In this age of terrorism and extremism, certain words have been co-opted from mainstream Islam for use by the extremists, and that co-opting has led to misuse of the words by the mainstream media, political figures, bloggers, etc. The most well known of these, and perhaps the most significant for Muslims, is the use of the word "jihad".
I believe it is time to start reclaiming this word in mainstream Islam. Rather than allowing Western authorities and media to redefine jihad using the terrorists definition, we need to educate the American (and Western) public as to exactly what jihad is, and why it is not a threat to them. This diary will attempt to do so.
More below the fold.
Lets get the controversy out in the open right away. Most of you, undoubtedly, have heard much about Islam being a religion of peace, and if you are like most Western non-Muslims, you have a hard time squaring that statement with what you see in the world around you. When terrorists commit an attack, they claim it is in the name of "jihad". When a new terrorist group crops up somewhere, it is not uncommon for it to have the word "jihad" in its name (e.g. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad), or to hear the word uttered by the groups leaders and spokespeople. You understand this word to have a particular meaning, based mostly on how it is used by politicians, media personalities, and "experts" in terrorism and such, along with the terrorists themselves. Even the dictionary backs up your understanding. From Merriam-Webster:
noun ji-ˈhäd, chiefly British -ˈhad\
1: a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty; also : a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline
2: a crusade for a principle or belief
Emphasis mine. Most people see that bolded part; see that it obviously matches their personal idea of what jihad means, and look no further. And why should they? They found their answer, right? I do not blame Westerners or other non-Muslims for this lack of curiosity. We live busy lives. I was lucky, in that I was an exception to the rule in the West. When the horrific attacks of 9/11 occurred, I had already been studying Islam for close to a decade. I understood, thanks to those studies, that what Muhammad Atta and those others did was not jihad. It was a criminal act of mass murder.
There are four types of jihad, and each type of jihad contains several areas. In total, there are thirteen different areas of jihad. There are also two levels of obligation in jihad: fard ayn, which means an individual obligation on all Muslims, and fard kafaayah, which is an obligation on the community as a whole. With a fard kafaayah, if sufficient numbers of the community are engaged in this type of jihad, the rest of the community is relieved of the obligation.
The first type of jihad I will discuss is called jihad an-nafs, which means jihad against oneself. jihad an-nafs is a fard ayn, obligatory on all accountable (all Muslims). There are 4 areas within jihad an-nafs:
1. Striving to learn the teachings of Islam. This jihad never ends, as only the blessed Prophet, may peace be upon him, could possibly know all there is to know of Islam.
2. Striving to make yourself act according to what you have learned. It is not enough to simply learn something. You must apply what you have learned in the way you live your life. You must, so to speak, practice what you preach.
3. Striving to call others to Islam, and teaching those who do not know about it. Having knowledge yet failing to share that knowledge is concealing the guidance and teachings of Allah (swt), and a person who does this will not benefit. Indeed, he will face punishment from his Lord for such failings.
4. Striving to bear or tolerate the difficulties and insults which inevitably arise when trying to call people to Islam, or teach those who do not know. This means, for one, keeping ones composure in the face of heated disagreement and insults thrown around when teaching Islam. Another meaning is gladly bearing the risks incurred by calling people to Islam. Such risks can include persecution, ostracization, and in extreme cases even violence or death.
Notice that word "striving". In the Holy Qur'an, Allah (swt) tells us:
"And those who strive hard for Us, We shall certainly guide them in our ways, and Allah is surely with the doers of good." Qur'an 29:69
The word means the following:
1. Make great efforts to achieve or obtain something.
2. Struggle or fight vigorously: "scholars must strive against bias"
To make great effort. To struggle vigorously. It is not enough to satisfy jihad an-nafs if you are half-hearted about it. You must try your hardest to complete all four areas of this type of jihad, and do so throughout your life (when there is opportunity present). So, in summary, a good Muslim is to strive, throughout his life, to study Islam, act on what he learns, teach it to others, and be patient with the response of those taught, even when that response is hostile.
The second kind of jihad is jihad ash-Shaytan, which means struggle against Satan, and it too is fard ayn, or an individual obligation of all Muslims. Jihad ash-Shaytan includes two areas:
1. Striving to fend off the doubts that Shaytan (or Satan) uses to undermine your faith. For any Christian, this will be familiar and self-explanatory. Shaytan uses lies and tricks to make you doubt your beliefs, and you must constantly strive to fight this evil. This jihad is followed by maintaining certainty of faith.
