Jihad, is it struggling to struggle?

by Auvro Mridha | August 19, 2014 11:16 am

New words are routinely added to the English dictionary, and since September 2001 with the exponential increase in the use of the term “jihad” in media, news and books, it is not surprising that jihad now appears in the English dictionary. The Webster dictionary defines jihad as follows:

a war fought by Muslims to defend or spread their beliefs

a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty

a crusade for a principle or belief.

The present situations in Gaza, Iraq, Syria and even in countries like Bangladesh (where communal attacks on minority groups are not uncommon) only help to exemplify the definition of jihad as a “holy war!”. In fact, today at morning tea it took me a solid half hour to explain to my work-mates how ill-represented this word is–at one end by radical Muslims and on the other by the radical corporate media (press-titutes). I therefore, dedicate this writing to my work mates with the hope they will have a better understanding of jihad.

So, what does Jihad mean in Islam, the religion that gave birth to this term and glorified it in 21st century to the extent that it had to be added to foreign dictionaries? It is absolutely crucial that the term is well explained not only to Muslims, but also to the wider audience. If Muslims fail to understand the essence of jihad they will be mislead to justify actions that are unjust in Islam. On the other hand, if non-muslims fail to grasp the spirit of jihad they will perceive Islam as an unreasonable doctrine.

Jihad originates from the root Arabic word j-h-d and in its broadest sense means “struggle” or “striving” or “exerting effort”, which may include armed struggle either defensively for self-preservation or offensively for removal of oppression. Jihad also means “inviting to truth”, which is confirmed by the Prophet’s (pbuh) statement “The greatest jihad is speaking truth to unjust power”.

One may question if the meaning of the word is so harmless, why it is implicated to wars. Jihad entails calling others to the truth and defending oneself from those who oppose that call. It also means martial forces to move from a condition of disequilibrium to one of harmony and balance. Of course, the greater jihad is the internal struggle with one’s own self in opposing his/her appetites and impulses. It is interesting to note that jihad (or its verb jahada) is used in early Meccan chapters of the Qur’an before any military action was sanctioned.

An understanding of varying levels and types of jihads has been one of the outstanding features of traditional Islamic theological discourse, contrary to the monolithic usage as a holy war that came to prevail in recent times.

In summary, jihad is not a holy war, in fact, war, which is a negative term in the Qur’an, is never described as holy in either the Qur’an or the prophetic traditions. Rather, jihad is a struggle sometimes involving arms, in defence and preservation of the holy. In its martial form, it is not so much a just war as a justified military response to unjust conditions.

And to your Lord is the end (Qur’an 24:42).

Source URL: https://priyoaustralia.com.au/articles/islam/2014/jihad-is-it-struggling-to-struggle/