina and to defend the peaceful propagation of Islam. Such was the nature of all wars fought by Muhammad [pbuh].

Indeed, such fighting is a struggle. But so is spending out of one’s wealth for the poor and needy. So is fighting against one’s inner temptations. So is trying to establish the 5 daily prayers. So is to fast in the true Islamic spirit. So is to refuse to be slave of one’s inner self and rise in moral strength. Why then should the word ‘Jihad’ be limited to fighting alone.

This, with the fact that no offensive act is remotely allowed in Islam, makes the Orthodox stand on Jihad funny all the more. Talking of Jihad, the Quran says: “Ye should believe in Allah and His messenger, and should strive for the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives. That is better for you, if ye did but know.” [061:011 Pickthal]

Where is the fighting mentioned? And emphasizing the extraordinary importance of human life, it says: “Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” [5:032 Pickthal]

The fanatic understanding of Jihad that was common at the time of Ahmad was further propagated and preached by later clerics. Prominent amongst these was Abul Aala Maududi, a religio-political figure in the indo-pak subcontinent, who wrote:

“Islam wishes to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a state on the basis of its own ideology and programme, regardless of which nation assumes the role of the standard-bearer of Islam or the rule of which nation is undermined in the process of the establishment of an ideological Islamic State. Islam requires the earth—not just a portion, but the whole planet.. Towards this end, Islam wishes to press into service all forces which can bring about a revolution and a composite term for the use of all these forces is ‘Jihad’… the objective of the Islamic ‘Jih?d’ is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system and establish in its stead an Islamic system of state rule.” [Jihad in Islam, p.6,7,22]

This probably was the wish of Maududi. The Holy Quran and the sayings of the Prophet [pbuh] do not state such an aim of Islam. The aim of Islam is to submit to the will of God and to serve His creation.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad writes: “They should remember that their understanding of jihad is not at all correct, and that human sympathy is its first casualty. Their belief, that jihad should be lawful today because it was permitted in early Islam, is totally incorrect and we offer two rejoinders. The first is that their reasoning is baseless. Under no circumstance did our Holy Prophet [pbuh] raise the sword against anyone unless they had first raised the sword, mercilessly killing innocent, pious men, women and children with such brutality that reading about these events even today brings tears to our eyes. Second, even if we assume that jihad as conceived of by these maulavis was obligatory in early Islam, the commandment is no longer applicable because it is written that violent jihad and religious fighting will come to an end with the appearance of the Promised Messiah, who will not raise the sword or any other earthly weapon. Prayer shall be his only instrument, and firm determination his only weapon. He will establish peace and gather together the goat and the lion. His age will be one of peace, gentleness and human sympathy. Alas! Why do these people not reflect that thirteen hundred years have passed since the Holy Prophet [pbuh] said, “yada-‘ul-harb” in honor of the Promised Messiah. These words mean that the Promised Messiah will end warfare when he comes.” [British Govt and Jihad p. 9]

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be the same Messiah and reformer awaited by all world religions. The Holy Prophet [pbuh] had said of the Messiah, “He will put an end to wars”.  Ahmad declared that of the many wrong concepts that he had come to rectify, one was the notion of ‘Jihad’. He writes:

“The second principle for which I have been appointed is the reform of the incorrect concept of jihad that is widespread among some ignorant Muslims. So God has made me understand that the prevailing concept of jihad is opposed to the Qur’anic teachings. Fighting commanded in the Holy Qur’an, was more sensible than the fighting of Moses, and possessed greater attraction than the warring of Joshua. It was based on the fact that those who took up swords unjustly, murdered Muslims without cause, and took oppression to extremes, be killed by the sword.” [Tohfah-e-Qaisariyyah, p. 10]

The only time fighting is allowed in Islam is in state of defense when an enemy launches an uncalled for offensive. Fighting is the last option in such a case and is only to be used to protect religion and one’s own life in extreme situations of persecution. In a country like the US for instance where Muslims live in peace and practice faith freely, the very thought of a violent ‘jihad’ on this soil is disgusting at the very least and totally against Islam itself.

Ahmad wrote in a letter to one of his disciples, “In this age, jihad has taken a spiritual form. And jihad in this age demands that we strive in raising the Islamic kalimah”

“Spread the meanings of the Islamic kalimah,” he preached. “Give answers to opponents, spread the beauties of the Islamic faith in the world, and manifest the truthfulness of the Holy Prophet [pbuh] to the world. This is jihad, until such a time that God shows another form in the world.”

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has understood Jihad to mean a peaceful struggle against one’s inner temptations and a peaceful struggle to spread the beauties of Islam and interfaith harmony worldwide. The Jihad of the fanatics is a concoction of their misguided power-hungry masters. It has no basis from the teachings of Islam. Where a rejecter of this ‘jihad’ was considered an infidel at the time of Ahmad, fanaticism is progressively being abandoned by one non-Ahmadi Muslim sect after another. Just a while back no one except the Ahmadi Muslims had this philosophy, today the violent Jihadi interpretation found in the literature of most Muslim sects is being rejected by their followers themselves!

While some misguided Muslims are still killing others in the name of Islam and Jihad, the Ahmadi Muslims are doing their Jihad by striving to make people understand the true meaning of Jihad and the beautiful image of Islam. Whereas the Ahmadiyya Jihad is peace and love, that of the fanatics is hate. Whereas the Ahmadiyya Jihad is the Jihad of Islam, that of the fanatics is rebellion – rebellion against the very meaning of Islam.

1) The Holy Quran
2) A collection of Hadith [sayings of the Holy Prophet [pbuh]
3) British Government and Jihad – a booklet written in 1900 by Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and the Founder of the Ahmadiyyah Muslim Community. In this booklet, he refers to the Holy Qur’an and the ahadith (sayings) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] in order to explain the true nature of the Islamic concept of jihad. The author points to the peaceful nature of the Islamic faith and explains that Muslims resorted to defensive war early in their faith’s history only after suffering thirteen years of brutal oppression. Divine permission to retaliate was granted for the specific purpose of self-defense, to punish aggressors, and to uphold freedom of conscience. [Click to read online]