2. Striving to fend off the corrupt desires Shaytan provokes. Examples of this are striving to overcome lust, greed, the urge to gamble, the urge to drink alcohol, take drugs, etc. This jihad is followed by patience. Allah (swt) says:
“And We made from among them [Children of Israel], leaders, giving guidance under Our Command, when they were patient and used to believe with certainty in Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.)” Qur'an 32:24 (emphasis mine)
Thus, in Islam, leadership in religion comes through patience and certainty of faith. This is an extremely important jihad, and one which non-Muslims rarely if ever hear about.
The third kind of jihad is a twofer: jihad al-munafiqin, which means jihad against hypocrites; and the one most Westerners will recognize, jihad al-kuffar, or jihad against the unbelievers. Collectively this is known as jihad bil saif, which means jihad by the sword, and it is fard kafaayah, an obligation of the community as a whole. This type of jihad is followed in four ways:
1. With the heart. This means offering dua, or supplication. Supporting those away on jihad with your thoughts and prayers.
2. With the tongue. Using speech for the purpose of jihad. Speaking out against the hypocrites and unbelievers in your midst.
3. With ones wealth. This can mean financing the jihad, but it can also mean taking care of the families of those Muslims who are away fighting jihad.
4. With oneself. Fighting jihad yourself, and accepting the risks thereof. Considered the highest form of jihad.
To understand the concept of jihad bil saif in its proper context, we must first look at the circumstances that led to the first Qur'anic permission to fight. When the blessed Prophet (pbuh) began preaching the word of Allah (swt) in Makkah (Mecca) to the Quraysh (his tribe), he and those who believed...the first Muslims...were ostracized from their community and severely punished by such things as beatings and starvation. Their own clans, a sort of extended family, disowned them. After patiently bearing this treatment for thirteen years, the Muslims finally fled to Madina (Medina). However, instead of satisfying the Quraysh by having forced the Muslims to flee, this only enraged them further. Now that they were gone from Makkah, the Muslims were out of their reach. Then, as now, bullies hate it when somebody gets away from them. Since they could no longer individually persecute the Muslims, they determined to either annihilate the growing Muslim nation entirely, or force them to return to the idolatry practiced by the Quraysh.
It is against this backdrop that the Muslims were given the first permission to fight their attackers:
"Permission (to fight) is given to those on whom war is made, because they are oppressed. And surely Allah is able to assist them - Those who are driven from their homes without a just cause except that they say: Our Lord is Allah. And if Allah did not repel some people by others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, in which Allah's name is much remembered, would have been pulled down. And surely Allah will help him who helps His cause". Qur'an 22:39-40
This permission to fight was a direct result of the actions of the Quraysh. Like some other verses that are abused by both terrorists and Islamophobes, it was a response to a situation that existed in real time in 7th century Arabia. Because before this time the Muslims were enjoined from fighting, this represented a divine intervention on the behalf of the Muslims, allowing them to defend themselves.
The word "defense" is key here. Remember, Allah (swt) said: "Permission (to fight) is given to those on whom war is made...". This was not a permission to wage an offensive war. Permission was not given for an unprovoked attack against the Quraysh. But if war was forced upon them, the Muslims had permission to fight back and to defeat the Quraysh for the glory of Allah (swt) and the protection of His religion, Islam. When considering jihad bil saif, all of the above must be kept in mind.
To understand jihad al-munafiqin (jihad against hypocrites), lets consider what a hypocrite is. From Merriam-Webster:
1: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
2: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings
All of us who attend a church, synagogue, or mosque have seen this type of person. One who pretends at piety during worship, and spends the rest of the week in sin and debauchery. There are also forms of hypocrisy, perhaps even more common, that aren't so easy to see. For example, a person who does not believe in his heart that which he professes with his mouth, though he seems to live his life according to that which he professes. Only Allah (swt) can see what is in the heart of a man. It is no less of a hypocrisy, though, for its invisibility to men. This jihad is related to jihad an-nafs, in that it is a struggle to maintain certainty of faith. In this case, though, it is the certainty of faith of the wider community, and also of other individual Muslims, that you must try to maintain. It is followed, like that in jihad an-nafs, with certainty and patience. You must maintain your own certainty of faith, and help others to achieve (and maintain) certainty of faith, being patient with their progress.
