Some Misconceptions about Jihad in Islam

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Jihad is a broad term and besides armed struggle against injustice, it encompasses academic, diplomatic and moral support to the righteous cause. In the specific meaning of armed struggle, Holy Quran says that Jihad in the meaning of armed struggle can only be undertaken for the sake of eliminating injustice [Surah Al Hajj: 39].

It is not a fight against non-Muslims. It is a fight against injustice. It can only be undertaken as a last resort to eliminate injustice. It can only be undertaken by the government and cannot be done privately. Jihad cannot be undertaken for the expansion of the state, against innocents, against non-combatants and against any contract of peace.

According to Islamic worldview, Allah sent His messengers who invited mankind towards Tawheed (belief in no Creator except One), belief in afterlife accountability and to engage in righteous conduct in all spheres of life. Some of these messengers were sent as ‘Rasool’. According to the Sunan-e-Elahi (law of Allah) of divine appraisal of chosen nations, several Rasool came in this world and established this Sunan-e-Elahi based on the will of Allah.

The struggle of any Rasool goes through these steps: 1) Dawat (initial stages of preaching), 2) Dawat-e-Aam (preaching publicly on a large scale) and 3) Itmam-e-Hujjat. Itmam-e-Hujjat refers to the situation where truth is explained in its complete form and where subsequent denial remains only due to prejudice, pride or communal interests.

After Itmam-e-Hujjat, the direct recipients had to accept the message received or if they refused the truth, then they had to face punishment in this world. According to the Islamic worldview, this world is a place for test where the objective of creation of man is obedience to Allah. Those direct recipients of the Rasool who disbelieved without any reason and remained disobedient and thankless to their Creator were punished by their Creator. Those who were obedient, steadfast and morally upright were rewarded by their Creator. This divine appraisal concerns all human beings. But, the direct recipients of Rasool who denied the message of Rasool without any reason were punished in this very world as well.

Since the direct recipients got the message of truth firsthand, so if they denied the truth after Itmam-e-Hujjat, they were punished in this world. Establishment of this Sunan-e-Elahi becomes a way of remembering divine appraisal in Qiyamat (judgement day) for all human beings to come. This is Sunan-e-Ilahi and this was commonly and consistently applied to Qaum-e-Noah, Qaum-e-Aad, Qaum-e-Samoud, Qaum-e-Lot, Qaum-e-Shuaib, Qaum-e-Younus, Qaum-e Musa and Qaum-e-Isa before Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Non-believers of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), a Rasool, were also dealt in the same way by Allah. The only difference is that in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), this divine punishment to the non-believers who fought against Muslims came in the form of defeat of non-believers in the armed struggles with believers. It is because in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), there were enough followers and these armed battles also became a way to distinguish between true believers and munafiqeen (hypocrites).

In verse 17 of Al-Anfal, Allah says:

“You killed them not, but Allah killed them. And you [Muhammad (pbuh)] threw not when you did throw but Allah threw, so that He might test the believers by a fair trial from Him. Verily, Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.”

In various time periods, Rasool of Allah came with undeniable signs to their nations and when their nations decided to not accept the message received directly and clearly with undeniable signs, then the non-believers were punished by Allah in the form of natural calamities if the believers were fewer in number or through the triumph of believers over non-believers who fought against them as in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The specific verses in Holy Quran describing jihad in the meaning of armed struggle against non-believers of those times are clear from the context that they refer to this Sunan-e-Elahi we explained above. When Rasool come with clear signs, they establish this Sunan-e-Elahi which is a divine appraisal of their nation the way it will happen for all people on the Judgement day.

This history is common heritage of all Abrahamic religions which represents almost three-fourths of all human population. Quranic verses about Jihad specifically with non-believers are often misunderstood by West and also misunderstood by some minority Muslims as well when they generalize these verses out of context.

From a community of 1.6 billion people spreading in 7 continents of the world, individual instances from a small minority of deviants are picked in an effort to embarrass and tease peaceful mainstream Muslims. Close to 100 million Muslims live in developed regions alone. There has to be acknowledgement and understanding of this fact that Islam and Muslims are two different things.

There can be difference of opinion, but selectively picking particular types of arguments, peoples and actions and generalizing them over 1.6 billion people is unjustified. The objective of religion of Islam is not its political enforcement. The basic thesis of religion is to inform people about their role and relation with Creator and what attitudes, behavior and actions can lead them to success in life hereafter.

A faith must never be studied from the followers’ actions. Christianity is not to be studied in the light of holocaust, colonization, slavery in Africa and crusades. In the light of teachings of Jesus (pbuh), these events were wrong as per the true teachings of Christianity.

Likewise, we shall not judge liberal democracy or secular humanism based on two World Wars, invasions, transnational wars, undue sanctions, embargoes, political interference to topple democratic governments, advancement in race to produce ever more destructive weapons of mass destruction, and paying lip service to thousands and thousands of people suffering genocide in Bosnia, Kosovo, Burma, Gaza, Kashmir and at other places. Indeed, these actions by the authorities do not represent the aspirations, values and views of common man in west.

Quran says in verse 256 of Al-Baqara ‘There is no compulsion in religion”. Indeed, as per Islamic worldview, people are created and for the specific purpose of testing their thankfulness to their Creator and would be judged on merit by their Creator when they return towards Him after death in this world. However, this test period has granted freedom to people in this world and hence Islam does not direct Muslims to make everyone else Muslim in this world by force. Allah says to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in verse 21-22 of Chapter Ghasiya “So remind them, you are only a one who reminds. You are not a dictator over them.” In verse 125 of Chapter Nahl, Allah says “Invite (mankind, O Muhammad ) to the Way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better.”

Islam does not teach hate and violence. It is a source of spiritual contentment and fulfillment for a quarter of world’s population. It teaches a believer in Islam to never tease, hurt or inflict any harm with hands or tongue to humans, animals and environment and no matter whether there is any law about it and whether it is being enforced because all people for all their intentions and willful actions shall be accountable on the Day of Judgment.

About Salman Ahmed Shaikh

PhD Economics, National University of Malaysia. Assistant Professor of Economics and Finance. Author, Researcher, Teacher and Consultant. He can be contacted at:
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