The Concept of Jihad

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan I The Pioneer | August 17, 1997| Page 5

Jihad is regularly misconstrued as war, with all its connotations of violence and bloodshed. However, in the Islamic context, and in the 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 life of a believer, continuing day and night, and ending only with death.

The other form of jihad is to propagate the constructive message of Islam. All those who embark upon which a course must first of all study the Quran and sunnah in a dispassionate and objective manner. No kind of conditioning should be allowed to come in the way of such 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 to the world.

Two conditions have been laid down in the Quran for the communication of the teachings of Islam to other — naasih, well-wishing and amin, trustworthiness. The former appertains to God and the latter to man.

What is meant by naasih is an earnest desire on the part of the preacher of truth for the well-being not just of his immediate interlocutors, but of 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 preacher should continue to remain their well-wisher. The element of trustworthiness (amin) is important in that it ensures that the religion 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 spiritually 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 Quran, calling this ‘greater’ jihad (25:52). 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 Quran means striving to the utmost to present the teachings of the Quran 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 course or lose sight of noble goals. The reassertion 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 intention 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 thing, and it is one’s intense inner struggle to make all activities God-oriented, which is truly Islamic jihad.