Jihad means struggle. Any sincere effort for the cause of religion will be called Jihad. Man’s self leads him to evil. So waging war with the self is jihad. Sometimes friends or acquaintances pressurize you into engaging in activities, which are not right from the moral standpoint. At that time, refusing to yield such pressure and sticking firmly to an upright attitude are forms of jihad.
Exhorting people to goodness and making them refrain from indecency are tasks entailing a great struggle. Continuing the dawah campaign whilst bearing all hardship is also jihad.
If having been treated with bitterness by neighbours or acquaintances, or after suffering any other kind of provocation, one refrains from reaction and retaliation and maintains pleasant relations unilaterally; this will also be a form of jihad.
There is another kind of jihad which is called ‘qital’ that is, engaging in war at God’s behest at the time of aggression on the part of the enemies. This jihad is purely in self-defence in order to counter aggression. The literal meaning of jihad is not war. But to fight in self-defence in accordance with God’s commandments also involves a struggle; that is why it is also called jihad.
Jihad, meaning war, is however a temporary and circumstantial matter. If in the real sense any need for defence arises only then will armed jihad be launched. If no such severe urgency arises, no armed jihad will take place.
Just calling an action ‘jihad’ will not morally validate it. The only true jihad is that which is carried out in accordance with Islam. Islamic jihad is, in actual fact, another name for peaceful struggle. This peaceful struggle is sometimes an inward-looking thing, like waging jihad with the self when it takes place at the level of feeling; sometimes it is desired externally, and manifests itself at the physical level through gestures (like kneeling, prostrating oneself before God).
Jihad is regularly misconstrued as war, with all its connotations of violence and bloodshed. However, in the Islamic context, and in literal sense, the word jihad simply means a struggle—doing one’s utmost to further a worthy cause. This is an entirely peaceful struggle, with no overtones even of aggression. The actual Arabic equivalent of war is qital, and even this is meant in a defensive sense.
According to Islamic teachings, jihad is of two kinds. One is with the self (jihad bin nafs), that is, making the maximum effort to keep control over negative feelings in one’s self, for instance, arrogance, jealousy, greed, revenge, anger, etc. The psychological efforts to lead such a life of restraint is what jihad bin nafs is about. In social life, it happens time and again that all sorts of base, negative feelings well up within a man, causing him to lead his life succumbing to desires and temptations. The internal effort made in such a situation to overcome the temptations of the self and to continue to lead a life guided by principles is the truly Islamic jihad bin nafs.
According to the Hadith, a believer is one who wages jihad with himself in the path of obedience to God. That is, at moments when the self (nafs), lured by some temptation, desires to deviate from the path of God, he keeps control over it and remains unswervingly on the divine path. This is his jihad—a permanent feature of the life of a believer, continuing day and night, and ending only with death.
The other form of jihad is that which is engaged in to propagate the constructive message of Islam. All those who embark upon such a course must first of all study the Qur’an and Sunnah in a dispassionate and objective manner. No kind of conditioning should be allowed to come in the way of such a study. Only after passing through this intellectual jihad will the would-be proponent of Islam be in a position to make a true representation of his religion.
Two conditions have been laid down in the Qur’an for the communication of the teachings of Islam to others—nasih, well-wishing and amin, trustworthiness. The former appertains to God and the latter to man.
What is meant by nasih (well-wishing) is an earnest desire on the part of the teacher for the well-being not just of his immediate interlocutors, but the whole of humanity. This well-wishing should be so steadfast that it remains undiluted even in the face of injustice and oppression. Overlooking people’s negative behaviour towards him, the teacher should continue to remain their well-wisher.
The element of trustworthiness (amin) is important in that it ensures that the Islam God has sent to the world will be presented to the people without deletion, addition or distortion. For instance, if the Islam sent by God is akhirah (Hereafter) oriented, it should not become world oriented; if it is spirituality based, it should not become politics based; if it confines jihad to peaceful struggle, it should not become violence based.
Islam asks us to perform jihad by means of the Qur’an, calling this ‘greater’ jihad. But it never asks its believers to do the ‘greater’ jihad by means of the gun.
This is a clear proof that jihad is, in actual fact, a wholly peaceful activity, carried out through peaceful methods. It has nothing to do with violent activities or violent threats.
Jihad through the Qur’an means striving to the utmost to present the teachings of the Qur’an before the people. That is, presenting the concept of One God as opposed to the concept of many gods; presenting akhirah-oriented life as superior to world-oriented life; principle-oriented life as against interest-oriented life; a humanitarian-oriented life as more elevated than a self-oriented life and a duty-oriented life as a categorical imperative taking moral precedence over a rights-oriented life.
Jihad, according to Islam, is not something about which there is any mystery. It is simply a natural requirement of daily living. It is vital both as a concept and as a practice because, while leading his life in this world, man is repeatedly confronted by such circumstances as are likely to derail him from the humanitarian path of the highest order.
These factors sometimes appear within man in the form of negative feelings. This is something to which everyone must remain intellectually alert, so that if for any reason there is some danger of a negative mindset gaining the upper hand, he may consciously and deliberately turn himself to positive thinking. Even if circumstances repeatedly place him in situations, which are depressing, and demoralizing, he must never on such occasions lose courage or lose sight of noble goals. The re-assertion of his ethical sense is the real jihad, which he has to wage.
From the Islamic standpoint, intention is all-important. Any undertaking carried out with good intentions will win God’s approval, while anything done with bad intentions is bound to be disapproved of and rejected by God. In actual fact, intentions are the sole criteria of good or bad actions in the divine scheme of things.
This truth relates jihad to man’s entire life and to all of his activities. Whatever man does in this world, be it at home, or in his professional capacity, in family or in social life, his prime imperative must be to carry it out with good intentions and not the reverse. This, however, is no simple matter. In all one’s dealings, adhering strictly to the right path requires a continuous struggle. This is a great and unremitting lifelong struggle. And this is what is called jihad.
Even if one is engaged in good works, such as the establishment and running of institutions which cater for social welfare or academic needs, or if one is personally engaged in social work or performing some service in the political field, in all such works the element of personal glory has a way of creeping in. Therefore, in all such instances, it is essential that in the individuals concerned there should be a strong tendency to do introspection, so that they may keep before them at all times the goal, not of personal glory but the greater glory of God.
It is one’s intense inner struggle to make all activities God-oriented, which is truly Islamic jihad.