Hypocrisy is a tricky thing. It can hide itself not only from others, but even from the hypocrite himself. For this reason, it is permitted (though not taken lightly) to accuse another Muslim of being a munafiq. This accusation, if taken to heart, may lead the Muslim to confront that in himself which is hypocritical that he didn't realize was there.
Jihad al-kuffar, or jihad against unbelievers, is the one cited by terrorists to excuse their criminal acts. In Qur'an 2:256, which was revealed after the permission to fight, we are told "There is no compulsion in religion." Because of this it is certain that there is no connection between religion and fighting. Thus, there is no compulsion (or permission) to advance Islam through fighting. Attempting to bring people to Islam through the use of war (or terrorism) is, therefore, not supported by the Qur'an. In another verse, Allah (swt) said:
"And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, and be not aggressive; surely Allah loves not the aggressors" Qur'an 2:190
Aggressive war is never allowed in Islam. Thus, such acts as those done by terrorists, which according to them are done for Islam, or in the name of jihad, are not valid in Islam, and thus do not comply with the duty of jihad. Because of this command not to wage aggressive war, we can say with certainty that Islam is, indeed, a religion of peace.
Another thing which must be discussed here is the following verse:
"So when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolators wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful". Qur'an 9:5
Other translations have it simply as "...slay them wherever you find them...", and this verse, perhaps more than any other, has been taken out of context and used to stir up fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims. This verse was revealed after the hijrah, or the migration of the Muslims from Makkah to Madina, and is referring to the idolaters such as the Quraysh, whom the Muslims were at the time waging defensive war against...a war forced upon them by the Quraysh. The verse does not apply to Jews or Christians, despite the lies of the Islamophobes, for two reasons: one, they are not considered idolaters, as they worship the same God that Muslims do; and two, this verse directly applied to an existing situation, and was not intended to apply to future situations. It was a direct command relating to the historical situation in Arabia in the 7th century, and has no bearing on modern day jihad. Treaties are to be honored in Islam, as long as the other side keeps the treaty. Later in the same chapter, Allah (swt) says:
But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and attack you for your Faith,- fight ye the chiefs of Unfaith: for their oaths are nothing to them: that thus they may be restrained. Qur'an 9:12
Note the conditional here. If they attack you "for your faith", then they must be fought. They must be restrained. Remember, the whole reason the Quraysh were attacking the Muslims is because they had accepted Islam over the pagan beliefs of the tribe. The entire war was because of their faith. The tribal leaders routinely made treaty with Muhammad (pbuh) and then broke it...thus these verses were revealed in direct response to the situation. Attempting to apply this verse (Qur'an 9:5) as justification for an unprovoked attack on innocent people, of whatever religion or lack thereof, is criminal ignorance of the worst kind.
The last type of jihad is that against the leaders of oppression and innovation. This jihad is fard kafaayah, obligatory on the community as a whole. It has two areas:
1. Striving against injustice. Oppression is, of course, a major injustice meant here. All other injustices are also to be addressed, though, wherever they are seen or known. These injustices can include anything from occupation of Muslim lands to mistreatment of children. In Islam, it is a sin to see an injustice, be able to correct it, and take no action.
2. Striving against innovation. Note here that in Islam, the word innovation means making changes to the basic practices of the religion that are not supported by the Qur'an or the Sunnah. An example would be adding an extra prayer on Friday, or changing the order in which things are done during prayers, or adding a hand gesture after offering a dua (a current controversy).
In Islam, we believe that our religion was delivered and perfected by Allah (swt) through his Messenger (pbuh). Since one cannot improve on perfection, we do not believe in changing any aspect of the religion for any reason not clearly supported by the Qur'an and Sunnah. We wish to worship in as close a manner as we can to the way in which our blessed Prophet (pbuh) himself worshiped, because there can be no better example for us.
In conclusion, jihad is not a "Holy War on behalf of Islam", as Webster and the majority Western opinion would have you believe. It is a struggle, much of which is directed inward and intended to increase the iman (faith) of the Muslim, and help him to deal with serious issues like temptation and avarice. While there is a component of armed jihad, it is intended for defensive purposes only, as aggressive war is prohibited in Islam. In addition, using jihad to spread Islam, as espoused by some extremists and screamed about from the rooftops by Islamophobes, is not valid jihad, and not representative of Islam. Jihad does not belong to the extremists. It belongs to Islam, and it is time for Muslims to reclaim it.
Allahu 'alim, God knows best.