Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Mahjabeen's Musings: A Muslim-American Traveler along the American Way; in Islam, Jihad and Terrorism Are Opposites

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Mahjabeen's Musings: A Muslim-American Traveler along the American Way; in Islam, Jihad and Terrorism Are Opposites

Article excerpt


That the West has learned to think of jihad and terrorism as synonymous is not entirely the fault of the Western media. Undoubtedly a small fraction of crazed Muslims have helped this concept along.

Webster's dictionary defines terrorism as the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. An objective analysis of the concept of jihad will show that it is almost antithetical to the perpetration of terror. It is also incorrect to translate jihad to mean holy war or crusade since, even as applied to fighting, the senses of these words do not coincide with jihad.

The Arabic word jihad is derived from the verb jahada which means exerting oneself or striving, and thus has a friendlier connotation than the word qitai (fighting). In the Qur'an the word jihad is generally followed by the phrase "fi sabilillah," or "in the way of God." Qital means killing and bloodshed, whereas jihad connotes exerting oneself for some praiseworthy aim.


Upon a tradition of Prophet Muhammad, whence he was returning from the battlefield and said, "We have now returned from the smaller jihad to the greater jihad," has evolved the different concepts of the two. When asked what he meant by the greater jihad, he said it is the struggle against oneself, or the jihad al-nafs.

Jihad al-nafs and jihad al-shaytan (straggle against the devil) imply the struggle against one's bad inclinations and against enticement by the devil. Though battle at the outset may seem more appropriate as the greater jihad, reflecting on the concept will show that jihad al-nafs is undoubtedly the more difficult struggle. Resistance to sedition by the devil and to one's base desires is a lifelong struggle with little reprieve unless there is continual God-consciousness, or taqwa.

Another and very important notion of jihad is the struggle for the good of Muslim society against corruption and decadence. This is the same concept as "al amr bil maaruf wal nahin anal munkar" (Qur'an 3:104, inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong). It is mandatory upon all Muslims to work with all their intellectual and material abilities for the realization of justice and equality amongst people and the institution of security and understanding. For the attainment of the above a great deal of education is required, and this is termed jihad al-tarbiya, or educational jihad.

Educational jihad can be thought of as spreading Islamic values in a Muslim society, whereas jihad al-da' wa is the spreading of Islam amongst the unbelievers through discussion and civilized argument. This is sometimes termed jihad al-lisan (struggle of the tongue) and jihad al-qalam (struggle of the pen).

It is founded on a verse in the Qur'an, "Invite all to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious" (16:125). Some modern authors hold that in this age of advanced means of communication, this is the most important form of jihad.


The majority of authors list the causes for which war may be waged (the lesser jihad) as falling into two categories: first, the propagation of Islam, and second, defense.

Propagation of Islam -- This is in turn divided into two concepts:

1. Strengthening monotheism -- "Fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression" (2:193, 8:39).

2. Protecting the Islamic mission against those who stand in the way -- in other words protecting the freedom of religion. All people must be free to hear the call of Islam without any persecution or oppression. This is also scripturally based on verses 2:193 and 8:39. …

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