The Two Jihads

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Let there be no hostility except toward those who practice oppression - Quran 2: 190-193

Origin and Inner Meaning of the term- Jihad:

The root of the word 'Jihad' is the Arabic word 'Juhd', which means to strive, to struggle. Furthermore, words for 'effort', 'labour' and 'fatigue' are also derived from the same root. This shows that Jihad has an element of struggle built into it, and hence it's more of a striving spirit than anything connected to an offensive or warring attitude. Quran uses the word Jihad as a way of defence, a check against oppressors and not meant to be a 'Holy War' in any sense of the word. In fact, the word that the Quran uses for war is 'Qital' and it has been wrongly misinterpreted to translate into Jihad in today's world. Essentially, Jihad is an effort to practice religion in the face of oppression and persecution, may it be a rebellion inside one's own heart or to stand up against an external agent of abuse or maltreatment.

Jihad as the Inner and Outer Struggle

Jihad is striving in the way of God as one would strive in the way of oneself. A person engaged in the path of Jihad is a Mujahid (pl. Mujahideen) and this is an important religious duty for all Muslims. It's sometimes considered as close as being a pillar of Islam itself. The primary focus of Jihadi message in the Quran, where it is supposed to be mentioned about 41 times, is to enable a purificatory process of the believer from within, to enable his soul to relentlessly struggle to achieve its original state of purity against the evil temptations of sin, and only analogically is it supposed to mean a struggle against outer forces. It is a means of spiritual struggle to achieve harmonious and righteous living.

Accordingly, there are two main kinds of Jihad that Muslims believe in:
  1. The Greater Jihad – Jihad e-Akbar – The struggle of the soul to maintain or achieve its original state of purity. The striving to stay in the path of devotion, to stay focused on realizing the will of God and resisting any temptations of Satan.
  2. The Lesser Jihad – Jihad e-Asghar – This is the lesser Jihad as this is not the main concern of God's message on struggle. Just like the eastern philosophies of India and Buddha, a struggle to achieve self-realization is of bigger importance than fighting against external forces, yet the external defence is required as outside agents can be serious hurdles if they try to subject one to their beliefs. This Jihad is to permit the use of force against offenders or suppressors, not only in self-defence but also in defence of anybody weak or inordinately subjugated.
The Sunni sect believes in a four-fold Jihad (ways of struggling in the cause of God):
  • Jihad by Heart: a struggle to maintain the purity of Heart against it being influenced by the temptations of sin. This is similar to the Greater Jihad described above.
  • Jihad by Tongue: a struggle to speak truth in all circumstances and also use words that help in the cause of spreading the message of God.
  • Jihad by Hand: a struggle to always keep action going in the right direction.
  • Jihad by Sword: a struggle to defend oneself from oppressive external forces.

Why Jihad as the Outer Struggle?

The reason why the outer struggle also assumed significance was in the very specific context of history where Islam was established. It was a new religion propounded by Muhammad (pbuh) based on the commandment of God himself (through his arch-angel Jibrail) and he was putting forward thoughts and beliefs that were in opposition to the prevailing mindsets at the time. The 6th Century C.E. was a world of fervent paganism on one side and an inspired Christianity on the other. To make matters complicated, Muhammad (pbuh) was in the midst of warring tribes of Arabia that hungered for each other's blood. In such a world, a message of peace needs to come protected with defensive power of its own, lest it be shattered to ruins, lost in the noise and mayhem of battle forces.
The outer struggle, which was the only perspective in which the Quran sanctioned an external Jihad,  was to defend and protect oneself in the path of religious movement towards God. Quran never encouraged unprovoked aggression – embarking on pro-active hostilities, or harming the innocent or violating the rights of others.


My Reaction: Jihad is certainly not “Holy War”

As described earlier, the word for War is 'Qital' and Jihad was never meant to be equated with war at all. This was only a gimmick prompted by fundamentalist and political motives. The bulk of the masses gets easily swayed by the voice of the influential and it is the responsibility of authoritative forces in society to ensure a prompt and earnest interpretation of our sacred and holy scriptures. The believers put their heart and soul into a religion- it defines their lives, they try to find meaning and solution to all their fundamental questions of life and the message of religion plays an important role for them. This is not a failure of religion or its scriptures, rather it is a failure on the part of authority and society at large that lets fundamentalist forces run amok. It is a failure of the leaders that the masses entrust their faith in, to lead with honour and trust, and the same leaders in turn misuse the innocence and gullibility of the masses and mislead them to achieve their own selfish, short-sighted ends.

Islam is a religion with no absolute authority, except for the Quran. The religion has no institutional hierarchy like Christianity and that makes it a diluted global force where local leaders can concentrate power in their hands, and in the name of religion, maintain a strangle-hold on the thoughts and beliefs of the believers. Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the people”, and this authority of religion over the people gives such conspiring local leaders immense power of control over their believing masses.

Jihad is today, mostly, projected as a means to eradicate the 'indifferent' nonbelievers (i.e. people who live their own faith without interfering with muslims) and to fight for the cause of establishing a global 'Umma' under an appropriate Caliph or 'Emir'. Before accepting such versions of Jihad that one reads and hears, one needs to look at it from the perspective of being pure God's message itself, and not the interpretation as 'men of authority' would do it. When God, who created the entire world and for whom all human being are equal, sends down a message of struggle and striving for humanity, why would he want an attitude of war and hatred to simmer between his own children. Would God, as a loving parent, suggest means and methods for one child to fight and kill the other? If yes, then would such a God be a loving God at all?

In this respect, I dare say belief in Jihad as a 'Holy War' is not just an affront to the holy message of Quran, it is rather a blasphemy on God himself.


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