“… commit no aggression. Surely, Allâh does not love the aggressors” (2:190)

Jihâd – ‘Holy War’ – A Misconception


And strive your hardest to win the pleasure of Allâh, as hard a striving as is possible and as it behoves you. He has chosen you and has imposed no hardship upon you in the matter of your faith, (so follow) the creed of your father Abraham. He named you Muslims (both) before this and (again) in this (Qur’ân) (22:78).

A great misconception prevails, particularly among many Christians, propagated by their zealous missionaries, with regard to the duty of Jihâd in Islam. Even the greatest research scholars in the West have not taken pains to consult any dictionary on Arabic, or to refer to the Qur’ân to find out the meaning of the word. The word Jihâd according to the Arabic-English Lexicon of E. W. Lane and the great scholar of Islam Râghîb means: The use of or exerting of one’s utmost powers, efforts, endeavors or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation, and this is of three kinds, namely; a visible enemy, the devil and against one’s own self. All these meanings are used in the Qur’ân when a reference of Jihâd is made.

The duty of Jihâd is far from being synonymous with that of war, and the meaning of Jihâd, ‘the Holy war’ as supposed by the western writers is unknown equally to Arabic and the fundamental teachings of the Holy Qur’ân. Even in the Traditions of the Prophet, peace be upon him (pbuh) (Hadîth), this word was never synonymous with ‘the Holy war’. The Prophet of Islam (pbuh) called the greater Pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj) as Jihâd (Bukhârî 25:4). The permission to fight (22:40) under certain circumstances has no connection with the preaching of the religion by force and at no time did Islam permit the use of force for the purpose of preaching. Again the Qur’ân says: ‘Strive hard with your possessions and your persons in the cause of Allâh’ (9:41) and: ‘Strive hard against them (the enemies of Islam, the nonbelievers) with the help of this (Qur’ân, which is full of arguments and reasoning) a mighty striving’ (25:52). God expects from us a Jihâd against our souls, against our Nafs Ammârah, our commanding self which is continuously inciting us towards evil. God has not given us any permission to use any kind of force to prohibit people from going to places of worship – Churches, Synagogues and Temples – ‘where the names of God are being glorified’ (2:114).


War in Islam


Permission (to fight in self-defense) is (now) given to those (Muslims) against whom war is waged (for no reason), because they have been done injustice to, and Allâh has indeed might and power to help them. Those who have been driven out of their homes without any just cause. Their only fault was that they said, ‘Our Lord is Allâh’. If Allâh had not repelled some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques wherein the name of Allâh is mentioned very frequently, would have been razed to ground in large numbers (22:39-40).

To ensure peace we sometimes have to go to war, and the martial spirit that has been implanted by Allâh (God) for our safety comes into play. The Qur’ân says: ‘Fight in the cause of Allâh those who fight and persecute you, but commit no aggression. Surely, Allâh does not love the aggressors’ (2:190). The subject is clarified further in the next verse: ‘Turn them out whence they have turned you out. Killing is bad but lawlessness is even worse than carnage’. Thus, under certain circumstances war becomes indispensable. Even Jesus saw the necessity of war when he said: ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ (Mathew, 10:34). Islam permits fighting for two reasons:

  1. To defend one’s life: Senseless fighting against an enemy is to be avoided under all circumstances, for otherwise there is too much bloodshed. Other peaceful means such as migration to another country, where no persecution is expected, is to be preferred. The Prophet of Islam (pbuh) practiced this rule when he advised some of his followers to migrate to Abbyssinia and later he himself migrated from Makkah to Madînah.
  2. To defend the land against incursions by others and to avoid persecution and lawlessness: ‘Killing is bad, but lawlessness is even worse than carnage’ (2:217). When the temples and churches and synagogues and mosques are razed to the ground as a result of religious persecution, defensive fighting becomes necessary. This fighting is not only to protect Muslims but also for defending the followers of other religions. It is significant to note in the verse above (22:40) that the permission to protect the mosques ranks after the places of worship of other religions. The verse also affirms the right of religious practice to followers of other religions. We fail to find any similar, clear and healthy principles of war and tolerance in other religious books. The wars of Israelites were aimed at the extinction of their enemies and sowed vengeance and rancor. Jesus left his followers in a maze regarding military matters. Christianity was all meekness and modesty as long as it was the religion of slaves and the suppressed. As soon as it secured political power, streams of blood began to flow in the name of the church. The Crusades, re-conquest of Spain, colonization and Christianizing of America and the two world wars are a few examples with no parallel in Islamic history.

The Qur’ân not only gives the conditions under which war is permitted, it also clearly defines how long and to what extent the war should be waged. Destruction of property, means of livelihood, killing of the elderly, women and children is not permitted. As soon as the enemy shows an inclination towards peace, the hostilities are to be stopped, after which all kind of hatred and feelings of vengeance must vanish (8:61).

It is not true that the battles fought by the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) were to spread Islam by force. Such accusations are based on ignorance and are biased. The Prophet of Islam (pbuh) had to fight three battles after Badr. In all these battles the very location of the battlefields and the strength of the parties were a decisive factor showing that the followers of the Prophet (pbuh) had chosen to fight in sheer self-defense. For thirteen long years the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) and his followers were the victims of persecution in Makkah, so he decided to leave Makkah and migrate to Madînah. The first battle was fought at Badr which is about one hundred and twenty miles from Makkah and only sixty miles from Madînah between a force of three hundred and thirteen Muslims and a thousand Makkans. Uhud which is a suburb of Madînah, the city of refuge of the Prophet (pbuh), was the scene of the second battle. The relative strength this time was about one thousand Muslims against three thousand Makkans and their allies. The third battle was an attack on the town of Madînah itself by the enemies of Islam with an army of ten thousand. These were exactly the occasions when Jesus too would have called to ‘sell the clothes to purchase the sword.’


Islam–The Religion of Peace


Allâh invites (us all) to the abode of peace and He guides him who wishes to be guided to the exact right path leading to the goal (10:25).

The religion which the Qur’ân preaches is called Islâm (3:18), which means ‘Peace’, and the Book invites people to the abode of Peace (10:25). The Qur’ân does not just speak of peace but also provides us a code to achieve, establish and maintain it. A very basic announcement in the Opening Chapter (Al-Fâtihah) states that God is the Nourisher to perfection for all humankind and all worlds (Rabb al-‘Âlamîn), and that there is no claim of exclusiveness of any religious group or sect. His people benefit from His earth and from the rest of His universe, irrespective of their origin, color or belief and His dealings with the human being in spiritual matters is also marked with the same impartiality (1:2-3). The Book mentions all the hurdles in the way of peace and tranquility. It speaks of differences in faith, of race, in language, color and regional patriotism (30:22) and provides guidance to remove these barriers in the path to peace. The unity of God and the unity of humankind are presented by the Qur’ân as fundamentally interconnected.

One of the basic principle that can bring about peace and unity among the nations and the religions of the world is tolerance, respect and honor towards each other’s founders, saints and heroes. The Qur’ân tells us repeatedly that every nation had its Warner and these Warners are to be respected and honored (2:4; 40:78; 42:13). India had its vedic Rishîs, Krishna, Ramachandra and Buddha, China saw its teacher in Confucious and Persia in the person of Zoroaster. As the Qur’ân says: ‘There are some of them whom We have mentioned to you and of them there are some whom We have not mentioned to you’ (40:78). Belief in the Divine teachings of all these Prophets is one of the fundamentals of Islamic faith (2:4). All other religions and many of their respective sects, while claiming their own Divine origin deny this privilege to other religions. The Qur’ân rejects this exclusiveness and narrowness of mind which has engendered the feeling of conceit, pride and content, and which has been disintegrating the whole fabric of human society. The Qur’ân says:

Surely, those who (profess to) believe (in Islam), and those who follow the Jewish faith, the Christians and the Sabîans, whosoever (of these truly) believes in Allâh and the Last Day and acts righteously shall have their reward with their Lord, and shall have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)

Another way of promoting peace and understanding between nations and religions of the world is the way of dialogue. The Holy Qur’ân says:

O people of the Scripture! Let us agree to a proposition common to us both’ (3:64).

In this verse the Qur’ân invites all the followers of Divine revelation to a dialogue based on common grounds, putting aside their mutual differences. Qur’ân, thus, does not proclaim that east is east and west is west and no understanding or union is possible between the two. The Qur’ân refutes such ideas when it says the Lord of the worlds is the same as the ‘Lord of the east and of the west and of all that lies between the two’ (26:28; 73:9), and again: ‘(He is) the Lord of the two Easts and Lord of the two Wests’ (55:16). Therefore, the so called east and the so called west have the same God and those who claim to worship God should not act contrary to reason, wisdom and morality. As the rising and the setting of the sun on the globe of the earth, there is a rise and fall of nations. As on the globe of the earth setting point for a people is the rising point for another, the same thing happens in the histories of nations. There are innumerable risings and settings and, thus, innumerable Easts and innumerable Wests but nothing that is permanently east or permanently west.